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.
Beginning the body of this month’s article with a reference to York Barbell Company is coincidental as I received an e mail from former and long time York Barbell employee Jan Dellinger immediately before submitting this for publication. Jan, for those who have not read previous articles in this series and/or who don’t have a foundation in the history of the Iron Game, was an important part of the company’s success and good reputation from the mid-1970’s until a change in ownership in the late 1990’s. Jan was also a strong man with a long involvement in the strength field. His comments on my previous few articles can, I believe, be instructive:
One of our TITAN readers asked why I presented eccentric training and the equipment used for it as a point of emphasis for prototyping information. He wanted to know if it would have been more effective to use an example that was “something more closely related to powerlifting” as opposed to Nautilus machines. Allow me to respond so that my choice of examples becomes clear. There are numerous underlying philosophies in the sport of powerlifting, the actual competition that encompasses three specific lifts. Without a philosophy of training (“I do triples!” is not a philosophy) one is not going to reach their given genetic potential for physical development. Many trainees and many who should know better, believe that powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting are somehow different from other sports and I will include football as an obvious example, because a barbell is the implement utilized within the actual competition of the sport, as it is in training for the sport. Also, because training to become muscularly larger and stronger entails the use of some similar or duplicate movements, such as the barbell squat, they believe that the preparation for powerlifting competition is “different” relative to other sports. It isn’t.
There was a significant amount of feedback regarding last month’s article about machine and power rack prototyping. I thought that our readers might enjoy some comments from long time lifter and trainee Dan Martin of California. I have included my responses to him:
What a good article. You, in my opinion, were one of the few people who espoused eccentric training for the power lifter in a meaningful fashion. Naturally, so few of us even knew what a push press was to begin with, that it took a while for it to catch on.
I’ve always taken the request to assist any equipment, exercise machine, barbell, and/or plate manufacturer with seriousness and appreciation. I assume that any new product represents an investment of time, effort, and money that will very much determine the individual’s livelihood. For some of the “small time” companies or singular individuals who either successfully founded a business in this very high risk industry or failed with their initial product, it is or was in fact a matter of their livelihood, and ability to support their family. No matter how harebrained the concept or completed product, if asked to help in some way, I did if I believed I could offer something of value. Some of the most radical pieces I had presented to me involved negative or eccentric contraction training. This terminology was based upon the original Finnish research of the mid-1960’s, and most are in agreement that they were the first to closely examine this alternate manner of strength training.
The use of computers has streamlined the exercise equipment prototyping procedures and this is from one who is almost completely “computer useless.” I’m a terror at responding to e mails, can navigate to a very few, select sites I use for information gathering and research, but still require assistance from my wife or daughter to do the most simple computer tasks. If pressing the sequence of usual and required keys does not get me to the desired location, I call for help. Gary Jones, formerly of Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries and Hammer Strength when it was a corporate entity separate from Life Fitness, provided me with my first glimpse of computer modeling as it pertained to exercise equipment. In the early 1970’s, I was part of the “second wave of original guys” who wound up in Lake Helen, Florida who became employed by the Nautilus company.
In the TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEM column I wrote for December 01, 2012, HISTORY OF POWERLIFTING, WEIGHTLIFTING, AND STRENGTH TRAINING PART FIFTY FOUR: PROTOTYPES, PART ONE, I described the horrific events surrounding the hurricane that caused so much damage in our area and specifically in the Village of East Rockaway. I noted that “As I write this column, three weeks after the storm, very little has changed…,” and in truth, seven weeks after the storm, as I write Part Two of this prototyping related series of articles, very little has changed for many of the residents.
Having spent twelve days without electrical power, heat, hot water, and water that led to the hospitalization of over one hundred individuals who were exposed to e coli and other dysentery infections after the local sewage treatment plant and electrical substation blew up as the result of Hurricane Sandy, our family fully understood the difference between being inconvenienced and truly affected by tragedy. The hurricane and aftermath was severely under reported out of the New York Metropolitan region with entire beach area communities completely wiped out and/or washed into the Atlantic Ocean on a level, though not as extensive, just as tragically as Hurricane Katrina. For those interested, there are numerous youtube videos documenting the damage and destruction to Long Beach, Island Park, and all of the Rockaways.
It should come as no surprise that discussions about the bench press, more than the other two official powerlifts, still evoke the strongest of responses among powerlifters. In the sport’s earliest days, I believe that the three individual lifts, contested in the order of bench press, squat, and deadlift, were given equal attention and were approached with equal enthusiasm. Men who trained consistently with the intent of becoming big and strong did squats. Almost all of them did deadlifts and certainly those who trained for any athletic event or sport included some form of squats and deadlifts as a regular part of their lifting programs. We have chronicled how this has changed through the years with the bench press ascending to a position of popularity and importance that has led to its performance as a separate sporting activity.
The last few monthly installments of the TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEM columns have wandered through commentary about the bench press and the ultra-specific training and attire that has developed around the “sport” of bench pressing as a separate activity from that of three-lift powerlifting, and the injuries often encountered because of this. I did however want to return to one of the initial points I had intended to stress, and what was to me back in 1984 and ’85, the unintended “stirring of the pot” within the powerlifting community. I have known too many strong men, truly strong men and I am referring to scary-strong men who never lifted competitively nor sought any public acclaim. In the January 1985 edition of POWERLIFTING USA MAGAZINE I made a comment that was similar to one that had graced more than one of my “MORE FROM KEN LEISTNER” columns that Mike Lambert was gracious enough to publish for over twenty-two years. I had sincerely remarked that, “I have always been of the opinion that the Strongest Man in the World will never be found at the World’s Strongest Man Contest, nor at the Senior National Powerlifting Championships. Somewhere out there, in a garage in Des Moines, or a shed in Amite, Louisiana, or in the yard behind the house in Rising Sun, Indiana, there lives a man who comes home after a day of cutting pulpwood, or laying concrete, or plowing the back forty, and benches 630 for five, and deadlifts 700 for ten…’jes’ trying to stay fit.’ They’re out there, but most of the stories we hear are just that, stories, so our greatest will have to have made his lifts legally.”
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