The REAL Hack Lift

by Al Myers

Demonstration of the REAL Hack Lift!

Yesterdays story on the Hackenschmidt Floor Press opened up another topic for me (the Hack Lift) which I briefly discussed, but I think needs a little more discussion.  George “Hack” Hackenschmidt has been often tied to the naming of the Hack Lift.  As I stated yesterday, I feel this is slightly incorrect as the term “hack” comes from the German word “hacke” in abbreviated form.  I have read several sources supporting this feeling.  In the USAWA Discussion Forum yesterday Dan Wagman provided an excellent post on this argument, which I feel should be repeated here.  These are Dan’s words:

I’m excited about trying the Hack FP and really liked the fact that Al went beyond just sharing the proposed rules in his latest blog. To that point, I’d like to add some info regarding the origin of calling a lift the Hack-something-or-another. I grew up in Germany and am fluent in all respects in that language and two dialects, so I can speak with some authority regarding the potential root of the name of the Hack-lifts.

Al is somewhat correct in that the German word “Hacke” can be used to denote a heel. However, this is commonly only used in southern German dialect. The proper German word for heel is “Ferse.” A Hacke is indeed an axe, pickaxe, or mattock type tool.

Now, there’s another consideration to bear in mind. It is highly uncommon in Germany to shorten names as we do in America. Joseph would be Joseph, not Joe; Alfred would be Alfred, not Al; Schmidtbleicher would be just that, not Smitty; and most certainly nobody in Germany would’ve called Hackenschmidt Hack. He was Estonian, where many Estonians are of German descent, and based on his name, I’d surmise he was one of them, so I would therefore venture to guess that he wasn’t ever called Hack there, either.

So where does that leave us? Since he spent most of his life living in London, and since it is also fairly common in British English to shorten names, I would venture to guess that he was just called Hack over there and since he was so good at the deadlift from behind the body, that lift was just called the Hack deadlift, though some sources also called it the Hack squat.

Hope this didn’t end up boring y’all, I just think this stuff is interesting as all heck.

Daniel (my German name )

George Hackenschmidt was very well-known for doing the Hack Lift and he was very good at it. That alone gives “his name” some bearing into the naming of this lift as the Hack Lift.  I won’t deny him that.  But the way he did the Hack Lift is VERY MUCH different than the way we do it under the USAWA/IAWA rules.  I’m going to quote the famous strength historian David Willoughby here on the description of the REAL Hack Lift, so it won’t be construed by my own interpretation.  This is straight from his book The Super Athletes:

George Hackenschmidt of Russia, performed 50 consecutive “Hacke” (or “Hocke”) lifts with 50 kilos (110 3/4 pounds).  This feat was done in front of the famous German weight-trainer, Theodor Siebert, at Alsleben, Germany, Feb. 15, 1902.  “Hack” also performed a single lift in the same style with 85 kilos (187 1/4 pounds).  The latter was equal to a flat-footed squat with about 522 pounds on the shoulders.  The “Hacke” lift is performed by knee-bending on the toes while holding a barbell with the hands together behind the hips, thus leaving the back muscles out of the effort and doing all the work with the legs.

WOW – as if the Hack Lift isn’t hard enough to do the way we do it!  Hack was doing them on his toes with the hands together!  I have read other reports describing the original Hack Lift, and as well as the hands being together, the heels were together as well. That would make it near-impossible for most lifters to even grab the bar that way. I was intrigued by the German meaning of the word Hocke. Again, Dan came to my rescue in the USAWA Discussion Forum and gave this reply:

Yes, Hocke is also a German word. It refers to what we might consider crouching down or when you without weight go into a deep squat where your hamstrings touch your calves. You know, the sort of “move” you do when you **** in the woods.

Since you sort of hock down when you do a Hack sq/dl, it’s also feasible that this is where the name came from. But I would have to guess no on that one, too. The reason I say this is because Hackenschmidt didn’t seem to have spent a lot of time in Germany at all and because he lived primarily in London. With that in mind, and of course without knowing for sure, I would guess that people would just see him do stuff, whether he was the first to do it or not, and they’d probably go something like, “Hey, what’s Hack doing there? Let’s try that…” and then they just ended up calling the lift the Hack-whatever.

Regardless, personally, I like thinking of it as being a reference to Hackenschmidt. The dude was stout as all heck and had a body that people today, even when saucing, couldn’t get. And let’s not even talk about his strength and dominance in wrestling. He was from an era when men were men and it motivates me to do a Hack when thinking of him as opposed to my heel.

Dan summed things up very well in his last sentence when he said,  ”he was from an era when men were men and it motivates me to do a Hack when thinking of him as opposed to my heel.”   I feel the same way – and because of that I’ll always feel that the Hack Lift was partly named that way in memory of him.

Rule for the Hackenschmidt Floor Press

by Al Myers

Coming up in January on the USAWA Meet Schedule will be the Dino Gym Challenge – featuring a meet of Old Time Strongman Lifts. We are now into our third year of OTSM being offered by the USAWA, and I see that it is gaining momentum. This years meet at the Dino Challenge will include three OTSM lifts that closely mimic the three powerlifts. The lifts are two that have been contested within the past year (Anderson Squat & Peoples Deadlift), plus a new exhibition lift – the Hackenschmidt Floor Press. This new lift is viewed by the USAWA as an exhibition lift – meaning that it is an unofficial lift thus no USAWA records may be set or established in it. However, the USAWA rules DO ALLOW exhibition lifts to be counted in the meet scoring (Section VIII.11), thus it can legally be part of the competition. I have been working with the USAWA Old Time Strongman Chairman Thom Van Vleck on establishing an unofficial rule for the Hackenschmidt Floor Press that will be used at the Dino Challenge, and this is what we have worked up:

The setup position for the Hackenschmidt Floor Press.

Hackenschmidt Floor Press

A chest press (with a standard Olympic bar) will be performed while lying flat on the floor/platform.  The bar height, measured to the bottom of the bar from the platform, can be no greater than 15”.  The bar/plates may rest on blocks or supports to achieve this height.  The lift starts when the lifter, while lying under the bar with the bar above the chest, starts to press.  A time limit of 1 minute is given for each attempt, meaning the lifter may reset as many times as necessary within this time limit to complete a legal lift. The lift is complete when the bar is pressed completely with the lifter’s elbows locked out.  It is not an infraction to press unevenly, lock out at different times, raise the head, or allow the bar to lower during a part of the press.   It is an infraction if the hips/legs rise off the floor/platform during any part of the lift.  Once complete, an official will give a command to end the lift.

As you can see, this is a partial floor press since the bar height is set at 15 inches.  There has been an interesting discussion in the USAWA Discussion Forum regarding the development of this lift, and Thom and I have taken those comments into consideration in writing this rule.  A little over a year ago I wrote a blog outlining some of the “founding principles” of OTSM in the USAWA.   I don’t want to repeat all that here again, but here is the link for anyone who is interested – http://www.usawa.com/old-time-strongman/  Again, I want to emphasize that this is an unofficial lift and rule as of now.  I really think it is important that new lifts be tried in competition as exhibition lifts first before they are proposed for official lift status.  This allows a thorough competition evaluation of them, and if there are any “bugs in them” the rules can be fine-tuned before being presented to the Executive Board for an approval vote.  Think of it as a “trial-run”. 

George "The Russian Lion" Hackenschmidt

Now why is this floor press named the Hackenschmidt Floor Press?

I’m sure that question is being asked by some of  you reading this.  George “The Russian Lion” Hackenschmidt was a famous Russian strongman and wrestler who also had remarkable ability in weightlifting.  He also went by the nickname of “Hack”, which has been used in the name of another popular All Round Lift – the Hack Lift.  Most feel that the Hack Lift  was named after George Hackenschmidt, but from what I have read I don’t think that is the case. The name Hack comes from the German word “Hacke”, which means heels.  Thus I believe the Hack Lift originated by this name terminology, as the “lift done with the bar at the heels”, aka Hacke Lift.  However, Hackenschmidt was quite good at this movement and undoubtedly his name has some bearing on the legacy of this lift. But I’m getting off-topic here.  Another exercise that Hackenschmidt excelled at was the floor press.  At the time pressing a weight this way was not popular at all,  as a press was  meant for overhead lifting.  This was in the days long before a bench was used to press from the chest.  If you wanted to press from the chest,  you had to first bring the bar to the chest while lying on the platform, thus the origin of the Pullover and Press.  As most know, the pullover in this lift can sometimes be the hardest part, and definitely after that exertion the amount of weight that can be pressed is decreased.  Hackenschmidt was ahead of the times here.  According to David Willoughby in his famous book The Super Athletes Hackenschmidt performed the pullover and press using OVERSIZED plates, thus diminishing the effects of the pullover since the bar would come into position easier with these big plates.  I would say that qualifies him as the inventor of the Floor Press as we know it, and well-deserving to have this OTSM lift named after him.  His best lift was 361.5 pounds, which was claimed as a WORLD RECORD for over 18 years!!