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HISTORY OF POWERLIFTING, WEIGHTLIFTING, AND STRENGTH TRAINING PART 78: TITEX, WHEN OLD SCHOOL IS THE NEW THING

Very few individuals awaken and begin their day with the thought that the world needs another barbell set. In our ongoing TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS series of articles, we have explored, discussed, and dissected the evolution of barbells as they have been utilized in our sport of powerlifting. There are a number of quality barbells on today’s market, and some perfectly suited to the needs of the powerlifter. Ivanko, Eleiko, the original Capps Texas Barbell, and others manufacture bars specifically for powerlifting. There are many “older” bars floating around the training community, used but in exceptionally functional condition. Dependent upon the year and series run, some of the York barbells can be depended upon to give continuing good service past the decades they have already been in use. Should one be fortunate enough to stumble upon one of Jim Sutherland’s Hastings Barbells manufactured in the early 1980’s, they will have an underrated model that had limited distribution, that still has every advantage of the newest barbells on today’s market. Our facility utilizes a seventeen year old Leoko bar that has seen daily service without complaint. There are companies that make Olympic weightlifting bars that are very applicable to powerlifting and while I would not own, use, or “gift” any of the junk imported bars that claim “1500 pound test” for example, almost all non-competitive trainees could spend a lifetime under one of these barbells with little risk of injury or product failure.

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In brief, there are a lot of good barbells out there with a favorite usually due to personal preference, the brand of bar one first used when starting training, a specific product that resulted in many successful contests, or one given as a gift that has paid dividends. Thus, we are back to our original thought: does the world need another barbell set? Titan’s Pete Alaniz must have awakened with the thought or otherwise had this exact idea because he now has brought TITEX barbell and plates to the market. Think: TITAN/TEXAS = TITEX!  What Pete truly wanted was the feeling and excitement all of us experienced when we first began training and competing, forming a bond with our equipment, our training partners, and our sport. This new set has all of the advantages that modern design, materials, and manufacturing allow for, but that also brings the enthusiasm of starting anew in the sport.

There are, among barbell manufacturers, two camps; those who literally and figuratively buy into the concept of being officially certified for competition, and those who do not. Obviously, one has to begin with the actual product. If the barbell and/or plates do not meet the standard of the official/certifying organization, the conversation ends, there is nothing to certify for competition. If the barbell and plates can be officially certified because the plates weigh to exacting standards and the features of the barbell meet the criteria of the organization, then there is a choice to be made by the manufacturer. For many if not most, there is a dilemma because money is involved and money is the bottom line when one is in business. Some in the industry believe that being certified by a specific organization, and having to pay an official, organized, governing body money to attain that certification, to use the term stated to me in this very conversation, is “bullshit.” The argument is, “Why spend a significant amount of money being certified when your product is already of high quality, does in fact meet the standards of any official powerlifting organization, and there is little benefit to be had in being certified?” If one believes they sell a great product and many lifters and non-competitors will purchase and utilize their equipment because it is a terrific, high quality product and having the equipment either seen in a major competition or associated as being “XYZ Organization approved” will not affect sales, then this is a legitimate stance. Others, with TITAN and TITEX being among them, believe that there is in fact an advantage being associated with, and being certified with a particular organization.

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One fact beyond argument, remains a fact; if the longest existing world organization in the sport, the organization with more participating lifters than any other and perhaps more than all others combined approves and certifies a barbell and plates as “official” and meeting every standard of the organization, that barbell and those plates can be used any place, in any competition, and by all lifters knowing that the equipment is “right.”  TITAN made the choice to fill a void and have an American company bring an officially IPF certified set to the marketplace. Having some input during the prototype stage, something I have previously done for other barbell manufacturers, I know how painstaking and carefully completed, every step in the design and manufacturing process was for this specific set. While some of the forums have revealed “dueling opinions” on the appearance of the plates, a great deal of thought was given to the design, appearance, and performance of the TITEX product.

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I am not that computer savvy but my daughter is the coordinator of media affairs for a large, national corporation and she gathered various forum based information for me and it seems that the majority of those who believe the appearance of the plates is “odd,” are bodybuilders! Powerlifters, and especially those powerlifters who either used the TITEX set at the recent Arnold event or saw the bar and plates in the warm-up room or on stage, absolutely raved about the appearance of the entire set. In use, on a moving bar, this is just a very cool set! That they also raved about the performance of the bar, one that meets all of the demands of the IPF and their affiliated world-wide organizations, is more important and more gratifying. In part this comes from the input of a number of TITAN team members, world class and world record holding powerlifters who were solicited for their opinions during the ongoing design process. I believe it’s great that we have a new, American company entry to the certification list, and meet directors and gym owners, as well as garage based lifters like myself, will want to utilize the TITEX bar and really great looking plates in training and competition. Yes, a void has been filled but more importantly, a terrific option has been presented to powerlifters everywhere.    

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HISTORY OF POWERLIFTING, WEIGHTLIFTING, AND STRENGTH TRAINING PART 77: SINGING THE PRAISES OF THE ER RACK, CONCLUSION!

AUTHORS NOTE:  DUE TO CHANGES IN WEB SITE DESIGN AND INTERNAL MAINTENANCE FEATURES, THE HISTORY OF POWERLIFTING, WEIGHTLIFTING, AND STRENGTH TRAINING HAS SUFFERED PUBLICATION DELAYS. TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS HAS BEEN ASSURED THAT THESE PROBLEMS HAVE BEEN RECTIFIED AND THAT THERE WILL BE NO FURTHER INTERRUPTION IN WHAT HAS BEEN A MONTHLY FEATURE FOR MORE THAN SIX YEARS

 

Our ongoing series of articles has been very much focused upon the development of the sport of powerlifting, the unfortunate growth of specialization in the distinct and different aspects of the Iron Game, and the evolution of the equipment utilized in powerlifting. There can be no complaint about the evolution of equipment. We have moved from large, cumbersome, and very heavy pieces that were in fact necessary to preserve the safety of participants both in training and in competition, to better designed, lighter, and while being lighter, stronger equipment. We have spent a great deal of time discussing squat racks, an obviously central piece of equipment to the sport of powerlifting and how it is now possible to load a pick-up truck with enough squatting and bench pressing equipment to supply a competition platform and four warm-up platforms. Equipment breaks down, is light enough to handle by one individual, and yet can provide absolute structural safety. One of the key features on any squat rack apparatus is the ability to adjust it. While the reduction in overall or absolute weight of the product has been a major improvement, the ability to quickly and safely elevate or lower the stand safely while it is supporting weight, is in my opinion, the most important step forward.

 

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Former Michigan State defensive back Richard Brown trained with Dr. Ken for ten years and had a successful college football career at 5’11”, 198 pounds. At our former residence and garage training area, he is shown standing with one of Doc’s ATOMIC ATHLETIC custom barbells supported by a squat rack that meets many of the requirements for safety and ease of use. These are bolt together, hydraulic cylinder height adjustable racks that are lightweight but structurally strong. Difficult to see but present are welded hooks that are stationary and not height adjustable, for bench pressing. Not as “user friendly” as the ER Racks, these were our designated “Outdoor Racks” used for squats and presses, racks that lasted many years.

 

 

If one takes a moment to examine the many photos “from the old days” that have illustrated the previous 76 installments of this series of articles, it should be obvious that the only way to lift or lower squat rack height was through the process of manually moving the barbell and then the rack height to the desired position. During the course of a contest, there were competitors, their coaches, spotters, and friends filling the warm-up room. Thus, there was plenty of assistance available when height changes were needed. On the competition platform, spotters and loaders could lift one end of a 700 pound bar, hold it for a moment until the rack was also lifted or lowered to the desired height, and then replace the barbell end in the weight saddle. Once the procedure was completed on the other side of the bar, the two squat stands or racks were ready to go. Tedious, time consuming, a bit dangerous, and perhaps archaic in retrospect, but that’s how it was done. Training however, was another issue.

 

If two or three training partners were approximately the same height, the squat racks could be set, and then remain at a fixed position for the entirety of the squat workout. Certainly, even slight differences in height from one individual to another would make it a bit “less than perfect” for at least one of the trainees, but workouts could be efficient and safe. When the training partners were of differing heights, and of course the problems were magnified when there was a significant height difference among the members of the training group, the squat segment of the workout could drag on interminably. Changing the rack height would in fact become a significant aspect of the workout if numerous alterations were needed. Even with two partners, the necessity of changing rack height over the course of three or four warm-up sets and three to six work sets, could be brutal. Made worse by the use of very heavy weights, this aspect of training became another exercise in itself. One trainee lifted the end of the bar, held it, and hoped that his partner could quickly pull the pin out of the rack upright hole, and rapidly shove it into the one needed. The procedure was repeated, and the squat set was completed. When the next lifter came up to take his turn, the process was repeated. Now, picture this with heavy weights, very cold hands in an unheated garage when there was snow and ice on the ground and winds were howling through the doors, and the hour was either exceptionally early or late. These conditions made for less than optimal and often, less than safe training conditions.

 

Our series has reviewed the step up to the use of car or truck jacks, hydraulic cylinders, and Jim Sutherland’s electric/motor drives for rack height adjustment. Erik Rasmussen’s pin-and-lever system of adjusting rack height was a step forward that eliminated the heavy manual work, the possible slippage or failure of jacks, the leakage or inability to create pressure within the closed hydraulic cylinder, and a lack of electricity or other electrical or mechanical problems that were potential pitfalls with the electric racks. This ability to quickly, safely, and efficiently adjust rack height was rather brilliant in its simplicity, and one of those “Why didn’t I think of that first?” type of alterations.

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The height adjustment lever system developed by Erik Rasmussen on his ER Racks is the industry leader in safety and ease, especially with groups of lifters in trainng or competition. The side-to-side adjustment rollers are an “added bonus” to the total equipment package

 

My father was a craftsman, typical of his generation and typical of the immigrant population that arrived from Europe in the early 1900’s. He insisted that the most minor job be done as well as possible and that the work, even if insignificant, be completed as well as anyone could do it. Some of my early attempts at fabricating squat racks or power racks were less than successful but in a day before computer controlled laser cutting and drilling became standard, every drilled or punched hole was clean, every weld was ground to smoothness and often a “glass-like” finish, and the work area was left cleaner than it was prior to the start of the project. In the ER promotional materials, it states “Every product he (Rasmussen) creates carries over a thousand years of heritage and national pride with it. Products from ER do not leave his factory meeting minimum standards. His products reach for the highest standards of craftsmanship. Not only are his products extremely functional and durable but they are also visually appealing.” I have a full understanding of this statement because I grew up with it. Our three ER Racks with Bench Press and spotters’ safety stands do in fact look the part. Heavy duty without being ridiculous (like one of the 5” X 5” tubing Olympic bench presses I encountered in a contest, a bench that caused the inside plates of the loaded barbell to continuously strike the outside of the uprights on almost every lift), yet beautifully crafted, make for good looking as well as functional equipment. Having done my early lifting on a truck axle with flywheels and gears as my barbell and plate substitute, I am not seeking “elegant” equipment but like anything else that one depends upon as a tool of their trade, one wants the tool to be “inviting” when it’s time to lift. ER Racks and benches fulfill the requirement.

 

The most important aspect of squat racks will always be safety and structural support. Will they cave in, will they tip, will they slide across the floor, and will the pin remain in place when the bar is slammed back into the saddles after a completed lift? These are the obvious questions and of course, the ER products have been proven in national and international competition while exposed to the heaviest of loads. For contest promoters, spotters, and loaders, one of the less obvious advantages of the ER Rack is the fact that one piece of equipment can accommodate the squat and the bench press. Most of the early squat racks, even with the addition of a welded on piece of angle iron for example, could not adequately accommodate the bench press if one utilized a flat utility bench. I tried a number of times and if the rack uprights were cut so that one could also bench press off of their lower attachment while using a legal height bench, they invariably would not adjust high enough to fulfill the squatting needs of a tall lifter. There was also the problem of safe bar recovery. Even if some sort of welded attachment to the standard squat racks would also allow for bench pressing, one was not taking or replacing the barbell from a standard or safely configured weight saddle as they would in the squat. As bench press records and usual contest attempts began to move up, this became a dangerous situation. The ER Racks allow for bench pressing off of full weight saddles that allow for safe contest or training lifting.

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The ER Rack can be utilized as a squat rack that accommodates tall or short lifters and as an official Olympic bench press useable for any organization’s contest, complete with spotter safety racks that are, like the primary barbell uprights, adjustable for height

 

 

The spotters’ stands are a nice addition, especially for the lifter who trains alone or at home. Having a piece of equipment that accomplished the job of two is an obvious space saver, especially as the changeover from squatting to bench pressing takes less than a minute, at least in our garage. My wife and I can complete any training or rehabilitation task in our home/office facility. The equipment we use in the garage area includes the three ER Racks and three distinct platform areas as well as an outdoor lifting platform. Our ER Racks serve as the obvious centerpiece and dependent on what has to be accomplished on any specific training day, these will be set as squat or bench pressing pieces. Again, the changeover is rapid and easy so no task is a problem. I have sung the praises of this piece of equipment because we use it and truly enjoy using it.

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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training Part 76

More on ER Racks Part 3

In Denmark, powerlifter Erik Rasmussen gave quite a bit of thought to the equipment needs of himself and his training partners. As a steel fabricator, perhaps this was a natural progression, but his love of powerlifting and joy in his work came together to produce the next evolution in powerlifting equipment. While there is very good and very poor equipment on the powerlifting market, there is no denying the fact that there is certainly a lot of it available to the consumer. Portable squat racks, permanent squat racks, stand alone squat racks, connected squat racks, power racks, utility benches that are modular fits for power racks, competition bench presses, and of course, an almost overwhelming variety of “powerlifting barbells” makes for a confusing but consumer friendly market.

In the past, the only way to add stability to individual stand squat racks was to make them heavier. Our series of articles has displayed numerous photos of concrete filled tire wheels, relatively thick steel plate in round or square configurations, and pipe of thick gauge meant to satisfy this requirement. In some cases the approach worked.

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Through my first ten years of involvement in weight training, I fabricated most of the squat rack designs for my own use or that of training partners. All, in retrospect, were serviceable and safe for the way in which we utilized them, and I also know that some are still in service in home or high school gyms in our area. In every case, the squat stands were difficult to move around the training space, even with a tire wheel or round stock base due to their overall weight. Remember what many manufacturers do, not “for” the consumer, but “to” the consumer: the presentation of a piece of equipment is impressive because the tubing or round/pipe stock is large. A bench or rack made from four-inch x four-inch tube looks a heck of a lot more “beefy,” heavier, stronger, and “powerlifting capable” than the same piece constructed from two-inch x two-inch tube stock. However, the smaller sized tubing may be much stronger because it is of a thicker gauge. In lay terms, while force may be dissipated “better” over the face of “more metal,” for weight training purposes, it is the thickness of the metal, not the overall width that will best determine strength and safety. Thus, one should not judge “strength” of a piece by the width of the tubing but rather by the thickness, or gauge of the tubing.

It is with humor that I recall a few early pieces that I made, and thank goodness it was only a few, that utilized solid stock. With the guidance of my father or one of the other older, experienced craftsman, whatever I fabricated for myself was “good” in that it was safe and sturdy.

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My calculations, proportions, and configurations were at times in need of tweaking or blatant correction, but nothing was ever going to collapse under the weight of a trainee or loaded barbell. I have previously noted in print, multiple times, how happy I was to make my way from Long Beach to Brooklyn’s Mr. V Sports Shop in order to purchase a Weider adjustable utility bench. Circa early 1960’s, it was junk, there was no other word for it but to me, it looked the part of a professional piece of weight training equipment. I also saw photos of some of Weider’s huge bodybuilders using it for incline presses, flyes, and seated curls and thought, “Well, I won’t be using the kinds of weights that (choose one or more from the list of Chuck Sipes, Harold Poole, Dave Draper, Larry Scott, Freddy Ortiz, or Larry Powers) does so this must be a really good piece of equipment.” Of course there was the unspoken implication that if I did in fact purchase and train on the equipment I would get as big and strong as any on that list but I was at least first focused on getting the bench into my home gym.

An hour bus ride from Long Beach to Far Rockaway led to two subways and a lengthy walk to the only store I knew of in Brooklyn or any place else in New York City, that sold the Weider line of equipment. Carrying the box that held the disassembled bench on my shoulders and then traversing the same arduous course back home also brought disapproval from those on the bus who had to endure standing-room-only in the aisle status with my very large box jamming them in various body parts. The bench actually worked, although adjusting the thin pipe that allowed for changes in bench angle was often treated like a wrestling match since the hinges on the bench back rest never did quite line up properly. I was pleased that I could do forty-five degree incline presses with thirty-pound dumbbells but the bench was shaky with much more than fifty in each hand so as I progressed, the bench went into a corner and I utilized sturdier pieces that I made myself.

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There came a day however, when for reasons still not evident to me other than we were not thinking clearly, that my training partner Jack and I were lifting in a small, unventilated cinder block room during the midst of the summer, and more or less wilting from the heat and humidity. We had the space jammed with equipment and pulled the utility bench out for my use. I stood, cleaned a pair of what I recall as 100 to 120 pound dumbbells to my shoulders, rolled back on the inclined back pad to begin my presses, and felt the bench collapse. In truth, the bench exploded! All four legs went in different directions and the frame, seat, and back pad dropped to the concrete floor. I never moved. I held the dumbbells at my shoulders, just as I had cleaned them, and wound up sitting on the floor with them, amidst the crushed rubble of the bench. Miraculously, neither of us was injured and we completed the workout. One look at the bench could have told any logical individual that the equipment was not going to withstand that type of weight exposure but we were young and I certainly was dumb enough to not think things through.

Ironically, one of the young bodybuilders who would on occasion travel from Connecticut to either train or visit other top ranked bodybuilders in our area was Bob Gallucci. Stopping in with his father to observe the training in the storefront gym we frequented, and prior to winning any of his teenage contest titles, Bob demonstrated what was obvious, superior potential and results. He later went on to be one of the greatest legitimately drug free bodybuilders ever and we all could see his early development and how well he already stacked up against some of the more experienced fellows. Bob described his experiences with a Weider bench, with both the equipment and results very much mimicking mine. From his book The Last Drug-Free Body Builder, Bob wrote, “Painted with gold paint, the bench was made of one inch round tubing. It was proudly placed in my basement and became the centerpiece of all of my equipment. I tried to perform almost every exercise using this piece of equipment and to this day, it was always my favorite. Eventually, I had to get rid of this bench because when I began to bench press over 350 lbs with a bounce (first year of college), I began to bend the tubular steel and I needed a stronger bench.” Thus not only was Bob Gallucci a much better physique man than Jack or I proved to be, but he was a lot smarter, dumping his bench before it caved in, unlike us who did it afterwards.

However I have seen a lot of failed equipment that appeared sturdy and few pieces need to protect a trainee more than squat racks. I went for thicker gauge, large and thick bases and weight saddles that were wide and high so that any lifter would have to work at throwing the barbell over the saddles when replacing a squat. If one goes back and reads some of the earlier TITAN articles in this series, its easy to understand how one could in fact miss racking the bar. The saddles were small, narrow, and had little or no back to make contact with the bar. They were difficult to move around the garage floor to arrange for pressing or squats and even more difficult to transport. As the number of powerlifting meets began to proliferate, those who directed, promoted, or set up the contests also realized that moving three or four sets of individual squat stands could be a major chore due to their weight and configuration. Most did not break down well. With a pipe-in-a-pipe construction for most height adjustable racks, one could slide the smaller piece out of the larger pipe but that larger pipe or tube, welded to a base heavy enough to support its share of a 900 pound squat, was usually cumbersome and close to a competitive lift in itself.

Tubing went a long way in reducing the overall weight of the squat stands but this decreased overall weight is what led to the innovation of connecting the racks. The lighter racks made from two-inch x two-inch or even three-inch x three-inch tubing would get batted around and move quite a bit during the course of a contest. Connecting them, to paraphrase something we have all heard so often, resolved much of that problem with the sum of the parts being stronger than the individual components. Erik Rasmussen put the finishing touches on the rack by inserting a skin-tight solid wood insert that ran the length of the support that held the weight saddle, and making the height adjustment simple and easy. Instead of hydraulic bottle jacks that often failed, leaked fluid, or took many pumping movements to elevate, and instead of the electric racks presented by Jim Sutherland which of course required a source of electricity, Rasmussen introduced a simple, mechanical lever.

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At the time, either innovation seemed less than ground breaking. However, adding the wooden insert added strength and stability to the squat upright and over long and heavy use, prevented warping or distortion of the pin-holding hole that secured any height adjustment. The wood also made for an exceptionally tight fit for the stainless steel pin, insuring that it would remain in place. The lever type of height adjustment was in short, rather brilliant in its simplicity. Bolted together with industrial strength fasteners, none of the components of the lever arm mechanism was going to fail elevating or lowering the rack uprights, even when loaded with thousands of pounds. With trial and error determining the lever arm length, height increments could be made quickly, easily, and safely. The heaviest weights could also be moved by smaller individuals due to the mechanical advantage offered by the design. The tubing, while of thick enough gauge to withstand the poundages utilized by the world’s top powerlifters, remains light enough to move the rack easily when fully assembled. Breaking down into its component, bolt-together parts makes assembly, disassembly, and transport to and from meets simple and easy. The rack breaks down into easy to handle and easy to pack parts. Through the decades, especially when Kathy and I owned Iron Island Gym, we often loaned out equipment to various meet directors to help the success of their contests. We were “equal opportunity lenders,” shuttling squat racks, benches, plates, and bars to those directing AAU, APF, USPF, APA, USAPL, and anyone else that needed us to assist.

If any lifter wants to peel a few pounds or kilos off of their contest total, try loading, transporting, unloading, carrying, and assembling large, cumbersome, heavy squat racks or a Monolift for a contest that you had also planned to compete in. Having done it more than once, it demonstrates respect for the sport and your other competitors and it is a considerate thing to do but it can blow out any thoughts to make record attempts. One of the advantages to the ER Rack is its strength-to-weight ratio. It will hold any record breaking squat plunked atop or smashed into the saddles. This has been proven at multiple world and national championships. Yet, even when fully assembled and tossed or perhaps more accurately “carefully placed” into the bed of an open backed pickup truck, it is easy to move. I’ve done it with no assistance and not because I am the next coming of Man Mountain Dean. The unit is light but because of the connected assembly, the precise angles and configuration of the parts, able to withstand any lifting abuse.

 

FINAL COMMENTS ON THE ER RACK NEXT MONTH

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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training Part 75

More on Racks.

Our TITAN SUPPORT series of articles has chronicled the work of Jim Sutherland who developed the first electric adjustable squat racks. These were introduced in the early 1980’s by Jim’s Hastings Barbell Company and proved to be a big hit with lifters. Unfortunately, the components were expensive and though safe, efficient, and built to last (our facility has one of the first two racks that Jim fabricated and almost thirty-five years later, it still operates perfectly), they were preserved as a specialty meet item. As Jim related to me, the cost of the mechanical actuator was $440.00 in 1980. That same component would now cost $1400.00, and needless to add, building each piece “by hand” as a specialty item adds to the overall expense. Georgia Tech University and the University of Iowa had a number of these and they are still in optimal use in private facilities throughout those areas of the country. The electric racks made it possible to literally use the touch of a switch to elevate the rack up or down and to an exacting height. Jim introduced rollers within the weight saddles that allowed for adjustment of the saddles in or out without having to first elevate the loaded barbell from the racks.

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These would have been ideal and perhaps the “ultimate squat rack” had it not been for the expense and the need to provide electricity to operate the motor embedded within the rack’s construction. That both saddles of the rack were of a singular structure design and construction, went a long way in making the squat stand stable. This was copied by those producing stands that were adjustable manually or with a hydraulic jacks and taking the two independent stands and joining them was yet another step forward in the evolution of powerlifting equipment.

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While it may not seem like a big deal, or a “big enough deal” to mention, the originally used squat stands utilized in powerlifting competition through the 1960’s and even to the end of the 1970’s, stood independently. In the late 1970’s when 800 – 900 pound squats became more frequently attempted, just as the need for narrow plates and stronger bars were addressed to meet this requirement, squat stand stability became an issue. There were always meets that found lifters either stumbling or falling into the racks at the completion of a squat attempt, or an individual hell-bent on proving how strong and manly he was by smashing the barbell into the weight saddles after the completion of a successful squat. While it may have been humorous to experienced lifters to observe a goonish competitor screaming “Yeah, yeah!” and bellowing to the sky about his prowess on the platform while literally throwing a less than daunting 400 pounds back into the squat stands, it was less enjoyable to the spotters who often had to contend with a squat stand that skidded backwards or toppled over. The cement-filled car or truck wheels, half-inch thick plate based racks, or large circular bases might have helped but squat stand bases cut too large made for a clumsy approach or return to the rack, or presented a tripping hazard. The tripping hazard aspect of the old stand-alone racks applied to both the lifters and spotters. I can certainly recall numerous meets where in addition to any big lifts that might have been made, squat rack stumbles provided the lasting memories. I have witnessed relatively big and relatively small number squats ending with the lifter lurching into the racks, and one of them being knocked over, forced into the unsuspecting head of one of the spotters, and/or the barbell and racks doing a slow motion free-fall towards the head referee. In one of the Heart Of America meets hosted by George Turner in St. Louis, I recall a spotter being rushed off to the local hospital emergency room. While spotting one side of the barbell on a very heavy squat, the lifter completed the squat, and while replacing the bar into the saddles, struck one rack before the other and did so rather quickly and with quite a bit of force. The weight of the barbell certainly contributed to the problem, but the heavy duty independent squat stand “kicked out,” striking the spotter in the side of his head, knocking him to the floor, and causing quite a bit of bleeding from his scalp. To a greater or lesser extent, even with racks that had a heavy duty or weighted base, this would occur a number of times in any major contest.

Connecting the racks was a tremendous step forward in providing safety to both the lifter and spotter though it was not seen as revolutionary at the time. An example of the end product being greater than the sum of its contributing components, it also allowed for lighter components that provided the same degree of strength in supporting a loaded barbell. I have often sung the praises of master builder Jim Sutherland and when he had his Hastings (Michigan) Barbell Company in the early 1980’s, he had what might have been the first and what was certainly one of the first “connected” but otherwise free standing squat racks that were commercially available. Jim has produced a few products, outstanding products for John Wood and the Oldtime Strongman Company. Jim produced racks with a connecting and supportive piece that connected the two independent racks at floor level, as most still do. This design provided increased contact with the floor but made for one, stronger and more stable piece of equipment versus two independently, free standing squat stands. Below is a photo from John’s site that displays the latest Sutherland design, one that connects the racks at a point obviously higher than floor level and just as obviously as indicated with all of the weight being supported, is exceptionally strong and functional. This specific rack is, as the connected design allows, made from lighter materials than were used in “the old days” as the previous independent racks were purposely built very heavily for added stability.

 

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