The Hoffman/Paul Formula

by Thom Van Vleck

Ok, so we’ve been overload on the formula’s lately, but I was perusing one of my old Ironman mags last night and came across a story.  This was the April-May 1974 issue and on Page 43 there’s a story on the “new” Hoffman/Paul Formula.  The original Hoffman formula was used for years in determining the best lifter at Olympic lifting meets.  As the weight classes expanded (the original gap was 198lbs to Heavyweight, then a 242 class was added, and a 220lbs class) there was evidently a need to alter the formula.  This article talks about the new “Hoffman/Paul formula” being accepted at a recent AAU convention.  Some professor named Joseph Paul had “improved” upon the Hoffman formula and evidently was given second billing to Hoffman with this second version.  Who knows, maybe he came up with the original!

No one is credited with writing the article so I have to assume Peary Rader wrote it.  In the article he makes a comment that the new formula was unchanged from the old thru the 198lb class, but changes were made above that.  I’ll assume to make it more “fair” as the old formula may have been found to be flawed relating to heavier lifters as the article says the new formula was the result of the new weight classes.  Interestingly, the author notes that no formula can be completely fair, but this one is an improvement.

I do know that Lyle Schwartz once commented that he developed his formula when it was determined that the Hoffman Formula, for whatever reason, did not work as well with the powerlifts and more specifically, the bench press.  I also recall Schwartz stating the Malone formula was a better indicator for women and that when comparing men to women, it was basically a factor of men being 30% stronger on average, but women generally carrying more bodyfat across all weight classes seemed to be an issue in coming up with a reliable formula and comparison.

It is also interesting that the “improved” Hoffman formula ends at 260lbs and that for ever pound after that you were to and 1 point to the coefficient.  Again, the conspiracy theorist in me feels like the little guys are always out to shaft the big guys because they can’t lift as much.  But you have to admit, adding a “point” per pound after that would have to cause some issues once you hit 350lbs or even more.

In highland games at the Masters World’s this year they are using the decathlon scoring system which is based on percentages of the world record.  This is the first time they are using this system and it will be interesting to see if it changes the results.  But I would almost bet that it would be like Al’s analysis recently, you might see one or two changes but the vast majority will remain in their same placings.  This has not stopped a heated debate that has already arisen regarding the pros and cons of the decathlon system.

My intent is not to point out flaws, but just offer another piece of the formula history here.  Sounds like even in the earliest days of the formula format, everyone knew it wasn’t perfect, but still could be a decent indicator of who the better lifter was.  I have been reading more on how Schwartz developed his formula, but have had to dust off the old stat class book from college…..and that will be for another day and might end up more boring than Al’s article on the formulas!!!

Close Enough to Get the Job Done

By Thom Van Vleck

As I read Al’s recent story on the history of formulas several things come to mind. First, it made me think of a “formula” I used to use to calculate my one rep max. (.0333 X weight lifted X reps) + weight lifted = one rep max. I swore by that, but the reality is that it just gave a “probable” one rep max and obviously has a lot of flaws (such as going high reps not being a strong an indicator). I can’t remember where I got it, or why I came to “believe” in it…..but I did and used this to calculate contest openers and goals. I believed it was right and somehow that made it a good formula. But how often did it work? Not work? How often did I stop at that max and validate my own belief and not try more?

The reality is that the FIRST lesson I learned in Physics 101 in my freshman year in college was that every measurement is flawed. The real question is: “Is it close enough to get the job done!” I recall doing an experiment where we measured a long metal rod, then heated it and cooled it and got different measurements. We then discussed the nature of matter and that it’s made up of atoms which are dynamic, etc. Finally, the instructor took the rod and bent it and said, “Now, how far apart are the ends and how do you measure it, point to point, or along the length”?! Formula’s are like measurements, NO formula would be perfect. But his real lesson was, is your measurement “close enough to get the job done”.

I was at a ball game last night and there were two umpires. At one point, one called a guy safe and the other over ruled him and called the baserunner out. I thought the base runner was safe from my vantage point. There was a groan from the crowd….but the game went on. There was a recent major league game where a picture had a perfect game into the last out and the ump blew the call and the pitcher lost his perfect game. Television revealed his error, but the flawed call was upheld….because that’s the rule! The umpire makes the call and “calls it as he sees it”. Just like judges at meets calling depth on squats, or knee kick on a strict press. If we want to compete, we accept those human failings. The real question becomes: Are they good enough to get the job done?

Then there is the equipment. Recently, Dave Glasgow got us started on the subject of how much barbells weigh. I had actually weighed ALL of my stuff and come to realize that a 45lb plate rarely weighs 45lbs. I have a set of Ironman 50lb plates that are unmilled and they weigh 57.5lbs!!!! I should point out that they were sold that way, back in the day you could get cheap weights if you would be willing to take them “unmilled” or milled to the exact weight. However, I have milled plates and they are off, too. But not nearly as much. However, they are “close enough to get the job done”.

So, we have a flawed formula, developed by flawed people, using flawed equipment, in a flawed world. We can’t have perfection so to me, the real question is: Is it accurate enough to get the job done. I think one thing Al’s article showed was that the formulas do seem to have some decent reliability. There is some variability. I doubt there’s been a lot of testing on the validity of these formulas, so where are we?

Here is where we are at in my opinion. The USAWA is an organization like no other. I think we should continue to use the formulas but I hope that we would be open to having contests that don’t use them. I would think ideally, we do both. If I competed in the Nationals and I lifted more than anyone in my age group and weight class….I’m the winner. I also get the added BONUS of being ranked in an overall. We need to look at the formulas as a way to add another layer of competition to the meet. We either accept they are “close enough to get the job done” or we don’t compete.

Dave Glasgow and I compete in Scottish Highland Games. This is a unique sport like the USAWA. There is no central governing body and often meets are open to having their own rules and standards. For example. the Braemar Stone event (like a shot put) will have stones that vary 10, 20, even 50lbs in weight from meet to meet. Or in some meets you can spin and throw the Weight Over Bar, and another meet may only allow to throw from a stand. Each style will fit different athletes better, giving advantages and disadvantages. This is often debated and Dave delivered the best quote on it I can recall (which he said he actually got from Mike Smith), “You know the rules, either go and throw or stay home, don’t complain about it”.

Maybe someday, we’ll have so many lifters, the formula’s will be more like the “best lifter” award stuff, but right now we need them to make the meets more competitive. Otherwise, just lift in your gym and go buy a trophy. I have a buddy that owns a trophy shop and he’ll help you out….as a matter of fact he told me he makes trophies for non existent contests all the time! Or lift in the USAWA and have a good time and don’t expect perfection from a formula, like you don’t expect perfection from a judge, weight, or weather man!

History of Formulas used in the USAWA

by Al Myers

When you KNOW it's time to blame the formula!

This past week on the USAWA Discussion Forum a lively debate got started on the fairness of using Formulas in comparing athletes for overall placings. The USAWA is unique in doing this compared to other lifting organizations which prefer to just give awards for different divisions or classes.  Sure these other organizations might use a Formula to award a Best Lifter, but the USAWA uses a formula to determine the overall ranking of every athlete in the competition, from the top to the bottom.  No OTHER organization does this!!  We now use the Lynch Formula to make the “handicap” adjustment for bodyweight differences and use a Age Allowance Percentage for Junior Lifters and Lifters age 40 and above.  I am NOT going to give my viewpoint and opinion on the fairness of using formulas  in this article, as that is better left for the Discussion Forum.  Instead, I would like to review the history of formulas used in the USAWA, and give insight to how these different formulas were derived.

The main All-Round competitions that occurred prior to the USAWA (1987)  were “odd lift” meets promoted by Bill Clark out of Missouri.  These meets were contested under the direction of the Missouri Valley Weightlifting Federation, the Region IV division of the USWF.  The formula used at that time to determine rankings was the Schwartz Formula. Numerous old Zercher Meet results verified this. The USAWA really began in the summer of 1987, with the first official records recorded for the USAWA in the fall of 1987.  At this point the USAWA adopted the use of the O’Carroll Formula for bodyweight adjustment and it was used extensively in the USAWA in 1988.  The Zercher Meet in 1988 used the O’Carroll Formula.  The National Masters Weightlifting Program started using the Sinclair Formula at this time, and even used a unique formula developed by Joe McCoy that adjusts for bodyweight AND age at the 1987 National Masters Olympic Lifting Championships directed by USAWA Hall of Famer John Vernacchio. It was called the Sinclair-McCoy Formula and ONLY applied to Olympic Lifting totals.  The FIRST USAWA National Championships directed by John Vernacchio in 1988 used the O’Carroll Formula. I did find a few old USAWA meet results from the late 80’s where the Sinclair Formula was used for All-Round Meets.  The Sinclair Formula was developed by Canadian mathematician/weightlifting enthusiast Roy Sinclair.  He used the weightlifting results from the Olympics as his data base to determine the coefficients for his formula. Another interesting formula brought forth from the IAWA in the early 90’s was the Blindt Formula, developed by British lifter Adrian Blindt.  It didn’t correct for bodyweight, but for the lifts involved.  Each lift had its own factor.  The idea was this would make it more fair, in example, to compare a lift where lots of weight can be lifted, like a Hip Lift to a lift where much less weight is lifted, like a Press.  This formula was never used in the USAWA, but was used in some IAWA competitions.  I remember it was used in the IAWA World Postal Meets promoted by the Australians a few years back.

However, by the early 1990’s most all USAWA results started using the Lynch Formula, which we still use today.  The Lynch Formula was developed in 1988 by Ian Lynch, a lifter from England. The Lynch Factors (or coefficients)  have not changed since its inception.  I know this because I found an old Lynch Chart from the early 90’s and compared it to today’s Lynch Chart and it’s the same.  No updates and no modifications.  Recently, we have been faced with a problem using the Lynch Formula, and that problem is the highest bodyweight factor on the Lynch Chart is 150 kilograms.  It is not uncommon nowadays to get a lifter that weighs over 330 pounds, and we have no way to correct for them!  In the past when this happened the meet director would either  “estimate” a Lynch Factor for them or just give the athlete the highest bodyweight correction on the chart. I don’t think EITHER of those solutions are acceptable – and thus I began to try to find the “original Lynch Formula” so the chart could be extended for higher bodyweights.  I inquired several places and couldn’t find any leads.  Finally, thanks to Tom Ryan and our IAWA President Steve Gardner, Ian Lynch was located and I could go right to the source of the Lynch Formula!  Unfortunately, the exact formula and method of reproducing it has been lost.  However, Ian Lynch was very helpful in sharing some details and information on why the Lynch Formula was developed and used in All-Round Weightlifting.  The Lynch Formula is very similar to the O’Carroll Formula with the differences being that the Lynch Formula is slightly more favorable for lighter lifters. In a sense, it “leveled out the curve”  on the light end of the  O’Carroll Formula.   Both the Lynch and O’Carroll Formulas were derived using body factors whereas the Schwartz and Sinclair Formulas are based on Olympic lifting performances or World Records for Olympic Lifting.  I think this makes the Lynch Formula more applicable to All-Round Weightlifting. It sure doesn’t make sense to me to use a formula based on the two Olympic Lifts, and then expect it to correlate to over the 200 lifts we do in All-Round Weightlifting!  Ian Lynch had this to say about the development of the Lynch Formula from the O’Carroll Formula considering body factors , ” The O’Carroll Formula assumed all lifters non-muscular weight was constant, ie bones etc. That didn’t work well particularly for lighter lifters.” That must have been the reason for the points being adjusted slightly in favor of lighter lifters.

Just out of curiosity I “recalculated” the results of last year’s World Championships using the Sinclair and O’Carroll Formulas.  This is how it would change “the top ten”:

Lifter BWT Lynch Pts. Sinclair Pts. O’Carroll Pts.
Mark Haydock 122.9 764.3 1005.2 771.1
Al Myers 114.7 763.1 978.5 768.6
Chad Ullom 104.3 749.8 936.2 758.9
Roger Davis 81.6 736.6 896.9 737.0
Denny Habecker 86.1 661.1 805.3 661.9
John Monk 79.8 658.3 802.1 658.4
Bill Spayd 107.9 655.3 825.0 659.1
Scott Schmidt 119.7 598.6 779.3 603.6
Art Montini 78.2 588.9 718.3 589.1
Josh Haydock 66.9 582.2 724.6 565.7

This group of lifters make up an interesting data base for this comparison, because lifters of different body weights are represented (from 66.9 kgs to 122.9 kgs).  Not much changes in the placings between the three formulas being applied except for Bill Spayd.  He placed 7th overall using the Lynch Formula, but would have been 5th using the Sinclair Formula. You can really see how the Lynch Formula favors lighter lifters compared to the O’Carroll Formula.  Just compare Mark Haydock (at 122.9 kgs) to Josh Haydock (at 66.9 kgs). Mark’s Lynch Points are LOWER than his O’Carroll Points while Josh’s Lynch Points are MORE than his O’Carroll Points.  John Monk, at 80 kilograms, has the bodyweight that gives the same points using both the Lynch Formula and the O’Carroll Formula.  The Sinclair Formula MUCH favors heavier lifters.  Just look at the top four placings where the bodyweights of the lifters decrease with each placing. It is  pretty close using the Lynch Formula, but with the Sinclair Formula the point gap widens much more with each subsequent placing.

This doesn’t answer the long debated notion that “formulas are not fair”, but I hope that it provides some insight to how the formulas work and why we use them in the USAWA.