Tag Archives: Thom Van Vleck

Weigh your Weights

by Thom Van Vleck

Have you ever weighed your weights?  You might be surprised.  Unless you are buying high end competition grade weights you need to understand that your weights could be off by not just ounces but several pounds!

Back in the day when you bought weights you had the choice of “Milled” and “Unmilled” weights.  Unmilled weights were cast iron right from the mold.  Milled weights had been milled, or had some metal removed, until the weight was exact.  The Milled plates were generally much more expensive so for training the unmilled plates were often bought and used.  It was common to check those plates as you knew they were off when you bought them.

The Jackson Weightlifting Club had both.  York sets that were competition grade and a Jackson set as well.  On each you can see the rings and swirls in the metal where the milling had taken place.  We also had some old Iron Man weights that were listed at 50lbs but one set was 57.5lbs while another was 47.5lbs.  Since they were the same style and all 4 plates looked the same we painted them different colors because if you loaded the lighter plates on one side of the bar you could find yourself 20lbs heavier on one end and 10lbs off overall.

So these days you don’t see “milled” and “unmilled” plates but don’t assume what you have is exact.  I blame cheap overseas manufactures but many cheap barbell plates are off the mark.  While they aren’t as bad as the Iron Man plates I mentioned above I have found 45lb plates off 3lbs in either direction.  Smaller plates are off as well but not as much.

So you might want to take the time to check the weight of your weights.  Who knows, maybe you have a new personal best and you didn’t even know it!

Exercise is the Best Medicine

by Thom Van Vleck

When I was a kid I hung out with my grandparents often.  I probably spent more time with my grandfather than I did my father.  I noticed many things about them.

One in particular was my grandmother took a lot of medications.  Many of them were for physical health issues.  Just as many were for mental health issues with the focus being depression.  Let’s just say it was pretty bad.  She would often cry, focus on the negatives, and in generally seemed miserable most of the time.

I also noticed that my grandfather did NOT take many medications.  He did not have many health issues and later in life when it did it was because he was hit by a car.  He was very positive and he was in a great mood most of them time.  I can honestly say I never saw him lose his temper, cuss, nor complain.  He wasn’t perfect.  He could be incredibly stubborn.  But in general he was one of the least depressed people I knew.

This made them quite the pair in many ways.  Looking at their family history I can say that depression was a common theme on my grandmother’s side.  My grandfather’s side not a much.  So there may have been a genetic predisposition for it.  But I am not going to focus on the things that cannot be controlled.  There was a major difference between the two that I think played a big factor in why one was depressed and the other was not.

That difference was exercise.

My grandfather worked out almost constantly.  He also incorporated exercise into work.  If he had to shovel something he would do 5 scoops to the right and 5 to the left.  I went with him on the mail truck and every stop he would do jumping jacks or push ups.  He would even do isometrics withe the steering wheel or set up a board to do calf raises at his work bench.  I never once heard him complain about work or exercise.  I’m not saying he loved it but he certainly didn’t hate it.

My grandmother was the model of efficiency.  In other words she would figure out the way to get the most done with the least amount of effort.  She was NOT lazy.  She just saw no point to exercise.  Anything that required effort was loathed by her and she complained the entire time she had to put forth effort.  Again, she was not lazy.  She did piece work in a factory and made good money because she was fast.  It was just that when she did anything that required effort all she did was look forward to the next break.

There are dozens of studies telling you what may seem like common sense to many of us who workout regularly.  That is exercise prevents depression.  I know many times I have thought to myself, “I need a good workout” and when I did it I felt better.  The fact is science is showing more and more evidence that this is the case.

When I first came to work at the medical school as the counselor I started an exercise program.  At first my boss thought I was doing it because it was my “hobby” but the reality is I did it to promote mental health.  I knew that if we could set up fast, efficient workout programs with trainers to help motivate the students in a fun but challenging atmosphere those that did it would be better off mentally.  That club, the Osteoblasters, has become the 2nd largest club on campus and we program 7-9 workouts a week that equals over 250 individual workouts.  Fitness was only a sub-goal.

Too often when people get down or depressed the first thought is to see a doctor and get medication.  There is a time and a place for that but it is often overused.  What people really need is a good workout program and to make the time to do it!  To me, taking anti-depressants without working out would be like taking supplements without working out.  There may be some benefit but not nearly as much as if someone were working out and taking supplements!

So fight the blues with a good workout!


Variations on the Press

by Thom Van Vleck

I have written about the Press several times before.  My Uncle Wayne Jackson loved doing the Olympic Clean and Press.  As a matter of fact, when they dropped the lift Wayne never competed again in an Olympic lifting contest.  He eventually did 370lbs out of the rack.  I also saw him strict press 330lbs out of the rack.

So wait a minute, you say.  I thought you said he pressed 370?  Well, he did.  Here’s the thing.  The way I was taught there were three variations of the Press.  This is not to be confused with the USAWA rules for pressing movements.  I am listing these to make a point regarding training, not setting a record.

1.  The Push Press.  With the weight racked on the collar bone and you would then dip with knees and hips and then extend to drive the weight overhead while finishing pressing out with only the shoulders and arms with no recovery (rebending the knees or it was then a push jerk). A very quick movement that might slow down at the finish.

2.  The Strict Press.  You held the weight racked on the collar bone and with NO knee bend or drive with anything other than the shoulders and arms you would press the weight overhead.  A very slow and methodical movement if you are using near max weights.

3.  The Olympic Press. Similar to the Push press but with no knee bend.  However, hip drive would be employed to get a “heave” off the chest after sinking with the weight once it was across the collar bone.  Of course the reason the Olympic press was dropped was it started out as a strict press then the rules were relaxed to the point it became more of a push press and impossible to judge.  My Uncle became so proficient at the sinking or “slumping” and the hip drive he actually could Olympic Press as much as he could Push Press!

Over the years I have used all three in my training.  I think most people have used the Push press and the strict press but not many have used the Olympic Press.  I would guess most would simply say that Olympic press was a cheating press or a poor push press and not see any additional value in the Olympic press.

It is my opinion that the Olympic press helps develop hip drive.  It makes you really focus on engaging the hips and I think that’s really important not only in weightlifting but in many athletic events as well.  Mastering that small range of motion can add to a power clean, to a fast baseball pitch, and maybe most importantly to throwing events such as the shot put, discus, highland games and others.

Be sure and focus on the hip drive!  When I’m done training these I can really feel the fatigue in my hips.  A “pro tip” from my Uncle Wayne was he said when he would get set to press he would focus on flexing his glutes hard.

Give it a try and see what you think.  Let me know!

Ringing the Weights

by Thom Van Vleck

When I was a kid my Uncles and their friends were lifting competitively and going to Olympic lifting contests, Odd lift meets (Pre USAWA), and even a couple of Powerlifting meets.  I remember going out to the gym and listening to the clanging of the weights.  Often they would not put collars on or put them on tightly and this would allow the plates to “rattle” or clang.

Have you ever heard of “ringing” an Anvil.  A high quality anvil has a “ring” to it when you strike it with a hammer.  As a matter of fact I have a tradition in my own gym that if you have a good workout you “Ring” Grandpa Jackson’s Anvil before leaving.  It’s a personal tradition but my youngest son that currently trains with me does it as well.

I don’t know if it’s true or not but I once heard that barbells were called that because they would “ring” when you struck them.  While this may not be true I can offer a little evidence for it.  There was a British poet named Joseph Addison that lived from 1979 to 1719.  He once wrote that he lifted weights an hour every morning and his family knew not to disturb him when he was “ringing” the weights.

I have also wondered why the call a “dumbbell” a dumb bell.  I know the earliest dumbbells often looked like an old style phone hand set (Halteres) and also two cones attached at the points with the grip in the middle before they evolved into the the modern dumbbell that had a balanced handle between two even spheres (regardless the shape of the ends).  Did the old weights “ring” when the would bring them together?  Was that an early sound in gyms that there was a ringing of these weights and when the modern dumbbell came along they didn’t have this rings so they were called dumbbells?  Makes me wonder.

I’m sure someone more well versed in history might have an opinion but I would say that I think I’m right.  People used to “ring the weights” when training.  To this day I enjoy keeping the metal plates loose on a heavy squat and listening to that rattle as I step in and out of the squat rack.  I just sounds like weightlifting to me!

So ring some weights!

The Priority for the Master Lifter

by Thom Van Vleck

Recently I got to visit with a college friend.  We went to college in the 80’s and he had dated my wife’s roommate and they married.  While his wife and mine had kept in touch, I had not seen him in a couple decades.  He had played football in college and then become a Physical Education teacher as well as a high school football and wrestling coach.

As our wives caught up we talked about our lifting and training as he obviously was still in great shape.  He made a comment that really caught my attention.

He said, “Ya know what?  I still lift pretty close to what I could 20 years ago but I don’t go heavy any more.  Seems like I can hurt myself just by trying to lift my hardest.  I was benching the other day and thought it felt easy so I threw some more weight on and the next thing I know I pull my pec! I probably won’t be able to bench for months!”


Then there was this comment from Olympic Gold medalist Adam Nelson.

“The same groin pull that would put me out for 5 days at age 25 will now put me out 5 weeks at 40″.

So what’s the point?  When we are young we are mentally WEAKER than our bodies.  We strive to push our bodies and really we can’t often hurt ourselves doing that when we are young.  As we get older we become mentally STRONGER than our bodies and we can literally hurt ourselves in the simple act of working out.

Couple that with the fact that when we do get hurt we take exponentially longer to heal as we age then the priority for the master lifter isn’t getting stronger.  It’s avoiding injury.  Sure, you want to get stronger but the things we did when we were young now take a back seat to staying healthy.

Think about it, if you trained really hard for a couple weeks then injured yourself and was out 6 weeks would you have been better off to train a little easier for a solid 8 weeks.  So for the master lifter the focus should first be avoiding injury and when you get injured healing up.  You will find yourself much better off in the long run.  This doesn’t mean take it easy, it just means to be smart!

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