Author Archives: Thom Van Vleck

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!

Ringing the Weights

by Thom Van Vleck

When I was a kid my Uncles and their friends were lifting competitively and going to Olympic lifting contests, Odd lift meets (Pre USAWA), and even a couple of Powerlifting meets.  I remember going out to the gym and listening to the clanging of the weights.  Often they would not put collars on or put them on tightly and this would allow the plates to “rattle” or clang.

Have you ever heard of “ringing” an Anvil.  A high quality anvil has a “ring” to it when you strike it with a hammer.  As a matter of fact I have a tradition in my own gym that if you have a good workout you “Ring” Grandpa Jackson’s Anvil before leaving.  It’s a personal tradition but my youngest son that currently trains with me does it as well.

I don’t know if it’s true or not but I once heard that barbells were called that because they would “ring” when you struck them.  While this may not be true I can offer a little evidence for it.  There was a British poet named Joseph Addison that lived from 1979 to 1719.  He once wrote that he lifted weights an hour every morning and his family knew not to disturb him when he was “ringing” the weights.

I have also wondered why the call a “dumbbell” a dumb bell.  I know the earliest dumbbells often looked like an old style phone hand set (Halteres) and also two cones attached at the points with the grip in the middle before they evolved into the the modern dumbbell that had a balanced handle between two even spheres (regardless the shape of the ends).  Did the old weights “ring” when the would bring them together?  Was that an early sound in gyms that there was a ringing of these weights and when the modern dumbbell came along they didn’t have this rings so they were called dumbbells?  Makes me wonder.

I’m sure someone more well versed in history might have an opinion but I would say that I think I’m right.  People used to “ring the weights” when training.  To this day I enjoy keeping the metal plates loose on a heavy squat and listening to that rattle as I step in and out of the squat rack.  I just sounds like weightlifting to me!

So ring some weights!

The Priority for the Master Lifter

by Thom Van Vleck

Recently I got to visit with a college friend.  We went to college in the 80’s and he had dated my wife’s roommate and they married.  While his wife and mine had kept in touch, I had not seen him in a couple decades.  He had played football in college and then become a Physical Education teacher as well as a high school football and wrestling coach.

As our wives caught up we talked about our lifting and training as he obviously was still in great shape.  He made a comment that really caught my attention.

He said, “Ya know what?  I still lift pretty close to what I could 20 years ago but I don’t go heavy any more.  Seems like I can hurt myself just by trying to lift my hardest.  I was benching the other day and thought it felt easy so I threw some more weight on and the next thing I know I pull my pec! I probably won’t be able to bench for months!”

 

Then there was this comment from Olympic Gold medalist Adam Nelson.

“The same groin pull that would put me out for 5 days at age 25 will now put me out 5 weeks at 40″.

So what’s the point?  When we are young we are mentally WEAKER than our bodies.  We strive to push our bodies and really we can’t often hurt ourselves doing that when we are young.  As we get older we become mentally STRONGER than our bodies and we can literally hurt ourselves in the simple act of working out.

Couple that with the fact that when we do get hurt we take exponentially longer to heal as we age then the priority for the master lifter isn’t getting stronger.  It’s avoiding injury.  Sure, you want to get stronger but the things we did when we were young now take a back seat to staying healthy.

Think about it, if you trained really hard for a couple weeks then injured yourself and was out 6 weeks would you have been better off to train a little easier for a solid 8 weeks.  So for the master lifter the focus should first be avoiding injury and when you get injured healing up.  You will find yourself much better off in the long run.  This doesn’t mean take it easy, it just means to be smart!

The Dreaded “Participation” Award

by Thom Van Vleck

Every so often I have this same conversation with Al Myers and Chad Ullom.  Since Al and I are pretty conservative and Chad went to the University of Kansas (the liberal bastion of the midwest) Chad likes to make fun of the fact that Al and I give out participation awards.  The way Chad sees it is that as conservative guys we should believe in “you get what you earn” and that “only winners get awards”.   This goes all the way to how they don’t keep scores in youth sports then everyone gets a trophy at the end of the season.  “Everyone is a winner” mentality that some think is leading to the downfall of America.

Now I’m picking on Chad a bit.  He’s not really that liberal…at least for a guy that went to KU!  But I think he does see it as contradictory that Al and I would believe in the idea you get what you earn then turn around and hand out awards to everyone.  The reality is I DON’T HAND OUT AWARDS TO EVERYONE! I never will!  You do get what you earn.  I also believe in keeping score, winners AND losers, and competition is healthy in all aspects of life.

So how do I believe in all those things and hand out awards to seemingly everyone that comes to my meets?  Here’s how I look at it.  When I went to boot camp we started with over 80 in my platoon.  We ended up graduating 66.  We lost almost 20 guys!  They got booted out along the way.  Some flat out quit, some got booted for not being good enough, I know blew out his knee and was saying he might not recover enough to come back.  In the end those that completed the task won the prize:  The honor of being called a United States Marine!

We also had a “Top Marine” award.  The award went to the guy that did the best.  We had a guy Levier.  He was the “Honorman” and his award was a meritorious promotion to Lance Corporal, a plaque, and a set of dress blues.  At that time you didn’t get dress blues out of bootcamp.  You had to buy your own unless you were assigned to a position where wearing the dress blues was part of your job, like and embassy guard.  So it was a pretty nice award.

The point is you had the “Overall” winner who was number one getting the top prize.  Then you had those that passed the test.  They had worked hard and accomplished what others didn’t dare to do or were unable to do for whatever reason.  They were all awarded the title of “Marine”.  I guess that’s how I feel about those that do what others won’t.  They go to the gym, work hard, then have the guts to sign the dotted line and then show up and put it all out there for everyone to see.  I would never give an award to someone who didn’t show up (and yes, I had someone ask for an award that didn’t show…..seemed to think his entry fee entitled him).  I also only give out ONE award that says “First Place” on it.  You better earn it by beating someone.  A few years back I had only one person show up for a class.  They wanted the first place award I had already made for that group…..NO WAY.  Sorry, but you didn’t win because you didn’t beat anyone. So make fun of me if you want.  I will continue to award those that choose to succeed.

Now, I’m going to take this one step further.  I think we have become a nation so obsessed with winning and being number one being the only acceptable outcome we are becoming a nation of drop outs or “never even tried’s”. I recently talked to someone who runs the amateur and pro strongman meets in the USA.  She told me that the number of women competitors has quadrupled in the past few years and she thinks eventually there will be more women than men competing in Strongman.  What are we going to do when that happens?  Change the name to “Strongwoman”?

The reason she gave is one I think is completely true.  She said that guys come in and if they can’t win, they won’t try.  They also fear embarrassment and if there’s one event that will make them look bad they won’t try.  The women, on the other hand, are ready, willing and able to risk failure for the chance at success.  They haven’t been indoctrinated to believe that winning is the only thing in live.  Personal success is their focus.  They check their ego’s at the door.

So, there you have it.  I hand out awards to everyone that completes the task.  You win when you work hard and finish the game regardless of who else showed up and how they did that particular day.    I have a lot of admiration for the guy that sets several Personal Bests over the guy that “mails it in” and wins.  So,  the only participation awards I hand out are those that participated in being successful.

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