Troubling and true
It pleases Pete Alaniz, founder and President of Titan Support Systems, to receive feedback on the series of articles I have written for Titan. We both wanted to provide information and a monthly “enjoyable read” to the many customers and potential customers of Titan, and powerlifters who stumbled upon the site. While almost every male or female who has lifted weights for a number of years, has humorous or unusual stories related to the activity we enjoy so much, there have been questions about some of the statements I have made regarding accidents resulting from faulty barbell equipment. Unfortunately, the stories relayed within this column have been true and I suggest that every lifter go to the Ivanko Barbell Company site and read Tom Lincir’s very informative articles.
Specific articles related to broken and bent bars can be found at the following links and all of them are MUST reading:
Tom has been manufacturing and selling barbells since the late 1960’s, has an extensive background in metal and machine work, and has made it his business to know and understand the manufacturing process as well as anyone in the world. As a true “barbell guy” he also is one of the most astute historians with a collection of lifting related memorabilia that is rivaled by few. His collection is in effect, a museum in and of itself. Tom’s Ivanko Barbell site articles yield a tremendous amount of information about barbells and also, when discussing the dangers of faulty equipment, provide some truly frightening stories. I have been fortunate enough to know many dyed-in-the-wool iron game enthusiasts who have been around the sport as long as I have and we have shared stories, many of them as eye witnesses, which frankly, would scare many from lifting weights.
Have barbells literally “broken” or snapped during a lift, impaling the lifter’s throat or scrotum? Have the ends of a barbell sheared off leaving the lifter holding what became a one-sided loaded bar overhead, resulting in upper extremity dislocation? During a night of what was presumably drunken debauchery in a gym, did a gentleman have his sex organ cut off by a machine weight stack? Very unfortunately, especially in the case of the latter incident, the answer to all of the questions is “yes.” The first described incident above is noted in Tom’s Ivanko articles and again, I ask that you check these. I believe I made mention of the impaled scrotum in one of my previous articles. Though it did not involve a barbell but rather a cast iron weight stack on a pulley selectorized machine manufactured by a very well known company, the final tale is only tangentially related to “faulty equipment” but perhaps to hold reader interest I should relate that one at this juncture.
An example of a selectorized weight stack
Our legal system is superior to that of other countries in many ways but there are serious flaws, including the ability to request inordinately large sums of money from successful companies when any injury to the complainant is solely the result of his or her incredible and at times, unexplainable stupidity and poor judgment. In this specific case, a couple who had access to a commercial gym entered after closing time. Seeking an amorous adventure utilizing the exercise equipment that they so joyfully used to build larger and stronger muscles during the gym’s regular working hours, they proceeded to engage in a “routine” that involved variable amounts of physical exercise and physical contact. Perhaps seeking more excitement and stimulation, the male member of the couple placed his sex organ on the weight stack of a selectorized (weight stack and pin machine) lat pulldown machine. The intended result seemed to be the gentle massage and pressure of the weight stack as it was brought down upon his member in a controlled manner. Common sense would dictate that under any circumstances, if one places any body part on top of the 60 pound plate of a working weight stack while fifty pounds is lifted a few feet above said body part and then brought down upon it, there is a risk of serious injury. While the erstwhile “Glandular Gladiator” of this story may have found pleasure in the rhythmic ministrations of the weight stack, he no doubt felt somewhat differently when for reasons that were a bit unclear, his female companion lost control of the pulldown handle and the elevated portion of the stack suddenly dropped upon his most prized body part, literally smashing and severing it from his body! Yikes and ouch!! The only reason that this became a topic of conversation in the gym business was because our convoluted legal system allowed the gentleman to sue the machine’s manufacturer for, ahem, damages and it became a matter of public record. Because it was less expensive to provide a financial settlement than enter prolonged litigation, the man did recover some financial compensation. While not truly an example of “faulty equipment” and especially not a “faulty barbell,” it is a true and disturbing barbell related story! I could also make the obviously crass comment that it certainly did result in “faulty equipment!”
Barbells can and will bend. If a loaded bar is dropped on one end, it can and often will bend. If a loaded bar is dropped from a lifter’s shoulders while squatting, onto power rack support pins, it can and often will bend. If a loaded bar is dropped onto a bench top, as might happen if the barbell is lost while using a bench to do partial or box type squats, it can and probably will bend. In this latter case, the probability of breaking the bench is also rather high. Many years ago equipment manufacturer Jim Sutherland, mentioned often in my Titan Support System columns, performed what could be termed a “practical experiment” in trying to determine the performance parameters of a number of different Olympic and power bars. Simply, he loaded a barbell, set up for a heavy squat, and dropped the weight onto pre-set power rack support pins from a pre-determined height. Thankfully Jim used one of his own power racks with support pins that were rock-solid safe and would not break or distort. This might not sound “scientific” but it was practical as this is what occurs in gyms and weight rooms daily. He discovered a relative scale of durability among the bars of a number of manufacturers. As importantly, he highlighted one of the primary causes of bar bending and breakage in the industry. The “uneven contact” of the barbell and/or any “harsh” contact of the bar onto support pins is a frequent cause of barbell bending. One of the ways in which I tried to protect against this occurrence was to use support “shelves” that were adjustable for height, exceptionally heavy duty, and supported the barbell plates instead of the bar as a standard power rack would. Whether doing partial squats, presses, or deadlifts or actually dropping the loaded bar onto the supports when a point of momentary muscular failure/fatigue was reached in any set, the contact was made to the plates and not the bar. This protects the barbell from damage and exposure to extreme stress that might cause damage if there is an inherent flaw in the metal or the bar’s manufacturing process.
In an age where almost everyone enters a gym or institutional weight room and gives no thought to the safety of the equipment they will use that day, never inspects a bar, plates, or collars before loading their barbell, nor has any idea of the bar’s construction or components, it remains a fact that much of the training equipment, including the humble and comparatively simply designed barbell, may be unsafe to use with anything resembling heavy weights.
Be sure to come back April 1st 2012 to read installment #46 of Dr. Ken’s “History of Powerlifting Series”