No Stupid Lifts, Just Stupid Lifters

by Thom Van Vleck

Wilbur Miller doing a barbell leg press

Recently I got kind of sore at a guy for criticizing a leg press done by my friend Wilbur Miller.  Wilbur and my Uncle Wayne had some epic battles back in the day and while Wilbur won the overall in every meet he was never able to beat my Uncle in the Clean and Press.  Wayne took great pride in that as Wilbur was, in his mind, the greatest of his era.  I have written an article for MILO magazine on Wilbur and he continues to be involved in the USAWA to this day.

So this picture came up and this guy took it for face value and called it “Stupid”.  Well, I let him have it.  I was probably too harsh but I knew the story behind this photo.  The guy also said that if this was a good lift then you would see people doing it everywhere.  First of all, Wilbur usually did his lifting in an old York Power Rack where he could leg press in a rack with a very tight gap.  I did leg pressed that way early in my training as well.  Second of all, this photo was take out of the rack to demonstrate the lift.  Third, Wilbur did them because he didn’t have a proper leg press or leg sled.  It might be stupid to do this lift if you had a good leg press or out of a power rack….but it was dang smart to do them when Wilbur had some back issues and wanted to work his legs hard and he had no other recourse.

This got me to thinking about all the name calling and commentary from know-it-all lifters on the internet.  And to be honest, I’ve been one, too and I regret it.  A quick glance and you might think a lot of lifts would be useless or even dangerous.  But the reality is there are no stupid lift…only stupid lifters!

I would contend that ANY lift that can be done could have a useful purpose at some point of any lifters career.  Maybe because of injury, or an unusual weakness, or a lack of proper equipment.  Over the years I have made it a point to train with many of the best lifters in the country and I have found that almost ALL of the best have all kinds of unusual lifts they have developed that fits their needs.  Those same lifts, in the wrong context, could be disastrous to others.

Many times I have had a lifter tell me of a lift they do and my initial reaction is to roll my eyes and shake my head.  But in my 35 plus years of lifting there have been countless times I’ve ended up adopting that lift for my own needs.  So, my point is don’t judge, keep your mind open, and be like a U. S. Marine: “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome”.   In other words….don’t be stupid!

The Unsupported Leg Press

by Thom Van Vleck

Ed Zercher performing an Unsupported Leg Press. In 1952, Ed Zercher did 200 reps with 250 pounds in 7 minutes, 30 seconds. In 1962, Ed Zercher did 10 reps with 605 pounds.

Recently I did a story on the “Zercher Lift” and “Zercher Squat” for Milo Magazine. I had been looking for a good picture of Ed Zercher doing a Zercher lift when I came across this photo (supplied to me by Al Myers). It is really quite a picture and you will find it in the rule book illustrating how to do the “Leg Press-Unsupported”. If you go into the average gym today and ask about the leg press, you will likely be pointed towards the “leg sled” or some variation of it which involves using the legs to press a sled loaded with weights at what is typically a 45 degree angle. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find a leg press that is vertical where you lay under it and press the weight straight up in the air. But by USAWA standards, these lifts are not a true LEG PRESS!!!!

The rule book lists the rules as such:

D19. Leg Press – Unsupported

The lifter will lay on the platform, with the back, shoulders, and buttocks flat on the lifting surface. Padding, such as a towel or mat, may be placed under the lifter’s body, but must not exceed one-half inch in thickness. The bar will then be placed on the lifter’s feet by spotters, with the legs straight and the legs positioned at a 90 degree angle to the platform. Boots with heels are allowed to be worn. The spotters must not touch the lifter’s legs, the bar, or plates during the lift. Once the bar is motionless and under control, an official will give a command to start the lift. The lifter will bend the knees to lower the bar until the top of the thighs touch the torso, and will then recover and straighten the legs. The hands must not be braced or touching the legs during the lift. The lift ends on command. The bar may be removed from the lifter’s feet by spotters.

I recall doing these as part of my early training program in the late 70’s when I was a teen. I did these in a power rack, lying in the rack and taking the weight out like you would for a standing press out of the rack…..just with my feet! I did them with the pins in so I wouldn’t drop the weight on my self and close enough to the rack itself that if I lost my balance I’d drive the bar into the rack and press it up against the uprights for leverage (not really good on the bar and it’s always a must the power rack is secured to the floor if you are going to attempt this!). I didn’t do them because I was “old school”, I did them because I had no leg press to use in the first place. I learned them from my Uncle Wayne who learned them from Wilbur Miller.

I fell the unsupported Leg Press can have a lot of added benefits. First, you have the “feel” of a free weight. I’ve always felt the balance involved in a free weight lift makes one more athletic than any machine type lift. Second, you won’t likely use more weight than you can handle. Third, it will hit your legs more than your hips….at least it did mine. And finally, fourth, you will be familiar with the lift should you go to a USAWA meet that contests it some time.

There is also a variation on the Leg Press in the USAWA rule book called the Leg Press – Self Loaded. The rules of the Leg Press – Unsupported apply except the bar must be loaded onto the feet from the platform by the lifter only. The lifter may do so in any manner, but must not be assisted. I’ve never tried this one, but it sounds interesting and difficult….which could explain why I can’t find a single record on it! Like everything in the USAWA….it’s not the easy way!