The Weaver Stick Controversy

by Al Myers

John Gallagher demonstrating the Weaver Stick, the lift made popular by George Weaver. This photo was in an article written by Weaver, in which he said "demonstrates the proper method of lifting the Weaver Stick". Take notice of the bent arm and non-upright body position. This makes me wonder - was this the way he INTENDED the Weaver Stick to be done?

Yesterdays Daily News Story by the famous strength historian David Willoughby was just a “set up” for today’s story.  In it, he described the origins of the Weaver Stick and the foundation for the Weaver Stick rules.   I feel the Weaver Stick is a misunderstood  (most don’t know how to even MAKE a Weaver Stick) lift of the All-Rounds, and after what I reveal today it will now not just be misunderstood, but will be a controversial lift as well.  I have written blogs on the Weaver Stick before and have went over its historical significance in the USAWA.  I have even covered the best lifts ever done in the USAWA using the Weaver Stick.  That is not what today’s story is about.  This lift was part of my grip meet a few years ago as well. So I know there are several lifters who are familiar with it.  I was introduced to the Weaver Stick for the first time when I went to Clarks Gym years ago for a record day.  After putting up “BIG LIFTS” all day for records in several full body type lifts, Bill brought out his Weaver Stick to ”humble us”. It did the trick.  I could barely lift 5 pounds!  I then went home and made my own Weaver Stick, which still resides in the corner of the Dino Gym for anytime I feel like “humbling someone”.  Ole Clark did it to me – and now I’m returning the favor!

But what’s the controversy you ask? Well, lets go over both the USAWA Rules and the IAWA Rules and you’ll soon find out!

USAWA RULE I26. Weaver Stick

A Weaver Stick is used for this lift. The Weaver Stick utilizes a wooden broomstick with these dimensions. The handle is 5 ½ inches in length. The junction of the handle and the rest of the Weaver Stick may be marked with tape, or with any material that is raised to provide a distinct separation between the handle and the rest of the stick. This marking is ½ inch in length. At a point exactly 36 inches from the end of the marking, or 42 inches from the end of the handle, a notch is made in the stick to allow a cord to be attached to it. This cord may be of any length.  Weight is tied onto the end of the cord. The Weaver Stick must rest on a flat lifting surface with the weight hanging free. The lift will begin at the lifter’s discretion. The lifter will take a position alongside the Weaver Stick, and grip the handle of the Weaver Stick by one hand, facing the length of the stick. The lifting hand and arm must remain straight with elbow fully locked, and must not be in contact with the body during the lift. The lifting arm must remain at the lifter’s side throughout the lift. The heel of the hand must remain on top of the Weaver Stick. If the hand twists under the stick during the lift, it is a disqualification. The non-lifting hand must not touch the lifting arm, lifting hand, or Weaver Stick during the lift. The lifter’s body must be upright with legs straight at the completion of the lift, but the legs may bend when picking up the stick. The Weaver Stick must be lifted entirely clear from the lifting surface while maintaining the stick parallel to the floor. If the end of the stick containing the weight dips to any degree, it is a disqualification. If the lifting hand moves to a position in front of the handle marking during the lift, it is a disqualification. Once the Weaver Stick is motionless, an official will give a command to end the lift. Records are also kept for the Weaver Stick with the lifter facing backwards, away from the length of the stick.

IAWA RULE  F9.   WEAVER STICK LIFT

This lift can be performed with either hand, and to the front or the rear. The lifter will use a 36 inch long stick, it will have a notch half an inch from one end where the weight will be suspended or attached. The stick will be gripped a full 36 inches away from the weight, with one hand. The stick will be set down on a chair or table, the lifter must lift the stick off the surface parallel to the floor and not with the weighted end tilting down. There is no minimum height that it has to be lifted, just clear of the table. It must be lifted straight up, no rocking motions are allowed. The lifting hand and arm must remain free of the body, and the heel of the hand must remain on top of the stick, the hand is not allowed to twist around the stick. When the stick is held clear of the table and motionless the referee will signal to replace the bar. A hand grip guard can be made using two metal right angles, screwed to the stick in such a manner as to prevent the hand from being closer than 36 inches. The handle can be taped around to suit the lifters hand and afford a good grip.

Causes for Failure: 

1.  Failure to keep the stick held parallel (approx.) to the floor at all times during the lift.  
2.  Touching the body with the lifting hand or arm and failing to keep the heel of the hand on top. 
3.  Failure to lift the stick clear of the chair or surface, under control. 
4.   Lowering / replacing the bar before the referees signal.

Do you notice the BIG DIFFERENCE between the USAWA rule and the IAWA rule???????

It’s a BIG ONE – the IAWA rule for the Weaver Stick DOES NOT require the arm to be straight!!! It can be bent to any degree.  Let me “tell ya” – that’s a big difference!  Much more weight can be lifted with the Weaver Stick if the arm does not have to remain straight.  Bending the arm allows other arm muscles to come into play and helps with the wrist stabilization.  I am sure most USAWA lifters are not aware of this IAWA rule for the Weaver Stick.  I know I wasn’t until IAWA President Steve Gardner and I got into this discussion during one of our “beer drinking sessions” a few days after the IAWA Worlds in Australia.  He was not aware that the USAWA required a straight arm either (just as I was not aware that the IAWA allowed a bent arm) - as we have since the beginning.  Maybe this all arose because of the misinterpretation of Weaver’s account by Willoughby.  Re-read yesterdays story and you will now notice that he didn’t mention at ANY TIME the arm must be straight.  But at the same time he referenced that drawing of Grimek as the “correct position” using the Weaver Stick, and in it John Grimek’s arm is as “straight as an arrow”.  Now I can only imagine at this point in this story Weaver Stick extraordinaire Tom Ryan is getting out of his chair and  ready to give someone “a thrashing” with HIS Weaver Stick for insulting the Weaver Stick Rule this way.  After all, I witnessed Tom set his big Weaver Stick  ALL-TIME USAWA RECORD of 7 pounds at a record day in Clarks Gym in 2002.  I also remember very clearly that Tom’s arm was very straight when he did it, as Bill Clark was officiating him and wouldn’t let “nothing bend” on the issue of requiring a straight arm. That’s how it has always been in the USAWA.  I contested the Weaver Stick at my 2010 Grip Challenge at my gym, and close to a dozen good “grip guys” tested on it. I was the judge, and judged it as hard as Bill would have.  Grip sensation Andy Durniat lifted 6 pounds, along with my father LaVerne (everyone was surprised with that one!).  But ole Dad has spent a lifetime of building his grip doing farm work, and it paid off with  building the right muscles for the Weaver Stick.  These were the top Weaver Stick lifts of the day, and both very solid and reputable lifts with the Weaver Stick using a straight arm. This meet sure reiterated the great Weaver Stick Record of 7 pounds done by Tom Ryan.

We (the USAWA) have made great strides in the past couple of years to get our USAWA rules into compliance with the IAWA rules.  We have been changing ours to met theirs. But this is one I would argue that we have RIGHT – as any rule should represent THE INTENT of the original development of the lift.  I truly feel Weaver intended for the Weaver Stick be done with a straight arm and NOT a bent arm.  Or did he INTEND it to be done with a bent arm????  That’s the controversy. 

One thing is for certain - officiating the Weaver Stick with a bent arm allowed would be a whole lot easier.  Making the decision of “red lighting” a lift on arm bend is very subjective.  Bill Clark once told me this, “officiating the bend of the arm in the Weaver Stick is as subjective as judging the depth of a squat!”.  I couldn’t agree more.  Please let your opinion on this be known in the USAWA Discussion Forum (and Tom you can lead the way with this discussion!).

The Weaver Stick

(WEBMASTERS NOTE: The following was written years ago by the famous strength historian David Willoughby.   This is an exert from an article he wrote, titled, Feats of Strength with Levers.  Willoughby’s writings about the Weaver Stick provided the inspiration to adopt the Weaver Stick as an official USAWA lift. The purpose of reprinting this story is to provide the lead-in for my story tomorrow on the Weaver Stick, which for sure will create a Weaver Stick controversy.)

by David Willoughby

Drawing of John Grimek performing the Weaver Stick. This photo is from David Willoughby's book, The Super Athletes.

A direct and practical means of developing and strengthening the abductor muscles of the forearm is simply to swing a sledgehammer, preferably one that is sufficiently small and light to be gripped and swung with one hand. Such a movement is “practical,” because the use of the hammer, in one way or another, is something that has been going on for thousands of years and is still an essential element in many manual occupations. And so long as one is endeavoring to develop muscular strength, why use odd, artificial movements that rarely if ever occur in everyday life, when there are other movements, or exercises, that employ the muscles in a natural, practical manner? Away back in June, 1908, at the Crystal Palace in London, Arthur Lancaster swung a blacksmith’s 8-pound hammer for TWELVE HOURS without stopping. He was said to have “. . . the strongest wrist and forearm of any man alive.”

Many a feat of so-called “wrist strength” – actually, strength of the abductor muscles of the forearm (those that draw the hand toward the thumb side) – has been performed using either a standard, commercial sledgehammer, or “sledge,” or a long wooden bar, like a broom handle, with a light weight attached to the far end of it. Unfortunately, in most of the feats of this kind that have been reported, it has been difficult or impossible for one reason or another, to evaluate the merit of the performance. In some of the reports even the weight of the sledgehammer is left unmentioned; and rarely if ever does the performer state the exact length of the handle and how far his hand was away from the weight when he lifted it. Of course, without these essential items of information, no reliable comparison of the feat can be made with others of its kind.

Some years ago, in order to obviate these difficulties, my friend and co-enthusiast, George Weaver, who was then living in Brooklyn, designed a leverage-lifting bar of specified dimensions, with which he tested the “wrist strength” of many strongmen and weight trainees who were living in that area. In due course this bar became known as a “Weaver Stick.” This was a round stick (such as a mop handle), about nine-tenths of an inch in diameter, cut to the exact length of 41 inches. Here is Weaver’s description of the details of his stick:

Half an inch from one end, cut a notch. EXACTLY 36 inches from the CENTER of this notch, circle the stick with a line. Get two metal right-angles at a hardware store, and screw them into the top and bottom sides of the stick so that the rear edges of the right-angles come exactly to the circled line. The top side of the stick is the side where the notch is cut. lf one angle has once screw hole, and the other angle has two screw holes, the screws will not conflict. You can shave the bottom of the stick a little with a knife at these places, to make a flatter base for the angle. This leaves you with a “handle” just 5½ inches long, which you can tape to a thickness that suits your hand and affords a good grip.

It is important that the following rules be observed. The stick must be lifted approximately parallel to the floor, and not with the weighted end tilted downward. Above all, the stick must be lifted straight up from the chair; there must be no rocking of the stick on the chair before lifting. The lifting hand and arm must remain free of the body. And the heel of the hand must remain on TOP of the stick. If the hand twists under the stick, the lift is no good and cannot be allowed. The stick, when lifted, need not be held for any length of time; but it must be clearly lifted free of the chair (an inch is enough) and held in control (one second is enough).

This lift may also be made by turning the back on the weight and grasping the stick with the little finger toward the weight, instead of with the thumb toward the weight. More weight can be lifted in this manner. When lifting with the back toward the weight, the body may be bent forward as the lift is made.

The accompanying drawing of John Grimek shows the position to be assumed in making a Forward Lift on the Weaver Stick.

Many years before George Weaver thought up his leverage lifting stick, Paul Von Boeckmann, a professional strongman and physical instructor in New York City, by practice became exceptionally capable at feats of “wrist strength,” and used to win bets by raising weights on the end (straw) of an ordinary broom. He, like Weaver, saw that it was essential to establish a fixed distance on the stick between the center of the weight and the front (thumb-side) of the lifting hand. By doing this he eventually made a record by lifting 11½ pounds at a distance of 36 inches in front of his grip. This was equivalent to raising the same amount in a Forward Lift on a regulation Weaver Stick. At the age of 62 (in 1933), von Boeckmann could still raise 9½ pounds in this manner.

Weaver’s tests with his stick revealed a remarkable range in ability among the various persons who lifted on it. In this lift (in the Forward style) the “average” man would seem capable of about 4 pounds. Yet Warren Travis, the one-time world champion in back and harness lifting, who in addition could pick up over 100 pounds in a one-hand pinch lift, could only raise 4¼ pounds on the Weaver Stick. The best lift performed in the Forward style was recorded by recorded by Weaver was one of 10 pounds with the left hand by John Grimek. Later, in York, Pa., Grimek raised 11¾ pounds with his right hand on a stick that was 2” shorter than a regulation Weaver Stick. This would have made his lift, if it had been made on a 42” stick, equivalent to about an even 11 pounds. In any event, Grimek’s lift would appear to be the best on record with the exception of that made long ago by Paul von Boeckmann. But it would be interesting to know how much weight could be raised in this style by such old-time champions of grip and forearm strength as Louis Cyr, Horace Barre, Apollon (Louis Uni), John Marx and Hermann Goerner.

Of more recent weightmen, Mac Batchelor and Douglas Hepburn should have made good showings in this test. However, any guesswork in this direction could be highly unreliable. One would suppose that thick wrists and tight wrist ligaments would be of great assistance in this lift; yet actually some strongmen who possessed these attributes came out very poorly on the Weaver Stick, while others, who had more slender wrists and limber wrist joints, did unexpectedly well. I myself had, and still have, very limber wrist joints (which used to handicap me in heavy one-hand overhead lifts), yet I managed to raise correctly 7 pounds on a standard Weaver Stick, at a time when I was well past my prime.

In view of the fact that John Grimek was capable of raising approximately 11 pounds on a Weaver Stick in the Forward Lift Style, while weighing about 195 pounds and having a wrist of 7¾” and a forearm of 13¾”, it would certainly seem that one of the present-day superheavyweight powerlifters, with correspondingly larger wrists and forearms, should be able to similarly raise at least 12 pounds. However, unless and until such a lift is made, Grimek must be credited with being the contemporary record-holder in this test of forearm strength. Indeed, the nearest lifts to the 10 pounds recorded for Grimek’s LEFT- HAND record of 10 pounds were right-hand lifts of 8 pounds performed by John Davis and Steve Stanko, who were then at the peak of their Olympic lifting efficiency.

In the Backward Lift on a Weaver Stick, a considerably heavier poundage is possible than in the more commonly performed Forward Lift style. In the Backward style the highest possible poundage recorded by Weaver was 12½ pounds. This was accomplished by John Protasel, a heavyweight of New York City. However, in order to be equal in merit to a Forward Lift of 11 pounds, as performed by John Grimek, a Backward Lift (which employs the stronger adductor muscles of the forearm) should be somewhere between 14½ and 15½ pounds.

The Weaver Stick

by Al Myers

Ben Edwards training the Weaver Stick.

I saved the most interesting lift for this last story covering the lifts that are in this weekend’s upcoming Dino Gym Grip Challenge.  The Weaver Stick is one of the most perplexing and misunderstood lifts in the USAWA lineup of lifts.   Bill Clark once told me that “judging the Weaver Stick is more subjective than judging depth in a squat.”  I definitely agree!  I will be the Official Judge in this competition, and I will make sure that everything is done right and all competitors will be judged equally and fair.  The most subjective part of judging the Weaver Stick is making sure that the lifting arm remains straight at the side with elbow locked.  With just a little bend at the elbow, other muscles can be pulled in to play, and much more weight can be lifted. The Weaver Stick is a leverage lift that tests the ligament and tendon strength of the wrist, primarily above the thumb.  It is surprising how little weight can be supported this way.  John Grimek many years ago set the World Record in the Weaver Stick at 11 3/4 pounds.

The Weaver Stick is named after George Weaver of Brooklyn, who popularized it in the early 1940’s. However he didn’t really invent it.  Many years before this Paul Von Boeckmann of New York City found that he had a “special knack” for this type of lifting and had a early version of the Weaver Stick made out of a broom handle.  He won several bets with his ability to lift it with weight attached by a rope on the end of it.  George Weaver based the measurements of the Weaver Stick from Von Boeckmann’s broom handle, and the regulation Weaver Stick length of 36 inches was born. By the way, Paul Von Boeckmann was VERY GOOD with the Weaver Stick and is credited with a forward lift of 11 1/2 pounds. When he was over 60 years of age he could still do 9 1/2 pounds!!  The Weaver Stick has also been contested backwards – meaning you face away from the Weaver Stick.  Slightly more weight can be lifted this way.  However, at this meet you must perform the Weaver Stick in the forward manner.  I would say a great lift is anything over 6 pounds, with most lifters capable of between 4 and 6 pounds if done correctly.  Occasionally in the gym we have pulled out the Weaver Stick to “play around” at the end of workouts.  I am always surprised by what guys lift. You can never predict.  I don’t think there is any correlation between overall body strength and ability with the Weaver Stick.  It is a humbling feeling to fail with 5 pounds when you can deadlift over 500 pounds.  The great Warren Lincoln Travis is said to have been only able to do 4 1/4 pounds with the Weaver Stick.  The top lift ever done with the Weaver Stick in the USAWA is 7 pounds.  This was accomplished by two lifters – Tom Ryan and Mark Mitchell.

The Rules for the Weaver Stick

“A Weaver Stick is used for this lift. The Weaver Stick utilizes a wooden broomstick with these dimensions. The handle is 5 ½ inches in length. The junction of the handle and the rest of the Weaver Stick may be marked with tape, or with any material that is raised to provide a distinct separation between the handle and the rest of the stick. This marking is ½ inch in length. At a point exactly 36 inches from the end of the marking, or 42 inches from the end of the handle, a notch is made in the stick to allow a cord to be attached to it. This cord may be of any length.  Weight is tied onto the end of the cord. The Weaver Stick must rest on a flat lifting surface with the weight hanging free. The lift will begin at the lifter’s discretion. The lifter will take a position alongside the Weaver Stick, and grip the handle of the Weaver Stick by one hand, facing the length of the stick. The lifting hand and arm must remain straight with elbow fully locked, and must not be in contact with the body during the lift. The lifting arm must remain at the lifter’s side throughout the lift. The heel of the hand must remain on top of the Weaver Stick. If the hand twists under the stick during the lift, it is a disqualification. The non-lifting hand must not touch the lifting arm, lifting hand, or Weaver Stick during the lift. The lifter’s body must be upright with legs straight at the completion of the lift, but the legs may bend when picking up the stick. The Weaver Stick must be lifted entirely clear from the lifting surface while maintaining the stick parallel to the floor. If the end of the stick containing the weight dips to any degree, it is a disqualification. If the lifting hand moves to a position in front of the handle marking during the lift, it is a disqualification. Once the Weaver Stick is motionless, an official will give a command to end the lift. Records are also kept for the Weaver Stick with the lifter facing backwards, away from the length of the stick.”