When I was growing up, there used to be an electronics company called “Crazy Eddie.” Like many businesses during that time, it was their commercials that stood out. The commercials featured an actor, I forget who it was, who the role of Eddie. The loud, energetic ads would always end with “Eddie” loudly exclaiming “Crazy Eddie’s prices are INSANE!” They must have known what they were doing because decades later, I still remember it. One thing that I particularly remember are Crazy Eddie’s annual Christmas Sale, which took place in July of every year. That’s right, every July Crazy Eddie would have his annual Christmas Sale ( there’s a reason they called him crazy), during the hottest month of the year.
Unfortunately, Crazy Eddie went bankrupt, and shortly after the company went “el foldo’” Eddie himself ( the real Eddie, not the actor who portrayed him in the commercials) was busted for fraud. So much for entertaining commercials. But all these years later, something has replaced Crazy Eddie’s Christmas Sale as a reminder of the Summer heat and craziness. Something that I’ve been doing for a number of years now, and which I enjoy sharing.
High-rep stone workouts on my birthday have become something of a tradition for me. I actually look forward to the yearly challenge for several reasons. I’ve often mentioned my admiration for Jack LaLanne over the years. His birthday challenges were the stuff of legend, and I would never for one minute compare myself with him, but I will readily admit that he was- and is still- an inspiration.
Another reason for challenging myself each year on my birthday is that it is only natural for any real strength athlete to challenge himself ( or herself). Where would we be without challenge? And when I talk about challenge, I do not mean against other people. I mean competing against yourself. I’ve always felt that real lifters compete against themselves. Your opponent is your potential. And I truly believe that you are never too old to challenge yourself.
One of my all-time favorite strength athletes in Al Oerter, the first man to win four Olympic gold medals in one event, the discus. The fact that Mr. Oerter came from Long Island was one reason I gravitated to him. But there were others, not the least of which is that at the age of 44, he was in the process of making a comeback in the Olympics. He was making great gains, and throwing the discus further than he ever had, and was well on his way to making the Olympic team, until politics intervened and he, like all the other athletes on the 1980 team, had to endure a boycott of the games.
Another reason for my admiration of Al Oerter was that he was able to express his feelings on competition in a way that resonated with me, and I’m sure with many others who have hoisted the steel. “Competition in its best form is a test of self. It has nothing to do with medals. The winner is the person who gets the most out of themselves.” The next time you find yourself obsessed with the accomplishments of others, remember these words.
There is another quote that is especially appropriate for anyone who is engaged in heavy training: “To exercise at or near capacity is the best way I know of reaching a true introspective state. If you do it right, it can open all kinds of inner doors.”
On the morning of July 20th, on my 59th birthday, I was definitely not thinking of reaching an introspective state. I wasn’t contemplating opening any kinds of doors ( inner or otherwise). I was simply focused on the challenge I set out for myself. I would test myself on the Ironmind “Crushed to Dust Challenge,” after which I would attempt to lift and shoulder my 180 Lb granite atlas stone 59 times in 59 minutes.
For those unfamiliar with the “Crushed to Dust Challenge,” it would be just as easy for you to look it up, than explain all the rules and requirements. I had no illusions ( or delusions ), I simply wanted to see where I stand on this well-known grip challenge. The three movements- closing a Captains of Crush #2, Lifting a max weight with the Rolling Thunder revolving one-arm deadlift handle, and a max weight with an Ironmind Hub Pinch Grip- were not exercises that I did on a regular basis, except for the gripper. Closing the CofC #2 was actually pretty easy that morning. I actually did two easy reps. Perhaps the ease with which I closed it was because my hands had not been overtrained . Sometimes we enjoy grip work so much that we overdo it. But I was very happy with what I did with the gripper. That happiness was short-lived because I immediately went to the Hub Pinch and was humbled. I barely lifted 26 Lbs off the floor. You read it right, I was nearly twenty pounds off the qualifying mark for the challenge. I immediately went to the Rolling Thunder ( there is a three minute time limit and I wanted to give myself enough time in case I needed to add or subtract weight). I lifted 166 easily enough for my first attempt, then I went to 176 and again, I was barely able to hold it for more than a second in the finish position. It was at this point that I realized that if I wanted to seriously make a run at completing the challenge, I would have t devote more time to my open hand strength. But that’s the subject of another article.
On to the fun part: Lifting a 180 Lb stone off the ground and shouldering it. In years past, I would lift my stone for the same number of repetitions as my age. I realize that, as I get older, I will eventually reach a point of no return, but hopefully that will be a few years down the road.
I set a time of 59 minutes simply to push myself and make it more challenging. I didn’t want to make it a leisurely event, although nothing about lifting a granite stone should ever be construed to be leisurely. The first several reps went smoothly. Even though I warmed up with my lighter stones ( 100 and 145 pounders ), it wasn’t until the fifth or sixth rep with my 180 stone that I felt myself truly warmed up and in a groove. I started out trying to do one rep each minute. This is not always as easy as it looks, because sometimes the stone will roll, and getting set up for each rep can be tricky, because as the reps pile up, the stone creates holes in the lawn and I have to be careful not to slip/trip in a man-made crater.
The reps continued in a relatively smooth manner. Sometimes I would do two or three at a time and take a correspondingly longer rest, but as I reached the mid-forties, I was starting to slow down. I didn’t “hit the wall,” in runner’s parlance, but I was definitely feeling the effects of high reps in the Summer sun. As I hit the fifties, I accepted the fact that I would not be able to finish in 59 minutes. With time running down, I just wanted to keep going. When the 59 minute mark expired, I was still four reps short, but I was determined to hit my goal number, but then I decided to do sixty. An extra rep for good measure, so to speak. So instead of 59 in 59, I was able to accomplish “60 in sixty-seven.” I know it doesn’t have quite the same ring, but I still did sixty reps with my 180 stone, and I was proud of that.
The final thing I did was to do a few sets with my York Krusher. I wouldn’t want to let a birthday challenge go by without at least one reference to York Barbell, and my York Chest Krusher is still a great tool for getting stronger. It may be considered vintage or an antique, but it still works.
Whether you seek an introspective state, or you just want to simply challenge yourself as you get older, there is only one way to do it, and that’s all out. We’re all getting older, there’s no getting around it, but it doesn’t mean we have to settle for not getting the most out of ourselves.
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