Training with Thom “THE ANVIL” Van Vleck
by Al Myers
Last week I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon training at my gym with Thom “THE ANVIL” Van Vleck. We spent the entire workout training with anvils only!! I have a collection of three anvils, weighing 110, 152, and 190 pounds. You would be surprised how difficult you can make an anvil workout. Thom knows many ways how to use anvils for training. Training with anvils was very popular with old time strongmen. George Jowett, famous strongman and writer, lifted a 168 pound anvil by the horn with only one hand!!
Thom is a very popular writer for MILO, and has written many articles over the past several years. One of his earliest articles was about how it was a right of passage into the JWC (Jackson Weightlifting Club) to be able to lift Grandpa Jackson’s anvil overhead!! This anvil has been passed down through the generations of the JWC, and Thom has it as a center piece in his gym today. It weighs somewhere between 150 and 200 pounds. When you enter the JWC (Thom’s gym) – be prepared to be challenged by Grandpa Jackson’s anvil!!!
The workout started out with doing some snatches, swings and French Presses with my 110# anvil. Lifting anvils is not the same as lifting barbells – an anvil is just a huge chunk of iron that is hard to grab and hold on to!!! But then, it is an exhilarating feeling to be able to master lifting such an awkward object. We are fortunate today that we have bars with roller sleeves that contain fine ball bearings, and plates that are milled perfectly, to provide upmost balance and control when lifting weights. The old time strongmen did not have this type of equipment, but made the most of what they had and still made amazing strength gains.
We then progressed to doing clean and presses with the 152 pound anvil. We started out doing strict presses and finished by doing push presses with it. It is difficult to keep an anvil from “getting out in front of you” when pressing it overhead and to maintain the lockout. But the more reps we did with it the better both of us got. I then took on the 190# anvil and cleaned and pressed it several times. After this we did some one handed lifting with the anvils by gripping them by the horn – “Jowett style”. You really feel this in the forearm muscles. I have done alot of Vertical Bar lifting with a 2″ bar – but the horn of an anvil has a taper to it that makes it way more difficult!!
The next exercise we did was loading and deloading the three anvils onto platforms. This is a full body exercise. We did several “runs” of these until our backs starting cramping!! At this point I thought we would call it a workout but Thom had more in mind! We finished this 3 hour workout by carrying the 190# anvil down and back my 100 foot course (200 feet total) several times with the anvil cradled in our arms. This tested my cardiovascular endurance and left me in a heap of sweat and breathing like a race horse. Now – THAT is what you can call an ALL-ROUND workout and we didn’t even touch a barbell or dumbbell!!!