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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training Part 66 1

I was very late entering the computer age and still do not own a cell phone. I have few skills beyond sending e mail and utilizing the computer keyboard as one would a typewriter to compose articles. When my computer and hard drive (patiently explained to me by my friend Phil, a true computer expert) crashed/burned/messed up and otherwise unusable was deemed beyond salvaging except by the most expert of specialists, this December 2013 column was swallowed and made to evaporate with the remainder of my extensive research materials. Rather than moan about it, I was focused on preparing for our annual, major Thanksgiving feast, hosting family and many friends who have come for this occasion for nearly thirty years. Some, like Pat Susco have an extensive lifting history with many records and championships under their belts. Others like former New York Giants defensive end Frank Ferrara are rooted in a football past and most would not know a bench press from a wine press but all enjoy the fellowship and tons of food. The holiday and loss of the computer allowed me to focus on so many things to be thankful for, including a few related to powerlifting.

As lifters, we should be thankful for competent spotters. Some, in both contests and during training, fall short of the minimal standard. One of our extremely strong trainees while at Iron Island Gym was Tom Metzger. Tom was an outstanding high school football player who has always trained because he enjoyed it, and probably needed to try to keep up with his beautiful wife who has won quite a few major, national level physique awards. We talked Tom into competing in an AAU meet in Pennsylvania for team points when we fell shorthanded but he was one of those non-competitive lifters that I have written about, and who some “experts” claimed “just don’t exist,” who could lift on the national level but didn’t care to. For approximately six months, Tom did not include twenty rep squats as part of his usual routine, but would, at the conclusion of at least one workout each week, load 400 or 450 onto the barbell, and squat for twenty reps, “just to make sure (he) could do it.” Yikes, most men at 220 pounds and 5’9” in height are not going to do that while focusing on the lift. Training prior to work, at 4:00 to 5:00 AM limited the available training partners Tom could seek out and one day, while I was occupied with a patient, Tom “needed” to complete his one set of twenty before showering and heading to his job. He asked one of our gym members to spot him, probably the only one remotely capable of doing it physically, but failed to note that this very nice individual was also on psychological medication that would either prevent him from, or cause him to, enter an alternate universe, known only to himself! Thus, with 450 pounds on his back and totally focused on the squat, Tom began grinding the reps while his “spotter” stood approximately fifteen feet behind him, silently chanting, swaying, eyes closed, and with no apparent awareness that he was supposed to be spotting a lifter doing a lot of reps with a lot of weight. Noting this, I rapidly and silently moved into spotting position, with absolutely no acknowledgement by the chosen spotter, that I was in position in front of him,  ready to grab an errant barbell.

Even at contests, every lifter should be thankful for organized, competent, experienced spotting although it is useless if not implemented. At one of our Iron Island meets, a well known, arrogant lifter who resided in another state insisted that he would set a record but wanted to utilize his own spotter. I had no objection to this but noted that for significant weights, we utilized three spotters as was usual in any contest setting. We were told, “No, I take the spot from my guy, and don’t need or want anyone else around the bar.” Any attempt by the head judge or me to dissuade him was met with what can only be described as “an attitude” and I told our guys, “be ready, be nearby but as he insisted, off to the side.” Thus, with a lot of weight on the bar and a ton of fanfare, our aspiring national level bench press champion stabilized himself on the bench, called for his special personal spotter, took the bar and immediately dropped it across his chest. That he did not suffer fractured ribs, collapsed lungs, and/or cardiac arrhythmia was a testament to good fortune and a coating of protective body fat!

One can only be thankful both in training and during meets, for accurate loading. While it is ultimately the lifter’s or trainee’s responsibility to know what is on the bar, most leave it to their coach or handler during meets to insure that the bar is properly loaded. Those who are as compulsive as I am and who must count every plate on every set can make errors. Most of my regular, long time readers know that my wife Kathy was one of the pioneers of women’s powerllifting and a top ranked competitor in the lighter classes, posting the second highest total in her class at one World Championship and holding the American Deadlift Record. At a regional level meet in the mid-1980’s, travel, a lot of work and family responsibility, and last minute preparation for a meet she had not initially planned to enter left her warm-up room squats looking less than what we had anticipated. I immediately lowered her starting attempt and she was obviously called to the bar sooner than originally planned. She noted the weight on the bar, I counted the plates on the bar, she stepped under the bar, backed up, set up…and was immediately crushed attempting to come out of the hole! Needless to add, the newly requested, approved, and announced weight was not on the bar, and her originally requested ten kilo heavier opener was not on the bar but a full twenty five kilos more than her opening attempt was somehow loaded an none of us caught it. The platform manager, expeditor, head judge, and loaders could only shrug and apologize though I took responsibility for the misstep. It was a great lesson; if it could happen to experienced lifters and coaches with competent spotters, loaders, expeditors, and judges, it can happen to any lifter.

My wife reminded me that we always needed to be thankful for good, safe equipment. In my early lifting experience, which began in 1959, it was not unusual to find a lot of homemade equipment because the commercial market was quite limited, especially when seeking strong, beefy, made-to-withstand-powerlifting-weights type of equipment. I had the advantage of constructing my own racks and benches in my father’s iron shop but it was not uncommon to see and use squat racks, benches, and support equipment made from wood. Some was bomb proof, fashioned by carpenters who knew their craft and utilized very heavy pieces of wood, angled and fastened so that stress points were strong enough to hold up to powerlifting pounding. Most were not. In the town of Inwood near us, one of the older fellows who had just graduated from Lawrence High School and who possessed what could be called an “advanced physique” for the era, invited me to take a workout with him. His equipment was all homemade and constructed of wood. Some of it looked great, some of it appeared to be a bit suspect but he assured me that all of it would hold up to the three hundred plus pound squats we would attempt in our early attempt at becoming stronger. I was not taken by complete surprise when my set of five reps with 275 pounds was plunked back into the wooden squat racks and one of the uprights split down the middle, from top to bottom. We both could only watch as one side of the barbell dropped and in what was almost slow motion, both of the uprights splintered into many pieces that shot forcefully in many directions! This certainly rivaled one of our lighter but stronger competitors attempting a limit deadlift only to feel and watch one end of an expensive power bar literally break, with the overlying sleeve and weights tumbling to the platform, quickly followed by the remainder of the unbalanced load. Observing one of our national champions while living and lifting in Southern California take a huge squat out of the rack was exciting but that excitement soon turned to a bit of panic as the bar literally bent across his upper back during the time it took to descent and then arise from his first rep. Needless to say, everyone present sprang forward to grab the bar and place it back into the rack. The legendary Pat Casey always took his own heavily constructed bench to meets in the back of a pickup truck because he had experienced benches that he was told would “easily support” his 340 pound bodyweight and 600 pound bench press attempts, collapse beneath him long before he tried 600.

Some prototypes have remained prototypes and never saw the light of day, thankfully, and as powerlifters we need to be thankful for that. Imagine a rack that was bolted into a large wooden platform, one of the early “rack and platform” units, that to my eye, did not seem as if it was properly secured despite sixteen industrial quality, heavy duty fasteners. Sure enough, with no more than four hundred pounds across the racks weight saddles, the rack and companion barbell did a slow motion forward swan dive to the platform with the observing lifters scattering and jumping out of the way before suffering possible decapitation. Good equipment would include 100 pound plates that do not weight 112 pounds each as they often did in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, 45’s that did not range from forty-one to fifty-two pounds, and 20 kilo bars that did not weigh in at 49 pounds. Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for all of the obvious family and health related matters but as powerlifters, let’s not forget what we need to be thankful for.

Next month, concluding Diversity In Lifting with what shall be a new computer!

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Ken Leistner

About Ken Leistner

American strength training writer, personal trainer, strength consultant for the National Football League, and chiropractor. He is often known as "Dr. Ken". Read More >

One Response to History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training Part 66

  1. Randell colon Randell colon

    Dr. Ken,

    I’m glad your still doing what you do best, teaching lifter’s old and young the proper way to lift.

    Your friend,

    Randy Colon

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