Sutherland and More
One of the enjoyable aspects of writing this series of articles for Pete Alaniz and Titan Support Systems is the feedback and correspondence generated from lifters I have not seen nor heard from in decades. My inauspicious career in strength related competition, one limited to and marked by a few local titles and a lot of enthusiastic participation in close to one hundred contests over a twenty-five-plus year period, allowed for contact with many individuals. My monthly column in Powerlifting USA Magazine and numerous articles that appeared there and in all of the major muscle building publications from 1969 through the present day, always kept me “in touch” with what was going on. Yet, some of the men and women who have been taken with this current series of articles have brought back even more memories.
In Part Seventeen, I talked about the introduction of the electrically adjustable squat racks made by Jim Sutherland. There is no doubt in my mind that zero percent of today’s active lifters know who he is or what he brought to our sport and its just as true that in the early 1980’s, very few were aware that some of the important changes in equipment design came from his fertile mind. As an example, every manufacturer of what is termed an Olympic Bench Press, and to us as lifters, is simply, “the bench,” has a spotter’s platform. When these were introduced there was an improved safety aspect for lifter and spotter, especially the shorter spotters such as myself. However, “the reach” in handing the bar to the lifter still produced some back strain and awkwardness with heavy weights and could be dangerous once the bar poundage exceeded 500. I had an Iron Island Gym lifter who insisted that I hand off his bench presses. I truly didn’t think I did a better job than anyone else and again, once the weight hit the 450-500 mark I can’t say I would have picked myself for this task, but he was adamant that I provide the hand off as he believed this allowed him to do his best. In short, I did not trust myself to do the safest or most efficient job possible. I mentioned this to Jim one day and he simply said, “I have a solution to that” and he made a bench for us that had a walk-through spotter’s platform. Every bench up to this point in time, no doubt because “it was the way it was always done,” had support braces that prevented the spotter from having the option of literally walking the bar over the lifter’s chest. Jim’s new design allowed any spotter, short or tall, to stand anywhere from head to almost waist level on the lifter, and control the bar. This was a very simple design adjustment yet one that enhanced the safety of the exercise significantly. No one gives the now-standard walk-through spotters platforms a passing thought, yet Jim was the first in the industry to provide this sorely needed advantage.
The late and great Wayne Bouvier
The great Larry Pacifico squats on one of Jim’s electric racks
The original Jim Sutherland Electric Squat Rack
The Sutherland Electric Squat Rack as sold by Universal
The great bomb proof benches being produced were turning up not only at area high schools, but also in some of the major university weight rooms. Collegiate strength coaches were just becoming the norm in the Midwest and one viewing of Jim’s equipment brought a great deal of business. This was not lost on the owners and managers of the Universal Kidde Company. Almost every high school in the nation had some form of Universal strength training device by the mid-1970’s. Based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Universal produced strength training and fitness products, and the most highly regarded wrestling mats in the country if not the world. Universal Resilite matting was the norm for almost all high schools, colleges, and wrestling facilities. Joining forces with Kidde, the manufacturers of gymnastics equipment, gave Universal a stranglehold on a very large share of the fitness industry institutional business and they made a decision to expand their weight training offerings. Noting from afar the work that Jim was doing, they set their sites on bringing him into the fold and Jim’s Universal Heavy Metal line changed the face of the industry.
Be sure to come back January 1st 2010 to read installment #19 of Dr. Ken’s “History of Powerlifting Series”