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Learn From History’s Best Deadlifters

It’s time to learn a few real tips on improving your deadlift. I also know that you want the York Barbell secret to improving your deadlift. Everyone wants that secret. Now it’s time to ferret that secret out from the BS out there. As impossible as that may seem, with the deadlift, we are in luck.

Surprise, surprise, Bob Hoffman didn’t come up with the secret, but he did use it. He was a smart guy. Like Hoffman, I like to look at records and then work backwards. Additionally, I’m drug free and the only real way to confirm that status is to look at a time before there were modern performance enhancing drugs.

You also get a two-fer on this tip. You will improve your deadlift, while improving your grip. In the pre-drug era, two Americans rank up with Hermann Goerner for having the best two hand deadlifts ever. I believe that all three trained basically the same way. They were quick, explosive Olympic weightlifters who made extensive use of thick bars in the training hall. On a pound for pound basis, Olympic Weightlifters Chuck Vinci and John Terry were second only to Goerner, according to the calculations of David Willoughby. Both of them did, the now standard, reverse grip, while Goerner did a clean grip. Both Terry (132 pound bodyweight) and Vinci (123 pound bodyweight) are credited with 600 pounds, but there is some argument that Terry may have actually done 610 pounds.

All three lifters made a major focus on their deadlift, but started as Olympic style weightlifters. Goerner is not known for his Olympic weightlifting prowess today, but in the 1920s he was trading records back and forth with Charles Rigoulot in all the quick lifts, especially the one handed Olympic lifts. In addition to his World Record in the two hand snatch (215 lbs., 132 Class), Terry also held the Right Hand Barbell Clean & Jerk of 148 ½ pounds.

Their common training tool was the thick bar. Both Goerner and Terry made use of thick bar training. It is widely suspected that Chuck Vinci did as well. As Terry lived in York, PA and trained at York Barbell, he had access to a wide variety of thick bars. In fact, at the 1940 Strength & Health Picnic, Hoffman made a big deal out of a specially made thick bar that he used for bent pressing. Additionally, if you go to the York Barbell Weightlifting Hall of Fame, you will note a number of thick handled globe type barbells, including the Cyr Bell, pictured above.

When I worked with Smitty, he showed me photos of himself training with a two inch diameter bar, with Bill March. They used that barbell extensively in their power rack training. Smitty was a huge proponent of thick bar work, because of the results he saw as the York Barbell trainer. All of the York guys made use of a variety of both rotating and non-rotating thick bars.

If you are going to seriously work on your deadlift, the simplest modification you can make to your routine, is the addition of a thick bar training, both with barbells and dumbbells.

Eric Fiorillo and Roger LaPointe did a Motivation & Muscle Podcast on this topic, called "Goerner & Grip Strength".  For additional reading, this BLOG posting is an excerpt from the new book by Roger LaPointe "York Barbell Picnics & Classic Strength Events".  Click the link and pick it up from the Atomic Athletic web site.

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