Tag Archives: All-Round Weightlifting

Round Up Training

By John McKean

John Grimek performing a one arm overhead lift at the old York Barbell Club.

John Grimek performing an one arm overhead lift at the old York Barbell Club.

Surprisingly, the fabled super human did not squash me like a bug, spit in my direction, or merely ignore an insignificant little nobody like me! At the time I was a wide eyed college student witnessing the parade of Iron Game icons who were milling about at one of the famous York Barbell Club picnics at Hoffman’s wooded Brookside Park. Brushing my right shoulder, John Grimek and his wife casually strolled by, causing an instant,massive lump to clog my throat! Best I could think to do was croak out a meek “Hi, John!” The mighty Grimek, huge arms in full display in a cut sleeve t-shirt, merely extended his hand in warm greeting and genuinely replied ” Hey, great to see you! How’s your training coming along?” Then he started gabbing  as if we’d been long time buddies and avid training partners! Naturally a crowd quickly built around our discussion, amid other queries from the group, when it occurred to me to ask about a point made in a recent issue of John’s MD magazine.

Questioning him about a very interesting, unique arm building article (written by Mr Universe, Tom Sansone), where the major premise was always to keep training time short by constantly CHANGING bi/tri exercises every workout, I was wondering if John himself shared that author’s conviction.” Oh,yes, ABSOLUTELY” emphasized John, “especially if you desire to greatly increase STRENGTH as well!” That statement shocked and puzzled me, as I’d assumed that one had to labor through a movement for quite a while in order to reach decent poundage. Only much later in life did I come to realize that this all-knowing lifting guru had provided the quintessential KEY to much of his  own fabled super strength, and gave a glimpse  to the brilliance he acquired from instinctual power work during his youth.

Of course, VARIETY is also the essence of ALL-ROUND competition ,which I’ve been involved with exclusively for the past 3 decades.( In fact, John Grimek was our first inductee to the USAWA Hall of Fame!) However, for most of that time it’s been a struggle to include a fairly good range of official lifts (we have nearly 200 events!)into workouts without spending entire days in the gym. So, to chase Grimek’s lead , I read “between the lines” in accounts of his earliest training ; seems he followed a basic,constant pattern in standard ,heavy exercises, but usually ended with a single massive effort on some odd strength feat. Never much in favor of “sets/reps”, he’d just extend one big all-out push,pull,partial, or hold. And,of course, ALWAYS experimenting with something new, unusual, or differant.

Now, it occurred to me, some 50 years since I first marveled over Grimek’s sage advice , that I can save time in the gym, yet train a bigger variety of lifts more effectively if I only tweek John’s essential power building KEY a bit. Simply, I needed  to start with a  moderately loaded barbell, build up weight in increments (such as 20 pounds each set), and perform a semi-challenging LIFT that will “FIT” each differant poundage. For example, the other day I began with a fairly heavy curl, added 2 ten pound plates, did a single bent arm pullover off the floor, then an increment up for a row. Twenty more pounds for an easy one arm deadlift. And on up (lots of ten pound plates laying there!) through subsequent singles for a hack lift, Ciavattone pull, heels together deadlift, Jefferson (or straddle), 12″ base deadlift, 2 bars deadlift, and finish with our heavy Kennedy lift .Yep, an eleven “event” total, great variety,decent strength output (mostly along similar “off the floor” lines),and ,most importantly, no multiple set drudgery or boredom at all! Heck, I thought I was competing in one of the USAWA’s exciting “record day” events (in itself, a form of this training system)! At the rather fast  termination to the workout, in fact, my mind& mood were as “pumped” as my legs and back were!

Next workout, if I don’t decide to change the list completely, I’ll merely add 5 pounds to the initial lift in that sequence,which,of course, puts an additional nickel on EVERY lift. Advancement will continue until some weak link in the chain becomes a “partial”; there’s never such a thing as a “miss” -max effort is always a BUILDER ! Besides, no lift stays stuck for long, as each in the series tends to boost and strengthen all others!

My training partner, 88 year old (!!) USAWA patriarch Art Montini, has been following his own version (Art’s  well thought out plans feature 28 lifts, not done all at once, but 7  lifts per session, alternating each workout) of this “Round-Up”  for years with considerable success. Art recently won (again!) the IAWA World Championships in Scotland, and is second all time on our national record list with over 400 current marks in various age and weight divisions. His brief, variety enhanced workouts begin at 4 AM, EVERY morning, finish quickly before 5, then has him bounding through the day with unbelievable vigor !

Want the strength of Grimek and the longevity of Montini? Forget all useless, time robbing set/rep systems and “Round-Up” for an instant power surge, vastly increased energy, and all-round versatility!


Accepting the Aging Process

by Thom Van Vleck

None of these guys are showing any sign of aging any time soon! This "unretouched" photo shows that lifting keeps you youthful! Joe Garcia, Chad Ullom, Al Myers, LaVerne Myers, and Thom Van Vleck getting ready to down Cheese Steak Sandwichs in Philadelphia before the Heavy Event Nationals!

I have said it before, the USAWA sometimes seems like a retirement sport for lifters.   The organization has it’s fair share of older lifters and I think it’s great.  I don’t think it has anything to do with it being an organization for older lifters but everything to do with the wide variety of lifts available to the lifters.  This allows those who have injuries that keep them from Powerlifting, Olympic lifting, or strongman meets to stay active and still make gains.

I have known Joe for at least 25 years, Al and Chad for 17 years, and have really gotten to know LaVerne that last 5 years.  We have all had long lifting careers and our fair share of injuries.  And yet, in the photo above we don’t seem to have a SINGLE grey hair…at least in our beards….that PROVES lifting keeps you young!

In particular, I have known Al through having his bicep reattached not once, but TWICE on his right arm a ONCE on his left.  Yet he continues to plug away breaking record after record.  Had he stuck to just powerlifting or just Highland games, that would have been difficult to do.   So that’s a second reason the USAWA is popular among older lifters, they can keep setting records and that keeps them motivated to lift hard.

Many of you know, but maybe a few don’t, that Al was a high ranked Professional Highland Games Athlete.  He even held a Pro world record!  That’s no easy feat!  It’s actually how I met him and not through my affiliation with Bill Clark and Bob Burtzloff (Al’s brother in law).  That was just one of those “small world” deals that we found out later.   There was a time when Al “retired” from throwing.  I was personally pretty sad about this because I had enjoyed our many road trips to Highland Games.  Al told me one time it was hard to stay motivated about throwing when he knew he’d peaked in that sport and would likely never be as good a thrower as he was when he was at his prime.  However, in the USAWA he could still find lifts that he could work on and set not only USAWA records in, but personal bests, too.  And that keeps a guy motivated about his training when he feels he can keep setting “personal bests”!

Now, the photo above, to be honest, was “retouched” just a little.  Al recently dyed….errrrr…I mean “highlighted” his beard because when he grew it back after a long absence (Al used to sport a beard for most of the early years I knew him) it had gotten a little grey…..OK, let’s be honest, it was as snow white as Santa’s beard!   So Al “highlighted” it a little and we gave him a hard time about it.  But seriously, Al is an ageless wonder and I have no doubt that someday he will challenge Art Montini, Dennis Habecker, and the other top record holders for most records ever.

USAWA is a sport that keeps you young at heart!

John O’Brien: Part 2

John O'Brien "blowing up" a pop can using his incredible grip in one of our JWC evangelism shows!

by Thom Van Vleck

I will continue my story on my friend and strength athlete John O’Brien.

In part one I ended with John coming to one of our strongman evangelism shows.  John approached us about joining our team.  We are always happy when guys want to join us, but we also want to make sure they are in it for the right reasons.  Now, I’ve NEVER turned down anyone that wants to join us, but I also want to make sure guys know that it’s not “all about physical strength” but a real Christian ministry effort.  We don’t “show off” we “share” our God given talents for strength for God’s glory.

I invited John out the the JWC gym to meet with him about his desire to join the evangelism team.  John had this amazing and wonderful story about his son, Xavier (who recently became an Eagle scout!).  He talked about how he had drifted away from God and Church and that science had, in essence, become his religion.  He came to believe that science could answer any question about life.  Then along came Xavier.  He was born at 23 weeks (normal is 40 weeks!) and weighed 1lb and 4oz at birth.  His weight actually dropped to 15oz….LESS THAN A POUND!

The doctors told John that Xavier had a 25% chance to live and a 5% chance of being normal.  It was touch and go and things were tough emotionally for John and his wife Andrea.  But it was a moment when John realized that science did not hold all the answers and surrendered himself to a higher power.  Xavier began to improve to the amazement of all.  John credits God for Xavier’s progress and recovery and what a recovery it was and continues to be!  He is a top scholar in school, he looks like a normal teen in every way,  and he’s a mature, tough, likable young man that we are all proud of.

It was at that meeting that I knew John was a special man, not just in strength, but in all the ways that make a man a real man in my book.  John became a core member of the JWC Strongman evangelism team and we have had many great shows together which now number in the hundreds and I hope we have many more to come!  We have even traveled to the Arnold Expo in Columbus, Ohio where we met Arnold himself (a story unto itself!) and got to perform for hundreds.  If there’s any question to John’s “go time” attitude regarding his strength, it was at this show John drove a nail deeply into his hand during a tough bend and he not only finished the bend, he taped up and performed the rest of the weekend.

John is a world class bender.  Another core member of our group is Brett Kerby.  Brett was already a world class bender and John took a keen interest in it.  With Brett’s tutelage, John soon became the master!  It was funny that later he commented that Brett was not a very big guy and surely if he could do it, then John thought he could, too.  That’s John’s attitude about a lot of things….if you can do it….he can, too!   Brett and John have pushed each other to greater heights than they probably would have ever done alone.

John approached bending like he does most everything he does….obsessively….my kind of guy!   He began to bend all the time.  He told me a story that his division head at Truman State, where he teaches, came to him and said he had to stop bending in labs….because the students were afraid to come up to him as he bent 60 penny nail after nail and threw them in a pile.  He bent his first red nail in one of our shows.  I got the crowd all worked up and he had 60 seconds….he bent it in about 15 seconds…making it almost anti-climatic!  His best bends to date are the 4.5″ Red Nail (5/16th cold rolled steel), 7″ X 5/16th grade 5 bolt, and a 4.5″ X 1/4″ grade 8 bolt.  He also bends horseshoes and wrenches in our shows.

John is a good friend.  His recent accomplishment merited an update on an earlier article and I’m sure that there’s plenty more to come from him.  If the USAWA version of Old time Strongman catches on, I think John will be a top contender!

John O’Brien: A TRUE All-Round athlete

John O'Brien in a photo that decorates the Dino Gym showing an Ironmind Red Nail that John hammered shut for Big Al's amusement.

by Thom Van Vleck

John O’Brien has been my training partner, member of the JWC, and most of all, friend, for many years now.  When I think of what an All-Round athlete is, I think of John.  He is good, maybe a better word would be “great” at everything strength related.  I have written about him before but I’m hoping to add to what you already know about him and make the case for him being a TRUE All-Rounder.

He has competed in a strongman contests and Olympic lifting meets and placed or won his class in many contests.  He has competed in Highland Games and always places high.  He has competed in the USAWA with great success in about a dozen meets and has a couple dozen records to his credit.  Not to mention he is a world class short steel bender and performing professional strongman with over one hundred performances under his belt.  That, to me, it a true All-Round athlete!

John started lifting around the age of 13.  His older brother had a weight set at home and then at age 15 he started lifting for sports on programs set up by his coaches.  John mainly played baseball until high school and then he made up for lost time.  He played football (varsity for three years), wrestling, baseball, and track.  He said that he was best at football and baseball, but played the other sports so he could have access to the weight room year around.  He also mentioned maybe watching the girls run in track was a bonus!  Funny how many of us start lifting to impress girls!

John played on a football team in high school that had a dubious distinction.  They lost every game his junior and senior year!  The losing streak became so long that David Letterman started to track in on his show and when they finally won (long after John had left) they had some of the team members fly out to New York to be on the show.  John was a lineman and played both ways, he also played a couple years of college ball at Graceland College.

Then John entered graduate school at the University of Kansas to become the Chemistry Professor he is now at Truman State in Kirksville.  I was around this time that his oldest son was born very premature and lifting ended up being sacrificed for many years.  Then about 8 or so years ago John was very overweight and decided to do something about it.

John was training hard and lost 50lbs in the process.  There were a couple of students that were entering my JWC Strongman contest and they challenged John to enter, John told me they “teased” him and for them…..that was a bad idea!  John not only entered that contest….he won his weight class and rather decisively as I recall.

John had strength, but he is also very athletic, able to adjust to events on the fly.  He will tell you he operates off of “brute” strength, but I say it’s more than that.  He has an intelligent strength that is also athletic.  If strongman contests did not divulge the events, my money would be on John.   Recently, we were at Al’s Dino Gym where there is something called the “pill”.  A giant pill shaped metal object loaded with sand.  John spotted it, walked over and hoisted it…becoming the oldest person to do it (at age 42)….but more than that, what impressed me was his ability to lift it without much planning or practice, or even warm up!!!!  He walked up, sized it up, then lifted it!  That’s more than brute strength.

John said after that first JWC contest he began to only train for strength, beginning a  lifting career in his mid 30’s….when most guys are quitting!  Since that time, he has competed in Olympic lifting, Strongman, USAWA, Highland Games, and most recently, Highlander meets.  John has done well in all and is a two time masters National Champ in Highlander.  More importantly, that first contest was how we met and our friendship began and most of these contests were events we traveled to and/or competed in together!

Another aspect of our relationship started right after that first Strongman Contest that John entered and won.  The next day the JWC was doing a strongman evangelism show at the local YMCA.  I noticed John was in the front row.  He told me later he watched us and thought, “I can do those things” but more than that, he believed in the REASON we were doing them.  Which I will go into in Part 2 of my article!

Next:  Part 2 of “John O’Brien: True All-Round Athlete”.

Heart of America Festival – Day 2

(Webmasters note: This is a reprint of the meet report covering the Heart of America Festival that occurred in August 1963 as published by the oldtime lifting magazine, the Lifting News. Dale Friesz passed this along to me to share, which characterizes one of the early-days All-Round Weightlifting Meets. Dale’s brother, Leonard, is included in the results as he was a member of the Columbia Athletic Club at the time. Our very own Bill Clark served as Meet Director, Head Judge, and Meet Reporter. He also competed! Past meets such as these are the reason why Bill organized All-Round Weightlifting into the USAWA. You will recognize several of the “meet stars” as they are legends in All-Round Weightlifting today. The meet was a two day affair, so I will divide the story into two parts, one covering each day. Enjoy!)

by Bill Clark

On the second day the squat and dead lift marks of Saturday are used and four other events are added to test a man’s back, endurance and will power.  The front squat opens the second day and Miller was very unhappy with his 390 front squat.  Wachholz made 385 and Friesz 380.  The Jefferson lift was next and Wachholz almost caught the lanky Kansas wheat farmer.  Miller did a straddle with 650, but Wachholz surpassed him on bodyweight with a 640 and moved within range with two lifts remaining.  Paul was able to make “only” 600 in the hack lift, but Miller endured with a 650 effort.  In the Zercher lift, Miller made 425 while Wachholz was good for only 365.   The meet was Miller’s once again.  This time with a total of 3320 and 2148 points.  Wachholz was close behind with 3020 pounds and 2072 points.  Your writer was third and felt happy with a mediocre performance after not working out more than five times since February.  He squatted 470 cold, made a 530 dead lift, front squatted 320, straddled up 560, hacked only 500 (has done 600) and Zerchered just 420 – 40 pounds under tops.  This was the meet he had planned to make a 600 squat, but baseball took care of that boast.  Maybe next year.  Too much umpiring this year and not enough time in the gym.

Lifter Squat Front Sq Deadlift Hack Zerch Strad Total Points
Miller 530 390 675 650 425 650 3320 2148
Wachholz 455 385 585 600 365 640 3020 2072
Clark 470 320 530 500 420 560 2800 1817
Friesz 445 380 490 450 385 475 2625 1790
Hahn 400 320 475 475 385 475 2530 1771
Hamilton 280 205 420 420 315 440 2080 1714
Witt 470 295 525 315 335 500 2400 1596
McPheeters 375 475 500
Lewellen 385 500 500
B. Fellows 420 315

Meet Director:  Bill Clark

Officials:  Bill Clark, Don Wickell, Ed Zercher

The question here, then, is how these two great lifters rank with strong men of the past.  Surely, in two days, few men of this size have ever lifted more.  To dead lift 675, hack 650 and straddle 650 along with the others is a phenomenal performance, and Wachholz was superb.  His 640 straddle must rank with the best.

These men are not goons, as power lifters have often been called.  Wachholz has done over 800 as a mid-heavy in the Olympic lifts and won the 100 yard dash, final event of the meet, in an amazing time of 11.3 seconds, running on asphalt in tennis shoes after a hard day on the platform.  Wachholz also throws the discus well over 160 feet and has a beautiful frame, placing high in every physique contest he enters.  He’s married and has two children.  He works in a bank and travels thousands of miles a year to meets. (No relation between his work and his ability to travel).  The marks he set at the Power Festival were all personal records.  In addition, he entered several of the side contests and won them.  He was best in the bench press with 315 pounds and did a stiffarm pullover with 110.

Miller was impressive as always.  He stands 6’3″, and weighs 235.  In high school he was a top miler and turned down a track scholarship at Kansas University after finishing his senior year at Ensign (Kansas) High School.  In his final high school race, he covered the mile in 4:33.6 and wound up third behind two great runners – Wes Santee, who later ran the mile in 4:00.2 and was America’s greatest miler until barred by the AAU for excessive expense money – and Billy Tidwell, a half-miler who represented the U.S. on many international fields.  Miller has done 930 in the Olympic Lifts and was second in the Junior Nationals this year.  He won one other event in the Power Festival, doing an abdominal raise with 105 pounds.  When the meet was over, a side bet came to pass concerning Wilbur’s ability to lift cars.  He promptly picked up the rear end of a Volkswagon, engine and all, and held it a foot off the ground.  He made the lift from the normal deadlift position.

Ed Zercher Sr., an old-timer who has moved enough weight to kill an elephant in his forty years on the platform, refereed all the lifts and branded Miller and Wachholz as two mighty strong youngsters.  He pointed out that their lifting was different from that in the old days when bars were not machined, but allowed the pair could have held their own with many of the greats.  Zercher, at 56, proved to be a horse even yet.  He took 600 pounds on his feet, and without any supporting devices, made 10 reps and held his balance perfectly in the leg press.  He then built a Roman Chair all by himself with 235 pounds balanced on his feet: 145 pounds in his hands and 130 pound Art Tarwater sitting astride the chair doing presses with 100 pounds.  When Tarwater lost his balance, Zercher held the chair steady – much to the amazement of the onlookers.

This meet was held in a shelter house the first evening and on the grass under a large shade tree the second day.  People driving through the park would stop and watch the lifting until they grew tired.  The crowd changed many times and townspeople still talk about the show they say in the park – for no charge.  It seems until someone comes up with a better performance, this must go down as one of the greatest ever.

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