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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training Part 76

More on ER Racks Part 3

In Denmark, powerlifter Erik Rasmussen gave quite a bit of thought to the equipment needs of himself and his training partners. As a steel fabricator, perhaps this was a natural progression, but his love of powerlifting and joy in his work came together to produce the next evolution in powerlifting equipment. While there is very good and very poor equipment on the powerlifting market, there is no denying the fact that there is certainly a lot of it available to the consumer. Portable squat racks, permanent squat racks, stand alone squat racks, connected squat racks, power racks, utility benches that are modular fits for power racks, competition bench presses, and of course, an almost overwhelming variety of “powerlifting barbells” makes for a confusing but consumer friendly market.

In the past, the only way to add stability to individual stand squat racks was to make them heavier. Our series of articles has displayed numerous photos of concrete filled tire wheels, relatively thick steel plate in round or square configurations, and pipe of thick gauge meant to satisfy this requirement. In some cases the approach worked.

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Through my first ten years of involvement in weight training, I fabricated most of the squat rack designs for my own use or that of training partners. All, in retrospect, were serviceable and safe for the way in which we utilized them, and I also know that some are still in service in home or high school gyms in our area. In every case, the squat stands were difficult to move around the training space, even with a tire wheel or round stock base due to their overall weight. Remember what many manufacturers do, not “for” the consumer, but “to” the consumer: the presentation of a piece of equipment is impressive because the tubing or round/pipe stock is large. A bench or rack made from four-inch x four-inch tube looks a heck of a lot more “beefy,” heavier, stronger, and “powerlifting capable” than the same piece constructed from two-inch x two-inch tube stock. However, the smaller sized tubing may be much stronger because it is of a thicker gauge. In lay terms, while force may be dissipated “better” over the face of “more metal,” for weight training purposes, it is the thickness of the metal, not the overall width that will best determine strength and safety. Thus, one should not judge “strength” of a piece by the width of the tubing but rather by the thickness, or gauge of the tubing.

It is with humor that I recall a few early pieces that I made, and thank goodness it was only a few, that utilized solid stock. With the guidance of my father or one of the other older, experienced craftsman, whatever I fabricated for myself was “good” in that it was safe and sturdy.

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My calculations, proportions, and configurations were at times in need of tweaking or blatant correction, but nothing was ever going to collapse under the weight of a trainee or loaded barbell. I have previously noted in print, multiple times, how happy I was to make my way from Long Beach to Brooklyn’s Mr. V Sports Shop in order to purchase a Weider adjustable utility bench. Circa early 1960’s, it was junk, there was no other word for it but to me, it looked the part of a professional piece of weight training equipment. I also saw photos of some of Weider’s huge bodybuilders using it for incline presses, flyes, and seated curls and thought, “Well, I won’t be using the kinds of weights that (choose one or more from the list of Chuck Sipes, Harold Poole, Dave Draper, Larry Scott, Freddy Ortiz, or Larry Powers) does so this must be a really good piece of equipment.” Of course there was the unspoken implication that if I did in fact purchase and train on the equipment I would get as big and strong as any on that list but I was at least first focused on getting the bench into my home gym.

An hour bus ride from Long Beach to Far Rockaway led to two subways and a lengthy walk to the only store I knew of in Brooklyn or any place else in New York City, that sold the Weider line of equipment. Carrying the box that held the disassembled bench on my shoulders and then traversing the same arduous course back home also brought disapproval from those on the bus who had to endure standing-room-only in the aisle status with my very large box jamming them in various body parts. The bench actually worked, although adjusting the thin pipe that allowed for changes in bench angle was often treated like a wrestling match since the hinges on the bench back rest never did quite line up properly. I was pleased that I could do forty-five degree incline presses with thirty-pound dumbbells but the bench was shaky with much more than fifty in each hand so as I progressed, the bench went into a corner and I utilized sturdier pieces that I made myself.

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There came a day however, when for reasons still not evident to me other than we were not thinking clearly, that my training partner Jack and I were lifting in a small, unventilated cinder block room during the midst of the summer, and more or less wilting from the heat and humidity. We had the space jammed with equipment and pulled the utility bench out for my use. I stood, cleaned a pair of what I recall as 100 to 120 pound dumbbells to my shoulders, rolled back on the inclined back pad to begin my presses, and felt the bench collapse. In truth, the bench exploded! All four legs went in different directions and the frame, seat, and back pad dropped to the concrete floor. I never moved. I held the dumbbells at my shoulders, just as I had cleaned them, and wound up sitting on the floor with them, amidst the crushed rubble of the bench. Miraculously, neither of us was injured and we completed the workout. One look at the bench could have told any logical individual that the equipment was not going to withstand that type of weight exposure but we were young and I certainly was dumb enough to not think things through.

Ironically, one of the young bodybuilders who would on occasion travel from Connecticut to either train or visit other top ranked bodybuilders in our area was Bob Gallucci. Stopping in with his father to observe the training in the storefront gym we frequented, and prior to winning any of his teenage contest titles, Bob demonstrated what was obvious, superior potential and results. He later went on to be one of the greatest legitimately drug free bodybuilders ever and we all could see his early development and how well he already stacked up against some of the more experienced fellows. Bob described his experiences with a Weider bench, with both the equipment and results very much mimicking mine. From his book The Last Drug-Free Body Builder, Bob wrote, “Painted with gold paint, the bench was made of one inch round tubing. It was proudly placed in my basement and became the centerpiece of all of my equipment. I tried to perform almost every exercise using this piece of equipment and to this day, it was always my favorite. Eventually, I had to get rid of this bench because when I began to bench press over 350 lbs with a bounce (first year of college), I began to bend the tubular steel and I needed a stronger bench.” Thus not only was Bob Gallucci a much better physique man than Jack or I proved to be, but he was a lot smarter, dumping his bench before it caved in, unlike us who did it afterwards.

However I have seen a lot of failed equipment that appeared sturdy and few pieces need to protect a trainee more than squat racks. I went for thicker gauge, large and thick bases and weight saddles that were wide and high so that any lifter would have to work at throwing the barbell over the saddles when replacing a squat. If one goes back and reads some of the earlier TITAN articles in this series, its easy to understand how one could in fact miss racking the bar. The saddles were small, narrow, and had little or no back to make contact with the bar. They were difficult to move around the garage floor to arrange for pressing or squats and even more difficult to transport. As the number of powerlifting meets began to proliferate, those who directed, promoted, or set up the contests also realized that moving three or four sets of individual squat stands could be a major chore due to their weight and configuration. Most did not break down well. With a pipe-in-a-pipe construction for most height adjustable racks, one could slide the smaller piece out of the larger pipe but that larger pipe or tube, welded to a base heavy enough to support its share of a 900 pound squat, was usually cumbersome and close to a competitive lift in itself.

Tubing went a long way in reducing the overall weight of the squat stands but this decreased overall weight is what led to the innovation of connecting the racks. The lighter racks made from two-inch x two-inch or even three-inch x three-inch tubing would get batted around and move quite a bit during the course of a contest. Connecting them, to paraphrase something we have all heard so often, resolved much of that problem with the sum of the parts being stronger than the individual components. Erik Rasmussen put the finishing touches on the rack by inserting a skin-tight solid wood insert that ran the length of the support that held the weight saddle, and making the height adjustment simple and easy. Instead of hydraulic bottle jacks that often failed, leaked fluid, or took many pumping movements to elevate, and instead of the electric racks presented by Jim Sutherland which of course required a source of electricity, Rasmussen introduced a simple, mechanical lever.

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At the time, either innovation seemed less than ground breaking. However, adding the wooden insert added strength and stability to the squat upright and over long and heavy use, prevented warping or distortion of the pin-holding hole that secured any height adjustment. The wood also made for an exceptionally tight fit for the stainless steel pin, insuring that it would remain in place. The lever type of height adjustment was in short, rather brilliant in its simplicity. Bolted together with industrial strength fasteners, none of the components of the lever arm mechanism was going to fail elevating or lowering the rack uprights, even when loaded with thousands of pounds. With trial and error determining the lever arm length, height increments could be made quickly, easily, and safely. The heaviest weights could also be moved by smaller individuals due to the mechanical advantage offered by the design. The tubing, while of thick enough gauge to withstand the poundages utilized by the world’s top powerlifters, remains light enough to move the rack easily when fully assembled. Breaking down into its component, bolt-together parts makes assembly, disassembly, and transport to and from meets simple and easy. The rack breaks down into easy to handle and easy to pack parts. Through the decades, especially when Kathy and I owned Iron Island Gym, we often loaned out equipment to various meet directors to help the success of their contests. We were “equal opportunity lenders,” shuttling squat racks, benches, plates, and bars to those directing AAU, APF, USPF, APA, USAPL, and anyone else that needed us to assist.

If any lifter wants to peel a few pounds or kilos off of their contest total, try loading, transporting, unloading, carrying, and assembling large, cumbersome, heavy squat racks or a Monolift for a contest that you had also planned to compete in. Having done it more than once, it demonstrates respect for the sport and your other competitors and it is a considerate thing to do but it can blow out any thoughts to make record attempts. One of the advantages to the ER Rack is its strength-to-weight ratio. It will hold any record breaking squat plunked atop or smashed into the saddles. This has been proven at multiple world and national championships. Yet, even when fully assembled and tossed or perhaps more accurately “carefully placed” into the bed of an open backed pickup truck, it is easy to move. I’ve done it with no assistance and not because I am the next coming of Man Mountain Dean. The unit is light but because of the connected assembly, the precise angles and configuration of the parts, able to withstand any lifting abuse.



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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.