History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Number 64

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

Talking Diversity in Lifting Ability


Although the emphasis is always on powerlifting in our series of TITAN articles, very much like the features I wrote for more than two consecutive decades for the sorely missed Powerlifting USA Magazine, the related materials often roam far and wide. My two-part “series” on the CrossFit phenomena brought a tremendous amount of response, both positive and negative, though it was not my intention to stir the pot with that specific subject. With a similar lack of intention to raise the hackles of the Olympic Weightlifting community, allow me please to generally praise our weightlifting brethren, yet point out a few things that some may not appreciate. Going back to an ongoing thread that has run through this entire series of articles, in the “old days,” almost everyone who seriously approached the task of becoming muscularly larger and stronger utilized all aspects of the three accepted lifting disciplines. Bodybuilders often did heavy squats, deadlifts, and bench presses, especially in “bulking up” or “getting bigger” phases and squats were actually done with a barbell and not on a Smith Machine. They performed overhead barbell pressing, power cleans, and front squats at various stages of their development too.

Powerlifters performed the same power cleans, front squats, and overhead presses to strengthen the muscles used in the three competitive power lifts while often including incline pressing with barbells or dumbbells, specific triceps and lat work that might call for the inclusion of triceps pressdowns and extensions, as well as a variety of lat pulldowns and chins. It wasn’t unusual to increase one’s competitive squat by increasing lower extremity strength levels with leg presses and Hack squats for those whose knees could handle the shearing stress. Olympic lifters did bench pressing for both overall upper body power and to specifically assist the overhead press and jerk, as well as barbell or dumbbell rows and deadlifts for increased strength and development in the upper back. A variety of shrugs were used by all. Thus, anyone who “lifted weights” seriously or competitively had a varied arsenal of exercises, many of which were found to be “acceptable” within the communities of their specific focus of lifting interest or specialty.

One of my early training mentors from the neighborhood, Tony Pandolfo. Known as a bodybuilder of tremendous longevity, his training background which dated to the late 1950’s also allowed him to produce very high levels of strength that resulted in Odd Lift contest success. The combination of heavy lifting and specialized bodybuilding movements gave him strength, vitality as noted in this photo taken when he was 60 years of age, and very high levels of strength.”

Of course, like football, where two way players have long been replaced by specialists who often play no more than a down at a time under very specific down and distance circumstances, each of the lifting disciplines has within themselves become ridiculously specialized. I have in past articles, noted that I have met many extremely strong men who could apply their strength to numerous endeavors and often almost any endeavor requiring the output of force. They may have participated as Olympic weightlifters for example, but they could if and when called upon, also lift the engine end of automobiles, carry iron beams up steep stairwells, or spend a day moving more sheetrock than three other men. I have also met hugely muscular competitive bodybuilders, Olympic or powerlifters who were extremely strong in their sporting disciplines who were, out of the gym environment, not much stronger than other athletic males of similar weight and experience who had never lifted weights at all. These men were strong in the specific planes of motion they trained and competed in but did not have anything close to the expected levels of strength doing demanding, daily activities. Certainly in all lifting activities, leverage factors come into play but past that, I have had the experience of dealing with many powerlifters who could squat, bench press, and deadlift a lot of weight, Olympic lifters who could press, snatch, and clean and jerk a lot of weight, bodybuilders who looked as if they could walk through walls, yet none could lift moderately sized “industrial objects” or do so for a sustained period of time over the course of a few hours. This observation provoked me to make the statement in print, as far back as the late 1970’s, that “The strongest man in the world isn’t necessarily competing in the Senior National Powerlifting Championships or Olympic Weightlifting Championships, he could be lifting in his garage in Cleveland.” I talked and wrote of men who enjoyed lifting weights as a recreational activity, might have toiled in a physically demanding job five or six days each week, and who handled the kind of weights that world champions lifted in their training but who also had no competitive aspirations or perhaps lacked the time, finances, and/or inclination to compete as a lifter.


Richard “Doug” Young, pictured on the right, was a world champion powerlifter with the muscular development of a huge world class bodybuilder. As a football player at Texas Tech University, he indicated that he could apply his strength in a multitude of ways.

One National and World Champion powerlifter, a man with a dedicated following of his training ideas at the time, was extremely offended at my remarks and noted that anyone “that strong” of course would compete so people like that just did not exist. Well, they certainly are out there and I’ve worked and trained with a number of them but family responsibilities, school, work, and temperament may have all combined to allow them to lift happily in their basements or garages while never setting foot upon a competitive platform and with no interest in the lifting accomplishments of others past a training partner, if they had one. The same known, aforementioned, champion level lifter also assailed my knowledge of physiology by stating that anyone strong enough to compete at a high level in powerlifting for example, “was strong at anything.” Again, both common sense and experience have taught me that there are men, and women who can lift what is “a lot of weight” by any standard, in the specific plane of motion of the squat, bench press, or deadlift or in the snatch or clean and jerk, yet are not very strong for “walking around on the streets.” If I state that this is even more applicable to Olympic lifters than powerlifters, it gives an entire sector of the lifting sports a month to gather their verbal knives and spears waiting for Part 2 of this article!