Author Archives: Thom Van Vleck

Training for the Older Lifter

By Thom Van Vleck

Thom Van Vleck and his brother Tedd who is over 11 years younger.  Over the years we have talked a lot about training but our age difference has meant we follow different programs.  Age makes a difference in how you train!

Thom Van Vleck and his brother Tedd who is over 11 years younger. Over the years we have talked a lot about training but our age difference has meant we follow different programs. Age makes a difference in how you train!

Shot Put Gold medalist Adam Nelson told me, “Most training programs are designed for a younger athlete and older athletes need to train differently”.

I would say training programs need to be adjusted over the life span.   When I turned 40 I told my Uncle it seemed like when I was a teen I could work out hard every day.  Then at 30 I needed a day to recuperate from soreness.  Then at 40 it seemed to take a week to get past a heavy duty squat workout soreness.  My Uncle, who was pushing 60 and still training very hard said, Thom, I’ve been sore for the last 15 years!”.  I laughed but he was serious!  He said, “If I waited until I felt 100% I’d never workout again”.

So the body doesn’t recuperate as well.

Then there is injury which is different than recuperation.  I remember being young and pulling a muscle or straining a tendon and it recovering very quickly.  Now things stay hurt longer and some things just continue to hurt even after they have healed.  I tore my hamstring many years ago and I will still “feel it” from time to time.

So injuries add up and then don’t heal a quickly (or ever!).  The reality is injury is what ends most lifters competitive careers.  Not age.

Finally, there’s the responsibility that comes with age.  I remember spending a lot of time as a teen lifting, reading about lifting, thinking about lifting, watching other lifters lifting….you get the idea.  I just don’t have that kind of time anymore.

So you don’t have the time as an older lifter.

So the older lifter has to think differently.  They have to be smarter with the lifts they train, manage their time, and stay injury free.  If they get injured they need to address the injury and be less likely to “train through the injury”.

So for me it’s the “Three Keys” for the older lifter.

1.  Facilitating Recuperation

2.  Avoiding Injury

3.  Managing time

So how do you facilitate recuperation, avoid injury, and manage time to achieve the goal of being strong?

Let’s think about adaptation.  Lifting is really adapting to heavier loads.  Younger lifters can adapt faster than older lifters.  Thus it is often beneficial to change up lifts for a younger lifter.  Simply put, they adapt faster.  So that means the older the lifter, the slower they adapt.

The thought is as a younger lifter you need to change up lifts and avoid getting “stale” which is the body resisting adaptation.  So the older lifter needs to work the same lift for a longer period of time.  By doing the same lifts longer they would avoid injury.  Sure there’s a trade off but an older lifter will lose more time injured than the younger lifter so he need to avoid injury more than just gain strength.

Another thing the older lifter can do is find a happy medium for the poundage being lifted in training.  It is ingrained in every strength athlete to lift more and more weight.  They don’t refer to weightlifting as progressive resistance for nothing.  But for the older lifter there needs to be a limit.  I believe that should be around 75% of one’s max and keep the reps explosive and low at 3 sets of 3.  This will allow you to walk that line between getting stronger (or just keeping strength) and injury.  You will also stay in a good groove avoiding squeezing out reps that lead to poor form and injury.

The next concept sounds counter to what I’ve just said but think about it first.  The older lifter needs to lift 3 to 5 days a week.  Essentially, more often than a younger lifter.  But it’s the way the lifter trains (doing 75% instead of higher percentages, the same lifts more often, and walking away rather than crawling away) that makes this lifting scheme work.  To be clear, I’m talking about doing the SAME lifts every workout, not a split routine. So you end up lifting less volume but doing it more often.  This scheme also helps you manage time by keeping you in the training hall more often but for less time.  I also believe by training lifts more often you need less time to stretch, warm up, and all that.  Because you are essentially staying in a lifting groove.  Your body is ready every day to train.

I think a final benefit of following this program is I am enjoying my training more than I have in years.  I don’t crawl out of the gym and don’t avoid stairs for three days.  The hard part is that I often hit a very good set and in the past that’s when it was “go time” to load up the bar and do something REALLY heavy.  Now I simply walk away or move to the next lift.  But that means I’m ready to go again in the next day or two.

So here’s some basic points:

  • Lift for 3 days a week 45 minutes max duration
  • 3 sets of 3 reps on average with a 6 rep max
  • 5-10 minutes foam rolling and dynamic stretching
  • Same workout everyday as the philosophy is master’s throwers don’t adapt as quickly
  • 75% of max and if a consistent tempo can’t be maintained then drop the weight. Lose the ego!

The type of lifts that give you the biggest bang for your buck (lift smarter, remember!)

  1. Hip Hinge Pattern Movements (i.e. Power Snatches, Cleans, Deadlifts).
  2. Unilateral/Bilateral Squat Movement (i.e. Squats, lunges) followed by Post Activation Potentiation (PAP) such as broad jumps, vertical jumps, sprints.
  3. Pushes (i.e. explosive type pressing movements) followed by shoulder prehab work.
  4. Core work (2 or 3 weighted core exercised for 6-10 reps which may include decline crunches, standing bar twists, handing leg raises).
  5. Competition lifts:  Work them in but focus on the technique and stay at 75% until competition day.  Going heavy too much in training just means more injury.

Dumbbell to Shoulder

by Thom Van Vleck

A great photo of Al doing the DB to the Shoulder

A great photo of Al doing the DB to the Shoulder

 

As we get ready for the OTSM Championships to be held by Eric Todd (see the upcoming events section) I thought it might be good to go over the events as a review.  Today I’m looking at the Dumbbell to Shoulder lift.  A bit of history on this event was the Dumbbell to the shoulder was a lift from the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis.  This was really a one handed dumbbell clean and really didn’t fit the criteria for an OTSM lift.  So it was switched up to be a two hands “anyhow” type of lift.  I think it’s a really unique lift and one my favorites in the OTSM line up (and not just because I came up with it!).

Dumbbell to Shoulder – A Dumbbell will be taken from the floor to the shoulder using any method the lifter wants to employ. The dumbbell may be lifted with two hands, continental style, may be rested on the belt during the lift, by any part of the dumbbell. Hands may grip the plates, bar, collars or any part of the dumbbell. Any size plate may be loaded onto the dumbbell.The lift is completed when the lifter is standing upright, with the dumbbell resting on the shoulder, and the lifter demonstrating control. Both hands may remain on the dumbbell to complete the lift, or with one hand or both hands off the dumbbell. Time limit of 1 minute is given to complete the lift. An official will give a command to end the lift.

Come out the the OTSM meet and check it out.  Check the record book as I think this lift is pretty wide open in many categories for a record!  See you then.

Let’s Review: The Kennedy Lift

by Thom Van Vleck

Al Myers doing a Kennedy Lift.

Al Myers doing a Kennedy Lift.

With the Old Time Strongman Championships coming up September 9th at ET’s House of Iron and Stone I thought it might be a good time to review the lifts.  Eric Todd picked 4 lifts from the OTSM list.  Today let’s revisit one of those, the Kennedy Lift. First of all Al Myers did a great article on it’s history.  Here’s a link to it: Kennedy Lift

So the rules are as follows:

H9. Kennedy Lift

This is a partial lift using a straddle stance on the bar, where the bar height must not be over 18” from the platform (measured to the bottom of the bar). The plates or bar may be supported on stands, rack supports, or blocks to obtain this height. The lifter must have the bar between the legs, as defined by the rules of the Jefferson Lift. Lifting straps or any other gripping aid is not allowed. It is NOT an infraction to drag the bar up the legs, bounce the bar up the legs, or support the bar on the legs during the lift (hitching). A one minute time limit is allowed for the lifter to make a legal lift, during which time a lifter may make multiple tries. Once the lifter is totally upright and the bar motionless, an official will give the command to end the lift.

Al sums this lift up nicely when he said, “I envision the technique to be very similar to how most lift the Dinnie Stones, using a straddle style.”  The lift is very much a “Continental” version of a partial Jefferson (or Straddle) deadlift.  In that it can be bounced, drug, up or “hitched”

If you want to see the current records here is a list:

AGE M/F CLASS RECORD LIFTER
14 M 80 500 Kressly, Logan
45 M 110 750 Myers, Al
45 M 125+ 500 Foster, Lance
50 M 125+ 365 Foster, Lance
55 M 70 405 Freides, Steve
60 M 80 325 Santangelo, Stephen
60 M 95 675 Traub, Larry
60 M 100 315 Garcia, Joe
60 M 129 525 Glasgow, Dave
65 M 80 405 McKean, John
70 M 90 225 Habecker, Denny
70 M 125 400 Ross, Dean
80 M 80 225 Durante, Richard
80 M 105 315 Clark, Bill
ALL M 70 405 Freides, Steve
ALL M 80 500 Kressly, Logan
ALL M 90 225 Habecker, Denny
ALL M 95 675 Traub, Larry
ALL M 100 315 Garcia, Joe
ALL M 105 315 Clark, Bill
ALL M 110 750 Myers, Al
ALL M 120 525 Glasgow, Dave
ALL M 125 400 Ross, Dean
ALL M 125+ 550 Kressly, Doug

As you can see this is a great opportunity to be added to the record list.  I hope to see you there!

The Husafell Stone

Thom Van Vleck by Pastor Snorri's goat pens in Iceland

Thom Van Vleck by Pastor Snorri’s goat pens in Iceland

By Thom Van Vleck

I recently took a trip to Iceland for a Highland Games competition.  While there I went to take a try at the Husafell Stone.  The Husafell Stone is a lifting stone of 409lbs located near Husafell, Iceland.  I think it’s history is well recorded in other better articles and most strength fans know of it so I wanted to focus on my day with the Husafell Stone.

I had been in Iceland for nearly two weeks.  I had competed in the Masters World Championships of Highland Games in Hafnarfjordur, Iceland for two days and then circled the entire island.  I had saved the Husafell for the last day so if I did try and lift it and I got hurt then it wouldn’t ruin the entire vacation!  Most of all I just wanted to visit an stone that I had heard and read about for the past 25 years that has been lifted by some of the greatest strength athletes of all time.

So that last day Michelle and I drove up a valley called Reykholtsdalur.  It is a valley sparsely populated now but historically a very significant area.  As we went along we stopped at various places and visited ancient settlements and new ones that span a 1000 years of Iceland history.  As we drove East houses became more and more sparse and the country more rugged.  I had an image in my mind of mountains and a distant glacier with a mountain stream nearby with waterfalls. I pictured very few trees and lots and lots of rocks.  The final location of the stone did not disappoint.  It didn’t hurt that we had great weather.  It was about 60 degrees and sunny.

One of the three Challenges is to set the stone on a corner of the pen.

One of the three Challenges is to set the stone on a corner of the pen.

As we pulled up I immediately saw the goat pens where the stone was located.  I parked nearby and stepped outside.  Michelle walked with me to the pens and even though there were no shortage of huge rocks lying around I immediately knew which one was the pen slab!

As I stopped and looked at it lying on the ground I could see traces of lifting chalk and maybe a little tacky.  On the ground it was not that imposing. It is basalt and basalt is a very dense stone which means it’s heavier than it looks!  It is a triangular, flat stone and very dark, almost black.  As I turned it on it’s side I found out how heavy it really was!

Michelle took some photos while I warmed up.  I lifted some smaller stones for practice.  I put on one of my oldest Jackson Weightlifting Club shirts. I also slipped on my trusty old belt that I’ve had for almost 30 years.  I was not as apprehensive as I thought I would be. I think I’m at an age where I feel comfortable with what I’ve done.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like to lose a battle.  I just felt a comfortable confidence.  I was honestly just happy to be there!

Michelle and I by Dettifoss.  It's the largest waterfall in Iceland and in all of Europe!

Michelle and I by Dettifoss. It’s the largest waterfall in Iceland and in all of Europe!

I went about the various challenges.  There were a few hikers that went by as there is a trail that heads up the nearby stream.  One came over to see what I was doing and watched a bit.  I felt a little embarrassed to be honest.  It was like a private moment.  Kind of like trying a personal best in the gym verses a lift in competitions with witnesses.  There’s a part of me that wanted this to be just me and the stone.

I spent a solid 2 hours there.  I met a lot of failure in the process.  Trying to figure out hand holds, dealing with some fatigue after 12 days on the road and going on hikes, and getting my 53 year old body to do what I wanted it to do.  In the end I felt successful.  Though I’m sure some might feel I didn’t do it “legit”.  I would compare any lifting I did to a “continental” versus a “clean”.  I was just happy to be there!

Iceland!

Iceland!

There was a moment I was just leaning against the pens and looking down the valley.  I had an unobstructed view.  Over my right shoulder were mountains, over my left was a distant glacier, to my left was the ravine filled with waterfalls that fed the nearby stream.  To my right was Husafell and the forest of evergreens that obscured it.  Directly in front of me was Pastor Snorri’s farm and a small Church.  It was very quiet.  The sun felt warm and the air crisp.  The only drawback was a few midges that felt it important to let you know they were there.  It was a good day to be alive.

Michelle and I walked over to the nearby Lutheran Church.  It was a small, stone Church with a small cemetery filled with birch trees stunted by the harshness of Iceland.  The Church was surprisingly open and we were able to go inside.  You could tell it was still an active Church.  The baptismal font, the communion cup, and the alter were roughly carved out of native stone.  It was a beautiful, simple place that made me feel as close to God as the most amazing Churches I’ve visited and believe me, I’ve been to some amazing pieces of architecture.

Finally it came time to go.  I was not sad.  I felt like my trip was a success and part of me would carry the moment with me forever.  So it’s not like I’ll ever really leave.  Lifting has given me and excuse to travel to some amazing places but I think the best  thing of all is it has fed my earthly spirit.    The next day my forearms were bruised and my back was stiff.  It felt great!

The “Dreaded Red X”

by Thom Van Vleck

Nobody was immune to getting the dreaded Red X from Bill. Even Al got one!

Nobody was immune to getting the dreaded Red X from Bill. Even Al got one!

My roots in the USAWA go way back.  My first meet was a 1979 “Odd Lift” meet put on by the founder of the USAWA, Bill Clark.  But before that my Uncles and their friends often lifted in Clark’s meets going back to the fifties. Clark founded the USAWA but he actually didn’t start the “Odd Lifts”.  That goes back to Ed Zercher, Sr who was a great lifter in the 30’s and after.  But even before Ed was in his first contest he had a buddy in his old neighborhood in St. Louis named John Wille. In the 1920’s they hung out in the same neighborhood and they did acrobatics, lifting whatever was available, and made make shift weights out of scrap metal.

Today we look to the internet.  The USAWA has a great website.  Al Myers does a lot of work to keep this thing going and having regular updates.  But for 50 years it was “Ol’ Clark”.  Bill was old school in an old school way that made a lot of old school stuff seem new!  He never touched a computer.  For 50 years he put out old fashioned newsletters.  For you young guys, that means he typed up the newsletter on a typewriter, then he copied the news letter (on a Mimeograph and later a copy machine), and he would put them in envelopes, actually lick the stamps (because they didn’t just stick on like they do now) and mail them to your actual mailbox (not the “mailbox” that your e-mail comes to).

I remember looking through all the old newsletters my Uncles had.  Reading about the lifts, the lifters, the meets and random thoughts (and sometimes rants) that Clark would have about steroids, improper judging, or whatever he thought was undermining the integrity of the sport.  If you sent him a letter, be careful, he’d put it in the newsletter!

He operated all this on a shoe string budget and his own sweat. He probably spent a lot of his own money.  But he did ask donations.  You could get the newsletter if you sent him even just a few bucks to pay for the stamps!  He would also include in almost every newsletter a little rant about “bucking up” and make jokes about not being a deadbeat.

He would have a list of people that gave money.  He would even put how much they gave.  I think to give credit to those who gave more than their fair share because they loved the sport.  Those that gave often really valued the information and back then there was no internet and finding out much of anything about weightlifting was about impossible).  He also would “Red X” the guys who hadn’t “paid up” for some time.  He would put what he called the “Dreaded Red X” on the front of your newsletter.  It kind of reminded me how teachers would mark up your papers with red ink when you got something wrong.  The funny part was he would often keep sending guys newsletters for a long time.  Especially so if he knew someone was on hard times.  Like my Uncle Wayne.  Clark could be really nice that way.

In some ways I think Ol’ Clark got vilified a bit for his “Red X” and other things he did when he would call out guys for not following established rules. He sometimes had a way of making a remark about it the next time you would see him to let you know his displeasure….one might even call it a snide remark.

But you know what.  Now that I’m older.  Now that I’ve been in the position of running organizations that get by on shoe string budgets and I’ve put in long hours to run highland games, strongman contests, lifting meets as well as three different weightlifting clubs (Jackson Weightlifting Club, Truman State Irondogs, and the A.T. Still University Osteoblasters) as well as other Church and community organizations that ONLY happen because the people involved reach in their pockets and pull out some cash that includes more than a few drops of sweat…..I get it.

That bring me to present day.  When Ol’ Clark ran that newsletter you saw the stamp.  You knew it cost money.  You knew the paper, the ink, the copies, and all that went into it cost money so I think it was easier to see how much all of it cost.  Well, now Al Myers stepped in and took it over some 8 years ago.  He created a website, then got a better one, and did a lot of work to keep it going and at what cost.  I bet a lot more than the stamps Ol’ Clark used.  At the least, I would say both men work (worked) equally hard.

So what can you do?  Send him a few hundred bucks!  Well, that would be nice but I think the best thing we could do as an organization is support the guys that make it happen.  Not just Al, but our officers, judges, etc.  We do this by following the rules, getting meet results to Al in a timely manner, make sure our meets are as legit as we can, write a good story for the meet results for the website, maybe send Al a good story or anecdote for the website (like how people would send Clark a letter) and he’d put in on the website.  Buy Al a beer, slap him on the back….heck, I bet a thanks would go a long way.

Otherwise, people like Bill and Al get burned out.  They love a sport and after awhile they feel unappreciated and frustrated and next thing you know…..well, let’s just try and do our part and keep the USAWA great.  It’s only as great as the people who run it and the people who are a part of it AND appreciate it!

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