There is No System part III

There is No System
Part III
Section A: Marketing Functional Isometric Contraction in 1963

The Commercialization of Functional Isometrics

The January 1963 issue of Strength and Health features Bob Hoffman’s report of the 1962 World championships . Yoshinobu Miyake wins the first ever world title for Japan. Hoffman notes that “..for the first time since 1932 no American lifter won a world title”. We were robbed of two gold medals…”.{S&H 01:62:1963}

In the reference to being robbed of two gold medals, one of these was won by Veres of Hungary whose presses were completed with a large back-bend. In contrast to which Hoffman wrote of T. Kono that: “many people commented that he is the best presser in the world, for he stands perfectly erect and simply presses”. {S&H 01:62:1963}

These comments illustrate one of the root causes of the USA’s coming problems at the international level. Veres had to “cheat” to keep up with Kono in the press; but Kono was unable to keep up in the clean and jerk. See Schemansky’s comments in section B.

However, it was this “cheating”, which eventually turned the press into a speed – strength exercise that the lifters on this side of the Atlantic were late in adopting because they were tied to developing strength and doing partial movements in the power rack; and, to a lesser extent the officials in the USA were late in becoming more lax with the rule book.

On the other hand, in an article about the Russian pressing technique  “The Russian pressing style” Hoffman concludes: “All of this proves just one thing, that a lifter who “presses without sin” cannot hold a world record”. {S&H 03:40:1963}

Hoffman notes Bill March “is the best built of all the competitors” at the 1962 world championships.

The training program of Tony Garcy; a member of the 1964 Olympic team appears in Strength and Health {S&H 02:14-15:1963}. Nine of the 11 pictures accompanying the article are of the lifter performing Functional Isometric Contraction exercises in a power rack.

An ad for the $5.95 postpaid “Strength Builder” {S&H 02:6:1963} for the first time features a female model performing an isometric exercise dressed in blouse, skirt and high heels.

In the latest technical article on FIC “The physiology of Strength”, Hoffman quotes extensively from the work of Hettinger and Meuller and relates once again how Bill March’s made great gains using FIC, improving his press from 110 kg to 162.5 kg. {S&H 04:24:1963}

Later in 1963 {S&H 08:14:1963} Hoffman railed that this same progress came at the expense of the lifter’s results in the snatch and the clean and jerk. However, there is no connection made between the isometrics having a negative carry over to dynamic exercises like the snatch and the clean and jerk.

While in attendance at one of his lectures, Hoffman asks Dr. Meuller  if he has heard of his work with Functional Isometric Contraction for developing the whole body. Meuller acknowledges hearing about it; but no specifics. Most of Hettinger and Meuller’s experiments are tests with the arm flexors at an angle of 90º.

There are six pictures accompanying this article  {S&H 08:14:1963}; one athlete, one weightlifter, and three bodybuilders performing isometrics in power racks and the strength builder. They represent the core focus groups of the marketing of FIC. A full page ad for power racks and isometric courses appears at the end of the article.

Hyberole Run Amuck

The first article in Strength and Health by Canadian scuba diver John McCallum appears {S&H 04:34:1963}. Rather bizarre pictures of the author exercising with barbells in bare feet and scuba gear accompany the article. Many articles will follow for years to come.

And so began a prolonged campaign of confusion.

The substance of this series of articles, known as “Keys to Progress” were profoundly simplified, folksy, geared to the man in the street tales of how to develop big muscles. They were essentially about developing bulk and power; as to what end one should pursue this course of action, it is never made quite clear. These articles will feature such verbose, loquacious, grandiloquent and pleonastic titles as: “Bulk”, “Squat”, “Sleep” and “Run”. Much of the content from these articles was evidently misplaced, it belonged in the funny pages.*

These articles ultimately add to the confusion created by the magazine’s mixed content, designed to draw a readership large enough to remain profitable. Confusion, because it is unclear, first, what makes this middle aged, stocky scuba diver an expert on any of these subjects; and second, the exercises and programs featured draw from Olympic lifting, bodybuilding and powerlifting. So, it was easy for young weightlifters for instance to think that some of these programs would be helpful for weightlifting and follow them verbatim. And, this did occur with disastrous results.

The Socialization of Weightlifting in the Caribbean

A letter to the editor informs the readers of Strength and Health {S&H 05:08:1963} that Yuri Vlasov visited Cuba and gave a weightlifting clinic. The editors note that “the Russians have sent numerous coaches and champion performers to Cuba for propaganda purposes”. Call it what you will, “propaganda” or the socialization of sport those “visits” ultimately produced results for the Cubans in numerous Olympic sports.

For instance, A.I. Muelberg a Soviet sport scientist specializing in weightlifting went to work with the Cuban national team during the 60s. It was not long after that the Cubans became the dominant weightlifting team of the western hemisphere.

Interest in weightlifting already eroded by bodybuilding, is adversely affected further by “Odd” Lifts

Bob Hoffman writes an article “If you want to beat the Russians” which contains some extraordinarily salient remarks. For instance, “The Russian standards of lifting are so high that it is a long road to the top for any lifter, and very high standards are being shown by lifters in other countries too” {S&H 05:56-57:1963}. The article is essentially a call to American lifters to train like the Russians, harder, in order to beat them at their own game.

However, Hoffman recognizes with weightlifting standards going ever higher it is becoming more difficult to find good athletes willing to put in the increasing time necessary to be able to compete internationally. That is obvious from his public frustration with what were called then the “odd” lifts. Hoffman’s remarks are succinct and for the most part correct. They should be read again today, because they are very topical.

“we have few enough lifters in this country, and the physique contest and the odd lift contests are hurting us, in fact, killing our chances of victory in the future”…..

“The odd lift contests are gaining in popularity; they are simply exercises. Curls, bench presses, deep knee bends and dead weight lifts are not athletic events, not events that lead to proficiency in any sport”.

“We do not think the curl is harmful, but it has little value in any athletic event. We do not think the bench press is harmful; it is a nice easy, lazy way to train… it is not an event which will build athletic ability…. Deep knee bending is an exercise which will build a lot of strength, and a lot of physical activity which will serve well in the business of living and working, and will be of great benefit in many forms of athletics.”

“But dead weight lifting, that’s another story. … I have never known a man who made a specialty of practicing dead lifts that has ever had the ability as an Olympic type of lifter” {S&H 05:56-57:1963}.

Bob Hoffman’s comments about the curl, bench press and deadlift lacking much carry – over value to athletics have considerable validity. But his own actions in the commercialization of FIC, the power rack and the mixed content of the Strength and Health magazine may not have created; they certainly exacerbated the very problem he is upset about. Instead of training for a complex and difficult Olympic sport like weightlifting, many guys were opting for much simpler events like power lifting and bodybuilding.

These are events which don’t require the development intricate coordination and its accompanying complex of physical qualities such as flexibility, dexterity, speed, explosive strength and so forth. The power lifts (known as odd lifts in those days and included the curl) are tests of absolute strength; whereas, the aim of bodybuilding is principally to achieve a harmonious development of large muscle mass.

Referring once again to Dvorkin’s comments from part I which are essentially in agreement with Hoffman’s, over forty years later, these activities offer little carry – over to dynamic sports.

Figure 1. A clean and jerk with 300% and more was not yet a dream in the 1960s. Charniga photo.

An article appears in Strength and Health written by Alexei Medvedyev {S&H 06:14:1963}. Early in his career, he will become one of weightlifting’s preeminent sport scientists. It is entitled “Soviet Training Methods”. The article is mainly an overview of Soviet training philosophy for weightlifting.

However, even as an overview, the Soviet philosophy stands in stark contrast to the American ideas of that day. For instance, under a section about year round training Medvedyev writes: “An athlete must train all year round and for many years in order to become a first class performer. An athlete who lays off for long periods not only loses the special touch for his sport, i.e., his technique, but also his capacity to train in general.”{S&H 06:14:1963}

Contrast this statement to the American advice from the 1950s presented in section B where a champion lifter indicates he does only bodybuilding 2 – 3 months out of the year to prepare for weightlifting competitions.

In the article “Is the Squat dangerous” {S&H 06:32:1963}, bodybuilding legend John C. Grimek eloquently retorts negative publicity generated by Karl Klein’s supposedly scientific study about the hazards of full squats. Klein’s misinformation threatens the credibility of Strength and Health, always a staunch advocate of this exercise. As a result, in the academic world and in the perception of the general public, another cloud hovers over the development American of weightlifting.

The July 1963 issue of Strength and Health {S&H 07:16-17:1963} features another technical article extolling the benefits of FIC. Bob Hoffman writes: “This system is especially applicable to practically every athletic sporting event, for it develops the muscles so that they can apply more force in a natural manner”. {S&H 07:16-17:1963}

After reciting a list of Olympic lifters whom have “made amazing improvement” five of whom would be members of the 1964 Olympic Weightlifting Team, Hoffman points out: “Weightlifters are not the only ones who have benefited. Almost every football team in the country, from high school to professional ranks, now employs Functional Isometric Contraction to increase the strength of their members. Among other things this has paid off in fewer injuries”.{S&H 07:16-17:1963}

Similar claims are made for the top track and field athletes who are using FIC. An ad entitled “Functional Isometric Contraction is the Real Shortcut to Strength”, offering four separate courses and one book on isometric training for $15.00, is on the final page of the article. Each course is between 15,000 and 25,000 words in length. The ad touts: “double your strength”, “build muscles fast”, Improve at any sport”. {S&H 07:16-17:1963}

This form of advertisement, accompanied by a massive amount of documentation (approximately 80,000 words on the subject) carries considerable weight, simply from the standpoint that there must be something to FIC if someone went to all of the trouble to pen all those words. However, an objective evaluation of all those words was not necessarily in the offing, because the line separating commercial product from science is blurred. Science is the product and the product the science.

The USA team of four athletes wins two silver and one bronze medal at the prize of Moscow tournament. A conversation Between Bob Hoffman and Norbert Schemansky on the plane ride home from this tournament deals with the lagging of the American lifters in the snatch and the clean and jerk, covered in detail in the next section.

Strength and Health {S&H 07:61:1963} receives a letter to the editor rebuking Hoffman’s negative comments about the deadlift in May of 1963. There is no response from the editor.

Future assistant editor of Strength and Health Bill Starr writes a letter to the editor {S&H 08:09:1963} in which he calls into question the objective methodology of Karl Klein’s research on knee ligament laxity as a result of deep knee bends. Starr was a participant in the original study and feels that it was not only biased; the conclusions drawn are incorrect.

Strength and Health publishes another article on isometrics entitled, “Isometrics for the bodybuilder” {S&H 08:38:1963}. In this article Hoffman targets the largest portion of his readership. However, this article features the static movement type of isometrics with the strength builder and the simple isometric stand. Both devices are far less expensive than a full power rack and there are far more bodybuilders than weightlifters; so the market is large. Once again the progress of the Olympic weightlifters is employed as a testimonial for the prospective bodybuilder customer.

However, no doubt bodybuilders bought the idea and the devices and discarded them after a very short time out of sheer boredom and lack of results.

A report of the 1963 Pan American championships appears in Strength and Health {S&H 09:15:1963}. All seven USA team members appear in a team photo wearing the weightlifting one piece weightlifting suits and either high top work shoes or boxing shoes. All have their respective shoes laced up to the top eyelets of the boots. The reader is referred to Charniga’s treatise “Why weightlifting shoes” ( concerning the evolution of the weightlifting shoe into a specialized sport shoe with the “ankle joint” exposed.

Richard Borden soon to be PhD, and later president of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, writes a letter to the editor. He notes that a dearth of scientific research appears in Strength and Health and that: “Empirical investigations are being used less and less and will eventually be gone altogether” {S&H 10:08:1963}. The editors of course take exception to this assertion and point to the science surrounding FIC which has been covered extensively in the magazine.

However, lost in this debate is no acknowledgement of a mountain of “empirical” data accumulating in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the fruits of which are forthcoming to the medal stands around the world, at Olympic and other international competitions.

L.P. Matveyev, one of the founding fathers; a giant of Soviet sport science.

The October issue of Strength and Health reports the results of the 1963 National Weightlifting Championships. Three Japanese weightlifters, two of whom are teenagers, enter and win all three weight classes in which they compete.

This circumstance, where foreign athletes were permitted to enter and become US national champions, would lead to a rule change prohibiting the entry of foreigners in the future and the three American lifters whom were pushed into second by the Japanese would be eventually recognized as the actual national champions.

This championship in Los Angeles occurred only 13 years after the end of World War II in which all of Japan’s major cities, with the exception Kyoto, were severely damaged and only 11 years after the end of formal US occupation of the country.

Figure 3. The unanticipated rise of China as the dominant power in international weightlifting was many years off in 1963. Charniga photo

Movie and recording star Pat Boone is pictured in Strength and Health {S&H 10:26:1963} performing isometrics in a power rack under the supervision of Lou Riecke.

An article on FIC  for football written by Joe Uhls extols the benefits of the Hoffman isometrics positions for football players: pull at knees, pull at waist, push at chin, push at the top of the head, push at lock out position and so forth. However, he notes: Isometric contraction “can’t replace certain barbell exercises for building power, speed, endurance and reaction time” {S&H 10:63:1963}.

The December issue Strength and Health {S&H 12:17:1963} reports on the results of the 1963 World Championships in Stockholm. The US team wins only two silver medals and places fourth behind the USSR, Poland and Hungary.

The training of Sid Henry a member of several world teams is featured {S&H 12:18:1963}. He will compete unsuccessfully for a berth on the1964 Olympic team. He is shown performing five different Functional Isometric Contraction exercises in a power rack with a heavy barbell.

Richard Berger, former national level weightlifting competitor; more well known for his research of the optimum number of repetitions per set for strength exercises writes an article {S&H 12:34:1963} about isometric exercise for use at home.

By the end of 1963 the commercialization of Functional Isometric Contraction and the Power Rack has gained wider acceptance in the American weightlifting community and likewise spread to the athletic community as a popular method of strength training for athletics. This marketing of product as science and science as product will be repeated many times over.

*Lest the reader think our comments about the “Keys to Progress” series were unduly harsh the reader is referred to “The relative value of the back squat in the training of weightlifters” ( and to consider the following example. Although there are so many articles to choose from, the advice from McCallum’s article “The get big drink” stands out such in such stark relief, that it must be read to be believed. The author gives advice on diet for weight gain. Here are the ingredients of his special weight gain drink:

“Now first of all you get a real good protein supplement. Hoffman’s Gain Weight is best for this purpose. Put a least a day’s supply in a big bowl.“Now add two quarts of milk and two cups of skim milk powder and mix it all up”.“Now dump in two eggs and four tablespoons of peanut butter”. “Now put in half a brick of chocolate ice cream”.“Now put in a small banana”.“Four tablespoons of malted milk powder”. Six tablespoons of corn syrup”.

The person trying to gain weight is advised to drink all of this excogitation in one day, in addition to regular meals. The protein powder alluded to consisted mostly of soy powder and milk powder. Consequently, anyone gullible enough to consume this insane concoction in all probability would suffer a gastro-intestinal tsunami, a case of flatulence of biblical proportions; conceivably lasting for days.

McCallum later  decided that this colonic nightmare was so uniquely effective that he reprinted the recipe in a later “Keys to Progress article” with this advice: “Mix a fresh batch every day and drink it seven days a week…”{S&H 03:16:1966}.

Section B:

Subsequent fortunes of American Weightlifting

The contribution of the training and the weightlifting technique of the 50s and 60s to the declining fortunes of American weightlifting

At the world championships of 1962 the USA wins no gold medals which is also the case for the 1963 World Weightlifting Championships. The USA team is pushed into third place by Hungary in 1962 and further down in 1963 by Poland. The 1962 world championships marks the last time the USA team will rank in the top three.

One of the main reasons for the end of the USA’s reign at or near the top of team rankings of the World championships and the Olympic Games began with the practically unnoticed apotheosis of the East European countries starting in 1955 (table 3A Part II) at the European Championships. However, the dramatic alteration of playing field of international weightlifting really became manifest in 1959.

1959: The Improbability of Poland

In 1959 the world weightlifting championships were held in Warsaw Poland. Poland becomes the first East European country to overtake the USA in the team placing. Marian Zielinski becomes the first ever Polish world weightlifting champion.

As already noted in part II, Poland suffered massive loss of life as a result of World War II. However, less well known is the fact that when the German forces occupying Warsaw retreated from the advancing Allied forces they destroyed 85% of the city. The Polish people collected as many of the bricks of the blown up or torched buildings as possible, organized them, then set about rebuilding the city from the original material.

Only fourteen years after the end of World War II Warsaw was the site of the 1959 World Weightlifting Championships. The weightlifters of this country, which lost 16% of its entire population in World War II and prior to World War II was never a power in the sport, placed second in the team ranking ahead of the USA (table 5).

Table 5. Team placing of top three at World and Olympic Weightlifting Championships 1959-1980
1959* USSR Poland USA
1960 USSR USA Poland
1961 USSR USA Hungary
1962 USSR Hungary USA
1963 USSR Hungary Poland
1964 USSR Poland Japan
1965 Poland USSR Japan
1966 USSR Poland Hungary
1967 No chps
1968 USSR Poland Japan
1969 USSR Poland Hungary
1970 USSR Poland Hungary
1971 USSR Poland Bulgaria
1972 Bulgaria USSR Hungary
1973 USSR Bulgaria Hungary
1974 Bulgaria USSR Poland
1975 USSR Bulgaria Poland
1976 USSR Bulgaria GDR
1977 USSR GDR Hungary
1978 USSR Cuba GDR
1979 USSR Bulgaria GDR
1980 USSR Bulgaria Poland

How is it possible for an entire country on its knees in 1945 to become a power in international weightlifting and even host a world championship in a city blown apart only 14 years earlier?

Obviously despite these difficulties they developed a modern system of training for weightlifting. It was a system based on sport science and practical experience gained from the Russians. The basic idea behind such a system would be to achieve maximize results uniformly in all three exercises. This was a system developed for full time weightlifters and was eventually chronicled in the pages of Strength & Health in a series of articles which appeared after the fact, i.e., Poland was already producing champions.

Table 6. Medals won by soon to be weightlifting powers of Eastern European countries at the European Weightlifting Championships 1965 – 1980
Year 1965 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 ∑
BUL 3 0 NC 1 3 2 3 6 9 9 8 8 3 6 8 8 77
POL 5 6 NC 6 5 6 5 4 1 2 4 3 4 2 3 3 59
HUN 2 5 NC 2 6 7 6 1 3 1 1 2 4 5 3 0 48
GDR 2 2 NC 3 1 1 0 2 2 3 4 5 6 3 6 7 47
CZE 2 1 NC 0 0 0 1 0 2 1 1 1 0 1 2 0 12
ROM 0 0 NC 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 3
Totals 14 14 NC 12 16 16 15 13 17 16 18 19 17 18 23 18

Now consider the data in table 6. The effect of the USSR’s socialization of weightlifting is obvious. The USSR was already the dominant team in Europe, but by the early 1960s the rest of Europe was essentially pushed aside by the national teams of Poland, Hungary and eventually Bulgaria and the GDR at the European championships.

The Swedish, Finnish and Danish teams which placed in the top three team rankings at the European Weightlifting championships during the post World War II 1950s (table 3 in Part II) are nowhere to be found. The post war conditions enabled them to move up in the absence of the pre – war power Germany and an obviously depleted Austria.

The new weightlifting powers of the 1960s from Eastern Europe: Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and the GDR were all communist countries. However, they had something else in common: they developed their own training systems for their own people, for those conditions in their respective countries.

For example, in 1969 Bulgaria appointed Ivan Abadzhjiev national coach. Initially following the Russian system, he developed his own system for training the Bulgarian national team; which for the most part is still employed today. The results of this system developed in Bulgaria, for Bulgarians, is evident from table 6. From 1969 – 1980 Bulgaria won 73 medals at the European championships.

This circumstance stands in direct contrast to what transpired in the USA.

The “Golden Age of Weightlifting” (John Fair, 1999):
Myth and Delusion

John Fair coined the term “The Golden Age of Weightlifting” in reference to the dominance of the national weightlifting teams of USA and Soviet Union during the 1950s. They were the two top teams in the world up to 1958. The beginning of the end of this international co – dominance arrived in 1959 with the second place finish of Poland at the world championships.

The Myth of “The Golden Age”

The erosion of the USA’s competitiveness started in the mid – 1950s with the gradual emergence of the Eastern European countries Poland and Hungary. This was a gradual, almost “dialectical” erosion in the 1950s which accelerated into the early 60s. Two circumstances are probably the most logical reasons for the graduated then accelerated pace: the pace of the rebuilding of Europe and the rate at which the Eastern European countries learned weightlifting.

There are no doubt a number of reasons for the acceleration of the USA’s loss of competitiveness. However, the myth surrounding this era was that American lifters of that time were simply the best in the world. This is mostly true.

The American world and Olympic champions were just that, the champions, and nothing can ever change that. But the ascent of American weightlifting to international prominence coincided with the pre – war chaos in Europe of the late 30s and peaked in the post World War II aftermath (1956) where much of Europe and Japan, was not only rebuilding; but, repopulating as well.

For instance, as has already been noted the pre – war powers in international weightlifting were Germany and Austria. The ascent of American weightlifting occurred during the pre – war chaos in Europe of the late 1930s.

However, the American version of events tends to be rather myopic and self – centered, exclusively around our viewpoint.

An article written by Bob Hoffman entitled “What we can learn from the old timers”  related the difficulties the American team experienced on the 10 – day ocean passage to Europe and subsequent long train ride to Vienna for the 1938 World Weightlifting Championships. Hoffman noted: “We were not able to sleep in the trains as they were crowded to the limit. In Vienna there was endless marching of troops, constant shouting and moving of equipment as the Germans were beginning to take over Austria” {S&H 12:37:1966}.

The aforementioned events and activities were cited as distractions to the American team; but no mention of how it may have affected the German and Austrian teams.

The main portion of Hoffman’s story is about John Davis’ victory over the defending world champion Fritz Halla of Austria. How do you suppose Halla was able to focus on weightlifting as his country was in the process of being taken over by the Germans? All of the Europeans present at the championships, but especially the Austrians and Germans must have realized the world as they knew it was coming to an end; all the while they were in the midst of a weightlifting competition. Yet they were granted no special dispensation or otherwise reason for distraction on this account.

In post war Europe, out of necessity elite sport , had a lower priority for those nations whom suffered the heaviest losses. There were fewer athletes to select from and less food to go around.**

The data which has been presented shows that pre – war weightlifting power Germany was effectively decapitated by World War II. The Russians were severely impacted by the war as evinced by the fact that it took them until 1952 to become a top team.

The top rank of post war weightlifting teams in Europe suddenly included “new” countries such as Sweden and Denmark in the top ranks of the European championships; they simply did not suffer sufficient population and infrastructure losses to impact their ability to field competitive weightlifting teams.

It is highly unlikely the USA could have dominated the team rankings of the late 1940s – 1958 had there not been a World War II. That is the myth surrounding the “golden age”.

The Delusion of “The Golden Age”

The delusion of the “golden age” of weightlifting was that the playing “field” of 1946 – 1956 was a normal international distribution of competitors and that the training methodologies, conceptualizations of weightlifting technique and so forth, employed by our champions of the 50s would be useful to the next generation of American weightlifters of the 1960s.

Weightlifting was still in the early stages of technical development in the 1950s, from the standpoint of sport science. The already mentioned post war conditions from the late 40s to the late 50s were such that part time, very strong weightlifters could become champions. For instance, it is unlikely either Doug Hepburn (1953 world champion), or Paul Anderson (1955 world champion and 1956 Olympic champion) could have won the Olympic title even by 1960 by virtue of their brute strength and minimal lifting skills, as they had earlier in the 1950s. By the mid to late 60s these types of weightlifters were already dinosaurs.

Proof positive that the delusion of the “Golden Age” is still alive is the repeated failure of the USA to replicate the feat of Paul Anderson in 1955 and 1956 with modern power lifters who switched to weightlifting. Two such athletes whom competed for the USA in the superheavyweight division in Atlanta and Athens, respectively, were enormously strong from doing power lifting, significantly more athletic, with greater flexibility, faster, with better coordination that Anderson. Therefore, their prospects for Olympic medals were thought to be good. Both were also- rans on the Olympic platform.

The dominance of the USA during the post war 1950s was at the root of some of the problems for the next generation of lifters to whom the “baton” was passed. The commercialization of functional Isometric Contraction and the Power Rack just exacerbated those problems. The Americans lacked a scientifically based system of training and modern conceptualizations of correct weightlifting technique.

The USA’s champions of the 1950s created a climate of unrealistic expectations for the next generation of American lifters. These lifters and the coaches assumed that their training methods and their technique were at the very least good enough. They must have been. How else could they have become champions if they weren’t? In point of fact they were champions in spite of their deficiencies.

Ermano Pignatti a former top level lifter from Italy and Italian national coach once observed that many Europeans in the weightlifting believed the American team of the 1950s was the first team to use anabolic agents. He {personal communication} cited three reasons:
1- They were much stronger than everyone else;
2- They had poor technique;
3- They had poor training methods.

These remarks about training methods and technique echo those of the Russian Y. Kutsenko cited in part I. That American superheavyweights Anderson and Jim Bradford were very strong men of course proves nothing. In all probability the American lifters just looked that much bigger and that much stronger to the weightlifters and coaches of post war Europe.

Therefore, the correctness of these assertions about the myth and delusions of the “Golden Age” an examination of the training methods and the concepts of weightlifting biomechanics shows that the ideas of the 1950s and the commercialization of Functional Isometric Contraction had a profound influence on the next generation of US lifters.

The training of the 1950s and 1960s

Analysis of the training loading in the manner pioneered by the Soviet Union really did not exist on this side of the Atlantic in the 1950s and 1960s. Most analysis of technique came from conclusions drawn from still pictures or video. Consequently, the advice of our champions and coaches such as Bob Hoffman as to what to do in training and how to lift a barbell carried enormous weight in terms of passing on information to the upcoming American lifters of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

An article which appeared in Strength and Health magazine “The case for combining weightlifting and bodybuilding” illustrates our premise about training philosophy being passed down from one generation of weightlifters to the next. The author Vern Weaver, a Mr. America physique winner quoted an Olympic champion and multiple world champion he interviewed for his article:

“Every aspiring lifter should do regular bodybuilding for at least one year before he attempts to become a full – fledged weightlifter”. He (the lifter) has been a world champion, world record holder and has been Mr. Universe. …”also advised that every bodybuilder should do lifting exercises to fully develop the back and trapezius muscles. ….”He, as the others (weightlifters interviewed for the article), thought that bodybuilding was very helpful to the lifter in two ways: 1) It will help him maintain a better attitude toward lifting; 2) It helps the lifter develop his weak points. …… said he does nothing but bodybuilding exercises for two to three months per year”. He also advised the practice of other sports such as track and field. Obviously, … he is in favor of combining weightlifting and bodybuilding”{S&H 4:50:1965}.

This advice to do a year of bodybuilding before beginning weightlifting training and in favor of weightlifters doing some bodybuilding training, even exclusively up to three months out of the year came from one of the champions of the 1950s, i.e., comes from one of the guys handing off the baton to the next generation of lifter.

Further on in the same article Weaver quotes one of the next generation of young lifters whom competed in the 1964 Olympics: I asked Tony to tell me in a few words just how important bodybuilding was to the lifter. He replied, “When a lifter has developed his technique and mental aspects he should then at all times employ bodybuilding and strengthening exercises”{S&H 4:50:1965} .

The first comment says a lot about the training philosophy of the 1950s on this side of the Atlantic. The belief that a weightlifter should practice bodybuilding first, i.e., that muscles should come first before coordination, flexibility, speed etc; and the admission that a champion lifter has practiced bodybuilding exclusively for up to one quarter of a year’s training is surprising to say the least.

It may have worked for a few competing internationally during the post World War II rebuilding and re-population of Europe of the late 1940s and the 1950s.

This training philosophy which advocated developing big muscles in order to have the strength to be a champion weightlifter may have worked in an era when big strong men like Paul Anderson and Doug Hepburn could become champions. They were champions with a large body mass, huge muscles and they lifted with biomechanically inefficient, rudimentary at best, weightlifting technique.

Nevertheless, that era was long gone by the time the 1964 Olympics rolled around. As has been already mentioned Bob Hoffman tried to get Paul Anderson reinstated as an amateur so he would be eligible to compete in Tokyo. Had this effort been successful, it is highly unlikely Anderson would have placed in the top three in Tokyo.

The second comment from Weaver’s article was from a young American weightlifter following in the paths of Kono, Schemansky, Vinci, George and so forth. He indicated a weightlifter should employ bodybuilding and strengthening exercises at all times. This shows the training philosophy of the 50s was passed on to the next generation of American weightlifters trying to compete in a soon to be, radically different playing field from that of the 1946 – 1958 era.

If there were not enough handicaps to overcome for the young, aspiring USA lifters of the 1960s such as old, outmoded ideas about training and mis- conceptualizations about lifting techniques, along comes the commercialization of Functional Isometric Contraction and the power rack.

The following training programs six of 1964 Olympic team members which appeared in Strength and Health show that the early 1960s generation of lifters were most certainly influenced by the commercialization of Functional Isometric Contraction and the Power Rack, in addition to the training philosophies passed down from the 1950s. That they looked to Strength and Health as a viable source of information for weightlifting training and correct lifting technique is obvious by the contents of their training.

The American Training Methodology of the 1960s:
During the Marketing Campaign for Functional Isometric Contraction and the Power Rack

The Training of the 1964 USA Olympic Weightlifting Team

The Training of Issac Berger
{S&H 12:38:1964}
According to this article Berger said, “I usually do singles and take small jumps as this builds confidence”. “I think speed is one of the most important points for a lifter to concentrate on when he is developing his form and training on the Olympic lifts”.

Here are some additional comments from Y. Kutsenko, quoted previously in part I, specifically about the training of I. Berger in Rome: “I for one admired I. Berger’s training; his technique was flawless. Nevertheless, he surprisingly wasted a lot of strength in training with limit weights. He, like a lot of other guys, “put out” excessively in training in order to replicate it in competition”. Y. Kutsenko (Merited Master of Sport, Merited Trainer of the USSR) {Tribuna Masterov, 1963: 200, Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr. Sportivny Press©}.

Press, Snatch, Clean and Jerk, Squat
Incline Press
Same as Monday except squats deleted
Same as Wednesday
Squats same as Monday

The Training of Bill March
{S&H 07:28:1964}
Mondays and Wednesdays
Training in the power rack
Deadlift from hole #5; Low Pull #10; Low Squat #16; Low Press #27
Note he holds weight against the pins above the aforementioned holes for 12 seconds.
Tuesdays and Thursdays
Deadlift same as Monday and Wednesday because he believed this exercise should be done everyday;
High pull #14; Middle press #32 pressing the barbell to arms length from this point; Top press #37 same as middle press; Quarter squat #24;
Attempts record Olympic lifts.

The Training of Tony Garcy

An article in Strength and Health in February of 1963, written by Bob Hasse entitled “Tony Garcy America’s breakthrough lightweight” {S&H 02:14-15:1963} is a short biography of Tony Garcy who will be a member of the 1964 Olympic team. His workout is not documented in detail as the one listed below published in 1964, but of the 11 pictures which accompany the article nine are of him performing Functional Isometric Contraction in a power rack.

The article goes on to state that his training philosophy about developing power had changed from earlier in his career when if he felt his technique was good he would “cut down on his practice of technique to build power”. Earlier in his career that meant he would do “front squats, high pulls and power cleans”. More recently it means work on the power rack, specifically, limited movement with heavy weights”.

Tony Garcy’s training appears again in Strength & Health {S&H 04:1964:25} in 1964. This time the training schedule appears in a more detailed format.
Press 80%
Rack: A- Low position squat; B- Low position pull; C- Low position press; Stretching
Snatch 60 – 80%
Rack: A – Middle position squat; B – High position pull; C – Sticking position press; Stretching
Clean and jerk
Rack: A – Low position squat; B – Low position pull; C – Low position Press; Stretching
Rack: Low position squat; B – Low position pull; C – Low position Press; Stretching
Press, snatch and clean and jerk 85 – 95% for single lifts
Note: All of the rack exercises were held for six seconds

The Training of Lou Riecke
{S&H 01:21:1964}
Press, snatch, clean and jerk – medium weights;
Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday
Press from eye level (holding six seconds); Press from start to eye level in rack (holding six seconds); Power clean or wide grip pulls, or clean grip pulls; Full squats, with pause at bottom.

The Training of Gary Cleveland

A sample of Gary Cleveland’s training program appeared in Strength & Health {S&H 08:1964:50-52} in the same year as the Tokyo Olympics.

When asked what kind of routine he followed Cleveland replied: “I have used routines and methods based on old fashion, full movement weightlifting, pure isometric contractions, and Bill March’s limited movement contractions and have both made gains and gone stale on all of them,”… I have obtained best results by working out five days per week … Each workout usually lasts about 1.5 hours.”

Some sample workouts:
Press off rack; C&J light; Squat up to 200 kg; High pulls
Snatch heavy; Parallel bar dips; Squat from #19 on York power rack
Pulls from #7 on York power rack
Press off rack; Squat; High Pulls
Clean and jerk; Parallel bar dips; Squat from #19 on York power rack
Pulls from #7 on York power rack
Snatch; Squat; Press off rack
The Training of Gary Gubner
1st Week
Rack work: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
Low press; Middle press; Top press; Low pull; Middle pull; Top pull; Bottom squat; Middle squat
Total (go for a best lift in all three exercises)
2nd Week
Incline press; Snatch; Squat
Incline pres – same as Monday; Clean and jerk; Squat – same as Monday
Form work with light weights
3rd Week – same as 1st week; 4th week – same as 2nd week.
It is evident from the training programs of the 1964 USA Olympic Weightlifting team presented that all but I. Berger (reference to Schmenasky’s training is made in the section on technique which follows) used FIC and the power rack in their training. By the time the Tokyo Olympics rolled around the top teams of Europe had little if anything to do with isometrics. The USSR and the Eastern European teams spent considerably more time in the gym than the USA lifters. The bulk of their training loading was devoted to dynamic exercises.

The total time devoted to training for an entire week was approximately 7.5 hours for Garcy and Cleveland and obviously significantly less for March and for some weeks, Gubner as well.

In an interview following the 2008 Olympics Jang Mi – ran (KOR) the gold medal winner of the 75+ kg division from Korea indicated that she trained six days per week. Each day’s training comprised 6 – 7 hours in the gym. Granted we are comparing 1964 to 2008 and all of the progress in the sport that that entails, but this was a female Olympian putting in 36 – 42 hours per week in the gym compared to male Olympians training 7.5 hours per week.

Such a contrast is not meant to ridicule the athletes but to show that weightlifting training began moving in such a direction where a lifter essentially reports to the gym all day just like a regular job; already by the late 1950s. Consequently, if putting in many hours in the gym everyday is what it is going to take compete at the international level you better get with the program, or fall behind.

That is the principle damage wrought by the marketing of FIC and the power rack and exacerbated by the ideas carried- over from the 1950s. Functional Isometric Contraction, i.e., power rack training was the wrong idea at the wrong time. Instead of weightlifters spending less time in the gym by virtue of performing static exercises in the power rack, as was being advocated by Bob Hoffman, American lifters needed to spend significantly more training time at training the weightlifting exercises.

The USA’s fall behind the USSR and the fast rising Eastern Europeans and even the Japanese was accelerated by employing incorrect training methods and relying on outmoded ideas about training for strength, big muscles and so forth.

It is highly unlikely Bob Hoffman and company could even imagine a female weightlifter such as Jang Mi – ran (KOR) whom could lift 140 kg in the snatch and 186 kg in the clean and jerk at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, i.e., a female whom could out lift Doug Hepburn, the 1953 superheavyweight world weightlifting champion; even at a lighter bodyweight, in these two exercises; let alone that this person could put in 36 – 42 hours of weightlifting training a week.

A training scheme based on less time in the gym training with static exercises (FIC) for a dynamic sport like weightlifting, as was being advocated in the 1960s, was a huge step backward for the prospects of young American weightlifters of the 1960s.

Weightlifting Technique in the USA of the 1950 – 1960s

Consider for a moment the ideas of the 1950s – 1960s regarding the technique of lifting the barbell in the competition exercises and their close interconnection with the commonly held beliefs about training methodology.

Bob Hoffman writes an article in Strength and Health published in August of 1963. The article “Wise words from a great champion”  describes a conversation he had with Norbert Schemansky as they sat together on a plane returning home from the Prize of Moscow competition. At the competition the four man team from the USA wins a bronze and two silver medals.

The contents of this conversation reveal a lot about the state of American weightlifting at that point in time, the training philosophy, the conceptualizations of weightlifting technique and so forth.

The frankness of Schemansky’s remarks are not out of character to anyone familiar with this person. What is surprising is that they were printed verbatim by Hoffman in the pages of Strength & Health.

According to Bob Hoffman, Schemansky said: “Let’s quit reading the back issues of Strength & Health. Let’s quit living in the past. Let’s get up to date and make some world records and win some world championships”.

“A moment later, “Ski” said to me, “In Moscow I was talking to Kono, and he seemed concerned with Veres’ presses and some of the other lifters’ presses. He said he was going to take some pictures of the various presses and try to analyze them to see just how they do it”.

“I think Kono is missing the boat. His press is good. But his quick lifts are no longer good. And the same goes for Jim George, Tony Garcy and some of the other younger lifters. While these fellows have brought their presses way up, their quick lifts have stayed the same for years. In the meantime, their competition, men like Lopatin, Kaplunov, Veres, Toth, Baszanowski, Palinski and others have improved their presses and also have brought up their quick lifts”{S&H 08:14:1963}.

Subsequently, Hoffman wrote: “Ski” is quite right. Two years ago in the Moscow Invitational Tommy Kono snatched 137.5 kg and had 142.5 kg at arms length. Last year he missed all his snatches, and this year could do no better than 127.5 kg. …. Two years ago Bill March snatched 135 kg on a second attempt. He has since snatched 135 kg pounds only twice, but in the same period he added 25 kg to his press and made a world record in that lift. Jim George snatched 137.5 kg and clean and jerked 176 kg at Melbourne in 1956 as a light heavyweight. His press then was 120 kg. Recently he has snatched 130 kg and clean and jerked 172.5 as a mid heavy, while his press with some backbend, has been as high as 145 kg”.

“In 1960, before the Olympics, and weighing just a little over 68 kg Tony Garcy snatched 117.5 kg and clean and jerked 147.5 kg. He has not made these weights officially as a lightweight since, although he has pressed 127.5 kg as compared to his previous record of 121 kg” {S&H 08:14:1963}.

Schemansky attributed the disparity in the improvement of the aforementioned lifter’s presses and their stagnation in the quick lifts to a pulling technique which lacked sufficient effort at the very end and the need for a specialized exercise to develop this “top pull”. He went on to recommend three exercises which were: pull from the hang, bar at knee level; pull from the hang, bar at top of thighs; pull barbell up to and rest on lifting belt, then perform the high pull from this new position.

After describing the exercises and referring to the pictures accompanying the article of Schemansky doing these pulls, Hoffman reminds the reader: ”we must remember that at his training quarters at the Astro gym in Detroit he uses the third Hoffman Isometric – Isotonic Super Power rack ever made. The rack is ideal for practicing the high pull movement described in this article”.

Hoffman is of course in total agreement with Schemansky’s assessment and in conclusion wrote: “Train like Norbert Schemansky, who used limited movement with heavy poundages to improve his press and his pull to great advantage”{S&H 08:14:1963}.

The astute observations of Schemansky the athlete, and Bob Hoffman the coach, were of course absolutely correct. However, their remedy (limited movement with heavy weights) to the problem was categorically incorrect.

The remedy to work on the pull with partial movements in order to raise bigger weights is consistent with their ideas about weightlifting technique. For instance, according to the commonly held beliefs of those days, in performing the snatch the lifter has to keep pulling until the shoulders are raised, the legs and trunk are extended and the heels raised as high as possible – then drop under the barbell.

Believing this to be true, it is of course logical to assume that if you strengthen your “pull” you will lift more weight. If you develop your trapezius muscles you will have more “top” pull as Schemansky went onto suggest in the article. More muscle means more top pull and bigger results in the snatch, for instance.

Figure 4. Chinese Olympic champion doing high pulls in the training hall of the 2008 Olympics. Charniga photo

Some years later the research of Soviet sport scientist A.V. Chernyak focused on the technique of the snatch because at that time (1971) Soviet weightlifters held “only” three world records in this exercise. A statistical analysis revealed the Soviet lifters were lagging behind in both “tempo” exercises. One of his conclusions: “Athletes who are good in the snatch make maximum utilization of the strength of the legs and back; even raising the barbell to a rather low height to successfully fix it in the squat position”. {Assessing the Technique and the Methods of Perfecting the Snatch” A.V. Chernyak, Tiiazhelaya Atletika. Sbornik Statei. Fiz Kultura I Sport, 1971, Moscow Translated by Andrew Charniga, Jr.©}.

This is essentially the same problem noted by Schemansky and Hoffman years earlier with diametrically opposed assessments of the same problem. According to the Russians the top “quick” lifters make maximum utilization of their leg and back strength to lift a maximum weight to a “low” height.

Figure 5. Chinese female world champion sitting extremely low in squat to lift near world record weight. Charniga photo

In contrast, the American idea to solve the same problem, which is a direct reflection of their concepts of proper technique, is to develop the muscles of the upper extremities in order to pull the barbell high; with no consideration of the speed of moving under the barbell and/or low depth of squatting for the snatch or the clean.

Figure 6. Dropping  fast enough to leave the hair behind. Charniga photos.

The Russian concept of lifting a big weight to a “rather low height” necessitates by its very nature, a high speed of descent under the barbell, i.e., it is more efficient to move the body around a big weight raised with the strongest muscles of the lower extremities and trunk, than it is to stand there and try to raise it high with the relatively small muscles of the upper extremities as the Americans believe at this time; and, to a great extent, still do.

Not only was the American remedy for the lagging in the snatch and the clean and jerk incorrect; it is exacerbated by a saturation exposure to Bob Hoffman’s methodology for sale, the Power Rack as a preferred way to do these limited movement exercises with heavy weights for developing the “top pull”.

One of the Soviet Union’s top weightlifting biomechanists’ Alexander Lukashev used to say: “Training is technique” (personal communication). In essence, if you don’t understand weightlifting technique you don’t know how to train for weightlifting. American conceptualizations of correct weightlifting technique of this day are evident from the sample training programs presented.

If you can single out one profound misconception of weightlifting technique, one gross error in training methodology from this period then it must be the notion that a weightlifter must not only “finish the pull” by fully extending the lower extremities, trunk, raising the heels and fully raising the shoulders; then, actually train for this questionable disposition of the body which can last 100 milliseconds.

Figure 7. A weightlifter “finishing” the pull according to American ideas of the 1950s and 60s. Charniga photo

In reality, the high class weightlifter rarely if ever performs this action as has just been described; and, that the period of time when a high class lifter is fully extended (not necessarily full extension of joints) is such tiny fraction of a second that voluntary actions are precluded.

Nonetheless, it is very American to train for this action of profound brevity by practicing the full extension in a power rack, holding a heavy barbell against pins for 12 seconds.

Besides if you do this you can expect Mr. Universe calf development: “When asked by bodybuilders how he develops his calf muscles Bill March replies: one of the methods “.., my calves get a good workout when I go up on my toes in the middle and top pull positions on the power rack and hold for 12 seconds” {S&H 03:65:1966}.

** There generally was a dearth of information to be found about post war Europeans’ accessibility to a diet suitable for athletes and how this affected their ability to field a team of competitive weightlifters. However, that a diet adequate in protein for a weightlifter was a problem, even long after the end of World War II, did manage to find its way into the pages of Strength and Health with a rather bizarre positive spin put on this circumstance.

In an article entitled “Russian Research in Nutrition”  Bob Hoffman writes of his attendance at the World’s Coaches’ Conference in 1962: ”papers were offered by coaches from other countries, notably Russia, Bulgaria, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. They were all basically the same concerning diet, so it is evident that similar dietary rules are practiced by all athletes in socialistic countries. They suggest the use of half – raw meat, preferably beef, but now that there is a shortage of beef, they laud the use of horse meat”{S&H 01:62:1967}.

It is hard to imagine American weightlifters of 1962 singing the praises of horse meat in the unlikely event of a shortage of half raw meat (beef).

Anyways, they didn’t shoot horses, did they?