Roman Chair Squat

by Thom Van Vleck

The Roman Chair Squat

Some time back Al Myers wrote a great article on the Roman Chair and it’s place in the USAWA as a contested lift.  It can be found here: http://www.usawa.com/roman-chair/.  It even inspired me to make a Roman chair and add some Roman Chair sit ups to my workout.

Recently, I have been doing some bodybuilding.  My workouts have traditionally been basic movements for low reps and heavy weights.  Not much assistance work.  My transition was not an easy one as I didn’t want to be too much of as sissy bodybuilder.  So I decided to pull out some of my Bill Pearl Training Manuals (purchased by my Uncle Phil Jackson and autographed to Phil by Pearl himself no less) and follow Bill’s advice.  Why?  Because Bill was BIG and STRONG.  My Uncle saw Bill give a seminar in 1967 after his third Mr. Universe.  He said Bill loaded 300lbs on an Olympic bar and easily power cleaned it, pressed it overhead, then pressed it behind the neck twice!

At any rate, right or wrong, I figured if Bill Pearl did it then it must be good!  I also believe most any program will help you if you believe in it and I was raised to believe that Bill Pearl was almost mythological….the Babe Ruth of Bodybuilding.  So as I looked at how Bill trained his legs I found that one of Bill’s favorite exercises was the Roman Chair Squat.  It is very similar to the Sissy Squat.  My legs have always been a weakness for me so I’ve started doing them.  I like them, but you can’t handle much weight (as a matter of fact, this is a body weight exercise for me).

I also learned a little bit of history as I went about my research on this exercise.  In Al’s article he mentioned that a lifter from Rome did work on the Roman Chair at Professor Attila’s gym and it became quite popular.  This was shared with Sig Klein who did a type of plank movement (and I suspect this led to the Roman Chair Bench Press lift in the USAWA).  But I believe I’ve found the original purpose the Roman Chair was invented for!  In ancient times latrines were basically ditches.  You would have to squat over them and since you didn’t want to fall in you would hook your feet under something and leverage out to “do you business”.  I think this is much better explanation than Al’s medieval torture device chair in his article!

What ever the case, the Roman Chair can be used for much more than sit ups!  But regardless of what you do on a Roman Chair…..it all is painful!  And I, for one, am thankful to have a modern toilet!

USAWA Records using the Roman Chair

by Al Myers

Dino Gym member Brian Krenzin is the ONLY LIFTER who has a USAWA record in the Abdominal Raise on the Roman Chair. His record lift of 60 pounds was done at the 2009 Dino Gym Record Day.

Yesterday I described and discussed the Roman Chair.  Today I would like to tell you about the USAWA Records that have been set with the use of a Roman Chair.  As I said yesterday, there are three USAWA Official Lifts that require the use of a Roman Chair in order to do them – the Abdominal Raise on a Roman Chair, the Roman Chair Bench Press, and the Roman Chair Situp.   In looking over the record list on these lifts, it seems that there are alot of “empty spots” in the list.  Most all of the records were set at record day competitions.  Only one meet has contested any of these Roman Chair exercises, and that was the No Weight Dozen held by Bill Clark in 1999 and 2000. Only one woman has EVER peformed a Roman Chair lift, and that is Cindy Garcia at a record day in Clark’s Gym in 1988.    So – at your next record day give one of these Roman Chair lifts a try and join this small group of lifters who have experienced the PAIN of the ROMAN CHAIR!

Overall USAWA Records in the Abdominal Raise on the Roman Chair

DIVISION WT CLASS RECORD LIFTER
Men 125+ 60 Brian Krenzin

Overall USAWA Records in the Roman Chair Bench Press

DIVISION WT CLASS RECORD LIFTER
Women 65 45 Cindy Garcia
Men 70 135 Kyle Achenbach
Men 75 135 John Monk
Men 80 115 James Muzzy
Men 90 75 Denny Habecker
Men 95 100 Lewis Heater
Men 105 210 Steve Schmidt
Men 110 85 Bill Clark
Men 115 200 Al Myers
Men 125+ 250 Dave Beversdorf

Overall USAWA Records in the Roman Chair Situp

DIVISION WT CLASS RECORD LIFTER
Men 75 110 Dennis Mitchell
Men 80 22 Abe Smith
Men 95 100 Lewis Heater
Men 110 738 Howard Prechtel
Men 115 45 Bill Clark
Men 120 1000 Al Myers
Men 125 905 Al Myers
Men 125+ 65 Casey Clark

NOTES:  Wt class is bodyweight class in kilograms. Records are listed in pounds.

Roman Chair

by Al Myers

The Dino Gym's homemade Roman Chair, complete with an adjustable upper back safety pad.

Recently on the USAWA Discussion Forum, there was talk about the Roman Chair.   A Roman Chair has an almost mystical name that shrouds confusion.   I have seen (and read) about lifters referring to something as a Roman Chair, and when in fact, it is not a Roman Chair at all, but rather some type of Hyperextension Bench or a Glute-Ham Developer (that’s another story!).  A few of the lifts that we do in the USAWA require the use of a Roman Chair to perform them so understanding what a Roman Chair is REALLY IS  important.  That is why I’m going to try to properly describe a Roman Chair and it’s description to the use of All Round Lifts.  Like I said, some Official USAWA lifts require the use of a Roman Chair – i.e., the Roman Chair Situp, the Roman Chair Bench Press, and the Abdominal Raise on a Roman Chair. 

This is an ancient medieval Roman Chair. But instead of using this chair for exercise, it was used to torture prisoners!

You will read on the internet that Roman Chair exercises (namely Roman Chair Situps) are inherently dangerous amongst the general consensus of the cross fit lifting crowd.  You will read some bad things about this exercise and ALL of the reasons why you shouldn’t do it.  I’m not going to get into that debate here (but aren’t MOST of the All Round Lifts dangerous???, and we love them anyways!), but rather provide an accurate description, and a little history of the Roman Chair.  Professor Attila is often credited with the invention of this device, as well as the Roman Column and the Roman Board (made famous by pictures of Sig Klein performing layouts using them).  And speaking of Sig Klein, I have also read in his writings that he said the Professor didn’t actually invent the Roman Chair, but rather popularize the Roman Chair by it’s use in his gym.  Klein had mentioned once that a Roman lifter who was visiting the Professors gym actually demonstrated exercises using a device similar to a Roman Chair, which gave the Professor the inspiration to build a Roman Chair and give it it’s name after this Roman lifter. In doing my research for this piece, I found that there actually WAS a Roman Chair in the Middle Ages.  It was a chair of torture that was used up till the late 1800’s in Europe.  I found this very symbolic – and could make for a good story on how the Roman Chair we use today got it’s name.  Afterall, most Roman Chair All Round lifts are VERY PAINFUL and could constitute torture to some individuals!  Just try doing a Roman Chair Bench Press and you will get my drift.  On our USAWA YouTube account there is a video of Dave Beversdorf doing a HUGE Roman Chair Bench Press of 250 pounds (YouTube Video of Dave’s RC Bench Press), which is the top All-Time Roman Chair Bench Press in the USAWA Record List.   Read some of the goofy comments regarding his video.  It is obvious that these critics giving these comments have NO IDEA what is required and the back-splitting pain that is involved in doing a heavy lift like this!  (the comments are so absurd that I didn’t even delete them because I found them funny, and I know ANYONE who has done this exercise would agree with me!).

Past USAWA lifting legend Howard Prechtel excelled at the Roman Chair Situp. He held the All-Time USAWA record at 738 pounds for many years. Amazingly, he did this in 1990 at the age of over 60 years!

The only description of a Roman Chair in our USAWA Rule Book falls under the rule for the Roman Chair Situp.  It says, “This lift is done on a Roman Chair or similar device.  The toes must be secured at floor level.  The seat of the Roman Chair must be level and parallel to the platform and must not extend above the top of the buttocks when the lifter is fully laid back on the Roman Chair.  A second bench of lesser height than the seat of the Roman Chair may be used for safety purposes under the lifter’s shoulders when laid back”.   Not all commercial Roman Chairs would fall under this description. I have seen some where the foot pad is level with the seat, some with “rounded” seats, and some with even inclined/declined seats.  These types of Roman Chairs would not be legal for use in the execution of the USAWA lifts.   The Roman Chair I have in the Dino Gym is one that I made.  It works very well, and is of a very simple design.  The seat is 12″ by 24″, the seat sits 20″ high, the Chair is 4 feet long,  and it contains an adjustable safety back support. The feet can be braced on a bar positioned at floor level.   

There is nothing more “old school” than training on a Roman Chair.   And if it was good enough for the Professor – it is good enough for me!