With the past three-and-one-half years’ worth of discussion about the use and changes in training equipment, barbells, squat racks, and more, the use of the Olympic or power bar for competitive or non-competitive lifters has definitely provoked the most response. In my own case, I have achieved the “best of both worlds” with a combination of two terrific products. Remember the past few months’ columns please. I believe I established a viable opinion if not fact, that a barbell with rotating sleeves is not a necessity for those interested in squatting, bench pressing, and deadlifting the most weight possible. Just as clearly, I believe I made the point that a “good” barbell that could withstand the constant exposure to the heaviest of weights was a necessity. Steel that has been treated to maintain its shape and integrity is a must if one is to lift safely and efficiently.
I have always attempted to provide myself, my training partners, and those that I have been entrusted to train with the best equipment possible. Safe and efficient are the watchwords and my wife Kathy and I always insure that we can positively answer the question, “Can this equipment perform the task we have assigned to it?” I have also tried to provide equipment that is fun to use, provides variety, and incites enthusiasm. When you have toiled under the bar for more than fifty-two years, its always nice to look forward to using something “different” or unusual that can accomplish the same task as “the usual.” I also have the perspective of an individual who can and has fabricated a lot of my own equipment since the age of fourteen or fifteen. I am not a “wood-working kind of guy” and I admittedly have very poor and limited carpentry skills. In the “old days” taking vocational shop classes as part of the high school curriculum did not necessarily mark you as “not-ready-for-college” but was instead part and parcel of the normal public school educational process. In my own case, I took every shop class that was offered in high school except for automotive shop. I hated my sophomore year job of toiling at the local Mobil gas/service station when “service station” did indeed mean giving service to every customer that drove in for a fill-up.
I disliked standing in freezing weather and whipping winds at 10 PM, desperately attempting to accurately read the oil dipstick of a souped-up El Camino that required me to do a full body lay-out over the engine block. I disliked the smug young ladies and rich kids who would nod in recognition when walking the halls of the high school, especially after a successful athletic event for example, but rather obviously looked down on any of us that had a manual labor job if they saw us “out of school” and on the street. Because I just disliked the odor of gasoline, I refused to sign up for automotive shop when I had exhausted the list of available vocational courses, but I had sailed through sheet metal, electrical, and wood shop with an accumulation of the usual collection of lamps, mailboxes, house number plaques and the typical shop projects of the era. I was also smart enough to be only one of three male students in ninth grade to take Home Economics. I had already learned to cook and bake from my uncle, the chef who believed I would need a trade when older, and the automatic “A” also would endear me to the young women in the class whom I could help with their chocolate cakes. With my father teaching me to cut and weld at the age of twelve, I had “potential trades” that would have served me for a lifetime and which did in fact allow me to always have well paying after school and weekend jobs but the work in the iron shop was the key for anyone who trained with weights. I made my own benches, power racks, and squat racks not long after I realized how important these pieces were to one’s eventual lifting progress.
I have been given far too much credit in some cases and certainly credit I did not deserve for either “inventing” or popularizing some exercises or pieces of equipment that have been more frequently seen in the past fifteen or twenty-years than they were previously. While I have in fact worked behind the scenes with a number of barbell and strength training equipment manufacturers as a consultant, in prototyping, or with the testing of equipment, men like Tom Lincer, Jim Sutherland, Greg Webb, Gary Jones, Kim Wood, and many others have done a lot more than me. Still, my penchant for both loving and enjoying strength training equipment has led to some innovations or the construction of a few “different” modalities and some have been copied and/or mass manufactured for the use of others. From my aging perspective, that’s “all good” if the lifting public is benefiting from anything I’ve been able to come up with or improve upon.
One of my recent and favorite lifting pieces came from my discussions with Ivanko Barbell Company founder Tom Lincer as we dissected the use of the barbell with rotating sleeves. Our facility has a lot of bars. Your barbell is the core of your training center and program, it has to be “right” and it has to allow for the various applications you utilize it for. We deal with football players of widely varying physical development and ability. We serve Olympic athletes and junior high school novices. Rehabilitation is performed on eighty-five year old stroke victims and robust thirty-ish strongman competitors. Our barbells have been purchased from a variety of manufacturers through the years and a number of them have been custom made by Jim Sutherland. Specialty bars of various thicknesses and shapes have been manufactured by or obtained from Reflex, Ironmind, John Wood, and Atomic Athletic. I have crafted some bars in my brother’s iron works and welding shop. I believe we have whatever bar is necessary for the task at hand but a recent favorite sprang specifically from the columns on the Titan site.
I started with a barbell that did not have rotating sleeves. The best on the market is the Ivanko B-86, a 7’-2” bar length that looks exactly like the shaft of the numerous OB Olympic or OBX Power bars we have in our facility. At 28 mm diameter, and the same knurling as the OB-20 kg bar, it makes for familiar lifting for our trainees when they use our new barbell. The ends are turned down to 1-1/16” for perfect fit of standard plates.
I placed the CIS-2-1/2 cast iron inside collars on the bar, in part because these are probably the best product on the market for this application, and also because it gave the bar the exact same look that all of the standard bars I used in the late 1950’s and early to mid-‘60’s had.
The outside collars were also from Ivanko, and for those interested in doing what we have done, the CC-3 will perform without failure. There is certainly a lack of attention to detail in most institutional weight rooms and home gyms when it comes to the use of outside collars but I know that we utilize ours not only on this special barbell, but also for any of our squats or presses for example, that our younger trainees perform. They tend to expend a lot of energy setting up or getting the bar back into the rack in the early phase of their training and much of the extraneous movement can cause plates to slide towards the outside of the bar sleeve. Especially with our barbell that uses the Ivanko B-86, as should be obvious, we keep the outside collars turned on tightly.
For resistance, I was seeking something that would stand the rigors of the outdoors. Those who recall our Valley Stream home/office facility and outdoor training area can visualize the craters in the concrete driveway that often, if not always seemed to need patching.
Even with layers of ¾” rubber matting and a six-inch thick wood and rubber platform in the rear corner of the driveway, our place was a disaster! It was unavoidable that damage would occur with the frequency with which heavy objects, dumbbells, and barbells were dropped and we did not want to repeat this offense in our new home/office. Thus, we built what can only be termed indestructible lifting platforms both inside the office facility and within the garage. We blacktopped the driveway which meant I was immediately banned from carrying or dragging anything heavy on its surface. Of course I would be caught red-handed ignoring the dictum at the exact moment that my wife walked out of the house so that she could watch former Arena Football League player and one of our long time trainees Jermaine Ewell crash our Jim Sutherland Loaded Wheelbarrow into the side of the porch, and rearranging the drainpipe. Banished to the grass strip next to the driveway and garage and the grass area behind the garage has offered a lot of lifting room for our various stones and iron objects but wallowing around in the mud can be less than ideal. Still, our new barbell had to be able to withstand the weather and the mud as it would be utilized in this area. What better medium, in keeping with the entire “feel” of our outdoor strongman arena, than Steve Slater’s stones? I asked Steve to cast two stones, equal in weight, that would allow me to bring the overall weight of the barbell to approximately 150-160 pounds.
He used a pipe insert so that the stone would easily slide onto the bar and as a bonus, actually rotate slightly. We did not plan on having “a rotating sleeve” but the effect of the stones, especially if the outside collar is placed so that a ¼” of space is left between the collar and stone, is to have the equivalent of the great Ivanko OB or OBX bar, but as a fixed barbell and one that is truly unique.
I’m old school. One of my sons who is an offensive coordinator in the National Football League has made it clear that my experience as a high school football coach just doesn’t count for much in his world and I am under no circumstances, allowed to suggest specific plays or offensive schemes. As Gregory said, “When I want to run the Wishbone, we’ll talk.” Lifting takes the same approach in part because of my experience and knowledge that it isn’t the implement that one uses that will determine results, it’s the effort and it’s the effort that’s expended consistently.