History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Number 83, Part 4

Posted by in Dr Ken Leistner on August 25, 2015 Comments off


I should have been prepared for the obvious after the word got out locally and our TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS column of last month was published but was still surprised at the number of inquiries asking, “When are you holding another contest?” For some of those in attendance, their first thought was “This is just great! I should have been a part of it.” Forgetting that we held the meet only to accommodate six of our young, completely novice athletes, there was no meet for them to enter but I am gratified that a number of lifters were motivated to resume their competitive careers. If I had been an outsider or an observer not sure what to expect, I too would have been inspired to either train harder or compete. That our TITEX and ER equipment was so enthusiastically received by those who had not had previous exposure to it, was a bonus.

Our “driveway contest” fulfilled its goal of providing an inspiring venue that brought many of our formerlifters to assist and visit, and motivated a few to once again consider being involved in competition

To complete our discussion related to the equipment utilized at contests, it is a given that one should not take on the responsibility of hosting a meet if they cannot safeguard the well-being of the competitors and spotters by providing adequate equipment. Allowing our readers an opportunity to learn a bit more history related to our sport, Jan Dellinger brought his lengthy experience and tons of wisdom from his years with the York Barbell Company to this issue and stated,


“I read your latest installment regarding benches/squat racks and the early days of powerlifting. A few comments: Training equipment, especially at military facilities (and prisons where it was allowed at all) was a hit-or-miss affair. Typically, the quality of available equipment mirrored the emphasis on progressive resistance exercise that the base commander (or someone else high up in the food chain) personally possessed. In contrast to the Marine meet you mentioned (Author’s note: at Base Camp Pendleton), George Otott was a well-placed Leatherneck, possessing rank and a love of lifting, even heavy lifting. I suspect you will recognize his name (pronounced O’ Tot), as well as the fact that he was tight with Hoffman, York Barbell, Terpak and others….frankly, I think John Terpak Jr. might have been the pipeline here. Jr. was also a well- placed Marine in the diplomatic corps and was close personal friends with Otott. [Author’s note: Major George Otott wrote a very well received fitness book in 1968, The Marine Corps Exercise Book].


  Old school military nurse training included walking and jogging


The modern female military warriors have earned everyone’s respect with no-holds-barred training procedures and preparation


Historically, you mentioned York’s ‘massive’ success with the introduction of the power rack, pure isometrics and partial rack movements where both were combined (Bill March’s style). In the early 1960s, it is often overlooked that York was also scoring commercially with the military, especially the Marines in general, as that branch was renewing their interest in all manners of acquiring strength and above-and-beyond conditioning. This Leatherneck interest in progressive resistance exercise was showcased on an S&H cover around 1960 which depicts a ‘company’ of Marines en masse exercising with weighted tin cans attached to makeshift bars. They might have been shown doing overhead presses, if memory serves. However, there was no question that they were engaging in standard resistance exercise on a regular basis. My broader point is that it is either unknown or forgotten that York Barbell did a lot of good commercial business in the late 1950s- 1960s timeframe with the United States military.


As to the ‘prevailing standard’ of equipment quality observed by rank and file power meet directors back-in-the-day, many of these fellows came from garages/ isolated YMCA weight rooms and the like where it was do-the-best-with-what-you-had kind of environment. No excuses being made, just a lot of us trained under these conditions without giving thought to the amount of personal danger we were subjecting ourselves to, and especially as we got stronger. Using myself as an example, the first barbell course I followed was the Bruno Sammartino Barbell Course. One of the unique things about this course was its inclusion of schematics to build your own bench and squat stands…OUT OF WOOD! By the same token, even in the 1980s, the York Barbell Company still had a product or two originally introduced in the 1950s or ‘60s, which possessed heightened possibilities for personal injury. Why were some power meet directors early on so oblivious to risk of injury by mediocre equipment? First, to them the bench press, squat and deadlift were generally viewed as assistance exercises in their time, implying that they were done sparingly in juxtaposition to other recognized lifts, specifically the Olympic lifts. When lifters began focusing on the three power lifts, more or less exclusively and the poundages quickly rose to levels these established meet directors did not foresee, the equipment was now unsafe.  And, yes, gear additives like ACE bandages, ultra tight cut-off jeans and tennis balls behind one’s knees, and don’t forget rule changes, helped drive up the contest poundages unduly. And equipment manufacturers of the time didn’t react until gym owners, lifters and meet directors beseeched them for heavier equipment. Clearly, Pat Casey, who was so precocious strength-wise for his time, was smart to have his own personal bench and taking the trouble to bring it with him to meets. You can do that if you are that elite, meaning in a class by yourself. The meet directors just want you at their meet as a drawing card, so when you tell them you will be using your own bench, they salute. As you know, the 1960s were PRE-litigation days (generally) in our culture.”


Jan’s final comment holds a lot of power too, for the prospective meet director. In a very litigious society, it is imperative to provide equipment to both warm-up on and compete with, that meets minimal safety standards and in truth, minimal just isn’t enough. I believe most meet directors do in fact provide decent and safe equipment on the meet platform, it would be too obvious not to, but many still are scrounging to put a warm-up room together, forgetting that this is where most of the meet’s actual lifting is done.


Certification of equipment is a topic that few lifters, even those that compete regularly, give thought to but should. There are advantages and disadvantages of meeting certification standards and then paying the officiating organization for it, for both the lifters and equipment manufacturers and that is next.