History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Number 58

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

Prototyping Part 5

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.

[ Most powerlifters, especially in the 1960’s as I have so often stressed in this series of articles, also engaged in Olympic weightlifting and/or utilized the exercises that Olympic lifters trained with. The push press was one of these and it had application to the clean and jerk and of course, as an “overload” exercise for the Olympic clean and press. For the powerlifter, the push press, overhead press, and other Olympic lifting related movements, generally disappeared from their training programs after the mid-1970’s, with few exceptions. However, one of the effective movements that was unfortunately dropped was the push press. Specific to the powerlifter, the push press offered an exercise that provided eccentric resistance and training for the deltoids and triceps, muscles obviously utilized in the bench press. That one would have to thrust and support, and then lower relatively heavy weights in the standing position, provided excellent work and stimulation for the musculature of the low back and upper back, and hips and thighs. I often included or suggested the push press in the programs I provided for many lifters, and wrote about it frequently.]
Me and my maniacs always did negative deadlifts ala Bob Peoples. We called it a three man lift. Overloaded that bad boy, then two spotters and the lifter picked it up off the deck and did partials starting at the top. We resisted it down to knee height and pulled it back up. Sometimes we used straps and sometimes not.
[Dan is describing classic, straight forward “negative” or eccentric training where the lifter does only the lowering or eccentric part of the lift, having spotters or in Bob People’s case, a mechanical device lift the loaded barbell to the completed, or contracted position. The lifter would then do only the lowering portion of the lift and in Dan’s case described here, it was as I noted last month, an awful lot of work for the spotters.]


An old, grainy photo of the author doing partial deadlifts from below the knee at Alvin Roy’s Baton Rouge gym in the late 1960’s. Hitchhiking from Long Island to Louisiana to lift weights at the facility known to cater to football players like Billy Cannon, Jim Taylor, and other southern greats preceded a predictably disastrous pro football tryout. Relative to power rack deadlifts, similar to Dan Martin’s comments that follow, I found that my ability to move huge weights through a limited range of motion did not translate to significantly improved performances in the competitive lift


For what ever reason, rack pulls didn’t work as well. Which was perfectly fine since we didn’t have a rack!
Those “partial” deadlifts were the only overload work we found practical. Partial squats and benches were a waste of time.
[Some lifters did well with partial squats and bench press movements as well as deadlifts. Certainly, Bill March and the 1964 and ’65 articles in both Strength And Health and Muscular Development Magazine chronicling his use of the power rack, did a lot to motivate lifters across the country to incorporate this type of training. Partial deadlifts, from either just above the knee or at mid-patella height, were exercises that I could do extremely well, once entertaining a group of training partners and onlookers to a 705 x 3 set performance that included a horribly bloody nose and tooth-pierced bleeding tongue. Despite being able to use outsized resistance on partial deadlifts, with or without straps, it never translated to my actual deadlift from the floor. I hated the Bill March – instructed squats that began from a dead stop on pins set at the bottom position of my squat depth, that concluded at the three-quarter of completion position. “Painful” is an understatement but I felt it had some benefit for the competition squat. Of course, like every other lifter who performed rack or partial work that by necessity, included a slow, controlled negative on each rep to avoid permanent and crippling injury, I did extremely heavy quarter squats. Again, I don’t believe that these carried over well to the competition squat but I do believe that the control of the weight and emphasis on lowering to the starting position slowly, had the strength building benefits of eccentric training.]
And now, this month’s installment:
In last month’s article I mentioned the power rack introduced by Eagle at the 1980 “Madness In Madison” Senior National Powerlifting Championships. For those in attendance, for many reasons, it was a significant, shocking, and surprising championship contest with numerous stories that will have to wait for a future date. When there was but one Senior National Championships directed by the one administrating organization for the sport, it was exceptionally well attended, at least during the late 1970’s through late 1980’s. Even when the first of the “drug free” or “drug tested” organizations gained traction, one could depend upon a few thousand fans showing up to cheer on the heavier class lifters at what was usually a two day Senior Nationals and often, just as many for the lighter classes too. Giving credit where I believe its due, quite a few of these championship meets were hosted and directed by Larry Pacifico in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio. The Dayton Convention Center and adjoining hotel served as sites for the meet, committee meetings, and lodging for the lifters and most of the fans and the place would be packed. The venue was spacious, always well organized, had adequate and competent help on hand for all aspects of the competition, and the judging and competition itself were the best in the world. This was reflective of Larry’s ability to run a meet and the fact that the United States was leaps and bounds ahead of anyone else in the sport of powerlifting.


With a knowledgeable and enthusiastic crowd supporting a full slate of top lifters, many vendors took advantage of the opportunity to introduce and display their wares. If there was a new product to be shown to the powerlifting public, the Seniors would be the place and the time to do so. Those who were already established in the sport as suppliers of attire, belts, barbells, and other equipment would have a display booth, often manned by one of the better known active or retired lifters. Think of it as a much smaller version of The Arnold Expo types of gatherings but one that was more intimate and focused exclusively on powerlifting. At the Madison, Wisconsin Seniors, Eagle was an in-state manufacturer of exercise equipment that had set up a very large, sturdy power rack. The difference between this rack and any other previously seen by the lifting public, was that this one had a foot switch that controlled a device that elevated the barbell, allowing it to be “lifted for the trainee” in any of the three lifts. This allowed for the eccentric only or eccentric accentuated training discussed last month. Prior to the introduction of the Internet and the ability to rapidly and very widely disseminate information, research would be carried out and might then take months before a submitted article was actually published by a professional or specialized, legitimate journal. Articles submitted in January of any year, for example, to the Journal Of The American Medical Association, reflecting research that had concluded at the mid-point of the previous year, might not actually be in the hands of physicians until a year later. Any weight training related research was very limited to begin with, its legitimacy questioned in serious scientific circles, and was often poorly explained and understood by the lifting public. The actual application of much research based information was thus limited or done in an incorrect manner. Eccentric training was very much misunderstood, misused, and maligned. Attached or associated with any commercial endeavor, any training principle or specific piece of equipment would be excessively attacked by the competition. Eccentric or negative training had nothing to do with any specific equipment manufacturer so unless one had a bias against lingonberries, kilju, or the Finns who did the original research and reporting, only commercial bias and business competition could explain the torrent of articles stressing its (with no pun intended), negative values. Because eccentric training was, for a number of years, associated with the Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries and its founder Arthur Jones, the Weider magazines and other specific authors (George Edler who had numerous articles in both Powerlifting USA and Muscular Development magazines comes to mind as what I recall as an “anti-machine trainee” and interestingly, he has re-created himself into a respected science fiction author with a PhD) trashed the training method. Thus, they also prevented what might have been the acceptance and further development of equipment suited for this type of training, and the Eagle Rack was one of the first to fall by the wayside. This would have been unfortunate to the individuals who spent the time developing the concept, design, and step – by – step rack models until coming up with a workable piece.

Historical Supplement – Garage Prototypes

Kathy and I have had the privilege and advantage of always having a home based gym and/or commercial training facility. As my work hours and sleeping habits (or more accurately, insomnia fueled non-sleeping habits) dictate a less than typical daily schedule, I have maintained some type of home training quarters since I began my serious quest for enhanced strength and fitness at the age of twelve. When my training facility was located on the top floor of my father’s iron shop, which made for perhaps one of the crudest training environments one can imagine, I still considered that a “home gym” in part because I spent a disproportionate number of hours per week on the job and frequently rested or slept on the office floor overnight. Kathy had the options as an adolescent athlete of training at the Purdue University Co-Rec that maintained a Universal Machine and a few odd dumbbells, or a hand made wooden bench and concrete weight set-up in her parents’ basement. As one of the few females who lifted weights in the early days of the establishment of women’s track and field competition at the high school and college level (she was on Purdue’s first women’s track and field squad), she was not choosey when and where she completed a workout. Enjoying each other’s company and enjoying the opportunity to train together as much as possible, we would on occasion, and especially before a competition that one of us was entered in, train at one of the local, or New York City commercial gyms. This allowed us to prepare for competition in an unfamiliar environment using a different bar and plates than we usually used at home, more rather than less, mimicking a meet situation. However we enjoyed our own training space at home and made room for equipment in the garage, and in one basement apartment, in the living room and bedroom and we made it work for us. Every training facility housed both equipment I had made in my family’s iron shop and commercially manufactured pieces. This meant that every home training facility we established was also a prototype shop as I was constantly attempting to improve, customize, or come up with training equipment that made our own training safer and more efficient.

While recently looking at long forgotten photos, I noted some of “the good, the bad, and the ugly” of equipment we had utilized, much of it commercial companies’ prototypes we were asked to provide feedback about and pieces I had built myself.


The photo above shows, in addition to the washer and dryer in the background, often pushed apart and used for dips, some shop-made equipment, painted in Kathy’s favorite color of green. I was clear throughout the succession of articles related to machine prototyping that some of the finished pieces I “developed” and built were quite useable, with the Shrug Box being one that was highlighted. In the foreground above is a plate loaded piece that we used for calf/heel raise and a version of squatting. I agreed with some comments I received when I plunked this down in the garage, that it resembled the “Leaper” type machines that were popular at that time. The movement arm, leverages, and overall function of the machine made for a decent, straight forward heel raise but this was a disaster as a squat type of unit. Behind this lower extremity piece is a bench to which are attached truck jacks that were utilized to raise and lower the height of the barbell. This was actually a popular approach, pre-dating the use of hydraulic cylinders, for use on adjustable height squat racks and bench press units. Car or larger truck tire rims were very often used as a squat rack base. We would fill or encase them in concrete to add weight and stability, and then weld an upright piece of pipe into the tire rim. A “pipe-within-a-pipe” arrangement would allow for a sliding or adjustable for height squat stand once a weight saddle was welded atop the inner piece of pipe. Strategically drilled holes through which a bolt would be placed provided a “safety catch setting” and these were as frequently used at major contests as were commercially made individual squat standards. I made a pair of squat stands and used one-inch thick steel plate for the bases. Holy smokes, the only thing that made them movable was the fact that I had cut and ground the steel plate into circles. If I had left them square, the weight of the base alone would have made moving them in or out to adapt for width grip very difficult due to their excessive weight. The truck or car jacks were seen as an efficient way to raise and lower the barbell to adapt for the varying heights of competing or training lifters but as they will on trucks and cars while in “normal use,” the jacks often slipped, making them hazardous with “a lot” of weight on the bar. There was also the problem of having one jack slip, resulting in a heavily loaded and tilted barbell which would then fly off the squat rack. This happened often enough, that it led to the introduction of hydraulic cylinders as a standard means to adjust barbell height for powerlifting and training circumstances

Prototyping barbells and plates is not very different from prototyping a bench, rack, or machine and the Ivanko Barbell Company is one that has put a lot of time and effort into that part of their business.