Crucifix – Part 3

by Roger LaPointe

Crucifix Part 3 – Questions about the Crucifix Lift

Actor John Saxon utilized Kettlebells to develop a symmetrical muscular build.

How about the lower body when doing the crucifix (iron cross)?

The official competition crucifix lift is properly performed with the feet together.  The feet are brought together once the weights are brought together overhead and before the weights are allowed to descend.  As you are learning the lift, don’t worry about the legs.  Get the weights overhead and learn the upper body movements first.   The Crucifix is an awesome movement for highlighting that old physical culture concept of symmetrically balanced physical development.  You see this as topic of apparently huge importance in the older bodybuilding literature, as measured by the amount of print space devoted to it.  However, from a practical issue, no where has it been better highlighted than during a Crucifix Lift.  I thought the 2 Hand Barbell Snatch made this obvious, with press outs, spear fished barbells and other dramatic missed attempts, but it is even more obvious in the crucifix.  No one in the Atomic Athletic Club has properly held out those weights, with their feet together, the first time.  You will be surprised at how much of an impact the foot position will be, as you get closer to limit lifts.  Once you get everything else nailed down, add in the foot placement.

Read the specifics of the competition lift in the USAWA Official Rule Book, which can be found on this website.

What is the best dumbbell for the crucifix?

Man, that is a great question.  I always believe that solid dumbbells are the best, for just about anything.  Obviously, a solid dumbbell is terrible if you need to adjust it.  For training purposes, I am not a big fan of Olympic sized dumbbells.  They are so big that they really limit what you can effectively do with them.  However, if you only have Olympic sized plates, they are clearly the cheapest way to go.  I am a big fan of a rotating dumbbell as well, which is satisfied by the Olympic dumbbell concept.  Standard sized equipment, plates and bars, are much more compact and they are cheaper than the Olympic ones.  We sell a variety of bars, rotating handles, collars, plates and other equipment, including the kettlebell handles that I like for the crucifix.  However, that may not be an invest you are willing to make.


Crucifix – Part 2

by Roger LaPointe

Crucifix Part 2 – Kettlebell Weirdness

Joe Southard performing a "perfect" Crucifix. This picture is from the USAWA Rulebook.

While a number a strongman contests have had some form of the crucifix hold, each one seems to be somewhat different, with the “made for TV” aspect seeming to be paramount.  The USAWA Official Rulebook has the only “officially” written rules for a Crucifix Hold that I can find.  If anyone can find anything else that would qualify, I would love to see it.  That being said, I will assume that we are using the USAWA rules for the competition form of the exercise.

Three  Training Tips

1. Start of extremely light: Vic Boff recommends that you start off with no more than 12 ½ pounds.  I deferred to Vic’s experience, because he has never steered me wrong.  Well, he was right again.  Certainly, experiment light and then continue light for your first week or two of training, after getting some of the technique down.

2. Kettlebells Hang:  Of course they do, you might say.  Now is the time to read the USAWA Official Rule Book, Lift # E8.  It can be downloaded from their web site.  (Just a tip.  I had several copies spiral bound: 1 for the gym, 1 for the office and 1 for the announcing table during contests.  It has become a valuable reference tool.)  The Crucifix can be done with either dumbbells or kettlebells.  I don’t know which one is easier, but they are two different lifts, with the kettlebell version being the more interesting and dramatic, as they hang down when the arms are outstretched.  As you start from the press lockout, with the palms facing each other, the kettlebells will hang down, increasing the leveraged force as they are lowered.

3. Dynamic Stretching:   As I started doing training for the Crucifix I did my typical warm-ups with Indian Clubs.  I am really glad I did.  I have since also added curls.  Those are done with light weight in a full range of motion, as a warm-up.  I feel like this combination is really helping my lockout in my snatch as well. 

For those of you unfamiliar with some of the terminology I have used here, you may want to check out Traditional Training Legendary Strength.


Crucifix – Part 1

by Roger LaPointe

Part 1 – Crucifix Holds

Crucifix using two kettlebells.

Strange lifts abound in the world of old school strongman feats, but the classic Crucifix Hold would seem to be pretty easy to understand.  Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong.  You simply have to start doing this movement to really grasp the coolness and easy application to a variety of training programs.

This first Atomic Athletic Bomb Proof Bulletin, covering the Crucifix Hold is going to highlight some of the many benefits, where to fit it into your routine and some initial tips for you to get started.  This will help you bypass a few of the stumbling blocks I hit along the way. 

1.  Shoulder Development:  The crucifix is just one of the exercises that Vic Boff recommends for use with kettlebell handles.  As Vic Boff says in his “Body Builder’s Bible”, “The exercises, when carefully followed through,will give excellent results when intelligently applied.” (Boff, p. 125)   I highly recommend that you actually work the various kettlebell handle exercises in Vic’s book.  They provide outstanding supplementary training for the competition lift, which is not just part of the USAWA, but frequently seen in strongman contests as well.

2.   Tools:  The old classic shots of strongmen, from fifty to one hundred years ago, almost always show the strongman doing the Crucifix Hold with some sort of globe kettlebell.  As I have a pretty good selection of equipment, including antique Milo Bar Bell globes, I figured this was the way to go.  Wrong.  Then I tried various dumbbells, which turned out to be varying degrees of “acceptable”.  The best was definitely NOT solid kettlebells, as the small solid heads and somewhat rounded handles had strange torque issues.  Maybe competition grade kettlebells would have been better, but I don’t have any of those here to try.  Certainly the best, and cheapest, were the kettlebell handles.  I would love to push sets of solid kettlebells, simply from a profit perspective, but I would be giving you my honest opinion.

3.   Timing:  I am finding that a solid warm-up with light Indian Clubs is essential, but I would be doing that for my Olympic weightlifting anyway.  Then do some of the light exercises Vic recommends, with no more than 15 pounds per kettlebell.  Then go right into progressively heavier poundages.

The USAWA Official Rulebook has the Crucifix in Section E8, which would correspond to the Top Exercise on Page 129 of Vic’s Book.


Best Crucifix Lifts of All-Time

by Al Myers

Eric Todd and his USAWA record performance in the Crucifix, with a lift of 140 pounds at the 2005 Deanna Springs Memorial Meet.

I think it is only appropriate to HIGHLIGHT the best lifts ever in the Crucifix since it is our signature lift, as demonstrated by the USAWA logo.  The rules of the Crucifix are often misunderstood.  People will  assume it is the same as other similar lifts like the Iron Cross, Muscle Out or Side Lateral, but the Crucifix Lift is much different. The USAWA Rules of the Crucifix Lift is as follows:

Two evenly loaded dumbbells or kettlebells are used for this lift. The lift begins at the lifter’s discretion. The dumbbells are taken to arms’ length overhead with the palms of the hands facing each other and dumbbells touching. The lifter must bring the feet together so the heels are together and touching. The body must be upright at the start of the lift. Once in this position, an official will give the command to start the lift. The lifter will then lower the dumbbells to the side with arms’ straight and palms up. Elbows must be fully locked. The lifter may lean back to any extent when lowering the dumbbells. The wrists do not need to be held straight. The legs must remain straight and knees locked throughout the lift. The heels must remain together and the heels and toes must not rise during the lift. Once the arms are parallel to the platform, and the dumbbells motionless, an official will give a command to end the lift.

The best All-Time USAWA lift in the Crucifix is held by Eric Todd, with a lift of 140 pounds performed at the 2005 Deanna Springs Memorial Meet in the 110K Class.  This lift was judged under the strict judging of Bill Clark.  Eric holds a couple of other weight group records with lifts of 130 pounds and 120 pounds, so he is the REAL DEAL when it comes to the Crucifix Lift.  I have competed several times in meets with Eric when the Crucifix was being contested, and I am always amazed at what he does. Only four other USAWA lifters have ever done over 100 pounds – these being Sam Huff, Mike McBride, Bill Spayd, and Ed Schock (who has the top Master Lift in the Crucifix at 100  pounds). The top teenager in the Crucifix is Abe Smith, who did 70 pounds. Amokor Ollennuking has the top female lift in the USAWA with a lift of 60 pounds.

The famous picture of Joe Southard, performing a Crucifix Lift of 130 pounds in 1963.

What is the best Crucifix in history?  I did some research and their are several “claims” but most seem to have not been verified.  I consider Louis Cyr to be the best in history.  Cyr did a Crucifix with 94 pounds in the right hand, and 88 pounds in the left, for a total weight of 182 pounds. Marvin Eder and Doug Hepburn both were credited with a “Crucifix- like lift” of 100 pounds per hand, but were judged “less than strict”.  Among Old-Time Strongmen, George Hackenschmidt did a Crucifix 0f 180 pounds in 1902.  But even Hackenschmidt said in his own words that it was performed “in a less strictly correct style”.

One thing is certain – the description and rules of the Crucifix has been different throughout history, and not always conforming with today’s set USAWA rules. Actually, the USAWA rules make the Crucifix as difficult as possible with these criteria: heels being together throughout, elbows fully locked at finish, and the lift being completed upon official’s command, thus requiring the weight to be momentarily paused. Joe Southard, the great Illinois All-Rounder, did 130# in the Crucifix at 165# bodyweight in 1963.  This was considered the World Record for quite some time for a competitive Crucifix Lift. The picture of Joe Southard doing this record became well known to USAWA lifters, as it graced the cover of our Rule Book for several years.  But look at the picture closely – and you will notice the dumbbells Southard was using were not loaded evenly on both ends, which would not comply with  today’s USAWA Rules. How much that would help I have no idea. Another couple of lifters who excelled at the Crucifix in the Mo-Valley All-Rounds (before the USAWA was formed) was Steve Schmidt (110# Crucifix at 220# BW in 1985) and Bob Burtzloff (100# Crucifix at HWT in 1982).  Both of these lifts were officiated under the same rules as we use today.

The Crucifix has only been performed in one meet in the USAWA these past few years, and that is the Deanna Springs Memorial Meet, hosted by Bill Clark.  It is in the Deanna Meet EVERY year, as the events in that meet don’t change. The Crucifix Lift is the perfect example of a true “odd lift”, and for this reason makes a great “poster lift” for the USAWA .