Competing in Obscure Strength Sports | Eric Todd

Posted on July 19, 2017 at 12:00 AM

There are a number of strength disciplines that one can choose to compete in if pursuing an athletic career in strength sports/physical culture.  I have competed in strongman, highland games, highlander, powerlifting, all-round, and even one Olympic lifting meet.  There is also arm wrestling and bodybuilding, but probably others that I am forgetting.  All of these sports however, are fringe sports, especially in the US.  None more so than the one I am competing in now, which is all-round.  Because of the obscurity of many of the lifts, or the peculiar sounding execution of various lifts, some might wonder why one would choose to compete in all-round weightlifting.  I am outlining my reasons below.

The USAWA began as a charter member in 1987 of the International All-Round Weightlifting Association.  Their goal with this sport is to preserve the history of the original forms of weightlifting.  According to the USAWA rulebook, ninth edition, “The USAWA recognizes the various lifts not currently governed by other international weightlifting or powerlifting organizations, such as the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) or the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF)”. The IWF and IPF include the following lifts: snatch, clean and jerk, back squat, bench press, and the deadlift.  Because The USAWA excludes only a handful of lifts, it includes many others totaling well over 200 different lifts that can be contested. That being said, there are lifts for all areas of interest and strengths.  There are variations of standard powerlifts and Olympic lifts, grip specific lifts, partner lifts, and repetition lifts.  A couple of my favorite areas are the heavy lifts and the old time strongman lifts.  I do not think there is anyone who cannot find an area in all-round lifting to enjoy and excel at.

Many of the lifts in all–round, both the old time strongman lifts as well as others, are an old tradition.  The Steinborn (demo here), where a barbell is upended by the lifter, then dropped across his shoulder after he positions himself under it before squatting it, was the method by which Henry “Milos” Steinborn, a legendary strongman and circus performer, would get under the weight for a squat before the advent of the power rack.   The Zercher (demo here) was a lift invented by legendary St. Louis strongman Ed Zercher. The chain lifts were used by many performing strongmen, often lifting horses and such.  The USAWA pays tribute to those pioneers in lifting, and keeps their memory, and their lifts alive.

The USAWA also contests the heavy lifts.  This includes hand and thigh, neck lift, hip lift, harness lift, and back lift.  I have seen one of these contested in a strongman meet on two occasions.  Otherwise, it is all contested in the USAWA.  Heavy lifts are the only way a person is going to feel what it is like to pick up a ton of weight without the aid of a machine.  And, once again, old timers like Louis Cyr and Paul Anderson did the heavy lifts. The heavy lifts are one of my favorite divisions of all-round lifting. 

Anyhow, these are a few of the reasons I like to compete in all-round weightlifting.  There are some unique lifts, and some unique individuals.  But we always have a good time challenging ourselves to lift more in a vast variety of different ways.

- Eric Todd, Strength Athlete

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