Author Archives: Ben Edwards

2″ Vertical Bar Training Tips

by Ben Edwards

This is Ben's record lift of 251 pounds in the One Hand Vertical Bar Deadlift done at the 2011 Dino Days Record Day last weekend. This is the new ALL TIME Vertical Bar Deadlift record in the USAWA, breaking the record held of 250 pounds by Andrew Durniat. At this same record day, Ben also did a 240 pound LEFT HANDED Vertical Bar Deadlift, which is the highest left handed mark as well! (photo and caption courtesy of webmaster)

I’m going to share a few tips that have helped me push my record in the 2″ vertical bar significantly higher in my weight class over the past few years. 

The key to this lift is obviously grip strength.  But a sometimes overlooked factor that makes a big difference in the amount of weight that can be lifted is the grip taken on the vertical bar at the start of the lift.   An over grip is the most efficient grip when performing the USAWA version of the 2” vertical bar.  That distinction is made because in other grip contests that I compete in – those that are not USAWA contests – a supinated grip is far more efficient in lifting maximal poundages for most people.   USAWA rules dictate that the weights attached to the vertical bar will be lifted to the required height and then held motionless until the judge gives the down command.   When a supinated grip is used the weights will rotate quite a bit and tend to spin right out of the hand essentially.  The supinated grip is best used to lift heavy weights over short distances – 2” is the minimum height needed to be a contest-legal lift in most non-USAWA grip contests.    An over grip prevents the rotation of the plates and is therefore much more efficient than lifting the weight and then expending energy trying to stop the rotation of the weights before getting the judge’s down signal.   A handshake grip will involve less rotation of the weights than the supinated grip.  But it isn’t as efficient as the over grip in preventing rotation of the weights. 

One simple rule I adhere to in my training is to attempt to do every lift in contest-legal form.  If I fail to perform the lift in contest-legal form I note that in my training log and set my goal for the next workout a little higher than what I achieved in the last workout.   I videotape all of my near-max attempts in training.  While resting for the next set – I review the video to make sure that I performed the lift in contest-legal form.  I also critique my form to make sure that I’m not wasting energy stopping the rotation of the plates (using an over grip usually means that I don’t worry about rotation of the plates) and that I’m pulling the vertical bar in the most direct up-and-down motion as possible.

So to summarize:

  • Use the over grip exclusively in training.

-It is the most efficient grip for the USAWA 2” vertical bar rules. 

  • Perform each lift in contest-legal form. 

-That way when you’re attempting to break a record you won’t have any accidental lapses in form – due to training with a loose style that doesn’t exactly match the contest-legal performance of the lift. 

  • Videotape each near-max attempt in training.

-Review the video to ensure that all of your near-max lifts are performed in contest-legal form so that you won’t have any surprises in a contest setting.

One Inch Vertical Bar

This was a 387 pound 1” vertical bar training lift (December of 2006) that was pulled a little higher than the (non-USAWA) standard grip contest minimum height requirement of 2 inches.  What the photo doesn’t show is that the weights were rotating from the time they left the floor until they touched down again.  Standard grip contests don’t require the rotation of the weights to be stopped – or a judge’s down signal.  These more relaxed rules allow significantly more weight to be lifted compared to the strict USAWA rules.  

Two Inch One Handed Vertical Bar Deadlift by Ben Edwards.

This was my event-winning 2” vertical bar lift from the 2011 USAWA National Grip Championships held at the Dino Gym in February.  You can clearly see the over grip being put to work.  It allowed me to pull the weights straight up – without worrying about having to stop the rotation of the plates – and then lower the weights straight down as quickly as possible after receiving the judge’s down signal. 

Minimizing the time spent holding the weight is of paramount importance in maximizing your poundage lifted.

Stop The Rotation To Jumpstart Gains

by Ben Edwards

A lot has been written about training with thick-handled dumbbells and there are many methods to help you reach your strength goals.
Your training will usually consist of attempts to either increase your max lift for a single deadlift, or occasionally doing reps to increase the amount of time that you’re holding onto the dumbbell.  Occasionally it’s a good idea to switch your training up and focus on a different training method for a while to see if you can get break through a training rut or plateau.
A technique that has helped me drastically increase my Inch loadable dumbbell max over the past month is to stop the rotation of the dumbbell while performing a deadlift.  This is not something new and I’ve read about it being used by several guys who are training to lift the Inch Replica.
There are several ways to stop the rotation of a dumbbell

  • Press a finger against the plates with your non-lifting hand and apply inward pressure so that the rotation of the plates is arrested.  I used this technique after a grip contest about 5 years ago and lifted an Inch Replica to a full deadlift.  At that time I was about 40lbs away from a legitimate lift of an Inch Replica, so it’s a remarkable training tool.

  • Loosen the plates (applies to a loadable only) until they rattle when lifted and that will significantly reduce the rotation of the dumbbell.  I usually get about 10lbs more when I do this.

  • If you have an Al Myers Inch (loadable) Trainer -Use a hollow tube to slide over one of the “horns” on the screw-on collar.  Hold onto the tube with your non-lifting hand and that will prevent the dumbbell from rotating when you lift it.  This will add anywhere from 5 to 20lbs to your best unassisted lift.  The following pictures show this technique in action.

This is the starting position. The dumbbell hasn't left the ground yet. The left hand is already stabilizing the hollow tube, which prevents the dumbbell handle from rotating in your hand during the lift.

About a month ago I dusted off my Al Myers Inch Trainer and worked up to a max (contest-legal) lift of 139lbs.  I struggle with the rotation of thick-handled dumbbells.  I’ve trained it about 6 times since that test day and I did a contest-legal deadlift with 152lbs this morning.  That’s an increase of 13lbs in a month.  Some of that was just being a bit “rusty” with my thick-handled dumbbell technique.  But a good portion of that increase I attribute mainly to my rotation-stopping training.  Only on the first day did I actually do an unassisted dumbbell lift (without the rotation-stopping tube) during training.  The 6 workouts since that test day have consisted primarily of a few warmup 2-handed pulls and 1-handed negatives with 140lbs, and then 3 to 5 attempts – utilizing the rotation-stopping bar – with 150 to 170lbs.
I hope anyone training to lift an Inch Replica will put these suggestions to use and achieve their goal quickly and efficiently.  I’ve got a long way to go before I’m strong enough to lift an Inch Replica.  But at least now I’m closer than I’ve ever been.

This is the finished position of the dumbbell deadlift. The left hand is still holding on to the hollow tube. At this point in the lift, you could either continue to use the rotation-stopping effect of the hollow tube while you lower the dumbbell to the ground under control, or you could pull the hollow tube off the "horn" of the collar and try to control the dumbbell on the way to the ground without the rotation-stopping benefit of the hollow tube.

About a month ago I dusted off my Al Myers Inch Trainer and worked up to a max (contest-legal) lift of 139lbs.  I struggle with the rotation of thick-handled dumbbells.  I’ve trained it about 6 times since that test day and I did a contest-legal deadlift with 152lbs this morning.  That’s an increase of 13lbs in a month.  Some of that was just being a bit “rusty” with my thick-handled dumbbell technique.  But a good portion of that increase I attribute mainly to my rotation-stopping training.  Only on the first day did I actually do an unassisted dumbbell lift (without the rotation-stopping tube) during training.  The 6 workouts since that test day have consisted primarily of a few warmup 2-handed pulls and 1-handed negatives with 140lbs, and then 3 to 5 attempts – utilizing the rotation-stopping bar – with 150 to 170lbs.
I hope anyone training to lift an Inch Replica will put these suggestions to use and achieve their goal quickly and efficiently.  I’ve got a long way to go before I’m strong enough to lift an Inch Replica.  But at least now I’m closer than I’ve ever been.

2010 Grip Challenge

by Ben Edwards

The 2010 Dino Grip Challenge started on time, as Al mentioned already, and it ended 3 hours later – which is an unofficial record as far as I know for grip contests. Most that I have competed in have been anywhere from 5 hours to nearly 8! A shorter contest is much more competitor-friendly and allows more time to do after-contest feats and record attempts. And more time to drive back to wherever the competitors call home.

Before listing who the competitors were, I want to mention the competitors who had planned on competing, but couldn’t make it for various reasons. Kevin Fulton, Mary McConnaughey, Nick Zinna, and Josh Dale. You were all sorely missed!

I’m going to list some thoughts and observations on each competitor, starting with 1st place and working my way to 8th place. The placings were age-adjusted and also used the Lynch formula, as is standard in USAWA competitions. I like the age adjustment and use of the Lynch formula in competitions because it lets many different ages and weights compete against each other on what I believe is fair footing.

1st Place: Andrew Durniat is fast becoming a legend in the grip strength world. His accomplishments are too numerous for this meet report. Simply put, he is the 2009 Grip Champion and the US Kettlebell Champion.

He stayed the night before the contest with me and my wife, Carrie. I really enjoyed getting to chat with him and pick his brain on everything that I had planned on asking him – and a few other things that popped into my head as we spoke. He’s very friendly, has a quiet demeanor, is extremely humble and generous with his time and help, and he pays close attention to the relevant details of anything relating to strength.

I expected a mindblowing performance from Andrew and was definitely not disappointed! He won every event except for the Deadlift – Fingers, Little. He went on to pull 25lbs over my event-winning performance on an extra record attempt! His loss in that event was only due to inexperience with choosing his attempts on a lift that he had never even attempted before the contest.

With all due respect to my fellow competitors, it quickly became apparent to me that this contest was really a case of who was going to be 2nd after Andrew! He won $100 cash for his 1st place finish!

Andrew did so many record-breaking lifts that it’s hard to pick the one that most impressed me. One that really strikes me as unbelievably strong is his 308lb Deadlift – No Thumb, One Arm! That lift was 33lbs over the previous all-time record that Al Myers and I co-owned. Andrew also pulled it to full lockout – in front of his body, which I always found to be harder than straddle style – and then paused it with plenty of strength to spare. Phenomenal lift!

Andrew is an incredible addition to the USAWA membership pool. He brings a passion for strength sports and a vast in-the-trenches knowledge of many training methodologies from his personal training experience. He also generously gave out some of his great personalized shirts after the meet. I love collecting shirts from contests and from strength friends, so thanks Andrew!

2nd Place: Larry Traub was an unknown to me. He turned out to be a “sleeper” in this competition. Someone who most competitors probably wouldn’t have predicted would get 2nd place since it was his first grip contest. It definitely wasn’t Larry’s first strength competition though! He is an elite powerlifter with terrific deadlifting strength. Larry put that hard-earned horsepower to work and plowed through some heavy lifts. Along the way he set many age-group and weight class records. Larry is in very good shape and Al can attest to the fact that I had no idea Larry was 56 years old. I was very surprised since I thought he was somewhere around 48-50 years old.

He was a joy to talk to and a quick learner on the grip lifts! His homemade wine that he generously set out as an after-contest refreshment was well received. I liked the picture of Larry and his wife on the label too. Larry won $50 cash for his 2nd place finish!

Larry’s 203lb Deadlift – No Thumb, One Arm was really an exceptional lift! His bodyweight was only 2lbs more than that. And it was his first time doing the lift! He has an incredible future in USAWA competitions.

3rd Place: I won 3rd place after age and bodyweight adjustments were calculated. My performances consistently netted me 2nd place in each event, sometimes tied with others, and one 1st place. My Deadlift – No Thumb, One Arm performance really let me down, but I was very pleased to pull 175lbs on the Deadlift – Fingers, Little. An attempt at 200lbs on that lift left me with a sore tendon for my effort. I forfeited the $50 cash prize to the 4th place finisher.

I enjoyed showing a few competitors with no experience with the Deadlift – Fingers, Little how to efficiently set their fingers on the bar and what to do with their other fingers and wrist position to maximize their poundage. I think I was the only one there that had consistently trained that lift. I needed all the experience I could get because Andrew and Chad pushed me all the way to the 3rd attempt.

4th Place: Chad Ullom is a great all-round lifter and Highland Games competitor who I’ve competed with before this contest. His hand strength on the Vertical Bar Deadlift – 1 bar, 2,” was much higher than he anticipated. And that’s an understatement! I heard him say that he might open with 120lbs. I told him that I estimated he would pull around the 200lb mark. He surprised himself by lifting an outstanding 212lbs on an extra record attempt! Someone coined the nickname, “Chad – I Don’t Train Grip – Ullom,” since Chad remarked during the first part of the contest that he doesn’t train grip. I think it rolls off the tongue nicely!

Chad is always very entertaining and quick to share tips or knowledge on any lift that he’s familiar with.

5th Place: LaVerne Myers is Al Myers’s dad. LaVerne (and Rudy!) has a great sense of humor and endured my wife’s comical remarks and catcalls throughout the 3 hours of competition. He has big, strong “farm hands.” I used to work for some farmers and they all had the same type of powerful hands that LaVerne has.

He had some really solid lifts but I was most impressed by his fantastic 6lb Weaver Stick – Forward! That performance (although LaVerne’s was an extra record attempt) tied Andrew’s event-winning performance!

6th Place: Dave Glasow performed very well and seemed to enjoy the grip lifts even though he had little experience with them. His 209lb Deadlift – No Thumb, One Arm was the 3rd highest (tied with Chad) of the contest! I wish I had more time to talk to Dave and Larry about lifting in general. They are both very knowledgeable and have a knack for picking up very quickly on any new lifts.

7th Place: Rudy Bletscher is incredibly nice and my wife had a great time teasing and harassing him throughout the contest. We both enjoy talking to Rudy and have seen him at several contests since 2005.

He always seems to perform better than he thinks he will. I enjoyed seeing him do some lifts that he didn’t think he was going to get initially. In particular, the Deadlift – Fingers, Little was one that he really had to grit through the discomfort to pull the solid 70lbs that he worked up to! He originally thought that the 44lb bar would be his max on this lift. He added quite a bit to that original estimate. During everyone’s attempts he good-naturedly teased me and asked why I picked this lift to be in the contest. I jokingly replied that it was because I hated everyone! I think some of the guys probably thought that was true, but of course it wasn’t. I just thought it would be a good test of pain tolerance and grip at the same time.

8th Place: Jason Payne is a friend of mine who is a very strong armwrestler. He hasn’t trained grip specifically for a long time and has lost a lot of weight, but gained a lot of fitness in the process. He’s always bull-strong regardless of how much he weighs. He was inexperienced with a few of the lifts, but quickly figured them out and dialed his form in for the next attempts.

His 176lb Deadlift – No Thumb, One Arm was very impressive since it was a lift he had never done before. It takes great balance and a strong grip to get that bar to come up evenly and then hold it at the top before the bar peels the fingers back and races back to the platform.

Jason really shined in the after-contest feats demonstration and record breaking session. He really excels at kettlebell feats and it was entertaining to watch him do flips and other exercises that required great control, strength, timing, and dexterity.

Meeting Bill Kazmaier

by Ben Edwards

Ben Edwards shaking hands with Bill Kazmaier

I’ve been fascinated by Bill Kazmaier since I was old enough to realize just how incredibly strong he was. I was only 8 when Kaz won his 3rd World’s Strongest Man contest. But even then it was quite apparent that he was almost superhuman in his strength and athletic abilities.

I found out on the KC Strongman forum that Kaz was going to be speaking in Parsons, Kansas on December 15th. I jumped at the chance to finally get to meet him! Got off early that day from work. I must’ve sounded like a star-struck kid when I explained to my supervisor who I was going to meet. Of course it also helped that Kaz is very well known among anyone who lifts weights. And luckily, my supervisor is definitely a guy who has spent time under the bar.

Ben "leaning" on Kaz for support

My wife offered to go with me, solely to take pictures of me with Kaz. That was a great offer, but I wanted to go alone so that if I embarrassed anyone – it would only be me. I was a nervous wreck by the time I got to the building where he was speaking. It didn’t really feel “real” until I got out of the car and walked by a big window where I saw Kaz standing in the middle of a room that was packed with people there to see him speak.

Good thing I hadn’t eaten very much before driving to Parsons. Because I puked right there in the grass outside the building! Puking might not have been such a bad thing because after that I felt much more relaxed than I had even on the 90-minute drive to Parsons. I mingled with the crowd and picked a spot near the back of the room – but one with an unimpeded view of Kaz – so I could take photographs while he spoke.

Kaz gave a great introduction to the youngsters in the audience who may not have known who he was. Most of the people in the crowd knew exactly who he was though. He was humble, genuine, friendly, charming, and the list goes on! I was extremely impressed with his 15-minute talk about the decline in the health and fitness of today’s youth. I don’t want to call it a “speech” because it didn’t seem rehearsed or like he was reading it from a cue card.

The event was ran in a very tasteful manner. There was no money exchanged before the speech, during the speech, or afterwards. Signing autographs was free, and the event staff even handed out free health and fitness items, such as pedometers and low-calorie cookbooks to anyone in the audience that wanted them.

I was second-to-last in line to get Kaz’s autograph. I already have four items signed by Kaz, thanks to my wife – who bought some items from Kaz on Ebay about 5 years ago and then asked him to sign them. One more signed item is always a good thing, so I brought up a photo that event staff was handing out to get it signed and add it to my collection.

Throughout his speech I took a good number of photos and got a few of him rolling up frying pans and then signing them and choosing someone from the audience to give them to. He also brought a few guys out of the audience and gave them a short lesson on how to roll the frying pan. Then he coached them through starting the bend to finishing it. It was really neat watching him really rooting for the guys he picked to come to the front with him! He was a true gentleman the entire time and even started the bend for one of the guys who couldn’t get it started. I also believe that he had several different types of frying pans, of varying difficulties, and that he specifically chose which frying pan to give to each guy – based on their physical appearance.

I was impressed that it wasn’t just a show about Bill Kazmaier. It was about helping someone else feel like a strongman in front of the audience (and their families) for a day. I didn’t volunteer to bend a frying pan, although I’m sure I could’ve bent anything he brought with him since I’ve bent a good number of them in the past few years. I reminded myself that it also wasn’t a show about what I could do. Everybody came to see Kaz perform and they were not disappointed!

By the time the line moved along and I made it up there to shake Kaz’s hand, I thought I had talked myself out of being nervous. Nothing could’ve been farther from the truth! I managed to shake his hand and say how glad I was to meet him. Then I froze up a bit when someone took our photo. All I could think to do was just lean on him awkwardly! He was a great sport and even has a friendly grin on his face in that picture. The photographer gently suggested that I just shake his hand on the next picture, haha! That turned out to be a much better picture than the first one.

Anyone who has seen Will Ferrell in the movie Talladega Nights will appreciate the first photo where I leaned on Kaz. I remember it was kind of like the scene where Will Ferrell is being interviewed on TV and he keeps saying “I don’t know what to do with my hands” – while his hands are inexplicably rising into the frame.

The drive home felt like no time at all. My mind was still racing even days later. One thing I didn’t mention is how solid his handshake was. That wasn’t a surprise of course. With forearms like his, I figure he could probably crush most normal hands. His hand was also as solid as a brick. My workouts since meeting him have been more intense because I know there is a lot more I can get out of this body.

For the record, I cleaned up my puke before driving home! It’s handy to have doggie-doo bags in your coat pocket.