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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training Part 71

What Don’t You Get? Part 2.

 

I wasn’t planning a “Part 2” as an accompaniment to last month’s column, nor do I like to lift entire paragraphs from a pervious installment of this series but I closed Part 70 with the following:

“More importantly, ‘we’ would squat, bench, deadlift, press, row, clean, chin, and do a myriad of other basic, multi joint movements. We would vary the reps from singles to thirties. The end result is far different from today’s record holding lifters because the record holders of our era were often, not always but frequently enough, as was more importantly the typical trainee, better conditioned and healthier than those of today. The narrow specialization for example on the squat, bench press, and deadlift done for low reps has also removed any semblance of conditioning or a more balanced development from most competitive lifters. That so-called overall or more balanced development was often the difference between injury and injury avoidance in the gym, on the job, or on the street. Utilizing periods of the calendar year for high rep work or having phases of training dedicated to twenty rep squat programs, or even reducing lifting activities to enjoy spring or summer sports was typical and beneficial both physically and emotionally. Very few of the younger lifters understand this because they have not lived it but if one constructs an actuarial chart one hundred years from today and notes the life span, injury and surgical rate, and overall health history of the lifting public, my bet will be on us older folks who had a more ‘varied and inclusive’ approach to the iron game.”    

The title of the last two installments clearly asks,  “WHAT DON’T YOU GET?”and the paragraph above is what so many younger lifters and competitors just “did not get” based upon their recent inquiries. I should first note that there was a certain level of incredulity expressed at the very thought of giving up weight or strength training for the summer, for example, so that one could “enjoy spring or summer sports.” That a competitive lifter or bodybuilder would do this was very unacceptable to quite a few but in retrospect, perhaps this is one of the factors that made for lifters whose competitive careers spanned ten to twenty productive years and today’s lifters who seem to flame out after a brilliant, but brief run of three to five years.

 

Tommy_Kono
The great Tommy Kono did it all; top level Olympic weightlifter, top level bodybuilder. Had powerlifting been a competitive endeavor during his 1950’s era of participation, most agree he would have excelled in that sport too. He was an example of the well rounded approach to training that was typical of his day.

Skip men like Ernie Frantz as a typical example of anything because Ernie’s high level competitive career, earlier as a bodybuilder, acrobat, and later as a top powerlifter, defies the laws of physiology. He was at the top end of all that the weight game offers and maintained freakish levels of strength into his early seventies. I will be the first to admit that no one should expect that but in browsing the pages of the 1950’s to mid-1970’s Strength And Health, Muscle Power/Muscle Builder, and Iron Man, and then the 1970’s and ‘80’s issues of Muscular Development, Iron Man again, and POWERLIFTING USA, there are a lot of lifters and bodybuilders who were functioning at a very high level of competition for ten to twenty years without let up.

Ernie_Frantz
Ernie Frantz was an acrobat and both trained and competed in all aspects of the lifting disciplines.

 

John Grimek, Norb Schemansky, Bill Pearl, Reg Park, Tommy Kono, Zabo, Bill “Peanuts” West, Bill Seno, and Larry Pacifico are just a few names that come to mind. I am not referring to the introduction of Masters type of competition either, as most of the aforementioned athletes competed in the nation’s highest level championship events or international events for consecutive periods of fifteen or more years and as might be expected, were still active in the same endeavors for many years afterwards, with some training and competing until their eventual passing.

Muscular_Development_Magazine_Bill_Seno
The August 1964 cover of Muscular Development Magazine that featured Bill Seno, a great example of being strong as all get-out and looking like the competitive bodybuilder he also was!

 

To compete well and to compete successfully, one has to avoid injury and maintain focus. To compete well, one must be able to train “well” and effectively, and maintain productive workouts any time they walk into their training facility. It might surprise many who have not participated in the sport of football, and it certainly surprises many of the parents we deal with whose sons aspire to play high school or collegiate football, that the primary purpose of strength training for football is not to become muscularly larger and stronger. That certainly should occur, it will contribute to the primary purpose, but it isn’t the primary/most important goal of training. One of my typical, introductory conversations usually includes the questions, “Why do you want to train, why do you want to do strength training? What’s the most important reason for training?” The most frequent and first reply is almost always, “To get bigger and stronger.” Becoming “bigger and stronger” is definitely a by-product of proper training but it is not the most important reason that one trains to prepare to play football or to improve their ability on the field, any athletic or competitive field. The most important reason for the inclusion of a well conceived weight training program for football players is to reduce the frequency and severity of injury or of course, to prevent injury. The questions to be answered are as follows:

“If you’re injured, can you practice at 100%?” “If you’re injured, can you practice at all?” “If you’re injured, can you play at 100%?” “If you’re injured, can you play at all?” The ability to practice and play is dependent upon avoiding injury, thus, in a sport where the injury rate is 100% on almost every professional team and close to that among the players who are on the field on a regular basis on most college teams, this provides the most important rationale for a strength program. As a competitive lifter or bodybuilder, it is the same. One cannot train properly, thoroughly, or as planned if injured nor compete well if either injured or having prepared while working around one or more injuries.

The training programs utilized today, for the most part, are not well-rounded, not inclusive of a variety of movements that would give a balanced development, and most often focus only upon the specific competitive lifts and/or the muscular structures utilized in those lifts. As an advocate of the squat, bench press, and deadlift, as both training movements and as a form of competition, focus upon these lifts will definitely allow one to become muscularly larger and stronger. However, doing little else also invites groin sprains and strains while squatting, “pulled” hamstrings and torn biceps while deadlifting, and rotator cuff problems and torn pecs while bench pressing. Needless to add, it’s difficult to maintain “championship level training” while dealing with any of these ailments.

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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training Part 70

Due to computer related issues that could not be rectified for a number of weeks, we apologize for the interruption in the posting of Dr. Ken’s column. All problems have been successfully fixed and Dr. Ken and Titan apologize to those disappointed by its brief absent from the site.

What Don’t You Get?

Though it may shock some, I have a loyal group of readers who eagerly await the publication of TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS monthly column, or “blog,” still a rather foreign word to me, that has been an attempt to bring perspective to the iron game sports in general and powerlifting specifically. I am very much interested in the evolution, development, and construction of equipment so there has been an obvious emphasis upon that aspect of the history. However, in the past number of months, the effort, subtle as it may have been to some, has been to point to the demarcation of the three primary branches of the Iron Sports and more or less make the point, “This isn’t really a good thing.” My earlier articles for this series, written what is now almost six years ago, stressed that if one trained with weights and trained both hard and consistently, they most often were much stronger than the average man and looked much better physically than the average man. In truth, when one trained hard and consistently, they looked quite a bit larger muscularly and were in fact a heck of a lot stronger than the average man. The exercises performed in a “typical” program, no matter what one’s preference was relative to bodybuilding, powerlifting, or Olympic lifting, engaged all of the major muscular structures and thus produced big, strong guys. It really was that simple. The complaint or snidely delivered commentary from powerlifters and Olympic lifters about bodybuilders or at least those who “specialized in bodybuilding” and had forsaken the “big exercises” that had led to their advanced development, was that “they look really good but they’re not very strong.” The comments made in return by the bodybuilding community always boiled down to “Yeah, the lifters are strong but they’re fat and you can’t even see their development.” Again, both sides missed the point that you could have the best of both worlds and many did for many decades.

Echoing this sentiment was long time competitive powerlifter Saul Shocket. A terrific lifter who is a contemporary of mine, Saul was a seven times World Champion, won the National Championship eight times, and set almost seventy records, with his first World title dating back to 1967. I noted that he was a contemporary but obviously, a much stronger and more talented lifter than I ever dreamed of being.

 

saul_shocket

Saul directs the training and nutrition needs of a varied clientele in the New England region. Contact him at saulselitetrng@aol.com, (781) 740-4114, P.O. Box 5 E. Orleans, Ma 02643-0005.

 

Saul has remained active as a lifter and coach while directing a successful training business in his native Massachusetts, and producing champions and top level athletes in every sport from hockey to both powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting. In addition to echoing my comments about the graciousness and effect that Denis Reno has had on the lifting community in New England, we can include statements that note the fact that Saul and Denis have known each other for many years and that “all you said in regard to Denis is true,” Saul noted that he often called upon him to “help coach some of the Olympic lift movements to various college or pro athletes I was working with at the time” and that Denis “always accommodated my requests and would never accept money for his assistance.” Love of the Iron Game always drove Denis. Relative to the three branches of the lifting sports that we have focused upon, Saul noted the following:

“Regarding the three weight sports, I remember back in the early/mid 60′s, it’s true that a separation existed between each weight sport, but no where as defined as now. Because of that, early weight athletes were more accomplished in each others sport. For example, back in the 60′s, I was living in New Haven, Ct. I trained with Fred Jackson (Olympic lifter), John Varrone (Olympic lifter, powerlifter) Mike Katz (bodybuilder) etc. We trained at the same time, & often trained basic lifts together. I suspect bodybuilders were relatively stronger in those days.”

Of course Saul did not specifically note that the aforementioned gentlemen were of national and/or world champion caliber and he could in fact hang with them! My response reinforced the primary point of importance that the modern trainee, at least in my opinion, has continued to miss.

“Saul, we agree on everything you said. I like and would like to reinforce two things: Denis was always a very nice and first class man in my dealings with him, just a good, guy who loves lifting, always did the right thing. Also, the point you made so well, in ‘our day’ and at least still up to the late 1960′s, everyone did the basic lifts. Bodybuilders bulked up or went through phases during any year doing squats, deadlifts, cleans, press, bench press, row, became bigger and stronger, then perhaps started to cut up for contests. Powerlifters did overhead work and cleans, O lifters always looked to get pushed by others in the squat and did bench press to augment the press. Thus, while ‘we’ as lifters may not have wanted to be seen as ‘bodybuilders’ and perhaps narcissistic, for example, we all got along pretty well and often, as you so nicely wrote, trained together. You just never hear of that any longer. We fostered that at our gym but you can’t even find a platform in a hard core gym set up for bodybuilding nor any lat pulldowns for example, in the typical Olympic lifting or powerlifting garages or facilities. I appreciate your insightful input, always, thank you.”

I have, continue to, and cannot strongly emphasize this same point: the level of specialization in powerlifting attire and equipment such as the Monolift and improved barbells (and to a lesser extent in Olympic weightlifting), specialization in doing no more than those exercises one will compete in with the few additions of selected assistance movements, and the belief that this is the best way to approach the specific sport of interest among the lifting activities we have had under discussion, have led to record lifts but really, what has the true source been for those records? Is this driving force in record setting improved training methodologies, or do drugs, lifting attire, and other factors come into greater play? It is not an elderly athlete’s “bitch and moan” that things are different than they were “in our day” but rather, the very strong belief that those who so narrowly focus their training upon there area of strict specialization are in the long run, not doing as well, certainly not reaping all of the possible benefits weight and strength training have to offer, and probably not enjoying themselves immersed in this activity as we did in decades past.

Historic Supplement

Vern Weaver was the 1963 Amateur Athletic Union Mr. America and by anyone’s standards, very strong and very well developed. Though obviously “advanced” enough to win the Mr. America title, he was in more ways the usual, though “high end” product of what were then, the training procedures of the era. Typical of the day was his approach to training, one that echoes the points made in this month’s article. One of Vern’s close friends and training partners was Jan Dellinger whom I have quoted extensively throughout the TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS series of articles because of his insights and because relative to anything that concerns the York Barbell Company from 1976 through its sale to a “foreign entity at the end of the Twentieth Century,” he was there! Jan, in an interview previously published on Dezo Ban’s site, talked about Vern and very much reinforced the comments made this month.

iron_man_magazine_cover

Vern Weaver was the 1963 Amateur Athletic Union Mr. America

 

“And the high pull? It should be obvious from his philosophy of training that Vern brought a ‘lifter’s mentality’ to his bodybuilding craft. This shouldn’t be surprising for as I mentioned early on, Vern was as much of a lifter as he was a bodybuilder throughout most of his training career. In fact, he trained for both endeavors concurrently, doing one or two of the Olympic lifts first during his three weekly workouts and then finishing up with conventional bodybuilding exercises. While vastly higher standards in both areas prohibit contemporary athletes from ‘splitting their vision’ as Vern and his contemporaries did, pursuing this athletic duality was the norm back then largely because it paid dividends. Among those who practiced both it was widely held that one augmented the other. For starters, greater variety could be injected into one’s workouts. Secondly, the practice of Olympic-oriented movements seemed to add a distinctive ruggedness to the human form. Beyond that, it was expected that a muscleman’s physique would exude function as well as form. Possessing both in quality was the definition of ‘the total package.’”

 

Allow me to make comment on one of Jan’s specific statement:

 

While vastly higher standards in both areas prohibit contemporary athletes from “splitting their vision” as Vern and his contemporaries did, pursuing this athletic duality was the norm back then largely because it paid dividends.

 

While this point is well taken, remember please that by definition, the overwhelming majority of trainees will be “average,” “typical,” and in no way, shape, or form of championship quality or able to compete on the state, national, or international level. That said, they can and should leave the most highly specialized powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, or bodybuilding training programs to those whom through the years, have risen to that exalted level, and instead pursue the benefits that come from a more varied approach to weekly and yearly training.

Too many competitive lifters are in the game, do well, and disappear from all of its aspects not only when their competitive careers end, but they end those careers rather prematurely, perhaps when they realize that the championship they coveted is beyond their attainment. “We” used to train, compete, officiate, spot, and load at the meets we competed in and later, did the same just to help the sport. My wife and I would at times drive to meets where we had zero competitors that represented us or whom we even knew, just to assist. I would most often bring squat racks, and/or bars, and/or 100 pound or 45 kilo plates, or entire kilo sets when requested. We would officiate, spot, and/or load and yes, this included Kathy who could in fact load as well as most larger men despite being a former 105, 114, and 123 pound competitor. This was very typical of lifters of my generation. This just isn’t seen that often any longer.

More importantly, “we” would squat, bench, deadlift, press, row, clean, chin, and do a myriad of other basic, multi joint movements. We would vary the reps from singles to thirties. The end result is far different from today’s record holding lifters because the record holders of our era were often, not always but frequently enough, as was more importantly the typical trainee, better conditioned and healthier than those of today. The narrow specialization for example on the squat, bench press, and deadlift done for low reps has also removed any semblance of conditioning or a more balanced development from most competitive lifters. That so-called overall or more balanced development was often the difference between injury and injury avoidance in the gym, on the job, or on the street. Utilizing periods of the calendar year for high rep work or having phases of training dedicated to twenty rep squat programs, or even reducing lifting activities to enjoy spring or summer sports was typical and beneficial both physically and emotionally. Very few of the younger lifters understand this because they have not lived it but if one constructs an actuarial chart one hundred years from today and notes the life span, injury and surgical rate, and overall health history of the lifting public, my bet will be on us older folks who had a more “varied and inclusive” approach to the iron game.

More Next Month!

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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training Part 69

Talking Diversity in Lifting Ability Part Five

In Part 68 of this ongoing monthly column, I wrote:

“While bodybuilding was not ‘my thing,’ I believe I can safely say that very few Olympic weightlifters or powerlifters first saw a barbell and thought, ‘I want to be a lifter.’ They usually thought, as most young teenagers or pre-teens do that ‘I want to get bigger and stronger and look like that guy,’ with ‘that guy’ being an individual with some type of noticeable or advanced muscular development.”

Based upon both positive and negative feedback (yes, I do get that too, and not limited from my wife!), I would have been better off simplifying and stating that “Most young males who lift weights are motivated to do so by thinking ‘I want to look like that’ and not ‘I want to lift that.’” Though I am certain that there have been few legitimate studies on the subject, common sense and plenty of information about the psychological make-up of the adolescent thought process would indicate that the appearance of strength, power, and confidence is a greater motivating factor than lifting weights in order to compete at what we must accept are two very “niche” and less than popular sports. We may love powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting but most do not. It is also unusual, unless a close relative or friend of the family is in fact a powerlifter or Olympic lifter, to be attracted to lifting in the specific planes of motion demanded by those sports. What I have contended with through decades of involvement with the Iron Game and seeing my articles published since 1969, is the fact, and it is a fact, that many lifters are offended when it is implied that they lift or were first attracted to lifting for physique related reasons. This is not to say that there have not been or are not now lifters, competitive or gym-only lifters who base all of their training around the three powerlifts and their rather well known assistance movements or the two Olympic lifts with the usually associated assistance exercises who began as “lifters” and who entered their specific sport immediately and directly as lifters. With lifters like Mike Burgener and Mike Wittmer as obvious examples, we can look at their sons who both were international level lifters, with Casey Burgener an Olympian. The sons were immediately attracted to and became involved in the sports that had the competitive interest of their fathers with no stops in-between their initial workout and their first foray into competition. However, this is not the usual.

 

Jeff_Wittmer

Young Jeff Wittmer in one of his very early competitions. Jeff began his training under the watchful eye of his father Mike, an accomplished regional champion weightlifter, in the basement of his home. There was no exposure there to bodybuilding as there is for most teenagers who begin to lift weights, and Jeff progressed into one of the best lifters in the United States, representing our country in the Pan American Games and other contests.

 

Denis_Reno

Jeff Wittmer – Competitive Weightlifter.

One of the guiding lights of Olympic weightlifting, especially in New England and the Northeast, for many decades has been Denis Reno. A competitive weightlifter whose enthusiasm was and remains contagious, and who had a talent for expressing his thoughts and feelings about the sport exceptionally well, Denis also carved out time from a “normal life” of family, work, and other activities to literally be the “Johnny Appleseed” of New England weightlifting. “His guys” were weightlifters and he had a lot of them, with numerous state and regional championships to their credit and many making their way to the national and international level. He has served with many international teams in various capacities and it could be said that few have contributed as much to the game anywhere. He has been a terrific coach and communicator and since 1969 has published the Denis Reno’s New England Weightlifting Newsletter. Even for those who do not live in the New England area, the newsletter has always contained very useful and applicable training information, national and international meet write-ups, regional contest results, and insights to the politics of the sport.

 

Denis_Reno_02_cropped

The author and Denis Reno share a moment in the late 1990’s as judges at one of New England’s major national strongman competitions. Denis has been “the man” of New England Weightlifting for decades, promoting, judging, and organizing contests, coaching numerous lifters of all levels of ability, and in all ways, giving all he has to the sport he loves.

There are two points to be made regarding Denis, his lifters, and his newsletter. Many if not most of the men (and I want to point out that his female lifters were also quite accomplished when the time came that they began competing in weightlifting) that Denis trained entered the sport of Olympic weightlifting immediately from their “non-training state” of existence. They would meet Denis or know one of the other lifters he trained, take a look at what was going on, and once exposed to Denis’ shot-in-the-arm enthusiasm about doing the press, snatch and clean and jerk, begin their quest for weightlifting success. Certainly he had lifters who had been culled from the ranks of bodybuilders, powerlifters, gym wanna-be guys, and those who showed up in the gym in an effort to improve their athletic performance but other than a few other groups scattered across the United States, his has been one of the few that had boys or men begin and end their lifting activity as weightlifters. Denis’ crew, like many I saw in the St. Louis area when living there, were youngsters that were introduced to Olympic lifting before they were old enough to have the typical teenage insecurities, thus they “just became lifters,” but this is infrequently the usual course. The usual first stop is the “I want to look like ‘that’” and they eventually find their place in the weightlifting or powerlifting world. This could be said for other gyms, Y’s, clubs, schools, or lifting groups but it has always been the norm for most lifters to have first “done something else” when they began utilizing resistance exercise, and only later wander into the world of competitive lifting. The other point I wanted to make relative to Denis Reno was the fact that in the mid-1970’s, perhaps 1975, I wrote a few articles for his newsletter as did my on-an-off, long distance training partner Mike Hu.

Mike is a lengthy story in himself, a very bright, accomplished, articulate, and strong individual who later became involved in the political world of his native Hawaii but who lived in Boston when we would occasionally train together or eat in New York City’s or Boston’s Chinatown enclaves. Yes, it is true that for one specific weightlifting contest we agreed to drop enough weight to see if we could reduce two full weight classes, just to see if it could be done successfully. Yes it is true that I was too weak to compete and Mike passed out during his clean and jerk, and also true that we pulled it together to finish a six pound pork roast and many platefuls of rice together after the meet. This was followed by an unsteady walk into Boston’s Little Italy where we devoured enough cannolis to cause him to collapse onto the curb and me onto the hood of a car. That it occurred directly in front of the entrance to a local police precinct entry door made for what must have been law enforcement’s first explanation of “Impairment Due To Cannoli.” Mike had a few articles published in Denis’ newsletter and in one, noted that weightlifters were just as self conscious and conspicuous, or words to that effect, “in their Ban Lon shirts,” making reference to an older style, tight fitting, brand name shirt, as were any group of bodybuilders. He received quite a bit of negative comment from lifters and interestingly, I received the same after my comments last month.

Perhaps lifters don’t view bodybuilders as athletic, tough, rugged, manly, purposeful, and/or dedicated as they are but there has always been and continues to be, a less than positive feeling about bodybuilding in the lifting community. The responses in 1975 and the response today being the same, very much proves this point. The negative view was less prevalent in an earlier era, one I have pointed to and stressed throughout this entire series of articles, when “everyone who lifted did everything” but once the demarcation of the three sports began to take hold, lifters did not for the most part, consider it a compliment to be referred to as “a bodybuilder.”

More Next Month

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Titan Support Systems Launches New Website

news_titan_website_launch

We’re here! It’s been a long time coming but Titan has finally launched its new web site. The biggest change you’ll notice is that all of our products are now displayed in a very easy to search standard ecommerce format. You’ll find convenient sizing charts, clear high resolution photos, product suggestions and you can even write a review of your favorite product.

Create an account and you can conveniently store all of your purchase histories as well as your shipping and billing information for super quick check out.

This account also allows you to post on our new powerlifting forum moderated by Mike Armstrong and post comments on our new blog.

We’ve also revamped our Titan Champions database. You can search for your favorite lifters by name, weight class, and best lifts. We’re currently transferring dozens of lifters over into our database so check back frequently for new additions.

We also now have a newsletter. Easily sign up for it by looking for the newsletter sign up box on the bottom right of most pages. The newsletter will be filled with great tips, insider information and subscriber only discounts and promotions.

As a special launch promotion we’re offering a FREE vintage 1981 t-shirt with every order over $150!

1. Just go to the product page and add the shirt to your cart

2. Spend at least $150

3. Use the Coupon Code “SHIRT” when checking out (don’t include
the quotes)

Last but not least, we have our new interactive dealer map. You can easily find any Titan dealer anywhere in the world.

Enjoy.

Pete Alaniz

President, Titan Support Systems