History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Number 55

Posted by in Dr Ken Leistner on July 1, 2014 Comments off

Prototyping Part 2


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.

Obviously, it could not be expected to change significantly for many, they had their homes, businesses, vehicles, and other possessions washed out to sea and thus there was nothing to come back to and nothing to repair. Many left the area to seek shelter with relatives, friends, or others, and have not returned. As the East Rockaway High School building suffered extensive flood damage, the adolescents have been bussed to buildings in another district two towns away. The East Rockaway Public School District certainly knows how many students are enrolled in their schools, how much transportation and seating space in class is needed, and what arrangements had to be made in order to accommodate a move, temporary or otherwise. They prepared ten buses to transport students to Baldwin for class and only six were filled and this has not changed; children and their families are simply gone. For those with a chance to repair and restore their property, FEMA or insurance companies in many cases have just “not gotten to them yet” and they cannot afford to move forward otherwise. In others, the utilities are slow and delayed beyond understanding in restoring services. The holidays are much less than that for many.

Kathy and I must personally thank the football and lifting communities that so quickly and decisively stepped up to assist. Those with internet businesses, sites, blogs, and other daily communications like the Drapers, Brooks Kubik, John Wood, and Bill Hinbern among others who have my apologies for failing to mention them specifically, put the word out that clothing, toiletries, and cleaning supplies were needed and a great number of boxes were received at our office facility and distributed directly to the coaches and students of the area and shared with the neighboring church relief center. Michigan State, Ohio State, the Buffalo Bills, Saginaw Valley State, the Cincinnati Reds and so many others sent supplies, making the effort to recover a bit easier. The work has continued both for us and the community but we are all moving forward as Christmas approaches, making the holiday season at least tolerable for many.


Doing a great deal of sitting and thinking in the dark brought my mind to equipment fabrication and prototyping as the December column detailed. The described Shrug Box was one in a long line of equipment efforts I had made in order to enhance my own training. I mentioned that not every effort was successful. In my quest to become larger and stronger, there were many mishaps. Seeing Sergio Oliva for the first time was, in the parlance of the mid to late 1960’s, “mind blowing” and whatever any of the readers have been told regarding the visual impact of Sergio is absolutely true. Later in his career, when compared to Arnold, most gave Sergio second seating and there was no doubt that Arnold was the taller and heavier man. However, the effect of the two men in my opinion, differed greatly. Both must be considered among the greatest bodybuilders of all time and each had and have their supporters but no matter what one felt about or saw in Arnold’s physique, Sergio took it to the next level. Arnold never appeared to be strong nor did he ever hold himself out as a “strongman.” Sergio looked like a contender for the greatest bodybuilder of all time nomination, yet also looked as if he could lift half of your apartment building.


Despite what was in my presence, an unexpected reserved demeanor, a statement probably never uttered about Arnold, Sergio just emanated a tough manner about him. The total package was one not to be forgotten and I made the mistake of asking him what he did in order to squat what was purported to be “a lot of weight” and of course, develop his outsized thighs. Being told that he did “all kinds of squats” I took it upon myself to copy a machine I had seen in only one gym, a Bill Good Hack Machine, forgetting that for many, the hack squat is one lift that should not be done due to excessive shearing force on the patella tendon. To dress mine up, and save space in the garage, I added dip bars and located them on the back of the machine. Of course, the angle of the hack squat was such that even the healthiest of knees would have been challenged to remain in that condition, and if one actually jumped up and used the dip bars while another trainee was squatting, their teeth would have been readily knocked out of their mouth. All in all, one of the obvious failures and it also did not take a genius to quickly figure out that not one part of my body would ever be mistaken for one of Sergio’s!


Considering the barbell to be the most important piece of equipment in one’s training facility or commercial weight room, a concept that seems to have died off along the way in most commercial gyms as reflected in their choice of inexpensive, heavily chromed, rather dangerous bars that are made available for their customers, I always had “good bars.” This did not prevent me from attempting to build my own and certainly there is more to be said about bars despite the fact that many of the previous fifty-four editions of this specific column have dealt with barbells and barbell construction. The one thing I did not attempt to do was produce my own plates although, as one of our columns detailed, I was the first to convince the York Barbell Company foundry, with the focused efforts and assistance of Jan Dellinger who at the time was a key employee of York, to have custom Olympic plates made for our Iron Island Gym. I approved the mold, was walked through the steps of filling and emptying the custom mold, cleaning, drilling, and milling the plates to allow the accuracy that York Barbell plates were then known for, and then was taken through the painting process. I had been sent samples from two small, privately owned foundries in the United States when discussing possible custom plate production with them, and thus had something to compare our custom made York plates with. Having been to the York Wrightsville, Pennsylvania foundry years before, and watching what appeared to be “old timers” going through the plate production process so easily, made a tremendously positive impression upon me and gave me an appreciation for their excellent and detailed craftsmanship. I had less experience with bumper plates and later, with rubber covered or urethane covered plates. Jim Sutherland, who has been previously featured and oft-mentioned in many of my Titan columns was the first to my knowledge, to truly understand the widespread potential applications of urethane in the fitness industry.


Historical Supplement – Weight Training Equipment

The photo above is from the Universal HEAVY METAL equipment catalogue, an entire collection of what might have been the first true “heavy duty” line of weight training equipment that highlighted the components and features that shortly thereafter became so standard, that they were taken for granted. Yet Jim Sutherland, the designer, previewed these improvements long before anyone had envisioned them. Men like Jim and Stephen DeWitt of Strength Equipment in Idaho flew far under the radar relative to public recognition but so many of the equipment innovations that we as powerlifters and strength enthusiasts deem as “necessary” came from their fertile minds and were copied, and often credited, to the major manufacturers. The Heavy Metal Supine Bench Press featured angled tubing, a spotter’s platform, adjustable barbell height racking pegs, protective plastic covering where the barbell would strike the uprights, and a high force compression pad that would withstand the rigors of huge weights lifted by huge lifters.


The angled shape of today’s machine frames is the result of using a tube bender costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Prior to the mid-1980’s, almost every piece of conventional training equipment was a cut-and-weld, 90 degree box design. Angling the uprights on this specific bench made for a great appearance but also meant easier handoffs to the lifter and a safer, more comfortable, and more reliable placement of the barbell at the completion of the lift. This bench has everything in one form or another that would eventually become standard fare, expected, and desired in a competition bench. Sutherland thought of these things and produced them in the early 1980’s. As I have noted in previous articles, mentioning Sutherland and DeWitt, someone had to think of these things first and then actually manufacture them; these guys did.


I have no idea who “gets credit” for first coating a barbell plate with urethane but Jim was way ahead of the curve. As the Director of Research and Development for Universal, he experimented with urethane covered plates and dumbbells and was the first to consider a urethane coated weight stack that would be almost silent in its operation. At DP in Alabama, he was the first to experiment and attempt to incorporate wrinkle style powder coat paint, urethane coated components, and clear plastic weight stack shields to improve both safety and appearance. “Rubber” and urethane have remained beyond the realm of my understanding, even as these components are more frequently utilized in the training industry, yet I jumped at the opportunity to assist Ivanko Barbell Company in testing their new urethane plates.