History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Number 87: New Years Resolutions

Posted by in Dr Ken Leistner on April 15, 2016 Comments off

Most individuals make some sort of resolution, or self-promise for the New Year and powerlifters expectedly make resolutions related to training and contest performances. This is not surprising but the expectations for improvement certainly have wide ranging and at times, wild parameters. For some, it is difficult to predict what is reasonable and what is patently ridiculous. Enthusiasm, passion, and dedication are necessary ingredients for a recipe of improvement and success but it has to be tempered by reality. As a high school football and track and field coach, I respected the young men and women who were competitive and motivated to consistently train and perform to their maximal abilities. Those who refused to squander whatever talent they had with a commitment to improve, were predictably a pleasure to devote time to. I had some whose competitive nature and passion far exceeded their actual ability and it was difficult to convey to them what I believed to be realistic expectations.



Victor Staffieri, wearing number 65 on the cover of the 1976 Harvard vs Yale football program, was the 100th captain of the Yale football team. In every way, Victor was a standout academically, athletically, and as an individual of character at Malverne High School. His success on and off the field was easy to predict and he is one of the most well known executives in the energy field. For others with less obvious talent and ability, improvement and success is more difficult to predict


At times, I would have a young athlete who proved my own expectations so far “off” as to defy any reasonable prediction. As a young teacher and coach, my upbringing made me aware that the success of any organization or institution is due to the efforts of the “worker bees” and not the Queen Bees or administrators. Experienced, long time teachers and coaches will quickly note that the real power in any high school is held by the “office and cafeteria ladies” and custodians. If you are favored by them, your existence within the school and your ability to function effectively on a daily basis is made significantly easier. If you are on their Bad List, you are in a jam. It was always my pleasure, even when it came out of my own pocket, to insure that the custodians and cafeteria workers had our Malverne High School football tee shirts, or when needed, a few pairs of socks for their own children. One of the women working in the cafeteria had an undersized nephew attending tenth grade and playing, or perhaps it is more accurate to state, trying to play junior varsity football. At approximately 5’3” and seventy-five pounds, he was not effective and in discussions with the JV coaches, we all decided that it just wasn’t safe to put him on the field during actual games.


In the off-season, this young man asked if I could give him individual coaching in the weight room. We were one of the first high schools in the area with a “real” weight room and organized program. Most of the high schools in our area housed a multi-station Universal machine, so fondly remembered by every high school football player from the early 1960’s through mid-‘70’s, but few had multiple squat or power racks, Olympic sets, and the expectations that every member of the team despite involvement in multiple sports, would take part in the strength training program. We were well equipped to perform the five or six exercises that comprised our structured program based upon the equipment selection I had moved from my own garage into our makeshift weight room. I augmented that with some of Ed Jubinville’s benches that I paid for myself. This small young man who always worked hard to be an excellent student and the standout actor in the school’s drama department, directed his competitive nature into the weights and was fully able to contribute as a 135 pound junior. As a 165 pound senior he was a valued member of the team as a hard-nosed, two-way back of a successful team. As enthusiastic and positive as I was about the possibilities offered by weight training, I would not have predicted his ninety pound increase in muscular bodyweight, especially on an individual with a short stature. Yet, Michael “Dean” Nostrand exceeded the expectations that anyone could have held for him and as an adult, became and remains an accomplished actor, dancer, and director.


What is possible, what is probable, and what is realistic never has a definitive answer. Even with the admission of very low level Dianabol use, the 1964 U.S. Olympic Weightlifting Team member Louis Riecke upset everyone’s predictions regarding his ability to make an Olympic team and dramatically improve based upon what was to that point, past performances and the fact that he was thirty-eight years of age. I believe however, it is safe to say that one can add more actual pounds to their lifts in the squat and deadlift, than they can in the bench press. This of course is a function of “larger muscle groups vs. smaller muscle groups” with the most growth potential in the squat and deadlift. The late Reverend Robert Zuver was always willing to give me personal attention, a privilege I never felt truly deserving of and many of the conversations we had while sitting in the living room of his house still ring true. He made the point, relative to 1968 lifting results and existing records, the trends of that era, and his own long experience, that the time and effort put into increasing one’s bench press by twenty-five pounds, could result in a fifty pound increase if focused upon the squat or deadlift. In summary, while working hard on all of one’s lifts, put the primary effort into the “bigger lifts” of the squat and deadlift, and not the bench press. This of course will yield a higher total and while none of the lifts should be ignored, keep one’s priorities intact.


Mike Bridges, arguably one of the two or three best pound-for-pound powerlifters in the history of the sport, was already spectacular as a teenager. Having known Mike and observing him as a 148 pound beginner, one would have predicted great achievement for him but perhaps not the long lasting positive effect he has had on the sport through many decades  


The bottom line results of a powerlifting contest and one’s standing in the powerlifting community or actual class rankings, is a function of a three lift total, not any one of the three specific lifts. Of course this differs for a one lift specialist but for “powerlifters” as the participants of a very specific and codified sport, one has to train to enhance the overall total. With limitations on training time and energy, these resources have to be directed towards what will yield the highest reward. Thus, any New Years Resolution should include the realization that this will be the year that one’s squat and deadlift fulfill all possible potential. The “other” bottom line in the sport of powerlifting is that one should expect gains, significant gains, but these will come only from hard work.