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One of the regular readers of my ongoing TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS series of articles, the “blog” in modern parlance I still seem to struggle with, stated it better than I could have when he wrote, “I get it. You wanted to make the points about certification and the one about really unsafe equipment in the warm-up rooms but I guess neither is easy to get through with so much history to go back to.” I would agree and I won’t yet be moving out of the warm-up room so to speak because there were so many comments sent my way regarding the last installment. I have written, and emphasized that much of the equipment we used in the 1960’s and into the mid-1970’s just wasn’t safe but we were, as a group of athletes, oblivious to that fact. If we had any awareness and certainly some men did, we were accepting of whatever was placed before us. If one did not live through the era where Olympic weightlifting was “the” sport in the Iron Game and powerlifting was viewed as a leftover activity for those not athletic enough, flexible enough, quick enough, or smart enough to pursue the press, snatch, and clean and jerk, it is difficult to convey how appreciative we were to even have a sport to call our own. Having an organized meet to go to, despite any deficiency in equipment, was accepted as a bonus and privilege. Emphasizing this point were the many comments I received from “older” or more experienced lifters, enough to fill two or three columns.
The two primary points I attempted to make in last month’s column were certainly made if the number of e mails I received is any indication. Most of the older, experienced lifters included a tale, one that became humorous through the prism of time, about inadequate warm-up room equipment and/or the subsequent mishaps that resulted at a meet because of the equipment used. If one was a self-designated powerlifter in the 1960’s, they competed on and with inadequate equipment because, as this series of articles should have made clear, almost all of the equipment was inadequate relative to the weights and stress it was subjected to. I wrote that Pat Casey was forced to have his own bench fabricated so that as “the” biggest bench presser of the day, he could compete and feel safe from injury. Pat would bring the bench with him to various competitions and not one other lifter believed that it provided him with an unfair competitive advantage. Instead they were glad to see him, knowing that they too would be utilizing a piece of equipment that was predictably safer than anything the meet director may have been providing.
The guys who grew up in Long Beach, N.Y. in the 1950’s and ‘60’s had a reputation for being knuckleheads. Not all obviously, that would be an oversimplification and of course, broad-ranged stereotyping. Thus I will more accurately state that many of the guys I grew up with or hung out with in Long Beach, N.Y., fellows who grew up in the city, (and the politicians are very quick to point out that “Long Beach is only one of two actual, official cities on Long Island,” making it ripe for political shenanigans that have plagued it for decades), were knuckleheads. Although I was an athlete who was obsessed with my lifting and pursuit of football success, many in the crowd drank alcohol and most of us viewed street fights as adjunctive fitness training. My background has given me a compact grouping of reflexive responses when I am asked, “Can I speak to you for a minute?” that range from taking a step back and assuming a defensive body posture to the verbal jab of “Whatever it is, I didn’t do it.”
I began last month’s column, Part 78 in our series, with the statement, “Very few individuals awaken and begin their day with the thought that the world needs another barbell set.” I was clear that at some point in time, TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEM founder Pete Alaniz had that exact thought and over the course of approximately eighteen months, the result was TITEX. We have had a quite a bit of reaction and response to the announcement of the product release, the appearance of the set, and commentary on the performance of the new barbell and plates by some of those who utilized them in their debut at “The Arnold.”
Very few individuals awaken and begin their day with the thought that the world needs another barbell set. In our ongoing TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS series of articles, we have explored, discussed, and dissected the evolution of barbells as they have been utilized in our sport of powerlifting. There are a number of quality barbells on today’s market, and some perfectly suited to the needs of the powerlifter. Ivanko, Eleiko, the original Capps Texas Barbell, and others manufacture bars specifically for powerlifting. There are many “older” bars floating around the training community, used but in exceptionally functional condition. Dependent upon the year and series run, some of the York barbells can be depended upon to give continuing good service past the decades they have already been in use. Should one be fortunate enough to stumble upon one of Jim Sutherland’s Hastings Barbells manufactured in the early 1980’s, they will have an underrated model that had limited distribution, that still has every advantage of the newest barbells on today’s market. Our facility utilizes a seventeen year old Leoko bar that has seen daily service without complaint. There are companies that make Olympic weightlifting bars that are very applicable to powerlifting and while I would not own, use, or “gift” any of the junk imported bars that claim “1500 pound test” for example, almost all non-competitive trainees could spend a lifetime under one of these barbells with little risk of injury or product failure.
Our ongoing series of articles has been very much focused upon the development of the sport of powerlifting, the unfortunate growth of specialization in the distinct and different aspects of the Iron Game, and the evolution of the equipment utilized in powerlifting. There can be no complaint about the evolution of equipment. We have moved from large, cumbersome, and very heavy pieces that were in fact necessary to preserve the safety of participants both in training and in competition, to better designed, lighter, and while being lighter, stronger equipment.
In Denmark, powerlifter Erik Rasmussen gave quite a bit of thought to the equipment needs of himself and his training partners. As a steel fabricator, perhaps this was a natural progression, but his love of powerlifting and joy in his work came together to produce the next evolution in powerlifting equipment. While there is very good and very poor equipment on the powerlifting market, there is no denying the fact that there is certainly a lot of it available to the consumer. Portable squat racks, permanent squat racks, stand alone squat racks, connected squat racks, power racks, utility benches that are modular fits for power racks, competition bench presses, and of course, an almost overwhelming variety of “powerlifting barbells” makes for a confusing but consumer friendly market.
Our TITAN SUPPORT series of articles has chronicled the work of Jim Sutherland who developed the first electric adjustable squat racks. These were introduced in the early 1980’s by Jim’s Hastings Barbell Company and proved to be a big hit with lifters. Unfortunately, the components were expensive and though safe, efficient, and built to last (our facility has one of the first two racks that Jim fabricated and almost thirty-five years later, it still operates perfectly), they were preserved as a specialty meet item. As Jim related to me, the cost of the mechanical actuator was $440.00 in 1980. That same component would now cost $1400.00, and needless to add, building each piece “by hand” as a specialty item adds to the overall expense. Georgia Tech University and the University of Iowa had a number of these and they are still in optimal use in private facilities throughout those areas of the country. The electric racks made it possible to literally use the touch of a switch to elevate the rack up or down and to an exacting height. Jim introduced rollers within the weight saddles that allowed for adjustment of the saddles in or out without having to first elevate the loaded barbell from the racks.
The competitive powerlifters of any era respect the record holders, the greats, the leading lifters of their time and place. Thus, the answer to the question, “Who is the greatest?” will be answered dependent upon age and experience as well as statistical evidence. Bodyweight consideration and personal preference come into play too, with some viewing heavyweights in a more glamorous or important perspective than lighter men or women. Discussions and arguments abound but few discuss the more important equipment innovations that have allowed for the evolution of the sport, the enhanced safety of the sport, and the factors that allow the sport to continue. Everyone with a love of powerlifting has immediate recognition of the names Mike Bridges, Ed Coan, Andy Bolton, Donnie Thompson, and Rebecca Swanson for example. Few if any understand the importance of Jim Sutherland, Ray Madden, or Erik Rasmussen. Yet the legacy of the latter gentlemen has had a longer lasting effect on the sport than the former roll call of champions.
One might believe that with my reliance upon the interjected materials from Saul Shockett in the past few TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS columns and references to Mark Rippetoe this month, that I don’t have much to offer in the way of training or practical, powerlifting related advice. Of course many don’t believe I have much to offer under any circumstances, but utilizing the expertise of others is merely a reflection of my belief that it is important to gather information, analyze it, and improve what one knows and/or is doing in their approach to training, literally until the day they give it up. In my case that obviously will be when I am no longer physically capable of training, thus I am always seeking to improve.
The Alaniz family are true American pioneers in the field of innovating and manufacturing Powerlifting and Strength products.Since 1981, they have played a leading role in the development of equipment and the growth of the sport through sponsorships and contributions. Pete Alaniz was awarded the prestigious Brother Bennett award from the USAPL in 2006. ×
Since 1981, Titan Support Systems Inc has been leading the charge in innovation and craftsmanship of Powerlifting and Strength products.
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