The Gold Standard

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One of the very hard to accept facts of powerlifting and the activity of just getting a heck of a lot stronger is that “less is more.” Powerlifters are driven, often compulsive, analytic, have great attention to detail, and of course competitive. These are all positive traits for an athlete seeking success in what will always be our beloved though obscure sport. Certainly the general public’s interest and involvement in all fitness activities relative to the 1950s and ‘60s where most people’s focus was on “work”, earning a living, and doing not-so-strenuous-stuff when off from employment has given some awareness to powerlifting. However, in a world, during an era where most men worked a job involving some level of physical labor and often an incredible amount of physical labor that severely taxed energy levels and drained the desire to do physical activity when not required, any type of weight training was seen in a negative light. Among the iron workers in my family and those they worked with, my ability to lift and carry very heavy equipment and pieces of steel in the shop and on jobs earned respect, but most of the men, primarily immigrants or at best first generation Americans brought up in immigrant neighborhoods with immigrant values, thought I was short of common sense for dedicating time and energy to powerlifting and training to improve my football performance. It was an accepted adage that working hard at what were often brutal physical tasks made one stronger and of course it did, up to a point.

For decades I wrote prolifically for publications related to my profession, the various “muscle magazines,” some book chapters, athletic event game or contest championship programs, and for Internet sites. I had features, my own dedicated columns, or major editing work but have in the past decade, purposely limited myself to providing Pete and TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS with what is now more than ten years’ worth of consecutive monthly features. Because I am enamored of football history and long before public interest noted it, concussion related research due to my own medical history that includes eleven hospitalizations for concussion with perhaps three or four times that number being suffered through years of football, street fighting for money, providing backstage security for a major recording company, two of the best known rock music venues, and various rock and roll tours, I also do “work” for HELMET HUT. If one goes on line to they will be treated to a ton of football history related to the suspension helmet era of football, a period spanning the approximate years of 1945 through the early 1980s with an emphasis on university and professional team histories, the evolution of football equipment, and the presentation of what is truly an on line museum of football helmet “stuff.” The company has provided the authentic reproductions (not “replicas”) of past helmets for the College Football Hall Of Fame, numerous collegiate athletic department displays, and the Halls Of Fame and “greatness displays” that many NFL teams have erected in the past fifteen years at their new or refurbished stadiums. Both “jobs,” for TITAN and HELMET HUT are done for pleasure and the dissemination of what I believe is interesting and useful information.

I began the TITAN January column/blog with the statement, “I have often wondered if all serious lifters are compulsive.” I noted the repetitive nature of any type of strength/weight training as something that can be easily embraced by any individual who functions well within the confines of a structured activity. This was not and is not a negative statement, it is just descriptive and a “trait,” perspective, or approach that can allow for a great deal of productivity. Related to this in some ways is a tendency to do what one is most comfortable with, likes or enjoys more than other activities, or finds greater success with. One does not have to be at all compulsive to slip into the training habit of giving disproportionate attention to one of the three specific powerlifts. I believe it is a tendency or trait to have a greater attraction towards what one is good at, has more success with, or gains recognition for. I have worked with or spoken to literally hundreds of collegiate and professional football players who told me that football was not their favorite sport. They preferred baseball or basketball but the predictable statement became “…but I was better at football so I stayed with it.” Being “better at football” could have translated to a scholarship that paid for one’s education, brought a great deal of positive attention throughout high school and/or college, and had the future possibility of earning a professional career. Thus it is understandable and perhaps predictable that any athlete would focus on what they are “good at” or seem to have a propensity for.

I have often wondered if all serious lifters are compulsive. Powerlifting, as are most forms of the Iron Game is a repetitive, clearly defined activity that fits comfortably into the mindset and activity level of those who enjoy or respond best to prediction and order. Admitting a certain degree of compulsiveness that allows for enhanced organization, punctuality, the accomplishment seen in completing a written or mentally visualized list, and responding best to predictability is vastly different than being called to wash one’s hands forty times per day. Having some of these noted traits and having worked in what used to be called a “mental institution” has given me some insight to both ends of the compulsive behavior spectrum. When my wife, former members of our commercial gym whom I still visit with frequently, and I discuss some of the trainees we encountered at Iron Island and in other establishments, it is quickly evident that perhaps gym attendance covers all ends of the compulsive spectrum.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the gym

You couldn’t hear shit, not a prayer or a hymn;

We were slick and hung stockings on the power rack without fuss,

In hopes that Pete, Isiah, and Matt would come and see us;

The Super Heavies were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of pizza and burgers danced in their heads;

And us lesser lifters left them alone and were not a pain,

One of the advantages of continuing to train with weights is that it provides ongoing exposure to those younger than you, once you pass a certain age. That “certain age” could of course vary dependent upon one’s history relative to engaging in the pursuit of physical fitness, enhanced strength, actual competition, and athletic background. However, there is almost a stereotype of the former competitive lifter or bodybuilder still visiting the gym in his or her 50s or 60s squiring around a dating partner twenty to thirty years their junior and explaining the finer points of a properly performed triceps kickback. Consistent training, a lifetime of regular training theoretically gives one a younger “physical plant,” maintains a “younger attitude” and perspective, and exposes them to the thoughts and expressions of one or two younger generations. All can be positive although I frequently stare in wonderment at many of the utterings that come from our much younger trainees. Some will develop their academic, social, and “attitude” acumen and distinguish themselves as successful individuals in the future while others are already confirmed chuckleheads! Still, I find it positive to receive daily input and exposure to those much younger than I am, especially if strength enhancement, powerlifting competition, and learning a number of life skills are part of their package of training benefits.

My statement in last month’s TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS column as expected, brought the same, usual responses that I specifically commented on; “As one of the old guys in the sport, how come there’s still so much that you think you can learn?” More or less and summarizing what I stated previously, there is always something to learn, something to be considered, something that requires more scrutiny, and the necessity to always reevaluate what one is doing if it is to be done as well as possible. In addition to writing about the topic in September’s blog/article, TITAN boss Pete and I discussed some specifics related to contest warm-ups in deciding the best presentation for the material. Repeating what is known by much of the powerlifting community, at least the community from “the old days,” Pete, Jay Rosciglione, and I all drifted around the 148 to 165 pound classes for a number of years. I had worked very hard to take what was a probable “natural bodyweight” of 145 – 150 pounds in high school, to 232 pounds of “yes, I have abs at this weight” at a height of less than 5’6” for the purpose of playing college football. I held that weight or most of it after my playing days, in part because I would occasionally believe I had “just one more football comeback in me” as per my brief time with the New York Giants Atlantic Coast Football League affiliate Westchester Bulls at a time where numerous NFL and American Football League clubs funded well coached and well played minor leagues throughout the country and many professional players were given time to develop and/or recover and play their way back from injury. I also directed backstage security operations for a major record label for their East Coast tours, a number of rock tours, and one of the best known rock venues in the nation. Being 5’,5-3/4” and a hard 230 pounds was an asset.

At one time I attempted to count the number of odd lift contests, driveway/garage/YMCA vs. YMCA meets, and official sanctioned and unsanctioned powerlifting competitions I competed in. Even with minimal age-related memory loss, going back to the early 1960s made this an impossible task. Every time I dedicated time and thought to the matter and believed I had a reasonable answer, I would receive a reminder via a colleague’s or relative’s comment that I had left an event out of the sequence. Thus I gave up but certainly from the age of fifteen forward, I was fortunate enough to be involved in all aspects of what eventually became powerlifting as a sport and thankfully so. I have also been blessed to understand my compulsive approach to specific problems or points of interest and utilize that personality trait in a productive manner which allows for organization and the commitment to doing everything as correctly as possible. Relative to my quest for athletic improvement, this included the obvious necessity to accumulate information and advice, especially in light of the dearth of training information available to any interested party from the time of my early involvement in the late 1950s through the early 1970s. As my many TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS monthly columns/blogs have indicated, if one wanted information about lifting weights, they had to locate it, and then travel to obtain it.

My initial intention of referencing one of my articles from the July 1991 edition of POWERLIFTING USA MAGAZINE has led to a four month discussion about Internet gurus “guruing” willing and in many cases, naively sincere powerlifters; useless but money-making nutritional supplements including those that promised to enhance “male virility” and attached body parts; the necessity of self-discovery and growth through figuring out one’s own pathway through the sport; and finally to the specific training program that sparked much discussion and controversy twenty-seven years ago. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that even prior to “fleshing out” the program, I already have received the same type of pointed and strongly held views from a number of lifters. As quoted from that original piece in last month’s TITAN SUPPORT column;

STRENGTH TRAINING NUMBER 114 began with the lines, “Hucksterism in powerlifting? The peddling of bullshit in the guise of legitimate training information? Enjoy a warm welcome to the media, advertising, and the Internet.” Briefly noting the fact that powerlifters, like all strength athletes are a prime target for purchasing “bullshit” products and information due to their dedication to what we must admit is a fringe sporting activity, annoyed some of our readers. However, as expected, it brought out many admissions and rather humorous accounts of “falling for the hype hook, line, and sinker.” Typical was this:

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