Tag Archives: Thom Van Vleck

Big T’s Birthday Bash OTSM

by Thom Van Vleck

As many know by now I turned 50 years of age.  When this was coming up my wife asked me what I would like to do on my birthday.  I have two interests and from those interests come most of my friends.  They are the Scottish Highland Games and Weightlifting.  I thought about it long and hard and I knew that if I could have anything I wanted it would be to have my friends at my home and throwing and lifting being a part of that.  So, the first Saturday after my birthday (my actual birthday was May 28th and the meet was May 31st) I hosted a Highland Games and an Old Time Strong Man USAWA meet.

The Highland Games came first thing in the morning.  Like the USAWA there are age groups in the Highland Games with records for eight traditional events.  Moving up a class gave me an opportunity to do something that I had not done in nearly 10 years which was set a World Record.  I had a group of 4 masters that included myself, 8 time Master’s World Champ Jim Spalding, 8 time Master’s World Champ Bill Leffler (who broke his own 60-64 age group record in the 28lb Weight for Distance at the meet), and USAWA member Dean Ross who is a 2 time MWC Champ himself!

Now, bear with me as I do a little self promotion.  I spent the last two years trying to rebuild my strength base with an eye on setting the Weight Over Bar World record as well as going top ten in all the events.  So here’s a not-so-short story on that:

My best event is the Weight Over Bar.  I love this event and it plays right to my strength.  I have done what seems like a million power cleans in my life and I think all that work paid off as the WOB event involves pulling a 42lb weight over a cross bar for height.  Much like the pole vault or high jump the bar will go up and the greatest height wins.  I broke and rebroke the WR in this event in 2005 when I was in the 40-44 age group.  In the 45-49 age group I ended with the 2nd best all time throw…but no record.  I made it a goal to work this event and try and break this record.  This was a two year plan.  When it came time for that event I had the beginning of a nasty callous tear on my right throwing hand.  If it went I knew it would seriously screw up my goal as my grip would be compromised.  So I decided to not do as many warm ups and jump to a higher starting height which was 17ft.  I started with the standing style (they keep records for the standing style and the “open” or spinning style) and easily cleared 17ft.  I then jumped to 17ft 10in which was a half inch better than the current best by Mark McDonald of Scotland.  You get three attempts at each height and I missed my first two!  Disaster!  Not warming up on the event was causing me some problems!  I took a moment and got dialed back in and rolled it over!  So, one record down and one to go.  Had I missed that I would NOT have been able to attempt the second one so that was very critical.  I then moved the bar up to 18ft 6in which would at least give me the second best all time WOB with the spin style and it would give me a warm up before going up to the record attempt.  This was usually an easy height for me but my grip was giving me problems.  It was hot and muggy and my grip just felt “greasy” and that didn’t make me feel confident.  Usually this height would be a cinch but instead I missed it two times and again found myself behind the proverbial “8 ball” needing to get my third throw to even have a shot at the open WOB record.  I got some words of encouragement and was able to make that third throw but now I had to jump a foot to 19’6″ to set the break the record held by Jeff Loosle.  That’s a huge jump and I was not real confident after my struggles.  I went through my mental approach, visualizing my throws, going through my mental check list of what points to hit and lined up for the toss.  I hit it perfectly and knew it, but I also wondered if this would be enough!  I looked up and watched as the weight literally rolled over the bar!  I then felt a searing pain in my hand and looked down to see I had blown my callous wide open!  Glad it waited!  A two year journey had been fulfilled.  Thanks for bearing with me in that “totally unrelated to the USAWA” news.

Now on to the meet report!

We started with the new “unofficial” lift of OTSM which is “Thor’s Hammer”.  I was curious how this event would play out.  Would it be too dangerous?  Would it be too hard to judge?   When you have a new event you just don’t know until you test it out.  Art Montini was the brave soul that started us out.  I had a warm up bar set up as well and everyone was trying out different things.  You quickly realize that you can’t handle as much as you think and adjustments were being made.  Dean Ross jumped in next followed by Mike Murdock and Denny Habecker.  Art ended with 15lbs, Dean and Mike at 20lbs, and Denny at 25lbs before John O’Brien and Eric Todd jumped in at 30lbs.  I had done 40lbs in the one time I practice this event and figured I’d just start there.  John made 35lbs and Eric finished with a successful 40lb attempt.  I felt a little sheepish jumping in after those two were done and was wondering if I had made a tactical error in not taking an earlier attempt.  However, my nerves were calmed when I hit the 40 and I was able to finish with 45lbs.  Not often I lead over those two guys at any point in a meet and I knew they’d crush me later but I have to admit it was a nice birthday present to beat two guys I have so much respect for even if it were just one lift!

We next went to the Cyr lift.  Again Art led us off and got the party started.  Again Art, Mike, Dean, and Denny took their turns.  Art and Mike finished with 30lbs, Dean with 65lbs, and Denny at 85lbs.   I started with John’s starting lift which was 125lbs.  It was so tough I decided to end there.  John went on to tie his own USAWA best in this lift with 140lbs before missing 150lbs on a third.  Eric stole the show at this point and opened at 150lbs.  He then jumped to 170lbs and then made 180lbs.  This is special as he’s had an injured elbow that needed surgery.  So it was nice to see Eric pushing big weights again!

We ended with the Dumbbell to the shoulder.  I love this lift and had to fight Al Myers to even consider it.  I think it’s a really unique event and the small crown of spectators really seemed to enjoy watching this lift.  I think for spectators the slow, methodical style of this lift and the simplicity of the rules allows them to cheer and follow along as the lifter struggles to complete the lift.  However, for the lifter, this is one of the more painful lifts I have ever done and my sternum was sore for days after!  Art edged out Mike Murdock with a 60lb effort to Mike’s 50lbs.  Dean edged Denny with 130lbs to a 100lbs effort.  I opened with 200lbs then jumped to 235lbs which would be a personal best for me in competition.  After getting that I retired and set back to watch John and Eric battle it out!  They both made my best attempt of 235lbs look easy and jumped to 265lbs.  Both made it with some effort and then both jumped to 300lbs  This would tie the all time best in this event by Chris Anderson.  300lbs would also be a 35lb contest PR for Eric and 30lb contest PR for John.  So quite a jump.  Both athletes looked like they were wrestling a bear but both ended up successful!  Eric called for 305lbs which was all I could fit on my bar.  This was twice Eric has maxed out my equipment with the last time being on the Dinnie Stones.  John said he’d had enough so it was just Eric for the 4th and final attempt.  By now the Highland Games were completely over and my gym was filled to over flowing.  Eric  pulled the Dumbbell in and then tried to get a solid set on his belt to continental it up.  He seemed to slip on this a couple times and I was wondering if he were going to get it.  As soon as he got a solid set up on his belt I think we all knew that Eric was not going to fail but there was this little detail of finishing a very painful lift!  Eric bounced it up until Mike Murdock gave him the down signal.  I mention the fact Mike was judging as he is one of the toughest judges I’ve seen and if he says you got it….YOU GOT IT WITHOUT QUESTION!

It’s always nice to end a meet on a successful lift that breaks a record!  Several records were broken and I believe the Thor’s Hammer is an OTSM event that’s here to stay!  Everyone seemed to like it and after we were done the highland games throwers came to the platform to give it a go and this went on for another hour!

I had said I was going to crown two champions.  The overall weight lifted regardless of age or bodyweight and then the formula winner.  Eric Todd won the overall weight lifted with 525lbs.  John O’Brien was 2nd and I was third.  The age and weight adjust rankings go like this:  Eric 410.97 and still first, John 374.65 and still second, Thom 340.31 and still third.  Now we have a change.  Dean and Denny now flip at 4th and 5th with Denny at 251.33 and Dean at 220.92.  Art and Mike maintain their placings with Art’s adjusted total at 149.14 to Mike’s 128.23.

Results:

(age/weight/class)   Thor’s Hammer    Cyr Lift   Dumbbell to Shoulder   Total

Mike Murdock (74/180lb) 20lbs            30lbs (record)     50lbs (record)      100lbs

Art Montini (86/175lb)       15lbs             30lbs (record)    60lbs (record)      105lbs

Denny Habecker (71/195lb)25lbs            85lbs (record)     100lbs                   210lbs

Dean Ross (71/266lbs)         22.5lbs        65lbs (record)    130lbs (record)  217.5lbs

Thom Van Vleck (50/275lbs)45lbs        125lbs (record)    235lbs (record)  405lbs

John O’Brien (45/285lbs)   35lbs          140lbs                  300lbs (record)   475lbs

Eric Todd (39/257lbs)            40lbs          180lbs (record)  305lbs (record)    525lbs

Thanks to everyone that came and made my Birthday so much fun and a success.  I appreciate the guys being patient and waiting on the Highland Games to be over before we started the lifting.  A special award to Dean Ross who was the only guy that did both other than me!

Decline of Western (lifting) Civilization: Part II

by Thom Van Vleck

This almost takes a mechanical engineer to figure out!

Okay, so….I have to admit….I HATE Smith Machines.  I hate them so much that I was even offered a free one years ago and I turned it down.  I didn’t even want to sell or trade it because I felt like I would be taking advantage of some poor sap who would think he’d get strong on a Smith Machine!   To be honest, it needed some work and I just passed on it as I’m too cheap to pass up much free stuff….just ask Al Myers!  haha.

At any rate, I saw this thing.  It looks like somebody tried to take a Smith Machine and make it where you could not just go up and down but back and forth as well.  If you look closely at the bottom you’ll see the horizontal “rail” while the bar is attached to the usual “Smith Machine” rail.

Now I know what some of you are thinking…..”but Thom, that actually solves some of the problems with a Smith machine….this is better than a Smith Machine…”.  I actually would agree…but I would also agree that two kettlebells are better than one.  But what are you gonna do with a kettlebell!  Again, remember these are tongue in cheek….so don’t get bent out of shape.  Okay, maybe I really do mean part of it.

I saw this and got all excited.  I thought it was a power rack!  I bet it cost a fortune and I bet you that hardly anyone will use it!  That’s my issue with it.  Kind of like how you buy a kid a fancy toy and he plays with the box and the bubble wrap more than the toy.  That’s why this is more to add to the decline of western (lifting) civilization.  Complicated means most people won’t use it.  Simple is best.

Plus…..I don’t like the bar telling me where to push it!   I can’t have a weight tellin’ me what to do!

Decline of Western (lifting) Civilization: Part I

by Thom Van Vleck

Can you guess what this does?

The title of the article is play off of some documentaries that pondered the decline of the western civilization through the various music movements such as punk rock, heavy metal and so on.  They were as much tongue in cheek as they were a serious case that these musical movements would collapse our society and that’s how this article is intended.  You may notice it has a “part I”…..I plan on doing a series of these.

Recently I was in a gym and they had a new piece of equipment.  It took me awhile to figure it out but once I did I had to admit I felt myself becoming the type of self righteous complainer that I usually hate.  But I just have to make a comment on this one.  It was an assisted chin up/dip bar machine.  If you can’t do a single dip or chin up this machine will lift your fat butt up so you can dip and chin with the best of them!  Now, before someone goes all postal on me let me tell you the real reason I see this as the decline of Western “lifting” Civilization.  I get it that there are many people who can’t do a chin or dip and need help and this machine could offer the chance for them to get to that point where they don’t need help.

What I’m mad about is what has happened to the “gym”.   They seem to be getting worse and worse about equipment that caters for those that never had a childhood that involved hard work or exercise and instead was video games and maybe passive labor that was horribly overpaid.  It seems to me that it lowers the bar and in essence it lowers the lofty standards of fitness and strength that made America great.  But hey, that’s just me.

On another note, I did 100 chin ups today….and 1000 dips.  Pretty amazing, huh!?

Meaningful Lifting

by Thom Van Vleck

On May 28th of this year I will have been lifting for 35 years.   There have been times when life has kept me from training like I wanted.  There was a year when I worked on  my Master’s degree that I was taking a full load of classes, working a full time job as a counselor, and I had to do an 800 hour internship.   As an undergrad I worked full time but there was a point where I was needing the money so I took a night job (I could study while at this job) but for a 6 month period I averaged around 80 yours a week and went to school full time.  I know….I know….excuses, excuses!

So recently I pulled a 700lb trap bar deadlift at age 48.  This is more than I’ve ever done in my life.  I have a buddy who lifts and I was bragging about it to him.  He was a top powerlifter in his day totalling 2105 at 220lbs bodyweight back before all the super gear of today.  He has known me since high school.  He looked at me and said, “You know what that means….if you’d gotten your head out of your a$$ you’d pulled 800 years ago”.

He’s right.  There is no good reason why I’m stronger in most ways now than at any point in my life.  Sure, I now I have more time to train.  But the honest truth is I’ve always been a head case.  I would over think things. I would over train, then under train.  I would spend too much time thinking about my workouts and not enough time actually doing my workouts.  I have spend countless hours writing down workouts which would be okay but I’ve rarely (maybe never) completed them.

So, the past few years I’ve tried to change that.  I think it’s working!   Here are some key points that I have come up with that have led to my “late in life” success.  By success, I mean “good for me”.  I don’t claim to be a champ!  I just feel like I’ve gotten more out of my body than maybe I should have and had MUCH more fun doing it.

First, I try to may my workouts rewarding.  I try to establish a clear link between work and reward.  Too often the benefits of lifting are too distant in the future to really appreciate.  So I try and do things I enjoy in my workouts.  For me I use many ways to do this.  I can constantly set personal bests in the gym even if it’s doing more reps with the same weight or doing a new exercise.  It’s also reward myself after the workout with a meal I enjoy or a movie.  My wife and I have a “date night” once a week.  I try and workout that morning with the idea that our date is my reward.  I have also bought myself a tool or some new training implement after reaching a short term goal and in my mind I make the attachment.  I recently bought a new music CD and made myself wait to listen to it when I worked out (that made me move a workout day up!).  I have set a can of Mt. Dew in a bowl of ice and refused to let myself drink it until that last set.

Second, I create variety.  I have to tell you, me personally I find a 16 week program impossible.  Heck….8 weeks seems like a prison sentence to me.  I switch things up all the time.  I try and do 3 week cycles and then switch.  For me that’s about my attention span for a workout routine.  It eliminates my number one enemy that stymies my progress…BOREDOM.  I look at a workout routine as a battle plan in the Marine Corps.  Sure, you want to stick with the plan.  You have a plan for a reason….but there’s no reason that when you see a short cut or another easy target you could hit along the way that you can’t do it!  I have finished a planned workout and if I was jacked up….I do the next workout right after.  I have thrown in a new exercise if I feel like I’m just not enjoying the one I’m doing.  I try to experiment all the time as well.  Recently, I tried doing a push press from a dead stop off of my jerk boxes.  They were awkward at first, but now I love them!

Third, I need autonomy.  This may be most important of all.  I will workout with others but I believe that if you want to workout for life then you need to have autonomy.  I have often talked to guys that had loads of talent but when someone stopped running their workouts they quit.  Autonomy is responsibility.  I am responsible for my own workouts.  I accept the failure but more importantly, I take the credit for success.  The key element is I need to want this for myself.  Not a trophy, not for a pat on the back from others, not for any other reason that for myself.  That other stuff is great, it’s icing on the cake but it’s NOT the cake.  When I stopped thinking about winning my next contest, stopped thinking about what others thought of me and my workouts, and focused on what I wanted and needed I began enjoy my workouts more.  They gained intrinsic value.

I have been around guys who can discipline themselves for the long haul.  I admire those guys…..but that’s not me.  I needed to find my own way.  So if anyone has read this to this point I want to make clear that this is not an exact guide.  It’s just intended to put a couple more tools in your mental tool box for your lifting.  I think this is what I enjoy about this process.  Lifting has not only made me physically stronger, but emotionally and intellectually stronger.  And it never ends unless you let it.  As I age my body won’t keep up, but I know I will continue to grow through my training.  Getting better and better!

The 10,000 hour rule

by Thom Van Vleck

I just got done reading a book by Malcolm Gladwell.  He has had several best sellers, this one is “Outliers”.   The 10,000 hour rule is just one of many great chapters in the book and I could not agree more with his conclusion.

First, it takes 10,000 hours to master anything….even for the so-called “natural”.  He cites numerous examples, but one of my own examples is the actor Eddie Cantor.  He said, “It takes 20 years to make an overnight success”.  Too often we look at successes and we don’t realize how much work went into that effort.  Sure, some have more aptitude than others but you aren’t them.  If you want to be the best at whatever it is you want to be good at you MUST put in the hours to be successful.

Second, and this plays right out of the first, is there is no such thing as “natural talent”.  In studies done on the the greats in any given field, lifting, throwing, music, etc…..there is a DIRECT STATISTICAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HOURS OF PRACTICE AND ACHIEVEMENT.   There is no short cut!

Third, the elites tend to love what they do so they want to spend the time doing it.  That is the secret to getting in the hours.  Finding the intrinsic value in what you do when you do it.  If you are looking at what you are doing (lifting for example) as a chore and only at the eventual outcome then you are not likely to achieve your highest level of success.  Find the value in each and every workout or practice session.  I often think of the Marines when we would do our group exercises.  We would chant over and over, “We love it!  Good for me!  Good for you!”.  Find that joy in what you are doing or eventually you subconscious will begin to sabotage your efforts and you will not master your talents.

I have spent too much of my life admiring the “natural talents” of others when that energy could be better spent on my own “10,000” hours.  So, embrace the work, learn to love it, and know that hard work equals success more than any other equation!

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