Tag Archives: John McKean

The “OW!” Factor

by John McKean

My son Rob, when in elementary school, setting an 802# Hand and Thigh record at Howard's first Gold Cup. This record has stood for 24 years now!

My son Rob, when in elementary school, setting an 802# Hand and Thigh record at Howard’s first Gold Cup. This record has stood for 24 years now!

“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.

Steve Schmidt just after doing a 2300# Hip Lift at the Ambridge Nationals in 1991, in taking the open Best Lifter Award.

Steve Schmidt just after doing a 2300# Hip Lift at the Ambridge Nationals in 1991, in taking the open Best Lifter Award.

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)

Deadlift-Dumbbell, One Arm

by Al Myers

John McKean performing a One Arm Dumbbell Deadlift at the 2010 IAWA Gold Cup in Boston.

John McKean performing a One Arm Dumbbell Deadlift at the 2010 IAWA Gold Cup in Boston.

The third lift contested at the 2016 USAWA Grip Championships will be the Deadlift – Dumbbell, One Arm.  The name of this lift is pretty explanatory – it’s a deadlift using a dumbbell with the use of only one arm.  The choice of arm to use is up to you so pick the one you’re strongest with.  And remember you must stay with the arm you start with throughout all attempts.  I was once at at meet where a lifter tried to switch arms on his last attempt, and when told he couldn’t do that replied, “I was saving me strong arm for the hard lift!”.

The rules of the Deadlift – One Arm with barbell are followed by this lift.

E12. Deadlift – Dumbbell, One Arm

The rules of the Bar Deadlift – One arm apply except one dumbbell is used. The dumbbell may be placed to the side of the lifter or the lifter may straddle the dumbbell. The dumbbell may touch the lifter’s legs during and at the completion of the lift as long as the dumbbell is not supported by the body. If the dumbbell is loadable, the plates used may have a maximum diameter of 18 inches.

At the Grip Champs we will use a loadable dumbbell so we can add larger diameter plates.  The dumbbell handle will be a USAWA regulation handle.  For those unfamiliar with the rules of the One Arm Deadlift with bar, the main things to remember is to finish with straight legs, non-lifting hand removed from the body at finish, and center line of bar higher than the knees.  You do not need to be standing upright upon completion.  Once the lifter and implement is motionless, a down command will be given by the head official.

The One Rep Pump

by John McKean

Serge Reding

Serge Reding

Leaping very high into the air, toes pointed perfectly, crisp coordinated form, with pinpoint precision and speed, I’d have awarded a perfect score of “10” to the would-be ballerina!! Well, at least, to this 309 pound “ballerina” who possessed over 20” bulging, ballistic-powered calves!! You see, I’d just witnessed the phenomenal, densely muscled Serge Reding perform a textbook squat snatch with an extremely heavy barbell (he eventually snatched 402 pounds!) at the 1970 World Championships in Columbus, Ohio. He was obviously a pleased and happy man during this victory jump, and almost outdid the legendary Alexeev for the overall title!

My excitement was on a different level. Never had I seen such pure pulling power as developed by this 5’7” human tank. Nor anyone, anywhere so thickly muscled, as the obvious outcome of longtime pulling dedication! Heck, later, after that day’s lifting, a Mr. World, or some such physique event, was scheduled with featured competitors Olivia, Schwartzenegger, Columbu, etc. However, after being absolutely blown away by Serge Reding, I told my wife we were heading back home immediately (I had highly motivated TRAINING to do!) because NOBODY, no matter what titles held, could look as physically and functionally impressive as the Belgian Blockbuster!!

Upon further reading, it seems ole Serge also once deadlifted 771 pounds – with no training whatsoever on that lift! Hmmm, maybe I should have done more olympic lifting in my teens, rather than jumping right into powerlifting. Still, it proved then that it’s never too late to add a few pulling movements. But it was much later, as a master’s age lifter, that the wonderful world of all-round weightlifting competition (I.A.W.A.) provided a huge variety of on ground and off ground pulls. Events such as straddle lifts, hacks, continental cleans, hang snatches, single arm swings and various positioned one handed heaves, etc., etc., went a long way toward making up for a misspent youth!!

Yet it wasn’t until former U.S.A.W.A. President, Cleveland’s late, great Howard Prechtel, showed me a unique, relatively obscure lift favored by old timer Herman Goerner, that my old bod started to “feel” much how Serge Reding “looked”! That is, upon performing this platform-up pull, every muscle fiber and tendon went into serious tension mode; a rich feeling during the delightful strain suggesting my body was being turned inside out!

The pull in question is the two barbell deadlift. Yep, an olympic barbell at right and left, hook gripped and grabbed from the exact centers, then a slow, torturous stand up. Certainly, SLOW motion is a key due to balance issues, but the nature of the lift also supplies a sustained TOTAL BODY ISOMETRIC contraction of everything from toes to nose for support! I’ve long maintained that ALL max weight lifting works the musculature entirely, through the iso effect of holding heavy barbells, and that ONE heavy lift is superior to any long term scheme of sets & reps!! You’ll have to actually try a near limit two barbell deadlift to understand, but literally ONE rep yields a very efficient, entire body “flush”! (Please forgive the bodybuilding terms!! Yet just as Reding displayed, the ultimate form of “posing” is under the duress of crimson-faced struggling with something extremely heavy! His 21” arms certainly looked sufficiently “flexed” with the the eye-popping overhead pressing performance of an official 502 pounds! Check Youtube).

Why not go to an easier loading trap bar or 2 dumbbell deadlifts? Well, one can position himself far better with 2 moveable barbells to the sides; while a trap bar offers a fixed hold and seems so far more restricting. Personally, I can always achieve higher poundage with two barbells than a trap bar, or with clumsier dumbbells. Plus the grip work is intense, and it’s a genuine thrill to pull & hold TWO heavily loaded 7 foot bars!

These days, in early middle age (70!), I often think I could just live with the TBD alone as a complete exercise program, just working up to a top single. Yeah, a few other favorite contest exercises are still retained because there’s always all-round meets approaching, but none of those secondary movements provide that one rep “pump” instilled by the iso effect of hefting 2 big bars. I swear that the lift actually “irons out,” for the duration of supporting it, all the “old man body wrinkles” life has somehow given me!

Garage trainees, try some! You are certainly in a better place to load and pick up 2 parallel bars than in a commercial gym or even within the friendlier confines of a competition oriented “pit.” Trust me, you don’t want the unnecessary attention when devoting time to train this rather strange movement! Nor do you deserve the fearful stares as super effort 2 bar deadlifts threaten to explode your face and neck when all the hidden veins and tendons come springing forth!

Lifter of the Month – John McKean

by Al Myers

John McKean in action performing a trap bar deadlift at his recent record day.

John McKean in action performing a trap bar deadlift at his recent record day.

The lifter of the month for December is the long time Ambridge lifter, John McKean.  John celebrated his 70th birthday in December by hosting a record day at the Ambridge Barbell Club. In this meet John set several new USAWA and IAWA records to add to his lengthy record count.  John has been involved with the USAWA since practically the beginning.  He competed in York this past summer at the USAWA National Championships and assisted me with the announcing duties. He has been a consistent contributer to the USAWA website by submitting some very interesting stories.  John has been around weightlifting his entire life and is a joy to visit with because you will hear some almost unbelievable tales about past meets and lifters!

Congrats John!

John’s Birthday RD

by John McKean

John’s Birthday Record Day
Turning 70 -Easy as Apple pie !

John McKean enjoyed some homemade apple pie on his 70th birthday!

John McKean enjoyed some homemade apple pie on his 70th birthday!

Due to expected December snowstorms, I’d confided to Art Montini, “we’ll probably only have 2 lifters attending my birthday meet- you & me- and I might not be able to make it!!” But the weather looked more like Art’s October meet, than one held during Christmas week! Heck , if travel weather was to be a big factor, I’m still wondering how Dean Ross made an over 19 hour one-way drive to beat me to my own contest!!

Yep, Dean continues his quest to more & more records, and did superbly with an energetic 8 new marks, despite summoning even more energy in returning to the road immediately for the repeat 19+ hour drive and an 8AM start for work in the morning!! Next in was Stephen Santangelo, all the way from northern Kentucky, with a present of an absolutely wonderful, natural organic apple pie, which his lovely wife (and fantastic cook!!) Lori had baked for the occasion EVERYBODY dove into this tasty, nutritional treat – Denny Habecker arrived from across state and didn’t even pocket his keys or take off his coat before he was chowing down on a piece of this large pie!! Thanks, Lori, for such a great birthday gift – this “brunch” made the meet, for all of us!!

Next in came the Cleveland crowd – Scott Schmidt and his ever smiling wife, then Denny Mitchell and Flossy, all amazed at easy travel through our normal snow belt! Both Scott & Dennis enjoyed this chance at another record day, since Art’s meet right after the World’s had left little training prep time in October. As Scott cheerfully exclaimed. “Wow, it’s so cool that we actually have another shot at records, with real training time behind it!”

Old Art Montini did a single lift with each of 5 lifts, acquiring an easy new 5 world records. And Stephen Santangelo treated us to a rarely seen “Saxon Snatch”, among others, with his specially built (and approved) equipment.

We all left the gym at a little past noon, despite all the chalk dust we had left flying! Outside it was bright sun and blue skies, and warming, with clear roads for travel. Now that it’s all over and done,” let it snow!!” Merry Christmas, all !


John’s 70th Birthday Records Day
Ambridge VFW Barbell Club
Duss Ave  Ambridge, PA
Dec 20, 2015

Officials (3-official system used: Denny Habecker, Scott Schmidt, Dennis Mitchell, Art Montini, John McKean


Dennis Mitchell  age 83 weight 151.5 div 80+,70K
1″bar left hand vertical bar deadlift 56 pounds
1″bar right hand vertical bar deadlift 56 #
left hand one arm Ciavattone deadlift 93#
right hand one arm Ciavattone deadlift 93#
stiff leg deadlift 150#

John McKean age 70 weight 165 div 70+, 75K
Straddle deadlift 2″ barbell 260 pounds
Hack lift 2″ barbell 210#
Power Row 174#
Trap Bar Deadlift 300#
Jefferson (Straddle lift) 259#
2 barbells deadlift 260#
one arm (R) barbell deadlift 209#
one arm (L) barbell deadlift 209#
right one arm dumbbell deadlift 175#
Alternate grip bench press 115#
Bench Press feet in air 120#

Stephen R Santangelo age 63 weight 166 div 60+, 80K
Fulton bar snatch 85 pounds
No thumb overhand deadlift  285#
No thumbs deadlift 305#
Saxon Snatch  80#
Dumbbell Walk 77#

Art Montini age 88 weight 174 div 85+, 80K
Little fingers straddle lift 45 pounds
Index fingers straddle lift 60#
ring fingers straddle lift 70 #
middle fingers straddle lift 88#
2″ barbell straddle lift 135#

Denny Habecker age 73 weight 195 div 70+ , 90K
Bench press hands together  135 pounds
Bench Press Fulton bar 170#
Deadlift 12″ base 265#

Scott Schmidt age 63 weight 231 div 60+, 105K
Right hand 2″ vertical bar deadlift 85K
Left hand 2″ vertical bar deadlift 85K
2 hand 2″ vertical bar deadlift 135K
French Press 55K
Bent over (power) Row 115K

Dean Ross age 73 weight 254.5 div 70+, 120K
Rectangular fix Fulton Bar 50 pounds
Holdout Fulton bar lowered 50#
Holdout Fulton bar raised 50#
Straddle deadlift 2″ bar 210 pounds
Deadlift 2″ bar  260#
Ciavattone Fulton bar deadlift  170#
Left hand Fulton bar deadlift 80#
Right hand Fulton bar deadlift 80#

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