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Sunday, October 23, 2011

THE TRUTH ABOUT WEIGHTLIFTING - (circa 1911) - Chapter 4 - By Alan Calvert

For some reason, the one-hand slow “press,” or “push up,” is no longer included in competition lifting in Europe, but it is still favored to some extent in both amateur and professional lifting in England, and is almost exclusively used in competition lifting in America. The reason the one-hand slow "press" is excluded in Europe is because it is so hard to lay down rules governing this lift.

The one-hand slow "push up" can be divided into three separate lifts: First, there is the slow, steady, push with the body held in military position; second, an ordinary "press," or "push up;" and third, the "bent press" or "screw press." We will describe these lifts in detail.

First, the lift in military position. In this lift it is customary to use a short-handled dumbbell. The lifter is allowed to raise the bell from the floor to the shoulder in any manner he pleases, but after he gets the bell to the shoulder (in the right hand, for instance) he must assume what is known as the military position, or what we call in this country "attention." He must stand rigidly upright, heels together and knees touching, left arm held close to the left side, and he must keep this position while he pushed the bell slowly aloft with the right arm. (If he is lifting with the left hand, the right arm is held close to the right side). When you push a bell above the head with one hand the natural tendency is always to let the body bend at the waist. When you push with the right hand the body will naturally bend to the left.

It is hard to keep the body perfectly upright, even when you stand with the feet about 15 inches apart, and when you stand with the heels close together in military position it is doubly hard to keep the body from bending. This lift is a test of pure strength; skill does not cut any figure at all. Therefore, if a man presses 100 lbs. over the head with the right arm in this particular lift he performs a fine test of strength; 125 lbs. is a remarkable lift, while 150 lbs. is simply extraordinary. Carl Witzelsberger, of Vienna, holds the world's record with 154 lbs. Three or four German and French lifters have succeeded in lifting 143 lbs. Many men who claim records of 200 to 300 lbs. in the one-arm "bent press" cannot lift 125 lbs. in military position. Generally speaking, a man cannot lift more than two-thirds of his own weight in this manner, and half his own weight would be considered a very good lift.

THE ORDINARY "PRESS" OR "PUSH UP." In this lift the athlete is privileged to stand in any position he chooses, but generally he takes a position with the feet about 15 inches apart. He is not allowed to bend the legs at the knees while making the lift. Some men will simply push the bell aloft and allow the body to bend to the opposite side, while other men will give themselves a start by bending first to one side, then straightening suddenly in order to give momentum to the bell and finishing the lift with a bend to the other side. To explain more fully, suppose a lifter has a bell at this right hand, as he starts the lift he will drop the right shoulder and bend 3 or 4 inches to the right; then he will heave the bell aloft, using the strength of the side muscles to start the bell upwards, and as the bell goes upward, he will bend the body far to the left. The important point in this lift is that the legs are not allowed to bend at the knees. This lift requires enormous strength and is a good test of a man's ability. It is a lift pure and simple. A good, heavy man will put up 200 lbs. and more in this manner. This is the way Louis Cyr made his famous lift of 273 1/4 lbs. Cyr, as you may remember, was an enormously heavy man, weighing over 300 lbs. and was so stout that he was unable to bend very far at the waist; and I am informed by professionals who saw his lift that Cyr was utterly incapable of performing the "bent press" in the way that it is practiced by Sandow, Saxon, and other professionals. Nobody else has ever come near Cyr's record in this lift, and it is one of the most wonderful feat of strength of which we have a record. There are half a dozen German lifters who are accredited with records of 220 to 242 lbs. In this lift. Hackenschmidt, the Russian wrestler, is said to have lifted 242 lbs. in this manner and to have lifted 220 lbs. twice in succession. "Cyclops" Bienkowski, who toured this country in 1891, could raise 242 lbs. in this lift. He carried a dumbbell of that weight through the United States with him, and he did not find any American lifter woho could get the bell above the head with one hand, even when they resorted to the "bent press."

BENT PRESS. This lift is also know as the "body-press" or "screw-press." In one-arm lifting above the head more can be raised by the "bent-press" than by any other method.

There has been a great deal of discussion as to whether or not the "bent-press' is really a lift; some authorities claiming that it is more of a supporting and balancing feat than a genuine lift. In making this lift the athlete will generally use a long-handled bar-bell, with a handle over 2 inches thick. It is possible to raise from the shoulder by the bent press far more than can be lifted from the ground to the shoulder with one hand. As the pressing motion is a very slow one, and quite exhausting, the lifter generally saves his strength as much as possible for the final effort, and consequently raises the bell to the shoulder in the easiest manner. This is done by standing the bell on end and rocking it into position. Now we assume that the lifter has the bell in a horizontal position at his shoulder, the bar grasped in the exact center with his right hand. He now leans forward and to the left, balancing the bell meanwhile in the right hand, keeping the right forearm perpendicular to the floor. If the weight is a very heavy one he will bend until his left shoulder touches his left knee. At this period of the lift the right arm should be almost straight. The lifter then bends his right leg at the knee, which will drop his body far enough o enable him to get under the bell with the right arm straight. By taking great care to keep the bell balanced he can then bring his body to an upright position and finish the lift.

In one manner of this lift the athlete is all the way down and gets his left arm straight under the bell. In fact, the bell is really held in one position, and the athlete bends away from it until he can get the arm straight, and then by straightening the legs and body comes to erect position with the bell over the head.

I incline to the opinion that the "bent-press" is more of a supporting feat than a genuine lift. Almost every lifter is able to master the standard lifts, such as the "jerk," "snatch," "swing" and the "press" in military position, but comparatively few athletes can fully master the "bent-press." In this country it is used almost exclusively by professionals. A man not only has to have strength, but also must have a great deal of skill at balancing, and must be able to keep a cool head if he wants to excel in the "bent-press." Any good "hand-balancer," especially a man who is expert at balancing himself on one hand, should be able to make a fairly good record in the "bent-press."

In England the "bent-press" still retains its former popularity. The English people are very slow to change. Sandow made the "bent-press" popular many years ago, and the English still stick to it.

The reason professionals favor this lift is given in Chapter II. By having a thick-handled bell, which they raise above the head with one arm, they are able to create a very good impression if a man from the audience fails to raise the bell above the head when using both arms. The audience figures that if the professional puts 250 lbs. up with one hand he can put up 500 lbs. with both hands.

Sandow, who practically introduced the lift in England and America, has a record of 271 lbs. in the "bent-press," which was made in public. He always claimed that could lift in excess of 300 lbs. in this way, but, as he would never permit his exhibition bells to be weighed, his claim has never been allowed by the most eminent weight-lifting authorities.

When touring the United States in the '90s Sandow used to make a great hit by pressing a large bell of which each end was made of leather, and was large enough to hold a small man. At the completion of the lift, as the bell was replaced on the stage, the men would step out from the ends of the bell. Of course, it was necessary to use very small men, but in order to create the impression that the man were heavy, they always were dressed in very baggy clothes. They used to hang up a sign reading 320 lbs. when Sandow made the lift. I doubt very much if the men and apparatus together weighed more than 260 lbs. Since Sandow's time a number of German, English and American lifters have specialized in this lift. To the best of my knowledge and belief only one man has ever succeeded in raising more than 300 lbs., and that man is Arthur Saxon. Saxon is officially credited with having raised 336 llbs. with his right arm in this manner. He once tried a 350-lb. bell before the National Sporting Club of London, but he failed to make the lift. His admirers claim that he once pressed 370 lbs. in a weight-lifting club in Germany. This lift has never been certified. Outside of Arthur Saxon, I do not believe there is a man in the world today who can raise 295 lbs. above his head with the right arm; by this I mean the "bent press: from the should to arm's length above the head.

HOLDING BELLS "IN THE BALANCE." This is the feat known in America as "muscling out," or holding bells straight out from the shoulder with the arm horizontal. This is test of pure strength; very little skill enters into the performance of the feat. In order to make sure that no one contestant has any particular advantage, all lifters are compelled by the European rules to perform this lift in a certain manner. Two variations of this lift are practiced. When a single weight is held in one hand, it is the custom to employ a kettle-bell or ring-weight. The weight is first lifted up to the height of the chest, and then the arm is straightened out directly to the front. The knuckles of the lifting hand are upwards and the ring of the weight hangs on the bent fingers and the thumb. The man making the lift is compelled to stand as nearly upright as possible, although a slight bend backward from the waist is permitted. If the lift is made with the right arm, the lifter is allowed to advance the left foot, and vice versa.

The record in this feat is the 112-lb. lift of Michael Mayer. Carl Abs, the famous German strong man of the '90s, is unofficially credited with 110 lbs. and several big Frenchman have held out weights between 80 and 90 lbs. It takes a tremendously strong, heavy man to excel in this feat. It requires not only strength in the arm and shoulder muscles, but also a very strong back.

When one weight is held in each hand it is customary to first lift the weights above the head and let the arms drop to the sides. In this lift the weights rests on the palm of the hand, but the arms must be held rigidly straight from the sides. A light man can make better records in this event than when holding one weight out in front of him, because in the two-arm lift the weights balance each other. The record is held by the Russian lifter, Khryloff, with 90 lbs. in each hand. George Hackenschmidt, also a Russian, comes next with 90 lbs. in the right hand and 89 in the left.

HARNESS LIFTING. This particular kind of lifting is practiced almost exclusively by professionals, because in order to make a harness lift properly it is necessary to have large and costly apparatus. In the first place, it is necessary to have a specially constructed platform, which will enable the lifter to be a considerable distance above the ground. The platform is usually made with the legs spread, so as to prevent the platform from overturning. On the ground is placed another square platform. From each corner of the lower platform chains run up and attach to a collar fastened around the lifter's neck. In some cases the whole four chains are attached to the bottom of the collar. In other cases the lifter has a collar made from a square piece of leather, and the chains are attached to each corner of the leather, so that two chains pass the front of the lifter and two behind him; in this case, instead of having one hole in the upper platform for the chain to pass through, it is necessary to have four holes, one for each chain. On the upper platform are two strong rails (or hand-rests) to give support to the lifter's hands.

The weight is placed on the lower platform, and the lifter first gets in position with his legs bent slightly at the knees, arms bent slightly at the elbows and the body inclined slightly forward from the hips. He then makes a tremendous effort and simultaneously straightens his arms and legs and brings his body to an erect position, and by so doing he will raise the lower platform and weight an inch or two from the ground. More weight can be lifted in the harness lift than in any other manner, because a harness lift calls for concerted action of all the large extensor muscles. The extensor muscles of the back of the upper arm, which straighten the arms, are much more powerful than the flexor muscles, which bend the arm. The extensor muscles on the front of the thigh are much stronger than the flexor muscles on the back of the thigh, which bend the leg. The large muscles of the back, which straighten the trunk, are very much stronger than the muscles of the abdomen, which bend the trunk. In the harness lift all the extensor muscles are employed at the same time. Tremendous weights have been raised in this manner. Some stage exhibitors use living weights, such as 12 to 25 men, or a couple of horses; other performers use heavy dumbbells or a ton or so of pig iron.

John Marx claims that he has lifted over 4000 lbs., and I fully believe this feat is possible. C. A. Sampson, the Alsatian lifter, was given a medal by the National Sporting Club of London for lifting 4003 lbs. in the harness lift, and the lift was made under such conditions as precluded all chance of fraud. The harness lift is shown in this country by several vaudeville and circus performers, but I do not know whether any of these men attempt to prove the amount of weight they lift. Twelve to fifteen men is generally about the limit and I suppose that 1800 or 2500 lbs. is as much of the American performers lift I believe in harness lifting that if a record is attempted, pig iron or some similar material should be used with which to load the lower platform. When live weights, such as men and horses, are used there is always bound to be some question regarding the exact weight.

BACK LIFTING. This lift is performed in somewhat similar manner to the harness lift, except that the performer stands under the weight instead of above it. The weight is placed on a platform, which is supported by two high, wooden "horses." The lifter gets underneath the platform in a stooping position and has a support for his hands. He then straightens the arms and the legs and partly straightens the back, and lifts the platform which thus rests upon his shoulders. The famous Louis Cyr was credited with having raised 4300 lbs. in the back lift, and this, I believe, is the record.

The back lift is more dangerous than the harness lift, because in the former the lifter, being beneath the weight, has to balance it. There is also the danger of one of the wooden horses tilting over when the weight comes down at the completion of the lift, and if this happens the lifter is very apt to be crushed by the falling platform. One or two serious accidents have happened in this way.

Both back lifting and harness lifting throw a tremendous strain on the muscles, and also on the vital organs. Still, if a man is properly trained for the lift he can raise enormous weights without much fear of injury. Very few amateurs ever have the opportunity of trying their strength at harness lifting, but I believe that the average amateur lifter (for instance, a man weighing 170 lbs., who can lift 250 lbs. above his head with two hands) can learn to lift 2500 or 3000 lbs. in a harness or back lift after a few weeks' practice.

DEAD WEIGHT LIFTING. In this lift the performer stands on two chairs (or strong stools), grasps the handle of the weight in both hands and raises it one or two inched from the ground by simultaneously straightening his legs and back. The apparatus most convenient for this kind of lifting consists merely of 100-lb. iron plates on a vertical rod, while at the top of the vertical rod is fixed a horizontal handle. The amount that can be raised in this manner is largely governed by the strength of a man's grip. The proper way to raise the weight is to stand with the legs bent slightly at the knees and body inclined slightly forward; the arms are kept straight and act merely as connecting links between the shoulder muscles and the handle of the apparatus. It is very important that the back should be straight and not curved; all the bending should be done from the hips.

If the back is allowed to arch there is considerable danger of rupturing the wall of the abdomen. This feat calls for tremendous strength in the grip, the trapezius muscles, which raise the shoulder, and the muscles on the outside of the thighs and of the small of the back. Any athlete who can lift a 275-lb. bell above the head with both hands should easily be able to raise 1000 lbs. with two hands in this "dead-weight" lift. The record in "dead weight" lifting is Louis Cyr's performance of 1897 lbs. D. L. Dowd, a very famous athlete of 20 years ago, lifted 1440 lbs. Cyr once lifted 987 lbs. with one hand, without any artificial aid to his grip; and Hans Steyrer, of Munich, Germany, lifted 581 lbs. with the middle finger. In the one-finger lift it is, of course, necessary to attach a loop of leather ( or some other pliable material ) to the handle of the weight. The middle finger is slipped through the loop.

When lifts are made with one hand ( or one finger ) it will greatly aid the lifter if he will put the disengaged hand on the thigh, right above the knee. This steadies the lifter, and if he pushed downward with the disengaged hand it will materially assist in raising the weight.

In regard to Cyr's lift of 987 lbs. with one hand, I always have been curious to know what sort of handle was attached to the weight which was lifted on this occasion. I do not believe that it was a straight handle-bar of iron or of wood, because in such a case it could not be more than 1 inch thick, and even then I do not believe the mighty Cyr himself had a grip strong enough to raise that amount with one hand. One-hand lifting is very much harder than two, because in the two-hand lifts it is customary to grip the handle with the hands turned in opposite directions; that is, the palms of the hands facing each other, as it were. This steadies the weight and prevents it from turning or swinging, I feel sure that Cyr must have had a rope, or canvas hand-grip, attached to the 987 lbs. which he raised with one hand.

DEAD-WEIGHT LIFTING TO THE CROSS POSITION. In this lift a long bar-bell is placed on the ground in front of the lifter, and he is supposed to lean forward, bending the body at the hips and arching his spine, but not bending the legs at the knees; and then, by straightening his back, raise the weight to the height of the hips.

I never remember seeing this lift attempted in this country, though I believe it is popular in some parts of Germany and France. It differs from "dead-weight" lifting both in position the lifter is compelled to assume and in the height the weight is raised from the ground. In "dead-weight" lifting the back and legs are straightened simultaneously and the weight is only raised and inch or two, but in lifting to the cross position the weight is raised entirely by the strength of the back and shoulders and in case of a man of average height is lifted about 30 inches from the ground. I am obliged to confess that I am ignorant of the record of this particular lift, though I am strongly under the impression that it is in the neighborhood of 650 lbs. and that the lift was made by a 250-lb. man. In lifting to the "cross" position and in "dead-weight" lifting there is not the slightest chance of faking, because it is practically compulsory to use dead weight. These lifts are, therefore, tests of pure strength.

In connection with "dead-weight" and harness lifting it is appropriate to mention the feats of the wonderful German, George Lettl. This man, who enjoys a great reputation in Germany, came to this country a few years ago, but owing to the fact that he had no "stage presence," as the actors say, and also to the fact that he insisted on showing genuine feats of strength, he was unable to get any engagements in first-class vaudeville houses in our principal cities. Lettl might be described as a "freak of nature." He is a man over 40 years of age, stands 5 feet 6 inches in height and weighs 135 lbs.; chest is only 36 inches, upper arm 13, thigh about 20 inches.

Thousands of men can show measurements equally as good, but not one man out of a thousand can equal Lettl in pure strength. Lettl's specialty was "dead-weight" and "harness lifting." In "harness lifting" he raised over 3700 lbs. (something marvelous for a man of his weight and physique), and in "dead-weight lifting" he has lifted over 1600 lbs. with both hands.

Lettl seems to be the exception that proves the rule. Ninety-nine out of a hundred men who have pursued weight-lifting for any length of time develop powerfully muscled bodies, but Lettl is the exception in that he does not appear muscular or athletic in any way.

Physical Culture