Monthly Archives: April 2012

Team Championships

by Al Myers


Rudy Bletscher (left) and Mike Murdock (right) perform a very difficult team lift in last years Team Championship, the Team One Arm Dumbbell Press.

Due to some other local strength event conflicts, the date for the 2012 USAWA Team Championships has been moved up a couple of weekends this year.  As usual, this meet will be part of the Dino Days Weekend held at the Dino Gym.  For several years now the Dino Gym has had one weekend a year where we celebrate our Dino Days.  It is a full weekend of fun, both lifting and socializing.  Saturday night is an open invite to anyone who wants to come share in our evening BBQ, sponsored by the Dino Gym. You do not need to be a “gym member” to take part in this fun.   I’m planning on making this years Saturday evening party a “trial run”  for the big party I’m planning after the World Championships in October at my place.  So plan on staying after the meet for this!!!  One thing those of us in central Kansas are known for – it is our BBQ.  I’m thinking of a menu now of burgers, brats, grilled chicken, brisket, and possibly even ribs.  Add in some hot baked beans and potato salad for sides, and brownies and homemade ice cream for dessert and we got a meal that ought to fill everyone up.  All washed down with beer of course!  (I shouldn’t be writing this story right before lunch!!!)

But onto the meet details (the real reason we are getting together haha).   This year I picked 4 lifts that I think anyone could team up to do.  The lifts will be: Clean and Jerk – One Arm, Deadlift – Fulton Bar, Ciavattone Grip, Bent Over Row, and the 12″ base Deadlift.   I am sure that the Dino Gym will field at least 3 teams for this meet.  I have been somewhat disappointed in the attendance in the past Team Championships.  So this year I’m going to be CALLING OUT some other clubs to REPRESENT.  To start with there is NO REASON clubs like the JWC, Jobes Steel Jungle, Clarks Gym, the Ledaig AC, and KCStrongman are not in attendance.  These clubs are all within easy driving distances of this major USAWA competition.  It has been my dream since I started hosting  the Team Championships several years ago that the this meet would be one of those fun meets that lifters would not want to miss.  This meet doesn’t really put any pressure on you as a lifter.  After all if you don’t do well you can always blame it on your partner!!!!


Dino Days Record Day

by Al Myers


Meet Director: Al Myers and the Dino Gym

Meet Date: Sunday, August 12th, 2012 10:00 AM-4:00PM

Location: Dino Gym, Abilene, Kansas

Sanction: USAWA

Entry Form: None – just show up

Entry Fee: None

Lifts: Record Day – Pick any lifts you can set a USAWA record in!

Contact me at if you have any questions

Garage Days, Revisited

By Jarrod Fobes

Jarrod Fobes in action winning the 2009 AAU Freestyle Judo National Championship in the 210 pound division.

Long ago, back in a dark, distant past called “the late 90’s” things were very different. Starbucks was called coffee. Everyone could buy a house. And there was virtually no grappling training to be had in Lawrence, Kansas. Brazilian jujitsu hadn’t made it’s way into every strip mall in America, and the few judo schools I had visited before the Welcome Mat did not convince that I would learn effective groundfighting skills there. For my small group of friends, this left one option: break a few bones over the years figuring it out ourselves.

Very often, we would train in a friend’s detached single car garage. It was made out of cinder blocks, and featured an obstacle course of broken out windows and rusted pipes sticking from the wall. But it did have a 10’x10′ wrestling mat, and sturdy rafters to hang a punching bag from. There was no electricity, so we would train by lantern light after dark. I remember in cooler weather, you could see the steam rising off of the two combatants wrestling on the mat while the others tried to learn by watching.

We didn’t have a coach. We had a vast library of tapes and books: BJJ, judo, wrestling, catch wrestling, vale tudo…anything we could find. If we thought somebody knew a thing about fighting, we would beg them to come in and work with us. A couple of notables were a collegiate wrestling national champion, and a Navy boxer. I learned a lot from both of these guys, but I can probably count the sessions I had with them on two hands. Of course, there were a ton of self-proclaimed experts who somehow never made it to the mat with us. Oh well.

Your partner was your best training tool, period. Lots of good coaches will tell you this. But when you have the luxury of a good coach, you also have the luxury of ignoring him. I can’t tell you how many techniques I learned after saying “I saw this on a UFC last night. Tell me if it hurts.” Then one of us would fumble and twist a limb around, seeking that tap out, while the helpful dummy would tell you if and where it hurt, what you could try to make it better, tighter, faster, etc. I don’t doubt that I would have progressed faster with a coach in those early days, but I did learn to think for myself. Self-coaching has it’s advantages too. I never had a coach tell me something wouldn’t work. Or that a technique was not correct for judo/bjj/wrestling etc. “Can’t” wasn’t a common word. The ultimate aim was truth in fighting. Our early group came from pretty diverse backgrounds. We had a decent powerlifter and wrestler who just liked to scrap. Another came from a ninjitsu background before starting video based bjj training. Me, I had started Tae Kwon Do years before. After six months or so of training, I got into a high school fight with a smaller wrestler, who gave me a painless but humiliating beating. After that I stayed in karate and TKD for lack of other options in western Kansas, but I picked the brain of every fighter and wrestler that would let me.

I wasn’t the best guy in the garage. But I was the one who stuck around. Some guys jumped ship to train bjj in Kansas City. Some just bowed out as injuries accumulated and real life began to impose. In time, my kickboxing coach Dwane Lewis graciously offered to let me throw some mats in his gym, and the Lawrence Grappling Club was born. LGC operated for about seven years, and I learned just as much from teaching as I ever did from training. Students will ask you anything, and you had better have an answer. I began training at the Welcome Mat to finally get some consistent (and excellent) coaching. Not only did I learn how to fight, but how to teach.

After the LGC had been up and running for a few years (and getting a small but tough reputation) a prospective student called. At the end of the call he said “well, thanks for your time. I just wanted to make sure this wasn’t run out of a garage or something.” I thanked him for his call and hung up.

Garage training isn’t for everybody. There’s no music piped in, no showers, and admittedly questionable hygiene. But you will not find sissies there. You will not find belt-chasers, or politics. Whatever their degree of skill, you will find tough men and women dedicated to pursuing fighting in a way most people never will. If that’s not what your after, be sure to call ahead and make sure the place isn’t run out of a garage.

Breath, Stupid!

by Thom Van Vleck

Thom blowing up a hot water bottle till it burst. We all know Thom is the EXPERT when it comes to breathing, as he is "full of hot air". (photo and caption courtesy of the webmaster)

Recently my Mom returned from the doctor.  She was incredulous about what he had told her.  He had told her she was breathing wrong.  My Mom looked at me and said, “Who wouldn’t know how to breath?”.  I was also watching a kid’s show with my youngest son shortly after that.  One of the characters was depicted as being so stupid that he would periodically forget to breath and would turn blue forcing his companion to remind him to, “Breath, Stupid”!

We all know how to breath, right?  It pretty much comes naturally….doesn’t it?  The devil is in the details.  We may know how to breath, but breathing properly during exercise is important.  I have learned a great deal on this subject over the years and this little article won’t do the subject justice, but maybe it will get you thinking.

First of all, I was taught at a young age to “suck that gut in” and breath with your chest.  I recall at one time watching a video of Jack LaLanne saying just that.  When I was in the military I was constantly told to pull that stomach in and stand up straight.  Also, I was always a little self conscious as I’ve been a little overweight since I as a teenager.  So, “sucking it in” has been drilled in my head.  As a consequence, I have always had trouble getting my “wind” or getting too out of breath when I do something even slightly aerobic.  I never really thought much about it, just assumed I was out of shape and needed to work harder.

Then, one day I was doing some short sprints.  I began to notice that I would hold my breath when I would take off and focus on keeping my stomach super tight.  I then read something about learning to breath with your stomach, not your chest, and I began to work on that.  Believe it or not, it was an article on how to play the trumpet!  All of a sudden, I found I had better “wind”.  In other words, I wasn’t as out of breath when I breathed through my stomach and not my chest.  I also began to take deep breaths using my stomach before exertion, before going out to squat, sprint, or do strongman harness pulls.  Using the stomach to breath deep, full breaths filling my lungs helped me have better “wind”.  It also came in hand with one of my specialty feats of strength….blowing up a hot water bottle!

Second, I began to think about my use of the Valsalva Maneuver.   About ten years ago I had an “Idiopathic Sub-retinal Neo-vascularization” in the retina of my left eye.  Basically, I had a small tear in my retina and a vein grew through it like crab grass in the crack of a sidewalk.  As a result, the “crab grass” had to be zapped with a laser and I lost some vision.  It was called “Idiopathic” because there was no readily apparent cause.  I now suspect it may have been Valsava Retinopathy.  This is when a tear occurs in the retina following pressure buildup likely during the use of the Valsalva Maneuver in lifting.

What is the Valsalva Maneuver?  It’s simply taking and holding a deep breath during exertion or if you want to get technical, a “forcible exhalation against a closed glottis”.  I had done that for years.  When you hold your breath you build up intra-abdominal pressure and in turn solidify your core.  This is a primary reason for using a lifting belt.  You use the belt to push your abdomen against and increase the internal pressure.  The support in the back is really secondary in my book.  There is a theory as to why you get light headed during extended periods of using the Valsalva Maneuver.  It involves the Vagus Nerve that runs by your Carotid Artery.  The idea is that as the blood pressure goes up the Vagus Nerve is stimulated causing you to faint so you pass our before you stroke out!   That’s just a theory.  Personally, I would guess the fact you have stopped breathing has something to do with becoming light headed!  The rapid change in blood pressure could also factor in.  At any rate, this is often what gets blamed, and likely rightfully so in most cases, for deaths when lifters get pinned by a heavy bench press when lifting alone.

So, how are you supposed to breath?  The reality is that if you are doing a max effort for single or low reps you are going to hold your breath at some point and take advantage of the intra-abdominal pressure.  You just can’t avoid it.  However, most “experts” will say to breath out during the concentric part of the lift and in during the eccentric whenever possible.  This is what I’ve tried to do as well with most exercises.  There are some that I do the opposite.   For example, from time to time I mix in some high rep leg presses for a set of 100 or more reps nonstop (I know, real lifters don’t leg press….unless it’s an old school leg press like Ed Zercher used to do).  When I do these I have a lot of compression at the bottom so I breath out on the eccentric (going down), which is the opposite.  I basically breath in the way that keeps the intra-abdominal pressure lowest.

Bottom line:  Think about your breathing during each and every exercise!   Breath deep, through the stomach, not the chest.  Keep that intra-abdominal pressure as low as you can and save it for the big lifts!  By the way, I talked to my Mom’s doctor and he noted she was breathing with her chest, not her stomach and this was creating pressure in her abdomen and with her high blood pressure this was not good.  She is learning how to breath, too!

Back Extensions

by Al Myers

The top picture is the starting position for a Back Extension, while the lower picture is the finishing position.

This is an excellent “finishing movement” to a heavy night of deadlifting and squatting. On top of that, it is an Official USAWA Lift!  It is in our Rulebook and but TOTALLY ABSENT in our Record List.  NO ONE has ever done it in a record day and it has never been contested in a USAWA competition.   This surprises me as it is a great exercise that works the lower back.  I like doing them after my heavy training and train them in a higher rep fashion, but this lift is well-suited for a maximum attempt.  I’ll refresh everyone on the USAWA Rule for Back Extensions as I’m sure most lifters are not familiar with this lift:

D11.  Extension – Back

A Roman Chair or similar apparatus is used for this lift. A bar is placed in front of the Roman Chair on the platform. The lifter will take a position on the Roman Chair facing the platform that allows the lifter’s body to bend fully downward at the waist. The seat must not touch the lifter’s torso. The legs must be straight and may be secured. The seat must be parallel to the floor and must not be raised at any angle. At the lifter’s discretion, the lifter will bend at the waist to a 90 degree angle, and fix the bar into the crooks of the elbows, with the arms bent. Once in this position, an official will give a command to rise. The lifter will raise the body to a position where the line of the back is parallel to the platform. The bar must remain fixed in the crooks of the elbows or it will be a disqualification. There must not be any downward movement of the body once the body has started to rise. Once the lifter is motionless, an official will give a command to end the lift.

The biggest difficulty with this lift is having the proper apparatus to do it on.  The seat must be the perfect height to allow the lifter to bend at the waist and place the bar in the crooks of the elbows at a full bend of 90 degrees.  Also, the feet must be secured  staight back for support.  An apparatus like this is usually not available in most gyms, and thus probably why this lift has not been done.  I like using my Glute-Ham device for this as the seat and feet supports are adjustable and allows me to get into perfect position. 

I have never done a max attempt on Back Extensions, but just might do one at my next record day.  After all, it looks like setting a record in it would be very easy as there are not any!!! However, don’t expect to get an IAWA World Record in the Back Extension as this lift IS NOT an IAWA official lift.

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