Monday, July 24, 2017

Improved Pressing Power - Suggestions From John Davis

From This Issue (February 1967)

This Article Courtesy of Liam Tweed

 - John Davis was one of the greatest lifters ever produced by America and probably ruled the world heavyweight class longer  than any other man, having won the world title at least seven times and the heavyweight title 12 or 14 times, starting his record making career in 1938 and continuing until 1950 when he was injured while lifting and then retired. 

He was one of the early lifters to make a 1,000 lb. total and made a top total of 1063.25 - perhaps not so high by today's standards, but the greatest in those days. He usually weighed about 210 to 240 and was not a big man by present day heavyweights. 

The comments by Davis on increasing pressing power ought to therefore be worth considerable consideration. Even though this article was originally written some years ago, the way to greater power has not changed. 

You may find some of his recommendations vary from what you will hear others advise. However, remember, this man became a world champion at 17 and was champion as long or longer than any other heavyweight. (Some of his titles were as a light-heavyweight.) We present the following comments of Davis, courtesy of The Australian Weightlifter . . . 

Being a world champion is, of course, a pleasant experience, but it has its difficult moments, aside from close shaves in competition. What I'm getting at is this: Scores of fellows just starting out in the game (and many of those who have been active for a number of years) ask the same question - 

"Davis, how do you train?" 

I HAVE ALWAYS FELT THAT YOU MUST USE EXTREMELY HEAVY POUNDAGES TO MAKE SATISFACTORY GAINS, and that you cannot concern yourself with what kind of form you use in training. 

To deal first of all with the Press. This is the lift that seems to give most of the lifters trouble. Provided you possess all of the natural attributes: leverage, proper mental attitude, etc., there is no reason why you shouldn't make favorable progress. 

Possibly the only factor about my own training method that would not be suitable for many lifters is the following: 

I train on each lift for a week; i.e., I train four days a week and I spend the four days training on the Press. The second week I work on the Snatch, and the third week on the Clean. Sometimes I double up, working on two lifts for a week. In addition to the lifting movements I include a power building exercise such as the squat. 

I perform a minimum of 64 presses a week, and in some instances as many as 80. I do them in sets of 2 reps, 8 sets of 2 in each workout, four workouts a week. When doing 80 reps a week I do 10 sets of 2 in each workout. 

Depending on what kind of condition I'm in at the beginning of a training schedule of about 10 weeks, I make up my mind from the very beginning that I will not go below this poundage for any reason whatsoever. I will do no less than 8 series (sets) of presses, regardless of how sloppy my form may become. 

Here I must caution everyone on an extremely important point. As in singing, you must exercise terrific control in lifting. You must control bad lifting to the point where it no longer can run away with you. If you do incorrect presses in training, you must control them so that you won't do them in a contest. 

Some may not agree with me on this point, but these are my opinions and this is the way I reached a lift in excess of 300 pounds. At some of my training sessions in England and Europe I dragged my head all over the platform trying to press 292 or 303.

These were presses that would not be passed in the most lenient of contests, but come contest time I could control that backbending to such a degree that I could almost always register three white lights from the judges.

To get back to the pressing itself. The principal idea of weightlifting is to build bigger and stronger men. This will not be accomplished if, on every training night you constantly drop back in your training poundages and repetitions. I'm referring, specifically, to the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 system whereby you reduce the number of repetitions employed. Also the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 system in which you reduce the poundage employed. These systems are contrary to basic principles and will not build sustaining power in the pressing muscles. In other words, they do not build "fight and guts" - that something so necessary to get heavy weights through the sticking area without losing control. This has been my system for over a decade. 

The essence of my idea is that if you continually go forward in training, it follows naturally that you will go ahead in a contest. I try to advance my training poundages every second by 2.5 to 10 lbs. If I don't feel that I can advance after this time I am not ashamed to work with the same poundage for another workout or until I can advance. The Press is one lift you cannot force. You just have to wait and take it as it comes.

What to do after having gotten the most out of this system seems to leave most lifters in a dither. Either they lack imagination or they don't sit down and think the problem out rationally. Although I've never known this system by any name, I suppose one might call it the "Set System" - a set number of repetitions and a set training poundage.

In the beginning of my lifting exploits (when 220 was my best Press), I used 175 as a training weight. I would do 10 sets of 5 reps. Eventually my muscles failed to respond to this particular training. Of course I had to find some other system.

By this time I was becoming known and had become an active member of the second team of the world famous York Barbell Club. I noticed that men such as Terlazzo, Terpak, and others, employed basically the same system as I did, except that they did fewer repetitions than I. Bob Hoffman recognized my difficulty and suggested that I try Tony's and John's (Terlazzo and Terpak) system of training on the Press. I cut my repetitions down to 3 and continued to do 10 sets, using 210 lbs. My Press responded immediately. 

When I first went to York, my Press stood at 250 lbs. At this time I had been chosen to represent the USA at the 1938 World Championships to be held in Austria. In the summer of 1939, exactly two years and seven months since I began lifting, and during a workout, weighing 183 lbs., I pressed 295 lbs. I used the above described system until I was able to Press 290.

At this time I ran into another snag and couldn't get ahead in my Press. This time I used my own imagination and starting using sets of 2 reps (10 sets) and sometimes using sets of 3 reps. I started using 200 lbs. and advanced this poundage whenever possible. I would always take a substantial poundage and make 10 single attempts (incidentally, I still do this). At that time, in June of 1941, I made 10 single attempts with 310 lbs. I was soon to find that I could make a fair Press with 320 lbs. I say "fair" because I had to press this weight twice at the 1941 Senior Nationals and although the judges passed it, it was not a perfect Press. I was lucky that day. By the way, I have lifted in front of the most critical judges in the world and if I ever got away with anything (and I certainly have) the blame lies with the officials, not with me.

 I lifting in competition the following year and once again in 1943 with my Press falling off considerably. I then spent nearly four years in the Armed Forces, with little or no training at all. In 1946 I again started using the "set system" of pressing with fair results, but I didn't come along as expected, especially with the increased bodyweight to 240 lbs. (pre-war bodyweight 196-200 lbs.) I could only Press 290 with great difficulty (it would never have been passed).

So once again I changed my training system. I started using 290 lbs. in 10 sets of 2 reps and went directly ahead until I could Press 325 lbs. Here again my progress stalled. I changed my routine to 8 sets of 2 reps, using 280 lbs. which has worked better than any previous method I have ever used.

Late in 1947, at an exhibition, I pressed 340 lbs. and was able to duplicate it with 342 lbs. at the Terlazzo Invitation Meet in 1948.

I have experimented with other systems and have found them to be excellent, but I do not care to use them at this time. I am, more or less, saving them for a rainy day, so to speak.

There is no secret to training on the Press - or any other lift, for that matter. It merely requires a little patience a little imagination, and a good deal of sweat (above all else) with as heavy a weight as you can handle.

There are lifters who claim that all kinds of pressing - supine pressing, alternate pressing, handstand pressing, etc., will build up your pressing ability. I don't believe this. I feel that the energy expended in dumbbell pressing and so on could have been put to much better use in regular presses.

To break the monotony the best alternate movement I can think of is the press while seated. This exercise builds tremendous power at the sticking point and plenty of finishing drive. It also helps to improve the form in regular pressing because there is very little cheating you can do while seated.

Never think that you can Press 200 pounds on your first attempt, but be as sure of it as you are that there is a sky over your head. Because if you miss out on that first Press, chances are that you have missed out on first place in the contest.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Charles A. Smith [1912-1991] - Joe Roark

Check into Joe Roark's Iron History Forum! 
Megatons of Information Over There.
Note: Your Real Name will be required for registration. 

Thanks to Joe Roark for authoring this article. What follows is a condensed version of what Joe published in his Musclesearch newsletter, issues 25 and 26.

To Stuart McRobert for publishing it 
To Bob Wildes for providing access to it.

Charles A. Smith, 1912-1991
by Joe Roark

"Allow me to introduce myself," his letter began June 14, 1985. "My name is Charles A. Smith and from 1950 to 1958 I was editor of Joe Weider's group of magazines." 

Thus began a relationship between Charles and this author that has been sprinkled with a visit to Austin, Texas, where I was Charles' house guest for a week, hundreds of pages of letters between us and many phone conversations. And, a friendship.
Charles wasn't perfect. He could be crusty, determined, insistent and stubborn. He lived the final stage of his life in Austin, alone. His wife, Harriet, passed way Christmas Day 1959. His two daughters live in Texas. 

For some time Charles was a research associate at the University of Texas at Austin. He worked with Professor Terry Todd and the School of Physical Education and Health on materials in the Todd-McLean Collection.

Charles worked on all of Joe Weider's magazines except Adonis and Body Beautiful. If you have access to the fifties era of Joe Weider's magazines, buy them, read them. You will conclude that Charles' stint with those publications was indeed a developing period for the business now based in California. 

On current fans' ignorance of history, Charles wrote, "As an example of how little this modern bunch knows of and about the people to whom they are indebted, let me quote you what happened the other day. One of a bunch of students was up in the Collection searching for term papers. One of them held an eight by ten glossy and asked me who it was. I replied it was John Grimek. Oh, she said, just another one of those bodybuilders. Words failed me. I seriously thought of going out and becoming a hatchet murderer. The tragedy of it is that in their ignorance of the past, these kids are robbing their future." 

On his own lifting he had this to say: "I was better at repetitive lifts. That is, my reps were always more notable than my limits. This is perhaps a reflection of my swimming days when I was a middle and distance swimmer. Frinstance (sic) I could easily do 12 reps in the hang clean with 220. By my best ever clean - and I never practiced it much - was only 250. Yet I could squat 30 reps with 300. So there's nothing remarkable about what I've done. By the way, Joe Weider was present when I did the 390 bench press and the one-hand deadlift of 420. The latter was in a contest with Marvin Eder who dropped out at 410. A cambered bar was used, the same bar that Bruce Randall did his good morning exercises on.

"When I did my 500 pound squat, I went all the way down, a la Steinborn. In the old days you not only had to go all the way down but also stay there for a count of 2 before recovering. Right the way down.

"I taught Doug Hepburn how to lift - his style was poor. One might say that through him I indirectly trained Paul Anderson. After Doug had beaten Anderson - and the only man to do so - Doug and Paul corresponded quite a bit. What I asked Doug to do in his training he wrote and told Paul. I understand (although in all fairness I must say I don't know for certain) that Anderson followed the exercise and training I had laid out for Doug. But who knows or cares now?" 

When discovering Musclesearch was to carry a story on him, he wrote, "As for writing my history in one of your reports, this I don't object to. But I don't want it to be laudatory or have verbal laurels heaped my way. Just a plain statement of what I've done.

Now try to imagine my position: simply state what he has done, but make it sound commonplace. Okay. Charles Arthur Smith did nothing for our sport but inject it with essence, and write about the people and event of the fifties in ways that gave a pulse to the heart of the matter. When others sought self-praise and fame, Charles was content to be a journalist. While others these days don't hesitate to accept accolades and titles such as "ultimate" journalist, Charles simple smiled and was amazed at some of the current situations in the Iron Game. Frankly, it angered Charles that men of small talent are gathering large praise.

Is it true that squat machines came into gyms originally because gym-rats were so busy patting themselves on the back for their achievements that they had no free hands to grasp the barbell? 

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power
And all that beauty, and that wealth ere gave
Await alike the inevitable hour
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Please notice that those who praise themselves are sometimes unworthy of such adulation. But often, writers who have earned our respect (in the muscle field) may go unhonored if formal ceremonies.

Charles A. Smith deserves your attention, your remembrances of his contributions to the literature of our sport, and frankly, your respect.

Sat in Austin, Texas, was a man who enlivened our sport for eight years in the fifties, and who maintained a memory razor sharp. Though he thought his memory was slipping slightly at nearly 80 years of age, I would have traded him anytime for his ability to recall data.

When I visited him in Austin, I took with me a list of hundreds of names I wanted to toss at him for his off-the-cuff thoughts. He would immediately relate stories, filled with dates and with specific lifts that he had seen or participated in. It was computer-like. We were soon through the list and Charles, with his British-determined-countenance, frowned at me and said, "I thought you were going to ask me some questions." I felt ill-prepared. I felt like the collar on a barbell - knowing I was inadequate if all this mass I was trying to control turned out of level.

Perhaps more important than his ability to recall, is his base of knowledge upon which he can discern the worth of new trends, compare those trends with past ones and note that there really is nothing new under the sun. At least nothing of worth. I think part of the frustration Charles felt while evaluating the present situation in our sport is the lack of control he once had. He guided an era when our sport was emerging into the mainstream. Now we are regressing to a tributary due to drug abuse and supplements of no value except interesting names. Truth has a tendency to get in the way of progress. 

There are many side-doors of knowledge and hints to facts that I probably never would have been made aware of had it not been for the kindness and sharing of Chas. I consider Charles the major key to avenues of study that I've undertaken. Thank you.

My association with Charles has been one of the more rewarding in this field. I have a pride in having known Charles, who should be in the Hall of Fame as a contributor. Remember, the reward of a thing well done . . . is to have done it. You did it, Charles. You did it. 

 - Here are some training-related articles by Charles A. Smith, nowadays not the easiest to obtain. These do little more than scratch the surface of his huge output. I would like to thank all those noted who stepped up and helped in making them available. Honestly, I'd love to have ALL of Smith's lifting articles available, but lately that Demon Money don't wanna let me do it. 

Enjoy your lifting!


Heavy Clean Training - Charles A. Smith (1959)

Fantastic things are happening in the Olympic lifting world! Having lifted more than double bodyweight, many strength athletes now have set their sights on a triple-bodyweight Clean and Jerk. Here are some tips on how to increase your power for the Clean.

No article in years has stirred up such a hornet's nest of controversy as the one we recently published in this magazine concerning the triple-bodyweight Clean and Jerk.

Muscle Builder:
Sept. 1958. "Which Country Will Make the First Treble-Bodyweight Clean and Jerk."

Feb. 1959. "How to Train for the Triple Bodyweight Clean and Jerk."
This article is here:

The possibility of such a fantastic lift has stirred the hearts and fired the imagination of weightlifters all over the world. Enthusiasts from Fairbanks, Alaska to Pretoria, South Africa are demanding to know more on this subject.

While many of the letter writers range from the skeptical to the downright indignant, most weightlifters are of the opinion that the triple bodyweight Clean and Jerk is definitely possible.

"Dear Mr. Expert," writes a lifter . . . "Since no one has ever performed a triple-bodyweight Clean and Jerk, and since no known technique exists to make such a lift possible, what method can you devise that will make the lift at all possible?"

Well, you've put us on the spot. However, since we plainly pointed out how a triple-bodyweight Clean and Jerk could be performed, we will explain equally how the beginning half of the lift can be done . . . how a triple bodyweight Clean can be trained for.

We already know that it is humanly possible to lift triple bodyweight in a Front Squat! At least four internationally known lifters have accomplished this and can certainly be depended upon to succeed with even higher poundages in the future.

Chan Tse Kai of Nationalist China -- weighing 123 lbs -- has already performed not only a Clean and Jerk of 62 lbs more than double bodyweight, but -- more indicatively -- he can squat with held in front (Front Squat). Chen is only 23 years old and obviously is nowhere near his peak....

Also in the bantamweight division, both the Korean, Yo In Ho and the American, Chuck Vinci, have also made Front Squats with about 370 lbs, while in the middleweight division (165-174 lbs), Tommy Kono has made a Front Squat with nearly 500 lbs.

It must be obvious to all of you that as regards lifting triple-bodyweight the stars are just about ready to break the barrier. And it is through their wisdom in training according to basic power methods that this tremendous and thrilling feat will assuredly come to pass.

Now, here are two great problems the lifter faces when attempting a triple-bodyweight Clean from the floor to the shoulders:

1) The bar must be pulled upward with sufficient force and momentum to enable the lifter to hold or 'fix' the weight at the chest when in a deep squat or leg-split position.

2) The lifter must -- through scientific training methods -- develop sufficient power in his thighs, hips and back, so that he can be sure of standing upright for the Jerk, without being exhausted.

To accomplish the first of these stages, it is clear that the lifter must practice making upward power pulls from all angles and positions, because only through this training procedure can he develop enough muscular force to handle and sustain such large poundages.

There must be all-around pulling motions for the arms. There must be fast deadlifts for building both coordinated back, hip and thigh strength; and for short, sudden bursts of power to make fast, powerful cleaning motions with great weights.

Now, regular movements will not accomplish this, for extremely heavy weights cannot be handled. Therefore, we have devised a series of unusual movements which -- while performed by many champion lifters -- are not familiar to all lifters. These movements are all great basic, power movements and faithful performance of them will build you the needed power to clean and support much bigger poundages.


Click Pics to ENLARGE

1) Fast Repetition Deadlifts From Graduated Levels.

This advanced training technique has built super power on all lifters who have used it appropriately. Here's a quick overview of how to use them:

A) From the Floor.
Starting with a medium weight and gradually working up in poundage . . . when it is no longer possible to add weight, go on to --

B) Using Blocks (or the rack)
Progressively shorten the range of motion of the exercise by raising the starting point of the bar, all the while continuing to increase the poundage. At first, low (6-8 inch) blocks are used; then foot-high blocks, continuing on in this manner as greater and greater weights are used.

Now, when you have continued to increase both the height of the supports and the poundage on the bar and no further gains in strength seem forthcoming, you still have an ace up your sleeve. You can do the deadlift in reverse which will build even more terrific back, hip and leg strength; and use this in a combination with reverse cleans to build equally terrific arm and shoulder strength so essential in certain parts of this lift especially where confidence is concerned.

Here is how the deadlift in reverse is done:
Load the barbell on sturdy boxes at about hip height, so that as you grasp the bar you are standing in an erect or nearly erect position. Now lift the weight just slightly up from the boxes and lower (or 'reverse deadlift') it to the floor, lowering the weight to the floor as slowly as possible. In this way you can overcome almost an sticking point in hip/leg/back weakness and handle heavier weights than are possible in the regular deadlift. Progressively work up to the heaviest weight you can over 6 to 9 single repetitions.

After you have done this phase of the movement, then you are ready to give your shoulders and arms an extra power boost. With the barbell still on the hip-high boxes -- but this time with considerably less weight on the bar -- bend the arms somewhat and lift the bar slightly upward until it just clears the boxes, then lower it to the floor slowly (with arms held slightly bent for as long as you can), fighting the weight all the way down, working up to a maximum weight over 6 to 9 single repetitions.

Naturally, you cannot be expected to perform either phase of this exercise in sets and repetitions. But if you can arrange to have two lifting partners to reset the barbell on the boxes, you can get more out of the exercises than when you have to re-assemble it yourself. If you do have to remove weight before returning the bar to the boxes, make sure to make each single repetition count.

Note: I've found that I can manage lifting the loaded bar back onto support boxes quite easily if I do it one end at a time. Just lift the right side of the bar up onto the box, then the left. Just a dimwitted tip for any lifters out there who, like me, have for the most part trained alone at home for decades.

Front-of-the-Neck Squats (Front Squats).

In this exercise you will need squat stands and two strong boxes (or a power rack). Adjust the squat stands to the exact height at which you hold the bar on the chest when making front squats. Adjust the boxes to the exact depth to which the plates of the barbell descend at the lowest point of the full Front Squat.

Now, using the heaviest weight you can possible handle, take it off the squat stands . . . bend the knees s-l-o-w-l-y and lower into a full front squat until the plates touch the boxes. You are not to complete the squat . . . that is, you go fully down but you do not return to the starting position. 

This builds power into the legs and accustoms them to handling the heaviest poundages. Always use the heaviest possible weight in this movement and keep increasing the poundage as often as possible. Do 6 to 9 single repetitions in this exercise. 

Now, when you have completed your quota of single repetitions in the assistance (negative) Front Squat, you can remove some weight from the bar and perform 3 sets of 3 repetitions each in the Half Front Squat. 

And you will use boxes in this exercise adjusted to exactly half-front-squat depth to make sure that your lifts do not go lower than necessary to perform the half front squat.

On the days when you have some extra energy left after this, you can perform the Regular Full Front Squat. Try 3 sets of 3 reps if you can make it. Occasionally, you might like to perform full back squats either as an alternate to the front squats, or as an "extra" if you're just bursting with latent strength.

Splits at Graduated Levels.

In this exercise you will again need squat stands. The idea is to help you become accustomed to handling heavier weights in the fore-and-aft position of the legs during this phase of cleaning split style. 

Your boxes and blocks will come into good usage here, for the technique is to gradually and progressively maneuver the heaviest weight into a lower and lower split position until you can easily encompass the full range of the split with the heavy weights you are working toward.

First, adjust the boxes to their highest point. Take the weight off the squat stands, go into a split until the barbell plates touch the boxes. Now continue lowering and raising while in this split position, making sure that the plates just barely graze the surface of the boxes. This builds great tensile strength and flexibility.

Put in place boxes of lesser height and do the same thing . . . and continue in this manner until you can do the deepest split with the heaviest weight. The boxes protect you from injury that might come from a too-sudden and too-deep lower of the weight. 

Try about 4 sets of 5 repetitions at four different box heights . . . one set to each height of support. And, to make sure that the greatest degree of strength and flexibility is built into the legs, practice this exercise both with weight held in front of the chest and on the back of the shoulders. 

As you can see, the sticking point of the extremely heavy Clean invariably occurs at the vital half-way point in the lift. That's why the champion lifters who will make a triple bodyweight Clean and Jerk will have to attack the problem systematically to build a steady growth of extra strength. The methods they use include the ones I have given you here.

And you . . . even if you have not the slightest intention of competing in Olympic lifting, can use the techniques described here to build great reserves of power and energy and magnificent muscle beyond anything you ever thought possible.     

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Shoulder Specialization - John McCallum

Originally Published in This Issue (September 1967) 

The Author, John McCallum

Shoulder Specialization

I was practicing my guitar the other day when my daughter's boyfriend came in. He had on a shirt like a painter's nightmare and a banana sticking out of the breast pocket. He pulled out the banana and held it up to his mouth.

"Got a match?" he said.

I gritted my teeth and fumbled four bars of "Wayfaring Stranger."

He made a big production of walking up and examining the guitar.

"The axe, Dad," he said. "She ain't plugged in."

"It's not electric," I said. "It's a folk guitar."

He flopped on the couch and put his feet up on the coffee table.

"Like for folk songs?"

"That's right," I said. "Like for folk songs and get your feet off the coffee table."

He put his feet down, sat up straight, and worked an aesthetic look onto his face. "Man," he said. "That folk gig is for real. You know - cane fields, coal mines, exploitation of the working class and all." He gazed off dreamily into space.

"Marvin," I said, "what are you babbling about? You've never done a day's work in your life."

He looked insulted. "Man," he said, "I'm sensitive. I can appreciate hard work without actually doing any."

"Sort of vicarious involvement?"

"Yeah. Anyway," he added, "I work with the weights."

"How you doing with them?"

"Great." He got to his feet and stuck out his chest.

I shielded my eyes. "Marvin," I said, "do you mind sitting down? That shirt's going to blind someone."

"Man," he said, "you're way behind. It's like psychedelic." He stuck his chest out again. "How do I look?"

"You look fine," I said. "Sit down."

"I wanted to talk to you about specializing," he said.

"On what?"

"The sexy look."


"On my shoulders."

"Marvin," I said, "why don't you go read a good book and specialize on your head for a while?"

It bounced right off. "I'd rather have broad shoulders," he said.


"Because the girls like them."

"Marvin," I said, "are you thinking of my little girl?"

His face fell. "No, no," he stammered. "Certainly not." He gave me a weak grin. "You know how it is."

"Not really," I said. "But I remember how it was." I went into the kitchen and got a pencil and paper.

"Here," I said. "I'll give you a shoulder specialization program. Write it down or you'll forget it before you get home."

I sat down again. "You'll work out six days a week," I said. "Three days on a general bulk program, and three days on your shoulders."

"On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays you do the general program. Start out with three sets of prone hyperextensions to warm up your lower back. 10 reps each set."

He scribbled on the paper.

"Now you can slip into the squats," I said. "Five sets of five reps. A light set to warm up, a little heavier for the second set, then three sets as heavy as you can do them."

He wrote it down.

"Do a set of pullovers after each set of squats. 15 reps with a light weight."


I looked at him closely. "You're working hard on the squats, aren't you?"

"Of course," He looked quite indignant.

"How much you using?"

"Around four hundred," he said. "For five reps."

I watched him for a while. "What do you mean, around four hundred?"

He shrugged. "You know. Around."

"Over or under?"

"Under," he said. "A little."

"How much under?"

"A few pounds. You know."

"For goodness sake, Marvin," I said. "Will you quit playing the fool? Exactly how much are you using?"

He smiled weakly. "Three-ten."

"Three-ten?" I said. "You were using that months ago. What have you been doing since?"

"Man," he said. "That's quite a load."

"It's not enough. You know better than that. Get with it."

He slumped back on the couch. "Okay," he said. "I'll try."

"All right. Now," I said. "You can do your bench presses. Five sets of five."


"And curls, five sets of five. Rowing, five sets of eight. And power cleans, fives sets of three and that's it."

"What about the shoulder work?" he said.

"That's coming," I said. "You work your shoulders on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. You'll use the 'High Set' system of training. Coupled with the power stuff on the other days, your shoulders should grow real fast." 

"Great," he said. "What do I do?" 

"Write it down," I said. "You start off with the basic exercise for the shoulder girdle, the press behind neck. Only you won't be doing it in basic style. You'll be doing in in very advanced style. You gotta use advanced methods to really get good.

"Take the weight off the squat rack," I said. "Don't clean it. Use a wide grip and press the weight up as fast and smooth as you can. Lock your arms at the top.

"Don't rest the bar on your shoulders between reps. Just lower it till it touches the back of your neck and then press it right back up again. Try and get a sort of rebound out of it." 

He got a dreamy look in his eyes. "Man," he murmured. "I'm gonna look great." 

"Use a moderate weight for your first set. Do six reps. Increase the weight and do another set of six. Then do three sets of six as heavy as you can with a couple of minutes rest between sets.

"And don't forget," I said. "This heavy stuff is all-important. Reg Park presses over three hundred behind the neck. You won't get shoulders like Reg Park's by pressing one hundred or even two hundred. Shoot for three hundred pounds."

Marvin blinked. "Man," he said. "That's like a lot of weight."

"Sure," I said. "And you'll end up with a lot of muscle."

His eyes got dreamy again. "I'd like that."

"Okay. And when you finish the heavy sets take a couple of minutes rest. Then drop the poundage way down and start doing sets of eight reps with no more than thirty seconds rest between sets. Do ten of these light sets and drop the poundage as you tire. You'll finish up with a pretty light weight but you'll be pumped like you're wearing shoulder pads."

Marvin looked a little doubtful. "Man," he said. "It might be easier to wear shoulder pads."

"It's a lot of work," I said. "But you're going to get a lot of results."

"Okay," he said. "You're the boss."

"Good. Now, when you finish the presses, take a short rest. Then you do a secondary set for the deltoids. The one-arm dumbbell press.

"Do them the same way, I said. "A couple of warmup sets, three sets of six as heavy as you can, and ten sets of eight with about thirty seconds rest between sets. Do them military style. Don't rock over any more than an inch or two.

"Handle all the weight you can on the heavy sets," I said. "You ought to be able to work up to over a hundred pounds."

"I'll try."

Okay. And finally you do a supplementary pumping exercise. Lateral raises with light dumbbells. Do them fifteen sets of eight reps."

He scratched it down. The paper was getting crowded.

"Do the lateral raises in very strict style," I said. "Lean forward slightly while you're doing them. Don't lean back under any circumstances. Do them nice and smooth and no more than thirty seconds rest between sets. That's the final exercise and you'll be blown up like a life raft when you finish."

"And I'll get big shoulders?"

"I guarantee it. Stick on that program for a couple of months and your shoulders will be your outstanding body part. Everybody'll notice them."

"Man," he said. "The girls'll love me."

I gave him a cold look and he stammered, "Not that it matters, of course."

"Okay," I said. "But don't forget you gotta soak up protein or you won't gain. Take all the supplements you can and knock off at least two quarts of the 'Get Big' drink.

"You oughta like that," I added. "It's got a banana in it."

"Ah, yes," he said. "The mellow yellow."

"That's right," I said. "But eat it. Don't smoke it." 


Monday, July 17, 2017

Russian Methods of Training the Press - Charles A. Smith (1952)

Gregory Novak

This next article is once again courtesy of Liam Tweed.

Russian Methods of Training the Press
by Charles A. Smith (1952)

Perhaps the most important section of this "Press" series comes with the present chapter. The author has done all he could, within his limited knowledge, to give you an overall picture of the qualities that determine whether a man is a "natural" presser of just another lifter. By careful study of the preceding chapters*, you should have a good idea of the style you must use . . . the hand spacing, foot spacing, breathing, and all the other many factors that will help you get the most out of your physical equipment when you have to press a heavy barbell to arms length.

*Other Articles by Charles Smith in This Series on the Press: 

Now comes the job of comparing the styles of the various lifting nations, and the training methods by which you can help bring your Press up to compare favorably with the Snatch, and the Clean and Jerk. In the previous chapter, I touched briefly on the method of pressing used by some Egyptian lifters and now, in this chapter I will deal with the style and training programs of one of the greatest lifters the world has seen . . . the Russian, Gregory Novak.

It is customary in bodybuilding articles to repeat a certain slogan . . . "Schedules will not work unless you do," and the same applies to Olympic lifting. Unless you are prepared to work HARD and OFTEN, then forget about any sensational or even satisfactory pressing gains. I am aware that a lot of words have been spoken and written about certain weight training methods. These methods may or may not have all the qualities claimed for them. But the fact remains that once your coach has smoothed out the rough edges of your technique, he can do nothing more for you . . . given of course the fact that you are a normally healthy and intelligent individual. What you become thereafter depends entirely on . . . YOU, and the extent to which you are prepared to work. Once you have acquired a lifting technique, then you are more or less on your own. You have to to think for yourself.

There is no other lift that responds to hard work like the Press. Most lifters train three times a week and press each time they train, but you need have no fear of going stale if you press every day, two and three times a day. THE SECRET OF PRESSING SUCCESS IS TO PRESS.

Ronald Walker of England, who held onto the Two Hands Snatch record for so many years, used this pressing method . . . he rammed a barbell every time he passed by one. At the beginning of his career, Walker expressed satisfaction in being able to press a weight of 175 pounds and said his ambition was to eventually make 200. Ron has the British Press record still, with a poundage of 282.5 and I do not doubt that if he were alive, the record would stand at well over 300. Only his persistent training and conscientious methods brought his Press up.

In these days of advanced methods and plentiful equipment, there is no reason why 99% of lifters should not be able to press their bodyweight. The increasing popularity of the bench and incline bench exercises and the universal practice of the bench press has in my opinion increased the standard of physical development and lifting. Records are soaring almost every day. Each time an International contest or National championship takes place, you have a new spate of pressing records. The reason is because of the intensified Press specialization that every champion lifter indulges in. Modern lifters are not merely content with the orthodox style. They also use bench and incline presses extensively. They are not content to maintain the "old time" three-a-week workout routine. They press whenever opportunity presents itself. They use not only the Olympic Press, but also dumbbell work and the aforementioned bodybuilders' presses.

Every prominent champion trains along these lines . . . Davis . . . DiPietro . . . Su Il Nam . . . Touni . . . Fayad . . . Namdjou and  . . . NOVAK. The Russian is another lifter who presses daily, and the efficiency of his methods and the style of pressing . . . incidentally, universal throughout the Russian lifting world, is responsible for his steady progress, halted only during the past 18 months by injuries.

Let us trace the early pressing career of the Mighty Novak. On April 15th, 1940, Novak, lifting as a middleweight, pressed 268.75 pounds. From that time to the present, he has brought his Press up to an unofficial lift of 320.25. Naturally, his weight has also increased at the same time, but the point I am trying to make is that there has been a STEADY and PROLONGED rise in pressing ability. When Novak commenced competition lifting 1938, he was pressing 237.75 pounds. In two years he jumped his record to 268.75 via poundages of 240 . . . 243 . . . 253.75 . . . 259.25 . . . 260.25 . . . 265.75.

Novak presses every day. On his regular training nights he works out for two to three hours performing innumerable repetitions on the Two Hands Snatch, the Jerk, and the Press. On these "three a week" training days he keeps to the three lifts. On the days outside of his regular practice, he presses, working up from low poundage to something approaching his limit. The first lift in his training schedule is the Two Hands Press and in this he follows a similar system to the Egyptians. He starts fairly low and presses three repetitions with each weight, jumping 10 pounds at a time until he is no longer able to squeeze out three reps. Then he goes to two reps and then single reps, stopping 10 pounds short of his best performance. Once a month he tries out his limit and sees what he can do. I am given to understand that Novak also keeps a diary of his workouts and closely evaluates any advances made, or any easing off of progress that occurs.

Now Novak is what I would call a "natural" presser. He has all the advantages that go with superlative pressing performances. He is short . . . (trunk is thick and powerful at the small of the back. He has fairly long upper arms and shorter forearms (in relation to the upper arms). His whole appearance gives you the impression of POWER. There is a thickness to the shoulders and deltoids and the thighs too are rugged and bulging. His clavicles are long for a man of his height and the leverage factors extremely favorable for outstanding pressing. But what makes his a great presser is the fact that he has developed a style that is eminently suited to his particular type of physique. All the Russian lifters use a similar style with moderations according to the lifter's structure.

It is not my intention to deal with the rights and wrongs of his technique. I am forced to admit that if those who judged his presses decided to keep to a strict interpretation of the International rules, they would be bound by those rules to disqualify him. But the same applies to practically EVERY PRESS IN MODERN COMPETITION. Show me the man who presses according to the rules, and I'll show you a SUPERMAN. The plain fact is that it is almost impossible to maintain a "military" or dead upright stance. Every lifter bends his back to some extent and hardy any press "STEADILY." Those officials who do keep to the rules fairly and impartially are distinctly unpopular! There is of course a remedy . . . MODIFY THE PRESENT PRESSING RULES OR ELSE KEEP STRICTLY TO THEM. 

The Russian pressing method is realistic. They acknowledge as an open fact what every other author knows but closes his eyes to . . . that is is utterly impossible to press according to the International rules. There are some fortunate individuals who can . . . they are the exceptions. The Russian trainers realize that it is essential to have a set back to the shoulders. They are not keeping to the rules it is true, but name me ONE official who JUDGES according to the present pressing rules and then you can condemn the Russian style. As much as we may hate the political machinations of the Russians, we as lifters must admit that they are strictly on the ball where our sport is concerned.

The accompanying illustrations (to follow) show, much better than I can tell you, the pressing stance of the foremost Russian lifters. You will note that the hand spacing is wider than the average lifter uses. Thus the deltoids receive a lot more work than they would with a narrower grip . . . that is harder work at the START of the lift. The large majority of Russians use a thumbs around the bar grip with a liberal sprinkling of chalk. The thumbs and forefingers are sometimes taped if the hand happens to be a little on the small side. You will notice that the elbows of Novak slope DOWN and IN, that the latissimus are contracted to provide a firm pressing base. The shoulders are set back and the chest is thrust forward.

When the referee claps for the signal to commence pressing, a deep breath is taken and held throughout the lift. The bar is rammed vertically upward and follows along one line. It does not curve forward or back. It is not "moved" by the lifter in ANY DIRECTION OTHER THAN UP. The entire body is laid along a gentle curve from the shoulders down to the ankles, the greatest portions of the curve being at the hips and chest. The hips and chest are thrust forward. The most important thing to remember about Russian pressing is that the bar moves along ONE vertical line and does not cause a loss of balance by being thrust forward and then back. The only thing wrong with the Russian Press technique is the method of breathing. I DO NOT recommend holding the breath throughout the lift for reasons which I made clear in my chapter on "Breathing During the Press." [see link above]

I would advise you to take as many magazines as possible and study the photos of the lifters appearing in them. Just stick to the pressing photos. See how many lifters, prominent or otherwise, maintain a military position when pressing, and then determine for yourself the presses that were passed without question by the judges. Take a rule book and then pick these presses to pieces. Few of the lifts depicted will merit a "pass" if the rules are obeyed to the letter in judging.

However, it is not my sole intent in this chapter to flay the present rules. Judges give their rulings honestly and in 99.99% of cases with complete fairness. I am merely trying to give you the benefits of the Russian pressing style and their training methods. This style can put pounds on your Press legitimately. You can use that style without fear of being disqualified, safe in the knowledge that it is passed by officials in strict International competition.

Once you get the weight moving, concentrate on keeping it traveling directly UP in the same plane throughout its "time of flight." Don't try and shift it forward or back, for if you use the correct style, you will find this unnecessary. You Press with be strong and sure and your balance steady. Just stand right there and smack that weight to arms length.


Figure 1 - not shown:
The typical Russian stance for the Press. Wider than average grip, the slope down and in of the elbows, and the "set" of the upper arms against the contracted lats. The body is in a gentle curve from heels to head with foremost thrust of the hips.

Figure 2:
The start of the Russian style Press. As the referee claps his hands, the lifter takes a  breath and commences the lift. Note the distinct set back of the shoulders and thrust forward of the elbows.

Figure 3:
Approaching the sticking point the points of the elbows start to turn out allowing the full play of the triceps as the deltoids have just fully contracted. The lifter's breath is held throughout the lift.

Figure 4:
Full power of the triceps now comes into the lift as the barbell is taken to arms length. Note from the first illustration to this, the bar has not moved from the "line of flight." It has been pressed straight up and has not moved either forward or back.

Figure 5:
At the end of the Press, the lifter has followed through with his head. He has also expelled his breath. Russian technique is designed to eliminate all lift losses through faulty balance. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Charles A. Smith on John Davis' Training (1951)

Alyce Yarick, John Davis
Photo original courtesy of Jan Dellinger.

John Davis material at Lift Up: 

Some Davis material from here:

"Black Iron: The John Davis Story"
by Brooks Kubik

This article on John Davis courtesy of Liam Tweed. 

Author: Charles A. Smith, from his "The ABC's of Lifting Series" - 
this article is from Muscle Builder magazine, January 1951. 

I am writing this article on the eve of my departure for England and the Mr. Universe contest. There is a "dead line" to meet; a series to keep up to date and it was impossible for me to plan this chapter months ahead. Yet I think this present article will present no break in the continuity of the series. In fact it will prove to be a most timely and pertinent section of the work as a whole, for it concerns the training methods of the World's Heavyweight Champion, John Davis. 

Davis deserves a special niche in the Hall of Athletic Fame for he is the ONLY athlete in the history of ANY SPORT who ever held all his country's records, all the Olympic records and all the world's records at one and the same period. This is an achievement that ranks, to my way of thinking, as the greatest all round performance of all time, and one that is never likely to be beaten. At present, the Press record is in the keeping of Doug Hepburn of Vancouver, British Columbia, but I will be surprised if Doug retains it for long, for I fully expect Davis to take it back before the end of the year is out.

The information contained in this article does NOT come directly from Davis himself, but has come from individuals with whom Davis has discussed lifting (myself among them), the magazines in which this information was published, and those individuals who were fortunate enough to attend a Davis training session. It reveals a simplicity of purpose and a common sense approach to the problem of bringing himself to the pitch of weightlifting efficiency. 

Davis has trained himself. That much we all know, and I will publish this chapter of this series to provide inspiration for the countless thousands of world be champions, and with the firm belief that such knowledge and inspiration belongs not to one man but to all. I just as sincerely believe that Davis himself is of this opinion. He has never spared himself when it came to imparting his valuable store of knowledge to a promising lifter or a kid, altho he had no hopes of making good, still had the intense desire to improve.

Davis has performed pressing feats that make the lifts of the old timers look sick. At the recent John Terlazzo show, he made a clean and continental press of 365 pounds which by far exceeds any previously performed . . . Hepburn, it is true, has pushed aloft some incredible poundages, but these were in most cases taken from squat stands. At the recent Senior National Championships, he pressed 340 for a new world record, only to have it taken from him a few minutes later by the titanic lift of Doug Hepburn, who made 345.5. 

He has, in the old style strict military form, pressed 295 for 2 repetitions . . . this feat was performed back stage of the William Penn High School, while Johnny was waiting to lift. He holds the American record in the Press with a poundage of 342 and his 332 World's record stood for almost three years until it was broken at another Senior National meet, also held in California, with a poundage of 335.

To me, he is the super scientific pressing stylist and a close observation of his method of ramming the weight overhead will reveal an extremely shrewd and calculating use of every muscle in his body to one end . . . PRESS THAT WEIGHT OVERHEAD. 

Before the war, he was pressing 320 at a bodyweight far below his present one, and his attitude in competition can be summed up in one word . . . CONTEMPT. 

There are those who would tell you that Davis needs competition . . . that he is a "lazy" lifter. To these I reply . . . You have appraised the man incorrectly. You little know him, or his philosophy of life. Davis needs no competition. He trains with an intensity few approach let alone equal. When a tougher form of workout is devised, Davis will be the man to bring it forth.

Many lifters have problems getting past a certain stage in their progression, and this results in a lot of trouble for the inexperienced. He tells them this: "You must use extremely heavy poundages to make gains that are satisfactory yet you need not concern yourself with what kind of form you use while training." Building up the BASIC POWER, the CONTEMPT FOR TOP POUNDAGES, the ABILITY TO HANDLE THEM, is what counts.  

 Davis trains on each lift for a week, spending four training days on each lift. Sometimes he doubles up on the lifts, using say, the Press and Snatch. And he always includes a power building exercise such as the Squat to end his workout session. He makes a minimum of 64 presses each week and sometimes as many as 80, using sets of 2 reps . . . sets of 10. His training schedules usually last for a 10 week period, and depending on his condition, he regulates his starting poundages.    

He never performs less than 8 sets no matter how lax his final sets of presses become. But his innate common sense comes to the front when he cautions you all to exercise control over the weight. You must never let bad lifting run away with you. In other words, you must make certain that the poor form, or that "get the weight up anyhow" attitude does not become a bad habit so that you instinctively turn to it during competition. 

"The basic principle of lifting," says Davis, "is to build bigger and stronger muscles." This is of course, the obvious, but it is astonishing how few lifters actually realize it's profundity and train for bigger muscles with but slight increase in power. To build great power one must handle heavy poundages with a low repetition number and a HIGH set number. This is the method that Davis himself finds builds power.

Altho he once decried the use of bench pressing, he has found that it does increase your overhead pressing ability. Davis had heard of some of the lifts claimed by certain bodybuilders in the bench press, and determined he would try the exercise for himself. After he had worked up to some extremely heavy poundages . . . one lift of 400 was made, pressed directly off his chest with no bounce . . . he went back to Olympic lifting and discovered much to his surprise that he was much stronger in the two hands press. He has since, honestly and sincerely advocated the use of bench presses.

An examination of his try of the use of heavy poundages will reveal that his beliefs are founded on common sense planning. "If you use a schedule in which poundages constantly decrease, such as the 1-2-3-4-5 system, it will be impossible for you to build sustaining power." There is also a psychological factor to consider here too. You build up a mental resistance to handling heavy poundages if you constantly use light ones, or decreasing poundages, sets and reps during training. There is a lack of determination and fighting spirit that keeps you carrying on when the going is tough. 

Heavy poundages in training are essential if you want to press heavy weights during competition. Davis has said that altho he might not always break a record, he is constantly in striking range of the world's record all the time, so that even if he has an "off" night, he is never far below the top press mark. And if he has a "spot on" night, then we see a new world's record in the Press. If you keep ahead in training, then you are certain to do so in a contest.

During his Press specialization periods, John continuously TRIES to advance his Press poundages every other workout by at least 2.5 to 10 pounds. But he NEVER drops a poundage back. If he feels that he is not ready to pile on that extra training poundage, then the bar stays at the same weight used in his previous workout, until he feels in form once more.

Constantly, he changes his combination of sets and reps. He has used sets of 5 reps, changing to sets of 3 reps, then sets of 2 reps, and reaching an impasse again, switched to 3 reps once more. In the final week of contest training he uses a near limit poundage, making 10 SINGLE REPS . . . that is 10 INDIVIDUAL PRESSES. However, his favorite combination of is sets of 2 repetitions . . . usually 8 sets of 2 reps.

"If your training becomes monotonous, the best alternative is to press while seated." Davis believes that this pressing exercise builds great drive and induces more correct form in actual competition. He rarely tires himself out completely, believing that failure would only lead to disappointment and build up a mental block, a negative or defeatist attitude to limit poundages. However, if the urge to "try his strength" is too great for him to resist, then once every four weeks he essays limit attempts. 

He also has a very remarkable . . . yet again common sense . . . system of determining the certainty of making his starting poundage. Under varying conditions, he tries his starting poundage . . . once with no previous warmup, again after his workout is ended, and at other periods under the most difficult conditions he can think of. This ensures him of at LEAST one attempt to his credit.

His views on warming up are very timely and to the point, with the element of reason to them. "You should never use heavy poundages when warming up back stage" and Davis goes so far as to limit a man capable of pressing 250 to a warmup of NOT MORE THAN 135 pounds. "Make your reps as fast as possible," says John, "pressing the weight half a dozen times, then having a good rest and taking the weights for another fast 6 reps." This should be done half an hour to 45 minutes before making your initial Press of the competition. 20 minutes before you make your first Press, do another 3 reps, driving each one up with all the power that is in you. NEVER under any circumstances use a heavy poundage, for if you do you'll leave your pressing power in the warmup room. There are exceptions, but these are men of extraordinary power . . . men like Louis Abele and Jim Bradford, who both used heavy warmup weights for getting into their pressing stride.

Would it benefit you to try these training methods of the World's Champion? I can well imagine you are asking this question. Beyond any doubt, I believe it would, taking into account the innumerable differences in each human being. At the very least, his method is one of the best for utilizing the combination of sets and repetitions.

In closing this article I would like to express my deep thanks to John Davis, for the many things he has taught me, and to my friend, John Barrs, for so much of the information appearing in this article. 

I can only repeat that I believe the methods of Davis will lead to success. 


"Body-Building" by John Barrs (1930) - 
Including the B.A.W.L.A. Primary Physical Improvement Course. 

David Gentle's History of Physical Culture Educational Resource: 

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