One Arm Lifts

It may seem odd, but it all happened while we were doing our last total before the State Meet. Dave Turner, one of the real coaches who live in the trenches, was watching my lifts. “Your pull is strong, watcha been doing?” Dave asked.

“You won’t believe this one.”

“No really, you look strong. More pulls?”

“Dave, I have been doing something I would have laughed about a few months ago. I’ve been doing…”

In the thirty plus years I have been lifting, I have seen miracle machine after miracle machine added to super supplement plus super supplement all guaranteeing success in a few weeks. Of course, none have worked, but next month, this or that magazine promises, there will be a breakthrough diet/system/course/machine that will leap us to new heights. I have tried a lot of them. I have leaped off boxes, strapped myself to electric shocks, rubbed pressure points on my body and eaten mounds of liver, yeast, alfalfa, kelp and who knows what else.

So, when somebody mentioned going back in time and learning from the ancient lifters of the pre-steroid era, I had my doubts. I wouldn’t have done it either, except for an unfortunate, fortunate event happened to me. At our state football championship for five on five football, the Vindicators played the hated Pepsi team. The Vindicators, our heroes in this story, won, but the victory had a price. I broke my wrist scoring a touchdown. Not badly, a small bone that because of blood flow refused to heal quickly would change my training for months.

I couldn’t bend my wrist. I couldn’t hold a bar. I couldn’t rack a weight. How would I train? I had been reading Dinosaur Training, I had been sharing ideas at the Old School Strength Site board, but I had been silently sniggered at …

“…one-arm lifts, Dave.”

“Really? Back in 1964, Zradilla was doing them right before the Olympics and everyone laughed until he pulled off an upset and won the Gold Medal. They are great for the snatch and clean.”

Really, these are serious lifts? I wouldn’t have thought so until the wrist injury. Then, forced to rethink training, I started one arm lifting. I tried both barbell and dumbbell snatches the first day. No problem. Until I started doing them. As I started getting the reps up to eight, my heart and lungs decided to start voicing their opinions. In a few weeks, even with the wrist problem, I found I could one arm snatch with my bad arm without any pain.

I settled on a simple program. A set of eight snatches with my right arm, one minute rest, a set of eight with my left arm, one minute rest, then add weight. Soon, I would get to a weight that I couldn’t get eight. One hand lifts were simple: straddle the weight on the floor, grab with one hand, put the other on the knee (right hand, right knee; left hand, left knee), and just keep the weight close as you leap and snap it overhead. Soon, I added one arm cleans (good hand only) and a lot of overhead jerks and presses. I discovered quickly that all those years of side bends and twists had absolutely NO value in building my obliques. I discovered that my overhead support muscles were only a shadow of what I thought they were when I had the opportunity to use both arms. Two-handed work began to look like the easy days.

The big test would happen when the swelling went down enough after the healing had set in the wrist. All too often, we change programs but don’t measure them against a standard. So, I hopped in the Deathmobile and drove over to the secret training quarters of the Hercules Barbell Club. In June, I had set a state mark for Open and Masters with a 308 pound clean and jerk. On a Wednesday, with no particular peak or cycle, I matched that lift and then added six more pounds. The point is simple: I hadn’t done a full two-armed lift in almost four months and I matched lifts I had peaked and focused on half a year earlier.

Using the one-arm lifts will open a whole new world for Olympic lifters, Highland Gamers and throwers. For the garage dweller, these lifts are simpler to learn than the complete Olympic lifts, yet still keep all the benefits. Without much serious study, I believe the one-arm lifts demand a longer pull than their two-handed brethren. No question that the overhead work is far more demanding, far more tedious.

Other advantages? Well, I have been a strong believer in outdoor training my whole lifting career. Rather than having to lump out my whole barbell, bumper plates, and assorted “change to my lawn, this summer I will carry out a single loaded dumbbell and perform alternating sets of snatches, clean and presses, and clean and jerks. Combined with the sun, a water hose and a fun loving wife, this could open a whole new chapter in my training journals. The variations of lifts are countless: deadlifts, sidebends, swings, and even punching/benching motions. You may want to try something I “invented: a new drill called “waiter walks. With the weight held at arms length overhead, walk until you can’t walk. Similar to Farmer Walks, this really makes the support muscles cry for mercy.

I think I might also wear a lion’s pelt draped over my shoulder, too. As long as I am going back in time, why not?

  • novocaine

    i don’t know if you know Ross Enemait; he’s a S&C coach, working mostly with boxers, but also wrote few good books. he trains mostly with dumbbells (among other tools). he once got challenge to deadlift on his forum, he did almost x3 BW. this was attributed to his weighted rollouts, weighted ghr and DB snatches/cleans.

  • Robert Gummerson

    Dan, I wish that I had discovered these years ago. That’s my fault for being myopic. I love dumbell snatches with a few push jerks to polish off a set. If I have little time for a w/o it’s up the rack: db-snatch x3-5 reps, pushpress/jerk 3-5 reps and then I attempt a few 1 arm overhead squats (very difficult for me) holding my deepest stable position for 12-20 seconds if I can. And yes no need to do abs after this workout.
    It’s also fun to watch the newbies watch me do these and usually have no clue. Just the old guy doing another weird exercise.

  • Louis R

    God blessing Coach! Question. How can I make the one arm lifts part of my work out? Do you think is good to schedule a day for them only? Suggest something please.

  • http://CromeTrainingSystems.com Noah Crome

    I have been using them as my primary tool for a few years. Everybody has gone kettlebell crazy over the last couple of years and forgot that the old plain and simple dumbell does almost all of the same movements with a much steeper learning curve. I can’t get enough of dumbell training.

  • Alan Hebert

    I’m a Highland athlete and I USED to do a lot of dumbell snatches. When I started out I was a little intimidated by the Olympic lifts with a single bar, so I did the dumbell lifts instead. In fact, I improved drastically, at that time from doing these things.

    The other day I thought I’d try some overhead squats. OW. shoulders no like this. But you know, I just might try some dumbell snatches – squat combinations. We shall see.

  • http://www.hamsfitness.com Richard Ham-Williams

    Golden, as usual. Thanks Dan

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