Pat Casey and Southern California
I had what I truly believe was the honor of providing a monthly column for Powerlifting USA Magazine every month for approximately twenty-three years. During that period of time, especially in the magazine’s formative years, I often provided two, three, or more features in each issue. Needless to say, under the stewardship of Mike Lambert and relative to my comments about Mike and the magazine in past TITAN/ELEIKO columns, PLUSA eventually became, and remains, the primary source of information about all aspects of the sport. Also needless to say, the magazine demonstrated immediate and significant improvement once I no longer had to provide numerous articles for each issue! One of the most controversial columns I wrote was related to the use of abbreviated training programs and this perhaps is an excellent way to begin the detailed discussion about the types of training programs used in “the old days.” I have made the statement that to this younger generation of lifters, it seems that everyone trained in a similar fashion and in truth, many if not most lifters in any locale did in fact train in a similar manner. Relative to my article referenced above, I had described an effective, brief program that drew a great deal of comment from readers, many of them national and international caliber lifters. These comments, critical and complimentary, fell into two camps. The first stated that “a brief routine like this will only work if one uses drugs because there isn’t otherwise, enough stimulating work to benefit from it.” The other grouping stated “this type of program will only work for a drug-free lifter because they could not recover from more work without using drugs.” I always scratched my head on that interchange of stances but it certainly indicated and no doubt still indicates that confusion reigns among lifters and demonstrates that they perhaps could have learned more from their own sport’s history.
Without the constant day-to-day awareness provided by Internet sites like Powerlifting Watch for example, of what is going on in the sport, aspiring powerlifters sought out those in their area to gain advice and knowledge about training. In any town, city, or county there would be one or two outstanding lifters or one specific group of competitive and successful lifters. Others would seek them out as the “local experts” and often, their approach to training dictated what was done by a majority of that area’s lifters. Using Southern California in the 1960’s as an example, though this is a simplified statement, there were three primary “camps” or schools of thought for those who entered powerlifting competition. One was primarily influenced by my long time friend Pat Casey, a phenomenal lifter whose story is well known by many of the younger lifters. He was a big, tough high school youngster who excelled as a football player and field events athlete. Pat’s background and neighborhood did not for the most part, strongly reinforce college education and though it seemed that he was a shoo-in for either a football or track and field scholarship, he took another path. Under the influence of Gene Mozee, an excellent LA area lifter, Pat severed his ties with the more “organized” high school sports prior to his senior year to instead focus upon his barbell training. At the age of 17 or 18, Pat was already big and strong, tipping the scales at approximately 220 pounds and bench pressing in excess of 400 pounds when few men in the world could boast of such a lift. Pat, like most youngsters, had an interest in bodybuilding, placing fifth in the Teenage Mr. America Contest at the age of 16. Big, strong, and well built, he put his focus on strength work with emphasis on the bench press. This in itself was unusual as the three Olympic lifts were those done for any official competition, and the overhead press movement was the measuring stick for strength in gyms and in casual conversation on the street.
Training at the Redpath Gym on Manchester Boulevard in what later became “South Central” and a haven for gang activity in the Los Angeles area, Pat spent the late 1950’s earning his reputation as a true “freak of nature” and that is of course stated in the most complimentary manner possible. He focused primarily on upper body work and improving his bench press and the exercises that formed the core of his program remained staples throughout his competitive career. As early as an Iron Man article in May of 1959, Pat’s workout highlighted the bench press of course but augmenting the barbell bench press were incline dumbbell press, dips, and lying triceps extension. As with almost every lifter of his day, Pat also did work on the overhead press with either a barbell or dumbbells. Allow me to digress please and then relate the following story back to Pat.
Much if not most of my training through my college days was done with my partner Jack. I had completed the bulk of my training alone in the basement, backyard, or garage of my parents’ house from the age of 12 until I met Jack who unlike most college athletes of that era, understood the benefits of strength training. Though I had trained solo for so long, I always sought out bigger and stronger men to train with if I was going to train with anyone else, be it for one workout or for an extended period of a few months. That Jack was tough, disciplined, and stronger than I was in a number of movements kept me pushing to do my best. One of his friends from high school and another fine athlete, was his buddy Rosie, the infamous Warren Rose who took his hop/skip/jump record (later designated as the Triple Jump in track and field) and gridiron talent down to Marshall University in West Virginia. Rosie too loved to train and when we were all home in the area together, we would train as a group. At some point in time during our summer preparation, we decided to have a “lifting party” and augment it with food that I would supply. In addition to bouncing and/or providing security for various rock and roll groups, I supplemented my income by working with my uncle who was a very accomplished chef. He agreed to provide three dozen hamburgers and three dozen hot dogs to our cause. Our version of a party began on a Saturday when we were all off from our jobs and we began the lifting activities at approximately 9 AM. We would choose an exercise and for example, squat for one entire hour. We would then go into the kitchen, cook and eat, rest a while, and return to the garage and choose another exercise. After doing barbell rows for an hour or so, we would again go to the kitchen whip up some shakes to wash down our glut of burgers and dogs, and then head back to the barbell war with presses or deadlifts. This went on for approximately eight or ten hours and of course, we ate all of the burgers and hot dogs we had and whatever else passed for “muscle building food.” We were all so sore and fatigued after this bout of lunacy that I don’t believe we were able to lift or do our football preparation running for four or five days or more. When I related that story to Pat one day, he was laughing heartily and noted that at times, he would pick an exercise, and do varying sets and reps with different weights, for up to eight or ten hours! In Bruce Wilhelm’s “Pat Casey King Of The Powerlifters” book, he notes Pat’s penchant for doing dips for example, for literally hours at a time. Pat always in a positive way, described himself to me, as being “a bit crazy” and of course, at least as it related to lifting, we saw the similarities in each other.
In all of Pat’s published routines or in talking to those who knew him and/or trained with him at the Redpath Gym, Pearl’s (when Bill purchased the gym from George Redpath), Bill West’s garage, or Pat’s own Norwalk Health Club, the dumbbell inclines, dips, and lying triceps work were always present. Of course he also did a lot of back work and as his 800+ pound squat indicates, it wasn’t as if he ignored his lower body. In conversation with one of my mentors, Hugh Cassidy, the winner of the very first official World Powerlifting Championships as a superheavyweight in 1971, he viewed Pat’s program, and that done by many of the California based lifters as “a bodybuilding program less than one that’s geared for powerlifting.” Needless to say, even though Pat later believed he did a lot of over training and some of his dip and dumbbell incline performances led to shoulder injuries that over time limited his top numbers, whatever he did made Pat one of the strongest lifters of all time. Those that fell under his sphere of influence which included many more than those who trained in the same gym with him or as training partners, usually more or less copied what he did, attempting to duplicate his success. Thus one could observe many lifters in the Southern California area doing what might be considered a disproportionate amount of assistance work, especially for the bench press. Even when training with the Westside crew in Culver City, Pat would, while incorporating many of their methods, include his usual dips and triceps extension work for example.
Pat’s approach, especially to those who saw the need for “specificity” and directing the greatest effort and bulk of work to the three competitive lifts, could be seen as less efficient than other philosophies. Yet Pat Casey was and remains one of the greatest of all time and not merely as a pioneer. Wilhelm’s book should be in every lifter’s library for the fullest appreciation of Pat’s accomplishments for he was one of the best examples of success through dedication and consistency, and one specific way of getting it done.