28 March 2011

Of Stones and Strength Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Zercher

For those of you unfamiliar with this pamphlet-sized book, I can hardly recommend it enough:
Of Stones and Strength, By Steve Jeck and Peter Martin.  It's not really a training manual, and it's barely long enough to be considered a proper book.  What it is, however, is a reminder that all of the gym lifting in the world isn't going to provide enough awesome to counter-balance the pathetic waste that most of us call our modern lives.  Why?  Because we're not busy with picking up any random heavy shit we might see in the course of a day of plowing a field, because there's no right of passage into manhood in Western civilization, and because we're decidedly, sadly, in and incontrovertibly not Basques.
It gets no more metal than this.  Someone's definitely wailing on a fucking guitar in the background.

Stay with me, fuckers,  I shall elucidate my points.  First, a bit about the book.  It is essentially a display of the world's manhood stones, in particular those of Scotland.  Steve Jeck, the co-author of the book, discovered these stones while competing as a pro Highland Games athlete in Scotland, and went on a quest to lift them all.  He brought along with him a guy named Peter Martin, a historian of Scottish manhood stones and one of the main reasons I found the book so inspiring.  Why, might you ask, was this historian the catalyst for my inspiration?  Because the book is chock-full of pics of a 61 year old back in slacks and dress shoes picking up 300+ lb stones in a muddy field with a back so rounded it looks like he's trying to form the perfect arch with his back.  Frankly, when you see a bunch of pictures of an old man picking up rocks the size of your torso, it makes you rethink every decision you've made in your life, and you realize that you've been fucking up if you cannot be out there outlifting that fucker like it's your job.  Back to that bit in a second.
The book outlines a number of stones throughout the world that men lifted to show other men that they were indeed big swinging dicks.  Stones like the Dinnie Stones, so named because a strongman named Donald Dinnie picked up them both (one weighs 435 and the other 340) and walked across a bridge and back with one in each hand.  Back in the day, if you wanted to be a part of a crew of warriors, no matter where you lived in the world, there would have been a stone lifting test involved- these are the kinds of stones Jeck and Martin lift throughout that book, and the kind of stones you'd probably like to lift as a matter of course.
Which, oddly, brings me to my third point- we're not Basques.  This sucks for a wide variety of reasons ranging from their awesome, alien-inspired and possibly only related to that of the Ainu halfway around the world language, the fact that they're all nobility in Spain because their land was just about the only place in Spain not conquered by the Moors, and the fact that they have constant festivals wherein they compete against one another in wrestling, wood chopping, stone lifting, and a variety of other awesome shit.  Their stone-lifting competitions, however, are in my opinion the coolest bit in the book.  Jeck describes a legendary competition between a stone mason and an accountant, both weighing between 200 and 220 lbs, in which they competed to shoulder a rectangular stone for reps, taking turns in 7 minute rounds.  The stones, by the way, weighed over 300 lbs apiece, and the mason won with 22 reps in 21 minutes... which is fucking insane.  This is what the Basques do on the weekend, though, which makes them far more awesome than we are.
So, having contemplated what I'd just read early on a Saturday morning, it occurred to me that not only do I lack access to stones for lifting, I lack the ability to store a stone if I had one made or simply found one and took it home.  I have the misfortune to currently live in a filing cabinet for the not-poor, and thus lack the necessary personal storage space in which I'd have to store such an object, and my gym is currently unfriendly to the idea of storing a big rock for me.  Thus, I was faced with a bit of a quandary.
There is no reason for this pic, other than all of the awesome contained therein.

Then, however, I recalled an exercise that would offer a not-horrible substitute for stone lifting, get me out of my comfort zone in the gym, and possibly offer me an opportunity to discover a new favorite exercise...
and this is how I learned to stop worrying about how much it sucks and just love the fuck out of Zercher lifts.  Amusingly, Zerchers aren't mentioned in Of Stones and Strength.  In fact, few exercises are mentioned, the workout program's ridiculously basic, and that page and a half of the book is pretty much the least interesting portion of it.  Nevertheless, it occurred to me that that "cradle" one uses for the bar is not too unlike that you use in stone lifting.  Given that I've no access to stone for the time being, the Zercher lift would be a good way to approximate stone lifting in the gym, so maybe when I find myself hanging out with a badass Scottish sextogenarian I don't find myself embarrassed by my inability to emulate his random overdressed feats of strength.
For those of you with little to no background in what a Zercher is, it can take many disparate forms.  The original Zercher lift was invented by a strongman named Ed Zercher, who while well-known in the strength community is tremendously hard to research online.  In any event, the guy was an old-school Steve Justa, except strong, and lifted in what has been described more than once as a junkyard in his basement.  He was a big fan of doing barbell leg presses, and due to his lack of a squat rack (though why he couldn't fashion one out of junk I'll never know) would deadlift the barbell, place it on top of his thighs, and then scoop his arms underneath the bar and continue the lift until he was at full lockout.  Horrible as that sounds, it's pretty analogous to stone lifting, especially when one uses Bob Peoples' deadlifting technique.
Peoples pulled 728 at 178 with a double overheand grip and a completely rounded back in 1946.

With the next blog in this series, I'll throw up a couple of vids showing you some Zercher permutations, explain Bob Peoples' deadlifting technique, and hook you guys up with more titties.  The chick, by the way, is ultra hot Pole Eva Wywal.
Go pick up something heavy.  She'll be lifting her tits.


  1. FUCK YES.

    Also, some fat, bald motherfucker I can't remember the name of did a lift where you compress plates together and pull them off the floor. John Brooksfield thinks it's got carryover to lifting stones.

    Some lifts I've seen suggested for stone lifting were bent over rows (which seem pretty similar to the movement of lapping a stone and popping it up so you can move your hands into a better position) and any type of curls.

    And if any of you motherfuckers also get to lift stones, a fun thing to do is go completely hump backed and just drag it up your legs, literally bending over all the way and just sliding it up with the stone and your arms in contact with your legs the entire time. Sound dangerous? You're a pussy, and if you (who think it's dangerous) in particular try this, your spine will explode out of your back at velocities high enough to kill someone specifically because you're that much of a pussy.

    As an aside, Bob Peoples is awesome.

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  2. I never read enough about the Zercher squat. From my own experimenting, I was setting the bar near elbow height in the rack then fitting it in the crooks of my elbow.

    The only problem I encountered was squatting lower than front or back squats because my forearms would hit my thighs before I could go any lower.

  3. Niel, I had the same fucking issue when I did zercher squats earlier today. It seems that probably the best way to get depth on a zercher squat is to either do it out of the rack with a pretty round back (I did it), or to deadlift it onto your thighs, because from there, you've got the option of starting from a rock bottom squatting position.

  4. I know this sounds like a pussy, but what about killer pain in the forearms from having that weight cradled into my elbows..? anybody?

  5. If you have access to a thick-handled bar it makes a huge difference with Zercher lifting.

    The best way to get better at lifting stones is to lift stones (duh). There are certain things in the gym you can do that will help but all stones are different so it takes some experience to find the right balance with one fairly quickly. It's hard to mimic the way you grip a stone in the gym as well. Your hands will be almost open sometimes. Also, your not just fighting the downward force of gravity. When you bearhug a stone you need to simultaneously crush inward with your arms while lifting upward. The skin on the inside of your forearms will take quite a beating at first but long sleeves eliminate that problem 100%. None of this is exactly complicated but it is more than what Zercher lifts and plate rows will cover. Even sandbags and kegs are easier than stones.

    If you live near a creek or woods of any kind then stones are fairly easy to find. Depending on how out of the way it is for you, you might just leave your stone right where it is and just come back to train with it periodically.
    I personally do most of my stone lifting at an underpass that's just a few blocks away from my house. Underpasses are typically lined on either side with either concrete or stones. Pay attention next time you drive under one. I never have to bring any of these stones home because they're only a few blocks away and if the ones I like ever do disappear (the chances of this are highly unlikely) there are shitloads more to choose from.

  6. The stone I've got out back has still ripped chunks of skin off through long sleeved shirts, and put holes in what would otherwise seem to be heavy duty cargo shorts.

  7. Jamie, find some shrubs and hide a stone in there. Nobody will see it, and if even if they do, they probably won't bother to remove it.

    Zerchers really do work better with random scraps of metal. Ductile iron pipe works really well!

  8. Abe- snag the pussy pad off the bar in the smith machine and throw that fucker on the bar. Problem solved.

  9. Pussy Pads make them much more comfortable if you do Zerchers out of the rack. They are pretty much impossible to use if you start from a deadlift though. I've just gotten used to having permanent bruises on my biceps. I guess this is the lift to do when front squats get to be too comfortable. I've noticed that my front squat went way the fuck up in a period of weeks when I started doing Zerchers.

  10. Re: hiding a stone in a shrub. You could always just trek around town with a friend and their truck and steal stones to set them in another, unrelated area out in the middle of nowhere. If you have a friend with a truck and an empty spot somewhere, anyways.

  11. Here's a basque stone lifter lifting with his dick:


  12. This is completely unrelated, but I think at some point you mentioned bending/damaging the bars at your gym doing heavy shrugs? How much weight were you using? I don't want to get kicked out of my gym for damaging another bar, so I'm scared to go past 7 plates. (I already damaged one bar in a freak accident)

  13. I think Jamie shrugs with upwards of 800-900 pounds (945 maybe?) and does hand and thigh lifts with around a grand.

  14. Jamie--

    I appreciate the title of this blog. That is all.


  15. Will- I'm glad someone did, haha.
    Dray and Nathan- I warm up with 5 plates, and then keep adding plates util I run out of room. I generally work up to 855 or 945 for a double. Sometimes I simple do sets of 6 with 8 plates for a half hour or so. Depends on the day. The degree to which a bar will bend under weight depends entirely on the type and quality of the bar though.

  16. Jamie, how do you do such heavy shrugs without fucking up your upper back? I find that my weakness for shrugs is how much my rhomboids/mid-back can handle. Will more shrugs solve the problem?

  17. "I warm up with 5 plates, and then keep adding plates util I run out of room. I generally work up to 855 or 945 for a double. Sometimes I simple do sets of 6 with 8 plates for a half hour or so".

    -And to think doctors once used to say steroids had no effect on performance!!!

  18. Jake- I've been shrugging heavy for years, so I'd think it's just a matter of natural adaptation. I think the first time I shrugged over 6 plates was around 2001-2, due to the fact that I was training with a couple of fucking monsters who outweighed me by 70 lbs apiece. I love doing them, so I think it's just the result of a hell of a lot of just doing it over the years. Additionally, I do a lot of heavy rowing, which would have bolstered my strength in that area as well.

    Rant's back! I guess we can kill that parrot Dray taught to shout "STEROIDS!" followed by a bunch of jibberish.

  19. Unfortunately I don't think it will yield much protein.

  20. http://www.tvtropolis.com/Wipeout/Video/?releasePID=mEvERfNR_yIrFMHXHjipqBFL_R5sHtW7
    ^My Wipeout episode^

  21. http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=8C62B42840873A02

  22. @Jamie, @Nathan: thanks. I have been working out at our school's uber-ghetto gym for several years now, and always make do with what I have. in hindsight, i feel stupid for not figuring that out myself. hahahah big thanks tho! definitely throwing the Z into my next round of cringing and gasping.

  23. "..my next round of cringing and gasping."

    What, wanking? Don't forget, you need to do that three times a day plus take tribulus and longjack to give you super testosterone levels like the 'juicers'. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. You bunch of suckers!!!

  24. I'm confused as to whether you're suggesting no high level athletes take steroids, those things won't get you "super testosterone levels", or Jamie himself is a juicer. At any rate, you need to learn how to use quotations. And exclamation marks.

  25. And i'm confused as to how you manage to see what you're typing, whilst simultaneously holding Jamie's cock between your lips.

  26. "I tried it, got up to 265" (etc, blah, blah). 265? BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh sorry, are you 12 years old? That's an ok lift then.

  27. That would be 265 from the floor, after my main workout. I pulled 405 the other day, so as a beginner I don't feel it's a bad lift.