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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training Part 75

More on Racks.

Our TITAN SUPPORT series of articles has chronicled the work of Jim Sutherland who developed the first electric adjustable squat racks. These were introduced in the early 1980’s by Jim’s Hastings Barbell Company and proved to be a big hit with lifters. Unfortunately, the components were expensive and though safe, efficient, and built to last (our facility has one of the first two racks that Jim fabricated and almost thirty-five years later, it still operates perfectly), they were preserved as a specialty meet item. As Jim related to me, the cost of the mechanical actuator was $440.00 in 1980. That same component would now cost $1400.00, and needless to add, building each piece “by hand” as a specialty item adds to the overall expense. Georgia Tech University and the University of Iowa had a number of these and they are still in optimal use in private facilities throughout those areas of the country. The electric racks made it possible to literally use the touch of a switch to elevate the rack up or down and to an exacting height. Jim introduced rollers within the weight saddles that allowed for adjustment of the saddles in or out without having to first elevate the loaded barbell from the racks.

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These would have been ideal and perhaps the “ultimate squat rack” had it not been for the expense and the need to provide electricity to operate the motor embedded within the rack’s construction. That both saddles of the rack were of a singular structure design and construction, went a long way in making the squat stand stable. This was copied by those producing stands that were adjustable manually or with a hydraulic jacks and taking the two independent stands and joining them was yet another step forward in the evolution of powerlifting equipment.

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While it may not seem like a big deal, or a “big enough deal” to mention, the originally used squat stands utilized in powerlifting competition through the 1960’s and even to the end of the 1970’s, stood independently. In the late 1970’s when 800 – 900 pound squats became more frequently attempted, just as the need for narrow plates and stronger bars were addressed to meet this requirement, squat stand stability became an issue. There were always meets that found lifters either stumbling or falling into the racks at the completion of a squat attempt, or an individual hell-bent on proving how strong and manly he was by smashing the barbell into the weight saddles after the completion of a successful squat. While it may have been humorous to experienced lifters to observe a goonish competitor screaming “Yeah, yeah!” and bellowing to the sky about his prowess on the platform while literally throwing a less than daunting 400 pounds back into the squat stands, it was less enjoyable to the spotters who often had to contend with a squat stand that skidded backwards or toppled over. The cement-filled car or truck wheels, half-inch thick plate based racks, or large circular bases might have helped but squat stand bases cut too large made for a clumsy approach or return to the rack, or presented a tripping hazard. The tripping hazard aspect of the old stand-alone racks applied to both the lifters and spotters. I can certainly recall numerous meets where in addition to any big lifts that might have been made, squat rack stumbles provided the lasting memories. I have witnessed relatively big and relatively small number squats ending with the lifter lurching into the racks, and one of them being knocked over, forced into the unsuspecting head of one of the spotters, and/or the barbell and racks doing a slow motion free-fall towards the head referee. In one of the Heart Of America meets hosted by George Turner in St. Louis, I recall a spotter being rushed off to the local hospital emergency room. While spotting one side of the barbell on a very heavy squat, the lifter completed the squat, and while replacing the bar into the saddles, struck one rack before the other and did so rather quickly and with quite a bit of force. The weight of the barbell certainly contributed to the problem, but the heavy duty independent squat stand “kicked out,” striking the spotter in the side of his head, knocking him to the floor, and causing quite a bit of bleeding from his scalp. To a greater or lesser extent, even with racks that had a heavy duty or weighted base, this would occur a number of times in any major contest.

Connecting the racks was a tremendous step forward in providing safety to both the lifter and spotter though it was not seen as revolutionary at the time. An example of the end product being greater than the sum of its contributing components, it also allowed for lighter components that provided the same degree of strength in supporting a loaded barbell. I have often sung the praises of master builder Jim Sutherland and when he had his Hastings (Michigan) Barbell Company in the early 1980’s, he had what might have been the first and what was certainly one of the first “connected” but otherwise free standing squat racks that were commercially available. Jim has produced a few products, outstanding products for John Wood and the Oldtime Strongman Company. Jim produced racks with a connecting and supportive piece that connected the two independent racks at floor level, as most still do. This design provided increased contact with the floor but made for one, stronger and more stable piece of equipment versus two independently, free standing squat stands. Below is a photo from John’s site that displays the latest Sutherland design, one that connects the racks at a point obviously higher than floor level and just as obviously as indicated with all of the weight being supported, is exceptionally strong and functional. This specific rack is, as the connected design allows, made from lighter materials than were used in “the old days” as the previous independent racks were purposely built very heavily for added stability.


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The competitive powerlifters of any era respect the record holders, the greats, the leading lifters of their time and place. Thus, the answer to the question, “Who is the greatest?” will be answered dependent upon age and experience as well as statistical evidence. Bodyweight consideration and personal preference come into play too, with some viewing heavyweights in a more glamorous or important perspective than lighter men or women. Discussions and arguments abound but few discuss the more important equipment innovations that have allowed for the evolution of the sport, the enhanced safety of the sport, and the factors that allow the sport to continue. Everyone with a love of powerlifting has immediate recognition of the names Mike Bridges, Ed Coan, Andy Bolton, Donnie Thompson, and Rebecca Swanson for example. Few if any understand the importance of Jim Sutherland, Ray Madden, or Erik Rasmussen. Yet the legacy of the latter gentlemen has had a longer lasting effect on the sport than the former roll call of champions.


The author and famed Mike Bridges are shown in a light moment at the 1982 World Powerlifting Championships in Munich. To many, the author included, a case can be made for Bridges being among the best three lifters in the history of the sport.


In powerlifting’s nascent days, the order of the three competitive lifts was bench press, squat, and deadlift. As numerous TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS articles have described [ ], the equipment was crude and often unsafe. Wooden benches creaked under the load of large bodies bench pressing as little as 350 pounds. The tubing or angle iron used for the bench frames and support uprights were not truly sturdy. 800 pound squats were supported upon independent, free-standing squat stands consisting of thin hollow pipe stock, often standing within a concrete-filled tire wheel. While this was certainly a step above the racks made from wood, which would literally split down the middle when a heavy barbell was plunked into the weight saddle, they would rock, tip over, needed to be held in place by additional spotters, and at times, collapsed or bent under the load. In almost all cases, the weight saddles were narrow and lacked an elevated posterior which made exacting placement of the barbell necessary after each lifting attempt. With non-adjustable squat racks, everyone obviously took their squats from the same set height. Shorter competitors were forced to climb onto make-shift wooden steps (and of course, back off of those same steps with the barbell across their upper backs) or a pile of 100 or 45 pound plates. Taller competitors had to stoop and essentially complete a quarter to half squat just to secure the bar and then back into the starting position.


198 pounder Paul Wachholz competes under state-of-the-art for 1969 squat stands. Note tire wheels filled with concrete that supported flimsy upright pipe. The narrow “Y” weight saddles required exact bar placement to prevent disasters


The development of adjustable squat stands was a step forward. Holes drilled into the uprights allowed for pin placement so that lifters of different heights could have the height of the weight saddles moved up or down. Unfortunately, this was done manually and took numerous spotters and quite a bit of accumulated time as a meet dragged on. One side of the bar would be elevated off of the saddles by two or three spotters while another grasped the adjustable part of the squat stand upright, to move and then pin it into place. When the lift was completed, the process was most often repeated. A meet promoter’s best chance of directing a well paced meet was to get through the squats efficiently with numerous competitors of the same approximate height, thus minimizing the need to adjust squat rack height. For the larger lifters who were unable to securely grasp the barbell because the racks themselves interfered with their hand placement, it was again the spotters who would be called upon to lift one end of the bar off of the stand, slide it in or out to the correct position for the specific lifter, and then repeat the process for the other side.


The late and truly great Dave Passanella is shown squatting on “jack racks” as they were known. Introduced in the late 1970’s, these were seen as a step forward in meet situations requiring rapid changes in height but the car or truck jacks slipped frequently enough to present a hazard


Fabrication of the racks was thankfully done with heavier materials, making the stands safer and more stable but height adjustments for both the bench press and more importantly, the squat, continued to extort a high cost in safety, time, and convenience for lifters and spotters. There has been argument regarding who first attached a car or truck jack to a squat stand in order to raise or lower the weight. East Coast lifters remember some of the relics from the New England meets with equipment supplied by Ed Jubinville and those in the Southwest recall using early versions of these racks as a result of the work of Buddy Capps or the Patterson Brothers. As with most powerlifting equipment innovations, it just as well could have been a lifter in his shed in backwater Louisiana or in a warehouse training site behind a machine shop in Chicago where someone handy welded a jack to a rack and produced a faster and what was usually a safer way to move the barbell up or down while it sat atop the weight saddles of a squat stand.


The cautionary words are “usually a safer way” because frequently, the jack, no matter how sturdy, would slip and one or both sides of the barbell would rapidly slide down, either toppling from the stands or nearly decapitating the lifter. Especially when the bar was placed into the saddles after an attempt, the resultant forces would often collapse one side. This of course led to mad scrambling by the spotters to catch or secure the bar before the unbalanced load brought both racks tumbling to the ground, usually with the lifter still under the bar! Introduced to the general powerlifting public in the late 1960’s, the car jack type of adjustable rack remained state-of-the-art into the mid-1970’s.


Horror stories of slipping jacks and the injuries that followed such incidents was enough to spur many meet directors to utilize the older model of manually adjusted squat stands for their competitions. While there had been a few unique squat or power racks produced by the likes of Reverend Robert Zuver for example, that utilized a hydraulic bomb hoist built within a specialized rack in order to remove the weighted bar from a lifter’s upper back, these singular pieces were exactly what they were meant to be, very specialized pieces of equipment. It wasn’t until the introduction of independent standing squat racks that employed the use of hydraulic bottle jacks that a more rapid and reliable way to adjust squatting, and less frequently, bench press upright height became widespread.


Long time champion Rickey Crain has spent decades as one of the leaders in the sport of powerlifting. His company has supplied equipment, books, attire, wraps, and just about anything and everything else connected to the sport. His very heavy duty hydraulic squat racks are shown as a combination unit with bench press


Again, no one will know with certainty who first developed the idea of utilizing small, cylindrical or broader based bottle jacks on squat stands but this became standard in both training facilities and competition venues. The jacks were reliable despite some fluid leakage or failures and occasional rack slippage. The jacks were relatively inexpensive, simple to use, and easy to obtain, making them standard fare for powerlifters. The technology was simple too and the only seeming drawback was occasional mechanical breakdown requiring valve seal or internal O-ring repair, and a little bit of “elbow grease” to manually pump the jack height up to the desired level. The jacks made for relative convenience, “relative” because even so-called long stroke jacks required many strokes if the rack height had to be elevated more than a few inches. In a contest where height changes had to be made quickly, there was often furiously paced pumping throughout the entire contest. There was also a relatively narrow range of motion that the barbell height could be altered through. This was dependent upon the limits of the jack movement and of course, where on the upright stand it was secured. Thus, the jacks offered a safer, faster, and more efficient way to move the barbell up or down for squatting but there were limitations and some very short or very tall lifters were still forced to accommodate themselves to the rack height.



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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.


Dr. Ken confers with Lou Andre (left), the now retired head coach of Massapequa and Lawrence High Schools on Long Island. Coach Andre won six County Championships and the Long Island Championship

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 [ ] 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.


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I believe my point has been made definitively that a broader view of training, one that includes an awareness of health, longevity, and being strong and healthy for one’s lifetime should be within the consciousness of every competitive and non-competitive lifter and trainee. If one has to have a hobby and it is sports or activity related, utilizing weights, heavy weights in fact, ranks towards the top of “things to do” as the benefits can be so incredibly positive. A recent e mail correspondence with long time great and champion Saul Shocket sums up and emphasizes what I believe are the forgotten aspects and benefits of weight training and powerlifting. To our younger readers, this may seem like too old guys bitching and moaning about the “old days versus the current state of affairs” but there is much to be considered. A brief, enjoyable youtube piece on Saul can be found at

SAUL: Hi Ken, good article, and platform for much discussion.

As always, good to hear from you. We no doubt date ourselves with the comments we both have made, and you and I as usual agree. If you observe the lengthy careers and what seemed like more enjoyment that guys from our era received from their training and competing, relative to many if not most of the modern guys (and women, although there were almost none in “our day”) one would have to give credence to their entire approach to the sport or activity. Even if the lifting defined us in many ways, most of us and I will admit that the smaller number of us involved contributed to this, lasted longer, seemed to be more involved in spotting, judging, loading, and helping, and just being part of the sport. I can recall some of the best lifters both locally and nationally, serving as loaders and spotters for example, at small, local YMCA or high school venue contests. Part of it was that we all knew each other or of each other and part was that we were willing to give in whatever ways possible to allow the sport and new lifters to thrive. Geez, you just don’t see or hear of much of that anymore and I can go back to our many meets at Iron Island Gym in the 1990’s, not too long ago on the continuum we are referring to, and the better lifters in the area wouldn’t think of helping like that. To me, this is all part of the same observation; the participation in whatever way possible in powerlifting was an extension and part of what and whom we were, not just what we did, it was important, and we treated it that way among the other things we did. You were an accomplished, professional musician. While a teacher and coach, I was also an accomplished and professional provider of security at the major rock and roll venues throughout the east coast and at times in California. I treated it as the profession it was and is. We took everything we did seriously, “professionally” so to speak, but enjoyed it, with lifting at the top of the list. We encouraged others, we enjoyed the company of the guys who did what we did. Again, it was more cult-like and there were fewer of us but the modern competitor seems to be focused only upon their totals, what sponsors they can attract, finding ways to benefit from the sport and while we did not have commercial opportunities, we tried to find ways to benefit the sport! In many ways, our training reflected that.

California’s Bob Packer, shown in this home gym photo from 2009, has been a competitor, meet director, contest announcer, loader, spotter, and “roustabout” since his start in powerlifting which dates to the 1960s. Bob, a member of the California Powerlifting Hall Of Fame, demonstrated the same dedication to the sport that was more typical than not, of the lifters from a previous era. Bob of course, went above and beyond with his involvement that extended to the national level and the very famous Iron Man Contest that combined lifting and bodybuilding

SAUL: When we started training at the YMCA or similar venues, the carry-over from years past was still in effect. Hand balancing, fighting sports, and a wide variety of “odd lifts” were commonly practiced in YMCA gyms across the country. For example, I came from high school hockey, to track, to boxing, to bodybuilding, to powerlifting. I suspect the varied athletic backgrounds of many earlier weight men better prepped us for the raw style of lifting. It’s easy to see how today’s extreme supportive gear has helped to create a very different style and training concept. I’m not saying that old school training would better suit today’s super equipped lifters, but as you said, the balanced and varied type of training that we grew up on, most likely produces psychologically and physically healthier athletes. Btw, the reason I included the psychological aspect, is because I know all too well how the OCD nature of many elite pl’ers, without a balance of creative, intellectual, and personal relationships, can easily get into trouble.

Let’s face it, and I have been the first to admit that I am “guilty as charged,” most lifters who stay with it for a long time and/or who become “good” at powerlifting, and/or who actually enjoy it display a grouping of behaviors or character traits that definitely fall into the “obsessive” and/or “compulsive” categories. I would add that in my opinion of more than fifty-five years of involvement in the lifting activities, the attraction for many is that the training is repetitive, controlled, known, planned, can be focused upon (should I add “obsessively”?) so that those who meet the criteria for the constellation of signs and symptoms referred to as OCD find it a “comfortable” and attractive activity. I have always told trainees that “if you’re compulsive or obsessed by some things and this is part of your broader personality, there’s nothing wrong with that, you can make it work for you instead of against you.” For example and an easily understood example, one can be non-productive and wash their hands thirty or forty times per day or instead use these aspects of their personality and be extremely organized, hard and long working in order to complete tasks within a “self-declared” time limit, and insure that everything is done correctly and precisely. You can apply the latter aspects of the statement to anything and see where success would follow but for a lifter, one would study, plan, write down, and perform their training program with the best of technique, not cut corners, demonstrate absolute consistency, and always know “where they were” relative to their physical and psychological conditions. This is what makes for success in athletics. Many attracted to the lifting sports have the psychological make-up or personality traits anyway so why not apply them positively?

SAUL: The rep scheme variety you describe is a healthy addition to most programs. I have discovered that if I cycle the light weight/high rep training for more than 5 weeks, I start to lose both power and strength. Most likely each of us has a time frame that high reps is most effective.
The ART of weight/rep/set cycling is very interesting, and complicated by the almost infinite number of variables presenting each cycle. There is a way, I believe, to gain more control over peaking, and accurately predicting a max weight without getting close to it in training. It’s called the POUNDS PER REP (PPR) system, which is established by the lifter. This is something that has worked for me, and many others I’ve trained through the years.

The variety of exercises, sets, reps, and related but “other” physical activities and sports we engaged in at least from my perspective, helped, and did not hinder one’s lifting progress. Now, show me a competitive powerlifter that does more than compete as a powerlifter. Admittedly, financial and commercial opportunities, as limited as they might be, still exist, even if it’s only to be provided with nutritional supplements each month but it is money we had to scrounge for to pay for our vitamins, minerals, liver tablets, non-fat milk powder, and cans of milk and egg protein powder. Your observation is accurate that the YMCA’s which of course were often the only places that offered weight training of any type in a typical village, town, or even moderate to large sized city, also offered basketball, boxing, wrestling, and an indoor track (man, I have nightmares about running the steeply banked indoor track at the Huntington Avenue Y in Boston when I would visit there, where it seemed as if you had to traverse seventy laps to the mile!), and judo for example. Even after a brutally hard and exhausting squat or deadlift session, I would head to the heavy bag and work it for twenty to thirty minutes. Others would play basketball or swim “to get conditioning work in.” Again, you just don’t see this and it was this ongoing exposure to a variety of activity that helped to reduce or eliminate lifting injuries.

The author’s former training partner Lyle Alzado who enjoyed a pro football career that spanned 1971 through 1985 was a former Golden Gloves boxer who regularly worked the heavy and speed bags to augment his primary sporting activity of football. This was a standard approach for the era though working to the point one could enter the ring with Muhammad Ali, even for an “exhibition fight,” was never “standard.”

SAUL: Its fun to research and intellectualize our sport, but fact is, there are no guarantees. At best, we can control some variables to some extent, but bottom line is we’re all dealing with the unknown…kind of a microcosm of life.


SAUL: Ken;

Hey man, I was running on that same banked Huntington Ave track (1971?). I remember getting dizzy before my multi lap mile was complete, then changing direction, but in doing so, risking a head on collision with someone running the other way.

I would never consider myself to be anything less than a run of the mill competitive lifter. In trying to come to an accurate number of meets I had competed in, Kathy and I sat with pencil and paper, and with input from Mike Lambert whom even the most uninitiated of lifters should know was the founder, owner, publisher, editor, and writer for POWERLIFTING USA MAGAZINE through the four decades or so it spanned, we came up with about 100 contests. Mike recalled meeting me at a contest I did not even recall lifting in. We included the Odd Lift Contests that preceded the birth and evolution of actual powerlifting meets and the Olympic weightlifting meets I attempted (that might be the most considerate word I can choose for my efforts) at the 14th Street YMCA, Harlem YMCA, and the McBurney YMCA in New York City, and the two or three in St. Louis. As my series of articles has pointed out a number of times, those who have been raised in the computer and/or internet age don’t understand that there were no magazines other than Strength And Health and Peary Rader’s Weightlifters Journal that kept track of the major meets and once powerlifting really got rolling in the late 1960’s, there would be some in Muscular Development Magazine. Results were not published or even known about unless the meet director sent the score sheet to the national governing body’s office, and most local meets remained just that, local and known only to the participants unless someone set a record or a famous lifter attended. Thus you can say I was “active” but not very good, and the record keeping was not particularly accurate. Mike told me that I had been credited with a 468 bench press. As I had competed in what was still the “pound” and not kilo age, I told him “no way” especially since my best bench had been 455 as I recalled but in his copious records, he had an unusual and not a “round number” like 465 and as you know, only record attempts that were actually weighed at the completion of the lift would be credited as more than face value. Your many accomplishments are a matter of record as a top rated powerlifter, one that performed at the highest level for many years. Thus we are relating the perspectives of a champion lifter (you) and a typical average lifter (me). I believe that most of those lifters that came after the early 1980’s would read about you and I running at the Huntington Y after a workout and note that while we’re laughing about how terrible and relatively dangerous the track could be, they would think, “These guys are lifters, why are they running?” Low level lifters such as myself, or a record setter like you, we ran or did other “athletic activities.” Again, we go back to having an awareness of maintaining one’s health and “all around development” by including other “movement activities.” Even now, with all of the advertising featuring more well conditioned, muscular, “in shape” models on television and print ads and all of the diet-awareness out there, it should be understandable that we had our training set up to do “other things too” yet the modern lifters lift and usually do not do anything else of a physical nature.

Paul Wiggin of the Cleveland Browns and Floyd Peters of the Philadelphia Eagles were early proponents of strength training for football players. They augmented their lifting with running and athletic activities that were YMCA standards for the 1930s through 1960s, handball (as above), boxing, and basketball

SAUL: The Boston Union, down the street, was the training place for Nate Harris & Peter French, two guys who exemplified the diverse sports interests of the earlier day elite lifters we refer to.

These were guys who looked it too, being both strong and well built.

SAUL: Btw, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being fairly compensated for an honest days work, whether pl related, or anything else. The problem arises, when one “sells their soul” in order to exploit what once might have been a passion. This can be a fine line, and I’ve seen it crossed many times in both the strength sports, and the music business. I’m afraid this is a very human quality, and for the sake of benefiting our sport, regular objective self motive checks are probably in order.

I have no problem with being “good enough” to attract a sponsor. Competing is expensive, like anything else that’s done the right way. One needs the correct training equipment in a commercial facility that requires a membership fee or at home which requires the purchase of equipment. You need the attire and wraps which can be extensive and as it has always been, there is time off from work and travel expenses to actually go to a meet venue and compete. I also don’t think you see, as we always did in the “old days,” guys who competed against each other in the same class and from different cities for example, agreeing to share a hotel room the night before the meet because the room was otherwise not affordable. You don’t see guys sleeping in their cars or pick up trucks the morning of a meet, in the venue parking lot, having arrived hours before, because they could not afford to either be off from work the day or evening previous to the contest, or afford the room. Everyone is entitled to benefit if they have earned it but now with expanded opportunities for some compensation, many lift not out of a love for it, but to gratify their ego, leaving in a few years if not attaining a championship, or cashing in. Of course, though I could be incorrect, I don’t think there is enough money in powerlifting to actually make a living at it as some bodybuilders and strongman competitors do.

SAUL: Finally, in regard to the toughness of our earlier strength athletes, I believe critters were tougher then also. I remember seeing a roach (cockroach that is) passing by the dip bars in the basement weight room of the same Huntington Ave Y. This fellow was almost the size of a mouse. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do love and respect living things (except ticks, deer fly’s, and mosquitoes), I really do, but we couldn’t have those suckers running around in the midst of grinding out a heavy squat. We dropped a 105 lb cannon ball DB on the roach, but after removing the weight and expecting to see a squished giant roach, it picked itself up and staggered away. We let it go. At that point it was a matter of respect for the roach’s toughness/durability, and the fact I didn’t want those same qualities turned on me by the critter’s pissed-off family.

Ha! Please, don’t get me started on the sense of entitlement, how easily discouraged, and the other psychological and sociological traits of the current generation. I will sound like my father complaining about me and my generation, but in truth, the generation(s) of lifters that came before me, were a lot tougher than my generation and it has gone downhill since!

SAUL: Regarding your reference to contemporary lifters of all levels, & their apparent disinterest in health & fitness…
There is no publication, nor has there been for many years, called STRENGTH & HEALTH. Though Hoffman’s later years raised some disturbing questions, his well known commitment to Olympic lifting, and his excellent STRENGTH & HEALTH publication presented a good representation of both strength & numerous health tips. Seems that the younger lifters of today have forgotten about that aspect. Of course, those of us more senior types have an increased sense of mortality.

which one could say explains our interest in the “health” aspect of “strength and health” but in truth, this is a carryover of a perspective that so many, not all, but more than less in my experience, had during our most active and successful days of powerlifting.

SAUL: The beauty of weight training is the adaptability to whatever life phase or life demands that you experience, your old buddy steel can accommodate.

That’s another lost aspect of training too. The current or younger generation(s) know they can utilize weights to become stronger, larger, look “better” or get close to whatever their personal ideal happens to be BUT they don’t know that the weights can also serve as their exclusive source of “fitness/cardio” exercise. Before the introduction, awareness of, or knowledge of possible benefits that can come from steppers, ellipticals, and other “cardio machines” it was either run for the utmost levels of fitness or lift utilizing a more varied repetition, set, volume, frequency, and/or pace of weight training to “get in shape” and we did. Arthur Jones used to fly in the face of what eventually came to be standard thinking in the training community and stated that one did not have to demarcate strength and muscle building from the type of work that “got one into shape.” I believe there are biochemical responses that come with steady state work so like to include some but Arthur’s emphasis was training with minimal rest while utilizing an incredibly high level of intensity throughout the course of an entire workout. I can say that absolutely, those of us that were part of the “experimental work” at Nautilus in the early 1970’s did in fact become incredibly fit and enduring while doing nothing but resistance training at that highly intense requirement. I have utilized high repetition squats, deadlifts, and other multi-joint movements to achieve the same high level of cardio-respiratory and local muscular endurance as one might build with an extensive running and “movement” type of routine. Today’s trainees have made the separation and have “cardio” on one side of the fence and “strength work” on the other in their fitness arsenal. Your final sentence sums it up and using the weights we love so much, we can achieve it all in terms of a lifetime goal of muscular strength, development, and health related fitness.


I’m still partially stuck with a competitive lifters mentality, though my concepts have been somewhat moderated by time and circumstance.

I am also “guilty as charged” but if you had to build a life time lifting template, you could do worse than building around the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Basic multi-joint movements that provide work for all of the major muscular structures would not require much more for the maintenance of strength, and muscular size and strength. It would as one ages, also provide for joint stability so this isn’t a bad thing! Of course, if the competitive lifter’s mentality included pushing too hard, too long, going too heavily, that’s another issue.

At the risk of falling into trendy/buzz words (I hate the term core training!), I still find a way to incorporate periodized (I hate that term also, but it is convenient) training in my repertoire, though I haven’t competed since 2005.
Beyond OCD driven training which I’m very familiar with, using lt wt high reps, med wt moderate reps, and high wt low reps for an appropriate length of time, and place in each training cycle. Whether woodshedding my horn, or training, I still seem to need this type of structure with my stuff. The practical thing here, is a program like this can be well ballanced both in physiological and psychological intensity. Excepting some re-hab type isolation exercises, I’ve found value in basing my training around compound joint lifts ( as opposed to what most might call exercises), which are rotated as body/mind dictate. Therein lies one difference between 20 y/o Saul and the 70 y/o version.

Obviously, we all learn when we’ve done a specific activity for so long and we also get to know what we need to do at any specific time. When some of my guys/lifting partners enter their 50’s for example, and limitations caused by injury, time constraints, work, education, family responsibilities, and all of the other “stuff” life provides note or complain that they just “can’t do ‘this’ any longer,” my advice is always to focus on what can be done, not what we can no longer do. There will always be exercises that allow for beneficial response to training and thus we can always train. If its heavy or light, fast paced or slower, as you point out, you can always tailor the program to your needs.

Back then I would stay on a pre-written, somewhat complicated training plan and weight, rep, and set cycle no matter what. I’m talking life or death determination. These days, I still deeply care about training, but the programs are more basic, with few assistance exercises, and if necessary to go off schedule, or make changes in mid stream for whatever reason, I’m ok with it..mostly.
An analogy here could be music. If you walked by the rehearsal rooms at Berklee College of Music, you’d likely hear lots of kids playing lots of notes, and very quickly. How many notes can you get in a measure, seems to be the mentality. If you followed some of those kids years later, those who were able to survive the creative music biz, you might hear a totally different approach. One where the value of silence now trumped the chaos of a million scale notes. Simplicity…saying it with passion and clarity. Training with effiency, & few or no overlaps in exercises to dilute the optimal length of training duration.
Ken, what I think all this is leading to, is that as much as superficial styles seem to change, in time they will return, again and again. Human traits of a less superficial nature seem not to change at all.
I suspect that younger weight trainees will always see the short term goal as most motivating.

Which is why in this series of articles, I have made the statement numerous times that the younger generations seem to have a shorter life span as competitors and even trainees. If they do not reach the immediate goal they set before themselves, they too often do not continue in the sport.

Tony Scrivens of Wisconsin has participated successfully as a powerlifter, bodybuilder, and strongman and at every stop on the iron sports spectrum, has hosted contests and performed every job connected with those endeavors. Tony too has gone over and above in his dedication to the sport, not only directing meets, but as a top rated chef, hosting post-meet barbeques and food-fests that have made his events most memorable

Long term chronic injuries or health conditions be damned. As a coach, you can talk over and over about the long term benefits of doing it this way or that way, but it often falls on deaf though respectful ears. Some lifters, by charging into their training with reckless abandon, providing they’re durable enough to survive, can make impressive gains very quickly. With their single minded goal of bigger, stronger and/or faster being quickly realized at least to a noticeable level, any long sighted concerns are not on their radar. This comes at a later date. A myriad of chronic inflammation, joint replacement, and a host of common health conditions at some point in later years are not un- common. Can these later “frailties” be avoided? Maybe some, but probably not all. The combo of genetics and training wisdom is at play here, and I suppose you can add history of injury.
As an older athlete, longevity both in sport and in life becomes a prime motivator. Try to push that concept on a young trainee. AINT GONNA HAPPEN. Maybe this is the natural order of things. Maybe the best we can do is to diabolically integrate some of the more mature principles of training along with just enough agressive approach to continue their interest.
Finally, I like to believe that weight challenges done with common sense and evolving purpose, can stay with you for life. Saul

as usual, we agree. I am as guilty as anyone who has ever picked up a barbell, in doing too much, too soon, and in some instances, running near fatal lifting related experiments on myself! I’ve tried individual lifts (who loads 600 on the bar when their best squat at the time was 550, just to “get a feel for it”?), in retrospect bizarre exercises, unsound routines, and food related concoctions that would bulldoze the gastro-intestinal system of a mature goat in an effort to become bigger and stronger. Hopefully, we learn and as hopefully, as one grows older they realize the wonderful benefits of training for a lifetime.