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Old Time Strongmen

  • 100 Year Old Bench Press Secret

    Stereoview of Dabee Chowdray Palwan with 960 Pound Weight
    Dabee Chowdray Palwan with 960 Pound Weight

    That was quite a compliment, and a bit over stated, but it came from a friend. We were having lunch and talking about his favorite lift, the bench press. As an avid Olympic style weightlifter, I have spent far less time on the bench press than he has, but I have spent more time on the standing press and odd lifts.

    My buddy wanted to know about what some pre-drug era guys in the bench press, so I brought along a little piece from my collection. I have been puzzling over this one for some time, doing research in a number of directions, but I couldn't hold this one back. He did ask for old, so I think something more than a hundred years old fit the bill.

    You can see the stereoscope photo of “Dabee Chowdray Palwan” doing pressing a stone. As you can see, the lift is a bridging floor press with a stone nal, at 46 years old. I found more literature on how he actually performed the lift as well. Included, is a little on his training methodology. Who knows how accurate any of it is, but the claim is that the stone weighs 960 pounds.

    http://atomicathletic.com/store/index.php/tendon-ligament-strength-training-course-1-dvd.html

    As I have been wanting to increase my standing press, I have been doing a lot to bring back my bad right shoulder, including bench pressing. I am not to the point where I will be doing bench press partials or isometrics, but this long dead pehlwan (this is the modern English spelling) certainly did them. There is almost no chance a bench was used in his training, but we can learn a lot from what we see in his picture. As John, my buddy, said, “just supporting that sort of weight would increase my bench press, where do I start?” He has a great attitude.

    For starters, he will be studying and practicing proper isometrics in the power rack, as well as partial movements. He will begin with my “Tendon & Ligament Strength Training” DVD. While I put this together fifteen years ago, as my first instructional video, it is still my best seller. Smitty taught me to do that stuff with all the knowledge he had gained from his years training the York lifters. It is a serious show and tell sort of thing. After John digests all that info, we will move on to other cool training.

    Maybe you will join us in this lifting adventure...?

    All the best,

    Roger LaPointe

    "Today is a good day to lift."

  • Real Motivation

    indian-ladder-game-carny-stuff
    The Jacob's Ladder is sometimes also called the Indian Ladder Game or Chinese Ladder Game, when you see them at carnivals.

    (This Bulletin was originally published May 5, 2005. Titled “Kid's Workout Journal”)

    Workout journals are a cool thing. I don’t use one right now, but I should. I am going to start again. Just before the Atomic Athletic Great Black Swamp Olde Time Strongman Picnic I found one of my journals from when I was about 12 or 13. It was really cool.

    “No excuses!!!!”

    That was a headline on one of those pages, written from a 12 year old to himself. I like to think that I haven’t changed much.

    Today, my workouts are never the same and don’t follow a set plan, except for some generalities. I work too many hours and with shipments coming in and going out, I never know what I am actually doing from one day to the next. My goals are a little different from back then. I started making my change today.

    That 12 year old kid knew something. How about this, “Goal: find new exercises for Jacob’s Ladder training. I WILL win the $10.”

    How is that for motivation? I would like $10 today, for completing a Jacob’s ladder climb. It was a lot more then and a lot harder for a 12 year old to get it. My list of “new” exercises included: 6 different kinds of push-ups, rope climbing, “rope push-ups”, pull ups, chin ups, monkey bar work and hanging upside down on the Jacob’s Ladder. For those of you who don’t know, this is not the motorized thing, by the same name, that you will find in some commercial gyms. Those give a nice workout, but I doubt anyone ever got a concussion from one. Of course, I also worked climbs on my belly, hands-knees-feet, hands & feet and forwards and backwards. After all, I was planning on working the carneys! I guess that is why I loved watching Andrew Durniat in the pull up competition at the picnic.

    That guy did 23 perfect pull ups. I was really hoping no one would jump in and do some really bad cheating pull ups and beat him. Nobody did. Andrew got his chin over the bar with every rep. He also came down to full extension, with at least a second of full relaxation between each rep. Even more amazing was the fact that he did a short tri-athalon that morning. He earned that Atomic Athletic Retro Gas Station Jacket. He earned it with more than just his performance that Saturday. He earned it with every workout he put in before that. This was just some of the pay off. Congrats Andrew.

    All the best,
    Roger LaPointe

    PS. I know that 12 or 13 year old would not have understood the responsibilities I have today, but then again, he would have still said, “get back in that gym, you don’t get stronger sitting at a computer.” I know that to be a fact, as I read it in the journal...

  • Add 50 Lbs To Your 1 Hand Deadlift

    I know. This sounds like one of those Joe Weedy-man ads that is too good to

    Finger Lift Ring
    Finger Lift Ring: Open Middle Finger

    be true. All I am going to do is tell you how I did it. It was amazingly simple.

    I decided that improving my One Hand Barbell Deadlift would improve all my other lifts. You see, if your grip is your weak point, it can throw off all the other body position angles in full body lifts. I could also aim for an American Record, by adding about 50 pounds. Thus I had a goal and an underlying reason for that goal.

    First, I looked at my current grip training. I was doing a lot of thick grip work and explosive lifting with Olympic bar sized handles. My regular 2 hand deadlift, clean grip pulls and trap bar deadlifting were all at least a hundred pounds over that record with training weights, so I knew it had to be a hand, wrist or forearm issue. I then looked up similar lifts in the USAWA Rule Book. I had never done any finger lifting, but many of the old time strongmen did.

    I simply added finger lifting to the end of my regular workouts, but I didn't go for max weight. The theory was that I had to build up the strength of a lot of very small muscles, ligaments and tendons. I would do only 1 set per finger or group of fingers, as I decided to lift with the ring finger and pinky finger as a single unit, because of the tendon and bone configuration in the hand. I used the exact body position and range of motion for the One Hand Barbell Deadlift. Equipment was simply the Finger Ring Weight Handle with the Olympic Loading Pin I sell.

    Finger Lift Grip Positions

    I soon found that there were essentially three different grip positions. I only did the finger lifting every other workout, but switched grips each time. The weight I used was as much as I could do during that workout for a minimum of ten reps. There was a lot of trial and error. If my limit for a particular grip and finger was only the ring, clevis and loading pin that day, so be it. Believe me, for the Open Pinky/Ring Finger position, there were days that the weight was so ridiculously light it seemed a complete waste of time, but I stuck to the program.

    3 Finger Lift Grips: Open, Hook and Lateral Pinch

    I also added the One Hand Barbell Deadlift into my routine every time I trained. I did only 2 Sets of Triples and periodized the lift with my other training, peaking a month before the contest and again on contest day. I gave myself five months to see how well I would do. It worked out so well, I still can't believe it.

    All the best,
    Roger LaPointe
    “Today is a good day to lift.”

  • Throwing Down a Pint

    joe-marino-bodybuilder
    Carry On, Joe Marino - Joe has always promoted the idea of camaraderie in strength sports, especially through the AOBS.

    As you can imagine, I'm not a big drinker, but that was great fun. I've been working so long and hard on the Atomic Athletic web site that my social, camaraderie oriented side of life has been lacking. I almost titled this Bomb Proof Bulletin “Extending the Conversation”, which would have been descriptive, but didn't have the punchy flavor I wanted, but you get the idea.

    Just Did It
    You see, like any other sport, you can only “do” strength sports for so long. I'm also not talking about age here. We have Masters athletics for those of us who want to compete in age group sports. I'm talking about being a spectator. It's the art of watching the game with buddies. Most of us at the Pub had done some sort of coaching and recruiting for the Open Curling we have, thanks to the advertising power of the the Olympics being on television. By Friday, we were done for the week. It was time to relax and talk about the sport. Tell some jokes. You get the idea.

    Last week, I met with my buddy, Dr. Bob Suchyta, at his bar, Doc's Sports Retreat. Dr. Bob is the guy who got me into Olympic style Weightlifting. Believe me, he was a much better lifter than I have ever been, having been trained by Norbert Schemansky, at the Astro Club. We had a blast talking about lifting and checking out all of his sports memorabilia. His place is a modern sports bar that shows off a collection that includes pieces from Gordy Howe, other Red Wings, Lions, Tigers, Pistons and of course, weightlifters. There is at least an entire case of memorabilia just about Norbert Schemansky, but other lifters, strongmen and bodybuilders are represented as well.

    Click this link if you want to check out Doc's Sports Retreat: http://www.docssportretreat.com/

    Both Vic Boff and Joe Marino drummed the concepts of camaraderie and fellowship into my head. They are essential for any sport. In case you didn't know, the AOBS (Association of Oldetime Barbell & Strongmen, which Vic founded) started as an informal get-together to celebrate Sig Klein's birthday. Make sure to get together with your lifting buddies. If they have all disappeared, find new ones. Make sure to add in some young guys, or even “old guys” who are new to the sport.

    Vic Boff Collection: http://atomicathletic.com/store/index.php/vic-boff-collection-2-books-dvd.html

    Continue to check out the Atomic Athletic BLOG for more. I add bits & pieces to it, that are not long enough for a Bulletin.   Of course, not all the Bulletins make it to the BLOG.  They really are different entities.

    Atomic Athletic Great Black Swamp Olde Time Strongman Picnic Collage
    Atomic Athletic Great Black Swamp Olde Time Strongman Picnic Collage

    All the best,
    Roger LaPointe
    “Today is a good day to lift.”

  • The Best Sports Drink

    bob-hoffman-blue-rock-spring-water
    Bob Hoffman's Blue Rock Mountain Spring Water

    I love coffee.

    Unfortunately, coffee is probably not the best sports drink. For that, I am going to have to defer to the mighty Bob Hoffman. He was a real visionary.

    Bob Hoffman really believed in the power of water. In fact, he believed in the value of water to such an extent that he bought a spring and started a subsidiary of York Barbell called Blue Rock Mountain Spring Water. The photo above shows one of the original glass bottles and one of the cardboard shipping boxes, from my collection.

    When I first seriously got into lifting, one of my coaches, Dave Peterson, was adamant about me getting enough water. It didn't help that the weight room at Michigan State seemed to be boiling hot, year round. Later, when I worked at York Barbell, Smitty also made sure we got plenty of water while training.

    I won't get into the technical reasons why water is so necessary, but here are a few basics. Of course, dehydration is bad, but I will assume that you already know that. Here are a few things you probably don't know. The old idea that lifters need tons of protein to make muscle, is only partially true. You also need to be able to process that protein. The metabolic processing of protein requires extra water.

    One of the many benefits of additional red meat, as a source of protein, is creatine. Creatine can help make a person stronger, particularly if they are deficient. However, the usefulness of supplemental creatine is dependent on getting enough water. In fact, it is increased cell volume that the creatine allows, which makes one stronger. I have seen it described as a matter of physics, not just biology. Without the added liquid in the diet, that volume cannot increase. Lacking water, the athlete will start getting some pretty severe muscle cramping. Because of this danger, many sports teams do not allow their athletes to take creatine as a supplement.

    The Blue Rock Mountain Spring Water company is gone, but long and the short of it is that most people need more water than they are getting and that is especially true of many athletes, who are sweating it out. There are several other issues related to water that I will get into for future BLOGs and Atomic Athletic Bomb Proof Bulletins.

    In most of the United States, we can get good clean water right from the faucet. Now, go get your water...

    All the best,
    Roger LaPointe
    “Today is a good day to lift.”

    PS. My favorite commercially available water is LaCroix Sparkling Water, which was bottled right down the street from where I used to live in the Detroit area. I really like the Lime flavor and the Lemon flavor. They are all natural.

  • Before Bench Presses

    john-grimek-pullover-mb1
    John Grimek Straight Arm Pullover

    What do you bench?

    How many times have you heard that question? I hate that question. I have a torn right rotator cuff and bench presses really aggravate that injury. So, on the rare occasion that I do a bench press, I never go over 225. The amazing thing is that people THINK I can bench press a lot, because they think I look like a guy that can bench a lot.

    http://atomicathletic.com/store/index.php/traditional-training-legendary-strength.html

    Here is my secret... and it is not bodybuilding, unless you are thinking of bodybuilding from 80 years ago. In fact, it wasn't until some time in the 1950s that lifters started doing flat “press-ups” on a bench. Yet, without bench presses, lifters had huge shoulders, triceps, brachialis, and pectoral muscles. The secret is that you have to look back to the time when John Grimek built up his physique.

    http://atomicathletic.com/store/index.php/gym-art-charts/classic-training-hall-wall-chart-set.html

    I am going to give you three exercises, that need to be added into your barbell routine, as well as one really great “Chest” workout.

    Straight Arm Barbell Pullovers

    The photo at the top is a photo of John Grimek, from when he worked for Mark Berry, estimated to have been taken in 1934. John is doing my favorite upper body exercise, the straight arm pullover. I did hundreds of these as a teenager, on the swim team. In fact, I did them with a Milo Barbell that looked very similar to the one Grimek used in that shot, which I think is somewhat key to that exercise. Don't worry, you don't have to buy a whole new barbell, just use smaller plates, so that the bar starts closer to the ground. Use something like 25 pound, or even 10 pound plates. It will extend your range of motion. Yes, it is harder to perform and you won't be able to use as much weight, but the benefits will be worth it with this alternate variation.

    Before Bench Presses Workout

    Stretch & Warm-up with Indian Clubs and/or Speed Bag Work
    Clean & Standing Barbell Push 5 x 5
    Clean & Front Squat 5 x 5
    Straight Arm Pullover 3 x 10
    Dumbbell (or Kettlebell) Crucifix Hold 3 x 3
    Dips 3 x 10
    Stretch

    If it is nice outside add in half a dozen 100 yard sprints. You will be shocked at how well they work in with this routine. In high school, I would do this routine in the morning and then head off to the pool for morning swim, which was only 45 minutes, but felt great.

    All the best,

    Roger LaPointe

    "Today is a good day to lift."

  • Learning Lost Secrets

    1950's York Wrist Roller at top and Atomic Athletic Firestorm Wrist Roller bottom
    1950's York Wrist Roller at top and Atomic Athletic Firestorm Wrist Roller bottom

    Lost variations of exercises can be your key to success.

    Because you know the secret, I am going to let you in on this one. When I stumbled across this variation on wrist roller work, it was one of those DUH moments for me. You know what I am talking about, when you see something for the first time and say to yourself, “Duh! Why didn't I think of that?”

    This exercise does not come from an exotic locale, like the Shaolin Temple or a Kushti Wrestling school in Varanasi, but from strange and exotic 1960's New Jersey. Of course, to a kid from Michigan, it may as well have been the North Pole.

    Presented by Professor E. M. Orlick, we have “Series B: Arms Bent and Elbows Held In Against Your Sides”. Try your wrist roller work with your arms like this. “Your lower arms must be bent so that they are at right angles to your upper arms and parallel to the floor.”

    If you have one of the Firestorm Wrist Rollers we sell, it should be just long enough for you to have your arms straight out and not crowded in next to the cord in the center. If you collect wrist rollers, like I do, then you will know how this exercise is virtually impossible to do with the little short red wrist roller that York sold many years ago. See the comparison photo above. You simply don't get anything close to a full range of motion in the palms up, bent arm position with a short wrist roller. Don't get me wrong, you can do some other interesting things with some of the short wrist rollers, but this is not one of them.

    Once you have mastered this movement with a light weight, cut your 10 reps down to 5 reps and really increase the weight. With your arms in this position, you should be able to do a lot more weight than with the straight arm, palms down position. In addition to pyramiding the weight, I like to do a set/rep variation in this position that goes from very light weight for 20 reps to very heavy weight where 5 reps may be impossible, then back again, repeating several times.

    http://atomicathletic.com/store/index.php/atomic-athletic-firestorm-wrist-roller.html

    You may also want to check out the Pot Lifting Arts kit:

    http://atomicathletic.com/store/index.php/pot-lifting-arts-kit-firestorm-wrist-roller-loading-pin-book-dvd.html

    All the best,
    Roger LaPointe
    “Today is a good day to lift.”

  • Garage Gym Accessory Wall

    power-shack-grip-board
    Carmen Caputo's Grip & Accessory Board

    Carmen Caputo's Power Shack Gym really is one of the best garage gyms out there. This is the second Atomic Athletic Bomb Proof Bulletin based on his place. It is a true unattached pole barn type 2-car + size garage, that is exclusively a gym. Carmen and his buddies completely finished it off, with heat. I can really appreciate that right now, as it's -5 F as I write this.

    The photo shows The Power Shack accessory corner, highlighted by the peg board. Hanging on the bottom are real antique Whitely spring type strand pulling units, with all the original Whitely accessory parts. He has them set up with 1-5 springs, just like a pro-style dumbbell or kettlebell rack. You also see an original cloth webbing York head harness and York wrist roller, together with some home made loading pins.

    http://atomicathletic.com/store/index.php/atomic-athletic-firestorm-wrist-roller.html

    Carmen and I had a great talk about the wrist rollers. We are both really into the wrist roller movement and concept. Carmen actually has two of those originals, but he stripped the paint off the one shown in the picture and poly coated it. I also have an original red painted one that I will show in a wrist roller article that is coming down the pike. Carmen's wrist roller advice is to, “...put a longer rope on your wrist roller, when it comes time to replace it. If you have a longer rope, you will find a way to use it. It's the basic simple details that the old strength guys were into, and that made all the difference. The longer rope is murder on your hands. Once you unroll it, you have to roll it back up before you can put it away.”

    In the floor rack you can see a variety of bars. He has an original Gaspari Bar, a 6 foot standard barbell, a 6 foot Olympic bar, a regular Olympic curl bar, an Olympic Super Curl Bar and an Olympic Hammer Curl Bar. He also has quite a pile of standard size plates.

    Rounding out the collection is a Power Twister, an Iron Man Super Gripper and a variety of rubber rings. The left wall also shows his framed original York Powerlifting Chart #2 (Bench Press). The other wall has his lat machine attachments (like the triceps rope), with the lat machine in the foreground. That padding is not the original naugahyde, but that cool late-60s glitter black that you may have seen on boat or motorcycle seats. He has re-upholstered everything in to match.

    All the best,
    Roger LaPointe
    'Today is a good day to lift.”

  • Check out Carmen's Gym

    carmen-caputos-york-kettlebells
    Carmen Caputo's Gym: Photo 1
    (Photo by Carmen Caputo with Permission)

    Check out what Carmen Caputo has put together! Seriously, put on your 7 year old kid attitude, with big excited eyes. We are going to take a walk back in time, to the days when afternoons were long and sunny. This is one of those days when opening this plain garage door seems somewhat slightly more interesting than kicking stones in an alley, then suddenly your whole life is changed.

    Carmen's gym really exists and he has been an Atomic Athlete since before I was born. He has been seriously weightlifting and collecting equipment since 1960, with most of it originally coming from Peary Rader and York Barbell. For the past several years, he has been adding in some Atomic Athletic pieces, supplemented by collectibles that have come from me, eBay and other random sources.

    The photo shows his “Kettlebell Rack”. Where he has put together classic kettlebells built with kettlebell handles and all York standard size plates, bars and collars. He has pairs of them in 10 pound increments from 20 – 60 pounds*, which he occasionally modifies for mid-range increments. You can also see his collection of Iron Boots. Not all of his pieces were acquired new, but you can see how everything is now in pristine shape and order, ready for the next workout. Carmen follows the rule he was taught in the Marines, “If you take care of your gear, it will take care of you.”

    Kettlebell Handles: http://atomicathletic.com/store/index.php/kettlebell-handles-pair.html

    Now, take a gander at the gym art. Those instructional wall charts are originals. He has framed classic posters and other art all over the gym. I have a bunch of great shots that I will be showing in the next few weeks. Keep an eye out for it. Everything is solid, basic and high quality.

    To quote Carmen, “Only in America could the grandchild of immigrants be able to acquire something like this. We are truly blessed.” You may not remember when you were first introduced to weights, but it would be great if we could all be so fortunate as to find a place like this to start from.

    All the best,
    Roger LaPointe
    “Today is a good day to lift.”

    *Not all of Carmen's kettlebells are shown in this photo.

  • Old Time Strongman Pierre Gasnier's Stage Dumbbell

    Circus Dumbbell Lift Old Time Strongman Pierre Gasnier

    236 Livres is a lot of weight. The massive dumbbell has those numbers painted on the side, so it must be true.

    Claiming to be the “Strongest Man in the World” and also going by “French Hercules”, Pierre Gasnier was one of the true classic strongman performers. Today, we have very little information on Gasnier beyond the photos of him with his awesome stage dumbbell, but there is enough to inspire some great workouts and discussions around the dart board.

    http://atomicathletic.com/store/index.php/iron-game-legacy-time-capsule.html

    Leo Gaudreau has a nice three page section on Gasnier, in his “Anvils, Horseshoes and Cannons: The History of Strongmen Vol. II” and I have some additional material scattered about. Here is a little background. Gasnier was a touring strongman of great enough note to be part of the Barnum and Bailey Circus as early as 1898, with whom he did several multi-year tours. Having read about However, at just under 5'3” tall and with his weight varying from about 136 to possibly over 165 pounds, he may have been the strongest man in the world, at his bodyweight, but his actual claim is a little far fetched.

    Strongman Pierre Gasnier's Stage Dumbbell

    At Atomic Athletic I have been asked to make a number of really cool custom pieces, Gasnier's Strongman Dumbbell is not one of them. It is a complicated piece, ideally suited for Gasnier's body. Believe me that globe dumbbell looks like one of the coolest pieces of circus strength history I have ever seen, but it would be no more than a discussion piece in the best of gyms. It is also the very model of what a performance vaudeville stage dumbbell would be.

    http://atomicathletic.com/store/index.php/limited-edition-brass-thick-dumbbell-handle.html

    Gasnier's Strongman Dumbbell Facts

    1. Handle Diameter: 2” and NOT Rotating
    2. Hollow, Shot Loadable Cast Iron Heads
    3. Unique Short Handle Length
    4. 4 Foot Total Length

    Essentially, this dumbbell had a handle design that would only allow it to be lifted by one hand, yet with the diameter combined with the weight, that would eliminate almost any strongman of the time. Earle Leiderman, who knew Gasnier, said, “He had an unusually LARGE head – a size fit for one who weighed well over two hundred pounds, and with such a head, it is natural that his photos make his arms, etc. look smaller.” In fact, if you look at his photos, he also had extremely large looking hands, a necessity for lifting larger handled equipment.

    http://atomicathletic.com/store/index.php/dumbbells/shot-loadable-dumbbells.html

    As for the weight of the dumbbell. Hmmmm. As a young man, Gasnier's personal goal was to lift double bodyweight overhead with one hand, which may be the origin of the 236 Livres mark. 236 Livres is an older French measurement that is actually considered a demi-kilogram, or half kilo, which would be 1.1 pounds, for a total of 260 pounds. Sebastian Miller, the strongman from Munich, witnessed Gasnier's performance with the barbell/dumbbell in 1899 with Anspek and Cyclops, where he did lift it overhead with one hand. Miller also one-hand lifted it to his knees several times, as a test of the poundage and supposedly remarked, “Yes, this is heavy.” However, both Gaudreau and Mike Drummond, writing in Strength Magazine (Sept. 1928), had strong suspicions that the dumbbell was unloaded when he performed for the above photo and probably on stage. Even empty, the cast iron heads, thick handle and other parts would have added up to some serious poundage.

    Regardless of the suspicions of his detractors, Gasnier was an accomplished one arm lifter. Harvard's Professor Sargent wrote that Gasnier, “...lifting and placing at arm's length above the head, with one hand, a dumbbell, the largest and heaviest in the gymnasium, weighing over 200 pounds...” We do not know his technique, based on this description, but he was clearly a strong guy.

    While your goals may not be as lofty as Gasnier's, I hope this article inspires you to choose a specialty lift as your challenge.

    http://atomicathletic.com/store/index.php/traditional-training-legendary-strength.html

    The links you see in this article are for training equipment and educational materials that should help you with your grip strength training and one hand lifting of both barbells and dumbbells.

    All the best,
    Roger LaPointe
    “Today is a good day to lift.”

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