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.
Athletes like Tony Scrivens could choose any number of activities to excel in, enjoy them all, and excel! Known primarily as a great strongman competitor through the 1990s and early 2000s, Tony had success as a bodybuilder, powerlifter, and numerous other sports. Of greater interest was his talent as a chef and baker, known nationally for his wonderful cheesecakes and homemade fruit based bbq sauces
There are times when “the thing” or lift one is good or best at, is not necessarily their favorite choice but it is predictable that a disproportionate amount of time and energy might be given to it anyway due to the positive feedback it brings. In my own case I always enjoyed squatting. High reps, especially in the twenty-plus range or for fewer reps were always fun and rewarding. When I began training at the age of twelve in the late-1950s, “everyone” did twenty rep squats. Twenty rep sets of squats were seen as the fastest and most efficient way to become muscularly larger and stronger for anyone who entered a gym. The goals of bodybuilding, odd lifting, Olympic weightlifting, athletic enhancement, and “just being big and strong” fell under the umbrella of performing sets of twenty reps in what we called the barbell deep knee bend. Of course Olympic lifters and odd-lifters (later to evolve into powerlifting) did periods of low rep squatting as did competitive or recreational bodybuilders although many physique competitors would hold to higher rep squats all year long. The relatively limited number of athletes who lifted weights and then performed squats usually kept the repetition range towards the high side. Twenty rep squats were viewed as the most efficient way to get big, strong, well-conditioned, and mentally tough. In my own case I was never as efficient or successful translating successful squatting of any rep range into huge numbers, settling for consistent performances in the mid-500 range across more than one bodyweight class. I could however deadlift well by any measure. I enjoyed the deadlift also but it was a second choice behind the squat and I always found heavy deadlifts a bit difficult to recover from. However, being “good” at deadlifting, I found that I did a lot of it, spent more training time focused on it, and despite never utilizing significant ancillary or assistance exercises, seemed to always wind up with more of them related to the deadlift than the other two competitive movements. I believe that most lifters spend a disproportionate amount of time on the bench press and its assistance work. This has been a fifty year trend that seems to have no ceiling and reminds me of the sage words of Reverend Robert Zuver who told me that “any effort put into adding twenty-five pounds on your bench press could give you fifty on your squat or deadlift.”
HISTORICAL INSERT: THE REVEREND ROBERT ZUVER
Two men I shared long-time friendships with, have had many conversations with ranging from the sharing of specific training information to “life as we know it,” Robert Zuver and Dave Draper (I am hopeful that Robert, Jr. does not mind me using his photo!)
Mentioning Bob Zuver, Sr. previously in this article, reminded me of a lot of important, effective, and absolutely sage advice given to me by the man who had the most unique training establishment to ever grace the world. The only “gym” to rival Bob’s Hall Of Fame Gym on Hamilton Avenue in Costa Mesa, California was the outdoor, built-on-a-hill San Diego home gym of Joe Regnier that was featured in the October 1963 issue of Iron Man Magazine. There has been frequent mention of Bob and the gym in many of my previous columns and every word of praise for his ingenuity, knowledge, and delivery of advice related to both lifting and “life” had a positive effect on me. I was reminded, after utilizing Bob’s quote about emphasis needing to be directed towards the squat and deadlift about my training time in the original gym, being the first (with training partner Jack and our Marshall University football buddy Rosie) to use the just-grouted brand new shower, receiving terrific training advice, and being hustled out of the gym one day as Reverend Bob implored us to “get in the truck” where we motored onto the San Diego Freeway. There had been an automobile accident a bit earlier and a length of guard rail had been torn out of the median and twisted into scrap metal. We immediately stopped, put it onto the truck bed, and later saw it converted into a beautiful incline bench! The type of advice that dictates that one work hard, work consistently, be innovative, think for themselves, construct routines that work for them, and not follow “group think” very much is gone from today’s culture, very much lost with the passing of men like Robert Zuver and his generation.
Gary Heisey lifted in a number of our Iron Island Gym contests in the early and mid-1990s and I believe his best effort was an official 925. He admittedly was a deadlift “specialist” with some leverage disadvantages noted in the squat and bench press due to his 6’7” height. On a king size bed in our guestroom, his lower extremities threatened to exit the room!
I will immediately admit that it isn’t easy NOT doing something one tends to be good or adept at. Some lifters even hang their entire identify or at least their athletic identity on what they do best as would fictional lifters Dudley “I Do Deadlifts” Donovan and Mike “Serious Squatter” Jones. In last month’s column/blog I encouraged our readers to take the opportunity to do what everyone else does, make a New Year’s Resolution and revamp their next training program, focusing on things that one both enjoys doing and believes will be productive. That said, still with an emphasis on enjoying one’s powerlifting journey, do what needs to be done to improve a weaker or inconsistent lift, increase the strength of an obvious “weak link” muscle group, and bomb-proof specific previously injured muscles or joints. Put the time and effort into doing what “must be done” in addition to “what one likes!”