An Overview of Bill March Materials

First, I didn’t write any of this! I had some people ask me about Functional Isometric Conctractions and I put this together for those interested. I hope it helps.

From the July 1964 “Lifters Corner,” by John Terpak, in Strength and Health:

“One of our bright hopes in the forthcoming Olympic Games will be Bill March, the sensational 26 year old middleheavyweight and world record holder. He has the ability, courage, determination and strength to come home with a Gold Medal.”

The following are March’s responses to questions:

“How do you develop strength?”

‘The March overload power system.’

‘My workouts are Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesday s, and Thursdays. On Fridays, I rest. Then on Saturdays I workout as if I am in a contest. Whether you do the power lifts or Olympic lifts, go for the maximum. If doing this every Saturday is too much do limit poundages on every other Saturday.’

‘I find that Saturday workouts really feel lighter and you suffer fewer mental blocks. I usually use 100 to 300 pounds less in the Olympic lifts than on the other days when working on the racks. It is an asset to the lifter. I know of men who are strong but when the weight gets to 300, 350 or 400 pounds, they become afraid and cannot handle this poundage. It is not because they lack strength but because of their mental attitude.’

‘My routine is broken down into what I call low position and high position days. This I have done because as I progress and use increasingly heavier weight, the combining of the high and low positions places too much work on the muscles and fatigue sets in. I try to stay away from this problem. You want to work the muscles to get maximum effort from them but still not overwork or fatigue them. This system uses only one set of three repetitions in each position.’

First thing that has to be done is to find the individual sticking points. You have done enough lifting to know where you push or pull hard. Work on this point. Do not try to imitate me. Find your own sticking point. You might be interested in knowing that one inch up or down on the power rack can mean using 100 pounds more or less.

‘Saturdays I go all out on the three Olympic lifts. Each Saturday, I try to do better than the week before.’ ‘I feel the trouble with most lifters is that they overtrain. They spend too much time doing endless sets and reps with weight they know they can handle. Take for instance the clean and jerk. There are many men who are good enough to do 380 pounds or 400 pounds, but they will never get there. The best exercise for the clean is high pulls, either on the rack or regular. If their best is 360, they never use that much weight or more or they should do so just to get the feel of heavier weights. When contest time rolls around, and they should reach 360, they have a mental block. With the rack, you are always using 300 or 400 pounds more than is necessary for your best Olympic lift.’

‘I eat lots of meats, salads, milk, whole wheat bread, vegetables, and plenty of fruit. I eat quite a bit of dry fruit. I also take-with meals- Vitamin B and C and Energol (Hoffman’s wheat germ oil). I am a strong believer in Vitamin C.

Best official lifts: Press 355, Snatch 315, Clean and Jerk 405, Total 1065. In training, he pressed 370.

March’s measurements: Weight 200, Height 5-7, neck 17, arm 17 and three quarters, forearm 15 and three quarters, wrist 7 and a half, chest 46, expanded 48 and a half, waist 33, hips 42, thigh 29, and calf 17 and a half.

Monday and Wednesday

Deadlifts: “On the third rep, when the weight gets two inches off the pins, I hold it at that spot for 12 seconds, then put the bar down and move on to the next position.”

Low Pull (clean grip?)

Low Squat

Low Press

Tuesday and Thursday

Deadlift (every day)

High Pull (Note: “Here I use the snatch grip . . .” It seems that in the Sixties, racks were wider. I used a York rack in 1976, and I could use my normal snatch grip. This was a sturdy machine and it was very safe. As I understand, they were fairly inexpensive. Hmmm… Well made, sturdy, efficient, and cheap? No wonder fern bar gyms don’t use them!)

Middle Press

Top Press

Quarter Squat

‘I use the same poundage for one week then increase it 10 or 20 pounds the next, always trying to use more and more. In this I am using more and more each week. This builds a good mental attitude as well as overwhelming power.’

‘If you are wondering about hitting a limit poundage-don’t. I do not believe there is one! Each time I have taken a layoff from Power Rack training (about every two months) I always surpass my previous high poundages in each position.’

Just for the record and perhaps as a guide for other power lifters, here are the highest poundages I have used for each position:

Deadlift 575

Low Pull 700

Low Squat 430

Low Press 525

High Pull 475

Middle Press 380

Top Press 825

Quarter Squat 1,425

‘There it is. For real power and a great bodybuilding workout you can’t beat it. This system can be use on the Power Lifts or any bodybuilding movement. If you do try it, I hope it works as well for you as it did for me and fellow who train with me.”

Fridays: Rest

Saturdays: Attempts record Olympic lifts

From “Power Rack Training for the Beginner”

Sam Bigler shows all the positions including the Middle Pull. This article seems to contradict itself in a few places. However, these points seem valid:

“Power rack training is one of the best methods of training you will use during your lifting career. But, it is only as good as you make it. You must believe in it. You must give it a fair trial. You must be willing to do what the routine calls for and then stop, even though your workouts seem short compared to the routines followed by some of your friends. Concentrate so you can support the weight for the 12 second hold. Train, don’t strain. If you come to a weight you can’t handle, don’t pass out trying to lift it, but instead drop the poundage back and stay with the lighter weight for a few days until you are strong enough to increase the poundage and still perform the exercise properly.’

‘You may feel as though nothing is happening, but stay with this routine. As the weeks pass you will take great pleasure in the improvement you are making in both your strength and physique. Scientists and researchers have proven this system of training. It will work.’

From “Behind the Scenes” Sept 64 by Tommy Suggs

“The matter of overtraining is of the utmost importance. Bill March’s favorite example on this point is one of the best I have heard. A lifter trains only irregularly and upon entering a contest finds that he may do some of the best lifting of his life. He then says to himself that if he could do this well with so little training, just think what he could do with a little extra work. He then increases his training due to his increased enthusiasm and number of weeks later enters a contest. To his dismay, he finds he does poorly. The reason-OVERTRAINING!”

‘A good example of this point is Bill March. When he was training under the supervision of Dr. Ziegler, a director of the Hoffman Foundation, they were able to measure the amount of fatigue that existed in the individual muscles. Very often Doc would tell Bill to lay off for three or four days at a time and Bill’s progress was nothing but up at this time. However, a lifter must be careful and distinguish between laziness and actual fatigue. One final thing, keep a record of the poundages and exercises you use at every workout.”

From “Behind the Scenes” Oct 64 by Tommy Suggs

“After all, you can’t argue with success (a Bill March quote).”

In “Making Weight for a Contest” by Bob Hoffman

A nice pictorial study of March dropping weight to break the American Record

Final summary:

“To summarize: live as normally as possible as the big contest approaches but reduce your sugar and starches to a minimum. Eat lots of protein and use germ oil concentrate as this has a tendency to reduce excess weight. Drink normally until a day or two before the contest. If necessary, take off what weight must be lost the day before and the day of the competition. Bill March took off 12 pounds in two days before the recent Region 1 contest and was still strong enough to make a new American total record of 1040. And finally, don’t reduce too soon or you will be weak. What you want to do is have the strength of the class above and the bodyweight of the class below.”

I had a request for some information about Bill March’s training. He was an outstanding O lifter in the early 1960’s. Although he gets a bad reputation today because of one of the reasons for his rapid increases, I worry we are “throwing the baby out with the bath water” by ignoring some of his insights into training. I called some people who worked with York Barbell at this time and got some insights about March. First, isometric contractions were designed to be “without movement,” but March liked to see the weights moved which developed into the system I copy below. Also, for an o lifter, this program would only work with someone with good motor pathways, that is, a good athlete. Finally, in my calls, one man, whose name I forgot (sorry!), really emphasized the importance of choosing the right bar position and holding the body in proper positions and not cheating to get the lift.

In my opinion, March has some great insights on two things: first, arguing against multiple sets and reps with weights you can handle. Brian Oldfield, the 75 foot shot putter, told me his best year was the year he only did three exercises: partial pulls, partial squats and partial presses (his terms) in the racks twice a week always trying to go heavier. He could never clean, he said, the weights he was crashing in the racks. This is overload. Second, March’s insights on overtraining is right on. I “could have been a contender” if I hadn’t overtrained.

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