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 early contest experiences were strictly unplanned, random, and done in response to requests made or orders given by older trainees in the storefront gym I utilized when not usually in the basement, garage, or backyard of my home. In many ways the attraction and advantages of home training always outweighed the benefits of being in a true gym environment. Even when Kathy and I owned Iron Island Gym and boasted what I can objectively state was one of the best athletic and competitive lifting venues in the country, with the added incentive of having Olympic, professional, and top amateur athletes on the premises daily, I would do the majority of my training at home, in the garage. I enjoyed the isolation that lifting provided, its uninterrupted repetitive nature, and all of the aspects of the activity I found both exciting and rewarding when I began my lifting journey at age twelve. However, I also understood the numerous benefits of having exposure to more equipment, as basic as it was in the early 1960s, and the motivation of trying to emulate or keep up with those of superior ability and the fellows at Tony Pandolfo’s Valley Stream, N.Y. storefront gym were superior. In addition to the usual crew that included a number of bodybuilders that appeared in the magazines and competed in the New York Metropolitan area shows, we had a loosely organized team of shifting members who would travel to various other gyms and YMCAs to compete in odd lift contests. As was standard for the day, one could always plan that the squat and bench press would be part of any competition but after that, the deadlift, upright row, curl with or without back support, and something that was perhaps a favorite of whomever put the contest together would be on the list of competitive endeavors.
There were occasions when I decided to hitchhike the twelve to fifteen miles to the gym dependent where in the Long Beach/Point Lookout area we were living at the time, train on my own routine while taking pointers from the experienced men on site, and then be told, “We’re headed to this gym in the Bronx, be here 8 AM Saturday, you’re lifting.” It would have been in bad taste and one’s manhood would have been verbally leveled to have refused the directive thus my first contest experiences came while I was doing no more than trying to gain strength and muscular body weight for high school football. However, I enjoyed the competition, always believed that competing forced one to be at their best, and understood the benefits of being placed in a position where one had to perform as well as possible in that definite moment. I was never good enough or at a level to compete “to win,” or “beat this guy” whomever the guy might have been but I understood the need to respond positively to both self-induced and outside pressure to perform. This I realized was a factor that could be carried over onto the football field during practice or in games and sharpen one’s poise and focus. When powerlifting was first organized as a sport, most of the trainees one encountered in a typical YMCA basement-located weight room or storefront establishment did compete at some form of the Iron Sports. It was almost a natural extension of the actual training; one would train and every “X” number of weeks or months, they would join a few of the other regulars and travel within a few hours radius of home and compete. It was fun, it was different, it was a stimulus to return to the gym and train harder to correct faults and try to improve. At least for me, this was my initiation to powerlifting and it was invaluable.
Just as it was necessary to find out where “good guys” were lifting and then travel to see them and ask questions, one would go to these contests, big or small, and do a lot of observing and questioning. After competing frequently from bottom to top level, promoting and directing contests from driveway-located to state championships and everything in-between, and having the pleasure of coaching my wife who was second in the world championships at one time and held the American Deadlift record twice, I am still glad to report that I learn something at every contest I attend. This is similar to attending professional seminars, often serving as the emcee, keynote speaker, and clinic moderator, and walking out and stating, “This was really good, my notes indicate I have to look up these points of interest in the next few days.” Comments like that usually invite responses from those around me that include a bit of puzzlement. “After presenting so many seminars on training or injury prevention for example, as the keynote speaker, as the guy everyone else came to listen to, what could you have possibly learned from the others?” My usual answer is “A lot.” There is always something to be noted, something to be considered and whether discarded or incorporated into one’s own program, there is information, technique, something new, something really stupid, something else with promise, and many things that seem typical for and at any contest or among any group of powerlifters that with some deeper observation may reveal something different or better that can be done. I have never walked away from a football coaching clinic, a strength training or professional seminar, football game at any level, or lifting meet without having taken something with me that deserves at least a moment of my later reflection. Perhaps this is what has kept powerlifting as a major interest and why I still find so many aspects about it interesting.
One of our young lifters, Will Martorana is leaving for his first year of college in the week following the publication of this article. Four years ago he was a 110 pound guy, just a guy who did okay academically, had some interest in music, but no true passion or drive. In almost four years of powerlifting, he has grown to an excellent and dedicated student with numerous interests who had a wide choice of academic selections while filling out to a powerful 193 pounds. He had competed a number of times during his powerlifting journey and was successful in putting together a 400 squat and deadlift in an October 2017 contest in Albany, N.Y. The plan was to have him compete in April, adding twenty-five pounds to both his squat and deadlift (adding specifically to his contest best 407) and compete again in our annual driveway meet in July before heading off to school. Unfortunately an injury cost him a few months of training and he could not compete until August 11 at one of Ame and Gene Rychlak’s well run RPS contests in Lancaster, PA. Despite a few hiccups while feeling out his injured area which proved to be fine, Will did reasonably well under the circumstances, enjoyed himself, and is ready to depart for school and the college Powerlifting Club to continue his quest for strength and powerlifting increases and enjoyment. One of our basic tenets of actual contest day is competitive lift warm-ups and this was a topic of discussion after our day in Lancaster.
There is a true difference in building strength and demonstrating strength. It certainly should be obvious that the purpose of a contest performance is the demonstration of strength. Everything one does should be directed towards posting the highest effort in each of the three lifts and attaining a PR aggregate total. Nothing should detract from this, every effort should be made to dedicate one’s available strength and energy into each of the first, second, and third attempts performed on the competition platform. This is far different from being in the gym, training for enhanced strength where set and rep schemes are developed to stimulate, fatigue, push to the limit, and then recover one’s muscular ability at a higher level. Yet as we always do, Will and I observed what appeared to be the completion of almost full squat, bench press, and deadlift workouts prior to walking onto the platform for the real contest attempts. Sets of 20, sets of 10, sets of 6 reps done with much effort constituted what had to be a draining “warm-up” for some lifters. If the purpose of the warm-up sets and reps is to prepare one for their best of three contest efforts, is this advantageous? This was the most obvious point of discussion taken from this last event and one to be examined next month.
PART TWO, NEXT MONTH