Tag Archives: John McKean

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!


Try DIGGING into a heavy workout!

by John McKean

" Winning one of Al's Dumbbell Walk Handles helped crafty ole John to develop an enjoyable new fitness movement! Can ya DIG it?!"

Before we started dating, my future wife, Marilyn, told me I couldn’t touch her with a 10′ pole. So I got an 11′ pole – it musta worked as we’ll be married for 45 years this September!

Seriously, the long pole has figured its way into my training regimen ever since I studied and practiced Chinese long pole FORMS over 20 years ago in Wing Chun Kung Fu. In addition to use as a self defense tactic, this leverage form of resistance has been terrific for both cardio training, when done for a sufficient length of time, and is fantastic for a warmup to an all-round lifting program. A long pole’s smooth flow and circular motions, when done in precise martial arts patterns, really activates and awakens every muscle of the body.

However, while playing around with training tools this past winter, it occurred to me that the long pole, with one of Al’s homemade “Dumbbell Walk Handles” slid down and positioned on one end would yield a lot more resistance from the pole’s other far side. This would yield a heavier, rep oriented, leverage-weighted exercise, that maybe wouldn’t require a half hour of work, for use as a pre workout warmup. I recalled how my old friend, the late Dr. Len Schwartz, in his original “Heavyhands” text had advocated a digging type movement with the small dumbbells that he employed for aerobic training. Dr. Len was very high on all the benefits of his shoveling motion, but couldn’t convince many to attempt it, as this particular exercise seemed awkward to maneuver with 2 dumbbells. Later, however, as Schwartz formulated awesome “Longstrength” programs – which were much shorter duration than standard aerobic sessions, with slightly heavier fitness movements – shoveling fit right in. He even devised a screw-in 6″ dumbbell connector which welded two dumbbells into one solid unit.

Now my LONG lever “shovel” makes this exercise quite a bit more hardy than did Dr. Schwartz’ tool. With added barbell plates and collars it can be loaded heavy enough, if desired, to produce an actual one rep maximum lift ! Yet I still keep it unloaded as pictured here to go through wide arc front circles, back circles, and realistic over the head shoveling. Hitting both left and right sides, I find that about 35 reps for these 6 maneuvers instills a robust feeling that just begs the ole bod to attack some serious heavy barbell work!

Of course, there is plenty of room for much further exploration, and many other digging style exercises to be discovered. From my initial experimentation I can assure that besides a superb warmup, my forearms, biceps, and obliques are becoming seriously toned from this fun activity! Even Marilyn must see the positive benefits – I’m now allowed a mere 7′ pole around her and for workouts!

Perfect Powerful Pulls

by John McKean

Little known Pennsylvania lifter Jim Dorn of the 1963 era pressing 300 pounds!

Audience chanting called a halt to the proceedings at the 1963 Senior National Weightlifting Championships. No, not due to a poor judging decision, nor a new record lift. Rather the mere appearance of a little known 181 pound wonder named Jim Dorn created this immediate stir. The uninformed in the crowd assumed him to be a bodybuilder, rather than the dedicated olympic lifting stylist that he was, yet everyone demanded to see him flex his wing like lats! Heck, even the normally gruff, stoic John Terpak later wrote that Dorn had “unquestionably the broadest back in the world for his height and weight”! Fortunately the MC of the evening was Bob Hoffman, who was more than happy to promote one of his York team members, and to plug his top selling power racks (on which Dorn trained exclusively)! Of course the packed auditorium went berserk when the 5’7″ phenomenon flexed those lats, seeming wider than he was tall.

What an all-rounder Jim would have made! In addition to a 315 pound press, 285 pound snatch, and a North American Championship title (among others), Dorn performed a 275 pound cheat curl (205 strict), a 670 pound parallel squat (with hands on thighs), and a 405 pound jerk off the rack. And when pushed into it by Coach Hoffman, later took the Mr. Pennsylvania crown. Hard to believe that this type of power and physique were built primarily with mostly single holds inside a power rack, using 8 key partial lifts!

As indicated in an early 60s Strength & Health story, Jim’s usual home training featured only these power rack holds and ONE SET OF ONE format: top press 520 X 1, eye level press 360 X 1, chin level press 520 X 1,quarter squat 1000 X 6, middle pull 420 X1, front squat (from bottom up) 390 X 3, deadlift (just off floor for the start) with shrug 670 X 1, and bench press (starting from a rack pin 4″ above chest) 470 X1. On each of the single rack holds, he held either just off starting pins, into a slightly higher rack pin, or maintaining a support (as in the top press and quarter squat) for 10 SECONDS. Oh yeah, he finished each session with a set of 6 in a slow stretching type of chin behind the neck. However, I’m convinced that it was his pulling HOLDS over that TIME, that created his awesome pulling power and super wide upper back!

I’ve written previously, of course, of the value of slightly moving isometrics & holds, but wish to put forth some pulling experiments I’ve been doing for a while that just may make this treacherous exercise a bit more user friendly! After all, none of us in the all-round bunch are getting any younger, and these heavy duty holds are nasty to one’s blood pressure! But, though mostly forgotten, we should strive to discover how to make such miraculous, short & concentrated rack routines work for us. We may never get the world record pulls and back structure of Bill March, Lou Riecke, or Serge Redding. In case you don’t know Serge, he used mostly standard olympic lift training, tho included one special pull iso — musta worked because at 5’8″ and up to 308# bwt, he did an official 502 pound WR press, a 401 snatch, and measured 65″ around the shoulders!! More on him in another story!! However, using TIME in holding a row, continental from thigh level, snatch grip pulls, etc., could mean a whole bunch of ‘Rounder records!

Now, what I’ve found, old gomer that I’m becoming (68 last Sunday! and his wife who is proofing this reminded him that he’s well into full bloom gomerhood!), is that I don’t need to explode head veins from a 10 to 12 second hold as twenty-something Dorn & March were doing. Instead, I separate my rack lifts into 2 sets of 2, with each hold into a slightly higher rack pin, lasting only 3 seconds. I still get in the all-important HOLD of 12 seconds, but have not come even close to passing out as I did in the old days (so that’s what happened to him y’all are saying!)! For instance, I’ll get a pretty hefty poundage on the strict row, pull to a pin 4″ above and hold for 3 seconds, lower and pull/hold for another 3 seconds, then rest for a few minutes and do the second set. By the way, if you don’t have access to a power rack, this same performance can be achieved with chains & “S” hooks over the bar to secure various pull positions, or even rig up a thick rubber bungee around one’s barbell!

It must be working – my poundages are going up, even at an age where gains should NOT be achieved, and the all-round pulling lifts are feeling much easier! I’m even noting a big increase in wideness these days – though I expect this is mostly from Marilyn’s fresh stacks of Christmas cookies, rather than extra muscle on the upper back!

All-Round Peak Contraction

by John McKean

Maxick - the famous muscle control artist.

Each thigh was bigger in circumference than the lifter’s entire inseam measured. And those legs were CUT ! My good friend Santos Martinez was famed for his olympic lifting and physique wins here in Pittsburgh during the early 1960s, and later for powerlifting. Usually weighing 198 pounds at about 5’7″ in height, Santos always impressed with his rugged, deeply etched all-over body massiveness, yet I NEVER saw him perform a single bodybuilding exercise during the years I knew him ; he was strictly a LIFTER ! So it was a surprise to many of us when an upstart local physique competitor, an arrogant kid just out of his teens,named Bernie, challenged Santos to return to the posing dias. The gym conversation went something like “Hey,old man, you USED to win some of those dreary, ancient muscle shows, but you’d have no chance against a modern bodybuilder like me! I’ve been winning everything throughout the area for 3 years now, and these days they want MY definition, symmetry, and washboard abs. How about letting yourself get embarrassed and enter the Mr. Allegheny contest next month -it’s following the weightlifting meet , and I know you’ll be there!” Always up for a good laugh, a relaxed Santos agreed.

I just had to ask Santos what strategy he possibly hoped to use to have any chance whatsoever in this challenge. After all, young Bernie had almost taken the Mr. Pennsylvania title a few months earlier. Of course, an always philosophic Martinez wasn’t taking the whole thing seriously, so in his usual laidback fashion, he quipped ” Ah heck, I’ll just flex my fat in front of a mirror every day for the rest of the month, and hope the judges will enjoy the shape of my lard over the kid’s well tuned muscle!” (it might be mentioned that none of us in the area’s iron game ever saw a trace of fat on Santos’ body, but he apparently liked to imagine it was creeping up on him as he aged!). You can guess the rest – getting whatever “pump” he needed from the weightlifting meet earlier in the evening, Santos strode out under the physique lights,did a few early poses, then completely dominated obnoxious little Bernie with his trademark “most muscular” pose! Heck, Martinez’ trapezius itself looked bigger than Bern’s whole body! (Santos actually scared my girlfriend of the time , who thought a gorilla had escaped from the zoo!). I don’t recall that our loudmouthed young bodybuilder, sniffling home with his 2nd place trophy, ever competed again !

It’s interesting to observe that Mr. Martinez obviously had terrific genetics toward his strength and physique , but that he relied on seemingly simple “flexing”, or what some would term “muscle control” exercise to enhance both.Especially since many of our REALLY early all-rounders used a similar method during their build-up years. The phenomenal Maxick,back in the initial part of the 1900s, developed what may be argued as the best natural body ever built, with youthful reliance on self developed muscle control exercises. The 145 pound Max claimed this provided the base strength to almost effortlessly perform tremendous one arm swings,snatches, and jerks, and among the very first lifters to do over a double bodyweight continental and jerk. During the same time frame, Otto Arco utilized his own form of isometric muscle posing to develop a superbly dense muscle structure which served him well as a champion wrestler, gymnast, bodybuilder, and lifter -Arco actually was witnessed doing a Turkish Get-up(one arm,of course) ,his favorite All-Round lift, with nearly 200 pounds! (Arco usually weighed a mere 138 pounds!). From that time on, some very celebrated lifters got into muscle control (and all LOOKED it!) – Edward Aston, Monte Saldo, Sig Klein, John Grimek, etc. Often makes me wonder why or how “modern” bodybuilding ever became such a big event (oh yeah, hours upon hours in a gym daily “pumping up” with tiny weights gave a temporary illusion, followed by anorexia for definition, then later, drugs really enhanced the BLOAT !), when heavy lifting along with a small bit of muscle control exercise produced virtual human anatomy charts, with strength to match.

I also have to note that Dr. John Ziegler ,while working with York lifters on his famed isometric rack methods, also developed a machine to offer electric stimulas to obtain near maximum contraction of his lifter’s muscles. Dr. Ziegler apparently achieved some measure of success with this “artificial muscle tensing” toward increased strength , yet never recorded or published results. Indeed, even the famed Max Planck Insitute in Germany did research that proved “self willed, purposefull muscle contraction” (isometric posing) would yield tremendous, almost unbelievable gains if done with consistancy over time. I just have to consider that with many of the old muscle control books being reproduced lately -courses by Maxick, Arco, Saldo, Jubinville – many of us all-rounders can possibly instill this 10 minutes extra exercise to add a bit of hope and excitement for the long winter of training ahead.

However, I do foresee one very horrific downside. You see, the lower portion of the Ambridge VFW gym is lined with mirrors. If old Art Montini happens to read this information, we’re likely to face the gruesome prospect of him down there, shirt off, posing away. And we’ve long had a saying at the VFW – “If one is unlucky enough to see Art even partially naked, that person will instantly turn to stone!”

Club Challenge

by Al Myers



Meet director John McKean "in action" at last years Club Challenge under the watchful eyes of Art Montini and Rudy Bletscher.

The date for the USAWA Club Challenge has been set!  This meet has become the premier meet in the USAWA which features club (or team) competition. It is unique in that it is NOT a personal competition, but instead a 3-person competition of the representatives of each club.  The scores from each lifter are added together to form a club score.  No individual recognition is given in this meet.   The winning club has the bragging rights of having the “top performing” club in the USAWA for the year.  

John McKean, of the Ambridge Barbell Club, has been the meet director for this meet since it’s beginning.  The Ambridge BBC is one of the longest standing clubs in the USAWA, and has had club membership in the USAWA since 1993.  Only Clarks Gym has a longer running membership status.  The patriarch of the Ambridge Barbell Club, Art Montini, has been one of the most influential men in the history of the USAWA.

Eventually I would like to see each entered club in this challenge consisting of only club members (as identified on the membership roster).  This way the challenge would truly represent each individual club performance. However so far, this has not been required for entry into the Club Challenge.   So if two clubs want to “come together” to field a team, that is allowable.  You may also enter if you can’t be part of a three-person team, but when the scoring is done you will be at a disadvantage because the scoring is based on three individuals and it will be difficult to “single handily” compete against the scores of three.


Date: Saturday, March 2nd

Venue: Ambridge BBC

Meet Directors: John McKean & Art Montini

Entry Fee: None

Start Time: 1:00 PM

Sanction: USAWA


Bench Press – Fulton Bar

Peoples Deadlift

Bent Over Row

There is no entry form for this competition. If interested, contact myself (at amyers@usawa.com) or John McKean.

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