The Fulton Bar Debate

by Al Myers

This is a picture of Matt Graham pulling a 2" Bar Overhand Deadlift of 540 pounds at the 2001 SuperGrip Challenge hosted by Kevin Fulton. (photo courtesy of Dan Wagman, who was there and competed in the meet as well).

I always enjoy a good discussion/debate on anything All-Round in nature.  Well, these past couple of weeks there has been a very interesting discussion in the USAWA Discussion Forum regarding the Fulton Bar.  If you have missed it – before you read today’s story it might be worthwhile to check it out so you will be “up to speed” on the subject.  I usually try to stay neutral in my writings, and give out just the facts and stuff.  But today I’m going to include a few of my opinions of the subject as well.  So be prepared!  I’m also going to “highlight” a few of the things that have been discussed in the forum, and then give an editorial on them. I plan to “go beyond” any comments I made in my forum replies.  I will also not “name any names” as the opinions expressed here are strictly mine.  Read the forum if you want that other information.

I also will keep this story as to what actually applies to the USAWA/IAWA.  A little history on the Fulton Bar is in order first.  Most know that the Fulton Bar is named after grip-sensation, All-Round Weightlifting Champion Kevin Fulton.  Most DON’T know that originally the name was given to a dumbbell lift with a 2″ diameter handle.  Over 3 years ago I wrote a blog covering this (http://www.usawa.com/the-fulton-dumbbell-deadlift/), but I’m going to repeat a piece of it here as well, as this story needs to be told more than once:

Back in the early 80’s at a odd lifting meet in Liberal, Kansas, meet director Bob Burtzloffincluded a thick-handled dumbbell deadlift in the contest. This dumbbell had a smooth 2 inch diameter handle. Wilbur Miller, the “Cimarron Kid” and Kansas lifting legend, was the hands on favorite to win this event. Wilbur has huge hands with long fingers and was very rarely beaten in any lifting event that involved grip strength. But this day was one of those rare days – when a young farm boy from Nebraska by the name of Kevin Fulton pulled off the upset! Upon Fulton’s winning – Bill Clark announced that this lift would be forever named the Fulton Lift. This eventually lead to the naming of the 2″ bar as the Fulton Bar along with the Fulton Dumbbell. As for Wilbur – upon the finish of the event he went back to the warm-up area and proceeded to pull more on this lift than he did in competition. He went home knowing that he may not have won the event on this day, but with the satisfaction of knowing he would next time!

The naming of the 2″ bar as the Fulton Bar in the USAWA became named that way later.  I have checked back in old meet results, and to the best of my research have determined that the first Fulton Bar lifts done in the USAWA were performed in 1995.  Bob Hirsh, USAWA Hall of Famer, performed lifts at a couple of record days (Arts Birthday Bash & the Buckeye Record Breakers) using the Fulton Bar. He was one of the first record-setters.  At this point these lifts were called numerous things, like Fulton Deadlift with knuckles front, Fulton Deadlift Reverse Grip, Fulton Deadlift with Overgrip,  or Fulton Deadlift with alternate grip. Nothing was consistent.  The Fulton Bar Lifts really never “took off” in the USAWA till 1999 when Kevin Fulton started using the Fulton Bar  in his annual SuperGrip Challenges in Litchfield, Nebraska.  Now the story gets real interesting.  In the beginning in the USAWA the deadlift with the Fulton Bar using an Alternate Grip was called the Two Hands Fulton Deadlift!  Exactly the same name that the IAWA(UK) uses today to refer to the lift where an overhand grip (with hook) is used on the 2 inch bar!!!  This is backed up in several reliable sources – ie old entry forms, meet results, and even in the initial USAWA Rulebook!!!!

This comes directly from the 2003 USAWA Rulebook Edition (which is considered the original USAWA rulebook):

F23. Two-Hand Fulton Deadlift- The rules of the deadlift apply with two exceptions. 1.  The bar must be at least 1-15/16 inches in diameter. 2.  Foot placing is optional.  The hook grip is allowed. 

Nothing is mentioned about a Ciavattone Grip being used, or having the knuckles forward.  So you see – confusion in the naming of these lifts went back to the very  beginning. The USAWA lift Deadlift – Fulton Bar, Ciavattone Grip was not placed in the USAWA rulebook till the 2009 Edition.  However, it was contested several times in USAWA competition before then and records were being kept in it, which makes no sense to me because if it was not official in the Rulebook with established approved written rules then it shouldn’t be present in the Official Record List.  But back then the  USAWA operated like the Wild West – no written law and the guy with the fastest draw was named Sheriff.  Policies seemed to change on a whim and the town folks weren’t asked.

Which brings us to the TOP ALL-TIME Deadlift – Fulton Bar, Ciavattone Grip in the USAWA Record List. This GREAT RECORD is held by Matt Graham with a 540 lb. lift performed at the 2001 SuperGrip Challenge held at Kevin Fulton’s place.  However, he did this lift by using a hook grip on the 2″ bar!!!!  I have knowledge of this from very several reliable sources (including from Matt!).  First of all, anyone who can hook grip a Fulton Bar is in a “class of their own” as most can’t even touch fingers on it.   I’m going to defend Matt here.  First of all, when he did it it WAS NOT against any USAWA Rule, and is not his fault at all that it is now in the USAWA Record List.  The lift was listed in the meet results as “2″ deadlift overhand”, and the meet results were typed by Kevin Fulton himself.   Kevin was too humble to even identify the lift correctly (ie Fulton Deadlift) that beared his name in the results !!!   The problem arises when these results were put into the record list without a proper rule in place first.  With no official rule – the lift is just an exhibition lift with the rules set at the moment by the meet director, which may change the next time the lift is contested.  Of course, there could have been others that “hooked” the Fulton Bar in this meet (I doubt it!) and set USAWA records as well, but because it was not 540 pounds no one notices.  This includes other meets as well during that time  period. Again, the first written USAWA rule for the Deadlift – Fulton Bar, Ciavattone Grip came out in the 2009 Rulebook (3rd Edition) and these previous records just got “incorporated” into  the Record List under the new name. 

I know I have gotten extremely “long winded” with all this, and I’m sure most have quit reading by now. But I’ve just covered some of the history of the Fulton Bar and I haven’t even GOT to my opinions yet!!!  I still have MUCH MORE I could say on this subject, but I guess I better save it for another day….

The Rolling Thunder

by Al Myers

USAWA Grip Star, Matt Graham, lifting 275 pounds on the Rolling Thunder in training this past weekend. (photo by Bob Burtzloff)

One of the popular “grip toys” introduced by Randy Strossen and IronMind Enterprises is the Rolling Thunder.  This grip device is different from anything else.  I have never read about any type of  gripping device similar to this used by Old-Time Strongmen.  It is indeed a novel, unique idea!!  Thanks to Randy and his promotion of it – the Rolling Thunder is now well-known within the “grip circle” and lifters in general.  IronMind sells it for a modest $59.95 plus shipping, as advertised on the IronMind Website.  For a price like that, buy the original and don’t waste your time trying to make your own or buying a knock-off.  Afterall, don’t you want a original Rolling Thunder!

The Rolling Thunder consists of a rotating  sleeved handle  with 2.375″ diameter PVC, over a fixed handle shaft.  It attaches to a loaded vertical bar.  It is a one-hand lift that tests the grip like none other!  When you lift using the Rolling Thunder, the handle feels like it wants to “roll” out of your hand allowing the weight to crash to the floor making a sound like thunder, and thus the name Rolling Thunder .   It has been on the market since 1993.  Randy initially promoted it by asking this simple question, “Will anyone EVER lift 300 pounds on the Rolling Thunder?”. It took several years, but finally the grip phenom/professional Strongman from England Mark Felix, broke this magic barrier.  Felix currently holds the World Record at 301 pounds, set January 18th, 2008.  The Rolling Thunder has gained such popularity that contests are ran that focus on it only. The Gillingham brothers have helped popularize it by having it as part of their GNC Grip Gauntlet, which they run in their booth at the Arnold every year.

The Rolling Thunder is not a USAWA event, but is often pulled out after meets for impromptu competitions.  Last spring after the USAWA Dino Gym Grip Contest this was the case.  Andy Durniat amazed everyone when he broke the Dino Gym record with a lift of 230 pounds!  He did this AFTER the grip competition!!!

I consider anyone who can lift over 200 pounds on the Rolling Thunder as National Class, and those over 250 pounds World Class.  The Rolling Thunder can be very humbling – often it seems “easy” moving up in weight, only to reach a point when you add another 5 pounds it becomes impossible!!  If you don’t have a Rolling Thunder, go to IronMind Enterprises and order yours today.  It will be an investment that you won’t ever regret.

The Deadlift – 2 Inch Dumbbells

by Al Myers

Matt Graham performing a deadlift with an Inch Dumbbell Replica in EACH HAND at the 2005 Dino Gym Challenge. Will this be matched at the Grip Challenge this coming weekend?

The name of this lift is slightly misleading.  At first glance, one might think that “2 Inch” refers  to one dumbbell with a 2″ diameter handle.  But what it really refers to is TWO dumbbells that have handle diameters the same as the famous Thomas Inch Dumbbell. This lift was introduced to the USAWA at the 2005 Dino Gym Challenge.  Several years ago IronMind Enterprises sold an Inch Dumbbell Replica. This replica dumbbell had a handle diameter of 2.47″ and weighed 172 pounds, with spherical iron heads.  The handle is smooth (no knurling).   Anyone who can pick up the Inch Dumbbell with only one hand has WORLD CLASS grip.  The Dino Gym has one of these replicas, so come prepared to “Give it a Try”.  I will have the camera ready if anyone actually gets it picked up.

The Rules for the Deadlift – 2 Inch Dumbbells

“The rules of the Deadlift – 2 Dumbbells apply except the dumbbells used must have handles of 2 1/2” in diameter. No knurling is allowed on the handles.  The plates must be firmly attached by collars so no rotation of the plates will occur during the lift. The maximum diameter of the plates used is 11 inches.”

Matt Graham – The USAWA’s Grip Sensation

by Al Myers

Matt Graham pinch gripping Two York 45's in one hand and lifting the Inch Dumbbell with the other.

Roger Davis inquired last week on the USAWA Discussion Forum about the Deadlift – Fulton Bar, Ciavattone Grip.  There has been some differences in “the name” of this lift between the USAWA and the IAWA(UK).  This has lead to some records that have been put in the IAWA Record List that probably shouldn’t be there. I am not going to go into detail here regarding that discussion (check out the USAWA Discussion Forum if you are interested in this).  But the discussion lead to the phenomenal lifting of Matt Graham, of Liberal, Kansas, and his great 540# Deadlift on the Fulton Bar, done with a overhand grip at the 2001 SuperGrip Challenge, hosted by Kevin Fulton.  This is a remarkable lift, and possibly could be the highest of All-Time done in this fashion.  Matt hasn’t competed recently in any USAWA meet, but I would like to take today to highlight some of his amazing grip feats.  Several of his grip lifts done in the USAWA are the tops in the USAWA Record List.  I had the opportunity to train with Matt a few times, and he competed in my Dino Gym Challenge several times.  Matt is trained by an USAWA lifting legend, and a great grip master himself, Bob Burtzloff.  I have witnessed Matt doing several grip feats that just left me shaking my head in disbelief!!  I have seen him “snatch” the 50# Blob with one hand, close the #3 COC gripper three times in a row, and pinch grip two 45# plates and lift them high enough to place them on top of a tall barrel.

Matt is built to be a great grip lifter.  He is 6′7″ and weighed around 325# at one time (now he’s a little lighter).   He has very long fingers, and an even larger thumb in proportion. His fingers are long enough that he can Hook Grip a 2″ bar!  Not many people can do that!  Several of his grip feats are well-documented.  He competed several years at Kevin Fulton’s SuperGrip Challenge in Litchfield, Nebraska and won many of them – and he was judged by a couple of very qualified officials – Kevin Fulton and Bill Clark.  Matt is indeed the “real deal” when it comes to grip power!!

Matt Graham’s USAWA Grip Records

600# – Deadlift – 3″ Bar
455# – Deadlift – Fulton Bar, Ciavattone Grip
540# – Deadlift – Fulton Bar, Overhand Grip (with Hook)
225# – Deadlift – No Thumb, Left Arm
344# – Deadlift – Two “Inch” Dumbbells
200# – Pinch Grip

Still not convinced that Matt is the USAWA’s Grip Sensation?
Then check out this video evidence.


YouTube Video – Matt doing a 600# Deadlift with 3″ bar.

YouTube Video – Matt doing a 540# Deadlift – Fulton Bar, Overhand Grip using a Hook Grip.

YouTube Video – Matt deadlifting two Inch Dumbbells at the same time.

YouTube Video – Matt taking the Inch Dumbbell overhead with only one hand using a knee kick, outside on a windy day.

YouTube Video – Matt doing a 192#  One Arm Clean and Jerk with the Fulton Bar.

Maybe I can convince Matt to make a “comeback” at this year’s USAWA’s Grip Challenge, hosted by Ben Edwards in February?