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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.







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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.


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 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.

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 directs the training and nutrition needs of a varied clientele in the New England region. Contact him at, (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.


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.



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.



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.



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