John O’Brien: A TRUE All-Round athlete

John O'Brien in a photo that decorates the Dino Gym showing an Ironmind Red Nail that John hammered shut for Big Al's amusement.

by Thom Van Vleck

John O’Brien has been my training partner, member of the JWC, and most of all, friend, for many years now.  When I think of what an All-Round athlete is, I think of John.  He is good, maybe a better word would be “great” at everything strength related.  I have written about him before but I’m hoping to add to what you already know about him and make the case for him being a TRUE All-Rounder.

He has competed in a strongman contests and Olympic lifting meets and placed or won his class in many contests.  He has competed in Highland Games and always places high.  He has competed in the USAWA with great success in about a dozen meets and has a couple dozen records to his credit.  Not to mention he is a world class short steel bender and performing professional strongman with over one hundred performances under his belt.  That, to me, it a true All-Round athlete!

John started lifting around the age of 13.  His older brother had a weight set at home and then at age 15 he started lifting for sports on programs set up by his coaches.  John mainly played baseball until high school and then he made up for lost time.  He played football (varsity for three years), wrestling, baseball, and track.  He said that he was best at football and baseball, but played the other sports so he could have access to the weight room year around.  He also mentioned maybe watching the girls run in track was a bonus!  Funny how many of us start lifting to impress girls!

John played on a football team in high school that had a dubious distinction.  They lost every game his junior and senior year!  The losing streak became so long that David Letterman started to track in on his show and when they finally won (long after John had left) they had some of the team members fly out to New York to be on the show.  John was a lineman and played both ways, he also played a couple years of college ball at Graceland College.

Then John entered graduate school at the University of Kansas to become the Chemistry Professor he is now at Truman State in Kirksville.  I was around this time that his oldest son was born very premature and lifting ended up being sacrificed for many years.  Then about 8 or so years ago John was very overweight and decided to do something about it.

John was training hard and lost 50lbs in the process.  There were a couple of students that were entering my JWC Strongman contest and they challenged John to enter, John told me they “teased” him and for them…..that was a bad idea!  John not only entered that contest….he won his weight class and rather decisively as I recall.

John had strength, but he is also very athletic, able to adjust to events on the fly.  He will tell you he operates off of “brute” strength, but I say it’s more than that.  He has an intelligent strength that is also athletic.  If strongman contests did not divulge the events, my money would be on John.   Recently, we were at Al’s Dino Gym where there is something called the “pill”.  A giant pill shaped metal object loaded with sand.  John spotted it, walked over and hoisted it…becoming the oldest person to do it (at age 42)….but more than that, what impressed me was his ability to lift it without much planning or practice, or even warm up!!!!  He walked up, sized it up, then lifted it!  That’s more than brute strength.

John said after that first JWC contest he began to only train for strength, beginning a  lifting career in his mid 30’s….when most guys are quitting!  Since that time, he has competed in Olympic lifting, Strongman, USAWA, Highland Games, and most recently, Highlander meets.  John has done well in all and is a two time masters National Champ in Highlander.  More importantly, that first contest was how we met and our friendship began and most of these contests were events we traveled to and/or competed in together!

Another aspect of our relationship started right after that first Strongman Contest that John entered and won.  The next day the JWC was doing a strongman evangelism show at the local YMCA.  I noticed John was in the front row.  He told me later he watched us and thought, “I can do those things” but more than that, he believed in the REASON we were doing them.  Which I will go into in Part 2 of my article!

Next:  Part 2 of “John O’Brien: True All-Round Athlete”.

Two Ounces of Prevention

by Thom Van Vleck

As we are all aware, Big Al has created a contest where we are supposed to write a story on a training “secret” we have that would benefit others.  This was a difficult thing for me to do as I don’t keep secrets.  I share everything I have with anyone willing to listen.  I’ve always been that way.  So I really don’t have any secrets…..but I looked at what I do and came up with something I do almost every workout.  It’s something I think has allowed me to compete at a high level as I head into my 47th year and 34th as a weightlifter.

Al & Chad executing a very complicated two man stretch of the spine. Now really, do you have the time for this or for that matter would you be caught dead in such a compromising position???

A healthy back is essential to weight training.  If you lift weights and have never hurt your back, you are either a very good liar, you’ve never pushed yourself, or you just started yesterday.  Back injuries are a part of the sport.  Especially if you are a master lifter over 40, and most USAWA lifters are over 40…..some WELL over 40!  If you’ve had a back injury, you’ve probably tried to rehab it in different ways.  Some of these with drugs like anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, or pain medication.  You may have seen a doctor, a chiropractor,  a massage therapist, or maybe an Osteopath.  You’ve probably been given stretching exercises, yoga exercises, or whatever the latest fad is.  You may have went so far to invest in some equipment, such as a stability ball, rubber bands, or went really expensive with a reverse hyper, or an inversion table!  You also may have found some really complicated and difficult ways to do what all these things try and do…..decompress your spine.

Now, don't get me wrong, I've had a little fun at Al & Chad's expense. These are great exercises, but their problem is the practicality of doing them every workout.

I’m going to share two very simple and basic stretches that require very little investment of time or money.  They can be very helpful in rehabbing a bad or injured back, but I would encourage you to do these EVERY TIME YOU WORK OUT to help keep your back healthy and prevent injuries!

First, there’s the good ol’ bar hang.  Sure, we’ve all heard of it and probably done it.  You hang from a chin up bar.  I know what your are thinking.  ”Geez, Thom, I thought you were going to give us some great secret!  Well, I am.  Sometimes the best things are the simplest things and they are the things we tend to ignore.  Like squats, which is a really great exercise, and yet there’s been a hundred ways developed to avoid squatting each one more complicated than the last!  Now, here is a real secret.  When you hang from the bar, put your heels on something about a foot or two in front of you.  Why?  Because you want to tilt your hips forward.  This will straighten out the lower spine.  Otherwise, if you just hang there the weight of your legs will pull you hips back and bend your spin inward in your lower back.  As a result, the weight of your legs will bend your spine and true decompression does not occur!  You also need to relax everything except your grip (and another thing, this can be a tremendous grip exercise, an added benefit).  If you can’t hang for at least a minute, then use straps until your grip gets to where you can.  Total investment:  A chin up bar.

Now, the only problem with the bar hang is it only decompresses the lower half of your spine.  While this is where most injuries occur, it is only half the picture.   Plus, most guys don’t think much about this, but your spine is more than your back, it’s you neck as well!  Many weight lifters will injure their neck and it’s also an area that gets a lot more abuse than you realize.  Why, because it holds up your fat head!  Seriously, the head is always FORWARD on the neck so any time you are not lying down with your neck supported it is being leveraged with pressure from that bowling ball that’s sitting on top if it!  Also, many of us will injure our neck at some point lifting, playing sports, or doing something stupid (most guys that train tend to be risk takers….admit it, you’ve done something stupid with your body).   And as for the upper back, it gets injured much more rarely than the lower, as a result, how often do we decompress our upper back and neck?

So, this leads me to the second “secret” exercise.  Like I said before, if you got loads of cash, you can spend it on a personal massuese and an inversion table….but if you don’t this will work just as well.  Maybe better because it is so easy you will do it more often!

Neck and upper back stretch....and yes, I used a photo of a pretty girl to "sell" this and influence the vote! Really, would you want to see me doing this or her! Vote for my article!

The second exercise involves sitting in a chair and letting your head and shoulders fall between you knees.  There’s an added benefit that if you get good at this exercise you can also use it to kiss your rear goodbye when you do some of the aforementioned “stupid” stuff.  But seriously, you sit in a chair and let your arms fall between you legs while sitting right on the edge of the chair.  I was taught to let my arms fall relaxed and then let my head fall forward relaxing it as much as possible.  If you do this enough you can fell you vertebrae relax.  I now fell a “pop-pop-pop” in my upper back when I do this.  Again, you want to stay in this position for about a minute.  I also do the added exercise of  doing some head rolls once I sit back up, this will seem to always pop my neck a couple times.  Total investment:  a chair.

So, there you have it.  Two exercises, two minutes, cheap, easy and I would argue for the amount of time and money invested you will do your spine more good than any of that other stuff.  Call this, 2 ounces of prevention!

Billy Parker: Friend of the JWC

S & H: April 1966 issue: Billy Parker, Drug Free bodybuilder and friend of the JWC!

by Thom Van Vleck

In the 60’s my Uncle Phil was stationed in Alabama while in the Air Force and got to meet a lot of top lifters and bodybuilders of that era.  One in particular that he became friends with was Billy Parker.  Billy had a brother Randy and they often frequented Karo Whitfield’s gym.  My Uncle Phil, when he was not doing Air Force work, would do personal training and that’s how he met the Parker Brothers.  They often came over for back yard BBQ’s and outdoor workout sessions.

Phil told me that the Parker’s came from Southern money.  They had a trust fund that allowed them to do whatever they wanted and not have to work.  So they decided to become professional bodybuilders and trainers and had their own “health club” as gyms were often called in that day, the Bel Aire Health Club (Phil thinks it was named for the shopping center it was located, the “Bel Aire Shopping Center”) .  Plus, they enjoyed being young and rich!  Phil said that Billy had a brand new thunderbird convertible and they would often cruise the streets of Atlanta looking for fun.

Phil said that what he liked most about Billy was he was drug free at a time when steroids was becoming commonplace.  It could also be why you never heard of Billy after that as that era was dominated by drugged up bodybuilders.  In 1964, Billy was 9th in the AAU Junior Mr. America and 6th in the Mr. USA.  In 1965 he was 15th in the Mr. USA.  In 1966 he was 15th in the Mr. America and was again mentioned for his posing ability and muscle control.  Phil said when he knew him in 1966 he had won over 70 bodybuilding trophies in regional meets in the south.

Phil said he was a he was a master poser and muscle control artist, having learned from Mr. America Harry Johnson.  In that 1965 contest he was listed as one of the top three posers in that contest.   Billy was not a big man, he was small boned and short, but he made the most of what he had!   Phil lost touch with him and Randy over the years and I’m currently trying to locate him so if you know where he’s at, let me know!

Smoking & Weightlifting: Part 2

Hey, I'm a patriotic guy!

by Thom Van Vleck

Ok, so if smoking is so bad for you why did so many lifters  do it?  And why were those lifters so successful while smoking.  The quick answer might be that they would have been even better without cigarettes.  This may surprise you, but I DISAGREE!

You may be thinking, “What! Thom is saying smoking will help your lifting”!  Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.  Just like steroids, amphetamines, and the dozens of other drugs people use to increase their performance.  But don’t confuse helping your lifting and helping your health.  Also, there are better ways to achieve the same positive effects of smoking without the long term health problems that smoking brings.

First, how does smoking help.  Nicotine is a stimulant.  When you smoke, you are introducing a stimulant to your system.  A stimulant can help you focus.  By focusing, you can reduce anxiety (which is how cigarettes can calm you down when they stimulant you).  Since it enters through the lungs, it is wickedly fast in how it does it and why it is so addictive.  It has an incredibly fast stimulus-reward connection.  But you have to remember, there’s a DIFFERENCE between short term and long term benefits.

When I used to work in substance abuse counseling patients would often have a “dual diagnosis”.  They would come into treatment as a result of substance abuse, but the reason they would abuse substances had to do with an underlying problem.  I’ll used Depression as an example.  If you are depressed and you take methamphetamine you will no longer be depressed.  As a matter of fact, I’ll guarantee INSTANT results.  If you simply go on the instant results, then “meth” would be the greatest success story of all time in the treatment of depression.  But we all know there are many consequences of using “meth”.  The consequences of cigarettes are slow, but the benefits are quick.

I bring this up because when I was a teenager and I was faced with the opportunities to use alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, steroids, I would hear only that they were “bad” for you….but what I often saw conflicted with that and as a result, I would question just how “bad” they were!  I even recall people saying that steroids didn’t work at all and that it was all psychological…..yeah, right!!!  If we want to modify our behavior or the behavior of those around us for the better, we have to be honest

Now that we are being honest, let’s back up to the “dual diagnosis” example a little.  So, if you take away the way a person is self medicating, you must find an alternative or they are doomed to go back to their self medication.  With cigarettes, you must find some healthy alternative, or at least a relatively healthy alternative (when I did substance abuse counseling we often encouraged cigarette smoking to deal with withdrawal  from hardcore drugs as it was the lessor evil).

As lifters, we are always looking for an edge.  I don’t know how many supplements I’ve tried over the years.  But if we are willing to work, and wait for results, we can find effective replacements for things like cigarettes that deliver short term but make us pay long term.

Breath easy!

Smoking & Weightlifting: Part 1

If smoking makes you stronger.....this guy will be the World's Strongest Man in no time!

by Thom Van Vleck

When I was a kid and my Uncle’s were lifting on a regular basis I would often go the gym to watch them workout.  During their workout, they would chain smoke cigarettes.  Cigarette smoke often filled the gym and the ash tray was next to the chalk box!  I recall my Uncle Wayne, taking a drag off his cigarette, setting it on the edge of the platform (with the “cherry” end dangling off the edge) and hitting a set of Power Cleans.   Then he would retrieve his cigarette and, while trying to catch his breath, take a drag off of it and then cough!

Those who are under 30 won’t understand how prevalent smoking was back then.  It was normal for smoking to happen everywhere.  Even at weightlifting meets.  It was a smokers right to light up, not the other way around like it is now!  I recall going to sporting events and people lighting up right next to you, attending classes and people smoking the the classroom in college, and the only reason you wouldn’t smoke at a hospital had nothing to do with health….it was so an open flame didn’t make contact with Oxygen!  Same reason for no smoking in a theater….they were worried about a fire…not people’s health!

We are now taught how bad smoking is for you.  We have a lot of older lifters who used to smoke and if they didn’t, they were like me growing up with it wherever they went.  Both my parents chain smoked, I can’t recall my Dad not having a cigarette dangling from his mouth!  We now know just how bad second hand smoke is for you!

Today, my Dad is gone.  He passed away at age 65 and I’m certain the cigarettes cost him at least 10 years.  My Uncle’s Wayne and Phil, are in their 60’s as well and smoking has taken a toll.  They all told me they wished they had never started.  It’s an addiction and a powerful one.  My point is, these were the strongest men I knew growing up.  And Smoking cost them dearly…..and it cost those of us who loved them dearly.  My grandfather never smoked and he lived to be 85 and was in great shape.  His death was the effects of a car accident….or he probably would have lived much longer!  Sure, there’s lots of factors in that….but he removed the factor that cigarettes could have played in his health and it certainly would have been negative!

We all know smoking is bad for us, but did you younger guys realize not so many years ago that being tough and strong, often meant being a smoker and if you went to a lifting meet you could expect a wall of thick smoke.   David Rigert, one of the greatest Oly lifters of all time lifted in the 70’s and he often chain smoked at meets (and drank vodka in the warm up room between lifts) and would put down his cigarette to go lift!  Or if you joined a gym, people would be smoking….even while lifting!  Things have changed, but in this case…..for the better!

2011 USAWA Nationals Photo Project

by Thom Van Vleck

If you haven’t marked it on you calendar yet, put a big circle around June 25th right now!  I am hoping to do the USAWA proud hosting the USAWA Nationals this year.  I will have Al Myers as my “consultant” to make sure I don’t screw this up.  Al is an unpaid consultant, so I have to be careful I don’t get my money’s worth!  But seriously, we are looking to do some cool things this year.

One idea that I would like to do will require some help from all you!  I want to have a powerpoint  going that will be projecting pictures from the great history of the USAWA onto a wall nearby or even behind the lifting area.  So, I’m asking all of you to submit photos to me or Al.  You can send me a photograph or photographs, you can attach them to an e-mail, you can send me a CD with photos, just get them in and we’ll put them in the rotation!  I think it would add to the inspiration of the meet to have these photos scrolling on the wall while the meet goes on!

I will also have someone photographing every lift of the meet.  These lifts plus the historic lifts will be downloaded to ONE CD and will be sold for$15.

I will also have many photos, newspaper clippings, and memorabilia from the Jackson Weightlifting Club on display!  I will have a special table set up for the JWC and we will have the famous (or infamous) JWC photo album out as well as some of the old trophies and medals from 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.

More plans are coming along, so send your photos!

Polar Bear Plunge 2011

Thom after a refreshing dip!

by Thom Van Vleck

It’s the first day of winter and it’s always this time of year that I begin to think about a nice swim in our nearby lake!   Last year I wrote an article for the USAWA board on cold water bathing and the possible therapeutic effects along with my “polar bear plunge” for charity.  It was great fun and we are doing it again.  This year I have a team of students from A.T. Still University taking the plunge with me.  We will be known as the JWC Highlanders and we will be wearing kilts.  Our theme will be, “What’s a true scotsman wear under his kilt” and as we run into the water we will “whip” our kilts off and jump in!  Of course, you will have to come to see the answer to that question….the word “regimental” comes to mind….USAWA Secretary Al Myers will know all about that!!!  We will be collecting donations for the Special Olympics so any donation is appreciated!  Our goal is $250.

Last year the ice was 14" thick! I was the last one out!

I still do my “snow bathing”.  When there’s no snow, I take cold water showers and then hit the sauna, often making a couple trips back and forth.  But the best is when there is snow on the ground and it’s below zero outside.  You go in and get warmed to the core in the sauna and then go outside and rub snow all over until you are numb.  Then go in and hit the sauna!  I go back and forth at least twice.  I TRULY believe this makes me healthier and helps with recovery.  When I feel a little under the weather, I do this as often as possible, spending extra time in the sauna and it seems I never get sick when I do this.  I have read where the heat in the sauna causes you to run an “artificial” fever helping your body destroy whatever is attacking it.  It could be all in my head, but then again the brain is the most powerful weapon we have in our fight to be stronger so even if it is, it’s worth it to me!   At the least, I’m refreshed and wide awake.  Now I get to combine what I already do with a charitable event, can’t beat that.  Any takers for my team?  It’s the first Saturday in February!!!

2011 Nationals Venue Set

by Thom Van Vleck

Historic Rieger Armory, location for the 2011 USAWA Nationals

I have reserved the Rieger Armory for the 2011 USAWA Nationals and I couldn’t be more pleased with the location.  It is a classic building built in 1938 that has a lot of character and history (I know what you are thinking….that means it’s OLD, but it has been very well kept up and has been the location of hundreds of major functions here in Kirksville over the years).

It is named for Col. James Rieger who is a local war hero.  He served in WWI and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the French Croix de Guerre, and the Purple Heart as well as numerous other medals for leading  the 138th Regiment in a brutal attack that caused the German defenses to fall back all across the front lines.  He was nicknamed the “Hero of the Argonne” and one of his men famously said in an interview that went national, “…there wasn’t one of us that wouldn’t go to Hell for him”.   The War Department donated a German Howitzer captured in WWI to Kirksville that is in Rotary Park and Col. Rieger was later tapped to return to France at one point to locate and document American soldiers buried  there.  He was given pieces of a stained glass window from a bombed out French Church that was incorporated in the First Baptist Church here in Kirksville as a token of appreciation.

Just as importantly, it is a great place to have a weightlifting meet.  Centrally located in town, you can see Truman State’s campus and the town square from Rieger.  It has a large indoor area that used to house the National Guard artillery unit in town (now a Combat Engineer unit).  It also has a large kitchen with plenty of tables and chairs for our banquet and a stage for a first class awards ceremony!  I hope everyone will try and make this.  More info to come so stay tuned! It is located at 500 S. Elson St. in Kirksville.

Run up the Flag

by Thom Van Vleck

The United States Flag flies with pride above the Dino Gym on top of a 40 foot Flag Pole.

I remember the first Highland Games/strongman contest I promoted. I remember putting a huge amount of work into it and wondering if anyone was going to show up and thinking, “Well, if nobody shows, then I won’t do it again”. The meet started at 9:00 and at 8:30 NOBODY was there! Then by 9:00 there were 27 throwers and about 50 spectators! I remember feeling relieved!

My point, many of us promote meets of different levels. I have never met a meet director that has not gotten fed up at some point. It’s a damn thankless job and everybody has a criticism and a gripe…..usually behind your back. You can charge an entry fee and give a shirt, award, maybe lunch, and let them destroy your equipment and they will act like they are doing you a favor showing up and they feel like you are going to retire on the immense wealth brought in by their entry fee.

However, the reality is that MOST guys appreciate the effort. MOST guys understand and get it. What some of us need to remember is that holding a meet year after year is like raising the flag every morning. Just because there’s nobody there to salute it doesn’t mean that nobody cares about whether it came up or not. Believe me, when I was in the Marine Corps, Marines always had flag duty and I was on it often. It was the one duty I volunteered for. Get up before dawn, put on your dress blues, get shined up, do the silent march down to the flag pole, go through all the rituals of doing it…..and most often there was not a soul around to see it. But it was a must that everyone know its up and there and waving in the wind to greet the day because if it’s not, then it becomes more and more likely it won’t be there the next day and then the day will come when it’s gone forever!

Recently, Bill Clark, who has “run the flag up the flagpole” more than anyone in the USAWA cancelled the Goerner meet. Quite frankly, the guy has done his share. Just like there’s a Marine running that flag up at the bases in Pensacola, Florida, Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, and San Diego, CA. I took my turn, now it’s somebody else’s. That flag gets run up because it has a deeper meaning, and it means a lot to those who believe in it. The USAWA is NOT the USA, but it means a lot to those involved in it and somebody ought to run that flag up, otherwise accept defeat.

I know someday I won’t be running the meets I run for lots of reasons (my demise being the most likely at this point)…..but maybe somebody will grab that flag and run with it. Like I grabbed the JWC flag from my Uncle’s and ran with it.

National Championships

by Thom Van Vleck

MEET ANNOUNCEMENT

THE 2011 USAWA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

Al Myers doing a 440 pound Zercher lift in the 2003 USAWA Nationals. The Zercher Lift will be part of the 2011 Nationals to honor the Oldtime Missouri Strongman Ed Zercher.

The 2011 USAWA National Championships will be hosted by the Jackson Weightlifting Club in Kirksville, Missouri!  I have a series of articles planned to keep everyone up to date on this meet so check back often.   Here is what we have decided to this point.

Date: June 25th, 2011

Location: Kirksville, Missouri (exact venue to be decided)

Cost: Entry $50  (plus up to date USAWA membership)

Banquet: $25 per couple or $15 per person (Catered by Western’s Meat Market….a local legend for great food)

Awards: Plaques for age group and open winners, medals for all participants, and a special award for the best lifter

Shirts: Shirts will be provided to all entrants (details on design to come….but it will be special).

Travel & Lodging: www.Capeair.com (866 CAPE AIR) has daily flights from St. Louis to Kirksville for $49, so you can get from anywhere in the world right to town!  There are several motels such as the Budget Host, Holiday Inn Express, Knights Inn, Comfort Inn, Super 8, and Days Inn in Kirksville and just south of town is the Depot Inn in Laplata, Missouri which is next to the Amtrak Station that connects from Chicago and Kansas City. There is another Amtrak station just an hour north that connects to Denver and Chicago and points beyond.  

Format: Morning Session and Afternoon Session.  Morning Session will begin at 10:00am.  Afternoon session will follow with a one hour break after the Morning Session is completed.  Morning and Afternoon Sessions will be determined by opening attempts.

Lifts: (performed in this order)

Snatch – Dumbbell, One Arm

Curl – Cheat

Pullover and Push

Continental to Chest – Fulton Bar

Deadlift – 12″ Base

Zercher Lift

I spent a lot of time thinking about these lifts.  I wanted to have at least one Fulton Bar lift and at least one Dumbbell lift.  I wanted to have a pure power lift (12″ Deadlift) and a pressing movement (Pullover and Push).  I wanted to have the Zercher because Ed Zercher is perhaps the best known Old time strongman from Missouri and me being a good ol’ Missouri boy and the fact that my Grandfather-in-law knew and lifted with Ed….well, that was a must!   Oh, and what about the Cheat Curl….well….I just like it!!!!

Start making plans and training now!!!

CLICK HERE FOR AN ENTRY FORM – Nationals2011

JWC Record Breaker

MEET RESULTS

JWC  SECOND ANNUAL RECORD BREAKER

by Thom Van Vleck

On October 29, 2010 the 2nd Annual JWC Record Breaker meet was held in conjunction with Faith Lutheran School’s annual fundraiser.  The format was that for every USAWA record broken, there would be a donation pledged.  As a result, over $2000 was raised by the lifters alone and the overall event raised over $12,000!  This was over $4000 more than the previous year and the event was deemed a huge success. Over 500 attended and were able to watch the lifting!

All of the lifts attempted were record attempts.  A total of 125 Open, Youth, and Master USAWA records were set or broken.  Thom Van Vleck, Mike Murdock, Joe Garcia, and Chad Ullom were the Certified Judges for the meet and also lifted.  The other lifters were Morgan and Dalton Van Vleck, Mitch Ridout, John O’Brien, and Josh Hettinger.

The event started at 5:00pm with the “Youth Division”.  Morgan and Dalton Van Vleck took the lifting platform to attempt some records.  By the time they were done they had broken or set 20 age group and open records.

10 RECORDS

Morgan Van Vleck – Age 13 (12 – 13 Age group) Weight 46.4kg (50kg Class)

Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar, 1″, Left Hand – 80 lbs. (Age and Open Record)
Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar, 1″, Right Hand – 80 lbs. (Age and Open Record)
Deadlift – 12” base - 165 lbs. (Age and Open Record)
Deadlift – Ciavattone Grip – 165 lbs. (Age and Open Record – broke record of 155 lbs.)
Deadlift – Trap Bar – 175 lbs. (Age and Open Record – broke record of 100 lbs.)

10 RECORDS

Dalton Van Vleck – Age 11 (10 – 11 Age Group) Weight 44.8kg (45kg Class)

Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar, 1”,  Left Hand – 55 lbs. (Age and Open Record)
Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar, 1″, Right Hand – 55 lbs. (Age and Open Record)
Deadlift – 12” Base -  145 lbs. (Age and Open Record – broke record of 130 lbs.)
Deadlift – Ciavattone Grip145 lbs. (Age and Open Record)
Deadlift – Trap Bar – 150 lbs. (Age and Open Record)

Then at 5:30pm the Open Class began. We ran until 7:30pm at which time it was estimated we were at 77 records.  After the Jackson Weightlifting Club did a strongman show to end the night for the fundraiser, the lifters returned to the platform to finish the night.  At the end we weren’t sure how many records had been broken (since some were open and age group) but we were certain we had achieve our goal of 100!  A special thanks to those that traveled up and took part!  Your participation was greatly appreciated and when I presented the money to our principal she got a tear in her eye….and so did I.  Thanks!!!!!!

17 RECORDS

John O’Brien – Age 42 (40-44 Age Group), Weight 126.5 kg (125kg+Class)

Crucifix – 70 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Jerk – 2 Dumbbells – 150 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Side Press – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 75 lbs. (Master Record)
Side Press – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 75 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Jerk – Behind Neck – 245 lbs.  (Open and Master Records)
Clean & Push Press -  245 lbs. (Master Record)
Squat – Overhead – 140 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Press- from Rack – 210 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Jerk – Fulton Bar – 170 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Zeigler Clean – 75 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Clean & Seated Press – 180 lbs. (Open and Master Records)

20 RECORDS

Mitch Ridout – Age 42 (40-44 Age Group), Weight 116.1 kg (120kg Class)

Swing – 2 Dumbbells – 110 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Curl – 2 Dumbbells, Cheat -110 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Snatch – Dumbbell, Left Arm -55 lbs. (Master Record)
Swing – Dumbbell, Left  Arm – 75 lbs. (Master Record)
Curl – Dumbbell, Cheat, Left Arm – 75 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Curl  – Dumbbell, Cheat, Right  Arm – 85 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Clean and Jerk – Behind Neck – 135 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Jefferson Lift – Fulton Bar – 190 lbs. (Master Record)
Press – from Rack – 135 lbs.  (Master Record)
Side Press – Dumbbell,  Right Arm – 90 lbs. (Open & Master Records)
Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar,  2”, Left  Hand – 128 lbs.  (Open & Master Records)
Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar,  2”,  Right Hand – 128 lbs. (Open & Master Records)

7 RECORDS

Joe Garcia -  Age 57  (55-59 Age Group), Weight 93.8 kg (95kg Class)

Snatch – Dumbbell, Right Arm -75 lbs.  (Master Record)
Swing – 2 Dumbbells – 110 lbs. (Master Record)
Deadlift – Fingers, Middle -250 lbs. (Open and Master Records)
Continental Snatch – 140 lbs. (Master Record)
Push Press – from Rack – 135 lbs. (Master Record)
Continental to Chest – 210 lbs.  (Master Record)

13 RECORDS

Mike Murdock – Age 70  (70-74 Age Group), Weight 106,4 kg (110kg Class)

Crucifix – 70 lbs. (Master Record)
Deadlift – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 130 lbs. (Master Record)
Deadlift – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 150 lbs. (Master Record)
Rectangular Fix – 75 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Seated Press – 90 lbs. (Master Record)
Curl – Reverse Grip – 125 lbs. (Master Record)
Zeigler Clean – 95 lbs. (Master Record)
Push Press from Rack – 135 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean and Press – Reverse Grip – 95 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean and Press – Alternate Grip – 95 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean and Press -Heels Together, Fulton Bar – 105 lbs. (Master Record)
Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar, 2”, Left Hand -  88 lbs. (Master Record)
Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar, 2”, Right Hand – 88 lbs. (Master Record)

25 RECORDS

Thom Van Vleck – Age 46 (45-49 Age Group), Weight 135kg (125+kg Class)

Crucifix – 90 lbs.  (Master Record)
Clean and Jerk – 2 Dumbbells – 120 lbs. (Master Record)
Curl – 2 Dumbbells, Cheat – 120 lbs.  (Master and Open Records)
Swing – 2 Dumbbells – 120 lbs. (Master and Open Records)
Curl – Dumbbell, Cheat, Left Arm – 85 lbs. (Master and Open Records)
Curl – Dumbbell, Cheat, Right Arm – 85 lbs. (Master and Open Records)
Clean and Jerk – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 85 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean and Jerk – Dumbbell, Right Arm -85 lbs. (Master Record)
Press – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 85 lbs. (Master Record)
Press – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 85 lbs. (Master Record)
Side Press – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 85 lbs.  (Master Record)
Snatch – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 105 lbs.  (Master Record)
Swing – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 85 lbs. (Master and Open Records)
Swing – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 85 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Press – 140 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Press – 12” Base – 140 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Press – Alternate Grip -  140 lbs. (Master Record)
Clean & Press – on knees – 145 lbs. (Master Record)
Deadlift – Fingers, Index – 145 lbs.  (Master Record)
Jefferson Lift – 315 lbs. (Master Record)

5 RECORDS

Josh Hettinger – Age 29 (Open Age Group), Weight 141.5 kg (125+kg Class)

Swing – 2 Dumbbells -120 lbs. (Open Record)
Press – from Rack – 135 lbs. (Open Record)
Deadlift -  No Thumb, Left Arm – 180 lbs. (Open Record)
Deadlift – No Thumb,  Right Arm – 205 lbs. (Open Record)
Clean & Jerk – Behind Neck – 135 lbs. (Open Record)

18 RECORDS

Chad Ullom – Age 38 (Open Age Group), Weight 108.0 kg (110kg Class)

Clean and Jerk – Dumbbell, Left Arm -120 lbs. (Open Record)
Clean and Jerk – Dumbbell, Right Arm -120 lbs. (Open Record)
Snatch – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 110 lbs. (Open Record)
Swing – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 110 lbs. (Open Record)
Bench Press – Hands Together – 225 lbs. (Open Record)
Clean & Press -  12” Base – 190 lbs. (Open Record)
Side Press – Right Arm – 95 lbs. (Open Record)
Clean & Press – Fulton Bar – 190 lbs. (Open Record)
Swing – 2 Dumbbells – 150 lbs. (Open Record)
Side Press – Dumbbell, Left Arm – 90 lbs. (Open Record)
Side Press – Dumbbell, Right Arm – 90 lbs. (Open Record)
Snatch – On Knees – 115 lbs. (Open Record)
Miller Clean and Jerk – 125 lbs. (Open Record)
Zeigler Clean – 135 lbs. (Open Record)
Press – From Rack – 135 lbs. (Open Record)
Press – From Rack, Behind Neck – 135 lbs. (Open Record)
Reflex Clean & Jerk – 250 lbs. (Open Record)
Continental to Chest – Fulton Bar – 225 lbs. (Open Record)

* Three Certified Officials used on ALL LIFTS – Thom Van Vleck, Joe Garcia, Mike Murdock, and Chad Ullom

What Goes Around….

Arthur Saxon would probably be considered "cutting edge" with most of his training techniques today!

by Thom Van Vleck

Recently, I had a young guy come out to my place to try out the Highland Games.  He was in his early 20’s and had done some weight training at the local YMCA and in high school, but was not a hard core lifter or iron game follower.  What was funny was I gave him a tour of my gym and he started pointing to things I had like they were new and cutting edge.  As if my gym was equipped with “all the latest”.  In particular, he pointed to my Kettlebells and said, “Wow, you have some kettlebells, I would like to try training with those, I’ve heard they are really good to train with”.

This was in contrast to when my Uncle Wayne Jackson saw the Kettlebells right after I had bought them.  Wayne gained the bulk of his training knowledge from reading S&H, MD, and Ironman in the 50’s and 60’s.  He said, “So what are you going to do with those old things”.  As if I had raided the York Barbell museum!   Wayne’s comments leaned towards how Kettlebells were never us used in his day and you couldn’t find those for years and he wasn’t sure what good they were going to do me.

In 2009, I got to go to the Arnold Fitness Expo.  It was there I found out just how “popular” Kettlebells had become again. They were having a competition that centered around doing all kinds of different maneuvers with the kettlebells, some of which I could see a lot of benefit, some….not so much…but hey, I swing a hammer in circles and flip telephone poles in my spare time….so who am I to judge.

I have a lot of stuff in my gym, most of it is pretty old or “well used”.  It is funny to me how things go in and out of style.  It got me to pondering “WHY”?  A lot of times exercises and equipment get run out of town by the “latest thing”.  Usually being sold by some guy looking to make a buck more than he’s trying to “revolutionize” the fitness industry.  He tells us that the old stuff is dangerous, useless, or inferior and enough people buy into it that it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy and the old stuff falls to the wayside.  But form follows function and eventually, what works is rediscovered and comes back again.

Now, this wasn’t intended to be an article on the benefits of Kettlebells, they are just an example.  I’m not trying to sell you on the and I don’t sell them!!!  Just remember, in our effort to get better (whether that be bigger, faster, stronger at lifting, throwing, team sports, whatever) we need to gain a broad understanding of what’s out there.  We need to know our history, we need to know what works and what doesn’t and filter what comes from the so called “experts” so that we may find the tools we need to achieve our goals.  We need to constantly look at what’s been used, what’s on the “shelf” (so to speak) and how can it be used to freshen up our training and lift us to victory!  (no pun intended!).

Strength, Speed, and Age

by Thom Van Vleck

Larry Ventress has been a top Highland Games athlete for many years and has had to deal with his share of injuries.

Here’s a good quote I read recently:

“You might not get faster when you’re older, but you can get stronger.” (NFL Running Back Lorenzo Neal who said he added years to his NFL career when he “lost a step” by doing sets of 20 on the squat AFTER his regular workouts to make up for the speed loss with strength).

I agree, you might not get faster with age, as a matter of fact, you WILL PROBABLY get slower, but you can offset that with strength. Strength gains can come for a LONG time in my opinion. I remember my grandfather writing out his work out routine in his 80’s…he had max attempts written in those goals!!

I was at the McPherson Scottish Highland Games recently and was talking to my good friend Larry Ventress. Larry was a top “A” thrower years ago and has been a top masters thrower for years and he and I have competed against one another for many, many years and have become good friends. We were talking about guys coming out to train with us that were big deadlifters who wanted to try the Weight Over Bar event (you throw a 56lb weight, or 42lb if you are a master, over a cross bar for height with one hand…greatest height wins like in the high jump) and how they failed miserably. They were extremely strong…..but slow. However, we both agreed if they worked at it some, they would be great once they got the speed going. I have also found guys that were quick, that could generate a lot of speed, do well in the WOB, but couldn’t lift much at all. Because in Highland Games, to be a good thrower, you either have great speed or great strength. To be a great thrower you need SPEED & STRENGTH. Larry and I were discussing that if you are losing speed with age….you need to amp up the strength levels to compensate.

Lifting is no different in my opinion and especially so in the quick lifts. So, if you feel like you are losing a step….don’t worry, just get stronger! It CAN be done!!!!

Is the USAWA a “Retirement” Sport?

Wilbur Miller is a guy that had a LONG career in lifting, thanks in part to the USAWA!

by Thom Van Vleck

A USAWA member once told me that the USAWA is a good “retirement” sport.  You have to admit….there are a lot of guys that are pretty old in the USAWA!  I pondered why that was and what it meant (especially since I’m one of them!).

I was at a USAWA meet at Al’s one time and the great Wilbur Miller was there.  We were visiting and he was talking about all the options the USAWA offered to demonstrate strength.  We were also talking about Highland Games and Strongman as well.  He told me that back in his day you either Olympic lifted or powerlifted (he did both and was very GOOD at both, probably one of the best all time at both sports at the same time).  As we watched the lifters doing the lifts Wilbur said, “I wish we would have had this kind of stuff around when I was young…..I think I would have been pretty good at it”.  I don’t think…I KNOW he would have been!  Wilbur must have been inspired, because he came back after that and did some pretty amazing lifting at the same USAWA meet the next year and he’s a CURRENT USAWA member now!

Now, I know some of the old timers will point out that Wilbur and the rest were doing “odd lifts” back in the day, but today’s USAWA has many, many more contested lifts.

Most of us started in more mainstream strength sports.  I started as an Olympic lifter (and was an abysmal failure but I did learn how to power clean and squat….two lifts that have served me well!).   I then became a powerlifter (and was moderately successful).  Then came strongman & Highland Games (which I found I was even better at, with Highland Games being my greatest success relative to world class competition).   And with those, also came injuries.  Some of those have kept me from doing certain movements and if those were the only lifts on the table….then you are OUT!  But with the USAWA comes  hundreds of lifts.  If you can’t do one, pull out the rule book and search until you can find one you CAN do!  How great is that!

Of course, having all the age brackets and age adjustment formulas attract masters lifters, but that is, in my opinion, NOT why there’s so many masters in the sport.  Most athletes don’t retire because they are done, they retire because they are injured.  The desire is usually still there, the body just unable to perform.  That is why there are so many masters involved in the USAWA because it allows them to find lifts they can still do and compete at!   That’s a great thing in my opinion!  It also attracts guys like it attracted Wilbur Miller….the challenge of doing so many things and doing them well and finally finding a place to do it!

….and one last thing…..I ain’t RETIRED!  I’m just getting started!

JWC Record Breaker

MEET ANNOUNCEMENT

JWC RECORD BREAKER : LIFTING FAITH

by Thom Van Vleck

Oct. 29 we will be attempting a feat never before seen in the USAWA.  Quite frankly, I wonder what I was thinking when I dreamed this up!  We will attempt to break 100 USAWA records in about 2 hours for charity.

Last year I had my first ever JWC Record day and we had a blast.  This year I decided to combine it with our annual school fundraiser to try and get pledges for each record we break.  This money will go towards funding the Faith Lutheran School.  This school has over 150 students from preschool to 3rd grade.  Most of these students don’t attend our Church, and many do not have a Church home at all.  So the money is more than just about giving to a Church but to a school that reaches out to many different families and children.

I have decided to call it “Lifting Faith” because we are lifting weights to benefit Faith Lutheran School.  I already have several athletes who have committed to this feat and I am looking for more!  There is no entry fee and no awards, just the satisfaction of not only breaking individual records, but being part of a 100 record breaking day,  AND raising money for a good cause.

I will be going out and getting pledges for each record we break.  If we break 50 records and I have pledge totaling $10 per record, we raise $500 and if we break 100 records it will be $1000!  So, it’s important that we break as many as possible with the maximum being 100!  I will have loaders and spotters there and I will have a lifting platform and a warm up platform.  We will likely have over 500 people, most of them kids,  in attendance and towards the end, we will be the CENTER of the event!  I will have someone running a tote board to update progress and multiplying that by pledges to show an every rising dollar amount.  I will have an emcee and a PA system.  At the end, the JWC will do our strongman show as part of a finale the evenings festivities.

All YOU need to do is BE THERE and be READY to break some records!!!!!

Contact me as soon as possible to verify your attendance.  I need all entries by Oct. 25th, NO LATE entries due to the need to develop a flow chart of records.  Also, due to the time limits, when it’s your time to lift, you need to be ready!  We will be moving quickly!!  No chain lifts, only platform lifts!

Be a part of the record day to beat all record days!

Here is my contact info:

Thom Van Vleck

tvanvleck@yahoo.com

660 341 1755

Make it “Official”

by Thom Van Vleck

Phil Jackson judging in the 1960's

I guess I’m officially “OLD”.  I went to a funeral the other day and was upset with the clothes people wore.  They were in jeans, sweat pants, jeans with holes in them, etc.  I was in a suit and tie.  I was there to show respect.

I guess I’m old school and I like to show respect. I respect my elders, my betters, ladies….errr…women.  Because that is how I was raised.  I open doors for older folks (seems to be fewer of those every year…don’t understand why!?).  I stop when I see someone needs help.  I greet folks with a handshake and acknowledge them in some appropriate way when I can.  In general, I’m nice…..Ok, MOST of the time I’m nice.

I was going through some old pictures recently and came across one of Phil Jackson judging a meet in the 1960’s.  He was wearing a suit and tie.  I asked him about it and he acted like that was a stupid question!  He said all the judges wore respectable clothes back then.  He said it made the meet look better, like there was something going on, but most of all it was showing respect to the honorable position of being a judge.  I would also point out that Phil had lifted in that meet and changed to judge the later classes.

Now,  I’ve judged meets in jeans and a t-shirt so I’m not casting stones here (but I will in regards to that funeral….that just made me mad!).  I would be curious what other members of the USAWA think about this.  I’ll guess that if you are over 40, you think that a judge should look the part and at least look half way decent and if you are under 30 you could care less as long as the job gets done.  Ages 30-40 are probably in the middle!!

Log onto the USAWA Discussion Forum and let me know and I’ll follow this article up with the results.

JWC: The Pro Football Connection Part III

by Thom Van Vleck

John Ware: 49'er Prospect and World Champion Powerlifter

There are a couple more names I’ll associate with the JWC and Pro Football. One is a stretch, but the other is not.

In the 80’s NMSU had a player named Mike Morris.  He was strong, I mean really strong.  I recall him squatting 770lbs and back then in college that was pretty serious….well….it STILL is.  I worked out with him a few times and was in awe of his strength.  Later, he would play almost two decades in the NFL as a long snapper and at one time, in the MILO Strength Journal, there was a story on him basically calling him the STRONGEST man in pro football.  Since then, I have become friends with Mike Baab.  Mike Baab played many years in the NFL and at one point he and Morris were on the same team.  I was “trying to impress” Mike with some name dropping and mentioned Morris.  Baab said, “Yeah, that guy was really strong, but he had ‘powerlifter’ legs”.  I asked what that meant, and Baab smiled and said, “He ran like he had a 45lb plate strapped to each foot!”.  Then Baab said, “But you don’t need to be fast to be a long snapper”.  I have tried to reach Mike a couple of times with no luck.  He does radio work for the Vikings now so I’m guessing I probably don’t carry much clout with him anymore…..if ever!

Then, there was Big John Ware who was a top powerlifter for many years and for the 20 years he was in Kirksville he was a good, close friend and often training partner of mine, who came to my house often.  We shared an interest in strength sports and football.  John had an undergrad degree in psychology and a Master’s in Counseling, and we attended the same Master’s program but at different times.  We had many conversations on the topic of  psychology.  He was a very intelligent guy.  I’ll never forget how I found out about his passing at age 46.  Just before I left for the 2005 Masters World Championships (highland games) I had called John.  He was in Joplin coaching Missouri Southern and they had a game at Truman in Kirksville coming up, and we were going to get together.  He was very encouraging and told me he wanted to hear how things were going with me when I got back.  When I got off the plane on my return, my wife had left me a message asking me to call her ASAP….and I got the bad news.

John was an All American Football player at Drake University.  He was signed by the San Francisco 49′ers (kind of ironic) and made it to the final cut.  John told me later that he realized at that point he could be a world champion powerlifter, or a mediocre pro football player, and he chose greatness.  He then added that if the money would have been there like it is now…..powerlifting may not have had one of it’s greatest champs!!!  During that time, I got to workout a lot with John.  He had one buddy named Dennis McKnight that came back often to train with us.   McKnight played at Drake and then logged over 10 years in the NFL.

During the time I trained with him he was a 5 time National Champ in Powerlifting and he was the 1991 World Champ.  He probably would have won more World Championships but they were always in the fall and as a football coach….he could not take time off in the fall.  His most legendary feat was breaking Bill Kazmaier’s world record in the total.  His best lifts were a 1000lb squat (I once spotted him do a triple with 985lbs).  I probably spotted him hitting over 600lbs on the bench a couple dozen times, including at triple with 600 one time.

John did share with me that he used a lot of drugs, including steroids.  He told me that he was certain it was the cause of his heart problems (he died of a heart attack at age 46).  He was also unapologetic.  He felt that all the same guys he beat while on steroids he could have beaten off steroids (assuming they were on them, too, and I think all the “greats” of that day were on them).  John commented to me he never claimed to be drug free and that when he started them in the 70’s, the culture was very different than it is now and they weren’t aware of all the dangers.  He told me if he had started 10 years later, he would probably never would have used them.

John did train in the JWC gym, unlike Morris, as did Glen Jacobs.  Jacobs was better known as the pro wrestler KANE!  But that, my friends, is another story!  I only mention him here because he was a Chicago Bear prospect but could not pass their physical so he went into the crazy world of Pro Wrestling!

That’s the JWC connection to the world or Pro Football!  It’s not much, but we are proud of it!

JWC: The Pro Football Connection: Part II

by Thom Van Vleck

Press clipping after the NFC Championship Game

Tom Geredine was a wide receiver for NMSU and was actually picked ahead of Lenny by the Falcons.  He ended up playing for the Falcons for two years and the LA Rams for one.  He was never a starter, but he did have one great game on a Monday night that had Howard Cosell fired up.  It was November 19, 1973 and Tom was at wide receiver.  He had three receptions of 52 yards as a back up, making it has 2nd best game as a pro.  The catches were at clutch times and helped the Falcons beat the Vikings 20 to 14.  That was a year the Vikings went to the Super Bowl and that was only one of two loses they suffered that year….an upset!

Then, there was Lenny.  Lenny played Pro football for 9 years. Six years as a Bengal and his coach was the legendary Paul Brown.  An assistant was this guy named Bill Walsh…..that will be important later!  Lenny played with the Browns but after 6 years his knees were getting banged up and he was released.  Bill Walsh had since become the coach of the 49ers and saw something special in Elliott.  He picked him up and Lenny came to the 49ers as a third stringer.

Then, came “The Catch”.  In the 1981 season, the year the 49er’s won their first Super Bowl, the “niners” found themselves  in the NFC Championship game against the great Dallas Cowboys who had made a habit of winning Super Bowls in the 70’s.  You have to remember, at this time the 49er’s were losers, they had never been to a Superbowl and they had some rookie QB named Joe Montana that everyone said at the time was too small and didn’t have a strong enough arm.  Then came a 4th quarter drive that Joe Montana would become famous for. Walsh knew the Cowboys would be looking for the pass so he looked down the bench and got a washed up running back (Lenny) who had been cut from the team, and only recently picked back up, and began to feed him the ball.  Lenny set up that Catch, and right before the catch, ALMOST scored a touchdown that would have meant the catch never happened!   If you are a fan, you remember “The Catch”, but did you know that Lenvil Elliott, JWC member, was the MVP of that NFC Championship game?  He set up that play and it was his finest hour as a player.  He did not play in the Superbowl and his bad knees forced him to retire the next year…so it was his last game.  A story fit for a movie!

Here’s another layer to this story.  There was a book called “The Catch” by Gary Myers.  In it he talks about this famous moment in football and characterizes it as the moment when Pro Football became bigger than Pro Baseball in America.  It was the moment when Pro Football became AMERICA’S GAME.  In the book, there’s a point where Gary Myers states that the “unsung hero” of that game was really Lenvil Elliott.  I like to believe that the training Lenny got from my Uncle helped his career and led to that moment.  I guess I don’t just believe it….I know it.

I recall many fun times with Lenny.  He was a nice guy.  He gave me his training camp shirt one year and I wore that my entire Senior year of high school….until it was in tatters!   We have a family cabin that we all often went to and used.  Lenny often brought his Pro Football friends out to get away from it all.  My Uncle Phil said they liked the fact he treated them like they were regular guys.  One of those guests was named “Walt” from Chicago.  You guessed it….Walter Payton.  My Uncle Phil said that when he left after a weekend of hunting he commented that he appreciated Phil not making a big deal about him and he offered him an autographed photo.  Phil told me that he turned him down and told him the joy of his company was enough.   Later, Lenny told Phil that Walter said he really liked Phil and our family cabin.  I recall lots of “big guys” coming out and Phil telling me to treat them like regular guys.  We did and we had a blast.

That’s only part of the JWC Pro football legacy….how about Part III??!!

JWC: The Pro Football Connection Part I

by Thom Van Vleck

Lenvil Elliot: JWC member and Super Bowl winner!

I had thought about titling this article: How the JWC made Football America’s Game over baseball.  That’s quite a claim, isn’t it?   Well, it’s true!  First, let me talk a little about Lenvil “Lenny” Elliot and the rest of the the Pro football players that came out of the JWC.

Lenny came to school at Northeast Missouri State University, which is now Truman State, here in Kirksville in the fall of 1969.   My Uncle Phil returned from Vietnam after a stint in the Air Force and started school in 1971.   Phil already had two years of credits so they were both Juniors.  They were both in school to be Physical Education teachers so they took a lot of classes together.  They began to train together, but more than that, they shared a love of hunting and fishing and spent nearly every weekend doing just that for the next two years.  That was the source of their real friendship.

At this time my Uncle Phil aspired to be a football trainer, maybe even for a professional team, and Lenny was on track to play in the NFL.  So they had a lot in common and Phil often shared his unique training philosophy with Lenny and personally trained Lenny for a year and a half before the NFL draft.  Phil had the JWC in the basement of his house and basically it was the only gym in town.  He told me he got enough in membership dues to pay the rent on the whole house!

Northeast Missouri State was in a “golden” era in football. In 1969, 1970, and 1971 they won the MIAA conference and out of those teams they had 5 players drafted into Pro football.   This included four that were trained by Phil!  Besides Lenny, there was Tom Geredine who was drafted into the NFL.  Then, in the WFL there was Craig O’Sadnick and Marvin Robinson.  Phil designed training programs for them for the off season (it was unusual to train in the offseason back then) and they lifted at the JWC gym.

This is remarkable in a couple of ways.  Northeast (or Truman as it is now known) had about 10 players EVER play pro football.  That means that the 5 that came out of this group was HALF of that total.  Pretty amazing and I have often wondered how much the training they got from Phil helped.  I think it had to help!  I was just a kid, but I recall Phil, Lenny, and the guys hanging out, and hitting the town.  Phil has a lot of stories…after all, it was the 70’s and the school has always been about two thirds girls for it’s enrollment!

Next: Part II  The JWC, Walter Payton, Winning a Super bowl, and Pro football becoming America’s Game.

Meet John O’Brien

by Thom Van Vleck

John O'Brien, of the JWC, is a World Class short-steel bender. In this picture, he displays an IronMind Red Nail which he just bent!

John O’Brien is a USAWA member, a good Highland Games thrower, a great lifter, and a world class short steel bender. Most of all, he’s my friend, training partner and Jackson Weightlifting Club member.  For most of the past decade we have been traveling to USAWA meets, Highland Games, Strongman Contests, Highlander meets, but most importantly he is a member of our evangelism team.  John is also a chemistry professor at Truman State and likes to say he’s trying to change the image of “nerds” everywhere.  He’s certainly the biggest, strongest “nerd” I’ve ever met!

John is  a low key guy.  He doesn’t get too fired up and has come across as being more than a little intimidating due to his size and quiet demeanor. Which is funny when you know he’s one of the nicest guys you could meet.   One  time, we went to a local fast food restaurant and the cashier, a young teen boy, was ready to take John’s order.  He was looking at John, all 6′3″ and 290lbs of him, and said, “Do you work out”?  John looked at him and in his usual economy of words said, “Yes”.  The kid looked him up and down again and said, “You scare me”.  I died laughing.  John is the quiet guy in the room that seems to intimidate people because not only is he big and decidedly strong looking, but you don’t quite know what’s on his mind.  And you won’t know unless you ask him directly!  Another funny story was the time when he would bend 60 penny nails during labs as practice.  Finally the Dean came to him and said he had to stop as the students were too scared to approach him and ask him questions as he bent nail after nail and tossed them in a pile!

I get a kick out of him and over the years have collected a list of top ten “Johnisms”.  When John does say something, it’s usually pretty well thought out and funny if you know him.  If you’ve never met him, they are still funny, but you have to imagine someone saying these in the most low key, matter of fact manner.

1.  You don’t have to be smiling to be happy. (Because John rarely smiles and people often ask him if he’s “OK”)

2. I’m not anti-social, I’m ASOCIAL…..there’s a difference.

3. People  don’t know how to take me and that’s the way I like it.

4. I may not be cheerful….but I’m always prepared. (Did I mention he’s a boy scout troop leader?)

5. You want a better grade in my class?  Then study Harder.

6. Yes, I know how to make nitro-glycerin and no I won’t….it’s very unstable.

7. You have to be careful regarding the chemicals you order….or the ATF or DEA will call.

8.  I like energetic reactions.

9. I have blown off an eyebrow doing experiments…..twice.

10. There was an explosion at the lab over the weekend…..I checked, it wasn’t mine this time.

John is one strong guy.  He has won the Master’s Class at the last two Highlander Nationals.  He always does well at any strength sport he tries because not only is he strong, he’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever met.  He can bend short steel with the best of them and easily bent an Ironmind Red Nail.  He can easily squeeze a pop can until it explodes and is our “go to” guy in our strongman evangelism shows when we need a heavy lift done.  We have sure had a lot of fun doing what we do!

But most of all, he’s one of the “characters” that make up the Jackson Weightlifting Club and the USAWA.  Next time you see him, say hello….don’t be afraid!

USAWA in Print: Book Review

by Thom Van Vleck

Steve Scott and John Saylor's latest book promotes USAWA members and USAWA lifts.

I recently got an issue of Steve Scott’s latest book.  He wrote it with John Saylor, a well respected martial arts instructor and Champion.  Steve sent me an autographed copy because of what was inside.  I’ll get to that in a moment.  First, let me tell you about Steve.

Steve is one of my best friends and someone I admire greatly.  When I first met Steve he was a top master’s thrower in Scottish Highland Games and was running Highland Games in KC.  Because of Steve, I became friends with Al Myers and Chad Ullom and was introduced to the sport that I’ve enjoyed my greatest athletic success.  For that, I’m very grateful.  Steve’s wife, Becky, also was a top thrower and always at his side in any project he took on.  I then found out that Highland Games were just the tip of the iceberg as far as Steve & Becky were concerned.

Steve was, and still is, a top Judo coach.  He has a widely respected club in Kansas City called the Welcome Mat that has been in operation since 1969.  It has produced National, Pan American,  and World Champs as well as some of the elite men and women in our fighting forces and a Secret Service Agent that was on George W. Bush’s personal detail.  Becky was a National, Pan Am, and World Champ and Steve once told me that Becky could have been an Olympic Champion but back then women did not compete in Judo in the Olympics!

Over the years, Steve has written over a dozen books on martial arts, training, coaching and this one is his best to date in my opinion.  It has a very broad appeal.  My Uncle, Phil Jackson, who is, in my opinion, the most knowledgeable person I ever met in regards to weight training, once told me that the hardest sport all the way around was boxing.  It was mentally, physically, and emotionally draining.  I would say the same applies to all combat sports.  You have to be tough and that comes from how you train.  Steve, with John Saylor, has (in my opinion) created the ultimate resource on Combat training.

This book is HUGE and full of all types of training.   There are over 300 pages of illustrated exercises.  There are detailed explanations of not only how to do the lift, but how to properly train and utilized the lift to fix a weakness. There are workout routines and tons of advice.   I would say that if you wanted to do some off season conditioning for USAWA lifting or Highland Games, this book would be a valuable resource.

Now, I’ll tell you why mine was autographed.  Inside were pictures of me, Al Myers, and Chad Ullom demonstrating some lifts.  Appropriately, it was in the “OLD SCHOOL” training section.  Steve  talks about training wisdom that came from Bill Clark,  and his book even contains an exercise that is a variation of the “Inman Mile”!  I knew Steve had requested the photos, but I had no idea what a first class product he was producing.

Dinnie Stones: Who Was Really First?

Jack Shanks, second (or third) to lift the stones without straps

by Thom Van Vleck

I have to admit, I don’t have the patience to do pure research.  The long hours required make my eyes glaze over.  When I read, it goes like this:  I pull a book off a shelf, thumb through it, find something interesting, read it until I get bored, then move on.  As a result, I gather information in bits and pieces and it kind of becomes like a puzzle to me.  Waiting for the next piece to make the overall picture more clear.  I have a lot of “puzzles” going on at once and I kind of like it that way.

As of late, one of these puzzles has been focused on Dave Webster and the Dinnie Stones.  I had wrote most recently about “Darth Vader” lifting the stones and that the article in Ironman was not really clear if Dave Prowse (Darth) lifted the stones with straps or without.  That article was written in the 70’s.  Last night I was reading Webster’s book ” Scottish Highland Games” that was printed in 1973.  In it, he makes the statement on page 131 of Prowse’s feat, “A good feat, but Dave wore hand straps which make a great difference”.

Dave then goes on and details what was certainly the second lifting (if not the third….I’ll explain that later) of the stones without straps.  Now, I realize that Gordon Dinnie, a descendent of Donald, has a website (www.gordondinnie.com) that details lifts, but if you read Webster’s book you find some details that don’t match up….making for an interesting “puzzle”.  These are the details I’m going to focus on.  My intention is not to point out mistakes, because these aren’t mistakes.  My intention is to provide information where I have found it and let you decide.

In Webster’s book he credits Jack Shanks, from Ireland, with lifting the Dinnie Stones “correctly”.  Which Webster explains as lifting both stones with no straps.  What I find funny is that in my mind “correctly” would be to lift the stones and carry them the width (not the length) of the bridge.  However, “correctly” seems to have come to mean simply lifting the stones….or carrying them the prescribed distance!  Gordon Dinnie’s website seems to confirm Shanks feat, but gives him credit with carrying the stones the equivalent distance, which Webster makes no mention of.  Gordon Dinnie also credits Imlach Shearer with lifting the stone assisted two years earlier and unassisted the same year as Shanks (1973).  What Gordon Dinnie does not make explicitly clear is if Shearer did the unassisted lift before or after Shanks.  I say this because Gordon may not have considered Shearer’s feat the same if he simply lifted them while Shanks carried them!

Now,  earlier I mention Jack Shanks being possibly the third man to lift the stones “correctly”.  Webster states in his book that in 1955 in Aberdeen at the “Highland Fling” a 78 year old man named James Law came forward and stated he lifted both stones in 1911, but did not carry them.  So, perhaps he was the second, after Dinnie, to life the stones “correctly”….or perhaps some other man, after a hard days work and a few brews in the Potarch Inn, lifted those stones on a bet or whim and their feat and name is lost to history.  Not to much of a stretch to believe that could have happened!

Then there is the story of when Louis Cyr came to visit Dinnie and they visited the stones.  Dinnie picked up the smaller stone and then carried it a distance.  Cyr did the same and beat Dinnie’s distance.  Webster points out that Dinnie was 63 years old at the time and Cyr was much younger and in his prime, but Webster seems to be clear that Cyr did not lift both.  Webster also tells of a man named William McCombie Smith would regularly lift the bigger stone unassisted and was the only man to do this.  Webster then states that after that, Henry Gray and John Gallagher also lifted the big stone unassisted before Prowse came along.

Another story involved Bill Bangert.  A man from Missouri often credited with bringing Scottish athletics to America and beginning the modern “wave ” of success it has had the past 40 years.  Bangert made a ring and harness to carry the stones that undoubtedly made the feat much easier…..and he received a little grief then and since then for this “cheat lift”.  But he did carry the stones across the road and back and I don’t think he tried to claim he did any more than that!

On another “final” note (at least until I read some more!).  I also read that at one time one of the rings broke and a different ring was attached.  It was not clear which one (the smaller or the larger one) but if it were the smaller ring….that changed the dynamics dramatically.  I lifted each stone individually with straps and that small ring was considerably more difficult.  Then there is the concern that the stones are being slowly chipped away and who knows how much weight they have lost, being dropped over and over.   Maybe they will soon be place in protected custody like the original Apollon’s Railroad Car Wheels, where nobody will ever lift them again!  In which case, we may not ever know  who was first, but we may know who was LAST!

Home Made Equipment

by Thom Van Vleck

Wayne Jackson using a home made Bench Press

In the early days of the Jackson Weightlifting Club there was a lot of  Home Made equipment.  My grandfather said that back in the 20’s, when he and his friends decided to lift weights they had “NO HOPE” of being able to afford real weights so they got scrap iron for the bars and poured cement in buckets to make weights.  They also lifted whatever was handy!  When my Uncles started lifting in the late 50’s, there was more equipment available, but they had the same old problem of being broke!  So they made a lot of their own stuff and got by just fine.  In the photo I’ve included with this story you will see my Uncle Wayne doing “press grip tricep presses” (basically, using the same grip he used for the Olympic Press and keeping his elbows in) on a bench that one of the JWC members made.   If you look closely, the leg on the far left is actually split and it looks like it’s ready to blow!!!!

I recall when I first started training, about 1977, they were tearing a house down nearby.  We went down and Wayne pulled out some old boards that weighed a ton (probably native oak).  We pulled what seemed like hundreds of nails out and then my grandfather Dalton took to making an Incline for Presses.  I’m pretty sure Evel Knievel could have used that thing to jump the Grand Canyon, it was that solid!!!  I also recall getting a splinter or two using that thing and learning that if you do inclines with the uprights in front of you and you can’t lock out the bar….you will be trapped!  Another thing that my Uncle’s made that I still have is a set of squat stands.  The base is a truck wheel and the upright is a truck drive shaft.  The “U joint” makes a nice, natural rest for the bar.   When I first started in the Highland Games, I made a lot of homemade equipment.

I’m sure we all have stories like that.  I have many more, too.  But that’s not my point today.  It’s about desire.  I recall my grandfather telling a story about how when he was a kid there was a man that had a really fast horse and he treated the horse like gold, pampering it, giving it all the best grain, stalls, equipment and most importantly hired someone to train the horse.  He then raced it against another horse that had none of these things but did have an owner that worked hands on with the horse.  The day of the race, the horse that knew his owner and the owner’s desire to win, won over the horse who’s owner was a stranger to him.  The message I got was that desire was the most important ingredient to winning.

I recall one day back in the 70’s a guy begged me to come and train at the old JWC.  He showed up and it was winter and there was no heat in our gym.  It was also dirty and full of home made equipment.  I could tell he was put off by it all.  He never came back and that was no great surprise to me.  If he had the desire, he would have put up with what he had to in order to achieve his goal.

Today, I have a pretty nice gym.  I have some pretty expensive equipment.  But I still lift off those old squat stands from time to time to remember that story.  To remember that if I have don’t have desire, all the fancy equipment in the world won’t save me when (as my Granddad used to say) “the shoe leather meets the road”.   A little adversity is a good thing!

Concepts on General Weight Training

(Over the years, my Uncle Phil Jackson has been my coach, but also much more than that.  He has been my guru, my father figure, and a best friend.  Phil has coached numerous state champs, bodybuilding champs, and he ran a couple of gyms.  He met all the greats of yesteryear including Bill Pearl, Paul Anderson, John Grimek, and many more.  He also has a degree in Physical Education and has maintained his teaching certificate.   He shared thoughts and ideas with these men and has a wealth of knowledge that  today’s lifter might view as old fashioned, but I think USAWA members realize that the old timers knew what they were doing. He sent me this routine some time ago typed upon his manual typewriter back in 1969. – Thom Van Vleck)

Concepts on General Weight Training

by Phil Jackson

Weight training is possibly the greatest supplement an athlete can add to his training schedule.  Yet it can also be the worst mistake he could ever make.

Weight training applied properly can add strength, endurance, speed, and a certain degree of flexibility.  If it is not applied properly you may find yourself somewhat stronger than you were before but your athletic performance has not increased and in some cases even decreased primarily due to a lack of flexibility.  For example, you could give a baseball pitcher a weight training schedule that was too heavy, lacking full range movement that would ruin his pitching arm.  Yet you carefully design a schedule using weights to strengthen his throwing muscles, and it will improve his pitching.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to make a distinction between the terms weight lifting and weight training.  Weightlifting is the process of lifting weight primarily for the purpose of increasing muscle size and strength, with no regard to athletic performance, where as weight training is the process of training with weights for the purpose of increasing strength for the purpose of athletic performance.

Most of us as coaches will be using weight training for the purpose of increasing strength for athletic performance, yet at the same time one should strive for as much flexibility as possible in the weight schedule.  This is usually provided by emphasizing the stretch with the movement. I would like to demonstrate just a few of these exercises and the whole purpose here is the stretch technique use whenever possible: Bench Press to Neck, Deadlift off bench, Lunges to floor, One arm tricep extension, Wrist Curls, Straight Arm Pullovers, Seated Twist (always first), and Calf Raises.

Two biggest mistakes you can make, Compare yourself to others and directly applying others technique to you…you find what works for you.

As a coach, when you’re making up weight training schedules for your athletes there are 7 concepts which will help.

1. Cardiovascular: Increasing and maintaining heart rate

2.  Respiratory: How you control your breathing in an athletic event, holding breath, releasing it, and breathing control.

3. Stamina: Ability to go day after day

4. Endurance: Ability to go as near 100% in a one day event, continuous ability to perform at a high level

5. Muscle Twitch: stretching just beyond the normal range.  Very determined by the specific sport.  Increasing the ability to Explode (Phil calls it muscle snap).

6.  Flexibility: All kinds of stretching for active recovery, teaching the muscle to relax for performance improvements, getting in touch with the muscle.  Increased the range of motion and muscle twitch.

7.  Complete training: building the minor muscles and foundation muscles for the specific sport event.

Uncle Phil

by Thom Van Vleck

Phil Jackson (R) arm wrestling in the old JWC gym

A lot of you guys hear me mention my “Uncle Phil” and a few of you have asked me to tell you more about him (some of the old timers still around like Bill Clark, Charles Scott, and Wilbur Miller will remember him personally) .  He is Phil Jackson and he’s the one really responsible for the Jackson Weightlifting Club today.  He is also the source of most of my training knowledge.  He has been a father figure, a friend, an mentor, a coach, and sometimes agitator!  The photo above was when Phil was just a teen.  He was a fantastic arm wrestler and says he was NEVER beaten and I can find no one who says they did!   Phil’s main passion was Olympic lifting and Bodybuilding.  He had a disdain for powerlifters calling them “Olympic lifting rejects”, but that was mostly good natured (at least I think it was!).

My grandfather initially started the JWC in 1928 with his brother in law, Coda Baugher, and some friends.  But to be honest, this was just some neighborhood friends hanging out and lifting weights and it quickly broke up as they grew up and left home.  However, my grandfather would tell the stories to my Uncles and they started lifting in 1957.  Initially, it was my Uncle’s Leroy and Wayne.  Phil was the “baby” of the family and started a couple years later.

Leroy was a star athlete and interested in weights only to benefit his other interests in football, basketball, baseball, and track and he was very successful in those sports.  But Wayne took an interest in Olympic lifting and entered his first contest in April of 1962 (run by Bill Clark) and out of that, the modern JWC was born!  Phil was always the “go getter”, the guy that would pull everyone together to train, compete, and put up money for contests.  He soon rounded up over 30 members to the newly named JWC and fielded teams that traveled to dozens of meets across the Midwest during the 60’s.  During that time, the JWC won two team state championships in Olympic lifting against teams from St. Louis and Kansas City.  Phil lifted on those teams but he was always the “coach” and main motivator. Phil has always been an “old school” type coach.  If he thinks making you mad will make you better….prepare to be madder than you’ve ever been.  Phil knows how motivate people, one way or the other!!!!  He used his coaching lessons later in life to win 42 out of 42 consecutive sales awards during his career as a sales manager for a large insurance company.

In 1965 Phil earned a unusual distinction.  That year he entered the Missouri High School State Championships in Olympic Lifting, held in Kansas City that year.  At that time Phil was around 17 years of age and he lifted either 165lbs or 181lbs.  He became adept at making weight when he had to.  He had an ongoing battle with another lifter and Phil was going to make a point of beating him at this meet.  He thought this fella was going to lift in the 165lb class so Phil (already with a qualifying total in another meet at 165) cut weight and showed up to lift on the first day.  That day, the 114lb, 123lb, 145lb, and 165lb classes were due to lift on Saturday.  The other guy found out about this and gained up to lift 181lbs obviously trying to avoid the confrontation.  Phil lifted 165lbs and won, but the other guy started talking some trash about how he was “lucky” Phil had avoided certain defeat had he entered that class.  So Phil showed up on Sunday to weigh in, having hit the buffet and downing a gallon of milk to make the 181lb class.

Phil had a qualifying total at 181 and stated he wanted to lift.  The officials told he he couldn’t and Phil said, “Show me in the rules where it says I can’t”!! The officials couldn’t find any rule so decide to let him lift….much the the chagrin of his “rival”.  Phil hit the exact same total as the previous day and won!  Two state titles in two weight classes…..the same YEAR!  The following year, the AAU made a rule explicitly forbidding anyone from doing that again.  While no one named Phil as the reason for the rule….it always seemed there had to be a connection.  Later, all other lifting organizations, as they developed, lifted that rule from the AAU rule book and today it’s standard in all lifting organizations.

In March of 1966, Phil was going to be drafted so he joined the Air Force.  He was soon after sent to Vietnam for a year where he poured himself into his training as an escape and got into the best shape of his life.  When he came back from Vietnam he was stationed in Alabama where he met and trained with greats such as Joe Dube, Frank Zane (although Phil always called him “chicken legs Zane”), Boyer Coe, Casey Viator, and Karo Whitfield to name a few.  He also met and had a long personal conversation with Paul Anderson during this time.

In 1969 Phil came back to Kirksville to attend Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State) and during that time him and my Uncle Wayne achieved some of their greatest strength lifts.  In 1971 Wayne won the Missouri State title in Powerlifting AND Olympic Lifting with Phil at his side pushing him the whole way.  During that time he became best friends with Lenvil Elliot, a friendship that lasted until Lenny’s passing a few years ago. Lenny was a JWC member and later played 8 years in the NFL and was the MVP of the 1982 NFC Championship Game (the game where Joe Montana threw the famous pass to Dwight Clark) and Lenny won a Super Bowl ring.  So, a JWC member has a Super Bowl ring!

In 1973, Phil graduated and the rigors of a family and job, plus moving away, led to him giving up heavy lifting.  During that time he would always challenge himself.  One time he made a goal of being able to do 100 pushups without stopping and trained for that.  I often visited him and we often went hunting and fishing together and he made a point of always “showing me up” with some feat of strength or endurance.  At the same time, he always let me know that if I wanted to beat him, it was as simple as being willing to “pay the price” and get stronger.  Phil often reminded me, “The only time Success comes before Work is in the Dictionary”.  I was always impressed with his exploits and feats of strength and it fired me up to be strong!

In 1977 I took an interest in weight training and soon Phil was my coach.  Since he was my mother’s younger brother people thought we were brothers and I suppose we acted like it, cutting up all the time.  Phil guided me in my early training and often stated, in his old school coach way, “I’ve forgotten more about training that you’ll ever know”.  This has, to date, been a 33 year relationship that continues to this day.  While he lives in Colorado and has since 1984, we talk a couple times a week.  Often about many things, but weight training is a constant.  I lived with him in 1988 and he trained me into the best all around shape of my life.  We often debate heatedly on training, but in that process, I know he’s pushing me to become better.   Over the years I’ve been out at least two dozen times for visits and he comes back almost yearly and during that time we have intense meetings on training, politics, and life.

Then, in 2000, after a 27 year absence from serious weight training, Phil made his “comeback”.  Since that time he trains about 3 hours a day, usually a split routine, and often almost daily.  He trains old school, long, hard hours in the gym and he has had some amazing results.  I am hoping that someday I can coax him into a USAWA meet!  I am confident he could break many records.  But that doesn’t seem to interest him as much as just communing with the iron and using his lifting as a way of life rather than a path to glory.  I can honestly say that at 60 he was in the best shape I’ve ever seen for a 60 year old man

Phil has had some bad luck as of late.  Severely injuring his shoulder in a fall that required surgery and some health issues that appear to be related to his exposure to agent orange and DDT in Vietnam (he worked in a warehouse that ordered, stored, and dispersed the product and he said the area around the base was sprayed constantly).  But Phil never stops, he never gives up and that’s what I’ve come to expect from him.  I am currently working with him on a book about the JWC that will involve life stories along with real, hardcore, training philosophy.  Even if it never gets published, I know I’m already better off from the knowledge and lessons learned in the process.

In closing, I’ll just say that what I admire most about Phil was he had the mind of a champion.  Once he locked on a goal, he was unbeatable.  He may not have been gifted genetically, but he would get 100% out of what he had and often beat others stronger, faster, and more athletic than he was…simply with determination!

Defining “Drug Free”

by Thom Van Vleck

The most recent issue of MILO came out and in it is an article that I did that I’m particularly happy about.  I got to interview John Godina (top discus thrower and world champ in the shot put).  He was a lot of fun to visit with and he had a lot of comments about training, drugs, the politics of throwing, and other related topics and he pulled no punches.

My favorite comment was related to being a drug free thrower.  John has always advocated being drug free in his throwing and training and he has never tested positive for anything which, as much as one can, backs up his claims of being drug free.  When I asked him about drug use in sports he said, “People who use [drugs] are cowards because they are afraid to find out if they are the best without it.”  That’s a pretty strong statement.

I have never used performance drugs (that’s probably pretty obvious based on my lifts!) and have no plans to do it in the future.  I can’t say I haven’t been tempted, but that’s another story.  Many people involved in the USAWA are in it for the drug free aspect.  However, exactly where we all fall often leads to debate.  One of the most heated debates on steroid use I ever had was on the USAWA forum!  It’s just not that simple!

I often talk training with my Uncle Phil Jackson, the JWC guru.  One day we were talking about drugs and he posed this question to me:  “If they came out with a 100% safe steroid would you use it”.  I stated, “No, because as soon as I stopped using it I would lose much of what was gained”.  Then, in typical Phil Jackson style, he took it a step further.  Phil has always made me think….and think hard about things.  He asked, “What if you got to keep the gains?”  Well, now this DID make me think.

My two main arguments regarding being drug free has always been that, first, there are health risks, and second, the gains you make would be lost when you stopped taking the drugs.  Since those two conditions had been met, I said I would.  Then, my Uncle added another layer to the discussion by asking:  Would that be cheating?  Regardless of whether it is allowed or not, in my heart, would I feel like I was cheating using a drug to get stronger.  At the time, I said I would not feel like I was cheating because I had removed my two main concerns regarding performance drug use.  My Uncle told me like he saw it:  “I think you’d be a cheater”.  That made me mad….but it has made me rethink my stand and that’s exactly what the old coach was challenging me to do!

At the time, I countered that I would not feel like I was cheating if everyone had access and the choice to drug use.  I thought I had him with that one!  But Phil said to me, “So you lift to beat others and win?”  Back to square one.  I have always wanted to believe that I lift for me.  I lift to make myself stronger, not just in body, but mind and spirit in the painful journey to build the body God gave me into the best I could possibly be……and would using a drug to circumvent my own genetic limits be cheating?  Would removing the pain, suffering, and the defeat that drugs would take away, lessen the experience and all the benefits?   When I thought about it, my heart told me that it would.

Finally, Phil asked me, “What if they came out with a drug that would make you strong without ever lifting a weight…would you use it?”  Wow!  I had never thought of that, but with gene therapy, splicing, you just never know what is on the horizon.  That added yet another dimension to my moral dilemma. To me, the joy of lifting a big weight has come at the cost of hard training and that “cause and effect” has had intrinsic value that has led to lasting satisfaction  In other words, as Phil always told me, “The only time success comes before work is in the dictionary.” That was easy, “No way would I use a drug that made me strong without paying the price.

Again, this is an ongoing process for me, but a question every lifter should consider as part of their journey to fulfilling their own potential.    You challenge yourself in the gym, you should be challenging the reasons you are there and strengthening your desire to work hard and reach your goals.  To me, that’s every bit as important as the lifting.

JWC Straight Weight Postal

Heavyweights Battle it out in Postal Challenge

By Thom Van Vleck

Team Dino Gym wins the Straight Weight Postal Challenge. Pictured from left to right: Scott Tully, Al Myers, and John Conner

Two teams participated in the challenge and the Dino Gym pulled out the victory.  This meet was a new concept for a USAWA meet and we will see if it catches on.  The idea being there would be no formulas used, the winners decided on who lifted the most weight…period.  I proposed the idea of the “straight weight” meet to get some of the bigger guys to come out and participate and as a result, some big boys showed up.  The Dino Gym had a combined weight that was a “Big Al Bacon n’Eggs style breakfast” short of a half ton at 991lbs.  The JWC was a relatively svelte 915lbs.  The average weight of the lifters involved was 318lbs!  I can only guess what that weight would have been had Al not had to replace his original team member, Mark Mitchell, who had to withdraw with a back injury!  Al’s paltry 255lbs brought the average way down!!!

I hope this meet was taken as intended:  Just another alternative and one that the Big Boy’s could embrace as their own.  I know my guys had fun doing it and hopefully it will motivate them to do some more USAWA lifting!  Oh, and one more thing, I calculated the age and weight factors just to see the outcome….and the Dino Gym doesn’t want to know those results!

Full Meet Results:

Officials for Dino Gym Team:  Al Myers and Scott Tully

Official for JWC:  Thom Van Vleck

Dino Gym Team: Al Myers (44 yrs, 255lbs), Scott Tully (34 yrs, 344lbs) John Conner (25 yrs, 392lbs)

Jackson Weightlifting Club: Thom Van Vleck (46yrs, 295lbs), John O’Brien (42 years, 285lbs), Josh Hettinger (29yrs, 335lbs)

Push Press – From Rack

  1. John Conner 380lbs
  2. Josh Hettinger 335lbs
  3. John O’Brien 300lbs, Scott Tully 300lbs, Al Myers 300lbs
  4. Thom Van Vleck 255lbs

DG: 980lbs & JWC: 890lbs

Vertical Bar Deadlift – 2 bars, 1″

  1. John Conner 500lbs
  2. Scott Tully 420lbs
  3. Josh Hettinger 400lbs, Al Myers 400lbs
  4. John O’Brien 380lbs
  5. Thom Van Vleck 280lbs

DG: 1320lbs & JWC: 1060lbs

Continental to Chest

  1. John Conner 385lbs
  2. John O’Brien 335lbs
  3. Al Myers 325lbs, Scott Tully 325lbs
  4. Thom Van Vleck 315lbs
  5. Josh Hettinger 275lbs

DG: 1085lbs & JWC: 925lbs

Cheat Curl

  1. John Conner 250lbs
  2. John O’Brien 235lbs
  3. Thom Van Vleck 215lbs, Josh Hettinger 215lbs
  4. Al Myers 201lbs
  5. Scott Tully 181lbs

JWC: 665lbs & DG: 632lbs

Shoulder Drop

  1. John O’Brien 95lbs, Josh Hettinger 95lb
  2. Thom Van Vleck 85lbs
  3. John Conner 45lbs, Al Myers 45lbs
  4. Scott Tully 30lbs

JWC:  275lbs & DG:   120lbs

Totals: 1st Place: Dino Gym 4087lbs, 2nd Place: JWC 3835lbs

Real All-Round Strength

by Thom Van Vleck

Anthony Parker demonstrating the "strength" of his hair

Prof. Anthony Barker is not one of the most well known strongmen.  He is perhaps better known by those he influenced, namely Warren Lincoln Travis and Bernarr McFadden, to name a couple.

Barker also practiced early “All Around Strength”.  He was famous for not only having strong muscles, but being strong all over!  He would do all the “normal” strongman training, but he would also train his jaws with teeth lifting, he would practice lifting with his hair, he did deep breathing to develop his lungs, he was even know to work on developing the muscles in his face!

He claimed to have done 500lbs in the teeth lift and a one arm bent press of 250lbs.  He was said to “cultivate” his “luxuriant, wavy hair” and massaged his scalp daily as part of his training.  He would allow any man to jump for 6 feet onto his stomach as he lay on the floor.  He would roll spoons and crumble china plates to increase his hand strength.  He was an expert boxer and was said to have hit the heavy weight champ Bob Fitzsimmons so hard he knocked him across the room!  Fitzsimmons had beat Jim Corbett and was the first ever three division champ….so he was no slouch.  Barker would even allow a helper to jump off a 4 ft height right on his face to prove his well developed facial muscles.  Barker also did all the feats of lifting people in every way imaginable.  One of his favorite feats was to lift a 250lb barbell on his shoulders and then have two big men hang on the ends.  He would begin to twirl around often sending them flying!

Now, today, I think we realize that some of his “strength”, such as his hair, was more genetic than developed and I don’t think I’m going to let anyone jump on my face any time soon (even if it might be an improvement).  But really, have we lost something becoming so specialized in our training?  In the USAWA we pride ourselves on having literally hundreds of lifts that can be competed and records recorded.  But the old time “All-Rounders” literally “DID IT ALL”.  My grandfather trained that way, coming up with all kinds of unique physical feats and stunts to challenge himself.  Now I’m beginning to think that the Old Timers had it right.

So, be like Prof. Barker, and think like a real All-Rounder!

Donald Dinnie: Scotland’s Jim Thorpe

by Thom Van Vleck

A classic photo of Donald Dinnie with a few of his awards.

In 2006 I visited Scotland and while there made a visit to the “Dinnie Stones” to take a crack at lifting them.  The stones have a become part of the legend of Donald Dinnie.  A legend that is long and complicated and not unlike the American sports legend, Jim Thorpe.  Both men seemed gifted to do just about anything they wanted to athletically.  They were strong, fast, and agile and could seemingly adapt to any sport in a quick manner.  In other words, they were ATHLETES!

Dinnie was born at Balnacraig, Birse, near Aboyne, Aberdeenshire in Scotland in 1837.  He competed in over 11,000 athletic competitions in a 50 year span.  Thorpe was born near Prague, Oklahoma in 1888 very near where my father was born and he and I share a birthday of May 28th and Thorpe likely competed in 1000’s of different athletic events in a career that lasted over two decades.  A strict comparison of these two athletes would be difficult.  I do know that Jim Thorpe and Donald Dinnie both threw many of the same implements, such as the 56lb Weight for Distance, the hammer, the shot, the javelin, and ran in many of the same types of distance events.  But in many ways it’s like comparing Muhammed Ali with Joe Louis….they weren’t at their best at the same time.

I like Dinnie because he’s a legendary figure, but was a real man that may have actually been able to live up to that legend.  Fittingly, he was born the son of a stone mason.  He won his first event when he was 16 and beat a strongman in a wrestling meet and won 1 pound sterling.  He had a reign as Scottish Champion from 1856 to 1876 and when his best track and field performances  are compared with the 1896  Athens Olympics (the first modern Olympics) he could possibly have won 7 Gold medals, a Silver, and a Bronze.  This would have indeed put him in a class with Thorpe!

Thorpe had a lengthy list of amazing wins and feats in basketball, football, track & field and baseball.  Dinnie won over 2000 hammer throwing contests, over 2000 wrestling matches, 200 weightlifting meets, and some 500  running and hurdling events.  I read that in 40 years he was undefeated in the caber toss in 1000’s of contests.

Another area they have in common is their images endure today and sell products!  Dinnie, while still alive, endorsed a soft drink in the United Kingdom called Iron Brew or today is know as Iron Bru.  His image is still regularly seen as is Thorpe’s.

Dinnie, like Thorpe, did barnstorming to earn money while displaying his athletic prowess.   Dinnie first toured the United States in 1897 and earned a small fortune doing it and was still touring New Zealand and Australia at age 60….and winning!  William Wallace is a legendary patriot, maybe the greatest patriot, of Scotland and when a statue was done of him, they used Dinnie as the body model as he was considered the perfect man.  Thorpe was studied extensively by Doctors at one point who were trying to figure out just why he was such a great athlete.

Finally, these two great athletes share a similar end.  During their day, they were often hates as much as they were loved.  Other athletes hated them because they often made them look bad and took all the prize money.  Thorpe earned a fortune in his lifetime but died broke.  Dinnie, it is said, earned what would be equal to 2.5 million dollars in today’s money, but also had to rely on charity at the end of his life.  I don’t think this takes away from the luster of their careers, indeed, to me it only adds to it.  These men lived big and stayed that way.  I read of a famous person who was suffering from Parkinson’s and was still working as hard as ever.  A reporter asked them, “Shouldn’t you rest more in your condition”?  The man looked at her and said, “Rest for what…..so I can die well rested”.  I think these men lived with that same sentiment, and I can respect that.

Training Over 40

by Thom Van Vleck

Picture of Hermann and Elsie Goerner from a 1948 issue of Ironman.

I was looking through my 1948, June/July issue of Ironman recently and came across this article on Herman Goerner.  Herman is a favorite of mine and this article was by Edgar Mueller, who wrote a biography on Goerner titled “Goerner the Mighty”.   I included the photo for  couple of reasons.  One, it’s a great picture of Herman and a rare one with his wife, also a very strong woman.  For another reason, it gave me a chuckle that Peary Radar, who captioned the photo, makes the statement that she was “not the slender, willowy type of figure so popular with women today”.  That’s the truth!

As I read it, there was a comment on Herman training after the age of 40.  As I am rolling in on 50 it is of more and more of interest to me how older men train.  I was once talking to my Uncle Phil Jackson, who trains several hours a day even in his 60’s about being sore.  I told him that when I was 20, I could train hard and then train hard again the next day.  At 30, it seemed to take a day or two to recover, and now in my 40’s, it seemed to take a week.  His response:  ”Thom, I’ve been sore for the past 10 years!”.  He explained that if waited until he was “fully recuperated” he’d probably never train and there was a point, around age 55, that he just decided to keep training regardless of how bad or sore he was.  It has paid off for him!

In the article, Mueller talks about Goerner training in his early days 5 times a week with 2 days full rest.  Then, during his professional career from 1921 on, he worked out daily.  But then it mentions after the age of 40 he trained 3 days a week.  It seems that he obviously cut back on his training for a reason.  This may have been retirement, or it may have been his recuperation has decreased.   I say this because at one point Mueller states in the article, “He (Goerner) trained always as the mood took him – varying his program to suit his energy and condition of the moment and never did he force himself to perform and workout when not feeling  in the mood.

My theory is that Goerner cut back on his workouts as his recuperation went down at 40.  I realize there may be other factors, such as retirement from performing, but I believe recuperation was the primary factor.  I have also cut back on training time as I have gotten older.  My workouts are as hard as ever, but more time between them and less “maxing” out in sessions have become the norm.  But what happens when I’m not in the “mood” as Mueller puts it.

I think that day will come, like my Uncle Phil, and when it happens I need to push through it like Phil does.  Because he will say, once he starts, the soreness goes away and the “mood” comes back and he benefits from it.  Recently, on a trip to the JWC gym, Phil hit a seated press behind the neck with 180lbs at a body weight of 220lbs at the age of 63 in a fashion so strict I think Bill Clark would have stood up and applauded!  My point is, he’s in good, strong shape!

So, as you age, you need more recuperation.  But don’t mistake recuperation with taking it easy!  Make your workouts count and don’t let recuperation become an excuse for a missed workout.  The day will come with it doesn’t come as easy, but the benefits will make it worth it.   Right now, I think I’m still in my Goerner phase, but when my Jackson phase come, I plan on sticking with it.  After all, Art Montini, Bill Clark, and Dale Friez have paved the way and set records for the rest of us to shoot for!

The “Vert Bar” Deadlift

by Thom Van Vleck

Rudy Bletscher performing the 2 Bar Vertical Bar Deadlift at the Club Challenge last March.

Recently, I was talking to my Uncle Phil Jackson, the second generation leader of the Jackson Weightlifting Club and I told him about the “Straight Weight Challenge”.  Phil has been my coach and training guru since day one.  He once told me that it was no use to think I could ever know more than him about training because he had learned it all and he had “forgotten more than I would ever  know”.  I said there were 5 lifts involved and named them off.  When I got to the Vertical Bar Deadlift he paused and in his usual “old school coach” fashion said, “Well! I guess I’m gonna have to ask….what the he!! is a Vertical BAR!”.

Here’s the USAWA Rule book on the Vertical Bar Deadlift, more specifically, the 2 bar lift which is what we’ll be doing in the Straight Weight Challenge:

H24. Vertical Bar Deadlift – 2 Bars, 1”

The setup for this lift requires two Vertical Bars, which is a bar of one inch diameter with a maximum length of 18 inches. A collar or plate must be tightly fastened or welded to the bottom so plates may be added to the bars. No knurling is allowed on the bars. The lifter must start with the bars on each side of the lifter. Width of feet placement is optional, but the feet must be parallel and in line with the torso. Feet must not move during the lift, but the heels and toes may rise. Each bar may be gripped by any grip near the top of the Vertical Bars. The forearms are not allowed to touch the bars. The lifting hands or weight may accidentally touch the lifter’s body or legs during the lift, provided that it does not aid in the lift. The lift begins at the lifter’s discretion. The body must then straighten, lifting the Vertical Bars from the platform. The legs must be straight and knees locked and the body upright at the completion of the lift. Any rotation of the bars must be completely stopped. Once the weight is motionless, an official will give a command to end the lift.

Phil then asked me why I added the Vert Bar Deadlift to the contest.  I’m pretty sure he was asking because he has always been pretty critical of my grip strength (and my use of straps from time to time) and thinking, “If he isn’t good at it, why is he adding it”.  Well, to me, a good USAWA meet has to have at least one lift that tests grip in some way and, to be honest, the vert bar is one of my better gripping events.  It helps that my other two team members that have phenomenal grip!

I know that the Dino Gym has answered the challenge for the Straight Weight Challenge, I hope another club will step up!  After seeing the picture of Tully hitting that very impressive 330 Push Press….this will be a close contest!

Darth Vader and the Dinnie Stones

By Thom Van Vleck

David Prowse, who became famous portraying Darth Vader, lifts the Dinnie Stones in 1962.

I was perusing my June-July 1964 issue of Iron Man magazine when I came across an article by Dave Webster.  It was titled “The Stones of Strength are Conquered” and it gives a short history of the Dinnie Stones and then talks about Dave Prowse lifting them.  At that time Dave Prowse was “only” the British heavy weight lifting champion….but later he would become famous for a role he played in was was hoped to be a “moderately” successful Sci-Fi movie.  That role was Darth Vader, the movie was “Star Wars” and unless you have lived in a hole the past 35 years….you know the rest!

Dave is listed in the article as 6′7″ (I had heard 6′6″ in other articles) and weighing 273lbs.  He was on a tour with George Eiferman at the time doing lifting feats across Scotland.  Webster states in the article at that time only “John Gallagher, the Scottish dead lift champion” had been successful in lifting the stones since Dinnie had done it all those years earlier.

In the story, Prowse was taken there by a local promoter and there was a television crew and newspaper men there with cameras.  It said that Prowse lifted the stones 6 times, but after that, the article is less clear.  What I mean is that in the photo it is obvious that Prowse is using STRAPS!  The article admits as much, but a line in it makes it seem that Prowse lifted them without straps then used straps for photos.  Here’s the line, “He did – not once, but six times. Using hand straps he repeated a straddle lift with the two stones time after time for photographs and film.”

It is NOT my intention to take away from a great athlete like Prowse or call into question Dave Webster, a man I have met personally several times and was kind enough to compliment me on my own writing (how could a guy like that be bad! haha).  I just want to report the story and note the simple fact that in the photo used, there were straps being used.   As I have stated before in my stories on the Dinnie Stones, It appears that there have been others that have claimed to have lifted the stones…..using straps…..and that little detail is omitted.  Perhaps Dinnie himself used straps and this was not seen as a big deal back then….nobody will ever know for sure.  I have just stated before that lifting the stones with straps is a feat, but lifting them without straps is a WORLD CLASS feat.

It is also interesting to note how Webster reports Dinnie’s feat.  For years there has been a question of whether Dinnie simply deadlifted them, or walked with them, or even carried them across the bridge near the Potarch Inn!  I have been there and that Bridge in at least a couple hundred feat and arches up in the air…..a feat I would have to say would be impossible to carry both stones at once across that bridge.  But Webster states it as such:  ”…Donald Dinnie…lived in this area before touring the world as a professional sportsman.  His father was a builder and one day was repairing the Potarch Bridge.  He used the stones as an anchor in suspending a roped plank over the side of the bridge and when that side was finished Donald was said to have carried the two boulders across the bridge to the other wall-a distance of some five yards!”  So, I take it the stones were on one side (not one end) of the bridge and were carried across to the other side of the bridge (and not to the other end).  This, to me, seems very plausible!

If you ever make the trip to Scotland, the Dinnie Stones are a must see.  The country side around it is beautiful and peaceful, the bridge is a work of art, the river nearby pristine, and go in and have a scotch in the Potarch Inn….and I recommend the mixed grill plate….you will get your fill after tugging on the Dinnie Stones!

The Sheffield Showdown – Saxon vs Sandow

by Thom Van Vleck

Arthur Saxon supporting his brother Hermann, who is seated on a kettlebell. To make the act even more difficult, Arthur is holding out another kettlebell with his other arm!

Al’s recent story on Sandow beating Sampson got me to thinking about another great old time strongman confrontation.  When I was a kid, my granddad Dalton Jackson (originator of the Jackson Weightlifting Club) told me this story.  My Granddad (or “Pop” as I called him) was a big fan of Arthur Saxon and always seemed to paint Sandow as the villain in his stories.  Pop often liked the guy that talked less and showed more and I think he thought Sandow talked a lot more than he lifted and manipulated situations to his advantage rather than winning with his strength.

Arthur Saxon was a master of the Bent Press, which is a USAWA lift and the rules for it can be found in the rule book.  At one point, Arthur laid down the challenge to Sandow, or any other strongman, that he could not be beaten in the Bent Press.  Money was involved and the honor to be called the World’s Strongest Man was on the line.

As Sandow was the older (around 30 to Saxon’s 19 or 20) and the more established performer at that time, Saxon’s claim was taken very seriously by Sandow.  On February 26, 1898 in Sheffield, England the Saxon Trio was performing, and when the challenge was laid down, Sandow jumped to the stage to accept the challenge.

As was the custom of that day, each strongman would pick a lift and go back and forth with the winner often being the man to beat the other at one of his “pet” lifts.  First, Saxon lifted a 110lb kettle bell to his shoulder and held it there with his little finger while a 160lb man climbed up his shoulders and sat on the weight.  Saxon then bent pressed both.  Sandow refused to even try this, and as Pop told me, “broke the unwritten rules of strongman feats”.  Saxon then, using his whole hand, took a 180lb Kettle Bell and 188lb Oscar Hilgenfelt, a member of the original Saxon Trio, in the same manner and bent pressed it, but did not stand erect with it.  Again, Sandow refused to try it!  Finally, Saxon Bent Pressed a 264lb barbell and stood erect with it on his second try.  Sandow, very fresh having passed up every feat to this point, agreed to try the lift.  I recall Pop painting Sandow as purposely trying to wear Saxon out before finally answering a challenge.  Even with this ploy, it took Sandow 5 tries to get the weight to arms length but he did not stand erect with the weight.  Saxon claimed victory, and in my mind, rightfully so!

Saxon began to use the event to promote his shows and the “sore loser” (as Pop called him) Sandow then took his only recourse, which was to sue Saxon in court since he couldn’t beat him on the platform.  Sandow, being the home country favorite and significantly better financed (seem not much has changed about courts….money wins!) won a decision after getting a witness to the event to say he lifted the weight and that even though he admitted he did not stand erect with it, he did not have to!  Pop made it sound like Sandow claimed he “could have” lifted it, but chose not to!  Now the impression I had was Sandow was not only a sore loser, but a cheater!  Further, Sandow cried foul that Saxon used a barbell loaded with mercury and that he had “practiced” with it and could counter the Mercury flowing in the bells and keep his balance. While Sandow struggled with the balance each attempt.  Either way, Pop told me that if you accepted a challenge, you didn’t cry foul later!

It was some time later I was reading a story on Donald Dinnie, the legendary Highland Games athlete that went 40 years undefeated in the caber toss.  Dinnie heard of Saxon, but refused to believe that Saxon’s claims.  In October of 1904, Saxon traveled paid a visit to Dinnie and using Dinnie’s weights, bent pressed 340.5lbs.  After that, Saxon had Dinnie’s support and praise.

Now, I don’t mean to ruffle the feathers of Sandow fans out there, I just wanted to convey the story of a great event in strength history and from the perspective of how it was told to me as a young boy by a man that lived not too long after the event transpired!   But truth be told, to this day, Arthur Saxon is my favorite!

James Splaine: Lightest to ever Lift the Dinnie Stones?

by Thom Van Vleck

At 144 pounds, is James Splaine the lightest man to ever lift the Dinnie Stones?

In 2006 I got a chance to lift the Inver Stone.  I’m a descent stone lifter and just took it for granted that as long as I was injury free, I could lift the Inver Stone, which I did.  After that (and a beer and a shot of scotch at the Inver Inn) we headed to the Potarch Inn, home of the Dinnie Stones just a few miles down the road near Kincardine O’Neil.

Recently, there was a story  in the USAWA Daily News on Steve Angell lifting those stones 20 reps in one day.  An amazing feat.  I am not a grip master, but I have a good grip, and the Dinnie Stones were not within my capabilities.  Partly due to the fact that I’m a “palm” gripper.  Which means I grip things like that, such as the  Highland Games implements in my palm. To be able to get your hands in the round rings, especially the smaller ring, you have to be a good “finger” gripper, or have the ability to get that ring down in your fingers and hang on.  I simply could not do it.  Even with straps, they felt like a real load!!!

Recently, I was reading through an old Iron Man magazine (back when Peary Rader published it and it was the best magazine out there for strength training and news….even if he did have a lot of bodybuilders on the covers…at least back then they were strong!).  I have tons of them and even though I’ve read through them many times, you will find things that catch your eye that you didn’t notice before.  It was issue # and I came across a David Willoughby article.  I really enjoy the old Willoughby articles on old time strongman feats.  I had recalled reading this one before as it talked about lifting block scale weights (a favorite of my granddad Dalton Jackson).  It was all about different types of  grip strength and while it was ALL great reading, the Dinnie Stones were fresh on my mind after Angell’s fantastic feat.  It was then I noticed a picture of a small man lifting the Dinnie Stones.

I have to admit, there’s probably a reason I don’t remember this picture.  The guy in it was listed at 144lbs and he looked like it!  His name was James Splaine and he was listed as being from Aberdeen and it’s his son, Jim, on his shoulders.   Being a big guy,  I have a bad habit of ignoring anyone that’s not a heavy weight.  But this guy was doing a “heavy weight” feat of strength and it was only after I had lifted these stones did I now appreciate  the feat of strength in the picture.

Now, I need to mention a couple things.  I have seen claims of lifting the Dinnie Stones….with STRAPS!  Inside the Potarch Inn, where the stones reside, is a hallway with photos of Donald Dinnie and stories on the stones.  There’s a photo of a local guy lifting them with scale weights strapped on for a combined with, I think, over 900lbs.  But if you look at the photo, the guy is using straps!  I use straps a lot in my training, but I never compare a strapped lift to one that is just grip.  They are two different things.  Another thing, you will notice in the photo of James Splaine, how he’s got the rings down in his fingers.

Willoughby claims in the caption that Splaine was the lightest man ever to lift the Dinnie Stones. I’m not sure if anyone lighter has done it since (let alone with his son on his shoulders!).

The Hoffman/Paul Formula

by Thom Van Vleck

Ok, so we’ve been overload on the formula’s lately, but I was perusing one of my old Ironman mags last night and came across a story.  This was the April-May 1974 issue and on Page 43 there’s a story on the “new” Hoffman/Paul Formula.  The original Hoffman formula was used for years in determining the best lifter at Olympic lifting meets.  As the weight classes expanded (the original gap was 198lbs to Heavyweight, then a 242 class was added, and a 220lbs class) there was evidently a need to alter the formula.  This article talks about the new “Hoffman/Paul formula” being accepted at a recent AAU convention.  Some professor named Joseph Paul had “improved” upon the Hoffman formula and evidently was given second billing to Hoffman with this second version.  Who knows, maybe he came up with the original!

No one is credited with writing the article so I have to assume Peary Rader wrote it.  In the article he makes a comment that the new formula was unchanged from the old thru the 198lb class, but changes were made above that.  I’ll assume to make it more “fair” as the old formula may have been found to be flawed relating to heavier lifters as the article says the new formula was the result of the new weight classes.  Interestingly, the author notes that no formula can be completely fair, but this one is an improvement.

I do know that Lyle Schwartz once commented that he developed his formula when it was determined that the Hoffman Formula, for whatever reason, did not work as well with the powerlifts and more specifically, the bench press.  I also recall Schwartz stating the Malone formula was a better indicator for women and that when comparing men to women, it was basically a factor of men being 30% stronger on average, but women generally carrying more bodyfat across all weight classes seemed to be an issue in coming up with a reliable formula and comparison.

It is also interesting that the “improved” Hoffman formula ends at 260lbs and that for ever pound after that you were to and 1 point to the coefficient.  Again, the conspiracy theorist in me feels like the little guys are always out to shaft the big guys because they can’t lift as much.  But you have to admit, adding a “point” per pound after that would have to cause some issues once you hit 350lbs or even more.

In highland games at the Masters World’s this year they are using the decathlon scoring system which is based on percentages of the world record.  This is the first time they are using this system and it will be interesting to see if it changes the results.  But I would almost bet that it would be like Al’s analysis recently, you might see one or two changes but the vast majority will remain in their same placings.  This has not stopped a heated debate that has already arisen regarding the pros and cons of the decathlon system.

My intent is not to point out flaws, but just offer another piece of the formula history here.  Sounds like even in the earliest days of the formula format, everyone knew it wasn’t perfect, but still could be a decent indicator of who the better lifter was.  I have been reading more on how Schwartz developed his formula, but have had to dust off the old stat class book from college…..and that will be for another day and might end up more boring than Al’s article on the formulas!!!

Close Enough to Get the Job Done

By Thom Van Vleck

As I read Al’s recent story on the history of formulas several things come to mind. First, it made me think of a “formula” I used to use to calculate my one rep max. (.0333 X weight lifted X reps) + weight lifted = one rep max. I swore by that, but the reality is that it just gave a “probable” one rep max and obviously has a lot of flaws (such as going high reps not being a strong an indicator). I can’t remember where I got it, or why I came to “believe” in it…..but I did and used this to calculate contest openers and goals. I believed it was right and somehow that made it a good formula. But how often did it work? Not work? How often did I stop at that max and validate my own belief and not try more?

The reality is that the FIRST lesson I learned in Physics 101 in my freshman year in college was that every measurement is flawed. The real question is: “Is it close enough to get the job done!” I recall doing an experiment where we measured a long metal rod, then heated it and cooled it and got different measurements. We then discussed the nature of matter and that it’s made up of atoms which are dynamic, etc. Finally, the instructor took the rod and bent it and said, “Now, how far apart are the ends and how do you measure it, point to point, or along the length”?! Formula’s are like measurements, NO formula would be perfect. But his real lesson was, is your measurement “close enough to get the job done”.

I was at a ball game last night and there were two umpires. At one point, one called a guy safe and the other over ruled him and called the baserunner out. I thought the base runner was safe from my vantage point. There was a groan from the crowd….but the game went on. There was a recent major league game where a picture had a perfect game into the last out and the ump blew the call and the pitcher lost his perfect game. Television revealed his error, but the flawed call was upheld….because that’s the rule! The umpire makes the call and “calls it as he sees it”. Just like judges at meets calling depth on squats, or knee kick on a strict press. If we want to compete, we accept those human failings. The real question becomes: Are they good enough to get the job done?

Then there is the equipment. Recently, Dave Glasgow got us started on the subject of how much barbells weigh. I had actually weighed ALL of my stuff and come to realize that a 45lb plate rarely weighs 45lbs. I have a set of Ironman 50lb plates that are unmilled and they weigh 57.5lbs!!!! I should point out that they were sold that way, back in the day you could get cheap weights if you would be willing to take them “unmilled” or milled to the exact weight. However, I have milled plates and they are off, too. But not nearly as much. However, they are “close enough to get the job done”.

So, we have a flawed formula, developed by flawed people, using flawed equipment, in a flawed world. We can’t have perfection so to me, the real question is: Is it accurate enough to get the job done. I think one thing Al’s article showed was that the formulas do seem to have some decent reliability. There is some variability. I doubt there’s been a lot of testing on the validity of these formulas, so where are we?

Here is where we are at in my opinion. The USAWA is an organization like no other. I think we should continue to use the formulas but I hope that we would be open to having contests that don’t use them. I would think ideally, we do both. If I competed in the Nationals and I lifted more than anyone in my age group and weight class….I’m the winner. I also get the added BONUS of being ranked in an overall. We need to look at the formulas as a way to add another layer of competition to the meet. We either accept they are “close enough to get the job done” or we don’t compete.

Dave Glasgow and I compete in Scottish Highland Games. This is a unique sport like the USAWA. There is no central governing body and often meets are open to having their own rules and standards. For example. the Braemar Stone event (like a shot put) will have stones that vary 10, 20, even 50lbs in weight from meet to meet. Or in some meets you can spin and throw the Weight Over Bar, and another meet may only allow to throw from a stand. Each style will fit different athletes better, giving advantages and disadvantages. This is often debated and Dave delivered the best quote on it I can recall (which he said he actually got from Mike Smith), “You know the rules, either go and throw or stay home, don’t complain about it”.

Maybe someday, we’ll have so many lifters, the formula’s will be more like the “best lifter” award stuff, but right now we need them to make the meets more competitive. Otherwise, just lift in your gym and go buy a trophy. I have a buddy that owns a trophy shop and he’ll help you out….as a matter of fact he told me he makes trophies for non existent contests all the time! Or lift in the USAWA and have a good time and don’t expect perfection from a formula, like you don’t expect perfection from a judge, weight, or weather man!

My Ford 8N Tractor

My tractor looks "almost" like this one, just add rust, dirt, and dents!

by Thom Van Vleck

Yesterday I picked up my recent purchase.  A Ford 8N tractor.  This particular tractor was purchased in 1948 by a really good friend’s grandfather.  I’ve “known” this tractor my entire lift and after being in his family for three generations he has sold it to me.  I like to think it’s because he knows I’ll take care of it and treat it well…..and I’ll use it!  I got  several attachments as it has a PTO (Power Take Off: a shaft that is driven by the motor that can spin and power the attachments) and a three point hitch (a hydraulic lift that attaches those extra implements to the tractor).  I got a post hole digger, a blade, two brush hogs, and a hoist that amounts to a wedge that can be put on the end of the tractor to haul loads and lift heavy things….kind of a powered hand cart!

Now, here’s the thing, at this point you may be wondering what tractors have to do with strength and is this just a way for me to rub in my good fortune of getting a “new” (if you can call a 63 year old tractor new) toy.  Well, I might be bragging a little, but there is a point.  When I got it, I spent about three hours driving it around, getting a feel for it.  The first thing I noted is that it had what we called “Armstrong Power Steering”…….or basically no power steering at all!  You get an arm workout driving this thing around!  It’s been so long since I had anything without power steering I forgot what a job it can be.  Then I remembered that each back tire has a separate break so you can make a tight turn easier by only braking the inside tire. Then I decided to try and figure out all the attachments.  I figured it would be fairly easy, back the tractor up, hook up the hydraulic driven 3 point hitch and away we go…not so easy.  I would have to shift and move stuff to get the hitch to line up and the post hole digger had to be put on end…..and that thing weighed 200lbs easy!  But I wanted to get it all down so I worked away until I had them all figured out.

At this point, I had a really good sweat going. I ended with the blade.  I figured I’d get a little work in and blade my drive.  The blade wasn’t getting enough of a bite as it wasn’t heavy enough.  It has a place to put weights on so I went and pulled out 150lbs of old block scale weights I have and loaded them on and that did the trick. I use a tractor fairly regularly that belonged to a guy that was leasing part of my property for cattle.  But since he retired last year, him….and his tractor…..are gone so this purchase was a must.  The difference is that newer tractor is a lot less work!

I had been around 8N’s and other classic small tractors on jobs years ago pulling stumps, large stones, etc.  I had forgotten what a workout it can be just operating one.  Kind of like a power lawn mower…way easier than the old push types (like we had when I was a kid) but still a job to push around the yard a hundred laps!!! I like hard work, I actually like to do about an hour or two of hard work before a work out.  Warms me up better than anything else and gets me going.  I can see me using this tractor a lot and in the process this “work saver” will work me out in new and different ways and warm me up for bigger and better workouts.  Plus, there’s nothing more satisfying than to get a little work done, have a killer work out, and then take a shower, have a big meal, and then bask in the accomplishments of a good day!

Dale and Dalton

by Thom Van Vleck

Dale Friesz deadlifting 220 pounds with the Trap Bar at the 2010 USAWA National Championships.

Dale Friesz getting the courage award made me think of my grandfather and patriarch of the Jackson Weightlifting Club.  I think Dale and Dalton would have gotten along just fine.

First, let me say that I have a lot of respect for Dale and I hope that as I get older that I don’t give up on my training.  Dale commented one time that his training is what kept him going and I believe that.  Dalton Jackson was that way, too.

With all the champions to come out of the JWC, from state to national to world champs, people new to the club are often shocked that my grandfather never won anything.  He never competed in a single lifting meet.  But let me explain.  He grew up in the depression and quickly found himself the father to a pack of kids that needed taken care of and he worked long, hard hours to do this.  If he hurt himself, the family was in trouble, so he never maxed out or competed.  It was BECAUSE he sacrificed that later the rest of us could enjoy success.  To the members of the JWC, this made him the greatest champion of them all.

When I was a boy I recall him working at the local shoe factory (a brick hell hole that reeked of chemicals and had no air in the summers….I knew guys who worked there one day and quit….but my grandfather worked there 38 years) full time.  He would work 10 hours a day and half a day on Saturday, or 55 hours a week when they were busy.  He then worked as a janitor of an evening (I often went with him to this job and hung out as he told me stories while he worked) AND he drove a mail truck on Saturday nights.  I often rode with him as he would pick up mail and we would end up around midnight at the airport in Jefferson City.  This meant he’d get home about about 2:00am and he’d still get up and go to Church the next day.  I also recall him sleeping Sunday afternoons!

During these grueling hours, my grandfather would work out.  He worked out all the time.  He would go to the garage gym and get in some lifting, but he also took every chance to get in a few jumping jacks, or push ups, or a bar would be a chance to do some chins.  He incorporated his training in his work, if he were shoveling dirt, he’d do 5 reps over the left shoulder then 5 over the right for 5 sets, then rest a minute, and then back at it.  He would do isometric curls and grip work on the steering wheel of his car while he drove!  I also recall, when he was in his 50’s, he’d go into a handstand and walk on his hands across the yard as he would come into the house.  I’m sure the neighbors thought he was nuts!  Just like I’m sure that those who don’t know Dale the way we do might think he’s a little nuts.  But my grandfather was in fantastic shape and could work all day and I never recall him being sick and if he was, he was in such good shape it didn’t keep him down long.

Then, when he was in his late 70’s, he was hit by a car.  It was a devastating accident and the doctors told us things looked bleak.  He had a severe head injury and they did brain surgery on him.  They put him in one of those rotating beds to drain the fluid off his brain and told us the prognosis was grim and that he’d never fully recover.  But one day, we were in visiting him and my Uncle Wayne noticed he was doing something with his hands.  He was squeezing them…..and he was doing it in 5 sets of 5 reps (his favorite set/rep scheme for exercises) as he switched back and forth.  Soon, this began to spread and the docs thought he was fighting the restraints on his bed.  But we knew, “Pop” (as I called him) was exercising.  He was already planning his comeback!

He made a long, grueling comeback to the amazement of his doctors.  The wreck took it’s toll but Dalton got back to being better than most men his age.  He continued to exercise all the time and lift weights.  I think that if Dalton were around today, he’d be right there with Dale on the platform and I’m sure they’d have a lot to talk about.  Tough times don’t last, tough people do.

The Cheat Curl: Part 2

by Thom Van Vleck

I once saw my Uncle, Wayne Jackson, deadlift 300lbs with a reverse grip, then do a reverse grip hang clean with it, and then press it overhead….still with the reverse grip.  When I told him how impressive that was he chuckled and told me that when he started lifting at age 14, that he (and my Uncle Phil) were so naive that they thought you were SUPPOSED to have a reverse grip.  When you grow up on the farm before the days of television and magazines were a rare luxury then you just had to make due with what you “thought” was the right was to do something.

Wayne told me that part of the problem was my grandfather Dalton did them both ways as he often switched his grip around for variety.  He would lift with all different grips and would supinate his grip about 50% of the time.  So they just figured that was the right way.  Wayne said they lifted for about a year before they met Wayne Smith who was an experienced lifter who set them straight.  Wayne told me Smith’s eyes bugged out the first time he saw Wayne do a clean & press that way.  As a result, Wayne was pretty good at it.

Again, because of my granddad, I would throw in some reverse grip cleans early on.  Then, I came to the conclusion that these were of no use to me and that no one else I saw in the gym were doing them so they must be bad.   There were a lot of things I bowed to conventional wisdom on that I now wish I’d went my own way on.  It seems that after 30 years I find myself full circle on a lot of things!

So, many years later, about 6 or 7 years ago to be exact, I was working on Power Cleans.  I had read an article about doing some “reverse grip cleans” for the discus and since I was into throwing, I tried some of these.  These weren’t “Cheat Curls” in the USAWA rule book, but “Cheating Cheat Curls” where I would cheat curl it up while driving up on my toes and driving the hips hard without regard to keeping my legs perfectly straight.  I had been stuck on 290lbs for some time for a single in the power clean.  I wanted that magical 300!

After 4 workouts with the reverse grip cleans I switched back to the regular grip.  For the next 4 weeks I did 5 sets of 5 and ended with an all time best of 265lbs at 5X5.  I then maxed out and hit 300!  I was elated.  I also notice, as did my training partner at the time, that I was “finishing” with my hips.  Using the supinated grip had forced me to exaggerate my hip drive and as a result when I went back to the regular pulls, I was finishing harder and that made all the difference.

So, using the cheat curl or going the extra step and doing a reverse grip clean (Cheating Cheat Curl!!!!) you will learn to finish your pull.  It can make all the difference!

The Cheat Curl: Part 1

by Thom Van Vleck

The first part of this article will deal with the Rules of the Cheat Curl and some technique advice. Later, I will do a “part 2″ on how to use this exercise effectively for training. I am profiling this lift as it is part of the JWC Straight Weight Challenge.

The USAWA Rule book says:

D6. Curl – Cheat

The bar begins on the platform, and at the lifter’s discretion, is picked up with a grip that has the palms of the hands facing up or away from the lifter. Feet placement and hand spacing is optional, but must remain the same throughout the lift. Heels and toes must not rise during the lift. Once the lifter is upright in a standing position with the arms and legs straight, the bar on the thighs hanging at arms’ length, an official will give a command to curl. The knees must remain locked and the legs straight during the lift. The lifter is permitted to bend at the waist, sway the body, or drop the shoulders to gain momentum of the bar. The bar may be lowered prior to the beginning of the curl. The bar must be curled from arms’ length to touching the upper chest or neck in one motion. Any downward movement of the bar during the curl is a disqualification. Once the bar is motionless, and the lifter is upright, an official will give a command to lower the bar. The lift ends when the bar returns to the platform under control by the lifter.

Thom hitting a 195# Cheat Curl in a meet at Clark's Championship Gym.

I have seen this lift done in a couple of different ways. The first way, which is the way I prefer, is to lift the bar to the start of the curl position. I then bend forward at the waist KEEPING the bar at the SAME spot on my thighs and then drive my hips forward while lifting the shoulders and pulling back. An example can be seen on the video list on this website. I have always been a “hip” puller and this technique favors me. However, Al Myers does a different style that may better suit others. Al will bend at the waist and drop the bar BELOW THE KNEES and then attempt to pull straight up. He keeps the bar tight to the body, much like he was doing a reverse grip clean from the floor. Al told me that one of the reasons he favors this style is the fact that he’s torn both biceps and wants to minimize the stress on them as much as possible.

Experiment around with both styles and try to find which one suits you best. I have never been satisfied doing something the same way, I’m always trying to tinker with my technique for greater gains and lifts. Next time I’ll talk about using the Cheat Curl to help your overhand pulling.