Super Strength - Chapter 11 - The "Swing" and The "Snatch"
By Alan Calvert
Posted on NaturalStrength.com on 11 April 2002
In this lift, which is called the "one-arm swing," it is best to use a dumbbell. You stand with the feet apart and well braced with a dumbbell parallel to the feet, and the rear sphere a couple of inches beyond the toes. You lean over by inclining the body forward from the hips and by bending at the knees. Gripping the dumbbell with your hand close to the front sphere you lift it from the floor and swing it back between the legs - as in Fig. 62 - keeping the arm straight.
This is simply to give you a start, because after the bell has reached the position in Fig. 62 you swing it forward again (keeping the right arm straight) in a semicircular movement until the hand which holds the bell is above your head. This is only a general description. What actually happens is that when the bell is opposite your eyes you quickly bend your knees and sit on your heels (as in Fig. 63), thus lowering your body in a way which enables you to get underneath the mounting bell. If you omit this second dip of the legs you will raise anywhere from 40 to 80 lbs. less than if you do use the legs correctly. If you will compare Fig. 62, showing the position at the commencement of the upward swing, with Fig. 12 in the chapter about back exercises, it will be seen that the positions are practically identical. The amount of vigor which you can put into swinging the bell forward and upward depends on the power with which you can press against the floor with your feet, and the vigor with which you can bring the body back to the erect position. The more time you have spent in practicing the back and leg exercises, the more weight you will be able to "swing" aloft.
The arm movement, which is forward and upward, is caused by the vigorous contractions of the muscles on the shoulder and upper back; therefore, exercises like the one illustrated in Fig. 12, which develop the shoulder, also give you the kind of strength you need in this one-arm swing. In the chapter on leg exercises you were advised to practice constantly the exercise illustrated in Fig. 28, because that particular exercise not only developed the muscles in the thighs, but gave you the confidence necessary to sit on the heels while holding a weight at arms' length overhead. Unless you have practiced that exercise diligently you will find that you have not the confidence necessary to successfully complete a one-arm swing. There are lots of fine points about this lift; as for instance the pressing against the left thigh with the left hand which gives you a brace and assists you in straightening the body. There are a lot of details about "timing" - which is the art of selecting the exact fraction of a second when the bell has lost the impetus given it by the act of straightening the body and legs, and at which instant it is necessary to lower the body by the second bend of the knees. Some lifters at the start of the swing place the bell on the floor behind them and dispense with the preliminary backward swing. Some lifters bend the body sideways instead of straight downwards at the completion of the lift.
But it is not the aim of this book to give instructions in scientific lifting. Its object is to show you how to get more strength and to tell you about what constitutes real strength. It is necessary to tell you something about the technique of the lifts so that you can understand why it is that some of these skillful experts are able to lift such enormous weights. It is perfectly possible for you to get a beautifully proportioned and magnificently developed body without ever practicing any of what we call "the standard lifts," but it is very likely that after you have developed super-strength you will like to occasionally make a test to know how you compare with others; and such a test would be greatly to you disadvantage if you did not employ the methods which skilled lifters employ.
In the old times a man who attempted the swing would stand with his legs almost straight, and bend over by arching his back. He would by a tremendous effort swing the bell at arm's length above his head, and would not employ the second bend of the legs as modern lifters do. Consequently, even the biggest and strongest old-timers could not do more than 125 lbs. in the one-arm swing; whereas modern lifters do a great deal more than that. The old-time lifter was considered good if he could make a one-arm swing with a dumbbell which weighed a little more than half as much as he did himself; while the aim of a modern lifter is to make a one-arm swing with a dumbbell of his own weight. The world's record (so far as I know) is 199 lbs., which was accomplished by the French lifter, Jean Francois (Fig. 64). Several professionals and a few amateurs have swung over 190 lbs., and 175 to 180 lbs. is nothing extraordinary for a big man to swing. I have never yet seen or heard of a big man swinging a dumbbell of his own weight, although the feat has been accomplished by several small men. I believe that Thos. Inch, of London, weighing 160 lbs., did a one-arm swing with 160 1/2 lbs. The present English record in the heavy-weight class is the 170-lb. lift of Edward Aston, and I believe that Aston himself does not weigh much more than that.
To successfully perform a one-arm swing with a bell almost as heavy as you are requires great speed of movement and accurate muscular co-ordination, as well as great bodily strength. To be successful in the quick lifts; such as the swing, the snatch and the jerk, you must have the speed of movement and the clever footwork of a boxer.
The point to be particularly noted is that when you perform a one-arm swing you do not feel the arm muscles working. The arm itself is held straight (though not rigid) throughout the entire lift, and it is just the part of you that transmits to the bell the power exerted by the contraction of the leg, back and shoulder muscles. If you use a moderate weight and perform a one-arm swing several times in succession, you get a fine exercise and one which will be valuable in teaching you co-ordination. It is necessary to learn all these "quick lifts" with a bell of such weight that you can handle it easily; but once you have mastered the principle governing the lift you will be able to increase the weight used very rapidly. In this one-arm swing you will probably be able to increase your record one hundred per cent within a few weeks after you do learn the methods, providing you have properly trained your back and legs. The advantage of making several successive lifts with a moderate weight is that the beginner always has a tendency to use too much arm strength and to try to finish the movement by an arm push. When making several repetitions the beginner's arm will tire rapidly, and about the third repetition he will find that, unconsciously, he is bending his knees more, and thus getting under the bell by lowering the body instead of by pushing with the arm. The more tired his arm gets the more he will bend his legs, and after a little experience of this kind he will be wise enough to do the second bend of the knees properly every time he swings the bell aloft. (Note: It is possible to use a kettle-bell instead of a dumbbell in the one-arm swing, but when using a kettle-bell you have to rotate the arm when the bell is opposite your face, so as to make the bell swing around and land on the back of the forearm, as in Fig. 65 (Frontispiece). This is a complicated motion that can be learned only by practice. If you do not rotate the arm correctly the kettle-bell will land against the upper arm with a jar that might break a bone.) Since you can swing more weight in the shape of a dumbbell than in the shape of a kettle-bell it is hardly worth the bother to learn the method of using a kettle-bell. Sandow made a one-arm swing with a kettle-bell weight, I think, 173 lbs. (I never heard his record with the dumbbell, but I am sure that he could swing a 190-lb. dumbbell.)
A somewhat similar and more popular lift is known as the "one-arm snatch," in which a bar-bell is used. The lifter stands back of the bell with the handle touching his ankles, leans over by bending the knees and inclining the body forward from the hips. In this lift you don't bend as far as you do in the one-arm swing and, therefore, it is necessary to round the back slightly. The bell is supposed to be pulled straight upwards in one unbroken line until it is at arm's length above the head, but most lifters raise the bell slightly forward as well as upward. In the one-arm swing the lifting arm is held straight throughout the entire performance of the lift, but in the one-arm snatch the arm is bent almost double when the bell is opposite the face. Just the same as in the swing, the lifter gets under the bell by lowering the body, and the correct instant at which to make the shift is when the bell has reached the level of the eyes. At the start of the snatch you stand up quickly, which means that you press hard against the floor with the feet, and straighten the legs and back at the same time; and if the movement is done correctly the bell will almost fly from the floor until it is opposite the chest. Continued practice is needed before you can exert sufficient power to make it fly up as high as the eyes. When the bell is that high you loosen your grip on the handle bar and instantaneously sit on your heels by bending the legs. This has to be done so quickly that you are under the bell with a straight arm, as in Fig. 66, before the bell has had time to drop an inch.
In the old times 100 lbs. was a good record in the snatch lift, because the lifters tried to throw the bell aloft solely by back and arm strength. The present record is somewhere between 215 and 220 lbs. Three years ago I erroneously stated that Henry Steinborn had created a new record when he made a one-arm snatch in Philadelphia with 208 lbs. I thought that the best previous lift was Vasseur's 205 lbs. I find that Vasseur has done close to 220 lbs. The night that Steinborn made his American record he had a few minutes before just barely failed to snatch 218 1/2 lbs. One of the most important parts of the snatch lift is where you ease up on your grip at the instant when you're getting under the bell, and in some cases they have gotten over this difficulty by using plate bar-bells in which the plates revolve very easily. Steinborn made his lift with the bell shown in Fig. 23. The plates fitted snugly over sleeves, which, in turn, fitted over the handle bar of the bar-bell. Between the sleeves and the bar there was a coating of vaseline; consequently the sleeves and plates would rotate very easily on the bar, making it unnecessary for Steinborn to loosen his grip. The night he made his record he snatched 208 lbs., and I know he could have done 220 in a one-arm snatch if that had been the only lift on the program. He did not push himself in the snatch, which was the first lift of the evening, because he was anxious, later on, to break Cyr's record in the two-arm "clean and jerk"; which he did.
I was told that Steinborn had a special bar constructed in which the sleeves revolved on ballbearings fitted between them and the bar. He came to me several days after he made his records, and when I told him I had found that Vasseur had done nearly 220 lbs. he wanted to make a bet with me that he could beat anything Vasseur did. He told me that he would try for a new record in the one-arm snatch, and if I would give him $100 for every pound over 230, he would give me $10 for every pound under 230 if he failed to reach that mark. As I had seen the man do over 220 in practice, I knew that he could do (especially if he trained for one particular lift), I declined the bet and saved my money. This man, although very powerfully made, was as quick on his feet as Benny Leonard, or any light-weight boxer. The records in all quick lifts are at his mercy. When, to his prodigious strength, he adds his speed of movement and his sense of timing, he can transmit to a bar-bell an incredible momentum. (By the way, when he does the snatch he uses a peculiar grip. Instead of holding the bell with the thumb outside the fingers he bends his thumb and puts it under the center of the bar and holds it there by placing the fingers outside of it. He claims that this makes it easier for him to make the "shift.")
In mentioning the records I have had to give those of the European lifters. This positively does not mean that the Europeans are any stronger than the men of this country. In Europe they have used bar-bells for years and competitive weight-lifting is a major sport. Consequently, the European lifters have, by the use of bar-bells, developed enormous strength and, by frequent competitive work, learned all the niceties of style. We, in this country, can do the same thing; in fact, we have done the same thing. Arthur Gildroy, who weights 135 lbs., has made a one-arm snatch with 146 lbs., and the other American lifters who have specialized on the snatch-lifting have done practically as well as the foreign lifters. There is no country of its size which produces as many really "Strong Men" as does this country. The Dominion of Quebec, Canada, produces natural "Strong Men" in wholesale quantities. In Finland they breed enormous men; but both Quebec and Finland are comparatively small, while this country is big. We have such an abundance of high-grade raw material that if we cared to go into competitive lifting I believe that America would hold the world's supremacy in that sport, just as it does in most other sports.
I have a friend in Philadelphia by the name of Jas. B. Juvenal, an ex-champion oarsman. From the time he was sixteen, Juvenal owned and used a 75-lb. dumbbell and a 150-lb. bar-bell. he had no adjustable bells because they were hard to get when he was a boy. He kept these bells at his boat club, and one day when he went to practice with them they were missing. The janitor said that he had been ordered by the captain of the club to throw the bells into the river. Juvenal hunted up the captain and have his orders that the bells should be fished up again. As his reason for disposing of the bells the captain said that he was afraid that some of the younger club members would start exercising with them, and in that way get "stiff and muscle-bound." Whereupon, Juvenal stated that he had been using those bells for a dozen years, and that in all that time no man out of the hundreds who rowed on that river had been able to keep abreast of him - much less beat him - and that by using the bar-bells he had vastly increased his muscular power and never lost a bit of his speed of movement. This Mr. Juvenal is so strong that when we once held a competition at the "one-arm pull-over" the only man who could beat him was the famous Joe Nordquest; Juvenal took second place over a lot of celebrated "Strong Men." I once asked him to try a one-arm snatch with a 135-lb. bar-bell. This bell was a solid affair with a handle bar 1 1/2 inches thick. Juvenal made the lift, but it was not a true snatch. He actually made a back-handed swing with the bar-bell; that is, he kept his arm straight just as though he were swinging a dumbbell. If he had used a thin-handled bar-bell and known the correct way to snatch the bell, he could easily have done 180 to 190 lbs., as he weighed over 200 lbs. himself. Although he must be over 50 years of age I know that he could make an American amateur record in the snatch if he were enough interested to practice the method.
In concluding this chapter I wish to say that I have never seen a star at the snatch or swing of was not beautifully built. The top-heavy man - the man with the big shoulders and thin legs - falls down utterly when he is asked to "swing" or "snatch" a really heavy weight. The men who hold the records in the swing and snatch are beautifully made. Their proportions are admirable, and they are of surpassing symmetry. Since the "quick lifts" require bodily strength it means that to succeed at these lifts you must have a body which is developed from head to heel.
But don't let us forget to analyze the action of the arm in the one-arm snatch. Because the weight it pulled almost directly upward the arm has to be bent as the bell mounts. When you first take hold of the bar the arm is straight and the knuckles of the hand are forward. (It would be impossible to make a snatch if you held the hand with the palm forward.) Therefore, the action of the arm is just the same as in the exercise for the upper back, illustrated in Fig. 49; and that, by the way, is the reason I described that exercise before I described the snatch lift. After the bell has reached the height of the face and you make the shift, the arm muscles are used hardly at all; because, if you bend your knees quick enough and far enough, your haunches will drop so that you can get your body straight up and down, and your lifting-arm straight up and down under the bell. Then all you have to do is to stand erect to complete the lift. Here is another reason for practicing the exercise shown in Fig. 28.
Now let us go back to Mr. Juvenal. When he was in his racing shell and started a stroke, his body was bent forward almost double, and his knees against his chest; and as he made the stroke he straightened his legs, drew his body backwards and pulled his hands straight in; using the same muscles as you would use in a snatch lift. I understand that he could put such immense power into his stroke that he never was beaten in a quarter-mile sprint rowing race, and so it is no wonder that he is able to make a fine record in a one-arm snatch. Also it will be noted that as a young man he claimed the world's championship in the stunt where you sit down facing another man, and both of you pull on a broom handle. The winner is the man that pulls the other man off the floor. In this stung one competitor presses the soles of his feet against the feet of the other man; and, as it is necessary to bend the knees slightly so as to lean forward and grasp the broom handle, the position is very much the same as at the beginning of the stroke in rowing. (I said "broom handle," but in lumber camps they use an ax handle. A broom handle would not last very long when gripped by two men of gigantic strength.) Once again let me say that I have found oarsmen to be far above the average in strength, especially those oarsmen who have devoted a lot of time to single sculling. They are an erect, square-shouldered, flat-back crowd, and their rowing has developed in them a keen sense of co-ordination. Almost any oarsman can be developed into a fine bar-bell lifter and can, if he cares to, greatly improve his physique by using bar-bells. He starts out with the advantage of knowing that it is important to know how to apply his strength. Juvenal, whose shoulders are immensely broad, has a chest of unusual depth. When he lies flat on his back and does the chest-developing exercise (Fig. 42) his chest swells up almost like a balloon as he lowers the bell.