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.
I limit myself of course by having never owned a cell phone (although my wife insists I take a pre-programmed “burner phone” in the truck on lengthy trips. I can send but still cannot answer the phone but it’s there for 911 emergencies), not knowing how to use one without immediate and specific instructions, knowing how to access Facebook, Twitter, and “those other related things,” and relying on my daughter to get me from Point A to Point B in computer function when I have to utilize my word processing program as more than a very efficient typewriter. Still many of our young trainees and aspiring competitors keep me in the loop on current powerlifting topics of interest, augmented with my almost daily round of e mail exchanges with Isiah and Pete at TITAN, especially during football season. Of late there seems to have been some online chatter about deadlifting form and once again having been given the summaries, it is the usual “lots of smoke, not much fire.”
HISTORICAL INSERT: JOHN BLACK’S “WILD BUNCH”
“Long ago and far away,” with no reference to dancing Gene Kelly, the well-known movie that brought the song to the public in the mid-1940s, nor what must be the one hundred or more covers of the popular mid-century hit, there was a group of excellent and always underrated and under publicized powerlifters in Cleveland. Black’s Powerlifting Team somehow remained somewhat under the radar in what was then the very small and insular world of powerlifting despite having a number of record-threatening and record-holding lifters. Certainly they were the most colorful crew to dominate the lifting landscape and they were a reflection of John Black, the owner of the gym that served as training headquarters and leader of the squad. The collection of very strong men included Dave Schneider, a national champion and member of the 1982 US World Championship team who was always one of my favorite lifting acquaintances, record holder Steve Wilson, Jack Sideris, Hoss The Boss (Mike Gollehon although I don’t believe anyone outside of Maine where he was born or Cleveland where he lived most of his life knew his true name), and Dan Wohleber among others.
They had a well-earned reputation of being tough on the street, tough while training in the gym, and absolutely tough when it came to attacking the heaviest of weights in competition. The aforementioned Dave Schneider was always one of my favorite lifting acquaintances because he was eclectic, independent, and emphasized the point that it was important to follow your own instincts and decisions rather than follow the herd. He was employed in a specialized accounting field that had him traveling to different parts of the United States, yet he always maintained an exacting and consistent training schedule. His training programs were his training programs, designed by himself, for himself and the only justification needed was the results or lack of what he expected. Dan Wohleber was a young teenager when he found himself at Black’s Gym and within a few years, on a diet of McDonald’s and soda, became the first man to deadlift 900 pounds. John black absolutely did his “own thing” with little concern about the opinions of others. A religious man who would deliver an outsized ass-whipping to those on the street who needed one, he and his lifters marched to the beat of their own drummer. However, their success over the course of a number of years emphasizes the primary point of this month’s column: keep your own counsel, learn what works best for you, and enjoy the journey towards improvement and success.
My philosophy about doing most things echoes that of Kim Wood, the NFL’s first officially hired strength and conditioning coach. Before the “educated historians” attempt to correct me and state that “Alvin Roy was the first NFL strength coach” allow me to repeat references I have made a number of times within the body of my TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS series of monthly columns. I had the pleasure of being acquainted with Alvin, trained at his Baton Rouge gym in 1969, and was allowed to sleep in the weight storage shed located outside at the rear of the building while fending off a herd of feral cats that roamed freely on the premises at night and often during the day. I was a rapt student and had the privilege of watching recently deceased Jim Taylor train. He was two years into his retirement from a Hall of Fame pro football career, in the same exceptional physical condition he maintained into his early 80s, and flawlessly gracious and friendly. I was honored that I got to talk to him and was even treated to lunch by this athlete who could have been a champion lifter had he put his efforts into the endeavor. Thus, I was an “Alvin Guy” but in truth, he was the first NFL (and collegiate) strength training consultant as he was never a full-time, always on the field or in the weight room coach for the San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, or New Orleans Saints teams he worked for and did great work with. Kim became the Bengals employee in 1974 and broke that ground in the NFL. An inveterate reader with a philosophical bent Kim has always preached the value of self-exploration and discovery through the activity of weight training. He was perhaps the first to note the invaluable stimulation of introspection and self-awareness that training can bring if one is both serious about being the most muscularly large and powerful individual they can be, and augments that with a desire to compete. I have held the same point of view, frequently noting that there is value in figuring things out for oneself. Few things are more valuable than getting a general body of guidelines regarding the three powerlifts, their performance, and routine construction and then going into the gym in order to find out what best works for one as an individual. Long experience has taught me that “getting a program from a champion” might provide some singular piece of information or a training tip that will help one’s lifts along, no matter how experienced they are, but copying their exact routine will for 99% of trainees, result in frustration and disappointment.
Round-back or flat-back deadlifts, what is “best,” what is safest, what provides the best leverage, which technique is most suited for record breaking performances, and just how should one perform the deadlift in order to improve? Oh yeah, and what about those sets and reps, can someone also tell me how I should be doing those? According to more than one of my young trainees, this has of late been an Internet topic of interest and conversation. I will repeat that there is value in pondering and experimenting with the finer points of the competitive lifts but this is far different than requesting and then accepting an answer from anyone other than oneself. Taking no more than a minute of thought, and just from “my day” some of the all-time greatest deadlifters of the 1960s and ‘70s and some of the best ever utilized the less commonly seen round back style of deadlifting. Lamar Gant and Vince Anello had numerous national and world records, more or less stifflegged deadlifting absolutely huge poundages. Don Cundy was one of the first of the super large competitors who was innovative in his training in order to perfect what was a strict, stifflegged style. Many who may not be considered proponents of the stifflegged deadlift did in fact actually perform in with that very technique when they reached their top series of weights, with the relatively forgotten and underrated Ohio great Steve Wilson leading that pack. Thus, the question “should I use a stifflegged style or more conventional flat back deadlift?” has been with us as competitive lifters from the sport’s earliest days of legal organization and before that there was Bob Peoples. If Peoples’ name does not ring a bell, one is way behind in understanding the evolution of powerlifting, strength enhancement, and even equipment design because in the 1940s, Bob was a revolutionary, experimenting with various ranges of motion, homemade bars and assisted lift devices, and a myriad of other things that helped him become one of the all-time greats. Thus the discussion can go on for an awful lengthy period of time and this conversation has not even touched about the inclusion of consideration for Sumo style deadlifts. Holy smokes when that was first viewed on the competitive platform there was serious discussion of outlawing its performance because “this isn’t a real deadlift,” “the range of motion is about half of what a conventional deadlift is so not fair,” and “how do you compare this with a ‘regular deadlift’, it’s a completely different lift.”
When the answers are needed for “What’s best for me?” allow me to refer you to a recent article in the New York Times. Like most conservatives I rate the Times excellent for wrapping fish or garbage in but of little use for gleaning unbiased and factual news reportage. However they recently had a profile on marathon runner Allie Kieffer, Who Says Allie Kieffer Isn’t Thin Enough to Run Marathons? [see https://nyti.ms/2Aub8yw]. Ms. Kieffer gave up competitive long distance running when she could not meet her goals, eventually gave up the sport completely, and then returned to it on her own terms. A career summary up until the time she walked away could have been, “She was good enough to land an athletic scholarship to college and hoped to continue running after graduating. But she wasn’t as thin as the women she raced against. Her coaches suggested she diet. She eventually gave in, and her body broke down.” When deciding to run “for fun” she did not fall back into her high school or collegiate programs but instead ran for the enjoyment and for lack of a better summary, “felt things out” with no intention of competing. Unlike other marathon runners, especially at an elite level, she included weight training, Cross Fit, and ate a lot of the foods she liked, very much like a “normal person.” If one knows anything about competitive cross country running, and my wife and I have over the decades trained and/or repaired and rehabilitated a lot of them, they are in my opinion among the most compulsive of a compulsive athletic population. They follow a formula, they document everything, they eat and train in a very specific manner and I always, as a very general statement, found them to be one of the most difficult groups of athletes to work with for the above noted reasons. Ms. Kieffer has become a top rated marathon runner doing seemingly everything against the dictates of “the book” yet she is among the best in the United States and happy with what she does. The noted article is in fact a wonderful summary of everything I have stated.
Perhaps the most meaningful summary of this athlete’s “performance revision” can be noted as “…Kieffer has given us a powerful example of what can happen when we stop trying to force ourselves to meet preconceived notions of how to achieve success — especially unhealthy, untrue ideas — and go after our goals on our own terms. When we focus less on fixing what we consider to be inadequacies and more on reinforcing our strengths, we can realize potential we didn’t even know we had.” Brad Stulberg who authored the book Peak Performance stated, “Sometimes, the act of trying takes so much energy that it can prevent you from actually doing the thing you want to do.” Kathy and I always took the approach that we can take our athletes to a certain point but after that, it becomes a collaborative effort with the lifter providing input, feedback, and helping to guide their own path when competing. Thus the question is far more than “how should I deadlift,” but rather, “How should I live and compete!”