Super Strength - Chapter 3 - Some Lifting Records

By Alan Calvert

Posted on on 15 February 2002

When I first became interested in bar-bells I collected a lot of data about weight-lifting records. There was a time when I could tell you the world's record in almost any lift you could mention. I could tell you the records for the best men in the different nations at the same lift. I knew the name of the man who made the record, when he made it, exactly how many pounds he lifted, and which other men had come closest to equaling his record. As I grow older I find that I care less and less about records and more and more about body-building. It seems to me to be much more important to help a man to get a finely proportioned body, great muscular and organic vigor, and a higher degree of development, than to set him at record-making. Since my interests have changed, my stock of information about records has grown less and less. As you go on you will undoubtedly notice that many a time I will tell you a record is "about" so and so; and that means that I am not sure whether any new records have been made abroad since 1914.

I could start and give you lifting records, some of which would be exact and some approximate; but unless you happen to be a skilled lifter, such records would mean nothing to you. In this chapter I am going to tell you most of the records in back-and-leg lifting, and, as you read along, you will find chapters telling you how to develop certain parts of the body, followed by other chapters giving you the records in lifts where the athlete uses the muscles described in the preceding chapter.

Possibly the most common test of strength in all the world is to lean the body over, take hold of a heavy weight, and raise it from the ground. In weight-lifting circles this is known as the "dead-weight" lift or "hands-alone." It is exactly such a lift as a lot of powerful laborers or porters would naturally select if they wished to determine which was the strongest man among them. When a bar-bell is used the lift is performed as follows: The lifter first stands with his heels together and the handle of the bell over his insteps; then he leans over, by bending a little at the knees and a good deal at the hips, and grasps the bar-bell with both hands, as in Fig. 14, the palm of one hand being forward, and the knuckles of the other hand forward; then he straightens up (that is, stands erect), bringing the bar-bell with him, as in Fig. 15. Since the knees are bent only slightly it is necessary to arch the spine and curve the back in order to reach down and get hold of the bar-bell handle. Therefore, it is not possible to lift very much weight in this way. The English amateur record is 533 lbs.; but Mr. Jowett says that he has seen a 140-lb. Canadian lifter raise 500 lbs., and that he saw a gigantic Canadian, Lavallee, perform the lift with 800 lbs. I have seen several men raise between 550 and 600 lbs. in this way, but they did not stand with the heels together as in the English style. I, personally, cannot see any reason for standing in that way. If the lifter were to stand with the feet about 8 inches apart he would be much more firmly braced and could exert considerably more strength. This is a lift which any unskilled man can perform, and it is a fairly good test of the natural strength of the back. A big, 200-lb. truck driver, or one of the Herculean lumbermen from our Western states, could probably do 400 lbs. in this lift the first time he tried it, because his work has been just along this line, and the years he has spent in the daily handling of heavy logs and heavy cases of goods have developed the muscles used in the lift. On the other hand, a gymnast, or a business man whose greatest physical exertion is practicing bending movements, would probably be "stopped" with a 250-lb. bar-bell. Therefore, if you are not used to heavy work or vigorous exercise, do not make the mistake of starting to practice the dead-weight lift with 300 to 350 lbs. That would be just as foolish as for a non-swimmer to jump off a ferryboat in mid-river. But if you practice the two back exercises described in the preceding chapter, then, when you have gotten so that you can handle 100 lbs. in those exercises, you will find you can outdo the average truck driver or lumberman in dead-weight lifting.

At noon hour, on one day several years ago, I went into my factory and I found a number of lifters competing at the dead-weight lift. Some of the competitors were customers, and other were the men who made bar-bells; and every one of them were accustomed to handling heavy weights. I asked them why they didn't try the "hand-and-thigh" lift, and found, to my surprise, that they were unacquainted with that style; so, naturally, I demonstrated it to them and lifted two or three hundred pounds more than they had been using. That was not because I was very strong, but because I was using a much easier style.

A week later, when I went into the factory, several of these same men made "hand-and-thigh" lifts with three or four hundred pounds more than I had lifted. It had taken them only one look to grasp the principle of the style, and they had put in a little quiet practice. This was so interesting to me that I immediately ordered the lifting platform shown in Fig. 3. If you examine the picture you will notice that the weights to be lifted are placed on the lower platform, and that from the superstructure of this lower platform there is a rod which projects vertically upward through a hole in the upper platform. The upper end of this rod was threaded so that the lifting-handle could be screwed up or down, so as to suit the height of the lifter. In making a "hand-and-thigh" lift, the athlete would adjust his handle so that when he bent his knees the handle would come just to the top of the thighs, as shown in Fig. 17. He would then take hold of the handle bar, allowing his knuckles to rest against the thighs. When lifting the weight he would lean a trifle backwards and straighten the legs.

When making a lift like this, all one has to do is to get the weight clear off the ground; but sometimes the lifter is deceived because he thinks he has raised the lower platform, when he has only tilted it and raised one end of it from the ground. So we rigged up an electric connection at each end of the lower platform, and when the platform was lifted fairly and squarely for one-quarter of an inch, a circuit was completed and a bell rang. If only one end of the platform were lifted the bell did not ring.

In this lift the greater part of the work is done by the legs. When a very heavy weight was used, the lifter's knuckles were forced into the flesh of his thigh, making it necessary to throw a pad across the upper legs. By placing the hands on the thighs in this way the force with which he could grip the bar was greatly increased. No one ever complained that he could feel the strain in the legs, although almost every one noticed that the effort of pulling with the hands produced a perceptibly dragging effect on the trapezius muscles, which lift the shoulders. (Some of the men found that the could add 100 or 200 lbs. to their record by leaning further back, thus supplementing the strength of the legs with the strength of the back muscles.) I understand that the world's record in this lift is about 1850 lbs. The men who used our platform were not back-lifters nor harness-lifters, but bar-bell lifters; consequently, after the first novelty had worn off, the platform was rarely used. Nevertheless, I saw some of these bar-bell lifters (men who weighted 160 to 175 lbs.) raise over 1200 lbs., and one or two of them went as high as 1500 lbs. If they had taken the trouble to prepare themselves for the lift by practicing leg exercises, they might have gone as high as 1600 lbs. Some of the giants, like Cyr, Barre and Travis, could probably have gone close to the record, or even beaten it. My experience was that any fair bar-bell lifter could raise over 1000 lbs. within a day or two after he had mastered the principle of the lift.

Just below the bar-bell factory was the garage of a piano-moving concern which employed a lot of big, husky workmen. Some one told these men about the lifting-platform, and one day a half dozen of them came in to try this lift. There was not one among them who weighed less than 180 lbs., and some of them must have weighed 220. They were the typical broad-shouldered, wide-backed, thick-legged type whom you would expect to see carrying pianos up flights of stairs. Not one of these men was able to lift 800 lbs. in the hand-and-thigh style; and they never came back to try again, because one of our chaps, who weighed only 165 lbs., raised 1250 lbs. on that occasion. Nevertheless, I believe that he had practiced for a week or so, because the very nature of their daily work developed the muscles used in this lift.

Another form of dead-weight lifting is the so-called "Jefferson Lift," evidently named for the old-time lifter. In this style it is customary to use a pear-shaped of pyramidal weight, surmounted by a crossbar at about 24 inches from the ground. We had no such weight, so we used a bar-bell. The lifter straddles the bar, with one hand in front of it and the other behind it, and the palms of the hands facing each other, as in Fig. 18. I can't tell you the record in this lift, but it is not nearly as high as in the hand-and-thigh style, because the strain on the hands is so great that the fingers are apt to be pulled out straight. Also the strain on the shoulders is very much greater, as they are pulled down forcibly in the act of raising the weight from the floor. You should note that while the lifter inclines his body slightly forward from the hips that, nevertheless, he keeps his spine straight, and that most of the work is done by the act of straightening the legs. In such lifts the arms are merely connecting rods or links. No man could raise a big weight in the Jefferson Style with his arms bent.