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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Part 42 0

More on Rotating Sleeves

After the publication of Part 41 of this series of articles, the title of this month’s piece could have been “Let The Debate Begin.” There was an overwhelming response to my comments that there was no true advantage to utilizing a barbell with rotating sleeves when performing the squat, bench press, or deadlift. To some, this was the equivalent of attacking the Pope, noting that Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Michael Vick produces a lot of statistics but few clutch victories, or that the Nautilus machines designed and produced in the early 1970’s brought better overall results than the end product of today’s training even with lots of friction in the mechanical components and some strength curves that needed modification. Sorry, there is no Santa Claus and you can efficiently and effectively squat 800 pounds with a non-rotating barbell. It came as no surprise that one of the major distributors of a well known brand of barbells communicated in an unflattering manner. One of the statements often used in our facility, and one I have uttered for perhaps thirty years to our trainees, is that “I don’t make up the facts, I’m just reporting them.” as we apply what I believe is the best and most useable information to the training programs of the athletes we are responsible for. Regarding my October Titan/Eleiko article, Tom from Ivanko himself noted, “Well… we are force-fed all this crap by a lot of marketing people that are holding themselves out as knowledgeable experts in the field. Much is only gimmicks to increase the price of the product. The price of a bar should be largely determined by the cost of using a good alloy steel and hi-tech manufacturing techniques to transform the steel into a hi-performance tool of the trade, not gimmicks and hype.“ I agree and believe that Ivanko Barbell Company has the major share of the market for the obvious reason that Tom and his staff deliver the best product for the best price and do so consistently.

The great Roger Estep was among the strongest lifters of his day and obviously demonstrated one of powerlifting’s best muscular physiques (previously unpublished photo courtesy of Mike Lambert, PLUSA Magazine)

The great Roger Estep was among the strongest lifters of his day and obviously demonstrated one of powerlifting’s best muscular physiques (previously unpublished photo courtesy of Mike Lambert, PLUSA Magazine)

I would agree with Tom’s implied statement that most have forgotten that the primary function of the barbell is to provide effective and safe training for the user. The “best” components utilized in the manufacturing of a barbell mean little if the bar itself is not strong enough to avoid distortion or actual breakage during use. Previous installments in this series have made reference to tensile strength, shear, and other physical factors that determine the strength of the bar but one should start with the question, “Will my choice of barbell product protect me and those who utilize the bar relative to the specific application we’re addressing?” Let me backtrack and now clearly state, in my garage, that same query would most probably sound like, “Hey, is the bar gonna hold up when we squat and deadlift?” The part of Tom’s statement above that counts most in any gym, school weight room, garage, or basement is “The price of a bar should be largely determined by the cost of using a good alloy steel and hi-tech manufacturing techniques to transform the steel into a hi-performance tool of the trade…” Working with my father as an iron worker I learned that you first have to have a “good” piece of iron or steel for the specific job. Lifting heavy weights requires a bar that will not bend or break and yes, absolutely, they can and do break. Go to the Ivanko website and read some of Tom’s articles about bars (made by other manufacturers, not Ivanko) that have brought lawsuits after their failure during use caused crippling or disfiguring injury. A warning to the squeamish: the article referring to the “testicular incident” is absolutely true and should be disturbing! So for the many bar and equipment “aficionados,” first things first would be securing a bar that will hold up to the weights and what I will term, the “dropping abuse” it will be subjected to. Without this, any additional “bells and whistles” count for nothing.

One of our readers e mailed:

“…another great article that makes you go ‘hmm’ ……I was under the impression and led to believe, that rotating sleeves took the stiffness or torque off the wrists – making curls in the power rack smoother and more comfortable. After 40 years of lifting and thanks to you, an un-ending quest to train on the ‘best stuff’, I should`ve just kept my first barbell – a ‘DP’ vinyl set – solid bar with a cheap aluminum sleeve autographed by Bruce Randall…who knew ?”

Despite the obvious sarcasm in referencing vinyl plates and doing curls within the power rack, as per my reference in last month’s installment, this is a legitimate observation/question. I was clear that in some applications, such as Olympic lifting movements like the clean or snatch, there was an advantage to using a barbell with a rotating sleeve. There will not be so much “rotation” when doing a curl that using a barbell with a rotating sleeve becomes a necessity. There is an exercise we did as young men, never popular but seen at times in the late 1950’s to the early to mid-1960’s as a result of John Jesse’s training books. Jesse was a highly respected track and field coach who authored a number of books on strength training and conditioning. These were pioneering efforts for his day and he occasionally had an article in one of Weider’s magazines. Jesse espoused what were the “usual” basic, common sense themes of training and I purchased a few of his books. One program for football players included an exercise called “Power Curls” which was a power clean from the floor, with a curl, or reverse grip. It was perhaps as awkward to perform as it is to describe but with a bit of practice, proved to be an enjoyable, full body, hard, demanding, and productive movement. If one recalls Karl Norberg, the San Francisco longshoreman who performed incredible feats of strength and went head-to-head with the great John Grimek in an oft-cited lifting exhibition, this reverse curl type of clean was the way he elevated the barbell to his chest before pressing it.

Karl Norberg was a relatively untrained but hard working guy who had spent a lifetime doing physical labor when he had his famous lifting encounter with John Grimek in 1941. Not utilizing the best of equipment still made him one of the strongest men of his day, into his eighties.

Karl Norberg was a relatively untrained but hard working guy who had spent a lifetime doing physical labor when he had his famous lifting encounter with John Grimek in 1941. Not utilizing the best of equipment still made him one of the strongest men of his day, into his eighties.

Our group of guys, using a chrome vanadium York bar that was non-rotating, with screw-on inside collars and “small-holed” plates, adopted the “reverse curl from the floor” movement with good results. The non-rotating sleeves never proved to be a hindrance nor injury provoking factor. For those interested in obtaining one of John Jesse’s best books, go to memorabilia expert Bill Hinbern’s site. Bill has reprinted a quantity of classic training books and manuals and is “the place” to find the training courses and hard to get materials from the turn of the century through the modern era. Bill Hinbern’s Super Strength Training site can be accessed at www.superstrengthtraining.com and there, you can get John Jesse’s comprehensive book “Wrestling Physical Conditioning Encyclopedia” which is considered one of the best works on both amateur style wrestling and physical training. The specific link for the book is: www.superstrengthtraining.com/john_jesse.html

Another factor to consider when choosing a barbell for the three powerlifts is bar diameter but I will have another month’s worth of commentary before getting to that.

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Ken Leistner

About Ken Leistner

American strength training writer, personal trainer, strength consultant for the National Football League, and chiropractor. He is often known as "Dr. Ken". Read More >

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