History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Number 73

Posted by in Dr Ken Leistner on September 10, 2014 Comments off



One might believe that with my reliance upon the interjected materials from Saul Shockett in the past few TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS columns and references to Mark Rippetoe this month, that I don’t have much to offer in the way of training or practical, powerlifting related advice. Of course many don’t believe I have much to offer under any circumstances, but utilizing the expertise of others is merely a reflection of my belief that it is important to gather information, analyze it, and improve what one knows and/or is doing in their approach to training, literally until the day they give it up. In my case that obviously will be when I am no longer physically capable of training, thus I am always seeking to improve.

Examining the information provided by other experienced, intelligent trainers, coaches, and lifters, in combination with what legitimate science can offer remains the best way to get one’s information. I have always stated that all of the answers one needs in order to properly train, are available in the disciplines of anatomy, kinesiology, biochemistry, and physiology. So-called scientific speculation, the Internet ramblings of someone with a short, unsuccessful resume related to the sport, and articles often filled with training theories that are dressed up to sound as if the author is perhaps the genius we all have been waiting for to descend from the mountain, haven’t quite cut it! I have been quick to frequently admit that I was no more than a middle-of-the-road athlete, especially as a competitive lifter but like many in that same circumstance, it forced me to consider “almost everything,” try almost anything, and propelled me to go all out physically and psychologically. As many know, this is a formula for producing successful coaches in any sport. Not being gifted enough to “just show up” and lift or play football meant turning over every stone to make things work, with the concomitant accumulation of a lot of applicable information.


As a high school football coach, I was successful not because I had brilliant insights to X’s and O’s but because I had a better “feel” than most for the kids I directed. Close assessment of opponents’ tendencies, weaknesses, and strengths, often referred to as “film study,” and very careful observation of their warm-ups to judge their readiness to play went a long way towards allowing our staff to make critical and often correct decisions. I utilized the same approach in powerlifting and found that if nothing else, I could squeeze out the best of my limited abilities on meet day and more importantly, coach others and contribute to their success in some small way. This approach, in concert with what has been described as an analytical nature, has led to very strong beliefs regarding training. A key component for any lifter or trainee will be his or her choice of exercises, not only in a specific routine applied for a limited period of time, but those movements they build their training around on a long term basis.


Recently, Wichita Falls, Texas based lifter, coach, author, and speaker Mark Rippetoe was in our area presenting a training seminar at a club only ten minutes from our home. Kathy and I visited Mark prior to the start of his clinic and enjoyed catching up on personal events for approximately twenty minutes. We agreed to get together at the conclusion of his three day instructional presentation, one that I highly recommend, even for experienced lifters. For those who are not familiar with “Rip,” he is a protégé of Bill Starr, and for those not familiar with Bill Starr, you need to do some reading and gain historical perspective on one of the most influential individuals in the strength training profession. Bill’s lifting success, books, articles, and lectures probably did more to consolidate training programs for athletes than the work of any other single individual over the course of the last fifty years. It was difficult enough getting any strength training activity fully accepted by the athletic community and Bill’s work “refined” what was being done by reducing programs that often attempted to include “something” for every body part, to the most efficient minimum. Rip’s philosophy closely mirrors Bill’s, as might be expected and we discussed this, as well as many other training related topics, in a visit that extended for more than two hours. Starr took programs that included perhaps twelve or fifteen movements in each training session and distilled them, at least for football players, to the bench press, squat, and power clean. The overhead press or push press could and would be used as a substitute or adjunctive movement to the bench press; the front squat for the “regular” barbell deep knee bend; and a pull from the floor or rack for the power clean. Anyway you cut it, the exercises were limited in each session, one worked hard and heavily, and the multi-joint movements “covered” the entire major musculature of one’s body. Rip and I agreed that there were perhaps eight or nine exercises worth doing, or more accurately, necessary for one’s athletic or competitive lifting success. Rip’s quote that “chopping the body up into its constituent components and then working these components separately lacks the capacity to make things change. The stress that can be applied to one piece at a time never adds up to the same stress that can be applied to the whole thing working as a system.” My emphasis would be on the word “system” and its one I have pointed to numerous times.


The author with Inna, well known instructor and proprietor of an excellent training facility in Woodmere, N.Y., the famous Mark Rippetoe, and John Petrizzo, one of the elite Starting Strength coaches who resides on Long Island

The reason that sets of twenty rep squats work to stimulate overall body gains in strength and muscular body weight stem from the stimulation of one’s system. Until the definitive stimulus for muscular growth is identified, I am comfortable stating that the body’s biochemical system is stimulated by the type of hard work necessary to make a high rep squat program successful and it is this biochemical stimulation “of the body’s system,” not just the involved lower extremity musculature utilized while squatting, that leads to gains in muscle tissue in the entire body, and not just in those structures targeted specifically by the barbell squat. Dedicating a specific block of time to doing nothing but high rep squats consistently “well” over the course of at least eighty years of barbell training related history, has proven to add muscular body weight and enhance one’s strength throughout all of the major muscular structures. I believe this can be termed a “systemic response” and this is the point made by Rippetoe’s statement. You can take the effect of training leg extensions, leg curls, hyperextensions, sit-ups, lateral raises, flyes, rear delt raises, pull-ups, curls, triceps pressdowns, and wrist curls, a grouping of exercises that certainly “cover” the training of all of the major muscular structures, train them “hard,” and one will not get the same growth stimulating effect that comes with putting effort into barbell squats, overhead press, and deadlifts for example. I believe that every experienced trainee would agree.


A photograph from the mid-1990’s, demonstrating basic training, as basic as it gets. During a renovation of the home/office training facility, enough equipment was kept available to insure the success of athlete’s like 1996 Olympic Games Gold Medal winner Derrick Adkins. Derrick was the 1995 World Champion and 1996 Olympic Champion in the 400 meter High Hurdles and had trained with the author since the age of fifteen. “Enough equipment” referred to a barbell and a home made squat rack that stood the test of time for decades, and using these, Derrick performed the barbell deep knee bend as his primary lower extremity exercise, certainly dismissing the myth that track athletes do not need to “work their legs.” Track athletes need to be as strong as possible in the musculature utilized in their sport and the 6’5” Adkins demonstrates that proper, deep squat form with heavy weights can and should be utilized to enhance useable athletic power. The squat of course is a staple for all of Rippetoe’s STARTING STRENGTH programs.


Mark and I agreed that there are perhaps a core group of eight exercises worth doing. One can refer to his publications that include the iconic Starting Strength and so much more [http://startingstrength.com/index.php/site/books] and though we may not agree on everything, there would be no argument between us over my specific core grouping. Mark likes the Olympic lifts a lot more than I do since I like them if one is an Olympic lifter but not necessarily as applied to other sports, but if one constructed their strength training program, or a program specific to powerlifting as their competitive sport, they could do no more than the following, in my opinion, and never have to do much of anything else past specific injury related reconstructive work, or specialization on a body area: barbell squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, shrug, and row. Of course, there are “derivatives” or substitutes for some of these movements that are also effective or interchangeable such as using the front squat in place of the squat; incline press; pull from the floor in place of the deadlift; strict or push press, or jerk with barbell or dumbbells for “overhead work”; chins or pull-ups.


If the final recommendation, “chins or pull-ups” doesn’t seem to fit, remember that these are excellent multi-joint exercises that utilize a relatively high percentage of upper body musculature. For many trainees, stimulating the upper and lower back for example is a key for body weight gains, in conjunction with hard and heavy squats and/or deadlifts so for our trainees, these are an often incorporated movement. For our football players and wrestlers, the transmission and dissipation of compressive force is an issue while practicing or competing and I believe that additional work for the trap and upper back area becomes a protective necessity, as does direct work for the musculature of the cervical spine. However, one’s successful program can and should be built around the basics noted. This does not mean that all of the movements should be used in any singular workout or even in any singular week. These few exercises are the primary exercises that provide the body’s stimulation for maximal muscular increases and certainly the best and most efficient way one can prepare for powerlifting success. I will revisit the Granite City Y crew I wrote about in the late 1970’s to provide an example of an inventive way a group of guys with a hard core attitude and very limited equipment utilized this very approach to form a successful, interesting, and entertaining team of lifters that were active in the St. Louis area for years.