Monthly Archives: October 2013

No Stupid Lifts, Just Stupid Lifters

by Thom Van Vleck

Wilbur Miller doing a barbell leg press

Recently I got kind of sore at a guy for criticizing a leg press done by my friend Wilbur Miller.  Wilbur and my Uncle Wayne had some epic battles back in the day and while Wilbur won the overall in every meet he was never able to beat my Uncle in the Clean and Press.  Wayne took great pride in that as Wilbur was, in his mind, the greatest of his era.  I have written an article for MILO magazine on Wilbur and he continues to be involved in the USAWA to this day.

So this picture came up and this guy took it for face value and called it “Stupid”.  Well, I let him have it.  I was probably too harsh but I knew the story behind this photo.  The guy also said that if this was a good lift then you would see people doing it everywhere.  First of all, Wilbur usually did his lifting in an old York Power Rack where he could leg press in a rack with a very tight gap.  I did leg pressed that way early in my training as well.  Second of all, this photo was take out of the rack to demonstrate the lift.  Third, Wilbur did them because he didn’t have a proper leg press or leg sled.  It might be stupid to do this lift if you had a good leg press or out of a power rack….but it was dang smart to do them when Wilbur had some back issues and wanted to work his legs hard and he had no other recourse.

This got me to thinking about all the name calling and commentary from know-it-all lifters on the internet.  And to be honest, I’ve been one, too and I regret it.  A quick glance and you might think a lot of lifts would be useless or even dangerous.  But the reality is there are no stupid lift…only stupid lifters!

I would contend that ANY lift that can be done could have a useful purpose at some point of any lifters career.  Maybe because of injury, or an unusual weakness, or a lack of proper equipment.  Over the years I have made it a point to train with many of the best lifters in the country and I have found that almost ALL of the best have all kinds of unusual lifts they have developed that fits their needs.  Those same lifts, in the wrong context, could be disastrous to others.

Many times I have had a lifter tell me of a lift they do and my initial reaction is to roll my eyes and shake my head.  But in my 35 plus years of lifting there have been countless times I’ve ended up adopting that lift for my own needs.  So, my point is don’t judge, keep your mind open, and be like a U. S. Marine: “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome”.   In other words….don’t be stupid!

The Guy in the Gym

by Eric Todd

A number of years ago, when I was in my late teens, my sister was married to a real tool shed who fancied himself a bad mother. I  will from here forward refer to him as “Dick”.  He was always trying to impress us with stories about being some kind of a tai kung flung master whom his sensei considered one of the most dangerous men in the world.  A pretty big dude, but I later decided that while perhaps he may have been the baddest man in the dojo, it was one that catered to kindergarteners. Well, one day, my brother and I were wrestling in the yard as we often did for conditioning and fun, when “Dick” came up and grabbed me.  He clearly was in the mood to show who the alpha-male was, so I dug in with some underhooks and suplexed him to the ground.  He lay there whimpering, not wanting any more.

Another  time, when I was home on sebatical from college, I was lifting in my parent’s  basement.  I was warming up on bench with 225 and “Dick” came down the stairs.  He cockily indicated that he wished to lift with me.  I was fine with that, so I traded places with him to give him a spot.  Then, as I unracked the weight, it plummeted to “Dick’s” chest and pinned him down  to the bench.  I found myself deadlifting all 225 pounds off of him.  I was embarrassed for him and ashamed of him, so I suggested that he needed to warm up a little.  We dropped the weight down to 170ish.  Same result.  Finally, we dropped it down to one wheel, 135.  “Dick” was able to grind out a rep.  After that he made a hasty retreat upstairs.

From that time on, “Dick” no longer challenged me during the remainder of his tenure as my sister’s husband. On many occasions after that,however, I did get to hear about the proverbial “guy in the gym”.  This guy was amazing!  His arms were definitely bigger than mine.    When Dick found out how much I was benching, this guy was doing almost double.  I am pretty sure he could curl the whole stack on the nautilus machine.  When I asked how much he could squat, “Dick” really didn’t have a frame of reference, so I am pretty sure he said like 1000 pounds, which at the time was world record poundage. 

I have said it before, I like physical strength.  But in my eyes, it pales in comparison to what lies between your ears.  I really do not care what you can lift, if you give your all in whatever arena you are in, you are a strong individual.  If you are bested, you will continue to come back and try again and again.  Maybe winning, maybe losing, but you don’t give up.  Tenacity. 

Then there are those weak minded cowards  who, when bested, not only give up, they also try and find a way to bring he who has bested him down as well.   We have all heard about the guy in the gym.  The one at “Dick’s” gym may or may not have existed.  But it is for guys like “Dick” that I choose to while my time with doers.  Guys who enter the arena.  Those who tell themselves that the body can handle things that the mind tries to tell it aren’t possible.  Guys who believe.  Life is too short to listen to guys like “Dick”.

Gold Cup History

by Al Myers

British All Round Champion Steve Angell (left) and Howard Prechtel (right) together at the 1994 IAWA Worlds in Burton-upon-Trent, England.

The 2013 IAWA Gold Cup is coming up this weekend.  It is one of three big IAWA promotions (the Worlds and World Postal are the other two).  I am really looking forward to attending this prestigious meet hosted by our USAWA President Denny Habecker  in Lebanon, PA.  Denny has promoted several other Gold Cups and is one of the premier meet promotors in the USAWA – so it, without a doubt, will be a well organized affair.

The Gold Cup is often a misunderstood event, especially if you have never attended it before.  I’ve had lifters question me why “go to a meet where you can only do one lift for record?”, especially considering you can  potentially set several World Records at a local record day.  Let me tell you – the Gold Cup is not like any local record day.  The Gold Cup is about the experience of competing in an international event where lifters from several countries will be represented.  The direction of the Gold Cup is overseen by the IAWA officers and technical committee to insure that the Gold Cup  gives the atmosphere of something very important (which it is!).   It allows a lifter to showcase their best lifts on a BIG STAGE for IAWA World Record in front of their IAWA peers.  Each lifter and their record lift receives the total attention of those present.  When a lifter is performing their Gold Cup lift they have the stage to themselves – and is the only thing going on at the moment. After the meet is over there is always a big banquet to enjoy a great meal, fellowship with other lifters, and have a formal awards ceremony.  The banquet is always a highlight for me at the Gold Cup. 

Now a little “history lesson” on the Gold Cup:

The first Gold Cup was held in 1991 in Lakewood, Ohio  under the direction of Howard Prechtel, IAWA President at the time and originator of the Gold Cup.  This year marks the 23rd  year of the Gold Cup.  In this span the Gold Cup has been promoted every year, without missing a single year.  The following came from a 1991 issue of Bill Clark’s  Strength Journal outlining Howard’s concepts on the Gold Cup:

On November 23, in Cleveland, Howard will be directing the First Meet Of Champions.  The concept is thus: Only people who have won IAWA titles will be invited….a list of some 25 from the USA and England.  Each lifter will be allowed to do only one lift of his choice….and he’ll get only one attempt at that lift – which must be a world record.  That means only 25 lifts and 25 lifters.  Better warm up good – for the TV cameras will take only one look at you.  Of the 25 lifters, it looks like we’ll have at least 15 different types of lifts.  Howard will be trying a record sit-up, for instance. If you’re a world record holder, but not an IAWA champion, don’t ask.  It is a record-makers meet open only to IAWA Champions. 

You can see that Howard had a lofty goal originally that this would become a televised feature of All Round Lifting.  That never really materialized.  Also, you can see that the original criteria for even entering the Gold Cup was pretty strict.  Things have evolved with the Gold Cup since then, but there still are entry criteria.  For the past few years this has been the main rules regarding entry into the Gold Cup:

1.  Lifter must open on their first attempt at an IAWA  World Record lift.  However, a lifter is given three attempts to repeat an attempt or increase the poundage.
2.  To enter the Gold Cup, the lifter must be a current holder of an IAWA World Record.
3.  The lifter must be a member of the IAWA, or a member in an affiliated organization of IAWA.

If a lifter can not accomplish a World Record in any IAWA lift, an entry can still be approved.   It is of the IAWA philosophy now that NO LIFTER be denied the opportunity to compete in this event.  The offering of a Silver Cup Award (for setting a National Record) and the Bronze Cup Award (for a lifter setting a personal record) has been added to allow for this.

You may wonder how that FIRST EVER Gold Cup turned out.  Of the 34 lifers that were invited (yes – the first year this meet was by invitation only), 31 entered.  All 31 lifters were successful setting new IAWA World Records.   As for Howard, it turned out well for him in the success of the promotion and with his quest of setting a new record.  The following report from the Strength Journal sums up Howard’s day quite nicely:

After all the effort and money Howard put into the meet, he was the final lifter.  He attempted to break an 85-year-old mark in the Travis Lift by doing 60 reps in 60 seconds with 1510 pounds.  Travis had done 56 reps in 60 seconds with 1500 pounds in 1906…when he was a young man.  Howard, at 66, hardly qualifies as young (except at heart), but he banged out 45 reps with the 1510 in 60 seconds….easily a new IAWA record.

I would truly encourage all all-rounders to try to make it to a Gold Cup.  Once you go once, you will understand why I think it is an elite type competition.  You meet the “legends” of the sport, and get to see world class all rounders perform their best lifts for World Records.

A good POWER RACK is hard to find

by Al Myers

This is the custom-built Power Rack in the Dino Gym, which I made many years ago. It has many unique features (like hydraulic jacks attached to the bar hooks for easy adjustment of a loaded bar) that benefit lifters and lifting!!

I’ve spent a good part of my adult life in the gym training, and with that experience comes exposure to many different type of power racks.  Some good, but most have deficiencies in my opinion.  There always seems to be some feature that is less than optimal on each one I have used.  But Power Racks (or often called Power Cages – same thing, different name) have come a long ways since the early York Cages or Iron Man Power Racks.  I consider a good power rack as the SECOND MOST IMPORTANT piece of equipment in a gym (behind bars and plates).   A good power rack is the centerpiece of any serious gym, and often the most used piece of equipment in a free weight based training facility.  Up to 50% of my training time is spent in the “rack” each week doing a multitude of different lifts.  Having a good power rack to fulfill your training objectives goes a LONG WAYS to making continued strength improvement.  Today I’m going to go over power rack features that I feel are very important in having the ultimate power rack, from most important to least important. 

1.  Sturdy construction and Size

There are many racks on the market made out of lightweight tubing, with bolt-on construction.  A Power Rack should be heavy duty and not “bouncing around” every time a squat is racked in it.  A frame made out of at least 2.5″  11 gauge square tubing is necessary.  Also – the side frames should be welded and not bolted together.   Most commercial racks that are sold will use bolt-on construction to minimize the shipping costs – but in turn will cause inherent weaknesses in the power rack.  Bolts will loosen up with time, and bolted construction allows “wiggle room” in the joints.   Depth of power racks is also important to give plenty of room for lifting.  The depth of a power rack should be at least 36 inches.  The power rack should be high enough to not interfere with any type of overhead lifting you want to do – but this is often limited by ceiling height.

Power Racks have come a long ways since this "top of the line" power rack advertised in a 1966 issue of Iron Man.

2.  Bar Hooks (or J-hooks as they are normally called)

I think the bar hooks (which holds the bar in the power rack) either “makes or breaks” a good rack.  They are the most functionally used piece of the Power Rack, and should be of the highest quality, yet often good racks have junky bar hooks.  A bad bar hook will be an ongoing frustration and will soon completely overshadow all other aspects of your power rack.  Most bar hooks are made by utilizing bending, which often gives an inconsistent product.  Most  bent- type bar hooks I’ve seen have a sloppy fit on the rack.  The reason for this because of the bending a good consistent tolerance can’t be maintained – and thus manufacturers make them loose to insure that they will fit in all cases.  I just hate bar hooks that “swing in the breeze” on a rack.  Every time the bar is moved the bar hook will slide to the side.  Bar hooks should also be of adequate length, but at the same time not too long as to catch the bar as a lifter comes up from a squat.  Short bar hooks are a bigger problem.  A bar hook should be of length to allow a lifter to rack the weight easily.  Another important feature is NO SHARP EDGES.  I have scars on both of my shoulders that occurred as the result of bar hook injuries in the gym.  Both times I wasn’t paying attention and caught the edge of my shoulders on bar hooks attached to the front of the rack.  Add in the number of times I’ve cut the outside of my palms from sharp edges on hooks as I was racking a heavy squat, and you can see why I think this is an important feature.  Bar hooks should also be easy to adjust to different heights, and not require specialized wrenches or tools to do this.  

3.  Elevated bottom cross member

Most of the commercial power racks available DO NOT allow a wide based squatter to get proper foot placement.  A floor cross member interferes with the feet when trying to take a wide stance squat  (often limited to 43″ or 44″ at width).  This problem is easily addressed by raising the bottom cross member  up 12 inches.  That’s it – but for some reason power racks often are not designed that way.   A good power rack should allow for “sumo stance” lifting.

4.  Multiple adjustments

A good power rack should allow for any spacing of the bar hooks or safety supports.  I’ve seen some manufacturers go way overboard with the number of holes they place in their uprights (and make a holey looking rack, haha), but most have hole spacings that are too far apart, thus making it more difficult to get the correct setup for the hooks and supports.  Most serious lifters like their bar height setting for unracking a bar down to an inch of being correct.  I think anything over 2″ spacing is too much.  But placing more holes in tubing is an expensive manufacturing cost – so this is often compromised in providing a top quality product.

5.  Safety supports

A good power rack will have quality safety supports.  Safety supports are the adjustable cross members that will catch the bar in case of a failed lift.  Think of them as your safety net.   They should adjust easily, yet be very sturdy and secure.  Often you will see a rod inserted through the holes of the rack for this.  That is a poor design in my book as no rod is going to stay straight after dropping a loaded bar on it.   Some manufacturers have a pipe that you insert the rod through for the safety supports.  Again that is a cheap poor solution to safety supports.  Safety supports should be strong enough to lift off of – like doing rack pulls.  For this they need to be well made.   Having them lined with rubber to protect the bar is also a good idea, yet most all of them don’t have that.  They should be easy to adjust to different height as well.

6.  Able to take Add-ons

Add-ons for power racks are the new thing amongst the leaders of manufacturers of power racks.  However,  I prefer a power rack that “looks like a power rack” and not cluttered with unneccesary appendages hanging off it at all angles, but I know I’m in the minority on this.   As for the add-ons I’m talking about here – chin up bars, plate storage, bar racks, band/chain peg attachments, land-mine attachments, chain/band storage, dip attachments, front safety supports, med ball bounce plates, etc.  And there’s even more!!!  Before long the  power rack doesn’t even look like a power rack anymore.   Gyms and training facilities like to keep a “clean house” and with all the new training devices being used nowadays, it is hard to find a place to store them so the solution seems to be to just hang them on the power rack.   The important thing here is to have a power rack that has the capability to utilize whatever add-on YOU WANT.

I know I’ve covered a lot here – but Power Racks are something that I’m passionate about.  If anyone ever wants to either discuss power racks, or has specific questions about them just drop me an email ( .  I’m always glad to hear from other power rack enthusiasts!

OTSM Championships UPDATE

by Thom Van Vleck

Now that my Scottish Highland Games has been completed my focus has shifted to the OTSM on December 7th.  So far I have one entry in hand (thank you to Dean Ross) and several who have shown interest.  Here are some updates to the previously posted information.

1.  Shirt deadline: I have promised a shirt for those that enter but I’m going to have to put a deadline on the shirt as they were so popular at my Highland Games…I SOLD OUT!  So, if you are coming and want a shirt I need your shirt size (at the least) by November 15th.  I don’t necessarily need your entry……but that would be nice.  I will take entries on meet day….BUT DON’T EXPECT A SHIRT.

2. Location: The contest will be held at my gym in the basement of my home.  The first year we had 10 lifters, but last year we had fewer.  I can’t justify loading all my equipment up, renting the old school gym, and hauling all the stuff in, then hauling it back out.  It’s a tight fit, but if the weather is nice, one or more events will be outside.

3. Breakfast: It has been a tradition for my contests to eat breakfast at Pancake City before the meet (dutch).  Anyone that wants to weigh in BEFORE breakfast be at my place at 7:30am and please, give me a heads up or you might find me sleeping…or WORSE!  We will then head in to Pancake City for a good, ol’ greasy breakfast or a stack of flapjacks….or BOTH.  If Art comes….THEY HAVE COFFEE!!!!

I hope all the USAWA members will consider coming to the meet!  See you there!

WEBMASTER’S COMMENT:   The entry information and entry form for the 2013 USAWA Old Time Strongman Championships is located under “USAWA Future  Events” in the column to the right. Simply “click” on it to access this important information!

1 2 3 4