Tag Archives: USAWA

Top 4 Questions to Ask a Strength Athlete

by Eric Todd

I have been competing in strength sports for a number of years now.  Anyone who knows me knows that is what I do.  Though the people I associate with outside the strongman and weightlifting community are for the most part a well-meaning group of people, I sometimes have gotten some interesting questions from them.  Here are some of my favorites:

1)      Why do you do that?  I usually get this when a person first finds out the arena in which I compete in, or find that I lifted x amount in a certain lift.  Definitely when I set the necklift record.   The arrogant response is “If you have to ask, you would not understand anyhow.”  The fact is, many people cannot understand this, because they cannot understand the quality of being competitive, or the drive to be the best at something.  They are satisfied with living in mediocrity.  That is fine for them, just not for me.

2)      Aren’t you afraid of hurting your back or Aren’t you afraid of getting a hernia? (these both kind of fall under the same category)  No.  I am not.  I choose not to live in fear.  As it turns out I have done both and continue to lift pretty heavy, so I guess there was nothing to be afraid of in the first place.

3)      Are all the guys that compete on steroids?  No.  I am not (I assume that is why you are asking).   I know there are others who are clean.  However, in strongman I kept getting surprised by how many dirty lifters there were. Even some that I assumed were clean that were not.  I guess they better find some better stuff.   That is one reason that the USAWA is a HUGE breath of fresh air.  It is nice to lift against other clean lifters.

4)      Why haven’t I seen you on TV?  This is one of the more absurd questions, in my book.  While I have competed with the best, and have beaten some of the best at one time or another, at 5’11”, with small joints and no drugs, there is really only so far my work ethic and genetics was going to take me in the strongman arena.  I went all out, but this is the reality.  Secondly, I always thought of it like this:  I do strongman events on Saturdays.  Other guys go golfing on Saturdays.  They even might be pretty serious about their golf game.    Would it make a whole lot of sense for me to ask them why I have not seen them on TV competing in the Masters or something?  Competing  in the Masters or World’s Strongest Man is for the truly elite, the best of the best.  He hasn’t made it to that point, and neither have I.  It is that simple, and not something it seems I would have to explain.  It is not like I am one of  only 13 guys in the world who do strongman and the other 12 are the ones who go to Worlds.

Anyhow, those are my top 4 questions that the layman feels necessary to ask someone who competes in strength sports.  Some are kind of funny, and some just sad.  Aside from the steroids question, I assume they don’t mean much by them.  It is just humorous sometimes to realize how we are perceived by those on the outside.

The Guy in the Gym

by Eric Todd

A number of years ago, when I was in my late teens, my sister was married to a real tool shed who fancied himself a bad mother. I  will from here forward refer to him as “Dick”.  He was always trying to impress us with stories about being some kind of a tai kung flung master whom his sensei considered one of the most dangerous men in the world.  A pretty big dude, but I later decided that while perhaps he may have been the baddest man in the dojo, it was one that catered to kindergarteners. Well, one day, my brother and I were wrestling in the yard as we often did for conditioning and fun, when “Dick” came up and grabbed me.  He clearly was in the mood to show who the alpha-male was, so I dug in with some underhooks and suplexed him to the ground.  He lay there whimpering, not wanting any more.

Another  time, when I was home on sebatical from college, I was lifting in my parent’s  basement.  I was warming up on bench with 225 and “Dick” came down the stairs.  He cockily indicated that he wished to lift with me.  I was fine with that, so I traded places with him to give him a spot.  Then, as I unracked the weight, it plummeted to “Dick’s” chest and pinned him down  to the bench.  I found myself deadlifting all 225 pounds off of him.  I was embarrassed for him and ashamed of him, so I suggested that he needed to warm up a little.  We dropped the weight down to 170ish.  Same result.  Finally, we dropped it down to one wheel, 135.  “Dick” was able to grind out a rep.  After that he made a hasty retreat upstairs.

From that time on, “Dick” no longer challenged me during the remainder of his tenure as my sister’s husband. On many occasions after that,however, I did get to hear about the proverbial “guy in the gym”.  This guy was amazing!  His arms were definitely bigger than mine.    When Dick found out how much I was benching, this guy was doing almost double.  I am pretty sure he could curl the whole stack on the nautilus machine.  When I asked how much he could squat, “Dick” really didn’t have a frame of reference, so I am pretty sure he said like 1000 pounds, which at the time was world record poundage. 

I have said it before, I like physical strength.  But in my eyes, it pales in comparison to what lies between your ears.  I really do not care what you can lift, if you give your all in whatever arena you are in, you are a strong individual.  If you are bested, you will continue to come back and try again and again.  Maybe winning, maybe losing, but you don’t give up.  Tenacity. 

Then there are those weak minded cowards  who, when bested, not only give up, they also try and find a way to bring he who has bested him down as well.   We have all heard about the guy in the gym.  The one at “Dick’s” gym may or may not have existed.  But it is for guys like “Dick” that I choose to while my time with doers.  Guys who enter the arena.  Those who tell themselves that the body can handle things that the mind tries to tell it aren’t possible.  Guys who believe.  Life is too short to listen to guys like “Dick”.

Founding USAWA Principles

by Al Myers

I’ve been appreciating the comments on the USAWA Discussion Forum recently in regards to ET’s editorial story the other day about problems and issues the USAWA faces in stimulating new memberships.   I have to admit – most of ET’s sentiments I have felt at some time or another.  Our organization is very unique in several ways compared to other lifting organizations.  Some of the comments in the forum suggested ideas that sure sound good on paper (and would mimic the policies of other established lifting organizations), but they go against the founding principles of the USAWA.  I know there are several new members to the USAWA that are not “in tune” to the historical philosophies of the USAWA, so I want to go over them today.  These were foundation Principles of the USAWA, established by Bill Clark and the initial founding members of the USAWA 26 years ago when the initial USAWA bylaws were written.  These ideas were the groundwork of the USAWA, and have been maintained throughout  the years.   Here they are – the 5 founding principles of the USAWA:

1.  Contest lifts not currently contested in other lifting organizations.

The concept of the “all -rounds” was to offer a competitive avenue for contesting lifts not being offered by other lifting organizations, ie powerlifting and Olympic lifting.  These means the Bench Press, Squat, Deadlift, Clean and Jerk, and the Snatch are not eligible to be USAWA lifts.  This statement is and has been the VERY FIRST rule in the USAWA rulebook since the beginning.  The intention here was to offer competition in lifts “outside” of the other forms of lifting – and to recognize what was called the “odd lifts”.  The idea of this is to have an organization that is not just another form of powerlifting or Olympic lifting.

2.  Drug Free Organization

From the beginning drug free competition within the USAWA was a goal.  Drug Free competition is only insured by actually having drug testing occur.  I know at times in the past this had to be questioned (adequate drug testing), but now we have one of the best drug testing programs of any lifting organization.  We test at many meets, and a wide range of lifters are tested. 

3.  Use of minimal supportive equipment.

The initial intention of the USAWA was to have an organization that only included the use of a belt. No wraps, no suits, no anything else.  But this principle was compromised with the addition of wrist wraps within a couple of years.  The argument for wrist wraps was for wrist protection doing one arm swings, not wrist support.  This “opened the door” to allowing wrist wraps for all lifts.  Next came the use of knee wraps for the squats.  However, the USAWA for the most part has maintained this original principle and has not allowed the wide range of supportive equipment that is now available to the lifters.  

4.  Age and bodyweight corrections.

From the beginning, the idea in the USAWA was to have all competitors competing against each other with formula adjustments.  This includes using the Lynch Formula to correct for bodyweight, and the Age Allowance Percent for age correction.   I won’t get into my views here on whether I feel these corrections are “fair” – but just making the point that this was an original principle that the USAWA was founded on.

5.  Affiliate with IAWA for World Competitions.

From the day of the official organization of the USAWA, the IAWA was formed as well to give international competition.  However, the USAWA has always had their own set of working bylaws separate from the IAWA.    With time things have “evolved” within the USAWA to have some differences between the USAWA and the IAWA(UK), but integrity was kept in the main rules and concepts which has allowed this peaceful union over the past 26 years.   It is important  that when changes are made in the USAWA, we must always remember our IAWA affiliation and how this may affect our relationship within IAWA.  Making changes about  “little things” within the USAWA is one thing – but when “big issues” are addressed the decision is much larger than the USAWA.   The last thing we want to do is damage our IAWA affiliation.

I may not fully agree with  all of these founding principles of the USAWA – but I will support them because they are what our organization was formed from.  Much like the articles in the United States Constitution  – they were set for a reason by our founding fathers and should be respected and not changed or challenged.     I just wanted to write this editorial because I know people often wonder how I stand on these issues.  Well, the above Founding Principles are “set in concrete” in my opinion and should not be changed  EVER within the USAWA.  If we do change them we might as well change our name as well – because we wouldn’t be the same USAWA that our founding fathers envisoned for us.

Where do we go?

by Eric Todd

The USAWA has been around for 26 years.  To my knowledge, there is no other governing body for all-round lifting in the USA, and only a small splinter group in the UK outside of our world organization, the IAWA.  Anybody who is anybody in all-round in America is a member of the USAWA.  So why is it, that after 26 years we still have fewer than 100 members?  I believe there are several reasons behind this, which I will address in this essay.  So, we need to decide if we like the status quo.  If not, do we want to grow, and if so, how?

People do not like to get out of their comfort zone.  In most of the other strength disciplines, there are a handful of movements that you must become proficient at.  So, an individual may find one area that he excels in, and stick with that.  I would say the vast majority of competitors find one discipline they are comfortable in and then do not deviate from it  The USAWA has over 200 lifts to tackle, some of them quite unorthodox.  So, most lifters choose to stick to their bench press meets, or Oly lifting, or even strongman in order not to risk failure in competing at something they are not familiar with.  I would argue that the USAWA has something for everyone, so most anyone can find success in all-round.  In addition to that, I would argue that in order to be a true strength athlete, you need to get outside your comfort zone.  My forte was always strongman, but I would compete in powerlifting, all-round, highland, and even an oly meet just to challenge myself, to broaden my horizons, to grow, and to be a true strength athlete.  All-round pretty much affords you that opportunity all blanketed in one organization.

There is not a lot of glamour in all-round.  Our meets, including our championships and national meets are held in small gyms or  at people’s private facilities, and the crowd of spectators is a handful of family members.  There are no magazine covers, no opportunity to “go pro”, no money, no live streams, and often not even a cheap plastic trophy to lug with you when you go home.  Definitely not the place for trophy hunters. 

People in the US have not been exposed to all-round.  People recognize the benchpress, squat and deadlift of powerlifting.  They are familiar with the men in kilts “flipping telephone poles” in highland games.  They have seen the mighty men during the Olympics snatch and clean and jerk.  They have come across world’s strongest man on ESPN whilst flipping through channels.  So, if I compete in one of those disciplines, they have a frame of reference to what I am doing. The VAST majority of people have never heard of all-round.  Nor have they ever heard of a Steinborn or a harness lift.  Unfortunately, if they were to read the requirements of a few of our lifts, they would probably have no desire to try them.

Furthermore, we are a raw, drug tested organization.  There is no possible way to artificially inflate your numbers in the USAWA.  There are  people whose egos cannot handle lifting less than what they were able to do when artificially aided.

One last reason I will mention that I feel we struggle to draw competitors is “the formula”.  I know I have walked away from my share of meets irritated by it.  I have out-lifted people by 1000 and more pounds in a meet, only to be beaten by “the formula”.  If you are  a 300+ pound behemoth,  you will struggle to find great success in all-round.  Though I understand the need for a formula to compare across divisions, I feel that we lose a lot of the bigger lifters because  of ours. 

So, the question remains-do we want to grow?  I spoke with Al about this on an occasion or two.  My opinion is this, take it for what it is worth.  We do not want to grow at all costs.  Growth is good, but we don’t just need more lifters.  We need more of the “right” lifters.  When I started competing in strongman, it was a small organization.  The competitors knew and respected each other.  We competed hard against each other, but would root for the other guy because we respected him and wanted to beat him at his best.   We would travel to train with each other, eat dinner with each other, email or call each other about training, competitions, etc.  This is kind of how I feel all-round is in its current state.    You go to a meet, and it is like a family reunion.  The guys you are competing with have probably been tested, and even if it has been a while, you know their character well enough at this point to know they are clean.  You are treated with respect amongst the lifters as well as within the organization.  When strongman started growing, it eventually drew some individuals I did not like being around.  Not collectively, but there was a lot more than before.  There was a lot more narcicism, more ego-centrism.  It became much less a brotherhood, and more just a sport. 

So, growth can be a double edged sword.  I know I hate to see meets that get only 2 or 3 lifters or have to be cancelled for lack of competitors.  And with so few competitors in our pool, this is going to happen. I would like for every meet to have 15+ competitors, competition within the divisions, and awards for the competitors.  I would love to see increased membership numbers helping us increase our organization financially.  But do we want to sacrifice the integrity of our sport as well the great camaraderie within to accomplish this? 

I, for one, do not have any answers.  However, I am interested to see what you all say.  I am just hoping to create some dialogue that could potentially  serve to help guide our direction into the future.

JWC Redesigned Logo

by Thom Van Vleck

The New JWC logo.

The Jackson Weightlifting Club is one of the oldest Clubs in the USAWA…and that’s saying a lot because there are some old clubs!  To me, what sets the JWC apart is it very much is a family club.  Sure, there are lots of non family members, but the core has been my family and for over 85 years there has been a member of my family at the lead.  While I hope that continues, I just hope it’s around another 85 years regardless of who is running it!  I am pretty proud to keep the tradition going of lifting for not only strength of body, but strength of mind, spirit, and character.  That’s why on the logo below that adorns the front of the shirt it says “Strength, Faith, Honor, and Wisdom”.  I would say that lifting is more about life than winning awards for the JWC…..but awards are nice, too!

Logo that's on the front of the new JWC shirts

The anvil that is on the both sides is a silhouette of the Original “Grandpa Jackson” Anvil that sits in my gym.  Many will remember the story I’ve probably told too many times of my Great Grandfather lifting that anvil to impress his kids, then my grandfather turning to weight training to achieve that same feat….then that turning into a tradition of lifting in our family.  And yes, 1928 was the year my grandfather started lifting with his future brother in law and his friends that led to the formation of the the JWC.  While the name “Jackson Weightlifting Club” wasn’t coined until 1957, I consider 1928 as the date the idea was born…..which was more important than the name.  That idea was a man could use weights to make himself better in all ways….not just physical strength.

The "old" logo in use since the 90's.

The Logo drawn by my Uncle Phil in the late 50's that inspired all the future logos.

Here are the old logos just to let you compare.  I have tried to stay true to the original as I want to always honor those that came before me and paved the way.  I know I’ve shared the symbolism of it before, but since I’ve made an update, I wanted to share again.  I plan on having the shirts available at my Highland Games in October and the Old Time Strongman Championships this fall (looking at a December date).  So if you like them, come and compete and get one as a meet shirt!  I know a shirt won’t make my lift more (well….unless it was a bench shirt…but who likes those!)…but when I wear this shirt, I feel extra inspired to not let the tradition down!

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