Zuver’s Hall of Fame Gym, Circa Late 1960’S.
Anyone who has participated in the sport of powerlifting knows that there is but one publication that represents the sport of powerlifting, and it is POWERLIFTING USA. In the past few months PLUSA, like this series on the TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS web site, has featured historical articles. In addition to the usual selection of fine training related materials, there is information about the original Westside Barbell Club. Certainly, when the modern era lifter hears “Westside,” they immediately visualize Louie Simmons and his stable of incredible lifters and all of their national and world records. I would imagine that the Reverse Hyper Machine and other innovative training devices and techniques that Louie is so well known for would also quickly come to mind. The PLUSA material is a reminder that there was an earlier, original Westside Club, one that I was lucky enough to train at a number of times. The club founded by Bill “Peanuts” West goes back further than his home garage in Culver City, California where I was one of the fortunate lifters to walk up the street and then the driveway into a unique gathering of absolutely great powerlifters and track and field athletes. Though I had trained at Zuver’s Hall Of Fame Gym further south in Orange County’s Costa Mesa, and years later traveled to California to specifically visit Bob and Jean Zuver, it was through Zuver’s 165 pounder Lenny Ingro, a very underrated and under publicized champion, that I came to West’s garage gym. Ingro, who did the bulk of his training at Zuver’s, did his Saturday training in West’s garage and was very much a part of Peanuts’ crew.
As the many writings of Louie in PLUSA, and the historical Westside article in the June issue clearly notes, there was a training system or template that Peanuts and George Frenn utilized with almost all of those who trained within the confines of the garage. At Zuver’s there was also a template and it could be said that with some individual variation and the necessity to improve points of weakness, most of the Zuver’s lifters trained in a similar manner. Bob Zuver had a very competent collection of lifters who influenced the “way things were done” and of course, was no doubt smart enough to inject the wisdom and ideas that came from the many luminaries who visited his unique establishment. Zuver’s was a magnet for some of the best of the day. Dave and Laree Draper’s web site has a number of articles and forum threads pertaining specifically to Zuver’s Hall Of Fame Gym
See more Zuver Gym information at:
Like Westside, both the original and Louie’s establishment, there was a general system of training that most of the fellows pursued. 198 pounder Bill Witting and multi-time champion Tom Overholtzer set the squatting standards while many throughout a range of weight classes were recognized as excellent deadlifters. There were a few who benched big but Zuver’s philosophy dictated that “the work necessary to increase the bench press by twenty-five pounds could result in a fifty pound increase in the squat or deadlift,” thus, lots of effort went into those lifts. Remember though, this was Southern California in the ‘60’s and there was still quite a bit of emphasis on exercises that intended or not, certainly resulted in large muscular physiques. If a “general program that everyone used” at Zuver’s could be presented, it would look very much like the following:
- Bench Press
- Dumbbell Bench Press
- Incline Press
- Deadlift Assistance
- Repeat of Monday workout
Dependent upon where one’s bench press was relative to a stated goal or the date of an upcoming contest, the sets and reps would vary. However, as a general rule, the warm-up would consist of a set x 6 reps and one or two sets x 3 reps. If there was “a usual” it would have been 3 sets x 5 reps or 3 sets x 3 reps with the working weight of that day and most often, a back off set x 5-8 reps.
The bench press would be followed by the Dumbbell Bench Press and Reverend Bob had welded short angled racks, long enough to easily and safely hold a pair of his largest dumbbells and the gym dumbbells did go as high as 200 pounders as I recall. The small racks were angled so that one could sit at the end of a flat or incline utility bench, literally hug the heavy dumbbells to one’s chest, and then roll back onto the bench with the dumbbells. This eliminated the often dangerous or energy sapping need to clean the dumbbells to the chest before attempting to lie back in place for the actual bench press movement, or finding spotters who were both strong enough and experienced in handling heavy dumbbells who then had to simultaneously hand the dumbbells off to the lifter. When the set was completed, a spotter could then help the lifter to a seated upright position by merely laying his palms onto the trainee’s upper back and literally flipping him upward. Our group of trainees never had a problem handling dumbbells in the 150 range using this procedure. Most of the powerlifters did 8 sets x 3 reps in the dumbbell bench press though some of the bodybuilders used reps in the 6 to 8 range.
Zuver’s Gym had a twelve foot long dip rack that had what resembled a small railroad flatcar, sans handles, beneath it. The cart was meant to support huge dumbbells that would be worn on a hip belt so that one could add up to a few hundred pounds over bodyweight for the dip exercise. Like the dumbbell bench press, the weighted dips were also done for 8 sets x 3 reps by the powerlifters. The squats that followed the upper body work on Mondays, were done in a similar manner to the bench press regarding sets and reps.
Friday’s workout was similar with adjustments made on the bench press so that the lifter did not overtrain. Squats again would follow the upper body work and the load for full barbell squats would often be lowered to again, avoid overtraining although for some, this would instead be a day of partial squats. In a uniquely designed power rack, a padded bench would snap securely into place over the support pins to allow for bench squats to the desired depth. In another rack, an aircraft bomb hoist, no doubt salvaged from a World War II relic, had been refurbished into workout order and was available to lift huge weights off of pinned lifters doing heavy quarter and one-eighth level squats. On Wednesdays, incline pressing with a barbell was done by almost everyone “on the program” and the sets and reps again mimicked the bench press protocol. This would be followed by Deadlifts which would also follow the same set/rep scheme. The assistance movements done for the deadlift would follow on this day and may have consisted of pulldowns, various rows, and/or shrugs. Curls with both the fixed straight barbells and fixed EZ Curl bars that went from 20 to 200 pounds in five pound increments were done at the discretion of the trainee on any or all of the training days. When I asked Bob, “Who is going to use a 200 pound EZ Curl bar?” I was told that Paul Anderson had been by to visit just the week before our initial appearance at the gym and he in fact did curls with the 200 pound fixed EZ Curl bar. I figured I had used up my quota of stupid questions and listened rather than asked from that point onward!
In retrospect, the typical Zuver’s Hall Of Fame Gym had for most, an overabundance of work that directly affected the deltoids and other pressing-involved musculature. However, we thrived on the program, enjoyed it, and most of the powerlifters at least, followed a very similar routine template. On Saturdays, Ingro as noted earlier, might lift with the Westside group while Overholtzer, Witting, Lozano, Kindred, and Jim Waters for example, might stay together as a group and do no more than the three lifts as they prepared for a contest. Like other gyms and training centers of the past and very much unlike today where cookie-cutter facilities exist, Zuver’s had a great atmosphere, fueled by a group of men intent on pushing each other to improvement. The strains of Gospel music playing above the din of the clanging iron, the illuminated signs of spiritual encouragement and quoted scripture added to the unique atmosphere, one that produced many successful lifters.