History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Number 20

Posted by in Dr Ken Leistner on July 1, 2014 Comments off

A Few More Sutherland Comments and More About Equipment


When this series of articles began more than a year and a half ago, its purpose was to give ardent powerlifters information with an historical bent, and focus upon the development of powerlifting equipment through the growth of the sport. As Titan Support Systems continues to distribute Eleiko barbells, plates, and collars, the initial intent remains the same. However, the articles have ranged far and wide much to the satisfaction of most readers and will at some point, even wander into what should properly be termed “powerlifting attire.” I am of course referring to lifting suits, shirts, and wraps, items that younger lifters might surprisingly now learn did not exist until the late 1970’s. In a rare find, note below the circa early 1980’s photo, as hazy as it might be, of Titan Support Systems founder Pete Alaniz and myself. Often assumed to be brothers or cousins despite the minimal resemblance between us, Pete and I have been friends for decades. Note that Pete is far better looking and obviously more intelligent but that I carry a little more muscle within the same weight class!

Though the bench shirts came after my true competitive days and I still have never worn one, I was convinced to eschew my wrestling singlet on a number of occasions and instead don the famous Titan Support Squat Suit. This allowed me to be a bit more competitive and I have been a huge fan of all of the work Pete and his terrific staff have done, all he has accomplished within the sport, and will explore some of those subjects in the future. Pete has in fact been involved with the manufacturing of equipment also. He was able to convince former competitive lifter, collegiate and professional Arena Football League player, and all time top welder Rodney Serpa to produce excellent benches, racks, and a unique deadlift bar elevator. For this month however, the photo below, unearthed from the darkest of files, can serve as an introduction to more that will follow in the near future.


Most beginning lifters have no concept of “a good bar” when they begin their lifting careers. Most of us who began training in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s had a similar attitude: any bar that could serve as a safe and useable barbell was considered to be a “good barbell.” We all viewed the Olympic barbell to be the ultimate tool and beyond the financial reach of almost everyone I was acquainted with. As I noted numerous times within this series, not every commercial gym and certainly few home gyms offered an Olympic bar and the accompanying large-holed plates. In these storefront establishments and in the big city YMCA’s that almost always had their lifting equipment stashed in the basement, it was made clear by the individual in charge that the Olympic bar was for special use. The three Olympic lifts and their variations, any type of squat, and deadlifts were “acceptable” on the bar but for many years, even bench pressing with the Olympic bar was discouraged. When the bench press became a competitive powerlifting event, it then became “okay” to see what one could do “officially” while training and the Olympic barbell set was seen as the only true measure while in the gym. Of course, the plates, if not the milled York Barbell Company plates, could be six or seven pounds lighter or heavier than their stated 45 pounds but this was still the official barometer for lifters, both in the gym and on the competitive platform. For most of us however, any bar that did not bend, was not bent, and approximated the feel of the real Olympic bar was quite acceptable for training.

Fortunately, as the sport evolved, so did the barbell, allowing for safe training. In a famous quote made to me in 1978 by York Barbell Company President John Terpak regarding the York power bar, he made very clear the “state of the art” of barbell manufacturing. We were both spectators at George Turner’s Heart Of America Powerlifting Championships in St. Louis, held in December of that year. We were discussing the rather tremendous weights used in the squat by numerous highly ranked lifters who were competing that day, some among the best in the world. With Kaz, Mike Bridges, and Marvin Phillips on the platform, that trio alone would test the quality of any bar and I said something along the lines of “I hope these new York powerlifting bars hold all of that weight.” In a display of candor that reflected the relationship I had with him, Mr. Terpak looked at me and said, “Well, manufacturing bars is a lot like baking cookies. Some batches are really good, some aren’t.” He went on to explain that he too hoped that “the ends don’t fall off of any of the bars” and if I choked a bit, it was out of surprise to hear “York’s guy” make this statement. He told me that they had been informed of an incident where a sleeve had broken off of a York power bar recently and came to this contest in part to observe the performance of the York equipment as well as the top level lifters. Up to this point in time, despite almost twenty years of training, I had not given a lot of consideration to the quality of my bars and certainly never thought one could literally break. Despite living very modestly due to family responsibilities, my personal collection had through my years of training to this point, included a York Olympic bar, the York Swedish steel bar noted in the January 2010 column, and a Mav-Rik Olympic barbell. The Mav-Rik bar was manufactured in the Los Angeles area by long time Olympic lifter and official Bob Hise Senior and my relationship with him led me to purchase his bar. As a metallurgist, Bob was as expected, well versed on the various technical specifications of every bar on the market and I learned a great deal listening to him when we conversed. I also had a few pairs of his bumper plates whose composition later had to be altered because, for those who remember, when dropped to the platform, they would at times bounce as high as chest or neck level.

Mention of York’s Swedish steel bar brought a number of e mails to the Titan Support Systems office. There are guys out there, and ladies please allow me to use the term “guys” because there were so few women involved with training until the 1980’s and the “old days” are my reference point, that are equipment nuts like I am. They know the various manufacturers, the differences in tubing gauge from one brand of equipment to another, and are truly into the nuances that make the knurling on one type of bar a bit different than another. These are the ones asking and the York Swedish steel bar was not a widely sold item so there is an interest. Once again I turned to Jan Dellinger and Reuben Weaver and even to my surprise, learned that this specific bar was sold for a much longer period of time than I had recalled. According to this dynamic duo of historical knowledge, the earliest ad located for the Swedish steel bar appeared in the April 1966 issue of Muscular Development magazine. For those who are too young to remember, Strength And Health was the “house organ” for York Barbell Company and their many products. They were considered by most serious trainees, and certainly anyone who considered themselves Olympic weightlifters or “real lifters” as the only magazine worth reading. The emphasis, as the title stated, was upon the sport of Olympic weightlifting but also offered articles related to nutrition, supplements, bodybuilding, health, and sometimes goofy things like controlling dandruff, all considered to be part of a “healthy life style.” When odd lifting began to morph into the official sport of powerlifting, York immediately jumped on the bandwagon to take commercial advantage of this and began publishing Muscular Development in 1964. They specifically placed their emphasis upon powerlifting because they realized there was a void in the field and filling in with some bodybuilding allowed them to present a very enjoyable publication.