Tag Archives: John McKean


By Al Myers

(Webmasters Note: Over the next month I will be running a series of biography blogs covering all past USAWA Hall of Fame members.  These bios will be added to the history section, under Hall of Fame.)





John was born on December 15th, 1945 and has been competing in weightlifting for over 45 years, starting in 1962. He started as a lifter primarily as a powerlifter, but also has competed in master’s olympic lifting, having won two US National titles. However, all-round weightlifting soon captivated his attention and he has devoted all of his efforts toward all-round training and competition since its inception. John is a retired teacher (32 years in Jr. High math), a retired martial arts instructor (American Combatives for individuals and airline crews), and a retired weightlifter. John has won so many National and World Meets that he has lost count!!! One accomplishment that he has done that is hard to top is that he went for over 20 years never losing a meet in his age and weight division! He presently has over 200 USAWA and IAWA records on the books. His earliest all-round weightlifting inspirations came from the great National and World Meets that John Vernacchio promoted, followed by the tremendous atmosphere that Frank Ciavattone created in his National and World Meets. John said, “These guys worked so hard to insure that everyone enjoyed themselves and they provided the absolute best conditions to do top notch lifting!! Their meets were more like great workouts with good friends than the usual cut and dry weightlifting competitions. Just big parties, really!!!”. John has served as an official at many meets, and served a term as the IAWA international secretary. He has wrote extensively about all-round weightlifting training methods in Hardgainer magazine and MILO.

McKean-DL2barHe has been involved in the promotion of several National Meets which includes being the meet director at two National Championships in Ambridge with Art Montini, and being the co-director at the two National Meets at Jumpstretch Fitness in Youngstown, Ohio. John has received much personal satisfaction from the great time he has had getting his two sons, Sean and Rob, involved in the USAWA along with many of his school students. One of his biggest thrills in lifting was being probably the only teacher to establish an official class for all-round weightlifting in the public school system. For four years he was given the state’s mandate (IEP) to take over the complete physical education of a legally blind student by the name of Matt Van Fossan. Matt, under John’s coaching, really took to lifting and established several teen National and World Records and even won a National Championship!!! These days John trains at home, still writes a bit, and lives near Pittsburgh with his wife of 40 years, Marilyn. He is still very involved in the lives of his two grown sons, Rob and Sean.

Big Inch Lifts

By John McKean

American health pioneer, Bernaar Macfadden trained extensively with cables in a manner similar to the "big inch " concept below. Even way back in 1901 Macfadden could've set USAWA records (if we had been around over 100 years ago) that lasted a century with tremendous poundages in dumbbell overhead and hold-out lifts for the 65K class!

American health pioneer, Bernaar Macfadden trained extensively with cables in a manner similar to the “big inch ” concept below. Even way back in 1901 Macfadden could’ve set USAWA records (if we had been around over 100 years ago) that lasted a century with tremendous poundages in dumbbell overhead and hold-out lifts for the 65K class!

“Andraes,” I asked my 11-year-old grandson, “did I ever tell you about my gold mine in Alaska?” Dra just rolled his eyes skyward, certain that he was about to become a captive audience and suffer through another one of my cornball stories!

“Ah c’mon, Paw” replied the wise-beyond-his-years sixth grader. “You’re sure old enough, but nobody ever mentioned you dog-sledding up North to the Klondike gold rush!”

I went on to explain that when I was his age, a breakfast cereal giant offered within each box a “genuine deed” for Alaskan real estate! The company on each deed proclaimed themselves as the “Big Inch Land Company,” and that’s exactly what the document allotted to you –  one square inch of “prime” property with a numbered lot and everything! I couldn’t stand the soggy cereal, so only acquired a grand total of 3 square inches! (My gold must still be awaiting me!!)

Explaining to Draes that this “Big Inch” name was vividly recalled by a summer-long lifting innovation, I went on to describe what soon will be his training procedure through the coming fall and winter! Of course, this will be an advancement in my usual “flex band over barbell” concept.

First, a quick history lesson. Back when Dr. John Ziegler was instructing famous lifters Bill March and Lou Riecke on the virtues of isometrics and power rack work, he emphasized that complete concentration on the iso hold and absolute maximum effort was required. Few lifters could handle that type of commitment to a non moving sticking point, so wily ole Doc Ziegler HYPNOTIZED these two future world record holders before each training session!

Well, Doc Ziegler is gone, and most of us have little access to pro hypnotists in our gyms or garages (and some, like my wife Marilyn, says ya gotta have some mind power in order to BE hypnotized, and I don’t qualify!). So I discovered a way to push myself beyond what I think is a maximum effort iso!  From other stories I’ve done on flex band isos, using various strength rubber strands over barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, or just a very heavy duty band itself, you know that for practically any lift that initial experimenting will provide enough resistance that the movement won’t be permitted full extension. You will grind to a halt somewhere before completion and be forced into a severe muscle contracting iso! I USED to believe this was that 100% limit that we all strive to achieve. However I discovered that if I’d hold for a few seconds, then gutted it up slightly further, I could use still yieldable stretch of the bands to push just 1/2″ MORE! And, if I got my head really into it (SELF Hypnosis?), after a few seconds I could usually strain just moving one more half inch. Here, then, became my “Big Inch” for  achieving new maximums in lifting stress !

Take, for instance, a Straddle Lift – after finding the right weight and band combo to insure this Jefferson will not go all the way up, place a band over the barbell, then stomp on the band ends at the floor. Stand up until the band will allow absolutely no more positive movement. Hold for maybe 3 seconds. Then convince yourself that you can “probably” yet manage a mere 1/2″ more. Do it! After 3 seconds of this, WILL yourself to another 1/2 inch! Hang on for a final 3 seconds. Ziegler, March, and Riecke would be proud: You’ve managed the ultra max “Big Inch” which will go MILES toward progress and gains!

As I was detailing this procedure to young Dra, he chirped out, “Hey, Paw, I’ve got a Big Inch of my own!”

“Uh oh,” I thought. “He’s getting to be about THAT age!”

But I was a bit relieved to hear the not so little lad respond, Gramma measured my height and at 5’3 I’m now a BIG INCH taller than you!!”


By John Mckean

Steve Angell, one of IAWA's strongest ever, displays his own idea of leg training with handled weights on the Dinnie Stones!

Steve Angell, one of IAWA’s strongest ever, displays his own idea of leg training with handled weights on the Dinnie Stones!

Sooo, a Crossfitter and an All-Rounder walk into a bar (a healthful juice bar, of course!). The Crossfit fan can’t help but notice that the IAWA guy is a well seasoned muscular behemoth, yet strolling gracefully, being propelled by amazingly thick thighs. Mr. CF queries, “Really been hitting those “GOBLET squats,” mate??? You know, those modern leg lifts where you hold a fairly heavy kettlebell at chest height and do front squats.” Chuckling, England’s legendary Steve Angell replied, “Heck, that mild conditioning exercise won’t do anything toward building real body power, unless someone happens to construct me a 200K goblet!”

Seriously, though, big Steve did once try a few goblet squats. He’d been doing wrist curls with a 78K globe dumbbell, then flipped the chunk of iron onto his chest to see what this recent fitness fuss was all about. But as one who has officially straddle lifted 680 pounds and Zerchered 555, this tiny gobble seemed less than nothing. Mr. Angell concluded that such iron ball squats, often weighing less than 40K, would be ok for perhaps a few thin, developing teenagers or most “personal trainers,” but would never supply ample resistance for any serious weightlifter.

SAngellFor a 70/70 (wt. class/age group!) guy like myself, with each thigh smaller than one of Steve Angell’s huge arms, I’m not about to search for a 440 pound kettlebell just to START progression as Steve would enjoy doing! But his comments did get me thinking of new off-day, or “active rest,” heavy exercise apart from normal all-round workouts. Somewhere around the house, I reasoned, were a few various kettlebells, which I always considered to be just glorified “HANDLES with weight,” probably being used as doorstops. However, with sufficient numbers and strengths of rubber flex bands inserted through that ample handle space it would be simple to build almost any variable resistance that anyone could care for in an exercise! So, derived from a past practice of placing bands over barbells to create a heavier pressure, continuous tension lift, I developed my new experimental combo – “KETTLEBANDS”!

Well, it turns out that all I needed was the rather sturdy, oblong curved handle of the weighty old globes for the new format of flex band lifting to quickly prove its efficiency! Not only did the extra resistant apparatus cut reps way down to yield planned high intensity training, but at times, with proper banding, had the lift stalling before completion – a true isometric hold. Essentially, I had created a non structured “power rack” that I could use in my living room!! It also became an exciting challenge to develop new & unusual exercises that would benefit from kettlebanding.

One of my favorite new movements is the close grip bent over row – grasp the handle with overhand, underhand, or even cross grip (my favorite!), tramp on the inserted horizontal draped flex bands at your feet (adjust your foot spacing so just enough rubber will allow the lift to begin), and merely do some high tension pulls for 4 reps. Add another band for a follow-up set and just row to mid level (the stubborn additional stretch will stop you!) and hold 3 reps for a few seconds each, for max+ work! Another nifty manuever that seems to be positively influencing my more standard all-round lifts is the Straddle (or Jefferson) lift with a kettleband directly between the legs; again, determine the proper length of band to stand on, left and right, secure a cross grip on the hefty handle then simply rise steadily under this newfound form of tension. You can use heavier ‘bells and more or thicker flex bands here. If you get stuck, hang on for a while and enjoy the isometric! Of course, various forms of curls are a natural while using the combo equipment, and a unique application to the floor press – one or two handed – can be done by placing a band under your lower back, through the handle, with the other band end placed behind your neck; this one is great to quickly reach an iso-hold level which soon proves to be a “burning” method to overload the triceps! I’ll let imagination and ingenuity develop others for your own particular needs and interests!

No kettlebells around the house or gym? Simply obtain one of Al Myers’ sturdy iron rings (or stack two together for better gripping), place it on the center handle of a standard plate loading dumbbell, and build sufficient weight on both sides around it. Remember, it need not be all that heavy – most resistance should come from flex bands! Oh, a dumbbell will tilt and dangle a bit, but one’s fist will hold secure against the inside plate to steady the proceedings, while ring circumference will allow more space and freedom than a short db handle for a firm cross grip. One hand lifts and hook grips can come into play. But any style ring hold offers its own unique feel, challenge, and enjoyable performance. After all, ole supreme physical culturist Steve Angell didn’t complain as he 20 repped with those rings secured on the famous Dinnie stones (combined weight of 785 pounds)! But, hey, just imagine – had Steve carried a few flex bands to Scotland with him, he could’ve saved himself a ton of time by achieving the same workload with only 4 reps!!


By John McKean

The late, great Jack LaLanne, truly an all-round lifter& athlete if there ever was one, discovered a very similar nutrition approach that he once wrote  greatly improved his training energy and recuperation!

The late, great Jack LaLanne, truly an all-round lifter& athlete if there ever was one, discovered a very similar nutrition approach that he once wrote greatly improved his training energy and recuperation!

Ole pal, Chris Waterman, always the consummate USAWA competitor, was carefully concentrating through set after set in his usual perfect form. I finally had to remind him, tongue-in-cheek, that this was a National Championship, not a mere WORKOUT; of course, from our long time friendship throughout many of these big All-Round events, there just HAD to be some spirited razzing involved! Such as, he was working harder before first attempts on the official lifting platform than I train all week long at home! Or that suggesting, since this was his “comeback” meet after his being absent from competition for years, that maybe he shouldn’t make up for missed training all in one morning! Yes, I was greeted by good natured Chris’ chuckle & friendly smile as he recalled meets from the 90s, to inspire his very accurate account, “Yeah, yeah, I remember – you guys from Ambridge never warm up at all!!”

Truth was, at this 2017 Nationals, I had to hide the fact that, by golly, I just didn’t have any ENERGY to warmup!! Months of low calorie dieting to get down to 154 pounds bwt, left only a little hope that official attempts, even relatively light, would have the muster to go up at all! Naturally, I did feel better at the reduced weight, but sure “ran out of gas” when approaching some of the record poundage lifts I’d planned.

Now, I wanted to maintain trimness following the contest, but wished to search for a better eating plan that would go well with all-round’s intensive style of training. Surprisingly, I discovered a very detailed, scientific (yet interesting) approach to nutrition about 2 weeks later. I’ve been using the easily implemented plan ever since, and never have those low cal diet cravings that often haunted me as wife Marilyn baked her famous brownies, banana bread, and cookies!! In fact, at times on my new program I’ve felt overstuffed from a few meals, while my training energy is reaching new heights! Yet I’m still LOSING even a few more pounds!

The book I refer to is Dr. Michael VanDerschelden’s ” The Scientific Approach To Intermittent Fasting.” But, wait, don’t panic, this concept is NOT one of food deprivation at all, but rather one of eating two very good, solid meals per day, using about 16 hours (mostly overnight) between these hearty feedings! That “intermittent” time period is the “fasting” part, with main meals of your own choosing, selecting between a majority of proteins and fats. Steaks, eggs, nuts, fish, and chicken are all fair game; this author’s “diet” does not consist of suffering through endless carrot sticks nor tasteless salads. Basically, just skip breakfast! Or as I like to employ for my two meals – make it BRUNCH (9-11AM) and LINNER (3-5 PM). Just go with water, coffee, or tea for the 16 hours in between.

The mind blowing factor of Dr. Mike’s eating plan is the book’s extensive display of scientific studies to show its benefits. Such as a significant PROVEN reduction in fat tissue mass, blood pressure, and heart rate. Sound sleep, mental clarity, and training energy is greatly enhanced! To me, and probably all USAWA lifters with our beloved drug free approach, the doc shows conclusive evidence that his eating plan, according to the American College of Cardiology, will provide a NATURAL increase of human growth hormone in men by an astounding 2000%!! To me, if little else is provided (though 12 chapters and 280 pages shows MUCH more benefit!) this new HGH “supplementation” will encourage me to eat nothing other than “Brunch and Linner”!

Be sure to check out Dr. VanDershchelden’s  book on Amazon or your local bookseller – you’ll enjoy his easygoing, interesting style of writing and the many documented facts. And actually LEARN what effect various nutrition patterns have toward intensive weight training (the author actually states the case for short, high intensity workouts instead of long aerobic procedures). Heck, I’m finding this easy-to-implement way of eating is working superbly for an “early middle ager” like me (well, maybe not the increased mental clarity part!); just maybe I’ll actually join a “kid” like Chris Waterman on the warmup platform next year!!

My Nationals Weekend

By Al Myers

This is my monster Northern Pike I caught in Canada the week before the meet!

This is my monster Northern Pike I caught in Canada the week before the meet!

This is not intended to be a meet report, but rather “my take” on the Nationals Weekend. First of all, it was a busy week for me as I was on a fly-in fishing trip for trophy Northern Pike way up North in Canada before I even got to Cleveland.  I was worried that I was gonna wear myself out before the meet with all the big fish I caught up there.  Plus, the all you can eat delicious home-style meals served at night (along with the big breakfasts and shore lunches) that I was never going to make weight at the meet.  Well, reeling in those big Pike must have loosened up my shoulders a bit instead, and working hard all day on the lake must have burned more calories than I predicted as I did make my weight class at the meet and was able to do a token clean and push press with my bum shoulders to get a mark in it.

Upon arriving Friday evening from a flight from Saskatoon to Cleveland (luckily it was on schedule) I was greeted at the airport by 3 young Dino Gym lifters who were making their first National Meet appearance. These guys made the 15 hour drive to lift with only 2 stops (oh to be young with a large bladder).  I was greeted with a sign at the airport that said, “Welcome back from rehab, Big Al”. Thus the fun begins.

We all stayed at a lodge in Vermilion that my buddy John McKean had arranged.  John and his family were staying there, and it was right on Lake Erie.  Truly a beautiful place. I had made plans to fish with John after the meet, and believe it or not, John had promised me that he would show me his secret fishing spot. More on that later.

The boys relaxing at the lodge before the meet.

The boys relaxing at the lodge before the meet.

I can’t say enough about the work meet promoters Bob Geib and Scott Schmidt did for this meet.  They ran into problems two weeks before the meet with the venue location in Vermilion being cancelled on them.  Luckily they were able to secure a meet venue at the West Park YMCA in Cleveland at the last minute. And I’m glad they found this spot.  This YMCA was the location of many All Round meets in the past, including past Nationals, put on by Howard Prechtel.  To say it contained USAWA history puts it mildly.  I was honored to be able to lift there.

The weekend of lifting went super smooth.  Everything was on schedule and everyone seemed to have a super time.  Alot of the USAWA veterans were on hand with a fine mix of newcomers to Nationals.  Several registered clubs were represented – Dino Gym, Habeckers Gym, Schmidt Barbell Club, Ambridge Barbell Club, and Frank’s Barbell Club.  One thing that impresses me with our organization is how everyone “jumps in” and helps.  We had a great group of seasoned officials (Frank Ciavattone, Dennis Mitchell, Denny Habecker, Scott Schmidt, LaVerne Myers, and Randy Smith) who officiated both days.  These guys are the “best of the best” amongst USAWA officials which is what we want for our Nationals.  John McKean and myself did the announcing duties, and Judy did the scorekeeping.  Plus what a great group of loaders we had.  Young Aidan Habecker loaded all weekend as well as lifting and what a great job he did!!!  He took charge of the loads and seemed to know exactly what plates needed put on.  Also, got to mention Franklin and Ryan for all the hard work they did, as well as others.  Not a single misload all weekend!

The only injury we had (unfortunately there seems to always be one at Nationals) was newcomer Tim Moore from Cleveland. Tim is a power house and a great guy and I sure hope to see him again in a USAWA meet. He tore his bicep on the second day doing the One Arm Clean and Jerk.  I’ve since heard from Scott that he has had surgery to repair it and is now on the mend.  If it wasn’t for this injury he would have been in contention for a top spot overall.

I was SO GLAD to see Chris Waterman in the meet. I lifted with Chris over 10 years ago in the USAWA at Nationals.  Chris lifted exceptionally (placing 3rd Overall) and looks in fantastic shape. Obviously he hasn’t laid off the weights in his sabbatical from USAWA competition.  The women’s division had two very veteran lifters – Susan Sees and Kathy Schmidt.  In the end Susan pulled out the Overall Best Womens Lifter (her third, other two were 2015 and 2012).  It was great to see the perennial Nationals competitior Randy Smith there.  I always enjoy lifting with Randy (as well as having a few drinks afterwards with him!).  We had a great time catching up on things.  Randy never seems to change – he looks and lifts the same today as he did 15 years ago when we first met.

Art continues to amaze us with his lifting.  Art, along with Dennis Mitchell, both compete in the 85-89 age group. These two guys really impress me how they have been so consistent with their lifting year after year and never missing the National Championships.  Dennis has competed in more USAWA Nationals than anyone in history, a mark I don’t see being broke. That will be a topic for another story in the future.

My dad LaVerne rounded out the Dino Gym Team at Nationals.  After the first lift, the 1 hand VB lift, in which he had the top mark of the meet, he earned the nickname from “the boys” as Pa Vice Grips.

Hanging out with Scott at his home gym!

Hanging out with Scott at his home gym!

After the lifting on Saturday Scott Schmidt invited me over to his house and to see his home gym.  When me and “the boys” got there Kathy had a table full of delicious snacks to welcome us. Thank you Kathy!!!!  Scott then showed us his home gym, which is an unbelievable home training facility. I spent 30 minutes just looking at his gym decor.  I really like to see home gyms as they are very unique and often reflect the personality of the owner.  All Round home gyms are much different than any commercial gym, and Scott’s is one of the best I’ve seen.

The Dino Gym Team - Brandon Rein, Cody Lokken, Cale Dunlap, Al Myers, and LaVerne Myers

The Dino Gym Team – Brandon Rein, Cody Lokken, Cale Dunlap, Al Myers, and LaVerne Myers

I was very excited to see the new Dino Gym guys lift (Cale, Cody, and Brandon).  A funny remark John made at the meet announcing, after he was having a hard time keeping them recognized, was that they seem to “be from the same litter.”  That drew laughter from the crowd.   These young lifters have just started to lift at the Dino Gym and all show great promise.  I felt the pressure of being their coach, and just wanted them to lift well and enjoy the experience.  Friday night before the meet back at the lodge I was visiting with John and told him I better go visit with these young lifters and give them a talk to “settle their pre-meet nerves”.  Put it this way – when I got to the beach where they were hanging out they seemed pretty relaxed drinking bourbon and smoking cigars so the talk wasn’t needed.  Then I started to worry that they were following my example too much!

Bob and Scott planned an exceptional banquet following the meet. It was at a place called the West Park Station.  We got there really early, which was nice, as we were able to enjoy the live band and a few Yuenglings on tap outside on a back patio.  I spent a hour telling “the boys” Chad stories. He’s now a legend in their minds. The banquet food was outstanding and it was a buffet (the only way to go after a meet!). The Awards Ceremony was the highlight of the evening.  The meet awards were outstanding. Plus we gave out the USAWA Yearly Awards at that time.  They let us use the microphone that broadcasted over the entire restaurant – so everyone there heard what was going on!  I noticed people not even associated with our group clapping and cheering.  I was joined in the presentation with Scott and Bob, Frank, and an impromptu surprise speech by Brandon.  A very special moment for me that evening was Frank presenting me the Howard Prechtel Plaque.  Every year, in Howard’s memory we present an annual traveling plaque to someone who the previous years recipient feels is worthy of it for their contributions to the USAWA for the prior year. Frank was last years selection. I’ll be honored next year when I can pass this tribute plaque along to someone else.

Fishing with John McKean!

Fishing with John McKean!

The next day, as promised, John took me, my dad LaVerne, and “the boys” to his secret fishing spot.  I wish he would have told me to wear raingear.  John is a master fisherman and ties his own jigs.   These things look like the real thing and the fish can’t resist them! It wasn’t long before we had caught several fish, including a really nice catfish caught by Brandon. I was picking John’s brain on the art of jigging, and luckily John is one who likes to talk so I was getting some of his secrets out of him. It was a great time but the wind kept picking up till all of us were soaking wet, from head to toe.  As John put it, “it was battle conditions!”

The boys eyes were open wide when the feast was served!

The boys eyes were open wide when the feast was served!

The next day we made the long drive home, all in one day but with more stops than two. We made a sightseeing stop in Indianapolis at the Indy Speedway ( “the boys” are big Nascar fans) and at my favorite BBQ place in Columbia, Missouri for supper. I ordered up a large feast fit for Kings, and then as the last bit of coaching I did for the weekend, made the boys eat it all.  Great times!!!!!

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