Bent Press

by Thom Van Vleck

Wayne Smith, JWC member and All Round legend, performing a Bent Press while still in the Navy in Hawaii at Tommy Kono's Gym

The Bent Press is a very unusual lift.  It is difficult for just anyone to perform even with an empty bar, but with practice fantastic poundage’s can be lifted as evidenced by men such as Arthur Saxon (370lbs officially and 385 unofficially).  In the USAWA I believe that Bob Burtzloff was the finest bent presser our organization has seen.  Bob had the top Bent Press in the Missouri Valley All-Round Record List with an official competition lift of 209 pounds in 1985.  In 1984 I saw Bob do a 225lb Bent Press at Sailor’s Gym in Wichita after an old odd lift meet and was told at that time he had done 253lbs.  Al Myers has told me that Bob’s best training Bent Press was 275 pounds!   Just recently at the Heavy Lift Championships in York, PA I witnessed the heaviest Bent Press that has been done officially in the USAWA.  David Whitley joined the USAWA following the meet with the sole intent of doing a record Bent Press.  He performed a 137 pound Bent Press with the bar using both arms. To me, it looked like he could have done much more but just settled for setting the All Time record on this day. Dennis Mitchell has been the most proficient Bent Presser in the history of the USAWA. At the age of over 60, Dennis performed a Bent Press of 88 pounds weighing only around 175 pounds.  Dennis has the most USAWA Records in the Bent Press, totalling over 25 in number.  He has told me that his best Bent Press when he was younger was 175 pounds, which was bodyweight.  That is quite impressive and should be the goal of anyone wanting to achieve excellence in the Bent Press.    The Bent Press has been criticized as a dangerous lift by some,  and lauded as a great lift by others.  If done properly, I feel it is not dangerous at all.

Newcomer to the USAWA, David Whitley does 137 pounds in the Bent Press for the All Time best mark in the USAWA.

Here are the USAWA rules on the lift:

The lift begins at the lifter’s discretion. The bar may be taken from the platform to the shoulder in any manner. This may be done with a one arm clean, or with two hands, or stood on end and taken onto the shoulder using one or two hands. The bar will then be gripped in the center by one hand with the bar parallel to the platform. Once the lifter is in a standing position, with the bar held at the shoulder, the body is bent forward and sideways while the bar remains in a stationary position.  This bending away is continued until the lifting arm becomes straight.  The body will be in a bent over position at this point of the lift. The bar is allowed to rotate in any direction during the lift. The non-lifting arm may rest on the body or legs during the lift.  Width of feet placement is optional.  The lifting elbow may be brought into contact with the hip during the lift. Once the bar is locked out and the lifting arm straight, the lifter may stand when ready. The lifter may use the non-lifting arm as support on the knee or thigh. The lifting arm must remain straight once locked out. The lift will end on command from an official when the lifter is upright, the feet parallel and in line with the torso, the non-lifting hand free from the body, and the bar overhead and motionless.

Al reprinted a great story by Arthur Saxon in the USAWA news titled “What it feels like to lift 350 pounds with one hand” and I recommend going back and reading that one if you missed it or re-reading it if you have an interest in this lift.  Personally, I believe the Bent Press is an exercise that if done properly (and getting flexible enough to do it properly) is very beneficial.  But trying to just go to the gym and “do it” could lead you to real injury trouble.  So, read the rules, watch some videos, try to find someone like Dennis, Bob, or David who are proficient at it to coach you and then “GET AFTER IT”!

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!

What it feels like to lift 150 pounds with one hand

by Arthur Saxon

Arthur Saxon demonstrating the proper technique for the Bent Press.

I have often been asked what it feels like to press 350 lbs. with one hand, and perhaps to my readers the different sensations experienced will be interesting. In the first place, immediately I start to press the weight away from the shoulder I become perfectly oblivious to everything except the weight that I am lifting. The spectators are obliterated from my mind by the effort of intense concentration which is necessary to enable me to press the weight. I immediately engage myself in a terrific struggle in which the weight and I are competitors, and only one can win, either the weight must be lifted or else I fail. This concentration is, of course, one of the secrets of success in lifting. It enables me to bring forward the last ounce of pushing power, and for the time being to exert strength beyond that normally possessed.

As the weight steadily rises aloft, perhaps half way it wavers, the balance alters, and I have immediately, yet very carefully and quietly, to adjust my position to the altered balance of the bar. Then I proceed with the press, my body gradually falling lower towards the left knee, my eyes fixed all the time upon the ponderous weight balanced over my head, ready to fall at a moment’s notice should I weaken or place myself in a false position, and should at this moment anyone shout out, it might startle me, make me waver, and cause the weight to fall. Therefore, if I am attempting a world’s record in this position, I generally ask for complete silence until I have either failed or succeeded, and I might mention here that to think of failure is to fail, and always tell myself all the time that I am certain to succeed even though I am attempting a weight more than I have hitherto lifted. Eventually, my arm is straight, and before coming to an upright position I engage in another tussle with the enormous barbell, in which I have to exert all my will power to hold together the flagging powers of tired muscles, which have been strained by the tremendous pressure which 350 lbs. brings on to them in the effort of pressing aloft. By supreme effort of the will I fix the bell in a good position and then stand upright. Often the bar will roll on to the fingers instead of being directly over the wrist, in which case severe pain is inflicted, and I have to persevere with the lift under doubly hard conditions, or else drop the weight and try again.

Credit: The Development of Physical Power by Arthur Saxon

G.W. Rolandow’s Challenge Barbell

by Al Myers

The Rolandow Challenge Barbell now resides in the York Barbell Museum.

G.W. Rolandow was a Swiss born strongman who came to the United States and became an American citizen in 1896. He lived his entire life in New York City. His Challenge Barbell had a thick handle, and weighed 175 pounds empty, but 299 pounds fully loaded. He was able to Bent Press his Challenge Barbell fully loaded – and lifted it in his nightly strongman performances. The Rolandow Barbell was purchased by Professor Attila, and later owned by Sig Klein. Sig Klein often used it when he was demonstrating the Bent Press.

Sig Klein demonstrating a Bent Press with the Rolandow Barbell.

This was written by Sig Klein shortly after lifting the Rolandow Barbell in 1937.

“It was Saturday, April 10th, on my thirty-fifth birthday that I lifted the Rolandow Bell again. It went up on my first attempt. So pleased was I with this accomplishment that I have not up to this present writing lifted this weight since. I have never tried to lift more in the Bent-Press than 209 pounds. It seems that no matter how much weight I would ever lift again in the Bent-Press, I would never again have the pleasure or satisfaction that I derived when I first succeeded with this ponderous weight. This was in 1937. It was about this time that I published “How to Bent-Press”, feeling that such a booklet was needed for the thousands of weight-lifters whose interest I had now aroused in this lift.”

Quiz of the Week

by Al Myers

Which lifter has participated in the most National Championships?

Winner receives a USAWA Patch!!!!!

Rules: 1st response to webmaster with correct answer wins

Only 1 answer per day

Hint: He has competed in 20 of the 21 National Championships, only missing the very first one in 1988.

We have a winner!!!! Scott Schmidt, of Cleveland Ohio, named the lifter who has participated in the most National Championships. It is Dennis Mitchell. Dennis has been very involved with the USAWA since the beginning. He has served as chairperson of the Technical Committee for many years. He also was Co-Meet Director of the 2008 National Championships. Next in line is our President, Denny Habecker, who has competed in 19 of the 21 Championships, followed by Art Montini (18 of the 21) and Dale Friesz (17 of the 21).

Dennis Mitchell, performing one of his favorite lifts, the Bent Press, at the IAWA World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand.