History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Number 71

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

What Don’t You Get? Part 2.


I wasn’t planning a “Part 2” as an accompaniment to last month’s column, nor do I like to lift entire paragraphs from a pervious installment of this series but I closed Part 70 with the following:

“More importantly, ‘we’ would squat, bench, deadlift, press, row, clean, chin, and do a myriad of other basic, multi joint movements. We would vary the reps from singles to thirties. The end result is far different from today’s record holding lifters because the record holders of our era were often, not always but frequently enough, as was more importantly the typical trainee, better conditioned and healthier than those of today. The narrow specialization for example on the squat, bench press, and deadlift done for low reps has also removed any semblance of conditioning or a more balanced development from most competitive lifters. That so-called overall or more balanced development was often the difference between injury and injury avoidance in the gym, on the job, or on the street. Utilizing periods of the calendar year for high rep work or having phases of training dedicated to twenty rep squat programs, or even reducing lifting activities to enjoy spring or summer sports was typical and beneficial both physically and emotionally. Very few of the younger lifters understand this because they have not lived it but if one constructs an actuarial chart one hundred years from today and notes the life span, injury and surgical rate, and overall health history of the lifting public, my bet will be on us older folks who had a more ‘varied and inclusive’ approach to the iron game.”


The title of the last two installments clearly asks,  “WHAT DON’T YOU GET?”and the paragraph above is what so many younger lifters and competitors just “did not get” based upon their recent inquiries. I should first note that there was a certain level of incredulity expressed at the very thought of giving up weight or strength training for the summer, for example, so that one could “enjoy spring or summer sports.” That a competitive lifter or bodybuilder would do this was very unacceptable to quite a few but in retrospect, perhaps this is one of the factors that made for lifters whose competitive careers spanned ten to twenty productive years and today’s lifters who seem to flame out after a brilliant, but brief run of three to five years.


Skip men like Ernie Frantz as a typical example of anything because Ernie’s high level competitive career, earlier as a bodybuilder, acrobat, and later as a top powerlifter, defies the laws of physiology. He was at the top end of all that the weight game offers and maintained freakish levels of strength into his early seventies. I will be the first to admit that no one should expect that but in browsing the pages of the 1950’s to mid-1970’s Strength And Health, Muscle Power/Muscle Builder, and Iron Man, and then the 1970’s and ‘80’s issues of Muscular Development, Iron Man again, and POWERLIFTING USA, there are a lot of lifters and bodybuilders who were functioning at a very high level of competition for ten to twenty years without let up.


John Grimek, Norb Schemansky, Bill Pearl, Reg Park, Tommy Kono, Zabo, Bill “Peanuts” West, Bill Seno, and Larry Pacifico are just a few names that come to mind. I am not referring to the introduction of Masters type of competition either, as most of the aforementioned athletes competed in the nation’s highest level championship events or international events for consecutive periods of fifteen or more years and as might be expected, were still active in the same endeavors for many years afterwards, with some training and competing until their eventual passing.

To compete well and to compete successfully, one has to avoid injury and maintain focus. To compete well, one must be able to train “well” and effectively, and maintain productive workouts any time they walk into their training facility. It might surprise many who have not participated in the sport of football, and it certainly surprises many of the parents we deal with whose sons aspire to play high school or collegiate football, that the primary purpose of strength training for football is not to become muscularly larger and stronger. That certainly should occur, it will contribute to the primary purpose, but it isn’t the primary/most important goal of training. One of my typical, introductory conversations usually includes the questions, “Why do you want to train, why do you want to do strength training? What’s the most important reason for training?” The most frequent and first reply is almost always, “To get bigger and stronger.” Becoming “bigger and stronger” is definitely a by-product of proper training but it is not the most important reason that one trains to prepare to play football or to improve their ability on the field, any athletic or competitive field. The most important reason for the inclusion of a well conceived weight training program for football players is to reduce the frequency and severity of injury or of course, to prevent injury. The questions to be answered are as follows:

“If you’re injured, can you practice at 100%?” “If you’re injured, can you practice at all?” “If you’re injured, can you play at 100%?” “If you’re injured, can you play at all?” The ability to practice and play is dependent upon avoiding injury, thus, in a sport where the injury rate is 100% on almost every professional team and close to that among the players who are on the field on a regular basis on most college teams, this provides the most important rationale for a strength program. As a competitive lifter or bodybuilder, it is the same. One cannot train properly, thoroughly, or as planned if injured nor compete well if either injured or having prepared while working around one or more injuries.


The training programs utilized today, for the most part, are not well-rounded, not inclusive of a variety of movements that would give a balanced development, and most often focus only upon the specific competitive lifts and/or the muscular structures utilized in those lifts. As an advocate of the squat, bench press, and deadlift, as both training movements and as a form of competition, focus upon these lifts will definitely allow one to become muscularly larger and stronger. However, doing little else also invites groin sprains and strains while squatting, “pulled” hamstrings and torn biceps while deadlifting, and rotator cuff problems and torn pecs while bench pressing. Needless to add, it’s difficult to maintain “championship level training” while dealing with any of these ailments.