Tag Archives: JWC

Quality over Quantity

by Thom Van Vleck

I love being in the gym.  When I first caught the “iron bug” I’d spend hours in the Jackson Weightlifing Club gym.  While I would always be training….not all that time was working out.  I recall reading a story about Paul Anderson.  He would rest for up to 15 minutes between sets while visiting with others or other distractions.  I know I often found myself doing the same thing.  I would visit, read lifting magazines, or be writing down stuff related to my workout.  I was putting value in the quantity of time in the gym over the quality of my time.

I know I’ve been guilty of doing a certain number of sets for a certain number of sets for the simple reason my work out plan called for it.  Most of us go into the gym with a plan.  I have often found myself looking to hit certain benchmarks and success was measured on getting those sets and reps.  I was happy if I made my “goals”.   I was putting value in the quantity of sets, reps, and poundages over the quality of sets, reps, and poundages.

A couple years ago I decided to start focusing on the quality of my workouts.  As I started to use that as a measure over quantity I found myself very lacking.  I found that I could take a weight and lift it….or I could LIFT IT LIKE I MEANT IT!   I also began to notice that I was wasting a lot of time just being in the gym and not doing things that had a direct impact on my lifting.  Oh…you know….like actually lifting weights!   So my re-dedication  involved assessing every part of my work out by constantly asking myself one question, “Is what I’m doing adding quality to my workout or is it just quantity?”.

I began to notice several things.  I started to make gains again.  I lost weight.  I got in better cardio shape (my workouts much faster), I got more done in less time which meant I was working out more and most of all my attitude towards my workouts improved as it re-energized me and gave me confidence in the idea that what I was doing was going to help make me stronger.

So, the next time you work out you might want to ask yourself, “Quality..or Quantity”?

Four Corners

by Thom Van Vleck

The Jackson Weightlifting Club has been a big part of my life.  As those who know me will already be aware it was started by my grandfather Dalton Jackson in 1928.  It was just him and some friends who were interested in weightlifting.  They never competed.  They were interested in training to get better, be stronger, healthier, and maybe impress some girls!  The club wasn’t official then, just friends.

Then in 1957 he got my Uncles, Wayne and Phil Jackson into lifting.  Wayne eventually won the Teenage Nationals in Olympic lifting and was a 4 time Missouri State Olympic lifting champion and won the powerlifting title once.  Phil won some meets as well but got more into bodybuilding and was in Muscular Development one time and in Strength and Health another time.  Phil got an “official” club going with a logo they wore on their lifting suits when in competition and they actually achieved something quite remarkable.  They won two state team titles in Olympic lifting against clubs in St. Louis and Kansas City.  Not bad for a little club from a little town.  They charged dues and opened a key gym as well.  At one time it had almost 30 members and had Phil not joined the Air Force (he was due to be drafted anyways) and left for four years I wonder where the club would have went.

As it was, the club kind of played out and by 1971 it was all but gone.  I joined my Uncle Wayne starting in 1977 with my own training and the “key gym” was again started in 1980.  We soon had about 20 members and had a couple of guys competing at the state level in powerlifting.  In 1982 I joined the Marines and soon the club died again.

Then, in 1988, I got back into hard training.  Slowly, I revived the concept of the JWC and in 1992 started competing again.  I had a few guys that traveled with me and we were mostly “unofficial” but we were a group of guys that lifted, traveled to meets, and shared a love of the iron.

In 1997 I had a chance to do a strongman show with Omega Force.  I invited my buddy Brian Kerby and we did 6 shows in 4 days in St. Louis including one final event that was the warm up for the US Nationals Strongman Contest at the Family Arena in St. Charles.  There were several thousand people there.  Brian and I were invited to travel to Austrailia and New Zealand with Omega Force but we had full time jobs, families….but we became open to the idea of doing strongman shows as part of an evangelism effort and decided to start a local group of our own.

We were trying to come up with a “catch” name for our group when Brian came to me and said that he thought we should go by the name “Jackson Weightlifting Club”.  At that time it really got me to thinking of what the club was really about.  I will say that since then we have done over 250 shows that have reached out to over 25,000 people plus we have directed about 20 lifting meets (including the USAWA Nationals) and at a couple dozen Highland Games and Strongman Contests.  But the club was something much deeper than that for me.

As I explored in my mind and heart what the club was all about I came up with what I call the “Four Corners” of the JWC foundation.  These four cornerstones are what everything the JWC does is built upon.

Faith:  First comes Faith.  The JWC exists because of the Christian Principles laid down by my grandfather and passed on to each subsequent generation.  The most importan principle being faith.  Faith is the belief in something with strong conviction.  My own interpretation is that it gives us the ability to believe in something even when the evidence seems to be against it.  Faith is important in lifting because it takes a long time and  lot of work to make progress in lifting.  You have to have faith in yourself, your lifting program, and believe it will pay off.  Many fail in lifting because they didn’t have faith.  To me it is most important.

Honor:  Honor has several meanings and the one I intend means having integrity.  There is a Viking poem I have hanging in my gym that talks about how everything can be taken away from you.  You can lose you fortune, your family, even your life.  But the one thing that NO ONE can take from you, only you can give away, is your Honor.  It is your reputation.  It is a core value in my family and thus the JWC.

Strength:  This word implies being strong.  But strong in what?  My use of this word in the JWC is that it strength goes beyond the physical state.  I know that lifting weights gives me strength.  Sure, I become stronger, but I also gain strength to endure.  I gain emotional and mental strength.  Most of all I gain spiritual strength from having goals and achieving them leading to a belief in myself and what I can accomplish in all things through hard work and sweat equity.

Wisdom:  Wisdom is last on the list but it’s still important.  Wisdom to me it the ability use intelligence for a greater end.  It is the ability to use knowledge with good judgement, common sense, and prudence.  I want to gain knowledge but if I can’t find the best way to use it then I have failed.  Lifting smart brings me success.  The best lifting routine will give you the greatest results with the least effort and the least chance of injury.  Weightlifting quantifies that result and makes it easier for me to be wise in all things in life.  Even when the results aren’t as easy to quantify I know wisdom is at work.

Over the years, at our strongman evangelism shows, these core values were at the base of our messages.  While our shows often focused on Christ and were at Churches and Bible Camps we often did shows at schools and community gatherings that focused on citizenship, staying off drugs, and other more secular topics.  We never denied who we were, Christians, but the “four corners” were always there.

I hope that some day another generation in my family picks up the JWC flag. That is my next goal in life, passing this tradition on.  The JWC has produced many champions and contest winners, but it is most proud of who those people were rather than their athletic accomplishments.  It always has been and hopefully always will be!

All Round Mountaineering

by Thom Van Vleck

Chad atop the mountain!

After the recent Highland Games Masters World Championships Chad Ullom joined me on a “Mountaineering” expedition.  Last time I made a pretty epic climb but this time we took it a little easier after such a tough, three day competition. It is my opinion that a true “all rounder” should be in shape to do pretty much whatever he wants.  I enjoy hiking and hill climbing.

We had rented a house that overlooked Loch Ness.  Honestly, it was the best place I’ve ever stayed.  About as stereotypical Scotland as you could get and the views were spectacular.  While we were up above the Loch we were far from the top and that became Chad and I’s goal.  We heard you could see for 50 miles in every direction.  We set out up a road that met a trail.  The trail was was through woods and fairly steep.  We reached a logging road and after some discussion picked a route.  As we got above the tree line we were in fields covered with heather and rocks.

We were hoping for good weather as the view promised to be spectacular….but a heavy fog (or maybe it was clouds!) rolled in.  I’m glad we took layers as the wind picked up and it was very damp.  While the long distance view was ruined, it was still pretty interesting to pick you way down a trail in that heavy fog.  If you didn’t pay attention you could get easily turned around.

Thom Van Vleck at the top.

We ended up hiking down the other side and picking our way through several trails in the Abraichian Forest.  We ran across deep woods, unusual mushrooms as big as dinner plates and some bright red and some orange.  We saw an illicit Whiskey still reproduction (the Scottish version of a moonshine still).  There were glacial tills filled with rocks and we even saw some Scottish Red Deer.

As always, I had a bit of a side mission as well.  In 1971 my mother gave me my first bible.  Then for Christmas in 1978 by grandfather Dalton (Jackson Weightlifting Club founder) gave me a bible.  They were both small versions but have meant a lot to me because they are symbolic of the Christian principles I was taught and have come to embrace.  I know Christ is my savior and I’m a better man for it.  So, I brought those bibles along and laid them out at the top of the peak.

Two Bibles given to me by my mother and grandfather setting at the top of the mountain.

I can’t believe I’ve been to Scotland three times….and I can’t say I won’t again.  I’m sure there are many beautiful places in the world but there is so much I haven’t seen there and it’s a “sure thing” I’ll like it versus and unknown place.  Plus, the family history connection and the highland games are hard to beat.  I’ve already got a “next mountain” planned when I make it back.

The Gada: Part III

by Thom Van Vleck

Dalton would do any kind of movement he did with a dumbbell with his modified "Gada" or "Indian Club" dumbbells.

In part three I said I’d get to how you would train Dalton Jackson style with the Gada.  I first want to explain to you that his is not intended to be a comprehensive training program.  It is very simply what I remember seeing my grandfather do.  Upon reviewing his notes and memories of our talks I know that he studied Arthur Saxon, Eugene Sandow, Sig Klien, Earle Liederman, The Great Gama, and Charles Atlas.  These 5 weren’t the only ones, but I would say most of his training came from these men.  I know he ordered courses from Klien (I still have it and it’s autographed!), Liederman, and Atlas.  What you are getting are my recollections of what he did that I know know to be related to the Gada.

The first was basic dumbbell work.  Very simple, Dalton would do any kind of dumbbell work using these “off set” dumbbells you see in the photo above.  The photo has him doing some basic dumbbell presses with the weight “top heavy”.  He also would switch it to make it bottom heavy. I recall when he retired at 65 he worked hard for the next 7 years and got in tremendous shape.  His goal was to duplicate some feats of strength at age 75 he had done at 50 and he came very close!  His body weight was at least 220lbs around age 70 but my Uncle Phil says he got as heavy as 240lbs!  All I know is I recall his forearms being so large that they made his upper arm look small.  I believe using the “gada” style dumbbells helped in that development.  So I would do presses, various curls, cleans, snatches, top heavy, bottom heavy….he was a big believer in mixing his workout up so he rarely did the same thing twice.

The book that the illustration of Kehoe is from.

The next thing I recall is your basic Indian Club swings.  I didn’t see him do this often but he would do one or two and get them rotating around.  This involved swing the clubs around and I believe he mostly did this to loosen his shoulders up.  I wish I had paid more attention to the specifics but I do know this, I found an illustration in his notes that he had cut out of some magazine long ago that had an illustration of Sim Kehoe doing “Figure no. 5″ from his book “Indian Club Exercises” which can be found online.

Specialized work.  My grandfather believe that his training should closely follow what he was trying to get better at.  For him this was never a contest so it was life events.  For example if winter was coming he would load a long barbell and do “snow shovel” movements, 5 reps left, then 5 reps right.  He always wanted to be balanced!  A few years ago I know Al Myers made an implement that mimicked the sheaf toss movement and it was bar like a pitch fork that could have plates loaded on the “business” end.  I remember Dalton told me that he had a “corn shucking” working for when he shucked corn by hand!  He would use his offset dumbbells whenever they suited this purpose.

Another “quirk” to my grandfather’s training was that he would always load his left hand a little heavier.  Regardless if it were the “Gada” dumbbells or a barbell or dumbbells.  He told me that his left side was always weaker and needed more work since his right side got more work on the job and doing chores.  To this day I keep his old barbell set loaded in my gym in such a fashion.  I’ve never heard of anyone training that way.

I wish I’d paid more attention.  To this day I’ll see something and think, “I saw Pop do that!”.  As I remember stuff I try and write it down.  He wrote volumes of journals and I go through them occasionally and find things I missed or didn’t connect the dots at the time.  He often wrote in a sort of short hand that makes him a tough read sometimes.  In a way it’s like finding a little treasure every time I revisit!  I hope you have enjoyed my three part series and find some time to try a “Gada” out in your training program!

Big T’s Birthday Bash OTSM

by Thom Van Vleck

As many know by now I turned 50 years of age.  When this was coming up my wife asked me what I would like to do on my birthday.  I have two interests and from those interests come most of my friends.  They are the Scottish Highland Games and Weightlifting.  I thought about it long and hard and I knew that if I could have anything I wanted it would be to have my friends at my home and throwing and lifting being a part of that.  So, the first Saturday after my birthday (my actual birthday was May 28th and the meet was May 31st) I hosted a Highland Games and an Old Time Strong Man USAWA meet.

The Highland Games came first thing in the morning.  Like the USAWA there are age groups in the Highland Games with records for eight traditional events.  Moving up a class gave me an opportunity to do something that I had not done in nearly 10 years which was set a World Record.  I had a group of 4 masters that included myself, 8 time Master’s World Champ Jim Spalding, 8 time Master’s World Champ Bill Leffler (who broke his own 60-64 age group record in the 28lb Weight for Distance at the meet), and USAWA member Dean Ross who is a 2 time MWC Champ himself!

Now, bear with me as I do a little self promotion.  I spent the last two years trying to rebuild my strength base with an eye on setting the Weight Over Bar World record as well as going top ten in all the events.  So here’s a not-so-short story on that:

My best event is the Weight Over Bar.  I love this event and it plays right to my strength.  I have done what seems like a million power cleans in my life and I think all that work paid off as the WOB event involves pulling a 42lb weight over a cross bar for height.  Much like the pole vault or high jump the bar will go up and the greatest height wins.  I broke and rebroke the WR in this event in 2005 when I was in the 40-44 age group.  In the 45-49 age group I ended with the 2nd best all time throw…but no record.  I made it a goal to work this event and try and break this record.  This was a two year plan.  When it came time for that event I had the beginning of a nasty callous tear on my right throwing hand.  If it went I knew it would seriously screw up my goal as my grip would be compromised.  So I decided to not do as many warm ups and jump to a higher starting height which was 17ft.  I started with the standing style (they keep records for the standing style and the “open” or spinning style) and easily cleared 17ft.  I then jumped to 17ft 10in which was a half inch better than the current best by Mark McDonald of Scotland.  You get three attempts at each height and I missed my first two!  Disaster!  Not warming up on the event was causing me some problems!  I took a moment and got dialed back in and rolled it over!  So, one record down and one to go.  Had I missed that I would NOT have been able to attempt the second one so that was very critical.  I then moved the bar up to 18ft 6in which would at least give me the second best all time WOB with the spin style and it would give me a warm up before going up to the record attempt.  This was usually an easy height for me but my grip was giving me problems.  It was hot and muggy and my grip just felt “greasy” and that didn’t make me feel confident.  Usually this height would be a cinch but instead I missed it two times and again found myself behind the proverbial “8 ball” needing to get my third throw to even have a shot at the open WOB record.  I got some words of encouragement and was able to make that third throw but now I had to jump a foot to 19’6″ to set the break the record held by Jeff Loosle.  That’s a huge jump and I was not real confident after my struggles.  I went through my mental approach, visualizing my throws, going through my mental check list of what points to hit and lined up for the toss.  I hit it perfectly and knew it, but I also wondered if this would be enough!  I looked up and watched as the weight literally rolled over the bar!  I then felt a searing pain in my hand and looked down to see I had blown my callous wide open!  Glad it waited!  A two year journey had been fulfilled.  Thanks for bearing with me in that “totally unrelated to the USAWA” news.

Now on to the meet report!

We started with the new “unofficial” lift of OTSM which is “Thor’s Hammer”.  I was curious how this event would play out.  Would it be too dangerous?  Would it be too hard to judge?   When you have a new event you just don’t know until you test it out.  Art Montini was the brave soul that started us out.  I had a warm up bar set up as well and everyone was trying out different things.  You quickly realize that you can’t handle as much as you think and adjustments were being made.  Dean Ross jumped in next followed by Mike Murdock and Denny Habecker.  Art ended with 15lbs, Dean and Mike at 20lbs, and Denny at 25lbs before John O’Brien and Eric Todd jumped in at 30lbs.  I had done 40lbs in the one time I practice this event and figured I’d just start there.  John made 35lbs and Eric finished with a successful 40lb attempt.  I felt a little sheepish jumping in after those two were done and was wondering if I had made a tactical error in not taking an earlier attempt.  However, my nerves were calmed when I hit the 40 and I was able to finish with 45lbs.  Not often I lead over those two guys at any point in a meet and I knew they’d crush me later but I have to admit it was a nice birthday present to beat two guys I have so much respect for even if it were just one lift!

We next went to the Cyr lift.  Again Art led us off and got the party started.  Again Art, Mike, Dean, and Denny took their turns.  Art and Mike finished with 30lbs, Dean with 65lbs, and Denny at 85lbs.   I started with John’s starting lift which was 125lbs.  It was so tough I decided to end there.  John went on to tie his own USAWA best in this lift with 140lbs before missing 150lbs on a third.  Eric stole the show at this point and opened at 150lbs.  He then jumped to 170lbs and then made 180lbs.  This is special as he’s had an injured elbow that needed surgery.  So it was nice to see Eric pushing big weights again!

We ended with the Dumbbell to the shoulder.  I love this lift and had to fight Al Myers to even consider it.  I think it’s a really unique event and the small crown of spectators really seemed to enjoy watching this lift.  I think for spectators the slow, methodical style of this lift and the simplicity of the rules allows them to cheer and follow along as the lifter struggles to complete the lift.  However, for the lifter, this is one of the more painful lifts I have ever done and my sternum was sore for days after!  Art edged out Mike Murdock with a 60lb effort to Mike’s 50lbs.  Dean edged Denny with 130lbs to a 100lbs effort.  I opened with 200lbs then jumped to 235lbs which would be a personal best for me in competition.  After getting that I retired and set back to watch John and Eric battle it out!  They both made my best attempt of 235lbs look easy and jumped to 265lbs.  Both made it with some effort and then both jumped to 300lbs  This would tie the all time best in this event by Chris Anderson.  300lbs would also be a 35lb contest PR for Eric and 30lb contest PR for John.  So quite a jump.  Both athletes looked like they were wrestling a bear but both ended up successful!  Eric called for 305lbs which was all I could fit on my bar.  This was twice Eric has maxed out my equipment with the last time being on the Dinnie Stones.  John said he’d had enough so it was just Eric for the 4th and final attempt.  By now the Highland Games were completely over and my gym was filled to over flowing.  Eric  pulled the Dumbbell in and then tried to get a solid set on his belt to continental it up.  He seemed to slip on this a couple times and I was wondering if he were going to get it.  As soon as he got a solid set up on his belt I think we all knew that Eric was not going to fail but there was this little detail of finishing a very painful lift!  Eric bounced it up until Mike Murdock gave him the down signal.  I mention the fact Mike was judging as he is one of the toughest judges I’ve seen and if he says you got it….YOU GOT IT WITHOUT QUESTION!

It’s always nice to end a meet on a successful lift that breaks a record!  Several records were broken and I believe the Thor’s Hammer is an OTSM event that’s here to stay!  Everyone seemed to like it and after we were done the highland games throwers came to the platform to give it a go and this went on for another hour!

I had said I was going to crown two champions.  The overall weight lifted regardless of age or bodyweight and then the formula winner.  Eric Todd won the overall weight lifted with 525lbs.  John O’Brien was 2nd and I was third.  The age and weight adjust rankings go like this:  Eric 410.97 and still first, John 374.65 and still second, Thom 340.31 and still third.  Now we have a change.  Dean and Denny now flip at 4th and 5th with Denny at 251.33 and Dean at 220.92.  Art and Mike maintain their placings with Art’s adjusted total at 149.14 to Mike’s 128.23.

Results:

(age/weight/class)   Thor’s Hammer    Cyr Lift   Dumbbell to Shoulder   Total

Mike Murdock (74/180lb) 20lbs            30lbs (record)     50lbs (record)      100lbs

Art Montini (86/175lb)       15lbs             30lbs (record)    60lbs (record)      105lbs

Denny Habecker (71/195lb)25lbs            85lbs (record)     100lbs                   210lbs

Dean Ross (71/266lbs)         22.5lbs        65lbs (record)    130lbs (record)  217.5lbs

Thom Van Vleck (50/275lbs)45lbs        125lbs (record)    235lbs (record)  405lbs

John O’Brien (45/285lbs)   35lbs          140lbs                  300lbs (record)   475lbs

Eric Todd (39/257lbs)            40lbs          180lbs (record)  305lbs (record)    525lbs

Thanks to everyone that came and made my Birthday so much fun and a success.  I appreciate the guys being patient and waiting on the Highland Games to be over before we started the lifting.  A special award to Dean Ross who was the only guy that did both other than me!

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