Prototyping Part 8
If one were to enter the famous York Barbell Club gym during the 1950’s and early 1960’s, the greatest lifters in the country, some among the greatest in the world, would be seen lifting barbells loaded with metal plates. During a time in 1968 and ’69 when I either hitchhiked or drove to York for a Saturday morning workout, the plates used on the lifting platforms were metal. Needless to say, the platforms had to be “built to last” and the centerpiece for any serious training facility, be it a storefront gym or one’s garage, would be a “real” lifting platform. The unfortunate truth was that even the most well constructed platforms needed constant maintenance and repair due to the abuse that Olympic lifting presented. Bent bars were certainly encountered but probably less often than anticipated or expected with the advantage of hindsight. Powerlifting and bodybuilding could present the same challenges to a barbell or platform when heavy weights were utilized.
When the younger generations of lifters view photographs of the former participants of the sports of weightlifting and powerlifting, they often laugh about the wide lipped plates that were standard equipment. The wide lipped plates allowed for more surface area to strike the platform or floor upon each plate contact, dissipating force and thus protecting both barbell and floor surface. The rise in popularity of powerlifting as an organized sport and the very rapid increase in the amount of weight used in the three competitive lifts and especially in the squat, led to the early-1970’s introduction of a thinner profile barbell plate. This allowed the performance of the more frequently seen 700, 800, and 900 pound squats and deadlifts while being able to fit all of the plates onto the barbell sleeves, and with the ability to secure them with an appropriate collar. There are numerous photos, classics really, of great deadlifters and all around lifters Wilbur Miller and Bob Peoples deadlifting 700 + pounds, with canvas straps securing the ends of the bar and/or additional weights dangling off the bar in order to bring the total weight up to record levels.
There were certainly a few historical figures in the sport of powerlifting that forced barbell and plate manufacturers to re-think the products that they were offering to the lifting public. The rise in litigation also tended to push the more well known manufacturers to re-think the safety of their products and there was little defense for a barbell that could not be safely loaded and lifted because the amount of weight could not be accommodated and secured. Men like George Frenn, Jon Cole, Jim Williams, and John Kuc put up numbers in the 1960’s that would have held them in good stead into the 1980’s. Pacifico, Bridges, Kaz, and Coan took things to the next level through the late 1970’s and into the ‘80’s and the manufacturers, still centered in the United States, had to respond.
The introduction of thinner plates, especially within the sport of powerlifting, made loading of the bar and plate security possible and predictable. Protection of the bar and platform came from the development of all rubber, or metal core covered with rubber, bumper plates. There is certainly a detailed history of those products but to conclude the insight to prototyping of lifting equipment, I wanted to present a specific case of plate development. I was asked to help prototype a new urethane covering for Ivanko Barbell Company. As perhaps the premiere supplier of barbell and dumbbell products in the United States, it was always both a pleasure and a privilege to assist Tom and Ivan Lincer with the development of their products. I had lent a very minor amount of assistance on barbell related items in the past, and as this father and son team are among the few true experts in the areas of barbell and plate development and the history of the processes used in the manufacturing of “everything barbell or dumbbell,” I was eager to be involved. That this particular prototyping task could have been easily predicted as “fun” made my involvement immediate. I had written a piece for the Ivanko Barbell Company website that did not see the light of day, in part because Ivan can write in a manner that is oh, perhaps fifteen times more literate, cogent, and entertaining than I can. However, the staff at TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS felt that presenting most of the original material would prove to be instructive regarding some aspects of powerlifting or weight training equipment production.
It is always a pleasure and I enjoy helping to improve any type of training equipment. My wife Kathy and I have frequently been asked to design, prototype, or merely work with and improve the proposed or existing design of equipment. We take the requests seriously and it is invariably rewarding to know that our input helped to provide the lifting public with a “better” piece of training equipment. A recent request by IVANKO BARBELL COMPANY left us a bit giddy as we were given the rather direct instructions to “destroy these barbell plates.”
IVANKO has been developing an improved urethane coating for their plates with the express purpose of producing what the lifting public would consider “an indestructible training tool. “ Targeted for bumper plates that would be used for standard lifting purposes and exposure to general abuse in a hard core lifting facility, our specific test plates were Urethane OUEZ E-Z Lift Plates. We are very familiar with this model plate as our office facility and that of our one-on-one athletic training complex that services primarily high school, collegiate, and professional athletes, utilizes these “grip type plates” for all of the obvious reasons. We immediately set about our task, having one of our stronger athletes, a 6’ tall, 250 pound police officer, clean and jerk 297 pounds. With the bar loaded to the set weight and collars secured, we insured that the 45 pound test plates would take the full brunt of the impact by bringing the barbell to our testing load with smaller diameter plates, with only the larger Urethane OUEZ E-Z Lift Plate 45’s on the IVANKO OBX bar, hitting the platform. We should have noticed before our “even dozen” overhead drops and another two dozen “dumped deadlifts” with 407 that we had essentially destroyed our platform where the new Urethane coated plates had made contact. Our “indestructible” platform of 2 X 4’s stacked tightly together on end, covered with two layers of three-quarter-inch plywood and three-quarter-inch rubber was, as they say in our neighborhood, “craterized!” The plates were later taken outside and dropped repeatedly on the rim from waist height, onto the concrete street. Realizing that we were about to crack the municipally owned thoroughfare, the plates were given over to my partner Frank Savino at Gridiron Fitness for further assault.
As an adjunctive exercise meant to complement squats and deadlifts, one of the beautifully “Penn State Nittany Lion” engraved plates was hooked to a chain and rope and dragged around the municipal parking lot adjacent to the facility. After a week of dropping the plate numerous times on the rim and having it dragged across the lot, Frank reported that “This thing is indestructible.” I told him to “drag it behind Tom’s pickup truck” and our trusted trainer Tom Touhey did just that, dragging the plate up and down and then across the parking lot multiple times. Still not observing much damage, Frank took our massive 33 pound sledge hammer and smashed the plate one dozen times. “Finally,” he reported, “I made a dent” and literally, he made a dent and little more than that in the Urethane surface. Thus, after ten days of focused abuse, the only “dings” in the new Urethane surface were two in number, one near the hub and one close to the rim where the oversized sledge hammer was wielded by a powerful 280 pound athlete.
The development of new materials is interesting and in our specific encounter with IVANKO BARBELL COMPANY’S new plate covering, destructive fun. I am sure that further developments will be announced at the appropriate time but we are sold on the fact that this new product will absolutely stand the test of time and gym abuse.