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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.

Schnell-Standing-Bench-Press-machine_web

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.

Pat-Casey-bench-pressing-web

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.

A TALE OF TWO PHOTOS TO EMPHASIZE A POINT

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.

Pat_Susco_01
Pat_Susco

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.

Nautilus-Blue-Monster

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.]

Ken-Leistner-deadlift

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.


Ken-Leistner_homemade_gym_equipment_web

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.

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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Part 57

Prototyping Part 4

I’ve always taken the request to assist any equipment, exercise machine, barbell, and/or plate manufacturer with seriousness and appreciation. I assume that any new product represents an investment of time, effort, and money that will very much determine the individual’s livelihood. For some of the “small time” companies or singular individuals who either successfully founded a business in this very high risk industry or failed with their initial product, it is or was in fact a matter of their livelihood, and ability to support their family. No matter how harebrained the concept or completed product, if asked to help in some way, I did if I believed I could offer something of value. Some of the most radical pieces I had presented to me involved negative or eccentric contraction training. This terminology was based upon the original Finnish research of the mid-1960’s, and most are in agreement that they were the first to closely examine this alternate manner of strength training. I can recall reading about an exercise method that stressed for example, the “return” or lowering of the barbell in an overhead pressing movement. Somewhere along the line and in direct contradiction to the training methods of the era, the realization that each repetition of an exercise movement had two parts rather than one, became if not acceptable, at least something to consider. As the standard, even if exercise form was dictated to be “strict,” one would push or pull the barbell or dumbbell to the completed, or contracted position, have it return to the start with little or no thought to how it got back to that point, and then push or pull it for a subsequent repetition. A group of Finnish scientists or researchers postulated that it would be “good” if a lifter brought the bar to the completed position, but then slowly returned the weight to the starting position of the next rep, in a controlled and deliberate manner, thus producing a repetition with two parts: “an up and a down.” Trust me, this was radical, unheard of, and if done previously, it was done with a lack of forethought or purpose by the trainee.

Eccentric training was carried to the next step primarily through the work of Nautilus and Arthur Jones in the early 1970’s, with a definite emphasis on the “return” or negative portion of the rep and the development of equipment that allowed one to elevate the weight to the completed position without having to utilize the muscles usually involved in getting the resistance to the completed position of the rep, and thus having the trainee then do only the negative, or “return to the start” position of the rep. At Nautilus, I was fortunate to be on the premises when the earliest versions of these machines were being worked on, developed, and made available for in-house training. We began by using barbells and the original batch of Nautilus machines, and having two, three, or more spotters lift the resistance to the completed or contracted position. The trainee was then called upon to lower or return the weight or resistance, to the starting point. That was one “negative” or eccentric contraction. In some cases, especially when the trainees were Kim Wood , Tom Laputka, or the famous Casey Viator who was exceptionally powerful, one or more of the spotters would also have to jump up onto the weight stack or carriage in order to provide sufficient negative resistance. We differentiated between “negative accentuated” training, where the trainee would either elevate the resistance by himself or have some assistance from spotters in doing so and then return to the starting position by himself, and “negative only” training. The latter involved an awful lot of hard labor by the spotters who would elevate the resistance to completion in order to allow the trainee to do only the return portion of the lift. With some of our trainees, one could, as we say on the street in my neighborhood, “herniated their ownself” as we found early on that one could in fact lower or return a lot more weight, sometimes up to forty or fifty percent more, than one could first lift. Training was not very efficient, even with a number of spotters, but we noted that strength gains were fast and very significant in the majority of cases where the training was pursued with enthusiasm and purpose. It was difficult to maintain enthusiasm and purpose for more than a few weeks because the resulting muscle soreness form each session was consistently crippling for days at a time.

There was a very limited production run of what were called the Omni Biceps and Omni Triceps machines, pieces that allowed for multiple approaches to completing a repetition. On the Omni Biceps, one could curl in the standard manner; one could also “give oneself assistance” and do what was referred to as a “forced rep” but without the need for a spotter or helper; one could elevate the weight without utilizing the biceps and other forearm flexors and do only the lowering or eccentric part of each rep. Two pieces that were produced as what I will term “glorified prototypes” were the Omni Press and Omni Bench Press.

The-Nautilus-Omni-Triceps-machine

The Nautilus Omni Triceps machine. The foot pedal allowed the elevation of the weight to the completed position for a self-imposed forced repetition, or to lift the weight to completion without utilizing the triceps so that only the eccentric portion of the lift could be completed. Apparently no one is certain how many of these unique pieces were manufactured but those of us who worked at the factory during that era, agree it probably was no more than fifty each of the Omni Biceps and Omni Tricpes

I don’t know the exact number of these that were produced for sale but they were few in number, certainly no more than fifty of each, perhaps significantly fewer. The bench press piece, which duplicated a standard, supine bench press exceedingly well, was performed in the supine position, and required one to literally leg press the weight, while lying on one’s back, to the arms-extended position before doing the lowering portion of the lift. Was this movement applicable to the competition bench press? Certainly if one understands that the purpose of “strength training” is to enhance the muscular strength and power output of the muscles involved in a specific exercise, and then it becomes the responsibility of the trainee, and often his or her coach, to best learn how to apply that enhanced strength to the athletic skill movement they wish to use in competition. In this specific case, the negative “bench press type movement” for the purists reading this, would in fact increase the strength of the anterior deltoids, pecs, and triceps, allowing one to approach the actual barbell bench press with increased strength once they applied that strength to the techniques, positioning of the body and barbell, and other nuances that make the bench press, a bench press! The overhead press movement on the Omni Press machine was done in a seated position, but also required one to “leg press” the resistance to the completed overhead-with-arms-locked position, and then lower the weight under control, a weight that they would otherwise find much too heavy to elevate themselves with the use of the upper extremities.

Casey-Viator-Nautilus-Omni-Shoulder-Press-Machine

The photo shows Casey Viator using the Nautilus Omni Shoulder Press Machine that was manufactured in 1973. This specific machine remained in the factory gym, at times on the factory floor, and was transported to Colorado State University and West Point for the research studies that were done at those universities.

The sheer brutality of using these machines correctly, the difficulty in motivating oneself to endure a workout that was taxing and uncomfortable on a consistent basis, and the sheer size and weight of the machines themselves ultimately prevented their acceptance within the lifting community. One could say too that powerlifting die- hards who were “squat, bench, and deadlift guys” were not open to doing anything other than the barbell and dumbbell lifts they were familiar and comfortable with. Even when Eagle, a company in Wisconsin, unveiled a power rack, made exclusively for the powerlifter and other “heavy events athletes” that literally plucked the excessively loaded barbell from one’s back after lowering oneself to the bottom position in the squat or bench press so that “negative training” on the three competitive lifts could be done, it just did not sell.

Bill-Witting-

An Art Zeller photo of 198 pound powerlifter Bill Witting who represented Zuver’s Hall Of Fame Gym in Costa Mesa, California. This photo accompanied an article written by Dick Tyler that first brought widespread notice to what was the most unique lifting environment in the country at that time and perhaps of all time. Within this specific rack, Bob Zuver had a bomb hoist that would literally pluck the oversized bar from one’s shoulders with the touch of a switch making it of course, the first eccentric, or “negative training” squat device and power rack in existence. In truth, this rack was constructed as both a conversation piece and as a safety feature for those squatting ridiculously heavy weights. When Eagle presented their Negative Training Power Rack to the public, it was done at the 1980 Senior National Powerlifting Championships in Madison, Wisconsin, making a rather bold statement about their knowledge of effective training and offering a very well thought out piece for the time, and for the materials that were available then. That it worked well made some old timers think about Bob People’s tractor hoist that allowed him to perform negative deadlifts but the contemporary lifters missed the point and the innovative piece of equipment was quickly off of the market.

The actual development and prototyping of the piece was difficult and took a great deal of time yet as it was with the Nautilus/Arthur Jones produced Omni pieces, it was misunderstood and not appreciated, certainly not by the powerlifting community for whom it was developed.