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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Part 61

Prototyping Part 8

If one were to enter the famous York Barbell Club gym during the 1950’s and early 1960’s, the greatest lifters in the country, some among the greatest in the world, would be seen lifting barbells loaded with metal plates. During a time in 1968 and ’69 when I either hitchhiked or drove to York for a Saturday morning workout, the plates used on the lifting platforms were metal. Needless to say, the platforms had to be “built to last” and the centerpiece for any serious training facility, be it a storefront gym or one’s garage, would be a “real” lifting platform. The unfortunate truth was that even the most well constructed platforms needed constant maintenance and repair due to the abuse that Olympic lifting presented. Bent bars were certainly encountered but probably less often than anticipated or expected with the advantage of hindsight. Powerlifting and bodybuilding could present the same challenges to a barbell or platform when heavy weights were utilized.


Bodybuilding great, and author’s long time friend Dave Draper squats at Gold’s Gym, late 1960’s. Note thickness of lip on what were referred to later, as “deep dish” plates. While in use and before the introduction of “thin line” Olympic barbell plates, we just called them “45’s!”

When the younger generations of lifters view photographs of the former participants of the sports of weightlifting and powerlifting, they often laugh about the wide lipped plates that were standard equipment. The wide lipped plates allowed for more surface area to strike the platform or floor upon each plate contact, dissipating force and thus protecting both barbell and floor surface. The rise in popularity of powerlifting as an organized sport and the very rapid increase in the amount of weight used in the three competitive lifts and especially in the squat, led to the early-1970’s introduction of a thinner profile barbell plate. This allowed the performance of the more frequently seen 700, 800, and 900 pound squats and deadlifts while being able to fit all of the plates onto the barbell sleeves, and with the ability to secure them with an appropriate collar. There are numerous photos, classics really, of great deadlifters and all around lifters Wilbur Miller and Bob Peoples deadlifting 700 + pounds, with canvas straps securing the ends of the bar and/or additional weights dangling off the bar in order to bring the total weight up to record levels.


Old School Barbell Loading

There were certainly a few historical figures in the sport of powerlifting that forced barbell and plate manufacturers to re-think the products that they were offering to the lifting public. The rise in litigation also tended to push the more well known manufacturers to re-think the safety of their products and there was little defense for a barbell that could not be safely loaded and lifted because the amount of weight could not be accommodated and secured. Men like George Frenn, Jon Cole, Jim Williams, and John Kuc put up numbers in the 1960’s that would have held them in good stead into the 1980’s. Pacifico, Bridges, Kaz, and Coan took things to the next level through the late 1970’s and into the ‘80’s and the manufacturers, still centered in the United States, had to respond.


International discus competitor Jon Cole made an even larger impression as one of the world’s greatest powerlifters. He later became a de facto strength coach for many of the athletes at Arizona State University. Note thick-lipped plates on bar

The introduction of thinner plates, especially within the sport of powerlifting, made loading of the bar and plate security possible and predictable. Protection of the bar and platform came from the development of all rubber, or metal core covered with rubber, bumper plates. There is certainly a detailed history of those products but to conclude the insight to prototyping of lifting equipment, I wanted to present a specific case of plate development. I was asked to help prototype a new urethane covering for Ivanko Barbell Company. As perhaps the premiere supplier of barbell and dumbbell products in the United States, it was always both a pleasure and a privilege to assist Tom and Ivan Lincer with the development of their products. I had lent a very minor amount of assistance on barbell related items in the past, and as this father and son team are among the few true experts in the areas of barbell and plate development and the history of the processes used in the manufacturing of “everything barbell or dumbbell,” I was eager to be involved. That this particular prototyping task could have been easily predicted as “fun” made my involvement immediate. I had written a piece for the Ivanko Barbell Company website that did not see the light of day, in part because Ivan can write in a manner that is oh, perhaps fifteen times more literate, cogent, and entertaining than I can. However, the staff at TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS felt that presenting most of the original material would prove to be instructive regarding some aspects of powerlifting or weight training equipment production.


It is always a pleasure and I enjoy helping to improve any type of training equipment. My wife Kathy and I have frequently been asked to design, prototype, or merely work with and improve the proposed or existing design of equipment. We take the requests seriously and it is invariably rewarding to know that our input helped to provide the lifting public with a “better” piece of training equipment. A recent request by IVANKO BARBELL COMPANY left us a bit giddy as we were given the rather direct instructions to “destroy these barbell plates.”

IVANKO has been developing an improved urethane coating for their plates with the express purpose of producing what the lifting public would consider “an indestructible training tool. “ Targeted for bumper plates that would be used for standard lifting purposes and exposure to general abuse in a hard core lifting facility, our specific test plates were Urethane OUEZ E-Z Lift Plates. We are very familiar with this model plate as our office facility and that of our one-on-one athletic training complex that services primarily high school, collegiate, and professional athletes, utilizes these “grip type plates” for all of the obvious reasons. We immediately set about our task, having one of our stronger athletes, a 6’ tall, 250 pound police officer, clean and jerk 297 pounds. With the bar loaded to the set weight and collars secured, we insured that the 45 pound test plates would take the full brunt of the impact by bringing the barbell to our testing load with smaller diameter plates, with only the larger Urethane OUEZ E-Z Lift Plate 45’s on the IVANKO OBX bar, hitting the platform. We should have noticed before our “even dozen” overhead drops and another two dozen “dumped deadlifts” with 407 that we had essentially destroyed our platform where the new Urethane coated plates had made contact. Our “indestructible” platform of 2 X 4’s stacked tightly together on end, covered with two layers of three-quarter-inch plywood and three-quarter-inch rubber was, as they say in our neighborhood, “craterized!” The plates were later taken outside and dropped repeatedly on the rim from waist height, onto the concrete street. Realizing that we were about to crack the municipally owned thoroughfare, the plates were given over to my partner Frank Savino at Gridiron Fitness for further assault.


As an adjunctive exercise meant to complement squats and deadlifts, one of the beautifully “Penn State Nittany Lion” engraved plates was hooked to a chain and rope and dragged around the municipal parking lot adjacent to the facility. After a week of dropping the plate numerous times on the rim and having it dragged across the lot, Frank reported that “This thing is indestructible.” I told him to “drag it behind Tom’s pickup truck” and our trusted trainer Tom Touhey did just that, dragging the plate up and down and then across the parking lot multiple times. Still not observing much damage, Frank took our massive 33 pound sledge hammer and smashed the plate one dozen times. “Finally,” he reported, “I made a dent” and literally, he made a dent and little more than that in the Urethane surface. Thus, after ten days of focused abuse, the only “dings” in the new Urethane surface were two in number, one near the hub and one close to the rim where the oversized sledge hammer was wielded by a powerful 280 pound athlete.


The development of new materials is interesting and in our specific encounter with IVANKO BARBELL COMPANY’S new plate covering, destructive fun. I am sure that further developments will be announced at the appropriate time but we are sold on the fact that this new product will absolutely stand the test of time and gym abuse.


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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Part 60

Prototyping Part 7

Beginning the body of this month’s article with a reference to York Barbell Company is coincidental as I received an e mail from former and long time York Barbell employee Jan Dellinger immediately before submitting this for publication. Jan, for those who have not read previous articles in this series and/or who don’t have a foundation in the history of the Iron Game, was an important part of the company’s success and good reputation from the mid-1970’s until a change in ownership in the late 1990’s. Jan was also a strong man with a long involvement in the strength field. His comments on my previous few articles can, I believe, be instructive:

I continue to enjoy your Titan articles/installments. Great presentation as to the relevance of variable resistance in strength training, a connection some do not make because it came from the “machine culture”. Great point depicting accepted low tech forms of variable resistance, along with higher tech versions.

Let me re-emphasize the point I have made that barbells, dumbbells, machines, bags of sand, and almost anything else that can provide resistance to one’s muscles can be a viable and effective training tool. Unfortunately, too many otherwise clear thinking individuals who train with weights, decided at some point in their development that if an idea, concept, or training technique arose from anything or anyone related to the work with a weight training machine, it was wrong, ineffective, or could not be adapted to barbell training. Many have lost out because of this and the concept and application of variable resistance training was one of these concepts that Jan is referring to.

When York Barbell appeared to be lapsing momentarily into the machine age in the early-mid ’80s by teasing to handle the Schnell machines from Germany, I got a taste of the “science” side of strength training firsthand from Shnell and his designer Lothar Spitz, when they spent some time in York in 1984. We endeavored to come up with a couple of our own coined terms for the literature–like “accommodating resistance”. I think I had a part in the usage of that one. Schnell was sold on the superiority of his gear box arrangement, had bona fide data that showed the gear boxes actually provided variable resistance to those who were very short to very tall…the same stuff Nautilus said they proved. Whether accurate or not, Schnell had saturated the European market with these units in the ’70s and wanted to compete in the American market.

Schnell was a highly respected company and their Olympic barbell was always rated as one of the best in the world by the top lifters. They developed a series of variable resistance machines based upon Jan’s “gear box arrangement” term and leverage arms that were, for their time, extremely effective and innovative. Think of them as the first of the leverage equipment, with Nautilus Leverage and Hammer Strength to follow. On one of my trips to York, Kathy, Kevin, and I returned home with some of the units that we put to good use at our office facility and later, at the Iron Island Gym. Interestingly, because Schnell was so closely related to the sport of Olympic weightlifting with their superb barbells and plates, their explanation of variable resistance and the machines that offered this definite training advantage were very well accepted by European trainees. That the concept was offered even earlier by Arthur Jones and Nautilus made it unpalatable for hardcore lifters based not upon the science, but by the source of the information, again, a loss in the training results for many.


Kevin performing one-arm repetition bench pressing on the Schnell Standing Bench Press machine, a very innovative piece for the early to mid-1980’s

As to the individual leverages thing, your squat photos of Ferrara and Susco were vivid. First they are both doing a basic squat, but very different positionings due to size variations: the more compact Susco was more upright (assuming the more text book style of squat), while the taller Ferrara was closer to the text book power lifting style(a lot of forward lean out of necessity). Of course, if the latter attempted to squat in the same exact fashion as the former, he could risk falling over backward…or have to shoot his knees very much forward greatly increasing the shearing stress on his knees in order to compensate.

This of course was the point of the article. If one can make “leverage” work for them, through proper lifting technique, posture, and bar placement and also apply the same principles to their training tools with the use of correctly designed machines, and in a “lower tech” fashion, chains and bands, this becomes one more contributing factor in their training.

York Barbell had been the standard in the U.S. and truly, the world, until the mid-1960’s. The introduction of foreign Olympic barbell sets changed the thinking of many, especially as the post-World War II economies of numerous foreign nations allowed them to develop or re-establish their manufacturing abilities. Berg and Schnell of Germany, Eleiko of Sweden, and some of the Russian sets imported by California lifter Chester O. Teegarden introduced our lifters and in time, the lifting public to bars and plates that were decidedly “different” and “not from York.” A barbell that performed so that it was most importantly safe when loaded heavily, that felt controllable on one’s back with unthinkable weights on each end, and one that was durable became the quest of what seemed like numerous home based and foreign manufacturers and by the early 1980’s, one could choose among perhaps twenty different barbell brands if they wished to train seriously as a powerlifter. York too tried a few different approaches to their product line, offering bars made from a variety of compounds including stainless steel and chrome vanadium, Despite the introduction of the numerous foreign bars, almost every gym that housed serious lifting featured York barbell products. The imported sets were expensive, difficult to get, necessitated lengthy waiting periods due to transport by ship line, and required customs fees. Even those who were serious about obtaining one of the Soviet Union sets, when actually faced with the project of getting it from Point A to Point B, usually “settled” for a York Olympic barbell set.


Leo Stern owned one of the Russian Olympic barbell sets and it was used in numerous photo shoots with Bill Pearl and Pat Casey. Above, Pat is shown bench pressing the chromed set which was beautiful in appearance. The “fluted” ridges on the barbell sleeves helped to keep the plates in place and reduced rattling noise but many of the experienced Olympic lifters stated, in my presence, that the bar was “overrated” and “much stiffer” than those from other manufacturers

Of course there was a certain cachet to the knowledge that one owned a foreign weightlifting barbell. Most of the Olympic lifters of the day for example, complained loudly, if privately, that the Russian bar was extremely stiff in its movement, thus it looked great, but may not have been the “best” barbell to train or compete with. “It came from the Soviet Union” perhaps allowed one to at least imply that if the best Olympic lifters in the world used it, having one would soon find them in the same performance stratosphere. When the Miyake brothers were doing well, a lot of lifters began hunting for information related to Japanese sets, despite the fact, and long ago before the age of so much electronic and technological instrumentation it was a fact that the statement, “Made in Japan” was an insult, not a positive comment about any manufactured product. By the early 1980’s, York, Ivanko, Superior, Marcy, Paramount, and Hastings were all manufactured within the borders of the United States, had name recognition and supporters, yet were still augmented by small shops or foundries in Topeka, Kansas, northern Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, and Massachusetts who sold or distributed their own bars under a variety of names. What we did not have “a lot of” was the manufacturing of bumper plates.

It might come as a shock to many lifters, especially Olympic weightlifters and even for those who have seen photos from the 1950’s and ‘60’s of the York Barbell Club lifters in action, that rubber covered or all rubber plates were a new innovation in the early 1970’s.

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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Part 59

Prototyping Part 6

One of our TITAN readers asked why I presented eccentric training and the equipment used for it as a point of emphasis for prototyping information. He wanted to know if it would have been more effective to use an example that was “something more closely related to powerlifting” as opposed to Nautilus machines. Allow me to respond so that my choice of examples becomes clear. There are numerous underlying philosophies in the sport of powerlifting, the actual competition that encompasses three specific lifts. Without a philosophy of training (“I do triples!” is not a philosophy) one is not going to reach their given genetic potential for physical development. Many trainees and many who should know better, believe that powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting are somehow different from other sports and I will include football as an obvious example, because a barbell is the implement utilized within the actual competition of the sport, as it is in training for the sport. Also, because training to become muscularly larger and stronger entails the use of some similar or duplicate movements, such as the barbell squat, they believe that the preparation for powerlifting competition is “different” relative to other sports. It isn’t.

My philosophy related to all sporting activities, including powerlifting is rather straight forward and easy to understand. One trains the “raw material” of the body, the muscles and connective tissue, to become as strong as possible and one “conditions” themselves to have both the overall stamina/cardiovascular ability to meet the needs of the sport, as well as developing enough local muscular endurance to perform optimally during practice sessions and in competition. That is the purpose of a strength training program. Once the raw material of the body has been improved, one learns the specific skills of their sport and practices them so that the neuromuscular system performs those skills optimally. Thus, one can become awfully strong doing for example, sets of ten reps in the squat, but at some point, in order to squat for a maximal single repetition, which is the specific skill of the sport of powerlifting, they will have to practice the skill work of doing maximal or close to maximal singles if they expect to do their best in competition. Just as a football player who is an offensive guard can do sets of x 3, x 5, x 10, or almost as many repetitions as one could think of (within reason, though an occasional set of fifty reps will get one’s attention both physically and emotionally) and become very strong, they must practice the skills of playing offensive guard or their enhanced strength is not going to be very useable on the field.


Looking at two photos below, one can observe the bottom position of the barbell squat. In the first photo, former professional football player Frank Ferrara demonstrates the form that allowed his training partners to be entertained by a set of twenty reps with a weight that my limited memory recalls as being between 462 and 501, while continuously talking about the altercation he had with his brother who had “stolen” his bowl of linguine and white clam sauce. The members of our training group who were present on that specific day have repeated the story numerous times to gales of laughter, in part because Frank did the twenty reps almost effortlessly, despite his non-stop diatribe, and in perfect form.


The photo of well known, record setting powerlifter Pat Susco was also taken in the driveway/garage training area of our former residence, and Pat too utilized a heavy resistance, a weight in the area of approximately 400 – 450 pounds for fifteen reps. Frank’s usual training and playing weight at 6’3-1/2” was 275 – 280 pounds. Pat competed at 242 at a height of 5’5” and there is no doubt that both men were and are exceptionally strong. Pat did not like high rep sets, often commenting that “anything over three reps is a lot for me,” while Frank rarely did sets in less than ten reps. Both men developed enhanced muscular strength and size utilizing the same barbell squat exercise. However, the skills of Frank’s sport required him to learn football techniques. The skills of Pat’s sport were to perform a single in the barbell squat and other official lifts, with as much weight as possible. Pat did just that, officially squatting over 900 pounds on multiple occasions. Both trained “the raw material of the body” and the muscles specifically and directly involved with their sport, and then learned the specific skills of their sport so that their strength and other physiological factors could be applied to that sporting activity. Many powerlifters “don’t get it” and believe that what they do as a sports performance, is “different” and thus requires “something different” in preparation than other athletes. The confusion, I believe, comes from the necessity of training with a barbell while competing in the sport while utilizing a barbell. However, if for example, utilizing the application of eccentric training and variable resistance will enhance the development of muscular size and strength, these should be utilized for whatever sport one is training for. Thus one could in fact justify the use of bands and chains for football players and other athletes as well as machines such as Nautilus that provide variable resistance and for competitive powerlifters, we could make the same statement.

Utilizing eccentric training and relative to Nautilus equipment, utilizing variable resistance is, or can be a very effective way to boost one’s strength. If one then focused this newly increased strength into the practice of powerlifting skills, their performance on the platform would improve. I believe most lifters do what is topical, typical, and “in style.” At times, the things they do in training are in fact beneficial but just as often they are not. Unfortunately, I don’t think most lifters take the time to truly analyze why they do what they do in their training. Why talk about a machine for example that provides variable resistance? Why talk about or use bands and chains? With all due respect to Louie Simmons whom I believe should be credited with introducing the wide spread use of bands and chains into powerlifting training, as well as many other innovations, I have always referred to these training methods as “the poor man’s way of providing variable resistance.” Most lifters don’t or haven’t stopped to think about their reasons for attaching bands and/or chains to their barbell but no matter how it’s explained or justified, and no matter what “science” or pseudo-science is invoked, the answer is “to provide some variable resistance.” There should not be any argument or much discussion regarding the advantages of variable resistance. A muscles ability to produce force will vary, for lack of a more complicated explanation, based upon leverage factors. Because human movement is rotational around its joints and the pull of gravity is “straight line,” any resistance one is pulling or pushing on is variable, dependent upon its position during the movement. The purpose of having variable resistance in an exercise is to provide less resistance where the pull of gravity and the position of the involved body structures is such that less force is being created, relative to other parts of the entire movement.


Arthur Jones original Nautilus Blue Monster, a four-in-one piece that provided full range, variable resistance for the musculature of the upper back and a lot more! The machine consisted of pullover, behind-neck, rowing, and pulldown movements, meant to be done in consecutive fashion to pre-exhaust the large upper back muscles and then to “top off” that work with what would have otherwise been impossible additional work with the assistance of the forearm flexion muscles that allowed for more upper back work. The earliest Nautilus pieces provided resistance via a weight loading “basket” that was driven by metal pulleys and uncoated metal cable. On the earliest machines still present at the factory when I worked for Nautilus, we would load sections of chain and hang them off of the plate holding “basket”, allowing for more inexact yet variable resistance as the basket was elevated from floor level. Arthur himself had used the same method years before his development of the first Nautilus machines and as I believe, presented an article about the technique in Muscular Development Magazine. This is another example of “there is nothing new under the sun in weight training.”

Of course, variable resistance should provide more force where the leverage factors favor the individual in a specific point in the movement. Chains were in fact, the first form of variable resistance that Arthur Jones utilized with the early Nautilus and prototypes for Nautilus machines. I used this method long before I heard of Arthur Jones and long before he returned to the United States from Africa to begin this new exercise machine business. I did lat pulldowns, as I have often wrote, using a fifty-five gallon drum filled with scrap metal. I had a metal pulley in the ceiling of the loft of my father’s iron shop and another metal pulley in the wall with a cable that ran over both. One end of the cable was attached to a large hook that went into a hole punched in the top rim of the drum, and the other was hooked to a lat pulldown handle which was actually a piece of pipe with a very large nut welded to it that held the “S hook” to the lat handle. If I needed more resistance, I tossed in more scrap metal. If I needed to reduce the resistance I pulled some of the scrap out. I also hung chains from the sides of the drum, and yes, as we say around here, “I thought of that by my ownself!” As the drum was pulled higher from the floor during the pulldown movement, more links of heavy chain came off of the floor with it. Thus, at its highest point in the lat pulldown repetition, the maximal number of chain links were elevated, allowing for more resistance as one came closer to completion of the movement. Thus, crude but effective variable resistance!

Attaching chains and bands to a barbell mimics that concept and training would theoretically be more effective if one challenged the involved musculature in any rep, with more resistance at the point in the movement where it could use and handle more resistance relative to other points in the movement. However, the glaring problem with variable resistance has always been one of “matching up” the point or points within the movement where one can utilize more resistance, with the proper increases in resistance. Nautilus cams provided the ability to vary resistance due to the changing diameter that a cam provides but the cams were based upon averages so that the variations were not exacting for all. For many if not almost all, this was still a huge leap forward in pushing one’s muscles to train at their maximal limit. Bands and chains are even more random in any variation in increased resistance they might provide, with Nautilus equipment being steps ahead in the process. Of course, you can’t “cam” a barbell so the chains and bands are a more practical if inexact way to approach this problem but before a lifter pooh-poohs “machine training” as inapplicable to the sport of powerlifting, first think about one’s current training procedures.

Prototyping barbells and plates may not seem complicated yet the performance aspects of both require thought and a lot of work. Finally, we get to discuss that next month.

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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Part 58

Prototyping Part 5

There was a significant amount of feedback regarding last month’s article about machine and power rack prototyping. I thought that our readers might enjoy some comments from long time lifter and trainee Dan Martin of California. I have included my responses to him:
What a good article. You, in my opinion, were one of the few people who espoused eccentric training for the power lifter in a meaningful fashion. Naturally, so few of us even knew what a push press was to begin with, that it took a while for it to catch on.
[ Most powerlifters, especially in the 1960’s as I have so often stressed in this series of articles, also engaged in Olympic weightlifting and/or utilized the exercises that Olympic lifters trained with. The push press was one of these and it had application to the clean and jerk and of course, as an “overload” exercise for the Olympic clean and press. For the powerlifter, the push press, overhead press, and other Olympic lifting related movements, generally disappeared from their training programs after the mid-1970’s, with few exceptions. However, one of the effective movements that was unfortunately dropped was the push press. Specific to the powerlifter, the push press offered an exercise that provided eccentric resistance and training for the deltoids and triceps, muscles obviously utilized in the bench press. That one would have to thrust and support, and then lower relatively heavy weights in the standing position, provided excellent work and stimulation for the musculature of the low back and upper back, and hips and thighs. I often included or suggested the push press in the programs I provided for many lifters, and wrote about it frequently.]
Me and my maniacs always did negative deadlifts ala Bob Peoples. We called it a three man lift. Overloaded that bad boy, then two spotters and the lifter picked it up off the deck and did partials starting at the top. We resisted it down to knee height and pulled it back up. Sometimes we used straps and sometimes not.
[Dan is describing classic, straight forward “negative” or eccentric training where the lifter does only the lowering or eccentric part of the lift, having spotters or in Bob People’s case, a mechanical device lift the loaded barbell to the completed, or contracted position. The lifter would then do only the lowering portion of the lift and in Dan’s case described here, it was as I noted last month, an awful lot of work for the spotters.]


An old, grainy photo of the author doing partial deadlifts from below the knee at Alvin Roy’s Baton Rouge gym in the late 1960’s. Hitchhiking from Long Island to Louisiana to lift weights at the facility known to cater to football players like Billy Cannon, Jim Taylor, and other southern greats preceded a predictably disastrous pro football tryout. Relative to power rack deadlifts, similar to Dan Martin’s comments that follow, I found that my ability to move huge weights through a limited range of motion did not translate to significantly improved performances in the competitive lift

For what ever reason, rack pulls didn’t work as well. Which was perfectly fine since we didn’t have a rack!
Those “partial” deadlifts were the only overload work we found practical. Partial squats and benches were a waste of time.
[Some lifters did well with partial squats and bench press movements as well as deadlifts. Certainly, Bill March and the 1964 and ’65 articles in both Strength And Health and Muscular Development Magazine chronicling his use of the power rack, did a lot to motivate lifters across the country to incorporate this type of training. Partial deadlifts, from either just above the knee or at mid-patella height, were exercises that I could do extremely well, once entertaining a group of training partners and onlookers to a 705 x 3 set performance that included a horribly bloody nose and tooth-pierced bleeding tongue. Despite being able to use outsized resistance on partial deadlifts, with or without straps, it never translated to my actual deadlift from the floor. I hated the Bill March – instructed squats that began from a dead stop on pins set at the bottom position of my squat depth, that concluded at the three-quarter of completion position. “Painful” is an understatement but I felt it had some benefit for the competition squat. Of course, like every other lifter who performed rack or partial work that by necessity, included a slow, controlled negative on each rep to avoid permanent and crippling injury, I did extremely heavy quarter squats. Again, I don’t believe that these carried over well to the competition squat but I do believe that the control of the weight and emphasis on lowering to the starting position slowly, had the strength building benefits of eccentric training.]
And now, this month’s installment:
In last month’s article I mentioned the power rack introduced by Eagle at the 1980 “Madness In Madison” Senior National Powerlifting Championships. For those in attendance, for many reasons, it was a significant, shocking, and surprising championship contest with numerous stories that will have to wait for a future date. When there was but one Senior National Championships directed by the one administrating organization for the sport, it was exceptionally well attended, at least during the late 1970’s through late 1980’s. Even when the first of the “drug free” or “drug tested” organizations gained traction, one could depend upon a few thousand fans showing up to cheer on the heavier class lifters at what was usually a two day Senior Nationals and often, just as many for the lighter classes too. Giving credit where I believe its due, quite a few of these championship meets were hosted and directed by Larry Pacifico in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio. The Dayton Convention Center and adjoining hotel served as sites for the meet, committee meetings, and lodging for the lifters and most of the fans and the place would be packed. The venue was spacious, always well organized, had adequate and competent help on hand for all aspects of the competition, and the judging and competition itself were the best in the world. This was reflective of Larry’s ability to run a meet and the fact that the United States was leaps and bounds ahead of anyone else in the sport of powerlifting.

With a knowledgeable and enthusiastic crowd supporting a full slate of top lifters, many vendors took advantage of the opportunity to introduce and display their wares. If there was a new product to be shown to the powerlifting public, the Seniors would be the place and the time to do so. Those who were already established in the sport as suppliers of attire, belts, barbells, and other equipment would have a display booth, often manned by one of the better known active or retired lifters. Think of it as a much smaller version of The Arnold Expo types of gatherings but one that was more intimate and focused exclusively on powerlifting. At the Madison, Wisconsin Seniors, Eagle was an in-state manufacturer of exercise equipment that had set up a very large, sturdy power rack. The difference between this rack and any other previously seen by the lifting public, was that this one had a foot switch that controlled a device that elevated the barbell, allowing it to be “lifted for the trainee” in any of the three lifts. This allowed for the eccentric only or eccentric accentuated training discussed last month. Prior to the introduction of the Internet and the ability to rapidly and very widely disseminate information, research would be carried out and might then take months before a submitted article was actually published by a professional or specialized, legitimate journal. Articles submitted in January of any year, for example, to the Journal Of The American Medical Association, reflecting research that had concluded at the mid-point of the previous year, might not actually be in the hands of physicians until a year later. Any weight training related research was very limited to begin with, its legitimacy questioned in serious scientific circles, and was often poorly explained and understood by the lifting public. The actual application of much research based information was thus limited or done in an incorrect manner. Eccentric training was very much misunderstood, misused, and maligned. Attached or associated with any commercial endeavor, any training principle or specific piece of equipment would be excessively attacked by the competition. Eccentric or negative training had nothing to do with any specific equipment manufacturer so unless one had a bias against lingonberries, kilju, or the Finns who did the original research and reporting, only commercial bias and business competition could explain the torrent of articles stressing its (with no pun intended), negative values. Because eccentric training was, for a number of years, associated with the Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries and its founder Arthur Jones, the Weider magazines and other specific authors (George Edler who had numerous articles in both Powerlifting USA and Muscular Development magazines comes to mind as what I recall as an “anti-machine trainee” and interestingly, he has re-created himself into a respected science fiction author with a PhD) trashed the training method. Thus, they also prevented what might have been the acceptance and further development of equipment suited for this type of training, and the Eagle Rack was one of the first to fall by the wayside. This would have been unfortunate to the individuals who spent the time developing the concept, design, and step – by – step rack models until coming up with a workable piece.

Historical Supplement – Garage Prototypes

Kathy and I have had the privilege and advantage of always having a home based gym and/or commercial training facility. As my work hours and sleeping habits (or more accurately, insomnia fueled non-sleeping habits) dictate a less than typical daily schedule, I have maintained some type of home training quarters since I began my serious quest for enhanced strength and fitness at the age of twelve. When my training facility was located on the top floor of my father’s iron shop, which made for perhaps one of the crudest training environments one can imagine, I still considered that a “home gym” in part because I spent a disproportionate number of hours per week on the job and frequently rested or slept on the office floor overnight. Kathy had the options as an adolescent athlete of training at the Purdue University Co-Rec that maintained a Universal Machine and a few odd dumbbells, or a hand made wooden bench and concrete weight set-up in her parents’ basement. As one of the few females who lifted weights in the early days of the establishment of women’s track and field competition at the high school and college level (she was on Purdue’s first women’s track and field squad), she was not choosey when and where she completed a workout. Enjoying each other’s company and enjoying the opportunity to train together as much as possible, we would on occasion, and especially before a competition that one of us was entered in, train at one of the local, or New York City commercial gyms. This allowed us to prepare for competition in an unfamiliar environment using a different bar and plates than we usually used at home, more rather than less, mimicking a meet situation. However we enjoyed our own training space at home and made room for equipment in the garage, and in one basement apartment, in the living room and bedroom and we made it work for us. Every training facility housed both equipment I had made in my family’s iron shop and commercially manufactured pieces. This meant that every home training facility we established was also a prototype shop as I was constantly attempting to improve, customize, or come up with training equipment that made our own training safer and more efficient.

While recently looking at long forgotten photos, I noted some of “the good, the bad, and the ugly” of equipment we had utilized, much of it commercial companies’ prototypes we were asked to provide feedback about and pieces I had built myself.


The photo above shows, in addition to the washer and dryer in the background, often pushed apart and used for dips, some shop-made equipment, painted in Kathy’s favorite color of green. I was clear throughout the succession of articles related to machine prototyping that some of the finished pieces I “developed” and built were quite useable, with the Shrug Box being one that was highlighted. In the foreground above is a plate loaded piece that we used for calf/heel raise and a version of squatting. I agreed with some comments I received when I plunked this down in the garage, that it resembled the “Leaper” type machines that were popular at that time. The movement arm, leverages, and overall function of the machine made for a decent, straight forward heel raise but this was a disaster as a squat type of unit. Behind this lower extremity piece is a bench to which are attached truck jacks that were utilized to raise and lower the height of the barbell. This was actually a popular approach, pre-dating the use of hydraulic cylinders, for use on adjustable height squat racks and bench press units. Car or larger truck tire rims were very often used as a squat rack base. We would fill or encase them in concrete to add weight and stability, and then weld an upright piece of pipe into the tire rim. A “pipe-within-a-pipe” arrangement would allow for a sliding or adjustable for height squat stand once a weight saddle was welded atop the inner piece of pipe. Strategically drilled holes through which a bolt would be placed provided a “safety catch setting” and these were as frequently used at major contests as were commercially made individual squat standards. I made a pair of squat stands and used one-inch thick steel plate for the bases. Holy smokes, the only thing that made them movable was the fact that I had cut and ground the steel plate into circles. If I had left them square, the weight of the base alone would have made moving them in or out to adapt for width grip very difficult due to their excessive weight. The truck or car jacks were seen as an efficient way to raise and lower the barbell to adapt for the varying heights of competing or training lifters but as they will on trucks and cars while in “normal use,” the jacks often slipped, making them hazardous with “a lot” of weight on the bar. There was also the problem of having one jack slip, resulting in a heavily loaded and tilted barbell which would then fly off the squat rack. This happened often enough, that it led to the introduction of hydraulic cylinders as a standard means to adjust barbell height for powerlifting and training circumstances

Prototyping barbells and plates is not very different from prototyping a bench, rack, or machine and the Ivanko Barbell Company is one that has put a lot of time and effort into that part of their business.