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;
“A while ago I mentioned that Hugh Cassidy, one of the all time greats, trained as simply as one could. He usually trained two days per week doinga few heavy sets of the squat, bench press, and deadlift. His assistance work was limited to some neck and forearm work and little else. His garage gym was a safe haven from the rest of the world and also the site of his world championships preparation…Hardly high tech or complicated, although a lot of thought went into each and every one of Hugh’s programs as he tempered his body progressively in preparation for upcoming challenges.”
Is this a “brief” program? Is this a “beginner’s” program? Is this a program suited only for one utilizing anabolic drugs or a lifter who never utilized performance enhancing products?
Hugh was powerlifting’s first official Superheavyweight Champion, besting Jim “Chimes” Williams in the 1971 inauguration of the event. I have written numerous articles about or making significant mention of Hugh, a very intelligent, creative, artistic individual who also had an abiding interest in becoming larger and stronger. He fashioned his programs from a philosophy that “less is more” and his creativity remained rooted in building functional and safe training equipment for himself and his training partners instead of constantly tinkering with his programs while trying to “re-invent the wheel.” There has been some writing by “those who knew him” stating that he “only did the three lifts” but then listing a host of assistance exercises. I can only speak of the knowledge I acquired when sitting in his basement gym, watching him train, having him visit our home and “messing around” with the weights while comparing our approaches to training as we both matured from the early 1970s into the mid to late-1990s. In my PLUSA article I could have made reference to a number of lifters from the sport’s earlier days like Tony Fratto who did little else but the competitive lifts, and some who maintained the same philosophy into the late ’80s but because I knew Hugh, viewed him as a positive influence on my lifting, enjoyed his artistic and intellectual bent towards matters, and of course because I had such great respect for his lifting abilities, I used him as the example for the original article.
As with most successful lifters, Hugh Cassidy trained hard, trained consistently, and trained hard consistently! This will always be a primary key to powerlifting success but he focused on the three lifts and little else. Some articles noted that he did “arm work” after the main part of his workout had been completed and I’m certain he did as he had homemade dip bars and what he called “push up bars” in the basement and we did in fact do some alternate dumbbell curls together. However, he varied the reps dependent upon where he was in his preparation period and twice per week, he did squats, bench press, and deadlifts. For many years he did shrugs at the conclusion of the three lifts and once per week would do what he called “heaves” which could best be described as a shrug/very partial deadlift/upright row with a lot of momentum, a movement meant to assist with the final few inches to lockout on one’s conventional form deadlift. If one is a powerlifter, that is their sport and they have to master the skills of their sport. The easy translation is, “one has to learn how to squat, bench press, and deadlift as well as possible.” In this instance “as well as possible” means efficiently relative to one’s leverages, being as muscularly strong and large in the involved muscles relevant to each of the three competitive lifts, and being psychologically prepared and able to lift the heaviest weights one can because that is in fact, the sport! Accepting what to me is this self-evident truth, it certainly makes logical sense to put one’s efforts into the three lifts and if these can be progressively and constantly moved forward, perhaps limit any other work.
When this article/column was first published in Powerlifting USA here was the reasoning behind the many, many comments that we received at the magazine:
– A short, brief program consisting of the three lifts and little more will only work for a beginner or inexperienced lifter. They have to learn how to do the lifts, gain experience doing the lifts, and can progress doing just the lifts. Once they have reached a certain point in that progress, they have to add assistance work.
– A short, brief program consisting of the three lifts and little more will only work for an experienced lifter. They know how to maximize every set and rep in their training sessions and can benefit from such limited work. A new or intermediate lifter needs to temper their body with a lot more work and assistance work.
– A short, brief program consisting of the three lifts and little more will only work if one is a heavyweight lifter because they would not have the recuperative ability to handle much more work and recover sufficiently to do a brief, hard program on a long term basis.
– A short, brief program consisting of the three lifts and little more will only work if one is a lightweight lifter because they have to be careful to put muscle on their body to maintain a specific weight class. Any work in addition to the three lifts may put muscle on that is not directly utilized in the three lifts and thus would not be suitable for these lighter class lifters.
– A short, brief program consisting of the three lifts and little more will only work if one is using anabolic drugs. The only way one can make progress with such little work and a lack of assistance work is to rely on drugs to make up for what is lacking in muscle stimulation.
– A short, brief program consisting of the three lifts and little more will only work if one is NOT using anabolic drugs because doing additional assistance work would not allow them to fully recover between workouts.
Presented are differing and specific points of view, different perspectives on the same question. No wonder many lifters are rather easily confused when considering the best way to prepare for competition or for their long term training. Dependent upon one’s own experiences in the sport, they will attach themselves to or more strongly agree with one of these perspectives. Of course just posing what to me seem like obvious questions about a singular and rather straight forward approach to powerlifting success immediately generated points of view that are in opposition. Needless to add, the same type of responses would no doubt be the result of presenting a lengthy multi-set, multi-exercise program requiring five to seven training sessions per week. There would be those defending the practice with logical, practical reasoning and those opposing it with the same zeal and logic. This very much explains what I believe is the necessity to think, try, and eventually figure out what works best for YOU, for every individual seeking to be the very best at what they do.