History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Number 27

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

More Philosophy of Abbreviated Routines.

[As we have in the past, the staff at Titan Support Systems would like to express gratitude to Mike Lambert of POWERLIFTING USA Magazine for the use of his superb photos of the lifters of a past era]

Few need to be reminded that when powerlifting became an official sport in the mid-1960’s, it truly was a scorned step-child relative to Olympic weightlifting. The latter was seen as a legitimate sporting activity, well organized, administrated by national and international bodies, with long established rules and regulations, and an entrenched following that included many athletes who were involved in other sports. The three competitive Olympic lifts formed the training backbone for almost every athlete that participated in weight training activities. Of course, any participation in “lifting” was rather limited as most coaches and athletes still viewed weight training as a sure path to athletic deterioration. The pervasive fear of impeding one’s coordination, eroding one’s overall or specific athletic skill, becoming physically slower in all movements and certainly slower of foot hovered over every gym, YMCA, garage, or basement where athletes congregated to train with barbells or dumbbells. Those who did in fact train consistently, understood that weight training was a “secret weapon” within the arena of competition as the enhanced strength, muscular and/or cardiovascular endurance, and level of confidence were obvious while the feared detrimental myths related to training did not actually exist. Still the powerlifters were offered the short end of the stick when offered anything at all, and many believed them to be “lifters” who lacked the athleticism to successfully thrive as Olympic lifters.

Much of the training for early powerlifting meets consisted of a mix of Olympic movements and the three competitive powerlifts. In part this was, as has been stressed throughout my series for TITAN/ELEIKO, because many lifters of the era competed in both activities and because some exercises, most notably the overhead press and any type of clean, were seen as necessary to “becoming strong,” no matter what the specific strength related goal was. The early formula that was dependent upon hard, consistent work and little else, brought great results. Abbreviated programs where the focus rested upon the three competitive lifts formed the year-long basis of the routine for most of those who followed this philosophy. Last month’s installment noted Tony Fratto and other Western Pennsylvania lifters who utilized their limited equipment and limited choice of exercises to fulfill their potential for powerlifting success. Another Western Pennsylvania powerlifter was John “Jack” Welch of Beaver County. When knowledgeable fans think “Beaver County” they usually have immediate visions of numerous football greats. This gridiron hotbed produced many who were perhaps the epitome of the tough, steel mill, coal mining, hard working stereotype that excelled on the football field. The list of greats and “tough guy” football names is almost endless. The obvious ones like Joe Namath, Mike Ditka, and Tony Dorsett are known to most fans but many others like Kent State’s Don Fitzgerald, former NFL player and head coach Joe Walton, and the University Of Kentucky and Parsons College fullback Frank Antonini were names almost as big in the Pittsburgh area. The typical employment, social activities, and athletic endeavors of the area encouraged the development of strength and the Ambridge VFW was one of the powerlifting clubs that gained early notoriety in the sport.

Welch was the winner of the 1969 Junior National Championships and took the Seniors as a 148 pounder in ’69, ’70, and 1973. He was the runner-up at the first World Championships and won the title in 1975, part of a ten-plus year run where he remained undefeated in competition. At either 148 or 165, Welch was in many ways the typical Pennsylvania powerlifter who was tough on and off the platform and took care of business.

At either 148 or 165, Welch was in many ways the typical Pennsylvania powerlifter who was tough on and off the platform and took care of business.


Utilizing a the type of program commonly seen in many Y’s, garage, and storefront type gyms where equipment was limited and often, due to the demands of a physical job, time and energy were just as limited, Welch won his titles doing very much the following;


Squat- 5 x 5, using 10 – 15 pound jumps between sets

Bench Press- 5 x 5, using 10 – 20 pound jumps between sets

Deadlift- 3 x 8

As his light-to-moderate day, Welch would work to a pre-determined weight relative to his best lifts.


Half or Partial Squat in the Power Rack- 4 x 5

Incline Press- 8 – 6 – 4 – 2 with increasingly heavier weights

The above may have comprised the entire session or Jack might have added lat pulldowns, some additional shoulder work, and/or curls.


Squat- 5 – 3 – 3 – 2 working to his planned upon heavy weight

Bench Press- 5 – 3 – 3 – 2 as per the squat above

Deadlift- 5 – 3 – 3 – 2 as per above

That’s it! Heavy and concentrated work on the competitive lifts, very limited assistance work, and tremendous dedication which accounted for a record of consistency rarely matched, made Welch a National and World Champion. A 5 x 5 protocol was actually an extremely common approach to training for competitive powerlifters. The necessary skill work of doing the three competitive lifts was obviously “covered” and utilizing the first two sets of five for example, as increasingly heavier warm-ups, followed by 3 x 5 with either the same weight or again making increasingly heavier jumps set to set, allowed for progression over time. The above routine demonstrates a “heavy day” where the sets were reduced from five to four in the squat and bench press as heavier resistance was utilized. This would allow for better control of the workout’s total volume and need for recovery. Of course, most younger, modern day lifters would view the program as much too simple to bring results, yet this was very similar to what was done by many of the top men of that era. With almost full concentration given to the three lifts, the progression and improvement in those lifts took most men to a high percentage of their potential strength levels.

History Supplement: John Gamble

Dr. Ken was fortunate enough to handle John Gamble at a number of major contests. This Mike Lambert/PLUSA photo was taken after John’s victory at the 1982 Senior National Powerlifting Championships.


Though not necessarily the end product of the abbreviated routines very much limited to the three competitive lifts and just a few assistance movements, if any, done for 5 x 5 or triples, John Gamble certainly was a product of basic training. Utilizing the squat, bench press, and deadlift as the basis for his program, his pre-chain, pre-band, pre-board, and pre-machine workouts produced one of the most impressive combinations of muscular strength, force production, and size ever seen in the sport.

John, like many of his era, parlayed his powerlifting strength into an excellent collegiate athletic career on the football field and as a track and field standout. A Black College All American at linebacker, John outgrew his former gridiron position as he filled out to become the dominant 275 pounder of his day. Moving through the ranks of volunteer to Assistant Strength And Conditioning Coach, to the Head Strength And Conditioning Coach at the University Of Virginia, John eventually ascended to the NFL and spent twelve seasons as the Miami Dolphins S&C Coach. He later became the Director Of Player Development, assisting Dolphins players in the areas of financial management and education, the acquisition of their college degrees, and family related matters. After sixteen seasons with Miami, John returned to his strength roots and became the Co-Head Strength And Conditioning Coach with the Buffalo Bills for the 2010 season. The former National and World Powerlifting Champion posted best lifts of an 892 squat, 573 bench press, and 826 deadlift to accompany a 2,270 total. In his day and truly, to the present day, John has remained one of the sport’s all time greats and all time great gentleman.