by John McKean
“C’mon, little fella, do you really expect to warmup with US?!” The superheavies at an early 60s powerlifting meet had dominated one of the few olympic bars, and were not too keen to share their already heavily loaded squat rack with a barely 165#, dweeby out-of-towner. After all, they reasoned, it wasn’t their fault that the meet director had somehow assigned middleweights to the evening session; they sure didn’t want to waste energy breaking down the 455 they’d carefully built up. Since my opener out on the main platform was imminent, I had to use my charming personality and a bit of surprise to convince these rack hogs into giving me a break. Promising to take only one set, I requested they ADD a pair of 45s to the bar, and spot closely! Shocked into silence, the beefy group complied and stared blankly as I banged out 4 quick reps! Rushing to the contest stage soon after, I treated very strict judges to an easy district record, despite a hefty drop in poundage from the warmup room
However, in those pure power days of no super suits, no ultra compressing wraps, nor thick magnum belts, my “crazy” fast and heavy prep set was hardly superhuman – those reps were merely 4” QUARTER squats. Yet, as experience had taught, any sufficiently loaded partial lift not only races the ole adrenaline around, but also makes a regular, full movement exercise FEEL quite light! Perhaps as much MENTAL as physical, a monstrous overload still contracts and readies every portion of one’s body (even the brain awakens!), warming the entire musculature. Why, then, endure an energy-robbing process of excess light do-nothing sets?
Through ongoing experiments with the severe overload concept during my building years, I sought out a well known proponent with whom I had spoken to and corresponded – mighty Paul Anderson himself! It seems the World’s Strongest Man developed much of his phenomenal squatting poundage (1200+) by inserting magnum weight quarter squats in between sets of more normal full movement deep knee bends (if, indeed, 3 sets of 10 with a below parallel 800 # – no suit, wraps, nor drugs, can be considered “normal”!). Paul maintained that near limit partials only worked if one used them in direct conjunction with the actual lift that was intended to be strengthened. At that time, my competition squat had been absolutely stuck at 455, and knowing my gym mates would not appreciate two olympic bars being tied up, it was back to my home garage for four months! Of course, there was the obnoxious safety chains clanging around my 6′ exercise bar that had to be endured. I gutted out these supersets and constant loading/deloading without incident (you always have to be VERY aware with 5X+ bwt on quarter squats!). But rewards were great – during the next meet, a 500 pound state record was an easy opener!
These days my “Overload Warmup” (or “OW!”- a fitting name!) consists of our USAWA three official chain lifts – the hip lift, hand and thigh, and neck lift. Each can be seen and described on this website, in the rule book section. Easy to deploy in a garage gym, let’s just consider for now the “hand and thigh” lift. Most don’t own an official short handle and chain to do this lift, so simply rest a barbell in a power rack or on a quite high set of concrete blocks, such that it touches the upper thighs. Using an overhand grip, bury the fingers between the bar and your thighs (to LOCK them in) then just lean back slightly and stand up. Range of movement will only be ½ inch to 2 inches, and 4 to 6 reps will do the job, but will remind you why I’ve so named them (your fingers, traps, forearms, thighs, and everything else will scream “OW! OW! OW!”)!! START your workout with this movement, and any follow-up deadlift type will seem like a walk in the park! How heavy? Well, at 12 years old, my then 165 pound son Rob hefted an official pre teen world record 802 pounds that’s stood for 24 years now; more mature specialists often train with over 1100 pound hand and thighs.
Longtime friend Steve Schmidt, a hard working 5th generation farmer from Missouri, has specialized mostly on herculean chain lifts for many years now, as evidenced by massive, odd-angled scrap iron chunks and extremely thick harnesses which adorn his famous open air “chicken coop gym.” A soft spoken 215 pound USAWA competitor, Steve tops official all-round record charts with his 3515 pound harness lift, 3050# back lift, and 2520# hip lift, among others! Yet from this “OW!” training, he has always been able to enter meets which feature full movement lifts, and easily acquired “outstanding lifter” awards, even at the WORLD level (IAWA)! These days, over 60 years of age and very healthy, Steve has enjoyed exhibiting his chain and mouthpiece TEETH lifting; sometimes at fairs he’s pulled a full size 29 TON railroad car in this manner – the Guinness people love him! Even with all this heavy lifting success, Steve’s disciplined, dedicated farm work leaves little time to train; he recently told me that he merely does 5 relatively easy sets of 10 on a few chain lifts once per week (easy for HIM – his “light” warmup bar for hip lifts is a 1500 pound railroad train axle, and the harness platform STARTS at over 2500 !). A really cool book on his life and lifting is “Heart of Steel” on his website – www.steveschmidtmo.com
Got a spare corner in your garage? Set up a station or two for hip lifts, hand and thighs, neck lifts, or, heaven help ya, the teeth lift! Feel the power of “OW!” and watch poundage on all your other lifts skyrocket!And for exciting old time, super heavy, home gym training inspiration get a copy or subscription to USAWA meet promoter, Roger LaPointe’s exciting new monthly “Garage Gym Journal” (www.atomicathletic.com)