Strength Through Variety (Part 3)

(Webmaster comment: The following is part of an interesting article written by All-Rounder John McKean several years ago. John has won many All-Round National and World Championships in his weight class, and has written articles for Muscular Development, Hardgainer, Strength and Health, Ironman, Powerlifting USA, and MILO)

by John McKean

John McKean squatting 530 pounds for a Pennsylvania State Record in 1980. This was done at the Great Lakes Championships in Erie, Pennsylvania in the 148# weight class. John's best competition squat was 555 pounds - before the age of super squat suits!!

“All you need in life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure!” stated beloved storyteller Mark Twain. In his famous tongue-in-cheek manner, Twain may have unwittingly provided one of the biggest truths in strength training. For if, as lifters, we envision great success with a highly personalized, unique training pattern, and let our enthusiasm run rampant in its employment, we usually achieve stellar results. Yet, often such a self-styled program is never attempted if those ever-present “experts” are consulted.

Looking back, I suppose my own powerlifting career, which peaked about twenty years ago, could definitely be described as “ignorant yet confident”. Due to a particular fondness for squatting, I naively assumed that some serious specialization on this lift, sustained drive to excel, and very concentrated effort in the gym would allow me to outdo most competitors. Emphasizing mostly brutal, ever-heavier single attempts in training, I actually did manage to establish many local and state records, topping out at 530- and 550-pound bests in the lightweight and middleweight divisions. Heck, it was no real surprise to discover from magazine polls back then that my lifts were even listed among the top ten in the nation for several years. Only later did the shocking truth reveal itself – with my light bone structure (6” wrists), overly long thigh bones, use of neither drugs or supportive gear, and unsophisticated training methods, there was “no possibility” of becoming even mediocre in this event. Man, was I fortunate that nobody told me until it was too late.

My history has provided firsthand education of the absolute value of using a limited program of extremely heavy singles in order to approach one’s maximum power potential. When constantly knocking heads with tiptop poundages, many physical disadvantages can be placed on the back burner. Yet in modern strength literature, noted “authorities” constantly belittle the value of “ones”. Where, I’ve often wondered, did these hardheads come up with the ridiculous “testing strength vs. training for strength” theory which is used so frequently to knock the use of near-limit singles? In actual application, I’ve never seen just such a short, intelligent program fail anybody.

Perhaps many of us master competitors lucked out by starting our training in an age when strength was king – all major bodybuilding and weightlifting moves were keyed toward low-rep, heavy poundages. In the “good old days” we maxed out on everything all the time – and loved it. Our Iron Game heroes, now legends in the sport, regularly utilized short, basic programs which always culminated in several heavy singles. Interestingly, when the renowned Bulgarian national weightlifting team was asked how they developed their “revolutionary” training concept of singling out on all lifts every session, they replied, “from studying the old system of the Americans which we read about in the magazines of the fifties and sixties.”

So, with the advent of modern all-round competition, many of us enthusiastic older trainees already had a tried and true system which easily enabled as many as twenty lifts per week to be worked. Yep, those blessed singles allowed us to spread our energy around while still training with super intensity. Only now, with all-round’s vast array of maneuvers (over 150 lifts which can be contested), we find ourselves using fewer singles per move but making better gains in total body power than ever before, despite our ages being in the forties, fifties and sixties.

A real mental key to deploying a “singles” training schedule is simply to eliminate that word in favor of “a lift”. A near-max lift is certainly about as intense as effort as can be done, yet that low, low number still bothers some. Too many strength trainees today have been constantly brainwashed to the “more is better” concept, even within the context of a set. But, after all, what is a set of, say, eight reps? Simply seven warmups finalized by one tough rep (though with a sub-par poundage compared to a truly heavy single). Why not conserve time and energy by doing a lift with perhaps 40% more weight in the first place?

Strength Through Variety (Part 2)

(Webmaster comment: The following is part of an interesting article written by All-Rounder John McKean several years ago. John has won many All-Round National and World Championships in his weight class, and has written articles for Muscular Development, Hardgainer, Strength and Health, Ironman, Powerlifting USA, and MILO)

by John McKean

John McKean demonstrating the Jefferson Lift, which is also known as the Straddle Deadlift.

A brief look at weightlifting’s history will quickly show that many of the above-mentioned lifts were the basis of meets during the 1900-1930 era. Rare was it when an early contest didn’t feature a one-arm snatch, dumbell swing, or the amazing bent-press (yes, it’s once again being given its due – number 48 on our all-round list). Extensive record lists on about 50 events were kept in the US and Great Britain prior to 1940, with other informal local listings recorded in both countries during the sixties and seventies.

When serious interest once again picked up, officials from the two lands met in 1987 to write a constitution and promote the new-to-many concept of all-round competition. When these modern day founding fathers established the up to date rules and regulations, they insisted on pure body dynamics to do the lifting – no super suits or supportive gear, no wraps, and absolutely no drugs.

About now, I’m certain many will question the feasibility of training limit poundages on 10-20 big lifts at a time. Doesn’t this go against the grain of current advice to avoid long routines? No. In fact, the real beauty of our all-round sessions is that we’re actually forced to restrict quality training time on each individual lift to an absolute minimum. The necessity of these ultra-abbreviated strength routines has taught us how to reach maximum intensity for handling true top weights more often than ever before.

Although there’s a wide range of effective schedules used by our present crop of all-rounders, and highly specialized methods for handling some of our more unique lifts, here’s a sample training procedure used by 12 of us at the Ambridge VFW Barbell Club, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Essentially, we’ve achieved phenomenal progress over the past five years by doing single repetitions on each of about 6 exercises per workout. We switch lifts every day of our three weekly sessions so that a total of 18 moves are given a short, high-intensity burst once a week. After a special non-weight warmup (more on this later) we do just 3 singles per exercise, best characterized as heavy, heavier, and heaviest. The last attempt is usually fairly close to a limit. And, because this quick, brutal style of training seems to fuel our mental competitive aggression, we always feel motivated to try to up that poundage each week.

Sure, this is heavy stuff. Yet in all our collective time with all-round training, none of us has ever felt even slightly burned out, suffered serious injury, or even felt overly tired from a workout (contests are something else, however). It seems when gains keep coming as rapidly as they have, lifts are always being rotated, and workouts are over before we have a chance of even getting mentally fatigued, our sport always stays fresh, exciting, and ever challenging. After all, how hard can it be to perform a workout of only 18 reps? (Better wait to answer till you actually experience this unique form of intensity and variety).

Most all-round movements are complex by nature and work the entire body at once. Each exercise serves as a supplement to the others, so there’s absolutely no need to waste extra time on assistance exercises. This is also a big reason why we get away with training any particular lift but once a week; all muscle groups are pushed totally each training day, no matter what combination of exercises is employed. After all, why should we bother with, say, the highly overrated and widely overused bench press – very one dimensional when compared to the whole-body functioning of all-round’s dynamic pullover and push.

How well does all-round training serve the average person? Let me offer two rather extreme examples. On a novice level would be my 13-year old son Robbie. Beginning when he was 10, Robbie found immediate pleasure over his rapid strength gains. Thanks to the wide variety of moves and abbreviated training (yes, I put him on heavy singles immediately, despite dire warnings I’ve read by “experts”), he never experienced much muscle soreness nor ever any boredom with his quick workouts. In three years he has gained fifty pounds of muscle (puberty helped), tripled his strength, and has established fifty world records in the pre-teen division.

Recently, while on the way to winning his third consecutive title at 1992’s national championship in Boston, this 165-pound “little boy” performed a show-stopping hand and thigh (short range deadlift). I’ve never seen another youngster of this age who could match Rob’s grip strength to do a 250-pound one-arm deadlift, or the neck power to equal his 300-pound head harness lift. But early in his training, Robbie perceptively put me straight on what this sport is all about. Telling him to follow me downstairs to begin “exercising” one day, he firmly replied, “Dad, I don’t exercise, I lift.”

On the other end of the spectrum is longtime powerlifting and weightlifting competitor, 65-year old Art Montini. As is the case with all of us master lifters, Art discovered that no form of training or competition is as much fun as all-round lifting. Montini never misses one of these exciting workouts and seems to heft new personal bests each time he sets foot in a gym. Who says you stop gaining beyond 35? Art’s name is all over the current record book and he’s never failed to win the outstanding master award at any of our national meets. Seeing the agile oldster deftly upend a 300-pound barbell, twist and stoop to shoulder it then easily squat in the complicated Steinborn lift, or perform his mind-boggling 1,800-pound hip lift would convince anyone that Art drinks gallons daily from the fountain of youth.

Strength Through Variety (Part 1)

(Webmasters comment: The following is part of an interesting article written by All-Rounder John McKean several years ago. John has won many All-Round National and World Championships in his weight class, and has written articles for Muscular Development, Hardgainer, Strength and Health, Ironman, Powerlifting USA, and MILO)

by John McKean

John McKean demonstrating the Pullover and Push with a thick handle, old style barbell. The Pullover and Push was done by old time strongmen before the days of the Bench Press.

Competition can certainly bring out the beast in you. An almost fanatical drive to excel, improve, and outdo the other guy always yields an unmatched training intensity. Yet even the most diehard lifter occasionally finds himself bored stiff with the same old squat, bench press, snatch or jerk, workout after workout. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to find the incentive to add this competitive fire to shoot for maximum poundages on a lot of movements rather than just a few? How would you like the challenge offered by a huge variety of exercises which can instill tremendous total body power?

Well . . . welcome to the wonderful world of all-round weightlifting.

Simply put, all-round weightlifting consists of almost anything but the powerlifts or two Olympic lifts. In our IAWA (International All-Round Weightlifting Association) meets we perform many recognizable events such as dumbell and barbell presses, strict and cheat curls, hack lifts, leg presses, pullovers, weighted situps, etc. Also contested are forerunners of modern weightlifting which include one-arm snatches, one-arm clean and jerks, push presses, continental cleans and snatches, and jerks behind the neck. Early powerlifting forms are represented by the straddle lift, lying pullover and push, front squat, stiff-legged deadlift, and Steinborn maneuver. And a few ultra-heavy harness events, favored by old-time professional strongmen, are employed via the hip lift, hand and thigh, and back lift.

Lest any potential all-round trainee be intimidated by this awesome variety, let me be quick to explain that never are our listed 150-plus lifts all included in one contest. Generally, for a major contest, 8-10 of the more popular lifts are done over two days. For instance, the 1992 US National meet held in Boston, Massachusetts, featured the neck lift, Jefferson, continental snatch, press behind neck, pullover and push, Zercher, Steinborn, hip lift, hand and thigh, and one-hand deadlift. Local meets usually offer 3-5 movements or are “record days” where a competitor can select his own choice of lifts for record purposes. A few times, however, zealous promoters have posted lists of 15-20 lifts for grueling two-day affairs – believe me, a total body-numbing experience.

Ben Edwards

by Al Myers

Ben Edwards performing a One Handed Thumbless Grip Deadlift of 230 pounds at the 2009 Dino Gym Record Day. Ben's best One handed Thumbless Grip Deadlift is 250 pounds, which is one of the best in the USAWA Record List.

Ben Edwards, the winner of the latest Quiz of the Week, has announced he intends to host an USAWA grip competition. There has not been a grip competition in the USAWA since Kevin Fulton hosted the annual Super Grip Challenges.  Ben has been a “grip specialist” and has competed in numerous grip competitions over the past several years.  He also holds several grip records in the USAWA. He has expanded his lifting to training all the all-round lifts and competed in this past year’s National Championships.  Ben intends to enter more all-round meets in the future.  The USAWA needs more energetic, young lifters like Ben Edwards!!!!

Top 5 All-Time One-Handed Thumbless Grip Deadlifts in the USAWA

1.  266 pounds   Mike McBride
2.  254 pounds   Tom Ryan
3.  250 pounds   Ben Edwards
4.  230 pounds   Al Myers
5.  225 pounds   Matt Graham

Ben Edward’s wins Quiz of Week

by Al Myers

The winner of this week’s quiz is  Ben Edwards, of Lawrence, Kansas.  He correctly identified the two USAWA lifters that have  lifted the Dinnie Stones as Frank Ciavattone, of Walpole Massachusetts,  and Kevin Fulton of Litchfield, Nebraska.

Frank Ciavattone lifting both Dinnie Stones in September, 1996

The Dinnie Stones are still located near their original place in front of the Potarch Hotel –  which is next to the Potarch Bridge that the River Dee runs under. They are located close to Aberdeen, Scotland.  They were originally weighed at 435 pounds and 340 pounds (for a total weight of 775#), but since have been reweighed by Gordon Dinnie in 1998 at 413 pounds and 321 pounds (a total weight of 734 pounds).

Kevin Fulton lifting both Dinnie Stones in October, 2001.

Donald Dinnie is said to have picked up both of these stones (at the same time) and walked the width of the Potarch Bridge – a distance close to 17 feet!!!

For a complete listing of those of have lifted the Dinnie Stones – Click Here

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