by Thom Van Vleck

Thom Van Vleck overhead pressing with one hand a 110 pound anvil. By looking at this picture it is easy to imagine the consequences if something "goes wrong" and the anvil slips out of Thom's open grip and falls on Thom's head. My advice is to always train a new lift before attempting max poundages and leave crazy strongman stunts like this to the professionals. (photo and caption courtesy of the webmaster Al Myers)

In this article I will detail what I see as the biggest mistakes I see new guys make as they enter into the world of the USAWA.  Others might have an opinion and I”m not saying that I am right about this being “the” biggest mistake….but I think everyone would agree this can be a problem.

I entered my first “odd lift” meet 30 years ago, and since then I have been to many USAWA meets as well as all kinds of strongman, highland games, powerlifting and Olympic lifting meets.  I have also done over 200 strongman performances.  During that time I have seen guys witness a lift or feat of strength for the first time and say, “Can I try that”.  They then try something they have never done before and go 100% in the effort.  That, in my opinion, is a BIG MISTAKE!  Sure, most of the time you’ll be OK, but it’s that one time that will end a season, or worse, a lifting career.

Recently, a friend of mine was in a strongman contest that included a steel bar bend.  He sent me a video of his effort….that resulted in a  muscle tear that he is now getting surgery for.  He was trying to bend it behind his neck and dropped his elbows and ended up in a a position like someone trying to close a “pec deck” machine.  Having bent literally hundreds of steel bars in various shapes, I cringed as soon as I saw it and soon enough he dropped the bar and winced in pain!  He had never bent a steel bar before and had no plan on how he was going to bend it.  I bend them all the time in our strongman shows and practiced this many times before ever doing it in front of a crowd or a contest where the pressure is on to go all out.

The nature of the USAWA makes it the “worst” for this kind of mistake.  Other sports have a much more limited “range” of lifts which means they get practiced much more often.  You can’t train hundreds of lifts, you can only have a strategy to train all around strength.  I know Al Myers often trains one pressing movement, one pulling type movement, and one squat type, constantly mixing the specific lifts up.  I also know Al will train a particular lift until he knows exactly how to do it and exactly how much he can expect to do on it before he enters a meet.   I’m not sure if he was always a smart lifter, or if he became one as a result of many injuries (that’s how I got smart), or both.  But I do know Al is a smart lifter who knows exactly what his ranges are come contest day.  He not only knows this for safety reasons, but for strategy as well!

How often have you seen someone make a lift they have never tried before, say, “that was easy”, then say, “Throw on a couple 45’s” and then be buried by it!  It’s the nature of many of these lifts.  At best, it’s embarrassing, at worst, you get seriously hurt.  My point is that you NEVER want to go right to a maximal effort the first time.  The USAWA is full of fun, new, exciting….and dangerous….lifts.  But they are only dangerous when you don’t know what you are doing!   Take the time to learn the lift, warm up plenty, practice the lift before the meet, and pick your poundages wisely!  Live to lift another day!  Listen to the old timers….they are still lifting for a reason!