History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Number 24

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

More “Training the Same” This Time from Brooklyn and Valley Stream!

It may seem a bit unusual to begin a monthly column that is dedicated to my perspective on the history of becoming stronger and the sport of powerlifting with notice of a bodybuilder, but I wanted to mark the passing of Dennis Tinerino. I have made it clear that at least until powerlifting became an “official” sport with sanctioned competitions, most Olympic weightlifters, powerlifters, and bodybuilders had numerous similarities in their training. I believe that the old-fashioned explanation given to the uninformed during the early to mid-1960’s will very much emphasize my point. “Everyone” who trained did the overhead press as their primary pressing movement and it was considered to be the most important upper body exercise.

For obvious reasons, competitive Olympic lifters performed the movement, primarily for low reps and anyone who thought they should or could be an Olympic lifter followed suit. Those who competed in odd lift contests and/or in early powerlifting meets also did the press as a primary exercise, and certainly one of the main assistance movements for the bench press. The stimulus provided to the deltoids, upper back via trapezius involvement, and the triceps was a natural for helping the bench press. Even in powerlifting’s infancy, the bench press was still treated as an exercise, not as an event by the majority of trainees. Bodybuilders relied upon the press as “the” exercise to build the shoulders.

Once competition became “official” and there were many more contests that one could enter as a powerlifter, the bench press moved up in importance and eventually into the forefront of exercise selection. Olympic lifters commonly included bench press work as an adjunctive movement for their overhead, competitive press. Bodybuilders of course did the bench press as another of the foundational upper body movements in their routine.

“Everyone” who was serious about training squatted for high reps and low, dependent upon the specific goals, time of year, or relative to the other exercises they were doing at the time. Olympic lifters and powerlifters included the front squat and the majority of the best bodybuilders did them too. For most in the minimally equipped facilities that were standard for the era, the squat and front squat were the only truly productive lower extremity exercises available to them. The deadlift, most often for higher reps because of the valued effect they had on one’s metabolic response, were part and parcel of every serious trainee’s program with the additional or substituted variations of stifflegged deadlift, and deadlifts from various heights, in a power rack, from elevated boxes, or from a box or a pile of 45 pound plates that one would stand upon to increase the range of motion.

Once again, bodybuilders as well as the two types of competitive lifters were advocates of the deadlift. Perhaps surprisingly to the younger lifters, most “bulking up” or “getting big” bodybuilders also did power cleans either from the floor or the hang position. Many powerlifters did these to enhance their deadlift and to encourage weight gains and it too became one of the standards of almost everyone’s program. Thus most of the very big, very strong bodybuilders would train similarly to a powerlifter, adding “isolation” or single joint movements and dieting for maximum muscular definition, only in the four to eight weeks prior to a bodybuilding competition.

Dennis Tinerino was in many ways, typical of this type of training. He had the benefit of Joe Abbenda’s knowledge and experience because Joe, a Mr. America and Mr. Universe winner who lived in the area, very much took Dennis under his wing. Joe was an advocate of extraordinarily hard work on the basic movements. He knew these basics worked and he often trained at home in a limited space with little more than a barbell, dumbbells, and a squat rack, limiting his routine to basic movements. I recall Joe telling us that due to “low overhead height” he was forced to do his pressing while on his knees when training at home, yet he was strong enough to press 300 or more and squat as much or more weight than the majority of competitive powerlifters within his body weight range. His physique was typical of the day, not as “cut” or defined as the modern era competitions dictate but chock full of hugely developed, shapely, well defined muscle. Dennis’ training followed suit and he often showed up at Tony Pandolfo’s storefront gym we trained at in Valley Stream, NY. The first time Dennis came to the gym was on a Saturday when I was coincidentally, in the small training area. All of us were amazed when Joe Abbenda arrived and told us that the young sixteen year old with him had only been training under his tutelage for a limited period of time. Dennis already had large, well developed muscles. Over time, I can recall Dennis taking a workout at the storefront establishment and the rest of us interrupting our workouts to watch Dennis do presses in the 250 pound range.
In the “old days” bodybuilders were judged not only on physique, but on personality as per the “Miss” contests of the time, and athletic ability. Athletic “points” were earned by the contestant through a formula that included participation in high school or college varsity sports, AAU sanctioned athletics, or an individual amateur sport otherwise recognized as “legitimate.” This judging criterion drove Harold Poole, easily the best built and most muscularly developed man in almost any contest he entered, out of the Amateur Athletic Union that sanctioned and directed most of the sports in the United States. Harold did not interview well due to a speech impediment and despite earning maximum athletic points for being an All State high school football player, wrestling champion, and track and field star, he usually fell short on the “personality points” aspect. He was not deemed to be the “best representative of the sport to the citizens of the U.S.” and thus, moved to the IFBB where the only judging consideration was muscular development. Dennis actually competed in fencing, but earned top athletic points by competing as an Olympic lifter. He no doubt could have easily earned many honors as an Olympic weightlifter had he chosen to do so as his program, like most well developed men of the times, included the three competitive lifts.

I have used Dennis as an example of this type of training because he was local, I trained with him on the gym floor a number of times, he was coached and advised for many years by Tony Pandolfo, and he died on May 7th, 2010.

When Dennis won the 1965 Teen Age Mr. America title, he was the winner of the overall title and the Most Muscular Man trophy. He placed above Boyer Coe and Rich Giofu of Detroit and not surprisingly, all three trained similarly with an emphasis on the squat, bench press, deadlift, clean, row, curl, and overhead press as the staples of the programs they used. Again, this was typical and it was the type of program that would have provided the “foundation” for any training year. It was also similar to the programs used by many powerlifters of that era, at least in our area. The routine could have included the above movements done for 5 sets x 5 reps or a series of triples following an appropriate warm-up.

For much of the year, the squats and deadlifts would have been done for higher reps in sets ranging from ten to fifteen reps as standard procedure. Powerlifters would usually train similarly with the inclusion of dumbbell bench press, inclines, or overhead press, while the bodybuilders might instead include any of those and/or lateral raises and upright rows. Shrugs would have been done by everyone in the iron sports. Squats and front squats would get a supplemental dose, at least during pre-contest time or other periods during a year long cycle, of leg extensions and prone leg curls. The seated and kneeling varieties of leg curl did not yet exist in machine form although many lifters and bodybuilders would hook their ankles under a stationary bar or object while prone (face down) and then perform a leg curl by contracting the hamstrings and elevating their torso to an upright position. This eventually “morphed” into the glute-ham raise done on a bench designed for that purpose. Some type of hyperextension, usually for sets x 15 reps would be done by all three of the main segments of the iron sports. While bodybuilders would include a variety of dumbbell, pulley, or barbell curls all year long, powerlifters too performed the barbell curl as a staple.

In truth, though the big names in the sport of weightlifting frowned upon it and Bob Hoffman once stated that he did not suggest that any Olympic lifter perform curls because any muscle built on the biceps “took away from muscle needed in more important areas like the thighs and low back” that would more specifically help an Olympic lifter, many lifters did in fact include curls in their training. Thus Dennis Tinerino, atypical because he was of such championship quality as proven by the string of major titles he garnered from 1965 through the mid-1980’s including a number of runs at the Mr. Olympia crown, was typical in his training, relying on the basic multi-joint movements that gave work to the major muscular structures of the body. Doing sets of fives and threes to build strength, “bulk up” his muscular body weight, and increase his overall strength was very much what most powerlifters were also doing at the same time.

A program used by many powerlifters in the Long Island area, one of those programs where one would be tempted to say, “They all trained alike” was a three day per week routine, that provided use of each of the competitive powerlifts twice each week. Thus, the basic template was:

Monday : Squat and Bench Press

Wednesday : Deadlift and Squat

Friday : Bench Press and Deadlift


For each of the lifts, one of the sessions would be deemed as “heavy” and one “light.” “Heavy” speaks for itself as this was the primary training day for that lift and the reps would be done as per whatever cycle the lifter was in at the moment. The “light” day would be a repeat of the same sets and reps but with weights that were 50-60% of the weights used on the heavy day. Often, a different exercise would be chosen where one would not be able to use as much weight in a similar movement, as was used on the heavy day. For example, if Monday was the heavy squat and light bench press day, squats might be done for sets of five or three reps. The “light” squat day on Wednesday, could comprise the barbell squat again, done with lighter weights than Monday’s session, or instead, front squats for various sets and reps. With Friday as the heavy bench press day, Monday’s workout might include light bench pressing or instead, for an individual workout or for a specific period of time, incline press done at 30 or 60 degrees. With heavy deadlifts on Wednesday, Friday’s session of deadlifting might instead be stifflegged deadlifts, or the conventional deadlift performed with 50% of Wednesday’s weights.

Some lifters never did more than this. Some would add a few assistance exercises, primarily for the upper body. These would include some combination of dips, dumbbell bench press or dumbbell overhead press, and curls. Lat pulldowns, dumbbell rows, and shrugs were standard adjunctive movements if any were chosen. This training procedure was very popular among the lifters in our area and proved to be very successful.