More Troubling and True
I would like to begin this installment with an e mail I received, one that brings up a legitimate question that I would like to provide an answer to:
“Dear Dr. Ken,
I have a question that I would like to ask in a respectful way. I have read and enjoyed your articles in different publications and on line for years. You are always straight forward and honest about things. In the old PLUSA Magazines you stayed out of the politics and commented honestly about the state of the sport. The series here at this site has been very informative. Here is my question, the main purpose so far has been about your personal history in the sport and equipment. This is a site for Eleiko barbells and plates and you have written positively about these. Lately you have mainly mentioned Ivanko. Is this a conflict of interest? Why isn’t it a problem for the site if it is Eleiko? I hope you don’t mind the question, it just seems strange to me. Thank you.
A Lifter In Ohio”
I’m glad this issue was brought up. My friendship with Titan Support Systems founder and owner Pete Alaniz goes back a number of decades and I was there to help Pete get his business off the ground so to speak, when he first began in 1981 (please see March 2012 issue of Powerlifting USA Magazine for terrific interview with Pete}. The early Titan suit ads featured a full page photo of a very mediocre powerlifter that was placed on the inside of the back cover of Powerlifting USA Magazine for what might have been close to two years and yes, that lifter was me in a competition photo taken by my lovely wife Kathy! When Eleiko Barbell promised Pete and Titan the exclusive distribution rights first to the entire Eleiko powerlifting bars and plates line of products and then to be one of only two exclusive U.S. dealers to all of the Olympic weightlifting products, Pete worked like a dog to help Eleiko expand its resources within the United States and of course, make his end of the business a success. He brokered an exclusive distribution network and procedure with one of the nation’s major freight carriers that was innovative and advanced, literally guaranteeing the greatest possible ease of customs clearance and subsequent stateside delivery. He garnered the support and inventory storage space from his home city and in summary, paved the way for a successful and mutually profitable business relationship.
For a number of reasons, the partnership and exclusive arrangement did not work out. Pete and Titan Support Systems have always provided the very best powerlifting attire, apparel, and lifting related products. He does the same with the barbell products he sells and distributes. He continues to carry the Eleiko products and as he always has done, sells Ivanko Barbell products too. Ivanko has consistently been an industry innovator and leader and through Titan’s earlier years, it was a product Pete and Titan always handled. Considered to be the absolute state of the art powerlifting bar and plates for U.S. lifters, Pete of course was present to supply the best to his customers. My preference the past few years has been Ivanko Barbell. Eleiko remains a respected name in the industry and a respected quality product. Maintaining my reputation for being “straight forward” any gym, institutional setting, or training facility would not go wrong having either company’s bar or plates, I am just privy to some behind-the-scenes research and work done by Ivanko and for lack of a better way of stating it, they won me over. Our facility has a number of Ivanko OBX bars in black oxide finish and despite the expense, two of the great stainless steel 29 mm power bars. Thus if you see what might be considered quite a bit of mention of Ivanko, think of it as a reflection of both my preference for the products and of course, part of the information I believe is relevant to the point I am trying to make to the readers in any specific monthly installment. I should also note that the statements made in these monthly columns reflects my opinion, my opinion only, and may or may not be in agreement with Pete’s. He has been nice enough to give me free reign to “speak my mind” and decide what our readers might wish to come their way each month. Thank you for your inquiry, and I hope this provides an acceptable answer.
And Now On To The Article
Being “old” and obsessively involved with an activity allows one to also know a lot about that specific activity and through many decades, make the acquaintance of a great number of individuals, if not most of those involved in the activity. In my case, jump starting my lifting involvement at the age of twelve, long before it was a mainstream or even “acceptable” activity to those in polite society, allowed me to be part of what was very much a cult phenomenon. Few in the New York City area knew who Leroy Colbert was and fewer still had the opportunity to sit with Dave Draper in the back of Leroy’s health food store, soaking up the wisdom of his years of training.
Obviously, that wisdom and information benefited Dave a lot more than it did me by the end-product physical results, but it emphasizes the point that despite walking the streets with legitimate twenty-inch arms and shoulders that barely squeezed through a standard doorway, no one outside of the very small circle of “lifting guys” in the late 1950’s and early ‘60’s knew who Leroy was. Having the advantage of being able to cut and weld my own equipment from the age of twelve or thirteen, I also had a keen interest in the tools of the lifting game and through the years of involvement, came to know many of those who designed and manufactured those tools.
The TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEM site received quite a bit of response to the information provided in last month’s installment, with requests for “just a few more” tales of the strange and dangerous incidents which remain unknown to the general lifting public. As one manufacturer related to me, “There is indeed a bizarre history of injuries in the claim to be hurt one way, while actually being injured in another. We had a guy that claimed that the end of a twelve pound dumbbell broke off and knocked his teeth out, breaking his jaw on both sides. As he recently went through a divorce, we decided to see if we could learn anything from his ex-wife. She told us, ‘No, that’s not what happened. He caught me in bed with another man and decided to commit suicide by dropping a loaded dumbbell on his neck. The dumb-ass missed and hit his teeth.’ Case dismissed! After that one I am not surprised by anything.”
Closely related to last month’s incident that involved the sex organ of an unfortunate gentleman, there was, quite a few years ago, another about a lifter who, as it was related to me, “got his business end stuck in the hole of a standard barbell plate. The fire department had to remove the plate.” If that was not bad enough, “One time a guy’s Johnson was caught in the weight stack in a machine at one of the trendy gyms in West Hollywood on Santa Monica Blvd. He was playing ‘chicken.’ “
In one more “bent bar” story, from one of our best national and international lifters from the 1970’s, “Hey Ken, Your recent article concerning bent/broken bars brought up a rather humorous situation. Many years ago, the USPF brought a combined Junior/Master team to the Worlds in Perth, Australia. As usual, the lighter lifters lifted on the earlier days. I was competing in the 165 pound class. We had just finished the bench session and were preparing to begin our DL warm-ups when it was discovered that the bar to be used was chrome and like most chrome bars, of questionable grip. The meet director refused to change the bar, which was still in the warm-up room. Big George Hechter stepped in to resolve the problem. He loaded the chrome bar to a significant weight and utilizing his prodigious deadlifting power, lifted the bar from the floor and dropped/threw it across the bench. You think it bent? Bend it did, forcing the meet director to make the bar change that everyone wanted.”
Of course this story indicates one of the most common causes of bar failure: dropping where contact occurs in the middle of the bar, or onto power rack pins. One could include drops to the floor that produce disproportionate stress to one end of the bar where that end will contact the floor first.
Even when I knew “nothing” about training and less about training equipment, I was driven to have the best bar I could afford at that time. Coming from a family of iron workers and blacksmiths, the early life lessons included: use the correct tool for the job, use the best possible tool of its kind for that job, take care of that tool so that it is always available and operates as it should. Though inexperienced and lacking in knowledge, I knew to avoid a chrome finished bar when possible. An excellent point made in our latter story above, is that one of the worst surfaces or bar treatments is chrome. Almost all of the cheaper bars are chromed; it looks nice, it looks clean, it reduces rust on the finished surface but for a serious trainee and especially for a competitive powerlifter, it is not what one wants. The chrome “fills” the spaces where the bar is knurled and is a relatively “slippery” finish. This makes for a less than optimal gripping surface, especially when attempting heavy deadlifts and most especially when chalk and sweat are caked onto the bar. Most dangerously, chrome does pit and eventually may peel. Any imperfection in a chromed surface can cut like razor wire. I have been the unfortunate recipient of chrome cuts and these are nasty in every sense of the word. Sharp and unforgiving, an imperfect chromed finish can curtail your serious lifting for weeks. I will reiterate that if sweaty and/or caked with chalk due to sweat as an obvious happenstance, the grip is compromised and as described above in our lifter’s reflective tale, “questionable” meaning “slick.” The last thing a lifter wants is a heavily loaded bar sliding off of the back of the shoulders when squatting and/or losing a deadlift attempt, not because the strength for the lift is lacking, but because the bar can’t be held properly.
I made the statements above that “the last thing a lifter wants” is a bar finish that compromises the grip and “most dangerously” chrome can pit, peel and cut but in truth, the very last and most dangerous happenstance in any training facility would be a bar that literally breaks or snaps. Chrome may undergo hydrogen embrittlement, another point often made in the Ivanko Barbell literature. Think of hydrogen being absorbed into metal and over time, being incorporated into the steel’s crystal structure. This will weaken the bar, often making it significantly brittle and more prone to failure under heavy loads. Of the barbell finishes, chrome would be the most serious offender involving this process. The removal of hydrogen requires an additional baking process, additional time to take this necessary manufacturing step, and additional expense. The cheap, off-shore bars that proliferate in U.S. training facilities are inexpensive because they do not take the precaution of making the bars as safe as possible after the application of a chrome finish.
Many gym owners and some misguided strength coaches will opt for a chromed bar because of its appearance but the astute lifter wants a natural or “unfinished” bar, a black oxide coating, or my favorite that obviates maintenance problems and provides a bomb-proof finish, a high end stainless steel barbell like Ivanko Barbell’s OBXS-20kg-29mm. This specific bar is relatively expensive but the 29 mm diameter makes it ideal for the three lifts, strong enough to handle the heaviest squats, and unlike most, Ivanko Barbell knows how to take the hardest steel and finishes and knurl properly. Knurling is another issue, one we have touched upon. It is difficult to treat a bar so that it is strong enough and “hard enough” to withstand the rigors of powerlifting training and competition, then attempt to apply a knurl that will be “deep enough” to allow for a secure grip when under the duress of handling limit attempts. Managing this with a stainless steel product is very difficult but these aforementioned bars are top-of-the-line in part because of this feature. A stainless steel bar will also withstand exposure to the elements if used in a garage or outdoor training facility. We have a fully equipped office facility that allows the rehabilitation of injuries and the preparation of athletes for high school, college, professional, and Olympic level competition. Our “garage area” houses a lot of strongman type of equipment, a host of racks, benches, and platform, and literally thousands of pounds of calibrated plates and yes, these too are from Ivanko Barbell. It is also, in the unheated, un-air conditioned, constantly exposed to moisture and the other elements garage and driveway that we have two of the stainless steel powerlifting bars and after years of use, there is not a speck of rust or discoloration on these bars. The knurling is every bit as deep and secure as the other Ivanko OBX bars, making this a great choice for this application.