History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Number 90, Part 2: Small changes, big caution.

Posted by in Dr Ken Leistner on May 18, 2016 Comments off

As a teenager who worked multiple after-school and weekend jobs, especially between football and track seasons, I had enough of “my own money” to purchase extra food and an occasional pair of large 50 or 100 pound plates to augment my axle, sewer covers, and fly wheels type of equipment. I also bought a pair of Polish weightlifting boots from the York Barbell Company when they made them available in perhaps 1962 or ’63.

In my mind, this made me “official,” a real lifter. Although I was not a competitive Olympic weightlifter, I had been in a few Odd Lift contests as a relatively young trainee and the red and white shoes gave me a feeling of authenticity.

Even without the knowledge of the behind the scenes York stories and not having yet made the acquaintance of the numerous York Club lifters I would know in later years, I assumed that team members had traveled to Europe for some sort of championship, purchased a large quantity of lifting shoes that otherwise had not previously been sold in the United States, returned home with them and put them up for sale via the ads in Strength And Health magazine.

York soon after offered a pair of their own brand for sale to the lifting public but the ones worn by the superior foreigners seemed to offer a greater opportunity for lifting heavier weights, a typical response from my limited perspective. Strength And Health’s series that highlighted “Polish Training Methods” added to the mystique of the shoes and it was only in retrospect that I wondered if the string of articles was meant to help sell the footwear.

While I certainly looked more official training in my Polish high top lifting boots, my lack of ability, absence of


The great Waldemar Baszanowski; if you were of Polish descent and knew anything about weightlifting, he was “the man” in the 1960’s. Waldemar won Olympic gold in 1964 and ’68, was five time World Champion, five time runner-up, and set twenty-four world records. I attributed a lot of the success to his red and white Polish lifting boots, prompting me to part with some of my hard earned money!

coaching, and the impossibility of learning the three Olympic lifts with any degree of proficiency by trying to follow the photos viewed in the magazines made it clear that I was not going to be a weightlifter.

However, I continued to become stronger for football which was always the primary goal and on the occasions that I showed up at the storefront gym wearing my jeans and official lifting shoes, I at least thought I appeared more knowledgeable than I actually was.

I could never be certain that wearing my Polish shoes gave me much advantage over the work boots I usually trained in. Both had high-top support, a solid sole, an elevated heel, and provided significant stability while training. Of course, the lifting shoes had more flexibility, were lighter, set me apart, and I always was one of those athletes that believed that I would perform my best if I was comfortable in my uniform or training attire.

As the lifting shoes became older and within the course of a few years, had a few rips, worn heel and sole, and no longer provided the necessary support for training, they became the perfect accompaniment to my flannel shirts and overalls.

Never one to adopt the hippie clothing styles that became the rage in the mid-to-late ‘60’s, I did garner fashion points when working as a bouncer, as numerous comments were made about the “cool shoes” I wore when working at the local clubs.

In Part One last month, I noted the necessity of reducing the resistance one used whenever an alteration in training technique, attire, wraps, or any other factor that affects one’s lifting is made. The TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS Contender Squat Powerlifting Shoes, in my case, was a significant alteration.

For many years, my training has been limited from a lifetime of


Providing backstage and travel security for rock and roll tours, Motown Records, and individual performers added to the excitement of the 1960’s and ‘70’s, but some of the music industry related relationships and work extended into the 1990’s. The author is pictured spending post-concert time with icon Henry Rollins, whose dedication to strength enhancement and hard training always set him apart from others

physical activity and athletic injuries, work related accidents, and a number of bouts of violence both on the street and as part of my past employment. All brought a degree of injury, some with permanent damage or physiological/neurological limitation.

In any specific year-long period, I am limited to doing a handful of exercises, those that I know can be done without bringing any further pain or damage to the involved joints and/or muscles. Fortunately, the list includes most of the movements necessary to either become muscularly larger and/or stronger and they are the movements that always formed the nucleus of my training.

As my wife has said frequently through many years, “There are days he can barely walk because of his knees but he can always squat” and of course it is my contention that because I do squat once or twice every week that I can in fact continue to walk with two surgically repaired knees. Thus the barbell squat, deadlift, dumbbell press, dips, and pull-ups and chin-ups with varying grips remain the core group of training exercises I continue to utilize and always have utilized.

I can still augment these with farmers walk, implement holds and carries, and just “moving heavy stuff around” in the garage or driveway. My usual footwear for many years has been Magnum Work Boots or “cop shoes.” Long the footwear of choice for a great many members of the local police force, Emergency Medical Technicians, and those employed in the security industry, many of my training partners and trainees found that these provided all of the requirements for lifting weights and the “functional” type of exercises. Yet, still trying to improve and move forward with my physical training, and always willing to assist TITAN in developing the best products on the powerlifting market, I was thrilled and excited to try the Contenders.

Needless to state, the Contenders felt a bit different while walking around in them, felt different setting up for the squat, and of course, felt different while doing the actual squat movement. However the shoes are lighter and more flexible than work type boots, with excellent support for the ankle and foot. By any measure the Contenders were comfortable and I felt stable. The primary point was my disciplined approach and for the first four workouts I held to the dictum of utilizing 132 – 143 pounds for numerous sets until I had fully adapted to the new footwear. If this seems like excessive caution, so be it but I have in the past few workouts, systematically moved the resistance back up to what had become “usual” or “normal” and unlike many who do no more than change lifting shoes or move their stance one-half-inch wider or narrower, I avoided any hip, groin, knee, or ankle dysfunction.

I can recall the period of time spent living in the St. Louis area while attending Logan College of Chiropractic. My training was done alone in the basement or outdoor parking space in front of our apartment building.


The author pressing one of Beast Metals plate-loaded Beast Bells in the garage, attired in Magnum work boots

When I trained with Mike Wittmer and other Olympic weightlifters, it was done in various garage gyms or at the St. Charles Boys Club. I occasionally trained at two of the local commercial gyms, one owned by bodybuilding award winner Dave George.

The big powerlifting scene was at George Turner’s Northside Gym near the Chiropractic College off-campus clinic where a number of us completed our internships but I managed to get my workouts in wherever and whenever I could. Some of my Saturday training was done with the Mathes Brothers at the Granite City YMCA, the subject of one of the most popular features ever published in POWERLIFTING USA MAGAZINE.

Based on the successful squatting style of one of the national powerlifting champions, many of the lifters attempted to alter their stance so that both feet pointed forward with no lateral deviation. For most, this was not a normal foot placement and the very competitive environment at Turner’s or at the Y motivated whoever made the squat stance change to predictably push as hard as ever. I can clearly recall at least six or ten lifters complaining about excessive hip pain, limitation and discomfort that lasted for weeks. This of course was a direct result of altering their squat stance and technique and then ignoring the precaution of utilizing a reasonable break-in or adaptive period of time.

There are too many examples of lifters who made the smallest alteration in whatever had become “the norm” for them, in a specific exercise movement, and who did not heed the sage advice to “back off and adapt.” As usual, in the sport of powerlifting, common sense and caution are keys to success and longevity.