by Thom Van Vleck
Some time back Al Myers wrote a great article on the Roman Chair and it’s place in the USAWA as a contested lift. It can be found here: http://www.usawa.com/roman-chair/. It even inspired me to make a Roman chair and add some Roman Chair sit ups to my workout.
Recently, I have been doing some bodybuilding. My workouts have traditionally been basic movements for low reps and heavy weights. Not much assistance work. My transition was not an easy one as I didn’t want to be too much of as sissy bodybuilder. So I decided to pull out some of my Bill Pearl Training Manuals (purchased by my Uncle Phil Jackson and autographed to Phil by Pearl himself no less) and follow Bill’s advice. Why? Because Bill was BIG and STRONG. My Uncle saw Bill give a seminar in 1967 after his third Mr. Universe. He said Bill loaded 300lbs on an Olympic bar and easily power cleaned it, pressed it overhead, then pressed it behind the neck twice!
At any rate, right or wrong, I figured if Bill Pearl did it then it must be good! I also believe most any program will help you if you believe in it and I was raised to believe that Bill Pearl was almost mythological….the Babe Ruth of Bodybuilding. So as I looked at how Bill trained his legs I found that one of Bill’s favorite exercises was the Roman Chair Squat. It is very similar to the Sissy Squat. My legs have always been a weakness for me so I’ve started doing them. I like them, but you can’t handle much weight (as a matter of fact, this is a body weight exercise for me).
I also learned a little bit of history as I went about my research on this exercise. In Al’s article he mentioned that a lifter from Rome did work on the Roman Chair at Professor Attila’s gym and it became quite popular. This was shared with Sig Klein who did a type of plank movement (and I suspect this led to the Roman Chair Bench Press lift in the USAWA). But I believe I’ve found the original purpose the Roman Chair was invented for! In ancient times latrines were basically ditches. You would have to squat over them and since you didn’t want to fall in you would hook your feet under something and leverage out to “do you business”. I think this is much better explanation than Al’s medieval torture device chair in his article!
What ever the case, the Roman Chair can be used for much more than sit ups! But regardless of what you do on a Roman Chair…..it all is painful! And I, for one, am thankful to have a modern toilet!