Tag Archives: John McKean

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#

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!


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