Posted on

History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Part 56

Prototyping Part 3

The use of computers has streamlined the exercise equipment prototyping procedures and this is from one who is almost completely “computer useless.” I’m a terror at responding to e mails, can navigate to a very few, select sites I use for information gathering and research, but still require assistance from my wife or daughter to do the most simple computer tasks. If pressing the sequence of usual and required keys does not get me to the desired location, I call for help. Gary Jones, formerly of Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries and Hammer Strength when it was a corporate entity separate from Life Fitness, provided me with my first glimpse of computer modeling as it pertained to exercise equipment. In the early 1970’s, I was part of the “second wave of original guys” who wound up in Lake Helen, Florida who became employed by the Nautilus company. Prototyping and the entire manufacturing process were, by the standards of the late 1980’s, when Gary camped out in our living room with what appeared to be fifty boxes worth of computer “stuff,” archaic. I had the good fortune to first get hired by Arthur Jones, spend time with him, and in his typical fashion, then “be tested” by performing a multitude of different tasks in the factory and around the plant. What is lost to the current and latest generations of powerlifters, athletes, and bodybuilders was the way in which information and real experience was gathered. If one heard about a lifter who might be able to share information, a training technique, or a routine that there was an interest in, you traveled to the gym or workout quarters they would usually use, observe, ask for an introduction, and then present your questions. If there was a piece of equipment that caught one’s attention, you found out what gym it was in, and you traveled to that facility to ask the owner and other trainees about it, and then actually try it. Most often photos, written dimensions, and other vital information would be absent. “First hand” experience and “hands on” accumulation of information were not only the standards, they were the exclusive manner in which the dedicated trainee operated.

Historical Supplement – Weight Training Equipment

Arthur-Jones-gorilla-Mickey

A rather famous or at least well known photo of Arthur Jones’ gorilla Mickey and his wife at that time, Terri, has become a widely distributed poster that graces the walls of many facilities. I believe everyone connected with exercise, even the sport of powerlifting, knows that Arthur was a wild animal expert, collector, and one who made his living capturing and transporting wild animals. This very specialized occupation preceded his foray into the exercise equipment business but those who worked with or knew him during those years recount Arthur’s attempts, even then, to “mess around” with different exercise concepts and equipment modifications in order to enhance the effects of training. I have in fact told the story of being summoned to assist in the “greeting” and unloading of Arthur’s absolutely gigantic crocodile, Jack, upon his arrival at the Lake Helen, Florida factory compound. It took less than a minute to figure out you didn’t want to be the guy closest to the mouth and teeth as a dozen of us hauled his massive body from a flatbed truck to his concrete and partially water filled pen. “Compound” is in my opinion, an accurate description of the factory, offices, training area, and living quarters occupied by Arthur and his wife at that time, Eliza. The compound included “living quarters” for a variety of exotic wildlife that ranged from the giant croc to a small but obviously vicious jaguarondi, a South American cougar like cat. I’m sure that Arthur and Eliza thought they had a perfectly furry-and-fuzzy house pet, though it was kept locked in its pen, but there were many visitors to the plant that heard its bird-like chirping who were subsequently frightened into near heart attack state when they would walk over to investigate and have this fifteen to twenty pound ball of claws and teeth lunging and growling at them. I was and remain an animal lover, having the dubious distinction of earning part-time money or satisfying scholarship requirements at both Cincinnati and Hofstra Universities by being the “student feeder and cleaner-upper” in the vivariums, the areas in which the lab and experimental animals were kept. One cannot attempt to make an 8 AM class when covered with spider monkey feces or cabybara vomitus from 3 AM until a quick shower at 7:50 AM, and one cannot take this as normal if they don’t love animals. Despite that, the jag, the croc, and sixteen other not-usually-seen-or-heard-of specimens scared the heck out of me, especially when walking around the factory area at night. Following Jack the Crocodile, was Mickey the Gorilla and following Eliza as Mrs. Jones was Terri Jones! Eliza collected spiders and was seemingly one hundred percent comfortable with the huge python that lived in the couch in their under-renovation house I took residence in, though I did not know I was inheriting the couch and snake from one of the fellows, Doug, from the parts department, until a later date. Eliza was also seemingly comfortable with all of the other animals on site. Terri did not seem to be so when it was decided that putting Mickey in the pullover machine might produce an interesting and thought provoking photograph, Terri became the stand-in human as she was after all, “the face of Nautilus.” I thought Dick Butkus would have been a more appropriate choice as Nautilus spokesperson. Who was tougher, stronger, actually trained on the equipment, and pound for pound perhaps the only one in three states with a chance to survive a confrontation with an adolescent gorilla? Beauty however won out over the functional muscle of Butkus and even though drugged, a gorilla is a gorilla and once out of its cage or restraints, had potential for pure mayhem. There was no mayhem but as Kim Wood stated about this specific photo shoot, once Mickey was aroused enough to get into an exercise position and growl, the ground shaking rumble that he emitted caused poor Terri, though brave enough to pilot her own 747 airplane, enough consternation to take what was supposed to be a smiling face and relaxed postured, and turn it into the very stiff, tentative figure seen next to the machine. It should be noted that yes, while this was in every sense of the word, a “publicity shot,” Arthur was always tinkering with different ways to “stress the muscles and system” of the crocodiles, gorilla, and other beasts he had, in order to learn more about exercise so that it could be applied to his equipment and training procedures.

Nautilus equipment in particular caused a complete change in the entire industry after its 1970 introduction. There truly was no “physical fitness or strength training equipment industry” as such. A few individuals produced equipment, usually for local distribution. Certainly Weider, Hoffman/York, Jubinville, Iron Man, Marcy, and a few others built basic training pieces but other than small items, actually procuring them required travel and a truck or van. Many of the more widely offered benches, by both Weider and York in retrospect, were junk, less than safe when exposed to heavy and hard use, and at all times, difficult to get. Iron Man equipment, primarily made in Minnesota by Warren Tetting who is still active producing grippers and perhaps other items, was almost always of much higher quality than the other manufacturers but still, just as difficult to get. In fact, buying anything required a letter of inquiry, a return letter, another letter to confirm prices and shipping information, a return letter of confirmation, payment made via postal mail, time for the check or money order to clear, confirmation of the order, and then a wait for both production and shipping to be completed. Credit card use was extraordinarily limited and for most, unheard of and Pay Pal obviously did not exist. Even then, one might not be sure exactly what the ordered piece would look like. Having gone through the process, I found it easier for example, to make the four hour drive to York, PA to pick up barbells and plates, and otherwise try to cut and weld my own copies of benches and racks I saw in the various magazines. As noted in the past few TITAN articles, some of my efforts were fruitful, others nothing short of laughable.

Even at Nautilus which could be considered the most advanced of the industry manufacturing facilities circa early 1970’s, the prototype process was slavishly difficult. Dependent upon who was actually in the shop at the time I was, the results for any new piece would vary. One of the “secrets” of Nautilus Sports/Medical, one that can be confirmed by Kim Wood, Tom Laputka, and numerous others, was that Arthur’s nephew Scott LeGear did an awful lot of the actual design prototype work. Yes, Arthur had the ideas, he had the vision for equipment, he would request, explain, and oversee the creation of the specific pieces but Scott, at least during the time I was in Lake Helen, Florida, did much of the hands-on welding, and “moving and shuffling” of parts work. An example of the process might more or less, proceed thusly: Arthur would want a machine that would “work the biceps” and explain it to Scott. One of the other or both would draw though it could be more accurately stated that Arthur often scribbled. Someone in the shop and at times that would be me, especially if work was going on from 10 PM to 3 AM as I was almost always awake and rarely slept, in those days, more than a dozen hours per week if that, would cut the appropriate tubing, round or flat stock, and angle iron. A frame would be welded, and work would commence.

Tom-Laputka-

Canadian Football League and World Football League defensive lineman Tom Laputka

If Canadian Football League and World Football League defensive lineman Tom Laputka was in the prototype shop as he often was, he was “the big, tall guy” that was needed as a “prototype dummy.” If I was in the shop at the time, in addition to tack welding or rushing off to return with a requested piece of iron, I would serve as the “below-average in height guy.” At 6’3” or so and 250 pounds of a lot of muscle Laputka, in addition to being truly strong, “scary strong” in many movements, was large framed. Though I had weighed as much as 232 at 5’5-3/4”, I was usually 160 – 180 during my time at Nautilus. When Kim Wood was on the premises, he would provide yet more input and a lot of knowledge as he was one of the few who had Arthur’s ear when he wanted it. Needless to add, with the disparity in stature and body types, the “feel” of any piece of equipment varied among us. Tom would go through forearm flexion movements and state, “This feels pretty good, it’s smooth.” I would do it and think my bicipital aponeurosis was being shredded. Scott and Kim would offer disparate opinions, Arthur would try the piece and announce, “move this a quarter-inch, move that a half inch and try it.” I would take a hand sledge, break the tack weld, make the adjustment requested, and re-weld it. If you can project doing that fifty times on one aspect of one piece of equipment, it very much explains the “old school” process of machine prototyping. In the late 1960’s and early-‘70’s when Tom Lincer for example, was first getting Ivanko Barbell off the ground, the prototype process for bars, utilizing different types of steel, different heating and finishing processes, and a variety of end caps and safety features, was very much the same.

Posted on

History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Part 55

Prototyping Part 2

In the TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEM column I wrote for December 01, 2012, HISTORY OF POWERLIFTING, WEIGHTLIFTING, AND STRENGTH TRAINING PART FIFTY FOUR: PROTOTYPES, PART ONE, I described the horrific events surrounding the hurricane that caused so much damage in our area and specifically in the Village of East Rockaway. I noted that “As I write this column, three weeks after the storm, very little has changed…,” and in truth, seven weeks after the storm, as I write Part Two of this prototyping related series of articles, very little has changed for many of the residents.

hurricane_sandy_damage

Hurricane Sandy Damage



Obviously, it could not be expected to change significantly for many, they had their homes, businesses, vehicles, and other possessions washed out to sea and thus there was nothing to come back to and nothing to repair. Many left the area to seek shelter with relatives, friends, or others, and have not returned. As the East Rockaway High School building suffered extensive flood damage, the adolescents have been bussed to buildings in another district two towns away. The East Rockaway Public School District certainly knows how many students are enrolled in their schools, how much transportation and seating space in class is needed, and what arrangements had to be made in order to accommodate a move, temporary or otherwise. They prepared ten buses to transport students to Baldwin for class and only six were filled and this has not changed; children and their families are simply gone. For those with a chance to repair and restore their property, FEMA or insurance companies in many cases have just “not gotten to them yet” and they cannot afford to move forward otherwise. In others, the utilities are slow and delayed beyond understanding in restoring services. The holidays are much less than that for many.

hurricane_sandy_damage_02

Hurricane Sandy Damage



Kathy and I must personally thank the football and lifting communities that so quickly and decisively stepped up to assist. Those with internet businesses, sites, blogs, and other daily communications like the Drapers, Brooks Kubik, John Wood, and Bill Hinbern among others who have my apologies for failing to mention them specifically, put the word out that clothing, toiletries, and cleaning supplies were needed and a great number of boxes were received at our office facility and distributed directly to the coaches and students of the area and shared with the neighboring church relief center. Michigan State, Ohio State, the Buffalo Bills, Saginaw Valley State, the Cincinnati Reds and so many others sent supplies, making the effort to recover a bit easier. The work has continued both for us and the community but we are all moving forward as Christmas approaches, making the holiday season at least tolerable for many.

Doing a great deal of sitting and thinking in the dark brought my mind to equipment fabrication and prototyping as the December column detailed. The described Shrug Box was one in a long line of equipment efforts I had made in order to enhance my own training. I mentioned that not every effort was successful. In my quest to become larger and stronger, there were many mishaps. Seeing Sergio Oliva for the first time was, in the parlance of the mid to late 1960’s, “mind blowing” and whatever any of the readers have been told regarding the visual impact of Sergio is absolutely true. Later in his career, when compared to Arnold, most gave Sergio second seating and there was no doubt that Arnold was the taller and heavier man. However, the effect of the two men in my opinion, differed greatly. Both must be considered among the greatest bodybuilders of all time and each had and have their supporters but no matter what one felt about or saw in Arnold’s physique, Sergio took it to the next level. Arnold never appeared to be strong nor did he ever hold himself out as a “strongman.” Sergio looked like a contender for the greatest bodybuilder of all time nomination, yet also looked as if he could lift half of your apartment building.

Sergio_Oliva

Sergio Oliva



Despite what was in my presence, an unexpected reserved demeanor, a statement probably never uttered about Arnold, Sergio just emanated a tough manner about him. The total package was one not to be forgotten and I made the mistake of asking him what he did in order to squat what was purported to be “a lot of weight” and of course, develop his outsized thighs. Being told that he did “all kinds of squats” I took it upon myself to copy a machine I had seen in only one gym, a Bill Good Hack Machine, forgetting that for many, the hack squat is one lift that should not be done due to excessive shearing force on the patella tendon. To dress mine up, and save space in the garage, I added dip bars and located them on the back of the machine. Of course, the angle of the hack squat was such that even the healthiest of knees would have been challenged to remain in that condition, and if one actually jumped up and used the dip bars while another trainee was squatting, their teeth would have been readily knocked out of their mouth. All in all, one of the obvious failures and it also did not take a genius to quickly figure out that not one part of my body would ever be mistaken for one of Sergio’s!

Considering the barbell to be the most important piece of equipment in one’s training facility or commercial weight room, a concept that seems to have died off along the way in most commercial gyms as reflected in their choice of inexpensive, heavily chromed, rather dangerous bars that are made available for their customers, I always had “good bars.” This did not prevent me from attempting to build my own and certainly there is more to be said about bars despite the fact that many of the previous fifty-four editions of this specific column have dealt with barbells and barbell construction. The one thing I did not attempt to do was produce my own plates although, as one of our columns detailed, I was the first to convince the York Barbell Company foundry, with the focused efforts and assistance of Jan Dellinger who at the time was a key employee of York, to have custom Olympic plates made for our Iron Island Gym. I approved the mold, was walked through the steps of filling and emptying the custom mold, cleaning, drilling, and milling the plates to allow the accuracy that York Barbell plates were then known for, and then was taken through the painting process. I had been sent samples from two small, privately owned foundries in the United States when discussing possible custom plate production with them, and thus had something to compare our custom made York plates with. Having been to the York Wrightsville, Pennsylvania foundry years before, and watching what appeared to be “old timers” going through the plate production process so easily, made a tremendously positive impression upon me and gave me an appreciation for their excellent and detailed craftsmanship. I had less experience with bumper plates and later, with rubber covered or urethane covered plates. Jim Sutherland, who has been previously featured and oft-mentioned in many of my Titan columns was the first to my knowledge, to truly understand the widespread potential applications of urethane in the fitness industry.

Historical Supplement – Weight Training Equipment

Heavy-Metal-Supin-Bench-Press

The photo above is from the Universal HEAVY METAL equipment catalogue, an entire collection of what might have been the first true “heavy duty” line of weight training equipment that highlighted the components and features that shortly thereafter became so standard, that they were taken for granted. Yet Jim Sutherland, the designer, previewed these improvements long before anyone had envisioned them. Men like Jim and Stephen DeWitt of Strength Equipment in Idaho flew far under the radar relative to public recognition but so many of the equipment innovations that we as powerlifters and strength enthusiasts deem as “necessary” came from their fertile minds and were copied, and often credited, to the major manufacturers. The Heavy Metal Supine Bench Press featured angled tubing, a spotter’s platform, adjustable barbell height racking pegs, protective plastic covering where the barbell would strike the uprights, and a high force compression pad that would withstand the rigors of huge weights lifted by huge lifters.

The angled shape of today’s machine frames is the result of using a tube bender costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. Prior to the mid-1980’s, almost every piece of conventional training equipment was a cut-and-weld, 90 degree box design. Angling the uprights on this specific bench made for a great appearance but also meant easier handoffs to the lifter and a safer, more comfortable, and more reliable placement of the barbell at the completion of the lift. This bench has everything in one form or another that would eventually become standard fare, expected, and desired in a competition bench. Sutherland thought of these things and produced them in the early 1980’s. As I have noted in previous articles, mentioning Sutherland and DeWitt, someone had to think of these things first and then actually manufacture them; these guys did.

I have no idea who “gets credit” for first coating a barbell plate with urethane but Jim was way ahead of the curve. As the Director of Research and Development for Universal, he experimented with urethane covered plates and dumbbells and was the first to consider a urethane coated weight stack that would be almost silent in its operation. At DP in Alabama, he was the first to experiment and attempt to incorporate wrinkle style powder coat paint, urethane coated components, and clear plastic weight stack shields to improve both safety and appearance. “Rubber” and urethane have remained beyond the realm of my understanding, even as these components are more frequently utilized in the training industry, yet I jumped at the opportunity to assist Ivanko Barbell Company in testing their new urethane plates.

Posted on

History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Part 54

Prototyping Part 1

Having spent twelve days without electrical power, heat, hot water, and water that led to the hospitalization of over one hundred individuals who were exposed to e coli and other dysentery infections after the local sewage treatment plant and electrical substation blew up as the result of Hurricane Sandy, our family fully understood the difference between being inconvenienced and truly affected by tragedy. The hurricane and aftermath was severely under reported out of the New York Metropolitan region with entire beach area communities completely wiped out and/or washed into the Atlantic Ocean on a level, though not as extensive, just as tragically as Hurricane Katrina. For those interested, there are numerous youtube videos documenting the damage and destruction to Long Beach, Island Park, and all of the Rockaways. We were merely uncomfortable as we literally ran a relief center out of our office facility for the local youth and members of the community and helped with the extraordinary effort of a church whose school building is our immediate neighbor. As I write this column, three weeks after the storm, very little has changed. Sitting in the dark with a gasoline shortage, empty grocery shelves, and a fear of using even boiled water for those who could muster a gas flame, allows one to spend a lot of time thinking. The four inches of heavy, soggy snow that followed the hurricane made for a complete lack of communication with a cessation not only of electrical power throughout the New York – New Jersey area, but also cell phone signals and of course, computer use. With an inability to perform business or any business related functions, other than cleaning up, helping others to clean and salvage their property, walk to town to stand on gas lines that were worse than those of 1974 for the readers old enough to remember, the dyed-in-the-wool lifter could only train in the dark or by the overcast sunlight, and think about equipment development.

no_power_hurricane_sandy_edit

Cheeseburgers by candle and lantern light because a lifter must ingest protein at all times!



It was the latter that struck me as I stood between sets of squats, in our detached garage, muttering to myself about the cold, stiff and uncooperative joints, and a general lack of energy caused by a diet of chocolate chip cookies and cold cuts that were kept in an ice chest (yes, ice was being sold at exorbitant prices from the back of trucks in the parking lots of boarded up stores). Our office and rehabilitation facility, located in a home/office set-up was barely warmer than the internal temperature of the detached garage that sits a hundred feet behind the house and holds as much weight and as many bars as many Division 1 college weight rooms. However, once the temperature drops into the twenties, as it did after the Hurricane, those barbells are as cold as any frosted mug of root beer. Looking around the garage in the semi-darkness of an overcast afternoon, where no electrical power had allowed additional light for days, I was struck at the process that goes into the development of not only weight training equipment, but even something as seemingly simple as a barbell. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that I was struck at the process that should go into the development of not only weight training equipment, but even something as seemingly simple as a barbell.

hurricane_sandy_flooding_edit

What appears to be the sandy beach had been “regular” paved streets immediately before Hurricane Sandy struck. The layer of freshly fallen snow did not elevate the blue book value of these destroyed vehicles



I have had the pleasure and excitement of fabricating my own benches, power racks, and other pieces of training equipment since the age of fifteen. I would bring various muscle magazines to my father’s iron shop on weekends when from my teenaged perspective, I was forced into indentured servitude to work an eight to twelve hour day that an adult laborer would be proud of. Being unskilled, especially relative to the other immigrant tradesmen that my father worked with, I was the shop mule with my first skilled tasks tied to the responsibilities as a grinder. Though arduous, and made more so due to my initial penchant for rushing through the job, I saw it as a way to build hand and forearm strength. The fifteen pound angle grinders of today with a multitude of plastic and epoxy components while more efficient than the “mostly metal” archaic models of my own early 1960’s and mid-‘70’s experience that may have weighed twice as much as the modern versions, could not compare as a muscle development tool. I would show the magazines to my father and some of the other workers and elicit opinions on the best manner in which to duplicate what appeared to be an essential piece of training equipment. In some cases, the results were quite good and to this day, there are two high schools in the area that still have at least one of my racks or benches in use on the premises, almost fifty years after production! In other cases, the end product was so confounding that the most experienced trainee would have difficulty figuring out what its purpose was. It wasn’t until I worked for Arthur Jones, the founder and inventor of Nautilus training equipment, that I received insight to the prototyping process and compared to today’s computer assisted process, even what seemed to be modern steps forward in equipment development were in the harsh light of comparison, ancient and laborious.

Historical Supplement – The Shrug Box

shrug_box_edit

In the left forefront of the above photo, taken in the early 1980’s, is what I anointed, “The Shrug Box.” The photo was taken in the early version of our home/office rehabilitation and training facility in Valley Stream, N.Y. I was seeking an efficient way to perform the shrug exercise for both rehabilitative and training purposes. I wanted my wife to have the ability to change weights quickly and easily, and a safe piece of equipment that would carry the heaviest of loads for our athletes. In my own case, I have never had grip limitations and could in fact shrug very heavy weights, with the qualifying statement that I could in fact shrug very heavy weights if my low back was not forced into flexion due to both the load and the friction caused by contact of the barbell with the thighs. Al Gerard’s Original Trap Bar, also new to the lifting scene at the time and still available from John Wood, gave me the idea of a parallel grip that would alleviate the problem of the barbell rubbing on the thighs when heavy weights were employed. I did not want to tie up a power rack or safety stand as I believed we needed to have a piece of equipment dedicated exclusively to the shrug due to its importance in training the trapezii muscles and neck region. I welded what could be considered a prototype piece out of scrap pieces of pipe in my brother’s iron shop and it worked well. The handles were at a height that obviated the need to literally deadlift a heavy load from the floor in order to do shrugs; the loading sleeves were elevated from the floor so that one could quickly and easily change plates; the handles were set so that the slight imbalance front-to-back when gripping and holding the resistance was eliminated. As a bonus, and relative to the space we occupied, the piece was compact yet strong enough to hold as much weight as one could possibly need for shrugs. I made a more finished product,, still using pipe, and then fabricated a half dozen of them. These were given as gifts to friends in the business, including those that went into the strength training facilities of the Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals. I would never claim to have “invented” a piece of training equipment though I have been fortunate enough to have had input into some unique and what were at the time, new and innovative pieces that are considered to be standard training equipment and present in almost every gym or weight room, but I had never seen anything resembling the Shrug Box to the point in time I made my first one. Now of course, there are many models available with those manufactured by Stephen DeWitt of Strength Equipment and Elite FTS among the best. Elite’s is adjustable for height and has the option of various thicknesses in handle diameter. The Shrug Box was one of the successful pieces of training equipment I thought about and eventually brought to fruition and one that proved to be very useful in both its original form and in subsequent commercial models in our facilities. The prototyping and fabricating process for most training equipment follows the same clear cut path; thought, design, fabrication of a prototype, “tweaking,” and an eventual production model.

Posted on

History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Part 53

Ted Arcidi, Respect Earned!

It should come as no surprise that discussions about the bench press, more than the other two official powerlifts, still evoke the strongest of responses among powerlifters. In the sport’s earliest days, I believe that the three individual lifts, contested in the order of bench press, squat, and deadlift, were given equal attention and were approached with equal enthusiasm. Men who trained consistently with the intent of becoming big and strong did squats. Almost all of them did deadlifts and certainly those who trained for any athletic event or sport included some form of squats and deadlifts as a regular part of their lifting programs. We have chronicled how this has changed through the years with the bench press ascending to a position of popularity and importance that has led to its performance as a separate sporting activity. In short order, the bench press became the one lift that even casual fitness buffs and the non-training public at least had heard of rather than “just an exercise.” As long time lifter Dan Martin put it, when talking about the bench press’ “place” in the hierarchy of lifts, one that relegated it as a basic movement done by all athletes rather than a specific, separate focus, “Hell, although it really has been quite some time, I can recall when the bench press was used by Olympic lifters as an assistance lift for their press and jerk. Three to five sets of 3. Tops!!!” And it has been some time because even the aforementioned fitness buffs might engage in a program that consists of three sets of ten reps in six or seven movements, but will usually do a lot “extra” on the bench press. Thus it should not be surprising that some of our most recent highly rated bench pressers sent comments via the TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEMS website, informing me whom they believed to be the world’s or nation’s “best bench presser.” The question posed last month was directly related to the performance of Ted Arcidi.

I was very clear that Ted, long before the days of the internet and availability of personal computers, sent a well written, thoroughly thought out, and grammatically correct defense of his own accomplishments. The hand-written letter was also harsh, critical, and nasty, all because I did not name him as my choice for the world’s best bench presser. Having never met Ted, and to this day, despite my decades of involvement in the sport dating back to both early ‘60’s odd lift contests and powerlifting’s beginnings in 1964, still having not made his acquaintance, I was nevertheless impressed with what was his obvious intelligence and ability to communicate. I already knew some things about his background and involvement in the sport. Coming from a family of professional parents, he and his siblings had high levels of education and by any measure, were successful. His father has been described in various publications as a dentist or orthodontist but in every case, highly respected and accomplished. Some siblings also entered the health care professions and this had been Ted’s stated goal. His start in weight training was typical in that he wanted to improve his performance as a collegiate hockey player, beginning his career at Salem State University and transferring to Norwich University where he earned a BS degree in Physical Education. Much was made of his departure from dental or pre-dental education to pursue the bench press more or less as a means of livelihood but the mid-1980’s saw a change in the fitness industry and culture where increasing exposure and popularity allowed some participants to sell mail order courses, open gyms and training centers, and otherwise actually support themselves through their attachment to the sport of powerlifting or bodybuilding. As Ted rapidly became very large and very strong, he took advantage of the opportunities before him and left academia. His bench press brought him attention and after a very rapid rise that saw him complete a 666.9 lift in 1984, entered him into every conversation related to “the world’s best bench presser.” Big Jim Williams had set the lifting world on its ear, and established a long standing American record with 675 in November of 1972 at the second official and sanctioned world championships. There were numerous and credible reports of Jim completing 700 under contest conditions in training and only the fact that world records were not recognized until a year or so after Jim did his best contest benching kept him from claiming higher official numbers.

jim_williams

Big Jim Williams, according to training partner and record holder John Kuc, was capable of bench pressing 700 pounds on a number of occasions. Jim’s official records would have been higher had a world organization been formed at the time he was setting the powerlifting world on its collective ear with his huge bench pressing and squatting abilities.



Ted jumped to a newly recognized world record 705 on March 3, 1985, during the period of time of my POWERLIFTING USA bench press discussion, at what was then the annual Hawaii World Record Breakers Meet, an invitational event that boasted exactly what the contest title offered, an outright attack on the record book by the world’s best powerlifters. Using one of the early bench shirts, Ted put the 700-plus mark onto the books officially, ending Big Jim Williams’ claim to the “biggest bench.” Within the insular world of powerlifting and specialized bench pressing, the 700 mark was just as significant as breaking the 600 pound bench press barrier though it pales in comparison to today’s astronomical numbers. Similar to the breaking of the four minute mark in the mile run, it had been viewed as an impossibility which gave Pat Casey, the owner of the first 600 pound bench press, and Ted Arcidi an immediate and indelible distinction. Disappearing from the lifting scene, or more accurately, disappearing from the scene of officially sanctioned contests, Ted entered the world of professional wrestling. Of course the wrestling promotions were compelled to work Ted’s immense strength into the “act” and like other “lifting guys” who performed in the wrestling ring, Ted would use one of the rigged barbell sets to elevate what were supposed to be huge weights or world records, fighting against Kaz for example, for the title of Wrestling’s Strongest Man. Watching the tape of their “lifting contest” which is available on Youtube, is rather entertaining. For those interested, as Kaz completes what is supposed to be a new world record 745, Ted jumps him, apparently rubbing lifting chalk in his face as he precariously holds and balances the huge load over his face and chest. Thank goodness that the lift wasn’t much of a strain for Kaz or the spotters since all of them eventually fall to the ring floor in a heap of swinging fists, arms, and elbows! Its great fun for those who enjoy this kind of spectacle but I wouldn’t describe it as Ted’s “continuing involvement in the sport of powerlifting.”

ted_arcidi_action_figure

Ted was one of the select wrestlers who had an action figure of himself as part of the WWF marketing program



Returning to competition after retiring from wrestling, Ted was successful with a 718 pound bench press in a September 1990 contest in New Hampshire, a lift that was recognized as a world record. A year later, going head to head with Anthony Clark, Ted put up 725 but it was disallowed due to lack of an elbow lock, a problem that had plagued Ted previously. Relative to many heavier lifts that followed Ted’s, his 725 was no doubt just as “legal” and good. The internet and sites like Youtube have made it possible to view powerlifting and bench press contests from every part of the world and many so-called records are an embarrassment. Technical errors, illegal wraps, and incomplete lifts have been credited as new world or national records, to the extent that many of the “old lifts” such as Arcidi’s, can be viewed as being every bit as good and legal as what now passes for legitimate. Thus if you want to give Ted credit for 705, 718, or 725, he remains the first to officially complete an official 700 pound bench press and should always be lauded for that accomplishment. As per my column and comments in POWERLIFTING USA so many decades ago and the questions I posed then, Ted Arcidi did not have the longevity in the sport that might have made him the best ever. He rose quickly through the ranks, made his incredible lift, and then moved on to other endeavors. Certainly he should be credited with coming back approximately five years after leaving the sport to enter the wrestling ranks, and competing at the top level, but he wasn’t there as was a Pacifico for example, setting record after record consistently. One very important quality that Ted does get high points on is what numerous individuals report as his availability in helping others, a pleasant demeanor, and acceptance as being a very nice person. Obviously these qualities are a lot more important than one’s bench press records. I was told by Brooklyn’s Pat Susco, that he had what turns out to be a typical encounter with Ted, many years ago. From Pat:

.”…btw, when I put on a bench contest in `90 (” APF Biggest Bench in Brooklyn”) I flew Ted in , me & Randy picked him up @ the airport – what a sweetheart… Before the meet , he treated his fans with a seminar, a workout, benched 500 x 10 in a tank-top, gave most of the lift-offs, and stayed to hand out the trophies ……….have seen him in a couple of movies of late….”


ted_arcidi

Ted on the WWF


I both cringed and chuckled watching Ted in his wrestling “schticks” as he strutted, bellowed, threatened, and cried out to the audience. In truth, he did all of these rather well and convincingly in the ring which may have prepared him for his “other job” as an actor who is seen regularly in various television series and of course, in a number of recent feature films. The television in our house was tuned to one of the Law And Order shows one evening as I walked through the living room and my eye was drawn to the screen. I found myself stating, “I know that guy! Gee he looks familiar” and of course, it was Ted Arcidi, playing the part of a building superintendent. It was a small part but he played it well and of course, others must agree as he regularly augments his primary business income with that from various and regular acting jobs.


ted_arcidi_the_fighter

Ted, in a scene from The Fighter with Melissa Leo who won an Academy Award for her role in the movie.

Ted’s successful Manchester, New Hampshire gym, equipment supply company, and supplement sales business have a wonderful reputation for excellent service and products. Thus, no matter what my opinion was in 1985 or what it is now relative to who should wear the mantle of “World’s Best Bench Presser,” Ted Arcidi will remain a favorite of many fans, remain the best in the eyes of some, and has by all measures, been extremely successful.