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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 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.


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.


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.

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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Part 56

Prototyping Part 3

The use of computers has streamlined the exercise equipment prototyping procedures and this is from one who is almost completely “computer useless.” I’m a terror at responding to e mails, can navigate to a very few, select sites I use for information gathering and research, but still require assistance from my wife or daughter to do the most simple computer tasks. If pressing the sequence of usual and required keys does not get me to the desired location, I call for help. Gary Jones, formerly of Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries and Hammer Strength when it was a corporate entity separate from Life Fitness, provided me with my first glimpse of computer modeling as it pertained to exercise equipment. In the early 1970’s, I was part of the “second wave of original guys” who wound up in Lake Helen, Florida who became employed by the Nautilus company. Prototyping and the entire manufacturing process were, by the standards of the late 1980’s, when Gary camped out in our living room with what appeared to be fifty boxes worth of computer “stuff,” archaic. I had the good fortune to first get hired by Arthur Jones, spend time with him, and in his typical fashion, then “be tested” by performing a multitude of different tasks in the factory and around the plant. What is lost to the current and latest generations of powerlifters, athletes, and bodybuilders was the way in which information and real experience was gathered. If one heard about a lifter who might be able to share information, a training technique, or a routine that there was an interest in, you traveled to the gym or workout quarters they would usually use, observe, ask for an introduction, and then present your questions. If there was a piece of equipment that caught one’s attention, you found out what gym it was in, and you traveled to that facility to ask the owner and other trainees about it, and then actually try it. Most often photos, written dimensions, and other vital information would be absent. “First hand” experience and “hands on” accumulation of information were not only the standards, they were the exclusive manner in which the dedicated trainee operated.

Historical Supplement – Weight Training Equipment


A rather famous or at least well known photo of Arthur Jones’ gorilla Mickey and his wife at that time, Terri, has become a widely distributed poster that graces the walls of many facilities. I believe everyone connected with exercise, even the sport of powerlifting, knows that Arthur was a wild animal expert, collector, and one who made his living capturing and transporting wild animals. This very specialized occupation preceded his foray into the exercise equipment business but those who worked with or knew him during those years recount Arthur’s attempts, even then, to “mess around” with different exercise concepts and equipment modifications in order to enhance the effects of training. I have in fact told the story of being summoned to assist in the “greeting” and unloading of Arthur’s absolutely gigantic crocodile, Jack, upon his arrival at the Lake Helen, Florida factory compound. It took less than a minute to figure out you didn’t want to be the guy closest to the mouth and teeth as a dozen of us hauled his massive body from a flatbed truck to his concrete and partially water filled pen. “Compound” is in my opinion, an accurate description of the factory, offices, training area, and living quarters occupied by Arthur and his wife at that time, Eliza. The compound included “living quarters” for a variety of exotic wildlife that ranged from the giant croc to a small but obviously vicious jaguarondi, a South American cougar like cat. I’m sure that Arthur and Eliza thought they had a perfectly furry-and-fuzzy house pet, though it was kept locked in its pen, but there were many visitors to the plant that heard its bird-like chirping who were subsequently frightened into near heart attack state when they would walk over to investigate and have this fifteen to twenty pound ball of claws and teeth lunging and growling at them. I was and remain an animal lover, having the dubious distinction of earning part-time money or satisfying scholarship requirements at both Cincinnati and Hofstra Universities by being the “student feeder and cleaner-upper” in the vivariums, the areas in which the lab and experimental animals were kept. One cannot attempt to make an 8 AM class when covered with spider monkey feces or cabybara vomitus from 3 AM until a quick shower at 7:50 AM, and one cannot take this as normal if they don’t love animals. Despite that, the jag, the croc, and sixteen other not-usually-seen-or-heard-of specimens scared the heck out of me, especially when walking around the factory area at night. Following Jack the Crocodile, was Mickey the Gorilla and following Eliza as Mrs. Jones was Terri Jones! Eliza collected spiders and was seemingly one hundred percent comfortable with the huge python that lived in the couch in their under-renovation house I took residence in, though I did not know I was inheriting the couch and snake from one of the fellows, Doug, from the parts department, until a later date. Eliza was also seemingly comfortable with all of the other animals on site. Terri did not seem to be so when it was decided that putting Mickey in the pullover machine might produce an interesting and thought provoking photograph, Terri became the stand-in human as she was after all, “the face of Nautilus.” I thought Dick Butkus would have been a more appropriate choice as Nautilus spokesperson. Who was tougher, stronger, actually trained on the equipment, and pound for pound perhaps the only one in three states with a chance to survive a confrontation with an adolescent gorilla? Beauty however won out over the functional muscle of Butkus and even though drugged, a gorilla is a gorilla and once out of its cage or restraints, had potential for pure mayhem. There was no mayhem but as Kim Wood stated about this specific photo shoot, once Mickey was aroused enough to get into an exercise position and growl, the ground shaking rumble that he emitted caused poor Terri, though brave enough to pilot her own 747 airplane, enough consternation to take what was supposed to be a smiling face and relaxed postured, and turn it into the very stiff, tentative figure seen next to the machine. It should be noted that yes, while this was in every sense of the word, a “publicity shot,” Arthur was always tinkering with different ways to “stress the muscles and system” of the crocodiles, gorilla, and other beasts he had, in order to learn more about exercise so that it could be applied to his equipment and training procedures.

Nautilus equipment in particular caused a complete change in the entire industry after its 1970 introduction. There truly was no “physical fitness or strength training equipment industry” as such. A few individuals produced equipment, usually for local distribution. Certainly Weider, Hoffman/York, Jubinville, Iron Man, Marcy, and a few others built basic training pieces but other than small items, actually procuring them required travel and a truck or van. Many of the more widely offered benches, by both Weider and York in retrospect, were junk, less than safe when exposed to heavy and hard use, and at all times, difficult to get. Iron Man equipment, primarily made in Minnesota by Warren Tetting who is still active producing grippers and perhaps other items, was almost always of much higher quality than the other manufacturers but still, just as difficult to get. In fact, buying anything required a letter of inquiry, a return letter, another letter to confirm prices and shipping information, a return letter of confirmation, payment made via postal mail, time for the check or money order to clear, confirmation of the order, and then a wait for both production and shipping to be completed. Credit card use was extraordinarily limited and for most, unheard of and Pay Pal obviously did not exist. Even then, one might not be sure exactly what the ordered piece would look like. Having gone through the process, I found it easier for example, to make the four hour drive to York, PA to pick up barbells and plates, and otherwise try to cut and weld my own copies of benches and racks I saw in the various magazines. As noted in the past few TITAN articles, some of my efforts were fruitful, others nothing short of laughable.

Even at Nautilus which could be considered the most advanced of the industry manufacturing facilities circa early 1970’s, the prototype process was slavishly difficult. Dependent upon who was actually in the shop at the time I was, the results for any new piece would vary. One of the “secrets” of Nautilus Sports/Medical, one that can be confirmed by Kim Wood, Tom Laputka, and numerous others, was that Arthur’s nephew Scott LeGear did an awful lot of the actual design prototype work. Yes, Arthur had the ideas, he had the vision for equipment, he would request, explain, and oversee the creation of the specific pieces but Scott, at least during the time I was in Lake Helen, Florida, did much of the hands-on welding, and “moving and shuffling” of parts work. An example of the process might more or less, proceed thusly: Arthur would want a machine that would “work the biceps” and explain it to Scott. One of the other or both would draw though it could be more accurately stated that Arthur often scribbled. Someone in the shop and at times that would be me, especially if work was going on from 10 PM to 3 AM as I was almost always awake and rarely slept, in those days, more than a dozen hours per week if that, would cut the appropriate tubing, round or flat stock, and angle iron. A frame would be welded, and work would commence.


Canadian Football League and World Football League defensive lineman Tom Laputka

If Canadian Football League and World Football League defensive lineman Tom Laputka was in the prototype shop as he often was, he was “the big, tall guy” that was needed as a “prototype dummy.” If I was in the shop at the time, in addition to tack welding or rushing off to return with a requested piece of iron, I would serve as the “below-average in height guy.” At 6’3” or so and 250 pounds of a lot of muscle Laputka, in addition to being truly strong, “scary strong” in many movements, was large framed. Though I had weighed as much as 232 at 5’5-3/4”, I was usually 160 – 180 during my time at Nautilus. When Kim Wood was on the premises, he would provide yet more input and a lot of knowledge as he was one of the few who had Arthur’s ear when he wanted it. Needless to add, with the disparity in stature and body types, the “feel” of any piece of equipment varied among us. Tom would go through forearm flexion movements and state, “This feels pretty good, it’s smooth.” I would do it and think my bicipital aponeurosis was being shredded. Scott and Kim would offer disparate opinions, Arthur would try the piece and announce, “move this a quarter-inch, move that a half inch and try it.” I would take a hand sledge, break the tack weld, make the adjustment requested, and re-weld it. If you can project doing that fifty times on one aspect of one piece of equipment, it very much explains the “old school” process of machine prototyping. In the late 1960’s and early-‘70’s when Tom Lincer for example, was first getting Ivanko Barbell off the ground, the prototype process for bars, utilizing different types of steel, different heating and finishing processes, and a variety of end caps and safety features, was very much the same.

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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Part 55

Prototyping Part 2

In the TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEM column I wrote for December 01, 2012, HISTORY OF POWERLIFTING, WEIGHTLIFTING, AND STRENGTH TRAINING PART FIFTY FOUR: PROTOTYPES, PART ONE, I described the horrific events surrounding the hurricane that caused so much damage in our area and specifically in the Village of East Rockaway. I noted that “As I write this column, three weeks after the storm, very little has changed…,” and in truth, seven weeks after the storm, as I write Part Two of this prototyping related series of articles, very little has changed for many of the residents.


Hurricane Sandy Damage

Obviously, it could not be expected to change significantly for many, they had their homes, businesses, vehicles, and other possessions washed out to sea and thus there was nothing to come back to and nothing to repair. Many left the area to seek shelter with relatives, friends, or others, and have not returned. As the East Rockaway High School building suffered extensive flood damage, the adolescents have been bussed to buildings in another district two towns away. The East Rockaway Public School District certainly knows how many students are enrolled in their schools, how much transportation and seating space in class is needed, and what arrangements had to be made in order to accommodate a move, temporary or otherwise. They prepared ten buses to transport students to Baldwin for class and only six were filled and this has not changed; children and their families are simply gone. For those with a chance to repair and restore their property, FEMA or insurance companies in many cases have just “not gotten to them yet” and they cannot afford to move forward otherwise. In others, the utilities are slow and delayed beyond understanding in restoring services. The holidays are much less than that for many.


Hurricane Sandy Damage

Kathy and I must personally thank the football and lifting communities that so quickly and decisively stepped up to assist. Those with internet businesses, sites, blogs, and other daily communications like the Drapers, Brooks Kubik, John Wood, and Bill Hinbern among others who have my apologies for failing to mention them specifically, put the word out that clothing, toiletries, and cleaning supplies were needed and a great number of boxes were received at our office facility and distributed directly to the coaches and students of the area and shared with the neighboring church relief center. Michigan State, Ohio State, the Buffalo Bills, Saginaw Valley State, the Cincinnati Reds and so many others sent supplies, making the effort to recover a bit easier. The work has continued both for us and the community but we are all moving forward as Christmas approaches, making the holiday season at least tolerable for many.

Doing a great deal of sitting and thinking in the dark brought my mind to equipment fabrication and prototyping as the December column detailed. The described Shrug Box was one in a long line of equipment efforts I had made in order to enhance my own training. I mentioned that not every effort was successful. In my quest to become larger and stronger, there were many mishaps. Seeing Sergio Oliva for the first time was, in the parlance of the mid to late 1960’s, “mind blowing” and whatever any of the readers have been told regarding the visual impact of Sergio is absolutely true. Later in his career, when compared to Arnold, most gave Sergio second seating and there was no doubt that Arnold was the taller and heavier man. However, the effect of the two men in my opinion, differed greatly. Both must be considered among the greatest bodybuilders of all time and each had and have their supporters but no matter what one felt about or saw in Arnold’s physique, Sergio took it to the next level. Arnold never appeared to be strong nor did he ever hold himself out as a “strongman.” Sergio looked like a contender for the greatest bodybuilder of all time nomination, yet also looked as if he could lift half of your apartment building.


Sergio Oliva

Despite what was in my presence, an unexpected reserved demeanor, a statement probably never uttered about Arnold, Sergio just emanated a tough manner about him. The total package was one not to be forgotten and I made the mistake of asking him what he did in order to squat what was purported to be “a lot of weight” and of course, develop his outsized thighs. Being told that he did “all kinds of squats” I took it upon myself to copy a machine I had seen in only one gym, a Bill Good Hack Machine, forgetting that for many, the hack squat is one lift that should not be done due to excessive shearing force on the patella tendon. To dress mine up, and save space in the garage, I added dip bars and located them on the back of the machine. Of course, the angle of the hack squat was such that even the healthiest of knees would have been challenged to remain in that condition, and if one actually jumped up and used the dip bars while another trainee was squatting, their teeth would have been readily knocked out of their mouth. All in all, one of the obvious failures and it also did not take a genius to quickly figure out that not one part of my body would ever be mistaken for one of Sergio’s!

Considering the barbell to be the most important piece of equipment in one’s training facility or commercial weight room, a concept that seems to have died off along the way in most commercial gyms as reflected in their choice of inexpensive, heavily chromed, rather dangerous bars that are made available for their customers, I always had “good bars.” This did not prevent me from attempting to build my own and certainly there is more to be said about bars despite the fact that many of the previous fifty-four editions of this specific column have dealt with barbells and barbell construction. The one thing I did not attempt to do was produce my own plates although, as one of our columns detailed, I was the first to convince the York Barbell Company foundry, with the focused efforts and assistance of Jan Dellinger who at the time was a key employee of York, to have custom Olympic plates made for our Iron Island Gym. I approved the mold, was walked through the steps of filling and emptying the custom mold, cleaning, drilling, and milling the plates to allow the accuracy that York Barbell plates were then known for, and then was taken through the painting process. I had been sent samples from two small, privately owned foundries in the United States when discussing possible custom plate production with them, and thus had something to compare our custom made York plates with. Having been to the York Wrightsville, Pennsylvania foundry years before, and watching what appeared to be “old timers” going through the plate production process so easily, made a tremendously positive impression upon me and gave me an appreciation for their excellent and detailed craftsmanship. I had less experience with bumper plates and later, with rubber covered or urethane covered plates. Jim Sutherland, who has been previously featured and oft-mentioned in many of my Titan columns was the first to my knowledge, to truly understand the widespread potential applications of urethane in the fitness industry.

Historical Supplement – Weight Training Equipment


The photo above is from the Universal HEAVY METAL equipment catalogue, an entire collection of what might have been the first true “heavy duty” line of weight training equipment that highlighted the components and features that shortly thereafter became so standard, that they were taken for granted. Yet Jim Sutherland, the designer, previewed these improvements long before anyone had envisioned them. Men like Jim and Stephen DeWitt of Strength Equipment in Idaho flew far under the radar relative to public recognition but so many of the equipment innovations that we as powerlifters and strength enthusiasts deem as “necessary” came from their fertile minds and were copied, and often credited, to the major manufacturers. The Heavy Metal Supine Bench Press featured angled tubing, a spotter’s platform, adjustable barbell height racking pegs, protective plastic covering where the barbell would strike the uprights, and a high force compression pad that would withstand the rigors of huge weights lifted by huge lifters.

The angled shape of today’s machine frames is the result of using a tube bender costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Prior to the mid-1980’s, almost every piece of conventional training equipment was a cut-and-weld, 90 degree box design. Angling the uprights on this specific bench made for a great appearance but also meant easier handoffs to the lifter and a safer, more comfortable, and more reliable placement of the barbell at the completion of the lift. This bench has everything in one form or another that would eventually become standard fare, expected, and desired in a competition bench. Sutherland thought of these things and produced them in the early 1980’s. As I have noted in previous articles, mentioning Sutherland and DeWitt, someone had to think of these things first and then actually manufacture them; these guys did.

I have no idea who “gets credit” for first coating a barbell plate with urethane but Jim was way ahead of the curve. As the Director of Research and Development for Universal, he experimented with urethane covered plates and dumbbells and was the first to consider a urethane coated weight stack that would be almost silent in its operation. At DP in Alabama, he was the first to experiment and attempt to incorporate wrinkle style powder coat paint, urethane coated components, and clear plastic weight stack shields to improve both safety and appearance. “Rubber” and urethane have remained beyond the realm of my understanding, even as these components are more frequently utilized in the training industry, yet I jumped at the opportunity to assist Ivanko Barbell Company in testing their new urethane plates.

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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Part 54

Prototyping Part 1

Having spent twelve days without electrical power, heat, hot water, and water that led to the hospitalization of over one hundred individuals who were exposed to e coli and other dysentery infections after the local sewage treatment plant and electrical substation blew up as the result of Hurricane Sandy, our family fully understood the difference between being inconvenienced and truly affected by tragedy. The hurricane and aftermath was severely under reported out of the New York Metropolitan region with entire beach area communities completely wiped out and/or washed into the Atlantic Ocean on a level, though not as extensive, just as tragically as Hurricane Katrina. For those interested, there are numerous youtube videos documenting the damage and destruction to Long Beach, Island Park, and all of the Rockaways. We were merely uncomfortable as we literally ran a relief center out of our office facility for the local youth and members of the community and helped with the extraordinary effort of a church whose school building is our immediate neighbor. As I write this column, three weeks after the storm, very little has changed. Sitting in the dark with a gasoline shortage, empty grocery shelves, and a fear of using even boiled water for those who could muster a gas flame, allows one to spend a lot of time thinking. The four inches of heavy, soggy snow that followed the hurricane made for a complete lack of communication with a cessation not only of electrical power throughout the New York – New Jersey area, but also cell phone signals and of course, computer use. With an inability to perform business or any business related functions, other than cleaning up, helping others to clean and salvage their property, walk to town to stand on gas lines that were worse than those of 1974 for the readers old enough to remember, the dyed-in-the-wool lifter could only train in the dark or by the overcast sunlight, and think about equipment development.


Cheeseburgers by candle and lantern light because a lifter must ingest protein at all times!

It was the latter that struck me as I stood between sets of squats, in our detached garage, muttering to myself about the cold, stiff and uncooperative joints, and a general lack of energy caused by a diet of chocolate chip cookies and cold cuts that were kept in an ice chest (yes, ice was being sold at exorbitant prices from the back of trucks in the parking lots of boarded up stores). Our office and rehabilitation facility, located in a home/office set-up was barely warmer than the internal temperature of the detached garage that sits a hundred feet behind the house and holds as much weight and as many bars as many Division 1 college weight rooms. However, once the temperature drops into the twenties, as it did after the Hurricane, those barbells are as cold as any frosted mug of root beer. Looking around the garage in the semi-darkness of an overcast afternoon, where no electrical power had allowed additional light for days, I was struck at the process that goes into the development of not only weight training equipment, but even something as seemingly simple as a barbell. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that I was struck at the process that should go into the development of not only weight training equipment, but even something as seemingly simple as a barbell.


What appears to be the sandy beach had been “regular” paved streets immediately before Hurricane Sandy struck. The layer of freshly fallen snow did not elevate the blue book value of these destroyed vehicles

I have had the pleasure and excitement of fabricating my own benches, power racks, and other pieces of training equipment since the age of fifteen. I would bring various muscle magazines to my father’s iron shop on weekends when from my teenaged perspective, I was forced into indentured servitude to work an eight to twelve hour day that an adult laborer would be proud of. Being unskilled, especially relative to the other immigrant tradesmen that my father worked with, I was the shop mule with my first skilled tasks tied to the responsibilities as a grinder. Though arduous, and made more so due to my initial penchant for rushing through the job, I saw it as a way to build hand and forearm strength. The fifteen pound angle grinders of today with a multitude of plastic and epoxy components while more efficient than the “mostly metal” archaic models of my own early 1960’s and mid-‘70’s experience that may have weighed twice as much as the modern versions, could not compare as a muscle development tool. I would show the magazines to my father and some of the other workers and elicit opinions on the best manner in which to duplicate what appeared to be an essential piece of training equipment. In some cases, the results were quite good and to this day, there are two high schools in the area that still have at least one of my racks or benches in use on the premises, almost fifty years after production! In other cases, the end product was so confounding that the most experienced trainee would have difficulty figuring out what its purpose was. It wasn’t until I worked for Arthur Jones, the founder and inventor of Nautilus training equipment, that I received insight to the prototyping process and compared to today’s computer assisted process, even what seemed to be modern steps forward in equipment development were in the harsh light of comparison, ancient and laborious.

Historical Supplement – The Shrug Box


In the left forefront of the above photo, taken in the early 1980’s, is what I anointed, “The Shrug Box.” The photo was taken in the early version of our home/office rehabilitation and training facility in Valley Stream, N.Y. I was seeking an efficient way to perform the shrug exercise for both rehabilitative and training purposes. I wanted my wife to have the ability to change weights quickly and easily, and a safe piece of equipment that would carry the heaviest of loads for our athletes. In my own case, I have never had grip limitations and could in fact shrug very heavy weights, with the qualifying statement that I could in fact shrug very heavy weights if my low back was not forced into flexion due to both the load and the friction caused by contact of the barbell with the thighs. Al Gerard’s Original Trap Bar, also new to the lifting scene at the time and still available from John Wood, gave me the idea of a parallel grip that would alleviate the problem of the barbell rubbing on the thighs when heavy weights were employed. I did not want to tie up a power rack or safety stand as I believed we needed to have a piece of equipment dedicated exclusively to the shrug due to its importance in training the trapezii muscles and neck region. I welded what could be considered a prototype piece out of scrap pieces of pipe in my brother’s iron shop and it worked well. The handles were at a height that obviated the need to literally deadlift a heavy load from the floor in order to do shrugs; the loading sleeves were elevated from the floor so that one could quickly and easily change plates; the handles were set so that the slight imbalance front-to-back when gripping and holding the resistance was eliminated. As a bonus, and relative to the space we occupied, the piece was compact yet strong enough to hold as much weight as one could possibly need for shrugs. I made a more finished product,, still using pipe, and then fabricated a half dozen of them. These were given as gifts to friends in the business, including those that went into the strength training facilities of the Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals. I would never claim to have “invented” a piece of training equipment though I have been fortunate enough to have had input into some unique and what were at the time, new and innovative pieces that are considered to be standard training equipment and present in almost every gym or weight room, but I had never seen anything resembling the Shrug Box to the point in time I made my first one. Now of course, there are many models available with those manufactured by Stephen DeWitt of Strength Equipment and Elite FTS among the best. Elite’s is adjustable for height and has the option of various thicknesses in handle diameter. The Shrug Box was one of the successful pieces of training equipment I thought about and eventually brought to fruition and one that proved to be very useful in both its original form and in subsequent commercial models in our facilities. The prototyping and fabricating process for most training equipment follows the same clear cut path; thought, design, fabrication of a prototype, “tweaking,” and an eventual production model.