History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Number 22

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

Undue Influence

Last month I made reference to what I believe is a fact among younger lifters who have made a foray into powerlifting history: almost everyone trained the same. It may be more accurate to state that many if not most lifters in any specific locale trained similarly. As is well known among my regular readers, I believe that the Internet’s glut of training information and immediate dispatch of powerlifting related events and ideas has perhaps done more harm than good in the development of today’s lifters. Yes, as it now is in football for example, competitors in the sport are bigger per their weight class and have posted heavier numbers but this does not necessarily make for a better sport. In pro football, few players are proficient at blocking and almost none know the basic fundamentals of tackling. For every “kill shot” that evokes oohs and aahs from the spectators, there are a dozen missed tackles or total whiffs as defenders don’t come close to stopping average ball carriers who are made to look like All Pros every weekend.

For students of the game or former players who learned the fundamentals and whom like me, also coached at the high school level, it can be literally sickening. On the powerlifting platform, there are some awfully big numbers being moved but the breakdown in both technique and the application of the rules, especially in the squat and bench press, stimulates similar disgust amongst old timers. There is an understanding that in many cases, the resistance is being moved through a much shorter range of motion, often not closely resembling what was considered a legal lift thirty or forty years ago, and its being done with assisting attire and at times, a lot of drugs. These are factors that truly change the entire essence of the sport. The Internet feeds into the sport’s deterioration, reporting tremendous lifting in a specific region of the country that then provokes those elsewhere to push, sometimes at all costs, to equal or exceed those lifts. Often huge lifts are not reported or seen in context, the context perhaps including drugs, heavy duty supportive equipment, a less than legal range of motion or lack of a necessary legal pause, or a barbell that weighs significantly lighter than its posted weight.

There is also a lack of initiative on the part of many younger lifters. I made it a point to find my way to almost all of the local storefront gyms, basements, garages, and YMCA’s that hosted better lifters to observe, hopefully engage in conversation, and learn. I traveled, often hitchhiking, to York, Pennsylvania, Alvin Roy’s in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and any number of lifting hovels throughout New England and the Northeastern corridor seeking out information and others that could move my strength forward. Now, a few clicks of the computer mouse offers a torrent of information, video, and routines that can be considered. However without the “personal look,” how much does the modern lifter really get out of it? I am more impressed when I read that some lifters, male or female, travel to Louie Simmons’ Westside gym, just as we traveled to California to lift at the original Peanuts West garage gym in Culver City or Zuver’s Hall Of Fame Gym in Costa Mesa.

Roger Estep traveled to California to learn from and train with the legendary Westside lifters like George Frenn. Estep was one of the best in the sport.


Roger Estep in many ways changed the sport by traveling to California, training with George Frenn and others using the original Westside lifting protocols, and then bringing them back to West Virginia where Luke Iams and his Wild Bunch put them into practice. The success these lifters had, with Estep’s fantastic totals and physique to match, woke a lot of lifters up to the possibility of doing training that was at the time, “out of the box.” These lifters who have in both the past and present, gone out of their way to travel and observe, are truly motivated, willing to go the extra mile, literally and figuratively in order to learn and derive the absolute best from the information that might be out there for them. When my lifting partner Jack and I returned from California after training at Bill Pearl’s, Culver City, and Zuver’s and gaining exposure to scores of other gyms and lifters, we were pumped dry of anything and everything we had learned so that everyone else in the local hole-in-the-wall gym and in my garage could benefit from our experience. It was “experience” and face-to-face conversation and observation that garnered the best training information, not reading about it and then trying to copy what might be seen but not truly understood. I have to believe that those who now visit the Westside Barbell Club using an obvious example, do a heck of a lot better with the ideas they incorporate into their training than those that do no more than read the Internet postings and view a video on youtube.

I am passionate in my belief that the journey truly is as important, and more important for the majority that will not achieve championship status as a lifter, than the end point of that lifting journey. Self discovery is part of the allure and joy of powerlifting and there is little or none without the effort that is placed into actually doing. The “experimenting” and “trying out” part of “doing” is exceptionally important because the sets and reps that are presented on paper (or on the computer screen) may be the template but may mean little when it comes to the application of the program for any specific lifter. Many if not most of us from “the old days” knew this in an instinctive manner but it is a process, as it applies to powerlifting, that has been lost for many in the modern age.