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HISTORY OF POWERLIFTING, WEIGHTLIFTING, AND STRENGTH TRAINING PART 82: A MEET DIRECTOR’S COMMON SENSE DECISION, Part 4

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.

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Our “driveway contest” fulfilled its goal of providing an inspiring venue that brought many of our former lifters 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].

 

Coeds at the University of New Hampshire performing military drill in freezing weather. They are the first organized college group in US to undergo pre-graduation training like men's ROTC which will fit them for service in the armed forces.

  Old school military nurse training included walking and jogging

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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.

MORE NEXT MONTH

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HISTORY OF POWERLIFTING, WEIGHTLIFTING, AND STRENGTH TRAINING PART 81: A MEET DIRECTOR’S COMMON SENSE DECISION, Part 3

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One of the regular readers of my ongoing TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS series of articles, the “blog” in modern parlance I still seem to struggle with, stated it better than I could have when he wrote, “I get it. You wanted to make the points about certification and the one about really unsafe equipment in the warm-up rooms but I guess neither is easy to get through with so much history to go back to.” I would agree and I won’t yet be moving out of the warm-up room so to speak because there were so many comments sent my way regarding the last installment. I have written, and emphasized that much of the equipment we used in the 1960’s and into the mid-1970’s just wasn’t safe but we were, as a group of athletes, oblivious to that fact. If we had any awareness and certainly some men did, we were accepting of whatever was placed before us. If one did not live through the era where Olympic weightlifting was “the” sport in the Iron Game and powerlifting was viewed as a leftover activity for those not athletic enough, flexible enough, quick enough, or smart enough to pursue the press, snatch, and clean and jerk, it is difficult to convey how appreciative we were to even have a sport to call our own. Having an organized meet to go to, despite any deficiency in equipment, was accepted as a bonus and privilege. Emphasizing this point were the many comments I received from “older” or more experienced lifters, enough to fill two or three columns.

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The very best in equipment including the new TITEX POWERLIFTING BARBELL SET, in combination with the effort of young lifters like Will Martorana of North Shore High School, gave us a fantastic driveway meet 

                          (Photo by Barbara Cittadino)

 

I have quoted Hercules, California lifter Dan Martin a number of times in the past. Dan is easy to quote; he was a good competitor who has been at it for decades and was always smart and insightful enough to have analyzed what he and the lifters around him were doing. His career as a firefighter has given him a logical perspective that has been applied to his lifting and served to successfully coach and advise others. Dan noted, “There is no question that the equipment now is light years ahead of the 60’s and early 70’s, (although Zuver’s equipment was certainly choice, but as you know, if you didn’t know about Zuver’s you just didn’t know) but we certainly didn’t let that get in the way. The first Fireman’s Olympics I lifted in was held at a gym in San Francisco (1976) and was one of about three (the other two being the Sports Palace and West Coast Fitness Center) that hadn’t turned into foo-foo, less than hardcore gyms. The venue was such that we had to walk forward and away from the squat rack towards the audience. The squat rack was attached to the wall and not adjustable. Certainly solid enough because it was made of 1.5″ pipe and bolted to the wall and floor, but obviously dangerous when racking the bar.”

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As described by Dan Martin, the equipment used in “the old days” could not compare to our ER Rack and new TITEX barbell and plates that Smithtown West High School standout athlete Daniel Savino utilized to set personal records

(Photo by Peter Frutkoff)

 

Allow me to interject that to appreciate Dan’s observation, one needs to work up to a heavy squat while facing away from the squat racks and do so while walking forward away from the racks, rather than using the customary procedure of facing the barbell, settling the bar on one’s back, and then stepping back. After expending a major effort, then walk backwards and blindly try to rack the bar! Dangerous is a mild description. Dan then made reference to Tom Eldridge, a fire captain and pioneering figure in California powerlifting and a man with a somewhat legendary temper and the physical toughness to back it up.

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A legend among LAFD lifters and motivator extraordinaire, the late Tom Eldridge built his own equipment to insure the safety of other lifters

 

“At that meet was the first time I met Tom Eldridge. He went sideways when he saw the bar that was to be used. It was bent, smooth and rusted. Perfect! He started to tear the ‘meet director’ a new asshole, which in turn brought the gym owner out of his ‘office.’ The gym owner obviously spent a lot of time doing the ‘big three’ at the time (bench, pullover and curls) and was not about to take any of Tom’s nonsense. He simply said, ‘a bar’s a bar and if you don’t like it go back to LA.’ Naturally, the gym owner was able to tell Tom was from LA because he and two other lifters were wearing their matching ‘Los Angeles County Fire Department Powerlifting Team’ warm-ups.

 After the dust settled, everyone lifted, nobody bombed and no one got hurt. When we went to a bar post meet to have a beer or two (I was the only one asked for ID) Tom made a declaration that, ‘we are never going to lift on bullshit equipment again’ and the modern California Fireman’s Olympics powerlifting was born. And I have to say, Tom and his Lincoln arc welder came through for the 1977 meet and for many years after. Tom made two sets of raised platforms, one he kept at his house and one stored in Santa Clara to be used for the Northern California meets.”

 This is a rather typical tale. Through the years, some of us would travel into Manhattan or Brooklyn, to New Jersey, Connecticut, or Massachusetts, and lift on what we knew to be marginal equipment. Bars that were bereft of knurling, bent, and beat up were the warm-up room standard and as Dan notes in the above paragraphs, often on the platform too.

 Saul Shocket’s name will be familiar to long time lifters and to the regular readers of our column. Saul has been a premiere trainer as well as a title holder and record setter for many decades. Having seen it all, Saul also had a few salient comments.

 “Good article, Ken. The pic of Pat C brought back some good memories. As you might remember, I used to train with Pat around 1964. This was at Bill Pearl’s Manchester Ave gym in LA. Pat was a very soft spoken and humble guy…a great training partner and inspiring person. As I was penniless, Bill also helped me out by providing lunch every afternoon for me, Jerry Wallace, and himself. As I recall, it usually consisted of tuna, & an assortment of fruit. ”

 Allow me to interject that all of my references to Bill Pearl’s Gym were to the Manchester Avenue address in Inglewood, California. When I first arrived in the Los Angeles area with my training partner and friend Jack, Pearl’s was our initial stop as chronicled not only throughout our TITAN SUPPORT series, but in the six part mini-history I wrote for Mark Rippetoe’s STARTING STRENGTH site

 [http://startingstrength.com/site/article/west_coast_impressions_a_random_journey#.VZ5QXPlVhBc ].

Saul continued, “The mention of a wooden competition bench also sounded all too familiar. I’m remembering the late 60’s or early 70’s, At that time, I trained at the Boston YMCA on Huntington Ave. A funky basement gym to be sure. I benched from time to time with pro wrestler Ivan Putski, The bench we used was also wooden, with rickety uprights.  Someone had attached a cover to make the bench a bit more ‘functional’ and comfortable(?). On somewhat regular occasion, someone would place tacks under the bench cover and in diabolically chosen locations. It wasn’t unusual for us to lie back on the bench, prepping for a strong set, when a loud scream followed by a string of swears, would echo throughout the gym.  Another tack found its mark. Although we tried, the culprit was never found, nor was his/her motive discovered.

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No tacks on this bench as per Saul Shockett’s tale! 3rd Place finisher Nico Louizos of Manhasset High School enjoyed his first contest so much that he entered another scheduled for September, just days following our event

                           (Photo by Jamie Rozansky)

PS: Ivan ‘Polish Power’ Putski would bench 315×10 for 5 or more sets.” For those interested in the very eclectic and entertaining life history of Saul who has been a world class musician and world class lifter for decades, look to Amazon for his new book:

 http://www.amazon.com/Youre-SAUL-Thought-Youd-Bigger/dp/1478751045/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1436519413&sr=1-1&keywords=saul+shocket&pebp=1436519415035&perid=0A5Y60R8ZCSM44V1PQY5 . Jan Dellinger also had a number of very interesting and important comments but first things first!

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Meet venue, two hours prior to the start of the fun and maddness!

                                   (Photo by Kathy Leistner)

 

I made reference in the TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS blog of May 26, 2015,    http://titansupport.com/blog/history-of-powerlifting-weightlifting-and-strength-training-part-80-a-meet-directors-common-sense-decision/  

mentioning the fun and day of fellowship we shared with a few lifters who needed a legal, qualifying meet to compete in. My wife Kathy, a much better lifter than I ever even dreamed of being, has competed in a number of National Championships, posted the second highest total in her weight class at the World Championships, was a former American record holder, and has been through YMCAs, hotel banquet halls, basement gyms, college gymnasiums, and most venues between all of those while competing and directing contests. She agreed that our so-called Driveway Meet was one of the most fun and comment-provoking contests we ever hosted or were involved with. Thus was planted the seed and the very rapid fruition of the purposefully glorified in name 2015 TITEX EAST ROCKAWAY SUMMER POWERLIFTING CLASSIC.

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We wanted our young novice lifters exposed to the best of everything PLing can give them: TITEX bars and plates, ER racks on the platform and in the warm-up room, a great crew, and former champions. The crew and judges included Randy Colon, Tom O’Riordan, Pat Susco, Linda Jo Belsito, Joey Almodovar, and Craig Portee

   (Photo by Kathy Leistner) 

 

My long time trainee and former Hofstra University All American defensive tackle Frank Savino who allows me to maintain a piece of the action at his very successful Gridiron Fitness athletic training facility in nearby Mineola, N.Y. had the same dilemma I faced. Both of us trained young athletes who were interested in competing in a “real” powerlifting contest but had never even seen a contest. Some play high school football, two were interested in pursuing powerlifting as their primary activity, and we wanted them to enjoy the sport and garner its many benefits while avoiding some of the negative aspects and craziness that are in fact, part and parcel of the entire meet scene. Kathy’s solution of hosting another “driveway contest” resolved the issues as the youngsters could lift in a safe environment while utilizing the best equipment. They could also enjoy the security of one of the best platform crews to ever work the sport. That last statement is obviously very biased but our Iron Island Gym platform crew which among others, included Tom O’Riordan, Adrian Arav, Brian Daly, Mike Schmeider, Craig Portee, and Joey Almodovar, were skilled enough to be taken to various venues throughout the U.S. under the auspices of the different powerlifting organizations, to man the platforms for their biggest contests.

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2nd Place finisher Tom Touhey cracked the 500 deadlift mark in rather easy fashion to complete his first contest

                       (Photo by Barbara Cittadino)

 

Of course, once the word was out, the small meet that would invite the family and friends of only six of these novice lifters to a raw, not-big-lift contest, became a lot larger. We were very fortunate and blessed to dedicate the meet to raising money and awareness for our local Ruff House Rescue animal shelter and adoption facility and have the unlimited support of the Rockville Centre Starbucks, the Applebaum Family Provisions company, Hammer Strength, and of course, TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS. I can lay claim to being TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEM’s least talented, but longest sponsored lifter since their founding and as always, Pete, Isiah and the staff came through for us. Our platform crew saw this occasion, as quoted in Animal House, as an opportunity for “putting the band back together” and we had many of our former gym lifters in attendance.

 Our two fifty-five gallon drums cut into grills were fired up by 8 AM, food was cooking at 10, and the lifting began at 11 with former champion Pat Susco giving a terrific squat exhibition, using the venue for what would have been his normal training. His 505 with 45 pounds of chains added X ten reps motivated the young lifters and got the crowd going as the young guys moved into the squat.

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The truly giving and great Pat Susco, 63 years young using a Buffalo Bar to protect his surgical shoulders, chains to incite the crowd and keep pace with his regular training, and our beautiful new TITEX powerlifting plates

(Photo by Kathy Leistner)

 

We promised everyone, “No big lifts but there will be great effort and enthusiasm” and that’s exactly what we got. The lifting, with results of what was truly a “raw” meet where the youngsters wore no more than wrestling singlets and a tee shirt with two in knee sleeves, was a lot of fun and the positive introduction to the sport we wanted.

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W.Tresper Clarke HS halfback and track sprinter Justin Melkin like the other novices, had a “personal best” day

(Photo by Peter Frutkoff)

Personal records and all-out effort were the order of the day with Schwartz Formula results based upon bodyweight related performance finding Ramiz Dani first, Thomas Touhey second, Nico Louizos third, Daniel Savino fourth, Will Martarana fifth, and Justin Melkin sixth.

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Our novice lifters earned their Beastmetals Hammer trophies the old fashioned way; they earned them! All were gratified to receive their awards from sixteen time world champion Linda Jo Belsito

(Photo by Kathy Leistner)

 

Some of the youngsters missed a lift but came back to make it; others went nine-for-nine or eight-for-nine only after letting it rip for new personal records on the final attempt deadlifts. Great lifting, great poise by all of the athletes, and a tremendous crowd response made this as exciting as one of the year’s major contests. The great “Hammer Trophy awards made possible by Beastmetals of Sacramento and award plates from old friend and industry standard Siegel Engraving of Clearfield, PA added true flair.

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Winner Ramiz Dani was inspired by 63 year old Pat Susco

(Photo by Barbara Cittadino)

Our friend Pat Povialitis, “The Human Vise,” gave one of his strength demonstrations that included his unique talent to bend, twist, and distort short steel, break baseball bats over his head (without the batting helmet worn by Bo Jackson), and stick his hand in a couger trap, one that severed a pig’s femur prior to snapping down on his hand. Of course, attaching the trap to a 275 pound engine block and lifting the block by means of the trap that was tearing at the flesh and ligaments of his right hand needs to be personally witnessed to fully understand the awe and nausea that gripped the crowd!

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Cougar trap clamped on his hand, 275 pound engine block strapped to the trap, and Pat Povialitis “enjoying” a day of lifting and food with fans and admirers. Other than tremendous mental focus, there is nothing normal about what Pat is doing!

                       (Photo by Jamie Rozansky)

 

The display of physical and mental strength needless to say, just delighted the crowd of what turned out to be approximately 120 spectators that choked the driveway. It also stimulated donations in excess of $600.00 for the animal shelter which was one of our goals.

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(Photo by Kathy Leistner)

Of course we went all out, with our personal expenses and the donations of time, effort, and food seen as part of what the shelter received. There were as many eating highlights as there was lifting excitement, with some of our guys proving that you can safely and efficiently load and spot while consuming a dozen burgers and two fistfuls of Starbucks salted caramel squares while on the platform! The unusual and absolutely stunning trophies were fabricated by my friend Ralph at Beastmetals in Sacramento, California, a relatively new and upcoming name in the equipment industry. We went to our former Iron Island trophy supplier Siegel Engraving in Clearfield, PA where founder, the late Al Seigel who gave so much to  the sport, has had his legacy carried on by his wife Brenda and son Jay, for the engraved trophy plates. With six lifters and six awards, obviously, everyone walked away happy. Wow! Kathy summed it up best with her statement that, “This was like a huge cookout but instead of music or other entertainment, we had lifting!” Few things could be better and we had guests, both invited and uninvited, who just “showed up” from New Jersey, upstate New York, and Maryland, which made the day stressful for the Porta Potty but a lot of fun.

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        Behind the smoke, former University Of North Carolina offensive guard Rich Applebaum and his family turned out a lot of great food                               (Photo by Kathy Leistner)

 

Our “Driveway Meet,” very much like the one we hosted many years ago at our former residence, was a great success. Frank, Kathy, and I had very specific goals in mind and we were able to meet all of them:

1.   Insure that the novice youngsters learned what it was like to compete in a properly managed contest where everything was done according to the rules, on safe equipment, and with an experienced platform crew.

2.   Enhance the self-confidence of the young athletes by allowing them to give great effort while performing in front of family, friends, and strangers who would be supportive.

3.   Provide whoever wandered up the driveway with a lot of food that by any standard was of high quality and good-tasting. You just can’t have a really good contest if you don’t have food that everyone wants to eat!

Thanks to many friends, we were able to do it. Though the list is lengthy, we have to thank our carpenters who built a very large and very sturdy platform, Jim Eicher and his son Greg. The Rockville Centre, N.Y. Starbucks store manager Ryan Francisco and store partner Mike Wroblewski pushed hard to not only serve the company’s great iced coffee and salted caramel squares, but were of great help in encouraging donations for Ruff House Rescue. Richie Applebaum, his son Joe, his beautiful daughter Carli, and their friend Joe donated and prepared 250 hamburgers, 250 frankfurters, a lot of Italian sausage and provided all of their Boar’s Head products with enthusiasm and professional cooking expertise. My frequent sponsor, Hammer Strength through Tom Proffitt and Ralph Reynaga at Beastmetals both get an A+ rating for their assistance as does Jay Siegel. My sponsorship by TITAN SUPPORT PRODUCTS that dates literally to the day of their founding is undeserved and we were able to “wow” the lifters, crew, and spectators with our platform and warm-up room presentation of TITEX plates and bars and of course, the great ER Racks. I gained an even deeper appreciation for being allowed to put my two cents in when Pete has needed advice, criticism, or development of a new product seeing how much the TITAN and TITEX brands are viewed by the powerlifting public. Our “luminaries” who of course remain normal friends and extended family that gave exhibitions to hype things up and garner donations for animal rescue and adoption, and served on the crew are always appreciated. Of course, everyone would be disappointed if I did not fully credit my wife Kathy for always being the guiding light in what gets done around here. I joke about it but I’m hired help, as it’s been for decades as she remains the brains of the operation.

  

   

 

 

 

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HISTORY OF POWERLIFTING, WEIGHTLIFTING, AND STRENGTH TRAINING PART 81: A MEET DIRECTOR’S COMMON SENSE DECISION, Part 2

Dr-Ken-header

The two primary points I attempted to make in last month’s column were certainly made if the number of e mails I received is any indication. Most of the older, experienced lifters included a tale, one that became humorous through the prism of time, about inadequate warm-up room equipment and/or the subsequent mishaps that resulted at a meet because of the equipment used. If one was a self-designated powerlifter in the 1960’s, they competed on and with inadequate equipment because, as this series of articles should have made clear, almost all of the equipment was inadequate relative to the weights and stress it was subjected to. I wrote that Pat Casey was forced to have his own bench fabricated so that as “the” biggest bench presser of the day, he could compete and feel safe from injury. Pat would bring the bench with him to various competitions and not one other lifter believed that it provided him with an unfair competitive advantage. Instead they were glad to see him, knowing that they too would be utilizing a piece of equipment that was predictably safer than anything the meet director may have been providing.

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Pat Casey competing on his personal bench, completing what was obliviously a huge lift for the era.  Note the absence of the three to six spotters most often utilized at any of today’s meets.

Coincidentally, I can recall sharing our early contest experiences with Mike Lambert, the founder and “do-everything maestro” of Powerlifting USA Magazine. The conversation took place in the late 1970’s and referenced meets in the late ‘60’s through early ‘70’s. At that time most of Mike’s competition experience had taken place in California and Hawaii and most of mine in the New York metropolitan area and Northeast. Yet our stories overlapped regarding the shaky squat racks, rickety benches, smooth and bent bars, and forty-five pound plates that weighed anywhere from thirty-nine to fifty-two pounds. We conceded that we were certainly powerlifting soul mates when he referenced a contest at the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Lifting there years apart in separate contests, Mike was first to mention that a major California contest there utilized what was actually a wooden bench with a flimsy pad thrown on top of it. I laughed as I noted that I recalled lifting on what had to be the same bench, even though the contest I was in occurred a few years before his experience at the locale. Although the readers might be surprised that the government did not spend the money on an iron, and presumably stronger Olympic bench for a major contest, such was powerlifting reality in the sport’s formative years.

The power rack craze brought on by Bob Hoffman and the York Barbell Company’s push of Isometrics and Bill March’s partial range of motion rack work had lifters everywhere scurrying to find, build, or buy a rack of their own. Certainly March became a premiere lifter utilizing this method of training but York’s introduction of anabolic steroids to many of their lifters just as certainly moved the muscle and strength building process forward. That Bill also developed one of the most striking muscular and athletic appearances using what was a new and exciting training method sort of sealed the deal in the minds of many trainees. “If March could be this strong and look so great training like this, it’s the way to go.” Many authors have noted that the pushing and pulling through a partial range of motion or while going the route of the “immovable” Isometric exercises on the rack may have helped, but March was March and few others could be pointed to as examples of tremendous development due to the training technique or the use of the specific equipment. I enjoyed rack work and always felt it had an appropriate place in a program for some but there was a definite craze that led to the development of numerous “Rube Goldberg” types of racks. The least expensive way to go was wood and many built wooden power racks and this augmented the number of wooden squat racks that enterprising lifters had built for themselves through the decades. Predictably, most did not hold up well and may have served as the introductory squat piece in one’s beginning stages but common sense dictated that once significant weight was being hoisted, wood was a rather poor choice of materials for this application.

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Although the great Bob Peoples spent years lifting on his homemade wooden rack in the basement of his rural Tennessee home, most did not hold up as well.

As late as 1965 or 1966 I recall lifting in a meet in the New York City area that presented the lifters with the standard York Barbell Company bench press with narrow-spaced uprights, the “usual” bench of choice for competitions, but a wooden squat rack for the second of the three lifts. There weren’t many lifters in the meet but predictably, all mumbled their concerns and complaints. Just as predictably, despite the meet director’s expression of confidence in his carpentry abilities, it took no more than the typically hard and explosive racking of five or six 400 – 450 pound squats to vertically split one of the uprights. I should interject that as a former iron worker and grandson, son, and brother of iron workers, I am rather biased towards the use of iron and steel for all lifting related construction but admire those skilled enough to produce viable lifting equipment made out of wood. Various links on the Internet provide plans, blueprints, and many photos of wooden squat racks and power racks that appear as if they would stand the test of time for all but the most advanced lifters and trainees. However, especially in the formative years of the sport, this choice of material proved to be a safety hazard.

I noted that the wooden bench used in the Camp Pendleton contests had no more than a thin pad placed on top of it. Obviously, the pad moved when the lifter attempted to settle into the bench press lift and once the set-up techniques stressed an exaggerated low back arch, it became impossible to safely anchor to the bench. In a creative way to better secure the lifter to the bench, Purdue University’s innovative coach Pat Malone was the first to cover his bench press pads with suede. Lifters oohed and aahed at the exceptional appearance of the various colors presented by the suede coverings and Pat gets an “A” for creativity and “fashion sense.” Unfortunately, a majority of lifters would pull themselves high onto the bench surface, anchor their feet firmly to the floor, attempt to slide into an extreme high-arch position, and literally stick to the bench top! The suede was a more slip-free surface but often to an extent that it was a detriment. Additionally, as it is in the competition of many sports, one expects to lie in some or a lot of their opponents’ sweat but the suede seemed to pool the sweat into puddles that were barely absorbed by the end of the contest, but as meet directors and owners of the suede covered pads found later, eventually became permanently stained markers. While Pat has remained extraordinarily successful manufacturing quality barbells for a variety of distributors and direct retail sales outlets, and utilized his multiple Purdue University degrees in physics and biomechanics as a terrific powerlifting and gymnastic coach, the suede covered bench press pad was a very good idea that did not play out as expected in the reality of the sport.

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Pat Malone with some of his 1979 Purdue University powerlifters. 

Most meet directors were sincere in their attempt to hold meets that allowed the lifters they knew or who lived in their locale to compete. Little thought was given to “making money” because there was little or none to be made. There is no doubt that most had to scrounge equipment in order to host a meet of any consequence and this often meant utilizing substandard items. The obvious query would be, “If the equipment the lifters used on the competition platform was perhaps unsafe and underbuilt, what then was the state of the equipment utilized in the warm-up room?” Needless to state it outright, the warm-up room equipment was usually whatever else the meet promoter could put his or her hands on. As the sport moved forward, meets became larger and garnered more publicity and attention, competition platform equipment improved, often with the use of chromed barbell sets that were loaned to the promoter by suppliers like Ivanko Barbell, handsome benches utilizing oversized tubing frames, and adjustable squat racks of various types. However, and despite the upgrade of equipment on view to the audience and to be featured in magazines via photos, most warm-up rooms were still thrown-together affairs with “whatever was left.”

Part Three to follow:

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HISTORY OF POWERLIFTING, WEIGHTLIFTING, AND STRENGTH TRAINING PART 80: A MEET DIRECTOR’S COMMON SENSE DECISION

The guys who grew up in Long Beach, N.Y. in the 1950’s and ‘60’s had a reputation for being knuckleheads. Not all obviously, that would be an oversimplification and of course, broad-ranged stereotyping. Thus I will more accurately state that many of the guys I grew up with or hung out with in Long Beach, N.Y., fellows who grew up in the city, (and the politicians are very quick to point out that “Long Beach is only one of two actual, official cities on Long Island,” making it ripe for political shenanigans that have plagued it for decades), were knuckleheads. Although I was an athlete who was obsessed with my lifting and pursuit of football success, many in the crowd drank alcohol and most of us viewed street fights as adjunctive fitness training. My background has given me a compact grouping of reflexive responses when I am asked, “Can I speak to you for a minute?” that range from taking a step back and assuming a defensive body posture to the verbal jab of “Whatever it is, I didn’t do it.”

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Known locally for its beaches and surfing, Hurricane Sandy’s devastation placed Long Beach into the national consciousness  

 

When I speak with those I knew from Long Beach where we attended school and played sports together, it’s like viewing or listening to a mirror image and long-time friends like Richard Landsman and I often laugh about this phenomenon. Of course there are more well-known and actually famous individuals from Long Beach who claim all of the same stereotyped traits even though they haven’t been “home” in perhaps forty years! The one thing all of us received however was a very strong foundation in the educational fundamentals, gratis of the Long Beach Public School System, and a huge dose of common sense. Examining any field of endeavor, I am often struck by the lack of common sense displayed by so many, even those who have been successful. Extending this into the powerlifting arena, I have, since 1964, attended and competed in both Odd Lift and official Powerlifting competitions that displayed a lack of clear thought, foresight, or vision. It would be laughable if the safety of the lifter was not put at risk in so many meets. I am specifically referring to warm-up room and platform equipment and what occurred in the late 1960’s is still on display today.

 

I competed in the Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, and Central States areas of the U.S. As a former, long-time meet director, with experience ranging from the late 1970’s through 1998, and national and world championships announcer and coach, I have witnessed contest venues both large and small in different parts of the world and in most regions of the United States. I know how difficult it can be to scrounge and gather up enough equipment to have a decent contest and make it as comfortable and safe as possible for the competitors. Like most “older citizens” I have a bias, one that I have freely and often expressed in my writing, that I have a preference for the former days of powerlifting relative to the trajectory I witnessed in the sport from the early 1990’s to today. Allow me to state as I have in the past, that powerlifting is not a mainstream sport, will never be a mainstream sport, was not meant to be a mainstream sport, and attempts to dress it up as a mainstream sport have done little but weaken its initial premise which was to place the competitors’ skills and courage on display for their families, friends, and training partners. One can “do it” in the gym or garage but few have the gumption to actually leave home base and place their abilities in public view. There is value in this relative to character development and for the boost in training the entire process demands. Preparing for a contest in almost every case enhances the level of enthusiasm of the entire group of training partners that the competitor is with. It demands extra attention to diet, planning, and all of the little things that go into taking the next step on one’s ladder of self-planned improvement. I can go to the oft-used quote of former President Theodore Roosevelt to reinforce the point:

 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

 

  

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HISTORICAL INSERT

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Pat Susco, one of New York area’s best lifters for decades, shown lifting at an early Iron Island Gym contest

 

 

We held numerous meets at our Iron Island Gym from 1992-1998. We also held meets at New York City hotels, local Knights Of Columbus halls, high schools, and junior high schools. We even held contests in our driveway, and in every case, the meets were fully and legally sanctioned. Even in our two driveway meets where the garage was equipped with multiple warm-up platforms and a competition platform was built on the driveway in front of the garage, every judge was a national or international card holder with lengthy lifting, competition, and judging experience. I hate to burst the bubble for those who don’t believe that there is, or at least has been corruption in the sport of powerlifting but we held our driveway contests because one of the local competitors or group of lifters we were acquainted with needed to qualify for a national contest. We purchased the sanction, procured the services of the judges, insured that the weigh-ins were done in accordance with the rules of the organization the meet represented, and as one world meet experienced lifter remarked afterward, “The judging here was stricter than I’ve had at the nationals, any nationals. Man, it’s a driveway.” Kathy and I always believed that a meet was a meet and that everything needed to be done correctly with the provision of safe equipment and excellent spotters. We even wrote up the meet results and a report and sent it to the governing body and Powerlifting USA Magazine. When Kathy and I were visiting California, a world record holding powerlifter was talking about the record lift he had made a few weeks prior to our meeting. I told him that there was much conversation and speculation about his preparation for the prestigious invitational contest he made his world record at. It did not seem possible that he would have had time to qualify with the requested minimal total, and then recover on time to lift record breaking weights again only two weeks later. This highly respected world record holder looked at me as if I had two heads and said, “Are you serious? Of course we didn’t have a meet, no way could I lift that heavily to qualify, and then come back so soon to set the record. We just made up the meet results after we paid for the sanction.” I hate to state that I was naïve but this I came to learn, was done by a number of lifters. Our meets, large and small, were done correctly. The driveway contests we had were followed by burgers and chicken off of the grill and all of the food brought by the training partners, friends, and family members of the six to ten lifters we had in those meets as the instructions were for everyone to “bring enough food to feed two.” We had water and fruit too during the actual lifting and we carried that tradition on at Iron Island. More importantly, the equipment used to warm-up on if not identical to that on the platform, was at least of the same quality, safety standard, and accuracy and that’s where the emphasis must be for any meet, big or small.

 

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In attempting to package and present powerlifting as a mainstream sport or make it more palatable to the general public, there was and continues to be the necessity of giving them “a show.” The music blares and I have seen lifters, only an hour prior to their opening attempt, still agonizing over their decision to come out for their first attempt squat to the screeching of Iron Maiden instead of Metallica. Some of the meets have included swirling colored lights, explosive devices, and fog machines. Needless to add for those who have witnessed this grand design to catapult powerlifting into the Olympic Games, onto television, or into the forefront of sporting events, none of it has worked! Powerlifting was, is, and will remain an activity that tests one’s mettle, one’s planning, one’s courage, and one’s will to do one’s best on a specific date and at a specific time but that really is it. It also happens to be enough and one shouldn’t need more than that. With all of the bells and whistles in the presentation, the audience at every meet is still primarily comprised of family and friends of the participants. The meets that claim huge spectator numbers are also the meets with twenty to forty different weight, ability, experience, and age classifications that guarantees numerous competitors and thus, numerous friends and family members. In short, this is not an activity that most of the public wants to see and we don’t need them to.

 

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The late Ed Gillie who won multiple titles in the early 1980’s, lifts just as officially in the park as he would have on the biggest of stages

 

Anyone at any bodyweight that has placed 400 pounds or more onto their backs has a certain degree of courage and confidence. This is a heavy weight by any standard and can damage one’s body if not handled carefully and properly. I would explain to non-lifters, at a time when I was regularly squatting in the mid-500’s, that 225 “was heavy.” The usual response was, “How can 225 be heavy if you can squat over 500?” Again, by any standard 225 pounds of weight, in any form is “a lot of weight” and can, stated in the most direct way possible and with no offense intended to those uncomfortable with street level language, “fuck you up.” That’s why it’s heavy, 225 can still produce damage and even to a strong man or woman, it’s heavy. Despite the frame of reference, 225 pounds translates to a lot of pounds! Few non-lifters can relate to any amount of weight and what it takes to push, pull, squat, bench press, press, or deadlift it. If a 125 pound woman states, “I deadlifted 303 at Saturday’s meet,” it’s very much like the John McCallum article from his 1960’s renowned Keys To Progress series in Strength And Health magazine. In this specific piece, McCallum had returned home one evening after setting a new personal record in the gym, a milestone as he had squatted 500 pounds for the first time. His excitement was such, that to quote the article which of course was written in the very famous and humorous McCallum style,

      “I never even stopped for a shower. I bolted home, bounced through the door, threw both arms overhead, and flexed dramatically in front of the wife. ‘I did it!’ I shouted. ‘I did it!’ I was a little out of breath. She was reading. She didn’t look up but she smiled politely. ‘Did you dear?’ she said. ‘That’s nice.’…

My daughter came into the room and said goodnight. I picked her up and put her on my knee. She had her pajamas on. She was a real cute little girl even then, with big dark eyes and thick hair and already starting to act like her mother. ‘Honey,’ I said, ‘Take your hand out of Daddy’s pocket and pay attention. I want to tell you what I did tonight.’ She reached up and pinched my nose.

‘Now,’ I said, ‘Get the picture.’ I was getting kind of choked up with emotion. ‘There’s this gym, see? An’ it’s full of weights. Tons of weights layin’ around all over the place. And…’

‘And you lifted them all. How nice.’ She slid off my knee. ‘Goodnight, Mummy.’ You’d probably like to impress your family too.”

 

Do our readers understand that unless your friend, family member, or co-worker actually lifts weights, they don’t get it and will never get it? It’s not done for the money, the glory, the fame, or the adulation of others. We do this for ourselves and in part, when it’s contest time, for each other. Thus, it is the lifter, not the audience that is the focus. Professional, and now collegiate sports, market to an audience but it has always been a mistake for meet directors to “market” their meet and place the lifters and the lifters’ safety and needs behind anything else. With that strongly held opinion being stated, why then, is the very best, strongest, sturdiest, and newest equipment placed upon the competition platform while at so many meets, the warm-up room is filled with junk? More lifts, most of the actual lifting, and the more careless lifting will be done in the warm-up room, yet many if not most meet directors scrounge for racks and bars to fill that vital need, forgetting the importance of providing the safest of equipment for the lifters as they prepare for the main platform.

 

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