Specialization Part Three
With what is my consistent and ongoing complaint about the state of affairs in the game of football, I utilized the installment of two month’s ago to begin another foray into a heated area of powerlifting discussion.
Historical photos of the San Diego Chargers bench pressing at training camp in 1963. Two points of interest are marked by these small, low tech photos: Keeping the prevalent perspective of the day on the bench press, the exercise description in the strength manual is buried towards the back, not the front of the program and exercise description. The exercise description itself states, “The bench press exercise is excellent for increasing arm, shoulder, and chest strength. It will assist defensive players in holding off blockers.” As offensive players could not extend their arms away from the body, the exercise itself was less important to execute the blocking techniques of the era. However, the bench press was and is “excellent for increasing arm, shoulder, and chest strength” but it is far from the “primary movement” the bench press became by the 1970′s. Even for powerlifters, the sage wisdom of Reverend Robert Zuver who founded Zuver’s Hall Of Fame Gym Powerlifting Team rang true in three-lift competition: “The effort put into increasing the bench press by twenty-five pounds could instead result in a gain of fifty pounds in the squat or deadlift.” All of this was lost to bench press mania and the soaring popularity of the lift.
As it has been, the dialogue and debate has related to “three lifts versus one-lift.” From the moment that one-lift contests became popular, and for the sake of clarity, the overwhelming majority of one-lift contests are to no lifter’s surprise, bench press meets, the arguments began. From the moment the arguments began, they were vociferous, constant, and now, reach back decades. That the arguments did not prevent bench press meets from becoming not only popular but prevalent indicates just how pervasive the “bench press mentality” truly is. It isn’t as if I have been the only one to notice this rather obvious state of affairs. One lifter wrote:
Thanks Ken…this column is another winner! How many shoulders have been totaled by the ubiquitous Bench Press obsession? The shoulder stress from combining the rigors of playing football and over emphasis on the Bench Press is tremendous. Thanks for sharing more wisdom.
Another, the always insightful and humorous Pat Susco noted:
….another great article that makes you go HMMM ……one only has to go to Brooklyn – ( the borough of churches AND gyms ) and since the days of it being the home of the original Olympia (Brooklyn Academy of Music) see everyone training / wearing xxl tee-shirts yet be able to wear size 28 designer jeans ! In fact at one show, Billy “Superstar” Graham entered, posed AND won best arms/most muscular – wearing pants !
I used this column last month to bemoan the demise of the print edition of POWERLIFTING USA MAGAZINE, a touchstone in my athletic existence and a great source of enjoyment for me both as a reader and one of its authors. As a PLUSA editor and an early 1980′s National Athletes’ Representative, I had the advantage of constant communication with many of the administrators and lifters involved in our sport. Even without the ease of the internet and electronic mail, my columns, although not always examples of great literary execution, were usually “out ahead of things” because I knew what the men and women of the sport were thinking or complaining about. Mike Lambert managed to insure that PLUSA was topical at all times, even though the absence of today’s rapid modes of communication meant that all articles and columns had to be written weeks if not months prior to publication dates and submitted at least three to four weeks prior to the magazine’s printing schedule. Though January of 1985 to one of my age seems as if it was no more than a few months past, it is in fact more than twenty-seven years ago. Yet, allow me to present excerpts from my column in that issue as it was perhaps the first public commentary on the expanding popularity and dominance of the bench press relative to the other competitive lifts. If I had been more intelligent and insightful, it could have served as an introduction and prediction to the trend that eventually became its own industry. Some of what was written included:
“It seems as if bench press fever has gripped the Powerlifting world of late. The current debate over who is the ‘Greatest Bencher’ was aggravating enough to me, but the spate of material in the popular muscle building press recently has really driven me over the top.”
“It’s bad enough that hordes of powerlifters overtrain the bench press, forget to do enough heavy squatting, have convinced the majority of football coaches that the bench press is THE appropriate strength test for gridders, and cause disproportionate development due to all of their bench related work, but many aspects of the current bench press ‘frenzy’ merely propagate the sideshow status that powerlifting has in a lot of circles.”
Much of the remainder of the column suggested criteria for judging the “Greatest Bench Presser” and I was clear that the “numbers” weren’t the bottom line. The column read, “…if its statistics you want, this entire thing would be easy. Jim Williams would be the greatest because that son of a gun lifted half the house in his day, and did it consistently. Bottom line is that he hoisted more pure lead than anyone else, before or since. …Although powerlifting purists like myself think its great that Jim also took the time and effort to train and compete well on the deadlift and squat too (which certainly gives his accomplishments more ‘respect’ for those of us who know how hard it is to break your organ under the squat bar and then head for the bench), competence in the other lifts should not be a factor in choosing the best bench presser.”
Big Jim Williams took the bench press to another level.
Decades after the conclusion of his Hall of Fame career, Johnny Unitas is still considered “The Greatest” by many fans and experts.