Monday, December 10, 2007

Gripmas 2007 Experience

Friday after catching my plane to Columbus, I met up with Mike Amos of Anvil or Hammer fame at the airport. He gave me a ride to the hotel, where we checked in and got some dinner. I had a chance to chat with Mike for awhile and he's a great guy, very down to earth and easy to get along with. We share a similar perspective on many things.

After a decent night's sleep, we went to the Super 8 continental breakfast and then lucked into seeing Josh Dale on our way back to the room. We talked with him for awhile while he ate breakfast and then got things together for the long haul to the park 'n ride. Josh got us up to speed on the guys to watch for in the contest and re-aligned my perspective on the type of work a dietician does. They do way cooler stuff than just help people lose weight.

A number of us met up at the park and ride - Stew, Nick, Eric Milfeld, Doc, Jeremiah (an MMA guy Nick is training), and Dave Thorton. Eric has earrings made out of tiny bent nails, totally cool. Stew took 6 of us in his van and showed what a former truck driver can do on the hilly country roads, telling stories the whole time. He's extremely entertaining and made the ride go by in no time.

Crooksville is small town America, we literally almost missed it. Town is a few small shops with a couple stop lights, and that's it. Chris wins the coolest house in town by default, just from his awesome gym. By the time we got there, things were already in full force, with John Eaton hard at work calibrating grippers. A number of other guys were helping things along.

I spent the time they were calibrating grippers looking at the cool stuff Chris has. It was very similar to being at Don Larkin's gym, with little pieces of iron history all over the walls. Everywhere I looked there was something I had always wanted to see or try. Even better, there were things that I didn't even know I needed to see, but I got to. He has unique equipment, contest results, pictures, quotes, prizes, even the cover of the first Strength and Health he got with his first weight set. It is excellent.

We ran through rules and got down to work. Brad (a local powerlifter) brought his wife with, and she was promptly drafted to run the events and scoring. She was a great sport about it and stuck with the job the entire contest. I really enjoy the grip stuff and would have been thoroughly tired of it half way through the contest. Major thanks are due to her for tracking the full contest results.

Grippers went quite well. Chris had a full range of grippers in chokers in very small increments, going all the way up to #4 level. I was kind of laughing at the range they were calibrated up to, and then Josh came along to close the hardest available gripper, gave Eaton a harder gripper to calibrate, and then closed that one too. Awesome. I do not know much more about the gripper results, I find it hard to pay attention to grippers in contests any more.

Next up was two handed pinch. This is where I expected to be separated from the pack, and sure enough, I was. I went for the narrower width along with Zach and his dad Dean. They both blew past me on the pinch, with Dean edging Zach out for the higher lift. Dean has never trained grip before and was persuaded by Zach to compete, so it was pretty fun to watch him beat Zach. It was also humbling for me. I am sure this is the first time he ever touched the implement. Mike is another guy who did great for his first time on the device, hitting 170.

The big guys of course lifted big weights, with Jedd making an attempt at the new world record. It wasn't to happen today, but it was fun to watch him try for it. John Eaton gave us all a great demonstration on the value of starting the lift with the apparatus perpendicular to the ground. This is also where the guys with strength backgrounds started separating themselves from the pure grip guys. Overall body training is the biggest determinant of grip strength by far.

Axle deadlifts followed two handed pinch. Chris has a great setup for all the plate loaded lifts, with weights calibrated down to a very fine level of detail. Bob was a huge surprise here, deadlifting close to double body weight on the axle, at a slim 159lbs. He's a great example of why you should never judge someone's strength based upon their size. Eric, Dave, and Jedd pushed the limits on this event, along with another local lifter. The powerlifters did very well, with Jeremiah Fox and Brad both bringing up big weights with limited grip exposure. Chris ran things up with the best of them, giving me something to aspire towards at any age.

Next up was Chris's medley. This thing was a true work of art - 21 objects to be loaded in two minutes and thirty seconds. Chris gave us all a primer, and then he showed how it was done, loading 20 of 21 objects in 2 minutes and 30 seconds. The only guys who got more were Dave and Jedd, who at this point I expect to be able to do anything and everything . Dave upset Jedd as my favorite, beating him out on time. For someone so calm, Dave plowed through the events with impressive speed. Here everyone pitched in unloading implements and really made things run smoothly, especially given the number of guys.

After the medley was reverse bending. A number of guys had not reverse bent much before, including Jeremiah (the MMA guy) and Bob. Jeremiah did well from what I could tell. Bob got through some 7"x3/16 square using my Ironmind pads, which was excellent for his first time bending. Based on his other lifts, with a little form tweaking, he will be able to go far beyond that level. At this point I was too tired to track what everyone got, but the intensity level was high.

Next up came 100lb plate holds for time, the final event. Chris's son set things up so all the scoring was tracked in an excel spreadsheet on a laptop. Between events the scores were updated, meaning that for this final event things were set to line guys up to face off for their placings. That added a lot of excitement to the event, as we gradually built up to the stronger guys and longer times. I went first and then took position spotting one of the hundreds, to get first hand view of the coping strategies.

This is an event where an experienced strength background made a huge difference in endurance. As much as a test of strength, it was a test of pain tolerance and will power. The guys who really excelled were able to commit their entire being into the lift, to the point where exertion with just their finger tips was making their face turn red and their entire bodies tremble. The intensity was insane, and I think everyone dug as deep as they were capable of. This was the loudest the room got all day, with everyone screaming and yelling. What a great way to explore limits.

Post contest Chris's wife hooked us all up with lots of food, while his son helped to tabulate scores. The food was very good and dinner was the quietest the gym got all day. Everyone just sat and shoveled. I could almost hear Homer Simpson going "can't talk, eating". There were awesome cookies and brownies a few of the guys wives had made. I know Brad's wife made some of them, another of the Ohio guy's wives did as well, I believe.

Dinner was followed by placings and prizes. I know Jedd and Eric were the top two. I don't remember all the other placings, but I do recall Brad coming in at 6th, which is impressive given he started training grip 3 weeks ago. Nick and John Eaton both made an excellent showing for guys who never train. Chris worked with a number of sponsors for the contest and quite a few cool toys were handed out, along with some very creative trophies. Everyone got a frying pan with their contest results on them.

Post contest the toys were broken out and many cool things happen. Here's what I can recall:

Anson doing a muscle up on the rings, followed by several other guys coming very close. Anson is one of those guys who is actually beyond the highest expectations I have for my training. Most surprising on the rings was Jedd, at 265, getting almost all the way up into the start position for the dip on a muscle up. Zach very nearly made it as well. Here I watched and learned a little about how a false grip is used on the rings to get better leverages.

Nick did some awesome stuff. I knew Nick was strong, but I didn't realize how strong. He was flipping the 40k kettlebell, did a 2 hands anyhow with an anvil and a 32k kettlebell, and U'd an enormous piece of flat stock. I think it was 4 foot by 1/2" by 1". That was just sick. I'm pretty sure he got a larger 3/8" grade 5 bolt and I saw him casually rip a deck of cards.

Doc was another surprise, shouldering two different sand bags one at a time, each well over 100lbs. That might not seem like a big deal, but he could only use one arm. It was a definite sight to look over and see him on the floor wrestling with a sand bag using one arm, with the other arm out to the side, wrist in a brace. Two severed tendons from work didn't stop him from putting on an excellent show.

Bob's wife was not one to let him steal all of the pound for pound strength glory. She did an excellent job of pinching 3 10lb plates with one hand, which I am going to guess was more than 1/3 body weight. It impressed everyone there, more so than a lot of the other stuff that went on that day.

Jedd of course was a machine, lifting two blobs, as well as doing cleaning one by the face. Just about anything one person did, he stepped up and did as well.

John Eaton was the inspiration for Jedd cleaning the blob by the face, doing it first with each hand. He also showed us a trick by crushing a bottle cap between his pinky and rings fingers. It looked painful, but he destroyed the bottle cap.

Several guys showed me how things were done on the sand bags, with Mike putting everything through Chris's 200lb bag overhead. I was also given a crash course on how to pick up the smallest bag, which I never would have gotten to my chest otherwise.

Stew started a round of chins on Chris's eagle loops. By themselves they were impressive, but with the anvil between his feet, they were nuts. To make it even cooler, after Nick did the same with the anvil, Stew upped the ante by using 2 24k kettlebells. Chris also pulled himself up on the eagles loops with the anvil between his feet.

Josh bought a 175lb 2.5" solid thick handled dumbbell Zach had made for him, for under $200. It was a little harder than the Inch and stopped everyone there. Zach also brought the 130ish thick handled dumbbell he made. I believe Jedd put it overhead. These dumbbells are pretty cool, and I think Zach has the materials needed to make another 175lber cheap if someone contacts him.

Chris set things up for a weaver stick lift, which I had never seen before. He did quite well at it, actually breaking the Masters world record on the lift. John Eaton was another big shower here, pushing things out close towards the open world record. Eric and Jedd stuck with him most of the way as well.

Chris broke out a table top wrist curl setup, with Josh making the biggest showing, taking some huge weights for a ride. I stayed far, far away from this one, wanting nothing to do with the injury potential. Josh was wrist curling almost twice the weight than I can deadlift.

Another cool item I saw was a loadable blob made by Mike Buck. It had nicely rounded edges and looked like a killer pinch device. He said it was made on the cheap, but I really don't think they can get any nicer.

That is all I can remember, but it was an excellent time and I am very glad I went. Once again my expectations on strength were re-aligned. A number of the guys made lasting impressions on me and will be shaping my training for years to come. The grip guys are a great group and I really enjoy spending time with them. Chris put on a top tier contest and the thought he put into each event really showed. His experience was a benefit to of all us, with things running exceptionally smooth given the huge number of participants, especially for a first time contest.

Oh, and the smartest thing I saw all day - Chris taking the group picture before lifting started. That's wisdom.