By William Crawford, M.D.
MILO September 2009, vol. 17. No. 2
All of us are aware that weight training and physical conditioning are the routes to a more powerful life. How we feel and how we accomplish our goals and carry out our daily lives are dependent on our inner force – our mental outlook as well as our will – that is created by our physical being.
This is a story of my mentor Jack King, a man who became a top-level Olympic-style weightlifter first, and then a world champion physique competitor and an eternal source of encyclopedic knowledge on physical culture’s practical application. Jack is an example of how a life spent pursuing physical excellence can carry over to other aspects of living and can teach us some valuable lessons.
When I entered Jack King’s Gym in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for the first time at age 16 in 1978, I knew it would be a life-altering experience. The stiff mist of lifting chalk mixed with the smell of new bumper plates was tempered by the energy of heavy lifting in its purest form. Jack was the captain of this ship and he immediately gave me my place in this universe. Hard work and dedication was the path to respect as a lifter. Jack knew this path and all its bumps and curves.
Jack started training at age 15 with a spring cable set and then graduated to a Healthways 160 lb. barbell and dumbbell set. His father bought the barbells when he realized Jack’s determination in his training with the cable set. Training in the attic ensued with the basics, but without the knowledge of his friends and schoolmates, as weight training was yet to experience broad acceptance in the 1950s.
Jack received his first taste of weight training’s transformative powers when he demonstrated 5 reps in the clean and press with 135b in front of his Greensboro High School classmates in gym class, to the shock of a varsity wrestler and his coach. To back up his strength with athletic ability, he became the best free-hand rope climber in his school as well. After graduating from high school, Jack went on to Guilford College and continued weight training in his parents’ attic. A copy of the classic magazine Strength & Health, with Dave Shepard holding a heavy snatch overhead, caught Jack’s eye and piqued his interest.
A man by the name of Jim Robertson announced he would start weightlifting instruction at the West Market YMCA in Greensboro, which afforded Jack his first real taste of Olympic-style lifting. Jim taught Jack the styles of the day, which were the split snatch and split clean. Jack entered his first Olympic-style weightlifting meet in 1955 in Charlotte, North Carolina, as a 165lb. lifter. He registered a 175 lb. press, 145 lb. snatch and 210 lb. clean and jerk. His next meet saw a 200 lb. press, 170 lb. snatch and a 225 lb. clean and jerk.
As any champion knows, goals have a price. Jack was working his way through college, which required him to train late at night. Presses from the rack in his parents’ attic were interspersed with practicing snatches and clean and jerks at the Greensboro Health Club. Joe Grantham was an elite national-caliber lifter whom Jack had the good fortune to meet for training at the Greensboro Health Club. (As an aside, Joe was a great encouragement to me as a lifter as well.) Joe performed continental-style high pulls with over 400 lb. as a 165 lb. lifter, which gave Jack a great new assistance exercise and a look at the level of strength and commitment needed to be a top lifter.
The golden age of Olympic-style weightlifting blossomed with Jack as a willing participant. Jack saw Bill March, Norb Schemansky, Ike Berger, Jim Bradford and Tommy Kono at weightlifting meets. He met Paul Anderson at a TV station after the 1956 Olympics, and fostered a long relationship with the iconic first minister of strength. Jack describes seeing Paul clean and press 400 Lb. overhead with only a cursory warm-up with light stretching, as well as a back lift with all the heavyweight lifters at a meet on the lifting table. Jack also personally attests to Paul’s character as well as the strength that had to be seen to be believed.
The year 1963 was a breakthrough year for Jack and he credits a meeting with Bill Starr for his newfound strength. bill instructed Jack to start heavy squatting to get his lifts up. In his usual frankness, Jack tells the story that Bill told him he needed to push his squats and also go to the intensely competitive meets in the Northeast or Jack would only be a state-level lifter. Both points of advice were heeded.
Jack’s back squats took off, as did his lift totals. But as usual, Jack put his own twist on the routine as he felt that a top set of 10 reps in the squat helped him build the strength and mental toughness needed to bring up his lifts. Jack also would do heavy squat cleans and then proceed to do back squats. He describes needing only cursory warm-ups with the squats after the cleans using singles to warm up to the top set of squats. He thought that the heavy cleans would warm him up for the squats and this helped push up his squatting poundage – a thinking man’s approach.
Again with a personal intrusion into Jack’s story: in lifting’s heyday, Saturdays for the lifting team meant clean and jerks and 10-rep max back squat sessions. We lifters would joke that going to a meet on Saturday was a break from hard work!
Paul Anderson also gave Jack a pearl of wisdom for his press. Taking a barbell that exceeded his best by 50 lb. or more from the rack, Paul instructed Jack to press the weight as high as he could. Nose-height was okay for the first few reps, as the weight was too heavy to press to completion. the goal was to continue the reps to failure, with the last rep barely breaking off the shoulders. A goal of 10 total reps in the set was usual. Pressing a a weight in the power rack from 4 in. below lockout was also employed. As Jack described, take-off and landing were the goals of these exercises.
Jack’s official personal records as a 198 lb. lifter were 300 lb. press, 260 lb. snatch, and 340 lb. clean and jerk – lifts that were accomplished at the Southern U.S. Regionals in 1970. Jack’s favorite win as at the Gonzaga Open in Washington, D.C. in 1966 with Bob Hoffman as the head judge. It is said that only 1 in 10,000 men can press his bodyweight overhead. What is the statistic for pressing 100 lb. over bodyweight?
Jack not only gained advice from others, he also used his personal circumstances to creatively figure out his own training methods, which to me is his practical genius as a coach. He trained alone and he developed a system of overload trying to get better results. His specific conclusions were that whenever his power clean for a triple went up, his snatch would go up. Whatever weight he could do in a steep incline press for a double, he could press overhead. As noted earlier, continental-style high pulls from the belt helped his top pull in the clean and then converted over to better cleans. Another favorite exercise was to do good mornings in the same groove as a Romanian deadlift.
Jack taught these overload principles to his lifters, including me, and we were always the most physically impressive lifters at meets due to the heavy squatting, pulling and pressing. We worked technique, obviously, but the strongest lifter almost always wins, as he concluded. Case in point was David Rigert, the legendary 1976 Olympic champion in the 90 kg class. Rigert was not adverse to arm-pulling from the bottom, and he broke new ground throughout his career in lifting world records, all from being very strong.
Jack used the actual Olympic-style lifts – up to 80% of the goals in a meet for technique work. He states that he would lift his greatest weight on the platform, rarely reaching a personal record in the three Olympic-style lifts in training. Think about it, isn’t lifting your best lifts in the competition the goal? Crystal clear to Jack, but we all know those who do not learn that valuable lesson.
Trial and error as a lifter made him the lifter and the coach he became. The bottom line, according to Jack, is that you need to trust yourself. Words of wisdom for all of us.
The mental game is not to be underestimated. Anyone who knows Jack Knows his iron will and a mental toughness that is legendary. In college Jack learned a technique that was called “auto-suggestion,” or simply that visualization of a goal to its last detail could prepare one to see an outcome before the event. This was revolutionary stuff to a self-taught lifter.
Warm-ups were also somewhat unusual, as Jack would not stretch before training – he would simply go for a quick job to break a sweat. If a training session was not going well, he would take off his lifting shoes, lace on his sneakers, and go for a short, quick run, which would subsequently give him a successful lifting session afterward. Warm-ups should be used to break a sweat and increase circulation in the athlete as a single, whole unite – simple and effective.
Along with weight training several days a week, Jack ran an average of 20 miles weekly. Winston-Salem is a very hilly city and Jack used the terrain to his advantage. He would pick severely inclined hiss to sprint up for 50-75 yd., giving his legs muscular work and also burning body fat. I can attest to the severity of these hill runs. I trained the runs with him twice a week for about six months. I went from a super heavyweight lifter to a 210 lb. man in that time frame. Sprinting up a hill 10 times (that cars would have to use lower gears to get up) would lend to severe leg fatigue and an oxygen-starved body. Hallucinations were known to have occurred during these brutal training sessions.
All great things end, as did Jack’s lifting career. He started physique competition in 1978 and competed in natural bodybuilding for most of his career. Again, Jack was an innovator in that he included running in his bodybuilding regimen. Staying lean was always a part of the process, eliminating the bulking-up, which he felt was counter productive.
Jack won 29 competitions in his career, including class and overall honors. Jack mostly competed in natural bodybuilding in four different federations. He also won the 1997 AAU Masters’ Mr. America and the 2002 Masters’ Mr. Universe. Obviously Jack changed disciplines and did not miss a beat.
Jack’s diet remains very strict now that he has retired from physique competition. He eats plenty of eggs, dairy products, and lean meats; salads and fruits are also a favorite to maintain his lean body. While Jack mostly avoids breads, he does eat Ezekiel bread – so called as it was described in the Bible and has a combination of different grains and beans to precede a preteen-packed food. For those of you who do not know about Ezekiel bread, I would highly recommend you familiarize yourself with that super food.
Now at 72 years old, Jack’s physique has to be seen to be believed; the pictures included do not do his presence justice. However, Jack is not all looks these days. To compare, he did 2000 push-ups in a single day in 1993 (he did sets of 100 to 150 at a time). Today, Jack still does about 750 to 1000 push-ups twice a week as an average routine; to make them more effective, he puts his feet up on a block and his hands on the floor. Jack recommends dropping hard and pushing off hard with the push-ups to create more muscular tension.
Chin-ups with different grips also are a staple of his training; Jack likes to do rows and chins in supersets. I walked into Jack’s gym two years ago and witnessed him, at age 70, doing sets of 10 chin-ups with a 50 lb. dumbbell hanging from his belt.
Here is the “ironheart” part of the story – Jack has a resting heart rate of 40 beats per minute. I checked it myself. With his tremendous training regimen and dietary habits, he has an HDL (high density lipoprotein) of 84. As a reminder, HDL is the good cholesterol that is responsible for carrying the bad cholesterol to be metabolized. An average HDL for a physically active person in the U.S. is about 45. This is the fruit of many years of intense work, not only with weight training but with extensive cardio vascular work.
Jack does resistance training 5 days a week and runs twice a week, averaging about six miles with each run. to call this a challenging regimen is an understatement, but that is a testament to a lifetime of not accepting anything short of excellence.
Jack’s example has been a guiding light to me and many other men. Gaining in the gym is a place to learn life’s lessons, and being able to transfer those lessons to success outside the gym was something that Jack impressed upon us all. We all owe Jack of this unwavering support and honest over these years.
When visiting Jack’s gym recently, I stood and took in the place and thought of all the men who trained there, including MILO notable Steve Jeck. If you happen to be in the Winston-Salem, North Carolina area and you want to train in a gym that has dumbbells that go up to 200 lb. and where multiple power racks are interspersed with York 50 lb. blobs, kettle bells, and bumper plates, go to Jack King’s Gym. There are few places left of this caliber, where iron and man can meet with the absence of chrome and spandex. And just be warned. If you want to be able to keep up with Jack when you get there… you had better get busy!