Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Body Power - Charles Coster

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Body Power
by Charles Coster (1957)

For a considerable number of years now a few patient scribes have perseveringly plugged away at a certain subject that for a long time was frowned upon in many quarters. I refer to the experimentation with, and development of fundamental power, or basic power ideas.

Undaunted by the magnitude of the task when it was first undertaken, undismayed at the prospect of harsh criticism caused by lack of IMAGINATION, undeterred by the millions of words that would have to be written before the subject was taken seriously . . . the faithful few have kept straight on – and followed their ‘star.’

Sometime, some place, somehow – we knew that the ‘crust of hostility’ must crack; that some chain of startling events would happen which might cause the crowd to pause, and investigate, for the first time – SERIOUSLY.

Well – it looks very much as though this point has been mastered. The ‘multitude’ have stopped, and looked, and listened . . . and judging by some of the fruitful results we are getting, they like and appreciate the prospect that lies ahead.

Fundamental power ideas are not new by any means. In cruder forms they were practiced hundreds of years ago. There is absolutely nothing that is ‘entirely new’ in the archives of the weight-lifting world – that is an admission that is common knowledge, and we make it freely.

The ‘written record’ is the main difference that divides the present with the past. Many bright ideas were made in days gone by – but they were just as soon forgotten – unfortunately. The big circulation bodybuilding and weightlifting journals have brought an end to all that.

By dint of much research, plus great enthusiasm, old ideas have been sought out and rejuvenated. Off-branches of thought which stemmed from other and older ideas have been sifted and entirely new techniques and channels have been developed as a consequence.

Naturally this didn’t happen in five minutes. There were a certain percentage of failures. Every experiment in the streamlining of a fundamental power technique was not a success by any means. But then no one with an ounce of gumption expected that they would be.

In the past things were discovered and then forgotten. There is much less chance of that happening nowadays. Our approach is more logical, more scientific, and more permanent.

In order to give our pet ideas a chance to breed – literally hundreds of illustrations had to be devised to hammer home the points we have been striving to make.

Today, bodybuilders and competitive Olympic lifters in increasing numbers are benefiting from the copious flow of literature which specializes on these matters.

Douglas Hepburn and Paul Anderson are two of the most outstanding examples in the heavyweight lifting world that can be cited as having benefitted to a colossal extent from the use of fundamental power principles; both having been nurtured on pure power routines to an unheard of degree.

Weak spots can be overcome by the use of basic power methods in many instances. Bench squats, half and quarter squats, deadlifts. half deadlifts, deadlifts off boxes. shoulder belt dips and squats, power chain-work, power presses off boxes, the bench press, incline board work . . . in fact – all the stuff that has so regularly and conscientiously been published has caused the doubters of yesterday to have second thoughts.

Great Controversies

Basic power training and competitive weight training are now indivisible. In spite of the disagreement in various schools of thought concerning weight training methods in the past, these controversies have been invaluable to the progress and development of our sport.

Criticism and analysis can be turned into motive power, and this is a good thing in my view. The Russian weightlifters are experimenting extensively with basic power ideas nowadays, so it is only by concentrating upon these difficulties that we can hope to solve the problems that lie ahead in international competition – seeing that all previous conceptions are in the melting pot.

There was once a time when bodybuilding was frowned upon by many Olympic lifters. And there was also a time when the bench press and squat (or deep knee bend) were contemptuously regarded as freakish exercises that were quite useless to anyone but the bodybuilder.

Just how wrong these views were can now be seen. Let us face facts – some of the world’s foremost Olympic lifters are regularly using the D.K.B. and the bench press as well as certain other movements to boost their competitive Olympic lifts.

Yes, we live and learn, or at least we should do so. I likewise remember certain widespread opinions held many years ago concerning the continental squat style of lifting (as contrasted to the fore-and-aft leg split technique). Not many squatters got to the top flight in those days, and it was erroneously assumed that the squat method was somewhat inferior.

Yes – we were wrong about the squat technique likewise . . . as an examination of some of the present American and Russian star performances will amply illustrate.


Although high quality squatters are still scarce, the phenomenal performances of people like Peter George, Dave Sheppard, Tommy Kono, Chuck Vinci, Nikolai Saksonov, Yuri Duganov etc. have literally astounded the weightlifting world . . . and almost overnight the prophets started to cash in by asserting that the squat style was the big thing of the future. In the same breath they opined that the traditional fore-and-aft leg technique would soon be consigned to the limbo of forgotten things.

Whether the wiseacres will prove to be right in this respect remains to be seen. Personally I have my doubts – but I shall try to keep an open mind in the meantime.

Some curious things have happened in certain countries that were once famed for the quality and quantity of lifting talent they produced. France, Germany and Egypt were all countries noted for the number of their champions a few years ago. Today, with the exception of a few solitary lifters here and there they have deteriorated into third rate weightlifting nations.

These three countries have not participated in modern basic power experiments to anything like the same extent as America or the Soviet Union, and Egypt in particular has continued along the traditional lines of weight training that proved sufficient for her needs in the past.

These traditional methods were good enough . . . until the heavy pressure exerted by the USA and USSR athletes made itself felt.

Great Britain has always been alive to the possibilities of new discoveries, and fresh avenues of approach. In fact, although even now it may not be fully recognized, Britain’s weight training journals have been the cradle for much literature dealing with fundamental power THEORIES for a great length of time.

Today, after many trials and tribulations, British weight trainers have become convinced of the benefits of basic power methods, and they are being used on an ever-increasing scale. Perhaps the most outstanding example of wholesale acceptance of power principles can be seen in the Russian reaction to these things.

This country does things thoroughly in the athletic world. Her conception of just how certain ideas should be applied and developed differ from the American and British approach, but they are very sound in their methods, and they are enabled to arrive at quick conclusions because of the large-scale experiments they are able to carry out. There are about a hundred-thousand weightlifting clubs in existence in the Soviet Union, and it has been estimated that they have over a million Olympic lifters in various stages of development. It is only natural therefore that with organized trainers in control at the clubs – all capable lifters themselves – that many novel experiments should be carried out.

When the Soviet lifters made their initial appearances in world Olympic lifting championships way back in 1946 and 1950 at Paris, very little power-training was visible during their workouts. But today the situation is entirely different, and as they usually welcome the presence of visitors at these sessions it is possible to study the difference in present-day methods of procedure.

Great truths are sometimes strongly related to simple things, which seem almost too obvious to mention without running the risk of a caustic remark from the reader. One of the traditional power-building principles used by the Russians for a long time concerns the power snatch and the power clean – which they regard as of fundamental importance for the development of greater pulling power, greater general control, greater confidence and greater competitive lifts.

If I were to say to some lifter . . . “the more you can snatch WITHOUT splitting, and the more you can clean WITHOUT splitting, the more you will be able to handle in competition,” he might feel tempted to say, “tell me something I don’t know, everybody knows that much.”

Well – the truth that lies behind this remark on power snatching and power cleaning is so important but so simple that many lifters are apt to lose sight of its great significance . . . but Russian lifters pay great attention to its implications all the time. To them it is one of the commandments of progressive training.

One of the most impressive power snatch workouts I have ever seen was made by Nikolai Kostylev, the lightweight, at Munich in 1955. Nikolai uses the traditional split style and he has upset a good many squat converts by establishing a world record snatch of 275½ pounds, which far outstrips in bodily efficiency anything done by a squat style lifter. Using a very wide grip on this occasion, he made three pure power snatches without moving his feet at all – using 187 pounds. The whole movement was smooth, and seemed to be achieved without any press-out. He then made three reps with 203 the same effortless way . . . letting the bar down each time until it was within a few inches of the floor, and then ripping it to arms’ length. After a pause he then made two reps with 220 – returned the bar to the platform – took a short walk around the gym – and then made a final PERFECT power snatch with 231 pounds – as a lightweight. He looked as though he could have very well lifted even more. Some heavy snatch pullups followed after this and he finally made some single reps with 286.

Much more could be said about the difference between American and Russian basic power training methods if only space permitted . . . and I hope to tackle this subject in the future.

In the meantime here are some exercises you can perform that will greatly enhance the lifting power and muscular development you are striving for.

Exercise 1. The Half Deadlift – will add depth and strength to your lumbar region, and also aid the second pull for Olympic lifting purposes. Also a great trap developer.

Exercise 2. The Harness Half Squat – will add muscle and power to your thighs; put more strength into your hips and entire back.

Exercise 3. Stationary Snatch Pullups – performed with graded poundages, this exercise will improve your snatching ability without doubt; put muscle into the anterior deltoids; deepen and strengthen the trapezius and upper back area.

Exercise 4. Forward Rowing Motion – deltoids, forearm, biceps, lumbar and latissimus dorsi groups – all powerfully affected.

Exercise 5. Seated Press Lockouts – from graduated heights are good for both the weightlifter and the bodybuilder. Deltoid, triceps and certain lower sections of the trapezius are all involved.

Exercise 6. Standing Half Cleans – affects the trapezius and deltoid muscles; also a good forearm and grip developer if you grasp the bar as tightly as possible. The movement is best performed between two heavier basic power exercises as the poundage you will be able to handle this way will be moderate.

Exercise 7. Leg Press – a great power builder in the hips, thighs, etc. Make sure that your back feels ‘comfortable’ before using heaviest weights.

Exercise 8. Front Squat – an exercise that all weight trainers should be able to perform. It will build power for you, even if you are not a squat style lifter. It has given Tommy Kono the necessary power to outstrip the rest of the world at lifting, and at the same time helped him to win physique titles.

Exercise 9. Recovery From Different Rack Positions – Using varying heights, from bottom to near-top position, rise to erect and repeat. Can be performed with both split and squat styles.

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