Throwback Thursday! There Is Nothing New Under The Sun #4
covered most of the older training methods and implements, it’s time to
head into the “modern” era. In terms of weight training, I would
classify the modern era of weight training as the era in which the plate
loaded barbell and dumbbell came into wide use, which means that the
modern era would begin in the late 1880s. Though many of the exercises
currently in use were invented prior this period, it wasn’t until the
modern era that training implements came to really resemble those in use
today, and was when the exercises currently in use came to be
standardized. While the standardization of the performance of weight
training exercises was useful in determining the winner of strength
competitions and made naming conventions easier, this was perhaps the
most annoying contribution of the modern period. If you’re confused as
to why it’s annoying, it’s because the “standardization” of
non-competition exercises leads to a lot of idiotic discussion and
quibbling between people too weak to be doing anything other than
lifting and eating.
No one is clear on why Triat dressed like a cavalier to teach proto-Bodypump.
move past my hatred of mouthy neophyte lifters, however, and get to the
topic at hand- the modern era of lifting. Though dumbbells, as I’ve
covered in previous installments, had been in use in varying forms since
the ancient Greeks, the barbell did not come into wide use until the
middle of the 19th Century. Though he is not necessarily credited with
their invention, the man with whom the wide popularity of the barbell is
associated is Parisian gym owner and proto-bodybuilder Hippolyte Triat.
In 1849, Triat opened a massive, 9500 square foot gym in downtown
Paris with two rows of balconies for spectators, and illustrations of
his gym depict the walls filled with racks of fixed-weight barbells. In
his advertising brochures, Triat boasted of having dumbbells weighing
over 200 pounds in his gym, though no one is certain whether he was
referring to single hand or double handed dumbbells, as the term
“barbell” wasn’t yet in use (Todd).
Bizarrely unchanged, except that the classes are now taught by prostitutes.
to Triat, the closest thing to the modern fixed weight dumbbell was the
“iron wand” which was very similar to the goofy weighted rubber coated
bars you see in group fitness classes- they usually weighed two to six
kilos and were used, like the modern version, for group fitness. Triat
seems to have drawn upon that idea and created heavier iron wands
affixed with weighted globes on either end for increased weight. This
shape then influenced the wands that had been Triat’s inspiration, and
from then on iron and wooden wands shared the same shape- a fixed bar
with globes at either end. This was from then on referred to as the
“French dumbbell” on the continent, though the term “bar-bell” came into
use in England in 1870 (Todd).
one might have thought that the barbell would have caught on like
wildfire after its invention, no one thought to use on in a strength
exposition until Austrian strongman Karl Rappo worked onto into his
routine late 1870s. According to a number of his contemporaries, heavy
barbells had been in use in the mid-19th Century in Germany, though
there’s no solid evidence of this- just hearsay. According to the
Germans, they had used solid iron globe barbells until the 1870s, then
switched to solid iron bars and hollow bells filled with sand or lead to
make their weight adjustable. Then, in what is perhaps the greatest
example of Germanic superiority one might proffer, a German corporation
called Heyden began manufacturing plate-loaded barbells in the 1880s.
Well, at least until you consider the fact that George Barker Winship,
who I mentioned in a previous entry, patented the plate-loaded dumbbell
This thing would have been a bit of a pain in the ass to move.
we have then, is a mess. No one is quite sure when and where the plate
loaded barbell arose, or exactly when. What we can be sure of,
however, is that modern weight training could not exist without the
plate loaded barbell- globe barbells take up far too much room, and they
don’t afford trainees the ability to easily progress from one weight to
the next. Furthermore, they would have made strength competitions
immensely costly and difficult to hold, simply because of the man-hours
and work involved in moving massive numbers of heavy barbells. Finally,
without the invention of the modern free-rotating, plate loaded
barbell, continued progress in training weights would be severely
hamstrung by the stress on and strength requirements of the forearms and
He might have been a fatass, but he saved the day on barbells. Fat people, then, can occasionally be useful to society.
heavy lifting in the US all but died out with the death of Winship, it
was resurrected in 1902 by Alan Calvert and Calvert’s equipment company,
Milo, and by Thomas Inch, Calvert’s rival and vocal proponent of
plate-loaded barbells. Like the rivalry between Hoffman and Weider that
would follow in 40 years, Calvert and Inch argued vociferously in the
press about whose products were the better of the two. Both men offered
a plate loaded option, but Calvert offered adjustable-weight globe
bells as well, affording trainees to increase training weights by an
ounce at a time if they so wished. Across the ocean, numerous German
companies vied for dominance in the weightlifting equipment industry,
all producing barbell sets of different sizes in an apparent effort to
out-Apple Apple in terms of producing proprietary nonsense to
people who are unconcerned with brand-whoring.
brings us, finally, to the Olympic lifts. In the early days of
strongman competitions, there was no set program of lifts. Instead,
competitors agreed upon a few lifts and went at it, mano-e-mano. There
was no standard for the lifts, either- you moved the weight from point A
to point B however the hell you could get it there. On a deadlift, if
you weren’t hitching, you weren’t trying. You could muscle out
snatches, and you could invent new form on the spot if you’d not before
tried a certain lift. Everyone was there to see weight get moved, and
none of the quibbling, insipid, tragically weak people of the modern
era existed at the time to call bullcrap on lifts done by people of whom
they were terrified and with weights they could scarcely comprehend.
closest that anyone could come to a standard program of lifts was what
the British referred to as the “Championship Lifts”, they they could not
even agree on whether there were four or five of those. According to
Edward Aston, who claimed there were four official but five contested
“Championship Lifts” (and never bothered to identify the four official
ones), the five lifts the Brits considered “Championship lifts were the
one hand clean, two hands clean, one hand anyhow, two hands anyhow, and a
single handed snatch or clean (at the choice of the competitor). Of
the three lifts, both hands had to be used at least once, which forced a
bit of strategy into the competition by making the lifter choose the
lift in which he’d employ his weaker hand (Aston III).
Perikles Kakousis lifting a massive 246lb for Olympic gold in 1904.
to the lack of event standardization, however, no one could agree on a
bar. Thus, the first Olympics saw something akin to a one hand snatch
and a double-hand clean and jerk being contested, with permutations of
these events or just no weightlifting at all occurring until the 1928
Olympics. By 1928, however, the Olympic committee decided on three
lifts- the press, the clean and jerk, and the snatch. That same year
the first modern Olympic barbell was released by the Berg company
specifically for use in the Olympics. That design was then copied by
the York Barbell Company, and modern lifting was truly and officially
sort of- there was still the matter of how the barbell should get off
the floor and to the shoulder. Despite the fact that pretentious,
know-it-all asshats of the internet might contend that the clean is
the only “legitimate” method of getting a weight to one’s shoulders, the
clean began as one of two methods to shoulder a weight for jerking or
pressing. At the outset, this lift was referred to as the “to the
shoulder anyhow” and there was a stark geographical division in the
performance of the lift. Arising out of a long tradition of beer garden
lifting and public strength competitions in Germany came the
“continental.” According to Arthur Saxon, the “we give zero craps about
your rules and are here to move some goddamned weight” Germans
does not matter much how a man gets his weight to his shoulder provided
he ‘puts it away all right[sic]’ afterwards. The Continental
weight-lifter has, of course, to shoulder his bell by the exercise of
his own unaided strength, but he may lift it shoulder high with both
hands, or by levering it up his body, according to the lift in
frankly, since the to the shoulder anyhow was really a barbell
adaptation of ancient stone lifting competitions, this method would have
made the most sense. Then, instead of throwing the stone, as the
ancient Greeks were wont to do, they simply put the weight overhead and
held it there, as throwing an expensive custom-made iron implement would
have been dangerous and costly.
In case you’re curious as to how the lift was performed, here’s Saxon’s description:
first of these pulls the bell up on to the abdomen in a clean lift with
an over and an under grip, as shown in the illustration. The bell is
then lodged on the waist-belt (worn large for the purpose), while the
left hand grip is changed to an over-hand one; then with a dip and a
jerk it is hoisted up on to the chest, and with another to the chin,
preparatory to the final jerk which sends it aloft. Some even prolong
this agony still further, making four, and sometimes five, jerks before
they finally reach the chin”(Saxon 52).
might sound horrifying to the modern form Nazi, but it was brutally
effective, and when you look at what the Germans were doing in
comparison to their British counterparts, it becomes all that much more
obvious- the Olympic gold in the clean and jerk in 1928 for heavyweights
was 313.5lbs (set, amusingly, by a German and not a Brit), whereas
Austrian Joseph Steinbach continentalled and jerked 380.25 for a double
over 20 years earlier.
Steinback obviously derived all of his power from the size of his traps.
I mentioned, the British focused heavily on “clean lifting”, which they
judged to be prettier and a better test of skill, rather than brute
strength. Clean lifting was the backbone of British amateur
competitions, and formed one of the four British championship lifts.
Because the Brits focused so heavily on those lifts, however, they
lacked the requisite strength to compete with the Germans in the “to the
shoulder anyhow”(Saxon 20), and it was likely this reason that the
Olympic Committee, which had British but no German members at its
inception, chose the clean. Though this method resulted in considerably
less weight lifted, it made the event “fair” for British lifters,
because if the Olympics had included the continental instead of the
clean, no Brit would have even had a a snowball’s chance in hell to
medal in weightlifting. Performance of the clean differed from the
continental considerably, as it had to be “gripped palms downwards, and
brought to the shoulders in a distinct movement while either splitting
or bending of the legs”(Eric’s Gym). According to Saxon, most of the
early 20th Century lifters used a split, rather than a squat clean,
which Saxon found to be stupid, but seemed to find “clean” lifting
stupid rather on the whole.
still barely have a chance at medalling- David Mercer holds one of a
whopping seven British medals in Olympic Weightlifting.
the same logic was applied to the overhead portion of the lift.
According to Saxon, Continental lifters were all pressers, whereas the
British were fans of the jerk (Saxon 34). Given the strength advantage
held by the Germans over the Brits because of their immense strict
pressing strength, both events were included, ostensibly in the interest
of fairness. The difference between the two methods was essentially
that the press relied entirely on the strength of one’s shoulders and
arms, whereas the jerk took the strength of one’s arms and shoulders
almost entirely out of the equation. The Germans obviously viewed the
jerk with a measure of contempt, but competed in it anyway because their
immense pressing strength just made their jerk better.
Serge Redding got it done on the press.
press was intended to be conducted in an extremely strict manner, but
even from the outset there was dispute as to exactly how it should be
performed, and that dispute continued until the event was eventually
dropped from the Games in 1972. Saxon sums up the two methods nicely in
The Textbook of Weightlifting:
it will be seen, leans right back from the waist and pushes forward
with his shoulders (as well as arms) in a diagonally upward motion.
[Saxon], on the contrary, push with arm strength only from an erect
position, with hells close together. Steinbach holds the record, but
[Saxon couldn’t] recommend his style”(Saxon 54).
Rusev appears concerned he just crapped himself.
jerk, on the other hand, was to be performed just as it is now-
continuous, fast movement of the bar from one’s shoulders overhead,
without pressing the weight out. In Saxon’s time, they primarily squat
jerked, which is curious given their split form on the clean. This may
have been due to the fact that the aforementioned Alan Calvert alleged
that “splitting in the Jerk was ‘all lost motion.’ He said that the
correct thing to do was to drop the body straight down by sitting one
the heels – the style used by Milo Steinborn, who did 347¾
lbs”(Webster). In any event, the rules were never really in dispute and
have remained the same to the present day.
Pocket Hercules, proving you can indeed chain-smoke your way to victory.
the jerk, the snatch had been performed basically as long as there had
been dumbbells heavy enough to make it a worthwhile competitive lift.
Snatching began as a dumbbell event, and then became immensely popular
as a unilateral barbell lift, just as the clean and jerk had. This may
be due in large part to difficulty in pressing out a barbell overhead
with one hand, especially given the fact that early barbells lacked
knurling. In any event, inclusion of this lift in the Olympic was
basically a no-brainer, as it was an old standby in strength
competitions in both German beer gardens and effete British gymnasiums.
If Stacie Tovar’s not hot enough to save something, it likely doesn’t deserve to be saved.
there you have the development of Olympic weightlifting. As
powerlifting has grown in fame, and given the “brute strength” over
trickery and “technique” aspect of the lifts in powerlifting as compared
to those of Olympic weightlifting, interest in weightlifting steadily
waned over the last 75 years. That decrease in interest was also no
doubt spurred by the dominance of the Eastern Bloc over the West in that
sport, which made competing in it even less appealing to Westerners, as
being the best Western Olympic weightlifter often means you don’t even
get to participate in the Olympics. Crossfit has recently spurred
something of a revival in Olympic weightlifting, but given the
internet’s ability to promote the most insipid arguments and dickless
complaints to the forefront of the zeitgeist, even the mighty knee sock
juggernaut might not be enough to buoy interest in weightlifting for
long (especially if more Crossfitters get paralyzed in freak accidents).
Frankly, hot chicks in booty shorts should be able to save just about
anything, so I doubt weightlifting will ever fade from the public view
the way other strength training methods have, but it will likely never
regain the prominence it enjoyed until the early 1970s.
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