Kennedy Lift

by Al Myers

Here's an Old Time Strongman performing a variation of the Kennedy Lift by utilizing a Hand and Thigh Bar attached to a regular bar.

I’ve received  a few questions regarding the nature of the “Kennedy Lift” following my announcement of the Dino Gym Challenge, which includes a lift by this name.  It was one of the lifts that Warren Lincoln Travis included in his “Challenge to the World”, in which he challenges 20 repetitions at 700 pounds in 10 seconds.  In his Challenge WLT  calls it instead the Two Hand Grip Lift, but it is the same lift.  Other sources  originally called it  the Hands Alone Lift.  I’m sure the reason for this name was to different it from the Hand and Thigh Lift – meaning no parts of the implement should be touching the body besides the hands (thus Hands Alone), as illustrated in the picture with this story.

The Kennedy Lift is nothing more than a partial Jefferson Lift (or straddle deadlift).   I’ve  heard lifters in the past refer to the Jefferson Lift AS the Kennedy Lift , but this is only partially true (pun intended).  The Kennedy Lift is done by straddling the weight with the lift being close to lockout.  The range of movement is reported to be several inches to just clearing the floor, depending on sources.  The Kennedy is not an official lift of the USAWA, but is one worthy of it.  It will be performed in the Dino Gym Challenge as an exhibition lift that will count in the meet scoring (allowed under the rules of the USAWA). If it is well received by those in attendance, I may submit it for lift approval in the USAWA.  It has the “history” to be an official All Round   lift for sure. 

I had to do some “digging” in my files to find a good reference to the origins of the Kennedy Lift. Some of the information on the internet is not entirely true, so I had to make some decisions as to what I thought were the facts.   The following piece was written by Warren Lincoln Travis, titled “My 40 years with the World’s Strongest Men”, in which he talks about how the Kennedy Lift came to be.  I tend to believe what WLT says in his writings, and here it is:

About forty years ago, at the height of the new wave of strong man popularity, the late Richard K. Fox, then publisher of the Police Gazette, the leading sporting journal of America, had a 1000 pound dumb-bell cast, but it was not in the shape of the dumbbells today.  It was more like a massive block of iron.  He offered a very valuable gold medal and title to the first man to lift this 1000 pound weight.  At that time there was a man known as James Walter Kennedy who was athletically inclined and developed.  He was an oarsman and general athlete, leaning, however, more toward the strong man. He was about 6 feet tall and weighed around 190 pounds, had jet black curly hair and moustache and at a time was a special officer at the Globe Museum at 298-300 Bowery, New York City.  Kennedy took a notion that he could lift this 1000 pound dumbbell with his hands and he began to train with a big whiskey cask, not using whiskey in it, but water, sand and rock as he gained strength.  In other words, he used the Milo Bar Bell system of gradually increasing weight as he improved in his strength.  The first time he tried lifting the 1000 pound weight he failed but some time later he succeeded.  His style was to straddle the weight and have one hand in front of his body grasping the weight and the other hand grasping it in the rear of his body, this position being known as the Hands Alone Lift.  His body was erect with the exception that the knees were bent about 2 or 3 inches. – by Warren Lincoln Travis

I envision the technique to be very similar to how most lift the Dinnie Stones, using the straddle style.  I think it very fitting that the origins of this lift was described by Warren Lincoln Travis, and must have been one he appreciated, as he included it in his “Challenge to the World”.  James Walter Kennedy was 29 years old when he accomplished winning this challenge set forth by Richard K. Fox. He came from Quincy, Illinois. The date of this strongman debut of the Kennedy Lift was January 25th, 1890.  The “1000 pound dumbbell” was actually a 1030 pound solid iron block with handles affixed to the top 24 inches from the ground.

At the Dino Challenge we will be using a bar set up on blocks so weight can be added to that of  a lifters’ preference and the rules of the USAWA can be followed in adding weight over three attempts.  It will be done according to the rules of the Jefferson Lift, except the bar will be at a higher position than the floor. The bar height will be a set height (yet to be determined) so that it will NOT  just be a “lockout lift” like the Heavy Lifts are.

Straddle Deadlift (Jefferson Lift)

by Al Myers

Chad Ullom performing a 550# Jefferson Lift at the 2012 USAWA National Championships.

The last lift of the TWO DAY competition will be the Straddle Deadlift, or the Jefferson Lift as it is often called in USAWA competitions.  This is another “classic” All Round Lift and has been contested often in World Meets. 

The IAWA Rules for the Straddle Deadlift are:


The rules of performance for the deadlift  apply, except that the lifter will straddle the bar. The lifter can face any direction, and the foot spacing is optional, but the feet must be placed one either side of the bar. The bar may ride against either leg during the lift, but must not be supported, or make any descent.

Causes for Failure:
1. The causes for failure are the same as for the deadlift, except that the lifter stands astride the bar, in the straddle position.

The USAWA Rules are practically the same, except the USAWA Rules state that the bar is allowed to rotate during the lift.  Of course this is allowed under the IAWA rules as well, since it is NOT stated that it not allowed.  I just want to point out that this IS ALLOWED since it often occurs (the bar rotating) during the execution of the Jefferson Lift.

Jefferson Lift Origin & Techniques

by Roger LaPointe

Jefferson Lift

So you want to build some crazy back and leg strength?

Try out the Jefferson Lift, also called the Straddle Deadlift in Great Britain.

I have loved the Jefferson Lift since the day I first started lifting. My Dad taught it to me as, “the best and safest way to squat.” Well, it’s not technically a squat, but a deadlift and it is also not necessarily the safest.  However, it is a great alternative to traditional deadlifting, which can replicate the feel of a front squat, at least in the legs.

Check it out here

Or check it out here, with some “How To” and discussion:

The Jefferson Lift gets its name from the old circus strongman Charles Jefferson (1863?-July 12, 1911). Originally from Canaan, New Hampshire, he traveled and performed with Barnum and later with Barnum & Bailey. He was known for chain breaking and lifting “enormous” weights. I have never been able to find out what was considered “enormous”.

Alan Calvert, of Milo Barbell, seemed quite fond of the Jefferson Lift, as he wrote about two different variations, including photos, in his book “Super Strength”. Interestingly, when I worked at York Barbell, Jan Dellinger told me that John Grimek was also extremely fond of the Jefferson Lift, and considered “Super Strength” to be his single reference work for lifting. Of course, Grimek did modeling for the Milo Barbell Company before working for Hoffman. At the time, Jan had told me that Grimek believed in only doing the Jefferson Lift as a partial lift off of blocks. Both of the methods shown in Calvert’s book reflect Grimek’s opinion. Calvert also writes, “In performing this exercise, the legs are bent no further than shown in the picture,”

As for technique, beyond Calvert’s book, I have seen a number of other methods. In some photos, I see the the bar is perpendicular to the shoulders with a high degree of twist to the spine. In other shots, which I call the Hirsh technique, the bar is lifted with an alternate grip, like a standard deadlift, but the legs straddle the bar in a fashion very similar to a split jerk, with the heels being allowed to rise. Al Myers, of the USAWA, did an excellent article about the Jefferson Lift, featuring this photo of Bob Hirsh, who easily had the best modern Jefferson Lift.  Check it out on this website.

If you would like to compete in a variation of the Jefferson Lift, you can do so at our Atomic Athletic Tractor Pull Championship Weekend Meet, this Saturday, August 18th. The variation we will be contesting is with a 2 Inch Thick Bar, called a Fulton Bar in the USAWA. Here is the link:

Live strong, Roger LaPointe

Jefferson Lift Technique

by Al Myers

Bob Hirsh has the ALL TIME best Jefferson Lift in the USAWA, with a lift of 702 pounds in the 80KG class set at the 1996 Buckeye Record Breakers.

I received an email the other day asking a few questions regarding technique for the Jefferson Lift.  I thought this was a very appropriate question since the Jefferson Lift will be a big part of our USAWA competitions this year.  This lift will be contested in both Nationals and Worlds.   The IAWA official name for the Jefferson Lift is the Straddle Deadlift – so these two names are interchangeable. I have heard in the past this lift also called the Kennedy Lift, but that is not entirely correct.  The Kennedy Lift is a straddle lift where the bar starts at a higher position than floor level.  First, lets go over the USAWA rules for the Jefferson Lift:

18.  Jefferson Lift
This lift is also known as the Straddle Deadlift. The rules of the Deadlift apply except that the bar will be lifted between the legs, with a leg on each side of the bar. The lifter may face any direction and feet placement is optional. One hand will grip the bar in front of the lifter while the other hand will grip the bar behind the lifter. The bar may touch the insides of either leg during the lift. The heels are allowed to rise as the bar is lifted, but the feet must not change position. The bar is allowed to change directions or rotate during the lift.

I have seen two techniques for the Jefferson Lift used in competition.  I will go over both of these techniques.

1.  Shoulders Perpendicular to the Bar

In this technique, the lifter straddles the bar with a foot on each side of the bar with feet in line with the bar. As the bar is lifted, the bar will rotate to some degree at the finish position.

2. Shoulders Parallel to the Bar

In this technique, the lifter sets up for the pull with the shoulders in line with the bar. The feet are slightly off-set as they straddle the bar.  The bar comes straight up with very little rotation.

There are advantages to both styles, but I prefer technique number two for several reasons.  I feel because it takes the rotation out of the bar it allows a more direct line of pull, and an easier lockout.  Technique number one will help with the initial pull from the floor because both legs can be more involved at the start.  A problem with tech #2 is that the lead leg will be overloaded at the start, and more strain will be felt in the hamstring of the lead leg. I have pulled a hamstring in this leg before doing the Jefferson.  Another important thing is the proper feet placement with tech #2. The toe of the lead leg should be turned slightly in.  The back foot should be almost parallel to the bar.  Doing this “blocks” any bar rotation as the weight comes up. The width of stance should be of comfortable width – not too wide or too narrow.  This is important in order not to hit the inner thighs with the bar as the lift is completed.  The back hand (the one behind the lead leg) should have the knuckles facing forward, while the front hand should have knuckles facing away, using an alternate grip.  Try to keep the grip as close as comfortable as this will shorten the height the bar has to be lifted.  If done correctly with technique #2, there should be very little twisting of the body as the lift is completed.  At the end of the pull drive the shoulders up like with a deadlift.

Body mechanics play a big part in the Jefferson Lift.  Obviously, having long arms help. I have seen lifters with short arms have serious problems at lockout (OUCH!).   You are a natural at the Jefferson Lift if you can match or exceed your best deadlift.  I have seen lifters where this is the case.  The line of pull is more centered under the body with the Jefferson than a conventional deadlift.  Also, the Jefferson is a great training lift. I add it into my “pulling rotation” at least once every 6 weeks.

Lift Profile – the Jefferson Lift

by Al Myers

Bob Hirsh has the top All-Time USAWA Jefferson Lift with a lift of 702 pounds.

The Jefferson Lift goes by many names – it is also called the Straddle Deadlift, while others refer to it as the Kennady Lift (which is not technically correct).  The Jefferson Lift is basically just a deadlift done with one leg on each side of the bar. It is one of the more popular All-Round lifts, and often is done at major competitions. It was included this year as part of the World Team Postal Championships.

Rules for the Jefferson Lift:

This lift is also known as the Straddle Deadlift. The rules of the Deadlift apply except that the bar will be lifted between the legs, with a leg on each side of the bar. The lifter may face any direction and feet placement is optional. One hand will grip the bar in front of the lifter while the other hand will grip the bar behind the lifter. The bar may touch the insides of either leg during the lift. The heels are allowed to rise as the bar is lifted, but the feet must not change position. The bar is allowed to change directions or rotate during the lift.

Videos of the Jefferson Lift from the 2000 IAWA World Championships

YouTube Video – Rex Monahan

YouTube Video – Kevin Fulton