Muscles of Iron

Strength, Health, and Might

Harry Paschall’s Power Training Apparatus

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Back in the day when some muscle magazines were actually worth reading, Harry Paschall penned a wonderful article for Iron Man entitled, “A Simple Apparatus for Power Training.” In this feature, Paschall described a very basic safety rack that he once constructed in his attic. It cost him just a few bucks to build (circa 1940s), and construction of the apparatus required only minimal tools, effort, and carpentry skill. That’s a pretty darn good combination.

Shown below is a CAD drawing of a power-building apparatus that is very similar to the one that Paschall built. Note that the rack is not equipped with barbell uprights. Rather, the barbell is supported by the two safety bars prior to use. This forces the trainee to take the barbell from the LOW position upon the commencement of the lift. The advantage here, as explained by Paschall, is: “You actually lift the weight instead of ‘bouncing’ with it.” Yep, you gotta use brute strength to get the bar moving upwards, but that extra effort will go a long way towards building strength, muscle, and power.

Photo 1

Depiction of Paschall's power training apparatus, shown with a barbell supported by the unit.

A recreation of the power rack built and used by Harry Paschall. Drawing by R. Drucker.

A most important feature of Paschall’s apparatus is that it allows the lone strength athlete to train the heavy power lifts in complete safety. The importance of this cannot be understated. Every year, more than a handful of strength enthusiasts suffocate to death after getting pinned by their barbell while performing the bench press. So, please don’t take a chance; whenever you bench alone, ALWAYS use a safety rack, such as the one featured here. Doing so may save your life.

Although less serious, a number of floors get beat to hell the result of lifters getting pinned at the bottom position of the squat and having no choice but to drop the heavy weight behind them. I once had to do this while working out in an old rented room, and I can tell you that the outcome was not pretty.

By positioning the catch bars to the desired height, the Paschall apparatus also allows you to perform heavy partial lifts in complete safety. The use of heavy partials was one of the secret weapons of many old–time greats for building tremendous muscle and ligament strength. They would pile on the plates and do half, quarter, and/or lock-out movements in key compound exercises, such as the press, the squat, and the deadlift. John Grimek, for example, did press lockouts with over 800 pounds, and he gave this exercise much credit for helping him acquire world–class pushing strength.

As mentioned above, building the Paschall rack is relatively easy, and procuring the required materials won’t take but a small bite out of your wallet. The posts are cut to length from four-by-four timber so that the affixed end plates mate firmly to the floor and ceiling. Holes are drilled in the posts at desired positions, each 1 1/8 or 1 1/4-inch diameter. I recommend spacing these holes four inches apart. Posts are positioned relative to one another so that the safety bars align approximately 42 inches apart (for a seven foot barbell) and so that the barbell has about eight inches of play, needed for natural arc movement.

Wood screws should be used to secure the end plates to the posts, and each of the four end plates can be made from a 20–inch length of 2×8 lumber. The top end plates should be supported or braced firmly to the ceiling support structure with appropriate hardware, and the bottom end plates should be supported or braced appropriately to the floor. Finish things off by inserting two catch bars, each at the desired position. Paschall used very long one–inch bolts for the catch bars, and he secured these with nuts. However, the budget-minded individual may prefer to use schedule 40 3/4-inch nominal pipe, 24–inch length each, as depicted in the drawing above. Of course, if you decide to build your own Paschall power training apparatus, it is easy to tailor its construction to match your own training needs and gym requirements.

Yours in strength and health,
Robert Drucker