by Thom Van Vleck
Many years ago I was reading an old Ironman Magazine. When I say “old” I mean when Peary Radar ran it and when it was a great strength publication and not a bodybuilding rag. They had asked a question of a number of lifters and gym owners (those that trained people in their gym). The question was if you could only do one exercise what would that exercise be? The idea seemed to get at what they thought the best exercise was. Now, I have to be honest here, I can’t remember which exercise won but I do recall pretty much all the the answers were one of two exercises.
One of these two exercises is still a pretty common exercise. I bet everyone that reads this has done it and almost all would agree it’s a great exercise. I know Paul Anderson would agree. Have you guessed? That’s right, the squat. I’m sure that just about everyone that’s lifted has at one time done a squat. Sure, most don’t do it much but I bet they at least tried it! Most found out that squats are hard to do because they utilize almost all the largest muscles in the body. If you are doing them right, you can get really strong and fit doing them.
The other exercise, the one I think won the most votes for being the best single exercise, is hardly done at all. As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen anyone do them in a gym other than one man and I hang around a lot of lifters. The one man that did them was my Uncle Wayne Jackson. And he did them because it was his favorite lift to do.
This “mystery” lift has a strange history. Let me give you some hints. First of all, you can do it with a standard barbell. You need no special equipment like the squat (squat racks…unless you are Henry Steinborn). Second of all, I bet if you were told you could only do one lift the rest of your life you WOULD choose this lift. But how realistic is that? Even if you were stuck on a deserted island with a barbell the only way that would happen is if someone held a gun to your head every workout until you died. Finally, this lift used to be one of the most contested lifts on the planet. There was a time when it was contested more than the Bench Press, the Squat, or the Deadlift in competition. You could win an Olympic medal doing this lift and you cannot win one doing the Powerlifts. Have you guessed?
The Clean & Press. For some 50 years the Clean & Press was one of the THREE Olympic lifts along with the Snatch and Clean & Jerk. It was dropped from competition after 1972. There were several reasons but mainly because the judging had gotten so lax that records were meaningless. Instead of trying to fix the problem the lift was just dropped. My Uncle Wayne still holds the Missouri State record in that lift and it was his favorite lift to do. When they dropped it….his competition career ended as the lift meant that much to him.
My understanding was that early Olympics had many lifts and it took too much time so they condensed it down to three. The Snatch was considered a “quick” and “athletic” lift while the Clean & Press was considered a “strength” and “power” lift. The Clean & Jerk was in between. It was felt the three lifts together were the ultimate measure of athletic strength. I tend to agree and am sad that the the lift in no longer contested. I don’t think Olympic lifting in the USA has ever recovered from that loss and led to the rise of powerlifting at that same time. But that’s a history lesson.
The Clean & Press arguably is the most complete exercise there is. I know if I could only do one exercise it would be that lift or some variation. In particular, I have enjoyed training the log lift C & P. I’m curious if any of you have ever done this exercise (not parts of it, but all together!). If not, I would suggest trying a few some time. Nothing works more muscles using a standard barbell in a single exercise movement and there is nothing that says “strong” than lifting a barbell from the floor to overhead using brute upper body strength on the press! Just take a look at Zydrunas Savickas clean and press a 400 pound plus log! So, throw in a C & P to your training and do what some have called the “BEST EXERCISE EVER”!