George Hackenschmidt’s book Way to Live (1908) is one of the best old-time strength manuals out there – and I have to say, “Russian Lion” is one of my favorite old-time strongmen as well: lifter, wrestler, philosopher, true gentleman, man of integrity and honor.

Hack was a huge fan of barbell, kettlebell and dumbbell lifting, and I have use lots of his stuff in my research about the old-time strongman dumbbell training for my Hardstyle Dumbbell Lifting system.

Check out the excerpt from the chapter XI, “Exercises for Athletes”. I have added my commentary and notes.

Rule: The bar-bell is lifted with one hand without stop from floor to full extent above the head.

  • Note: “Russian Lion” actually uses dumbbell – see the accompanying illustration.

Execution: Place the bar-bell near both feet over the instep, get hold precisely in the middle, bend down, lay the free hand on the respective knee (left hand on the left knee or right hand on the right knee), take a quick and firm grip, and pull the weight at the same time with a lightning rapidity upwards.

  • Note: We prefer to teach lower “squatty” setup, with the dumbbell between the legs.

The muscles of the hand, forearms, biceps, shoulders, legs, abdomen, and hip should all work together only for a fraction of a second (perhaps hardly one- tenth of a second) to obtain a good result.

  • Note: Dumbbell snatch is a prime example of unilateral quick/power lift.

Many athletes snatch the bar only up to the eyes, after which they get their body underneath like lightning. This indicates great strength of legs and agility.

  • Note: There are few different variations of the catch (power or Olympic) the I teach: symmetrical stance (semi-squat, full squat) and asymmetrical (forward lunge, split lunge, staggered squat).

Several French and German athletes snatch about 180 lb. with one hand. Formerly, when I trained regularly with weights (the reader is, perhaps, aware that in the latter part of my career I gave my attention almost entirely to wrestling), I succeeded at St. Petersburg on April 27th, 1898, in snatching 196 lb. with my right hand from the floor to above my head. This was for many years the world’s record.

 

Approved training rules: A practice for the snatch is the lifting of a bar-bell with one hand about three feet from the floor. Snatch the weight thus up to ten times in succession to get the knack of it, for every athlete has his own personal peculiarities in lifting. By constant practice, each will find out which method of snatch is best suited to himself.

  • Note: Higher reps will not only improve the technique, but also prepare the connective tissue for subsequent heavy lifting.

When you have managed to lift the weight above the head, make a slight turning movement to learn to hold (fix) and balance it well. In letting down the weight, use both bands.

  • Note: (Up to) ten reps clearly means (up to) ten singles, as you always lower the bell with two hands (which will be useful with heavy weights) and return it to the floor. Perfect setup, and boom – next rep.

After one has trained in this manner for four to six months—that is, having always snatched up to ten times and later increased the weight by 1 lb.— one has attained a certain agility and can try the following: Snatch the weight, which you can generally snatch ten times, thrice, increase the weight by 1 lb. to 5 lb., and snatch two or three times; then again increase by a few pounds, and snatch once or twice, and you will ascertain your own record for the time being.

  • Note: Hackenschmidt has the rep range, weight etc. exactly right! Starting weight – 10 RM, but you snatch it only 3 times. The lifter gradually increases the weight, and lower the reps (to doubles and then singles) and works up to a comfortable max for that respective day.

Between the trials, do not pause longer than one to two minutes, as otherwise the energy vanishes.

  • Note: Again, perfect! Avoiding the rush, but also avoiding resting too long.

It is quite sufficient to try records every three or four weeks…

  • Note: And perfect again – not a PR every sessions, but 3-4 weeks “peaking” to a. new 1RM.

…and in the meantime practise thoroughly exercises of endurance, and with light weights try to still improve those muscles which you have found to be somewhat flabby. It is easy to find out in what points one is lacking.

 

As a matter of course, all one-arm exercises are to be made right and left, so as to obtain the same strength and dexterity in both arms.

 

In carrying out all these exercises it is advisable to walk up and down the room continually between feats.

  • Note: Assistant exercise, back-off,  Fast & Loose drills – Hack is again spot on!

Yours in Health & Strength 

Pavel Macek


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