Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Key to Might and Muscle - (Circa 1926) - Chapter 17 - Where is the Science of Lifting Weights? - By George F. Jowett

If we wish to be successful in any of our undertakings we are obliged to study the scientific side of the subject, no matter what it may be. No business man overlooks this important question, which is true of selling cloth or erecting bridges. The man who pitches the ball over the plate and the salesman must each study the separate science that is involved in their respective vocations. Years ago the word science was explained as 'knack" in pitching a baseball, and the salesman's tongue was termed slick." It may still be true, if you want to put it that way, but we know that the great pitchers have all studied how to hold a ball to send the baffling curve from the box just as the successful salesman studies human psychology.

No person was ever born with the knack of doing a thing so well that it placed him in the top-notch class. There is no doubt many men have a natural ability to do one certain thing much better than others can do it, but if he is wise enough to recognize that trait, he concentrates upon the cultivation of his natural ability and becomes, to a large extent, invariably successful.

Science is recognized in sports much more readily that elsewhere, because all mechanical aid is taken away and the athlete has to resort more to his skill and physical ability to accomplish the best that is in him. Practically speaking, the skill an athlete exhibits is a practical demonstration of his scientific knowledge. As long as he receives no mechanical aid, there is no trickery in his science. Everything depends upon his skillful co-ordination of mind and body. The ability of a boxer or wrestler to outguess his opponent is as valuable as that of the crack billiard player to sense where the ball will break upon the green baize; or the weight-lifter who knows the leverage principles as applied to the muscles in lifting weights, and the law of gravity as it controls the actions of a weight. No other sport involves such a deep knowledge of these principles as is required by the sport of lifting weights. By the application of correct exercise, and the study of the body, and by knowing the fundamentals of the laws of resistance, any man can become more that normally efficient in this sport. This is not the case in sprinting or jumping. A man first has to have considerable natural ability in these directions, and his training is done more with an eye to intensify his speed and nervous force, rather that to build up his body. Experience has taught that weight-lifting as a sport is a builder, and speed racing takes such an expenditure of force that the racer does not recuperate the spent energies as quickly as is done in weight lifting, which is the main reason why a weight-lifter can continue to practice and stay at the top in his sport, while six generations of sprinters come and go.

One time I was sitting eating with a friend in a restaurant when he drew my attention to two men who were paying their checks. He explained that both these men drew a large salary for their technical knowledge, that enabled them to tell much resistance it took to bend any size of iron or steel a fraction of an inch. These men understood the law of resistance in a different sense from that in which we shall use it, but the end to be gained is the same. They understood resistance as applied on material inert force, while the weight lifter must understand its application to the physical living force. The muscles of the body resist like the structural column of a building, the only difference being the latter resists by its support and the former by its active opposition. Both are a matter of energy.

Many people, unfortunately, do not comprehend the full significance of science in lifting heavy weights. They say skill in weight lifting is nothing but a trick, although at the same time they conceded that the use of skill in such sports as baseball or tennis is legitimate, Still, I realize that we have a habit of using the word "trick," and do not always mean it in the sense of a fake. It is mostly used to explain the knack or science, of a sport we do not fully understand. It is not given for us to be good at everything, therefore, we are not able to fully understand the science of everything, but we can at least be appreciative.

The sport of lifting calls for more science than any other sport, simply because there are many more phases or sides to it. There are numerous lifts, each of which calls for a varied technique. I have heard it suggested that if any lifter is the strongest man in the world, he ought to hold the highest mark in every lift. How utterly out of reason such a belief is shown by other sports that do not embrace a third of the technicalities employed in weight lifting. You never heard of a football star, who could play every position on the team, well enough to be All-American at hem all, or with occasional exceptions, of a pitcher who could hit decently, let alone play any position on the diamond as well as he could pitch. Condensing it further, where is the stroke in an eight who can pull an oar in any part of the boat as well as in his appointed place; or a sprinter, who held every record over the short distances, let alone all the track records. Then, we could not logically expect any more of a weight lifter. I believe it is generally understood that in order to become thoroughly efficient in this sport the athlete's body must be built to a well-balanced scale. This being understood, the common foe of the weight lifter is gravity. The lifter has to learn to overcome this law as much as possible without resorting to artificial aid. In the same sense, the catcher behind the bat has to know how to catch the fast ball in order to minimize its force. In the sport of weight lifting this is called "timing." Of course, every sport has its timing, but where lifting a weight is the issue, a greater mathematical deduction is required. In all such lifts, as the one and two hands snatch, the swing, and clean and jerks, speed is the greatest factor to oppose gravity. Take it this way. Suppose you were pulling a weight to the shoulders in one clean movement; if the weight was fairly light for you it would be pulled to the chest as came erect, but if the weight was very heavy, the movement would stop as it reached midway between the knee and the waist. Now, if you knew the principles of muscular leverage you would know that the arms play a rather unimportant part in pulling a weight to the chest in one movement. It is the strength of the back and the thighs that supplies the largest quota of power. If the proper amount of physical vigor is supplied, the weight will be snapped off the floor to a certain height, but, as the back and legs straighten, their power of propulsion is lessened until it becomes neutral. When you have determined the point where your pulling-in strength diminishes, it is time for you to call into action the co-ordinating factors of physical speed, which is nervous energy combined with strength. Like a flash you must release the contraction of the thigh muscles and make a deep knee bend as your arms travel under the weight, with elbows pointed forward. Practically speaking, your thigh muscles should collapse under the weight. The ordinary person may think this is easy, but it is not. Incredible speed is called for to allow your body to descend low enough so you can get under the weight. Ordinarily, the legs seem unable to move under such pressure; they act like sticks that cannot be bent. Only quick thinking and rapid co-ordination, with the operation of the right muscles, succeed here.

Here is exactly what happens. As you exert your strength to pull the weight off the floor, the greatest amount of force is expended as the back begins to straighten. This effort is only sufficient to carry the weight to a certain height, then it begins to lose its momentum, and gravity begins to assert its forces and the weight begins to descend. Really two things happen. As the back loses its leverage the weight loses its carrying force. As these two forces lose out you have to do something else to defeat the material resistance.

Wait! Let us consider it this way. Take a stone and throw it straight up in the air, and watch it closely. At first, the stone will start skywards with a rush, gradually it will slow up, then for a fraction of time it will seem to hang suspended in the air before it descends. As it comes down, how do you catch it? You don't cup the hands and stand stiff legged and receive the whole shock of the falling stone. Not at all, you give at the knees a little to absorb the shock. This being true, what happens as you throw up a heavier stone? Why! It does not soar as high, and its descent is more rapid, and you find you have to give more at the knees to enable you to sustain the greater shock. Now that is just what happens with a weight as it is pulled in to the chest, and you must dip as you receive the weight at the shoulders. The only difference being that at the point where the weight loses its flight, and becomes suspended in the air like the stone, for that brief fraction of time, you dip and get under the weight before it gathers too much speed at its descent, and the dip helps to take away the concussion of the weight when received.

The place where the observant lifter looks for this to happen is about the line of the stomach. A fast worker can catch the weight successfully if it travels no further than the line of the navel. Anyhow, as the weight becomes heavier, the pulling height lessens, but a skillful athlete learns to time where a weight is likely to lose momentum in its various transitory stages. Also, an intuitive sense is developed that signals as a weight is dying. This is better understood as the co-ordination between mind and matter. Every athlete develops this sense, which is often spoken of as "out-guessing."

A big controlling factor in opposing gravity is the height of the person. This is a circumstance which at first thought does not seem true. It is generally believed that a short person is better at this game than a tall person, particularly at pulling the weight to the chest, because, as the average person says, "he is closer to the weight." Well, there is such a thing as being too close to the weight. If you do not believe it, just try raising some object with a stick as a lever. Contrary to common belief, the tall man is naturally better fitted than the short man to succeed at a clean pull-in. He can secure a longer back leverage and a deeper knee bend, all of which enables him to bend over further. His pull-in is more powerful. This is proven by the fact that most of the best clean records are performed by men over the average height. Of course, Cadine and Rigoulot are not what we would call tall, but they are over the average height, and when we speak of a short person, it is in the sense that he is less than the average height. Yet, here must be a reason why these short men are so good, and also Moerke, who is very short. The reason is a different application of principle.

Somehow I have come to this point of the discussion a little earlier in this chapter than I expected, so while I am here I want to have sink in your mind one very particular lesson. Many young lifters have written to me asking me how to do a certain lift. I explained to the best I possibly could in a letter, but with always an emphasis on the words that they must consider the possible necessity of a variation of the regular principle. If I have a pupil before me I can put him right on the spot, as my experience enables me to see immediately his peculiarity, as occasioned by his physical construction. Seldom do we see a man actually imitate another in style. The change of a foot, or some other little thing, on which the success of the lifter has depended, make the slight variation. Emphatically, I say for every would-be lifter, to accept the general principle by all means, but apply your intelligence to locate your point of control. Educate yourself to the principles, but employ your intelligence. It is the intelligence of the generations that has accumulated the science of weight lifting, and by its genius created the formula of education, which makes it possible to grasp the fundamentals, once properly learned.

But intelligent application will be always required. It is this that has made such remarkable clean lifters of the two Frenchmen and the German Moerke. They have combined certain laws to overcome resistance. Quite a number of years ago the Swedish lifters used a method which became known as the "Swedish Hang." The lifter would take the weight off the floor rather slowly, and when the weight was almost the height of the knees, they threw their weight backwards with all their power and dipped under the weight. This caused the weight to travel towards them in a slanting line rather than in a perpendicular line. This is a law I have always taught, in just he words the terms conveys. The weight must be pulled "in.," not "up," but "in towards.' While the natural foe of the lifter is gravity, his natural fault is lack of centralization. If you pull a weight "up," by the time it is where it should be it is hanging out in front of the body an inch or two more than it should be. The lifter has to step forward to meet it. If the weight is pulled "in" you are in the right place to receive it, with all the physical forces of the body marshaled to distribute their powers more forcibly where they may be required.

Steinborn does the same thing, and so does Klein. If you saw them lift you would imagine that they were not going to succeed, then, like lightning, they "pull" the weight "in" and are under it. Tall men can use this method to as good an advantage as the short man. The only difference is he does not have to, but the short man's short back purchase makes the method more adaptable for him. It is this same reason why, when making a two arm snatch lift plates of a low height are preferred. Here is one lift where the short man does not excel, not so much for any leverage advantage he may have, as because he has more concentrated energy than the taller man. His nervous force is distributed over a less area and in the snatch his limitation of pulling is decreased, as compared with the clean lift to his shoulders. But in this lift, centralization is the key to success. Again I must admonish all lifters that the weight must be snatched to arms' length in an oblique line overhead, not a perpendicular line. Just stand over an imaginary weight and snatch slowly with your hands, then stop at a line level with your eyes, and if you place a stick upright with the floor and your hands you will find you are away off center. We say that the weight must be snatched to arms' length "overhead." Then see that it goes over the head so your forces can co-ordinate, and not expect a few isolated muscles to do the impossible. Pull the weight towards you and snap under it. Speed and strength are intensified more in this lift than in any other one lift. No crack representative of any other sport move his forces so swiftly as the two arm snatcher. The greater the amount of weight he is able to snatch the faster he must be.

This reminds me of an amusing incident of which I was a spectator. Some young baseball players wee belittling the merits of a rival pitcher, and in giving advice to the Babe Ruth of the team, they informed him all he had to do was to get a "line on the ball" and he would make a piker of the rival pitcher. Sounds good to a novice, but getting a line of that ball was like a novice getting a line on gravity. It takes some doing, and at first you are apt to be made the piker. Incidentally, people with that kind of advice never seem to be able to practice what they preach. You will find it takes a great deal of mind co-ordination to control the right muscles in the right place, but, like shooting at a bull's-eye with a rifle, practice makes perfect.

Jerking a weight with two arms to arms' length overhead is not fraught with as much difficulty as is the case in taking a weight off the floor to the chest in one movement. This is proven by the clean and jerk records, which are lower than the records in the two hands continental style, which allows the lifter to use two or more movements in getting the weight to the chest. Just the same, gravity appears to react more quickly in the second stage of this lift than from the ground to shoulders. Really it does not; it is the difference in the motive power employed, which is explained by the fact that a heavy weight can be lowered more slowly to the ground than it can be lowered from arms' length overhead down to the shoulders. This apparently contradictory fact may confuse your mind, as you remember I told you it was easier to succeed in lifting from the shoulders than from the ground. It is the sustaining force that is reversed. Suppose you jerk a weight aloft, and it only goes part of the way up. You find that with a combined leg dip and arm pressure against the weight you are able to finish the lift. Your sustaining powers are directed entirely beneath the weight. From the ground to the shoulders the sustaining force is above the weight, which enables you to lower a greater weight slowly to the floor that you can raise to the chest. But, when jerking overhead, you will find many athletes who jerk the weight to arms' length and fail to hold it. When such is the case, it is caused through lack of centralization, and failing to dip under the weight at the right time. You see, there is what lifters call a "dying point" in all lifts; this is the place, as explained before, where the weight loses its momentum, and the muscular leverage diminishes. In jerking a weight overhead the dying point is between the crown of the head and about three inches past it. In this space leverage is neutralized and physical resistance is lessened. In order to offset this you must dip under the weight and press against it, which enables a lifter to straighten his arms under the weight in order to complete the lift. A speedy lifter will snap the weight on to its journey, and, like a flash get underneath, but if this is not backed up by a certain amount of sustaining power the reaction takes place like a flash and the weight is speedily back where it started. We know that men lie Rigolout, Cadine, Strassberger and Steinborn are fast men, with more that the usual amount of sustaining force, and men like Swoboda, Alzin, Giroux and Moerke have greater sustaining power rather than greater speed, which makes it possible for them to slow up gravitation, just enough to allow them to finish the lift. Gorner, Steinbach and Neuhaus have both these powers, but in a greater degree than that is possessed by the other lifters. In each case these men named have centralization, leverage and the laws of resistance figured out to a fraction. They know the value of mathematical deduction, and always apply arithmetic in lifting. It is as necessary for the lifter to understand how a weight decreases in its transitory flight as the poundage becomes increased, as it is necessary for a deep sea diver to understand why he cannot dive below a certain depth. In each case it is the resistance per square inch, and each can be figured out almost exactly. At one time this was a great hobby of mine, and I have often proven in demonstration just where the dying, or sticking place was in each lift, and have shown how it was possible to overcome it with one of the many co-ordinating factors, such as speed, strength, leverage and sustaining force. Some men who jerk overhead are satisfied if they can they can jerk the weight to the height of the crown of the head. These men are capable of great sustaining force and can resist to an extraordinary degree. But the theory that a man who can jerk a weight a less height than other and succeed "is more tricky," as some say, or less strong, is ridiculous. He is the man who is terrifically strong. He has to be.

I once took part in a demonstrative debate on this point. My opponent said, " Look how high that man can jerk the weight (referring to a well-known Polish lightweight, now in the country), which is a record for his class." I agreed, but I replied that he does not hold the weight and such a lift is not considered. Now, I argued, let us prove him according to lifting rules, which say he must hold the weight for a count of one, two, and stand erect under it. Right away the lifter dropped from 250 pounds to 225 pounds, which is a poundage that can be surpassed by many lightweight lifters. The moral is this: The Polish lifter had no sustaining force, and to prove my assertion, I told my lifter to lift as the Pole did, and he went away up in his poundage to about three hundred pounds. However, that is not lifting. Rarely do we come across men with such great sustaining force; but when we do, we find they are always men who have a complete mastery over the leverage principles of their muscles, and know just when and where to apply them, much as a motorist knows when to shift his gears when climbing a steep hill.

Take the one hand swing for another example of applied science. Here is a lift that calls for many changes and a lightning co-ordination of all the forces, that result in making it bewildering to the novice. In this country, we swing with a straight arm throughout the lift, as is practiced in Europe. The British have a style of their own, of which I do not approve, as a genuine swing. They used to swing in the accepted style. However, in this lift the weight is carried to a point where there is absolutely no physical control over it-when the weight is traveling at right angles to the body. We all know that no lifter could possibly hold the weight out that is swung at right angle by sheer strength. It must be carried past that point by the sheer force of the sweep taken off the floor. Most lifters only get a quarter swing out of their sweep, because they do not co-ordinate. Now an intelligent survey will show you that for about two-thirds of the distance the weight is traveling away from the body, that is, if you swing right. But to be successful in this lift, every inch of the way, the weight must be controlled. A quarter swing is the cause of lack of centralization, and uncontrolled gravity. The real swing lifter sends the bell sweeping through the air in a half circle, which keeps the weight traveling towards him, as it passes the dead line. In order to do this he must pull backwards with his body as he comes erect, which turns the arc of the weight form a quarter circle to a half circle, and thus carries it past the dead line, traveling towards him from the half-way point. A lot more has still to done, for the flight of the weight may not be high enough, which would cause his arms to bend. As soon as the weight is felt to pass the turning point, he thrusts with the straight arm against the weight and steps forward to meet it with the lifting foot advanced. Thus a connection is made by meeting the weight as it travels towards the lifter, offsetting gravity, and centralizing the forces. Stepping forward takes the place of a dip and lowers the body under the weight.

This thrust may seem vague to the beginner, so let us find an ordinary circumstance with which you will be familiar, to illustrate visually what is meant. At some time you have seen a big door, or some similar object, blown over by the wind, and as you rush to save it from the fall you thrust against it with the hands. However, you may recollect that natural instinct caused you to employ a straight arm, and with your weight thrown behind the arm thrust the heavy door was propped back in place. If your arms bent at the elbow the door beat you, and the arms became like broken props. Now, that is just what happens in a swing. If the arm is bent, no leverage is registered; if it is straight, it becomes a rigid prop of advantage, and the bodily strength springing forward its reserve, completes the whole show. It is a fast lift, and calls for quicker thinking, faster action, and more vigorous strength in one combined effort that any other lift. Greater skill is required, and the man who excels on this lift with a good poundage hung up as his record is apt to be a good, all-round lifter.

The bent press is always considered a very skillful lift, and, incidentally, is a lift that always brings up a controversy. Some argue that is it purely a case of knack, without any expenditure of strength required. Now, if it is solely a balancing feat, why cannot everybody succeed with it? However, when I hear a person talk that way I am quite sue I am listening to one who is not good in the bent press. I think it is a very useful lift, due to the value attached to it in teaching a lifter to know how to control a heavy weight. It gets the body accustomed to overcome greater resistance. It is barred from use in national, or world's competition, largely because it is not a universal lift. Anyhow, let us study it for the value of what it teaches us. We will concede the point to the argumentative chorus, and say it is a balancing feat, but to suggest that no strength is required is a theory exploded at the very beginning of the lift. The weight must be taken to the shoulder first. Now show me the average strong man who can toy with two hundred pounds in one hand at the shoulder, even if some one is helping him to the shoulder. Why! He is anchored. He cannot move with it. Then what on earth would he do with it arms' length? No matter how well centralized a lifter is, or how he balances a weight, the skill applied cannot lessen the weight of the object. Two hundred pounds will always register two hundred pounds of pressure, and the longer the weight is held the greater the depression that is registered. It takes power to hold the weight, even if it is balanced in such a position as to make its passage from the shoulder to arms' length easy, and the lifter must stand erect under it. Even if we consider it a balancing feat, strength is an absolute necessity. Somehow, it savors a little of the story of Pat and Mike. A big bale fell on Pat and pinned him to the ground. He roared for Mike to pull it off, but Mike informed him if he got under the bale he ought to be able to get from under it. No great strength was required to get under the bale, but it certainly was required to get from under it. At one time, and that is not a great while ago, all that was required to call a bent press a lift was to bend under until the straight arm was secured. Later, when the sport became organized, the lifter was obliged to stand erect with the weight at arms' length. Then what became of all those bent press agents? They simply could not make the grade. A centralized poise is the main issue in this lift, but when a man begins to handle two hundred and fifty pounds and over and do the lift correctly, you will always find that he has enough power to do other lifts with a meritorious poundage, as well as the bent press.

In most sports, all an athlete has to handle is his weight; the lifter has to have the power to handle his own weight and another weight, that invariably exceeds his own bodyweight considerably. He is the one athlete who must possess dynamic force. It often takes years to become an accomplished all-round lifter. The brilliant performer of today id not succeed in a few months. It took time and study. The science of the sport was not all compiled in a day, either, nor by any one man. It has taken generations of lifters to cultivate the skill that the sport now embraces. The skill of boxing is made up of blocks, blows, and stops, plus speed and stamina. The skill of wrestling consists of locks, blocks, breaks, and bars, plus speed and stamina. Every sport has its special line of science, but the science of weight lifting always resolves itself upon the amount of knowledge possessed by the lifter on the muscular principles of leverage, mathematical deduction of timing a weight, the sustaining power of the combined physical forces, co-ordination between mind and body, plus speed, strength, stamina and a well-balanced body. The greater success of the present time heavy weight lifter in handling heavy weights over the strong man of a generation ago is the result of better teamwork within himself, that has brought his co-ordination to a higher plane of perfection.
Does modern bodybuilding make you sick? You should write for Natural Strength! I always need good articles about drug-free weight training. It only has to be at least a page and nothing fancy. Just write it strong and truthful with passion! Send your articles directly to me:

Bob Whelan

Bob Whelan

This site does not provide medical advice. We assume no liability for the information provided in NaturalStrength articles. Please consult your physician before beginning any exercise or nutrition program. Copyright © 1999-2017 | All Rights Reserved.