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Friday, October 21, 2011

THE TRUTH ABOUT WEIGHTLIFTING - (circa 1911) - Chapter 3 - By Alan Calvert

Originally posted on on 25 June 2006

It should be distinctly understood that chapters III and IV are not to be considered as instructions. I have endeavored to describe in these chapters the way the lifts are performed. It is necessary to do this in order that the reader should be able to understand the numerous references to the standard lifts in the chapters of this book.

Only a general description of the lift is given. In each lift there are a number of essential details, which are omitted here for the sake of brevity. No one should attempt these lifts without having the full knowledge of every detail in regards to the proper way in which to perform them.

On the continent of Europe, weight lifting with dumbbells is one of the favorite sports. In Germany they have more weight-lifting meets than we have track and field meets here in America. In the winter time there are sometimes as many as half-dozen big weight-lifting contests a night. Practically every night throughout the winter there is a weight-lifting contest of importance in one or another of the large German cities. In France, Denmark, Greece, Sweden, and Russia weight-lifting is very popular.

During the last dozen years, all European weight-lifting contests have been governed by the same general rules. There are eight lifts which are generally recognized as being the standard lifts. These are: Right-arm "snatch." Right-arm "swing." Left-arm "snatch." Left-arm "swing." Right-arm "jerk." Two-arm press. Left arm "jerk." Two-arm "jerk."

In France and Austria they sometimes introduce as competition lifts the one-arm straight press, in "military position," and very occasionally they will introduce the feat of holding weights to arms length at the side.

It is very seldom that the competitors are required to make more than three or four different kinds of lifts during one competition. For instance, a German lifter may enter into a tournament at Munich and the events might be a right and left-arm "snatch," two-arm "press" and two-arm "jerk." The same lifter might compete a week later in Dresden, where the feats would be the right and left-arm "jerk," right and left-arm "swing, and two-hand "jerk," and so on throughout the several meetings. Any athlete who can go through a whole season and win first or second prizes in the majority of the tournaments, is sure to be not only an immensely strong man, but also a finished lifter, capable of handling bells in any of the standard lifts.

Now, if a reader wants to understand and be able to read the rest of the book intelligently, he should give careful attention to the next few pages, which will give a short description of the standard lifts and the best records made in these lifts.

First, the "snatch." This lift is generally performed with a long-handled bar-bell. The bell is placed on the floor and the lifter stands behind it, and bends down and grasps it. With one hand he grasps the exact centre of the bar, and he places the other hand on his knee. He then makes a sudden tremendous effort, straightens the back and legs simultaneously, and at the same time give a vigorous pull with his arm. If correctly performed, the first movement will bring the bell about as high as the top of the lifter's head (when he is in an upright position). For a fraction of a second the bell will hang in this position, suspended in the air, and at the instant the lifter has to relax his grip on the bar quickly (so it will turn in his hand), dip his body by bending at the knees, and in the manner get under the bell with a straight arm.

From the foregoing description it will be seen that great speed as well as enormous strength is needed to make a good record in the "snatch" lift. Very few men are able to master this lift at the first trial. Some of the famous foreign lifters have spent years in perfecting themselves in the snatch. Any man who "snatches" a bell as heavy as himself has performed a remarkable feat of strength. A 180-pound man who can snatch 180 pounds correctly with his right arm is a wonder. The Germans and the French excel in this lift. Schniedereidt, who weighed 194 pounds, snatched 199 pounds. Neihaus, another German, who weighed 190 pounds, snatched 196 pounds with the right hand and 187 with the left. Heinrich Rondi, of Dusseldurf, a 240-pound giant, snatched correctly with his right arm 203 1/2 pounds. All these records have been eclipsed by the recent performance of a French army sergeant by the name of Vasseur, who weighs 195 pounds, and actually succeeded in snatching 205 pounds.

Many Americans will remember the Saxon trio, who appeared with the Ringling Circus in 1910. These three brothers comprise the most famous professional lifting team in the world, and the two elder brothers have made very good records in the "snatch" lift. Arthur, the oldest brother, who weighs 200 pounds, has several times snatched with his right arm barbells of 208 and 210 pounds, but he has never made an attempt at the record under the official conditions. Almost every weight-lifting authority in Europe concedes that Arthur Saxon could break the one-hand "snatch" record any time he took the trouble to train two weeks especially for that event. Herman Saxon, the second brother, when he weighed 168 pounds snatched 180 pounds. The highest record ever claimed by Eugene Sandow in this particular lift was 180 pounds, and there have been at least 15 lifters who have exceeded that mark in the last few years.

You will notice that several times in the foregoing description I used the words "snatched correctly." In Europe they not only give a man credit for the amount he is able to lift, but also for the manner in which he lifts it. For example, in the snatch lift it is considered very "bad form" top move the feet at all while getting the bell aloft.

Frequently you will see an amateur, or a badly trained professional, make a tremendous effort to get a bell above his head, and then, after he has gotten the bell aloft he will have to take a few rapid steps in order to maintain his balance. This is a sign of a very poor lifter. Skill in lifting has been brought to a degree almost approaching perfection, and it has been discovered that a man who lifts correctly is able to raise much more weight than a man who lifts incorrectly, and also that a "correct" lifter is always much more graceful in his movements than a man who is lifting incorrectly.

This peculiar fact has been greatly played upon by the professional lifter in America. They know that the audience always associates a tremendous lift with the appearance of a tremendous effort. A lifter can make a really wonderful lift, and if he lifts correctly, he does not appear to be over-exerting himself; but if he bungles the lift, he will give the appearance of straining himself to the very last degree. The professional takes advantage of this b using a light bell and making a tremendous effort when lifting, and thereby give the impression to the audience that he is raising a tremendous weight.

This is wandering somewhat from our subject, but no discussion or description of lifting, as it is conducted abroad, would be complete without some reference to the amount of emphasis and importance the European lifters give to this question of "form." To give you an example, suppose in a competition, that lifter A and lifter B had raised exactly the same amount of weight in the various lifts on the program, but that lifter A had made the lifts in the most correct and graceful fashion, while lifter B had made his lifts in an awkward and bungling manner. The judges in such a case would at once give the first prize to A on points. In France they sometimes carry this matter of form even further. Lifters are marked so many points for the amount of weight they raise and so many points for their "form" in lifting. In the big Amateur International Competition of 1903 in Paris, a German who gained second prize actually lifted several pounds more (in ten lifts) than a Swiss, who was given first prize. The Swiss's form in lifting was so much superior to the German's that his total points enabled him to win out.

Very few lifters are able to "snatch" as much with the left arm as they can with the right arm; that is, unless they are naturally left-handed men. A well-trained lifter will generally show a difference of 10 or 20 pounds between his right-arm and left-arm "snatch."


The one-arm "swing" is a very similar lift to the "snatch," but the swing is generally performed with a short-handled dumbbell or a kettle-bell, while the snatch is almost invariably performed with a long-handled bar-bell. In competition a dumbbell is generally used in the swing lift, because more can be lifted than when a kettle-bell is used.

The swing lift is performed as follows: The lifter stands with his feet about 12 or 15 inches apart, and places the dumbbell in front of him, with the bell parallel to his feet. The dumbbell usually has a handle of about 5 inches long, and the lifter will stoop down and grasp the bell with one hand immediately behind the front sphere. Then he swings the bell back between his legs in order to give momentum, and then makes a tremendous effort and swings the bell forward and upward, keeping the arm rigidly straight.

The simultaneous straightening of the back and the legs and the swinging motion of the arm will bring the dumbbell on the level of the lifter's face, and then he has to make a sudden dip of the legs, the same as in the "snatch" in order to get under the bell. Some lifters, instead of squatting downwards, prefer to drop the body to one side and bend the knees very little, but a straight drip is considered the best form. The principal difference between the snatch and the swing is that in the snatch the bell is pulled from the floor to above the head in a straight, vertical line, whereas, in the swing, the bell describes a semi-circle. The arm is bent in performing the "snatch" and held rigidly straight in performing the "swing" lift. It is practically impossible for a man to swing a dumbbell which is heavier than he is, because no matter how fast he is in performing the lift, the bell will overbalance him when it is three-quarters of the way up.

The "swing" lift is a great favorite in France, and is practiced comparatively little in Germany, or other European countries, although it is rapidly coming into favor in England, along with the "snatch" lift. The man who excels at the snatch lift can generally make a very good record in the swing.

The best record in the swing lift is held by Jean Francois, a Frenchman, who swung 199 pounds with the right arm. The next best record is 193 3/4 pounds, of Emile Deriaz, another Frenchman. There are 15 or 10 lifters who have made records running from 180 to 192 pounds. Anything over 180 pounds in the "swing" can be classed as a remarkable performance, and any man who "swings" a bell within 10 pounds of his own is a wonder. A 150-pound man swinging aloft a 140-pound dumbbell, would be a star in this particular lift.

In both the "snatch" and the "swing" lift it is important to use bells with slender handles. For a man with an ordinary-sized hand the best results can be obtained by using the bell with a handle bar 1 inch or 1 1/8 inches in thickness. A man with enormous hands might possibly be able to perform a good "snatch" or "swing" with a bell with a 1 1/4 inch handle.


In this lift the bell ( either a bar-bell or a dumb-bell) is usually lifted to the shoulder with both hands, and then is jerked from the shoulder to arms' length above the head with one hand. This lift is known as one of the "quick lifts," the other "quick lifts" being the "snatch" and the swing." In the "jerk," after the bell is placed at the shoulder, the lifter will bend his legs at the knees and then suddenly straighten them and at the same moment thrust the arm vigorously forward. This will give the bell such an impetus that it will rise 10 or 12 inches from the shoulder, and then the lifter with a second quick "dip" of the knees will get beneath the bell with a straight arm, and the lift is completed.

Great activity and long practice are necessary in order to properly master this lift. Some athletes in making this lift will bend the body to the side in order to get under the bell. This side-fall has some advantages, because if you do not get quite low enough you can finish the lift with a strong push of the arm. It is considered correct form to drop straight beneath the bell, and if the lift is performed correctly, and if the athlete is quick enough in his movements, he should be able to get below the bell with a perfectly straight arm and should not find it necessary to use the strength of the arm to finish the lift.

In German and Austrian competitions the athletes are allowed to take the bell from the ground to the shoulder with both hands, but always in England and usually in France the athletes are compelled by the rules to lift the bell from the ground to the shoulder with one hand and to jerk it above the head with the same hand, without once allowing the bell to touch the body in any way. This method is called "clean lifting." In the German style 266 1/5 lbs. has been jerked aloft with the right arm by the Russian athlete, George Lurich, while in the French style the record is 231 lbs.


TWO ARM PRESS. In this lift the bell ( which, of course, is a long-handled bar-bell) must be raised from the ground to the chest without touching the body, and after the bell reaches the height of the neck, the lifter must pause and then push it slowly aloft. He is not allowed to assist the motion by a jerk or swing, but he must press it slowly and steadily upward until his arms are straight. If the athlete bends backward, or allows his legs to bend at the knees, he would not only be lifting very bad form, but would also be liable to strain himself.

TWO ARM JERK. Such an enormous amount of weight can be raised from the chest to above by this particular lift that the athlete is generally unable to lift "clean" from the floor to the chest. In European competition the contestants are allowed to lift the bell slowly to the height of the hips, where it is rested against the body. From thence a sharp pull of the arms and "dip" of the knees will bring the bell half-way up the chest, while a second "pull" and "dip" will enable the lifter to get it as high as the neck. From there the bell is jerked aloft with both arms, the lift being very similar to the one-hand "jerk."

The lifters of the city of Vienna, Austria, excel in all two-hand lifts. England has produced no good two-hand lifters. (By a good two-hand lifter is understood a man who can press at least 242 lbs. and "jerk" at least 330 lbs.) France has produced a couple of dozen good two-hand lifters, while Germany has probably 50 or 60 men who can raise over 330 lbs. above the head in the two-hand "jerk." The best record made by a German is Andreas Maier's lift of 367 lbs. In Vienna there are four men who can lift above the head over 370 lbs. These men are: Grafl, Witzelsberger, Steinbach, and Karl Swoboda. Steinbach, with a record of 390 lbs. is regarded as the real record-holder in the two hand "jerk," because he brought the bell from the ground to the shoulder in three movements. Karl Swaboda*, who is a giant weighing 300 lbs., recently succeeded in "jerking" above his head with two arms the enormous weight of 402 lbs.; but this has not been allowed as a record, because he the bell from the floor to the chest in four movements.

As stated in the beginning of this chapter, the competitive lifts in a German tournament are generally selected from the foregoing eight standard lifts. If the reader has read this section carefully he will have noticed that in the "quick" lifts most of the power employed to raise the dumb-bells aloft from the straightening of the back and legs, and the reader should also realize that no one but an extremely active man would be able to hold his own in a modern weight-lifting competition. *Karl Swoboba should not be confused with the American "resistance system" man named Swoboda, who formerly advertised from Chicago, later from Washington, D. C. Karl Swoboda, of Vienna, is a weight lifter and an extremely strong man.

For a long time there was an idea prevalent in this country that no man could be a successful dumb-bell lifter unless he was a big, heavily-built individual, strong as an ox and just as slow in his movements as that patient beast.

The reason that so many quick lifts are introduced into the present-day competitions is in order to give the light man a chance against his heavier brother, and also to put a premium on activity and skill. Do not misunderstand me here. Nobody except a tremendously strong man can raise above the head dumb-bells weighing over 200 lbs. in the two-hand lifts or over 150 lbs. in the one-hand lifts; but strength alone is not sufficient.

It will be noticed that much more can be lifted in the "jerk" than in the "press," because in the "jerk" the strength of legs is added to the strength of the arms and shoulders. The difference between the two lifts is much greater in the one-arm feats than in the two-arm feats for obvious reasons. Any man who can "press" in military position 100 lbs. with one arm should be able to "jerk" almost 100% more ( 200 lbs.) In the two-hand lift the difference is not so great. Siebert, the great German authority on lifting, claims that the proportion between the "press" and the "jerk" should be as 2 is to 3; that is, if a man can raise 200 lbs. in the two-arm "press" he should raise 300 lbs. in the two-arm "jerk," or in other words, the amount raised in the "jerk" is 50% more than in the "press." This rule works all right in the case of a light, active man, who is very skillful in the "jerk," but the difference between the two lifts decreases very rapidly when we take the case of the heavier, and therefore slower, man.

I knew one lifter who weighed 160 lbs.; he could "press" 200 lbs. perfectly with two arms. He claimed that he could 300 lbs. in the "jerk." The most I saw him do was 280 lbs., but I am willing to admit that he had not had much practice at the "jerk" previous to making the test for me. In the case of the Champion Steinbach, we see that his record in the "press" is 330 lbs. while his record in the "jerk" is 390 lbs. (in round figures); a difference of 60 lbs., which means that the record in the "jerk" is less than 20% greater than in the "press." You will find the same thing in most heavy men. For instance, Cyr, who was very slow in his movements, could raise in the two-arm lifts 350 lbs. in the "jerk" and about 315 lbs. in the "press," showing that he did not get much advantage from his legs. All this goes to prove the wisdom of mixing up the various kinds of lifts in competition, because it puts the light, active, skillful man on an equality with the powerful giant. The best athlete is the man who can make the best use of strength, and a 175-lb. man who can raise 300 lbs. in the two-arm "jerk" is certainly entitled to more credit than the 250-lb. man who can only raise 325 lbs. in a like manner.

Physical Culture