The only way to raise a 400-pound barbell over your head is to think it up there. It helps to have several cubic feet of muscle packed around the shoulders and loins, but the muscle becomes superfluous if the thought is missing.
This, at least, is the conclusion of Norbert Schemansky, who can lift more pounds of barbell overhead than anybody else on earth. Not long ago, he gave a rather awesome demonstration of the power of thought at a YMCA in his native Detroit. After tossing around some trifling 200-250-pound weights in a conventional warmup—"to draw the blood"—Schemansky attacked a 400-pounder. He walked slowly up to the bar, like a massive mahout approaching a truculent bull elephant. Placing his shins next to the bar, he squatted, wrapped his hands around the bar, and then stared pensively ahead (above) in what appeared to be a two-second prayer for success
Suddenly he had the bar off the floor, then at waist level, then overhead; and just as suddenly, back on the floor—set down as gently as if he were shooing a kitten.
December 20, 1954
Later, he explained his moment of prayer. "If you go up there and you're not thinking, the thing'll seem pretty heavy. You just can't get coordinated. Before you start, you got to try to get all your thoughts into seeing how much drive you can put in the lift, so you have a pretty good idea you can do it. Then, in those last couple of seconds, your mind's almost a blank, just thinking about getting that thing up there. If you make it right, you don't even feel the weight. Just use your legs to come erect and there you are."
Schemansky usually makes it right. At the world's championships on Oct. 10 in Vienna he set a world total-weight record of 1,074¼ pounds in the three Olympic lifts (see pp. 30, 31), and another record of 331¼ pounds in the snatch. A week later, he traveled to Lille, France, for another international competition and set the most awesome individual-lift record now on the books: 424 pound in the clean and jerk.
Another positive thinker, whose middleweight and light-heavyweight lifting records are almost as impressive as those of heavyweight Schemansky, is Tommy Kono (next page), a soft-spoken Japanese-American with cat-quick reflexes and the title of The Most Beautiful Athlete in the World.
Concentration, to Kono, is the essence, although he admits to greater awareness of muscle than Schemansky.
"While you're walking up there to the bar, you try to think of what you have to do. You try to concentrate to eliminate any noise going on. When I get there, I try to have a positive attitude. I try to think of myself lifting it—whether my back breaks or not.
"If I concentrate hard enough, it's actually like being in a room all by myself. There's darkness all around, and all I have is the weight before me. If I'm nerved up for the effort, I feel the weight for the first three or four inches. After that, I don't feel the weight at all."
That, apparently, is all there is to it. Concentration, darkness; then think—and lift, just a little.
Starting snatch, Schemansky spreads hands wide. This costs him leverage but decreases distance bar must be hefted overhead. He flips 275-pound weight off floor, using back and shoulder muscles to give weight initial momentum which will help carry it all the way up in one unbroken movement. As barbell passes shoulders, 225-pound Schemansky does lightning split to get underneath the weight, then uses his tremendous leg power to reach standing finish.
CLEAN AND JERK
Kono uses closer grip for two-stage clean and jerk. First stage brings 325-pound weight to waist level, where short-legged Kono quickly squats to get under bar, then pushes with legs to reach standing position. Lifter may now rest until he is ready to jerk the weight overhead. When he is all set, Kono does half-split to get arms locked, then straightens up. Long pause and subsequent split allow for greater lifts than snatch or press.
CLEAN AND PRESS
In press, lifter depends less on speed, more on beef. Lift starts as Schemansky cleans weight to shoulder height. He pauses two seconds, then presses 275-pound barbell overhead with smooth push of arms, back and shoulders. In latter stage of lift, he may not move feet, double torso, or bend knees. Final push from dead stop is toughest maneuver for heavyweight Schemansky who feels his build is a little too light for this lift.