Author Archives: Thom Van Vleck

Bad Case of the Barbells

by Thom Van Vleck

When I was a kid I watched the Beverly Hillbillies.  Yes, I’m pretty old. The show was a top comedy show in the 60’s and early 70’s.  It was about a family of hillbillies that come into millions and end up in Beverly Hills.  In one particular episode the beautiful “farmer’s daughter” Elly Mae gets set up with “Mister Universe” Dave Draper.  Dave Draper was indeed a Mr. Universe and a top Bodybuilder.  In the episode the family, being backwards, sees his huge muscles and mistake it for an illness.  They ask him what they are. He said “Muscles”.  They ask how he got them and he says, “Barbells”. Granny turns to Uncle Jed and whispers, “Worst case of barbells I’ve ever seen”.  I remember watching that episode several times.

In 1977 I began to develop as bad case of barbells myself.  I evidently didn’t get them as bad as Dave as I have never been mistaken for a Mister Universe but I think I have the illness as bad as anyone since I’m going on nearly 40 years of barbell training.  Over the years I’ve joked about it being an illness and my case being incurable.  Which brings me to my point.

I do have a bad case of the barbells.  I enjoy training and when I’m not my world isn’t right.  It helps me not only physically but mentally, spiritually, and emotionally as well.  I don’t just train to achieve a goal I train because it’s a part of my life like eating, drinking, sleeping, and praying.  It’s not really an illness.  It’s a blessing.  And over the years I’ve tried to be Typhoid Thom…and infect as many people as possible with the “illness”.

So, do you have a bad case of the Barbells?

Be Stronger, not the Strongest

by Thom Van Vleck

I started a weightlifting club at the University I work at a few years back. It has been very successful even if it has evolved into more of a “crossfit” type group.  But there are some serious weightlifters in there, too.

One of the things that happened as we had more women than men sign up. I began to investigate and here’s what I found.

The guys got pretty hung up on being the strongest.  If they couldn’t be the strongest in the group they pretty quickly quit.  Of course, there can only be one guy that’s the strongest so you pretty quickly end up with a pretty small group.  It ended up often being a competition instead of a workout.

The women weren’t worried about being the strongest.  They just wanted to be stronger.  They focused on pulling each other along.  They didn’t care who was the strongest.  They all wanted each other to be stronger.  They were competitive, but not in a negative way like the guys.

When I was in the military we had a lot of competition.  Most of it was healthy, some of it was not.  When it was healthy it went like this:  As a fighting force you are as strong as your weakest member.  So you encouraged the guy next to you to be successful because at some point your life might depend on it. You elevated yourself by making them better and in turn natural competitiveness would lead you to raise your game.  When it was unhealthy it was more like this:  You elevated yourself by bringing down those around you.  You didn’t get better, they got worse.

So ask yourself.  Do I want to be the strongest?  Or do I want to be stronger!  I personally think that when you choose to be stronger it’s more likely you’ll end up the strongest.

Weigh your Weights

by Thom Van Vleck

Have you ever weighed your weights?  You might be surprised.  Unless you are buying high end competition grade weights you need to understand that your weights could be off by not just ounces but several pounds!

Back in the day when you bought weights you had the choice of “Milled” and “Unmilled” weights.  Unmilled weights were cast iron right from the mold.  Milled weights had been milled, or had some metal removed, until the weight was exact.  The Milled plates were generally much more expensive so for training the unmilled plates were often bought and used.  It was common to check those plates as you knew they were off when you bought them.

The Jackson Weightlifting Club had both.  York sets that were competition grade and a Jackson set as well.  On each you can see the rings and swirls in the metal where the milling had taken place.  We also had some old Iron Man weights that were listed at 50lbs but one set was 57.5lbs while another was 47.5lbs.  Since they were the same style and all 4 plates looked the same we painted them different colors because if you loaded the lighter plates on one side of the bar you could find yourself 20lbs heavier on one end and 10lbs off overall.

So these days you don’t see “milled” and “unmilled” plates but don’t assume what you have is exact.  I blame cheap overseas manufactures but many cheap barbell plates are off the mark.  While they aren’t as bad as the Iron Man plates I mentioned above I have found 45lb plates off 3lbs in either direction.  Smaller plates are off as well but not as much.

So you might want to take the time to check the weight of your weights.  Who knows, maybe you have a new personal best and you didn’t even know it!

Exercise is the Best Medicine

by Thom Van Vleck

When I was a kid I hung out with my grandparents often.  I probably spent more time with my grandfather than I did my father.  I noticed many things about them.

One in particular was my grandmother took a lot of medications.  Many of them were for physical health issues.  Just as many were for mental health issues with the focus being depression.  Let’s just say it was pretty bad.  She would often cry, focus on the negatives, and in generally seemed miserable most of the time.

I also noticed that my grandfather did NOT take many medications.  He did not have many health issues and later in life when it did it was because he was hit by a car.  He was very positive and he was in a great mood most of them time.  I can honestly say I never saw him lose his temper, cuss, nor complain.  He wasn’t perfect.  He could be incredibly stubborn.  But in general he was one of the least depressed people I knew.

This made them quite the pair in many ways.  Looking at their family history I can say that depression was a common theme on my grandmother’s side.  My grandfather’s side not a much.  So there may have been a genetic predisposition for it.  But I am not going to focus on the things that cannot be controlled.  There was a major difference between the two that I think played a big factor in why one was depressed and the other was not.

That difference was exercise.

My grandfather worked out almost constantly.  He also incorporated exercise into work.  If he had to shovel something he would do 5 scoops to the right and 5 to the left.  I went with him on the mail truck and every stop he would do jumping jacks or push ups.  He would even do isometrics withe the steering wheel or set up a board to do calf raises at his work bench.  I never once heard him complain about work or exercise.  I’m not saying he loved it but he certainly didn’t hate it.

My grandmother was the model of efficiency.  In other words she would figure out the way to get the most done with the least amount of effort.  She was NOT lazy.  She just saw no point to exercise.  Anything that required effort was loathed by her and she complained the entire time she had to put forth effort.  Again, she was not lazy.  She did piece work in a factory and made good money because she was fast.  It was just that when she did anything that required effort all she did was look forward to the next break.

There are dozens of studies telling you what may seem like common sense to many of us who workout regularly.  That is exercise prevents depression.  I know many times I have thought to myself, “I need a good workout” and when I did it I felt better.  The fact is science is showing more and more evidence that this is the case.

When I first came to work at the medical school as the counselor I started an exercise program.  At first my boss thought I was doing it because it was my “hobby” but the reality is I did it to promote mental health.  I knew that if we could set up fast, efficient workout programs with trainers to help motivate the students in a fun but challenging atmosphere those that did it would be better off mentally.  That club, the Osteoblasters, has become the 2nd largest club on campus and we program 7-9 workouts a week that equals over 250 individual workouts.  Fitness was only a sub-goal.

Too often when people get down or depressed the first thought is to see a doctor and get medication.  There is a time and a place for that but it is often overused.  What people really need is a good workout program and to make the time to do it!  To me, taking anti-depressants without working out would be like taking supplements without working out.  There may be some benefit but not nearly as much as if someone were working out and taking supplements!

So fight the blues with a good workout!

 

Variations on the Press

by Thom Van Vleck

I have written about the Press several times before.  My Uncle Wayne Jackson loved doing the Olympic Clean and Press.  As a matter of fact, when they dropped the lift Wayne never competed again in an Olympic lifting contest.  He eventually did 370lbs out of the rack.  I also saw him strict press 330lbs out of the rack.

So wait a minute, you say.  I thought you said he pressed 370?  Well, he did.  Here’s the thing.  The way I was taught there were three variations of the Press.  This is not to be confused with the USAWA rules for pressing movements.  I am listing these to make a point regarding training, not setting a record.

1.  The Push Press.  With the weight racked on the collar bone and you would then dip with knees and hips and then extend to drive the weight overhead while finishing pressing out with only the shoulders and arms with no recovery (rebending the knees or it was then a push jerk). A very quick movement that might slow down at the finish.

2.  The Strict Press.  You held the weight racked on the collar bone and with NO knee bend or drive with anything other than the shoulders and arms you would press the weight overhead.  A very slow and methodical movement if you are using near max weights.

3.  The Olympic Press. Similar to the Push press but with no knee bend.  However, hip drive would be employed to get a “heave” off the chest after sinking with the weight once it was across the collar bone.  Of course the reason the Olympic press was dropped was it started out as a strict press then the rules were relaxed to the point it became more of a push press and impossible to judge.  My Uncle became so proficient at the sinking or “slumping” and the hip drive he actually could Olympic Press as much as he could Push Press!

Over the years I have used all three in my training.  I think most people have used the Push press and the strict press but not many have used the Olympic Press.  I would guess most would simply say that Olympic press was a cheating press or a poor push press and not see any additional value in the Olympic press.

It is my opinion that the Olympic press helps develop hip drive.  It makes you really focus on engaging the hips and I think that’s really important not only in weightlifting but in many athletic events as well.  Mastering that small range of motion can add to a power clean, to a fast baseball pitch, and maybe most importantly to throwing events such as the shot put, discus, highland games and others.

Be sure and focus on the hip drive!  When I’m done training these I can really feel the fatigue in my hips.  A “pro tip” from my Uncle Wayne was he said when he would get set to press he would focus on flexing his glutes hard.

Give it a try and see what you think.  Let me know!

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