History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Number 59

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

Prototyping Part 6


One of our TITAN readers asked why I presented eccentric training and the equipment used for it as a point of emphasis for prototyping information. He wanted to know if it would have been more effective to use an example that was “something more closely related to powerlifting” as opposed to Nautilus machines. Allow me to respond so that my choice of examples becomes clear. There are numerous underlying philosophies in the sport of powerlifting, the actual competition that encompasses three specific lifts. Without a philosophy of training (“I do triples!” is not a philosophy) one is not going to reach their given genetic potential for physical development. Many trainees and many who should know better, believe that powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting are somehow different from other sports and I will include football as an obvious example, because a barbell is the implement utilized within the actual competition of the sport, as it is in training for the sport. Also, because training to become muscularly larger and stronger entails the use of some similar or duplicate movements, such as the barbell squat, they believe that the preparation for powerlifting competition is “different” relative to other sports. It isn’t.

My philosophy related to all sporting activities, including powerlifting is rather straight forward and easy to understand. One trains the “raw material” of the body, the muscles and connective tissue, to become as strong as possible and one “conditions” themselves to have both the overall stamina/cardiovascular ability to meet the needs of the sport, as well as developing enough local muscular endurance to perform optimally during practice sessions and in competition. That is the purpose of a strength training program. Once the raw material of the body has been improved, one learns the specific skills of their sport and practices them so that the neuromuscular system performs those skills optimally. Thus, one can become awfully strong doing for example, sets of ten reps in the squat, but at some point, in order to squat for a maximal single repetition, which is the specific skill of the sport of powerlifting, they will have to practice the skill work of doing maximal or close to maximal singles if they expect to do their best in competition. Just as a football player who is an offensive guard can do sets of x 3, x 5, x 10, or almost as many repetitions as one could think of (within reason, though an occasional set of fifty reps will get one’s attention both physically and emotionally) and become very strong, they must practice the skills of playing offensive guard or their enhanced strength is not going to be very useable on the field.



Looking at two photos below, one can observe the bottom position of the barbell squat. In the first photo, former professional football player Frank Ferrara demonstrates the form that allowed his training partners to be entertained by a set of twenty reps with a weight that my limited memory recalls as being between 462 and 501, while continuously talking about the altercation he had with his brother who had “stolen” his bowl of linguine and white clam sauce. The members of our training group who were present on that specific day have repeated the story numerous times to gales of laughter, in part because Frank did the twenty reps almost effortlessly, despite his non-stop diatribe, and in perfect form.


The photo of well known, record setting powerlifter Pat Susco was also taken in the driveway/garage training area of our former residence, and Pat too utilized a heavy resistance, a weight in the area of approximately 400 – 450 pounds for fifteen reps. Frank’s usual training and playing weight at 6’3-1/2” was 275 – 280 pounds. Pat competed at 242 at a height of 5’5” and there is no doubt that both men were and are exceptionally strong. Pat did not like high rep sets, often commenting that “anything over three reps is a lot for me,” while Frank rarely did sets in less than ten reps. Both men developed enhanced muscular strength and size utilizing the same barbell squat exercise. However, the skills of Frank’s sport required him to learn football techniques. The skills of Pat’s sport were to perform a single in the barbell squat and other official lifts, with as much weight as possible. Pat did just that, officially squatting over 900 pounds on multiple occasions. Both trained “the raw material of the body” and the muscles specifically and directly involved with their sport, and then learned the specific skills of their sport so that their strength and other physiological factors could be applied to that sporting activity. Many powerlifters “don’t get it” and believe that what they do as a sports performance, is “different” and thus requires “something different” in preparation than other athletes. The confusion, I believe, comes from the necessity of training with a barbell while competing in the sport while utilizing a barbell. However, if for example, utilizing the application of eccentric training and variable resistance will enhance the development of muscular size and strength, these should be utilized for whatever sport one is training for. Thus one could in fact justify the use of bands and chains for football players and other athletes as well as machines such as Nautilus that provide variable resistance and for competitive powerlifters, we could make the same statement.


Utilizing eccentric training and relative to Nautilus equipment, utilizing variable resistance is, or can be a very effective way to boost one’s strength. If one then focused this newly increased strength into the practice of powerlifting skills, their performance on the platform would improve. I believe most lifters do what is topical, typical, and “in style.” At times, the things they do in training are in fact beneficial but just as often they are not. Unfortunately, I don’t think most lifters take the time to truly analyze why they do what they do in their training. Why talk about a machine for example that provides variable resistance? Why talk about or use bands and chains? With all due respect to Louie Simmons whom I believe should be credited with introducing the wide spread use of bands and chains into powerlifting training, as well as many other innovations, I have always referred to these training methods as “the poor man’s way of providing variable resistance.” Most lifters don’t or haven’t stopped to think about their reasons for attaching bands and/or chains to their barbell but no matter how it’s explained or justified, and no matter what “science” or pseudo-science is invoked, the answer is “to provide some variable resistance.” There should not be any argument or much discussion regarding the advantages of variable resistance. A muscles ability to produce force will vary, for lack of a more complicated explanation, based upon leverage factors. Because human movement is rotational around its joints and the pull of gravity is “straight line,” any resistance one is pulling or pushing on is variable, dependent upon its position during the movement. The purpose of having variable resistance in an exercise is to provide less resistance where the pull of gravity and the position of the involved body structures is such that less force is being created, relative to other parts of the entire movement.


Arthur Jones original Nautilus Blue Monster, a four-in-one piece that provided full range, variable resistance for the musculature of the upper back and a lot more! The machine consisted of pullover, behind-neck, rowing, and pulldown movements, meant to be done in consecutive fashion to pre-exhaust the large upper back muscles and then to “top off” that work with what would have otherwise been impossible additional work with the assistance of the forearm flexion muscles that allowed for more upper back work. The earliest Nautilus pieces provided resistance via a weight loading “basket” that was driven by metal pulleys and uncoated metal cable. On the earliest machines still present at the factory when I worked for Nautilus, we would load sections of chain and hang them off of the plate holding “basket”, allowing for more inexact yet variable resistance as the basket was elevated from floor level. Arthur himself had used the same method years before his development of the first Nautilus machines and as I believe, presented an article about the technique in Muscular Development Magazine. This is another example of “there is nothing new under the sun in weight training.”


Of course, variable resistance should provide more force where the leverage factors favor the individual in a specific point in the movement. Chains were in fact, the first form of variable resistance that Arthur Jones utilized with the early Nautilus and prototypes for Nautilus machines. I used this method long before I heard of Arthur Jones and long before he returned to the United States from Africa to begin this new exercise machine business. I did lat pulldowns, as I have often wrote, using a fifty-five gallon drum filled with scrap metal. I had a metal pulley in the ceiling of the loft of my father’s iron shop and another metal pulley in the wall with a cable that ran over both. One end of the cable was attached to a large hook that went into a hole punched in the top rim of the drum, and the other was hooked to a lat pulldown handle which was actually a piece of pipe with a very large nut welded to it that held the “S hook” to the lat handle. If I needed more resistance, I tossed in more scrap metal. If I needed to reduce the resistance I pulled some of the scrap out. I also hung chains from the sides of the drum, and yes, as we say around here, “I thought of that by my ownself!” As the drum was pulled higher from the floor during the pulldown movement, more links of heavy chain came off of the floor with it. Thus, at its highest point in the lat pulldown repetition, the maximal number of chain links were elevated, allowing for more resistance as one came closer to completion of the movement. Thus, crude but effective variable resistance!


Attaching chains and bands to a barbell mimics that concept and training would theoretically be more effective if one challenged the involved musculature in any rep, with more resistance at the point in the movement where it could use and handle more resistance relative to other points in the movement. However, the glaring problem with variable resistance has always been one of “matching up” the point or points within the movement where one can utilize more resistance, with the proper increases in resistance. Nautilus cams provided the ability to vary resistance due to the changing diameter that a cam provides but the cams were based upon averages so that the variations were not exacting for all. For many if not almost all, this was still a huge leap forward in pushing one’s muscles to train at their maximal limit. Bands and chains are even more random in any variation in increased resistance they might provide, with Nautilus equipment being steps ahead in the process. Of course, you can’t “cam” a barbell so the chains and bands are a more practical if inexact way to approach this problem but before a lifter pooh-poohs “machine training” as inapplicable to the sport of powerlifting, first think about one’s current training procedures.


Prototyping barbells and plates may not seem complicated yet the performance aspects of both require thought and a lot of work. Finally, we get to discuss that next month.