Gallagher’s GOAT - Top Ten Greatest Powerlifts Of All Time
Top Ten Greatest Powerlifts Of All Time
The hippest societal sport cliché is GOAT, the acronym for Greatest Of All Time. My natural instinct is to be dismissive and snide towards modern trends and cliches, including this particularly catchy phrase, GOAT. One of my training partners recently asked me, “Seriously Dude, if you were forced to identify the ten greatest powerlifts of all time – what would they be?” Here is my list, in more or less sequential order…
The Paul Anderson photo that created a technical archetype: Note depth, knees over ankles, vertical torso, barbell behind the knees. Hugh Cassidy adopted this as his technical archetype.
1. Paul Anderson squats 900 for reps raw: in 1965 Paul Anderson appeared at the Silver Spring Boys Club to put on an exhibition. He was on a thirty-city tour; the previous night he had been in Richmond and was to be in Philly the next night. His Silver Spring exhibition was just another whistle stop. I hitchhiked three miles and watched in the front row as Anderson, at his awesome physical peak, started the exhibition by clean and pressing 420. He power-cleaned the barbell effortlessly and blasted it overhead like it was made of paper Mache. At the time, the world record in the press was 418-pounds recently set by Soviet Leonid Zhabotinsky. He pressed between 420 and 450 at every one of thirty exhibitions. Paul then squatted 900-pounds for five effortless reps. He had no spotters. After pressing in combat boots, he shed the boots and worked up to 900x5 wearing socks. It was the most casual display of freaky strength I have ever seen.
Hugh Cassidy bottoms out with 775: note how similar his technique is compared to the Anderson archetype. Hugh changed one thing about the Anderson archetype – he purposefully stared at a spot on the floor ten feet ahead.
2. Hugh Cassidy squats 800 raw: in 1971 Hugh Cassidy squatted 800-pounds ass-on-heels without knee wraps, without any type of supportive apparel, with no lifting belt. Cassidy had given much thought to squat technique and built his squat style on the Paul Anderson archetype, i.e., squat as deep as possible on every rep, stay upright during descent and ascent, thereby making squats 100% about leg power. The Anderson/Cassidy squat technique stressed keeping the knees over the ankles with the knees pinned out throughout. Upon breaking at the knees, the squatter does not bend forward; upon breaking the knees the squatter sits back. Cassidy did zero leg assistance work: no leg presses, hack squats, front squats, or leg extensions, “Squats alone work best for me.” Narrow the exercise focus, stress technique. Cassidy reiterated the validity of Anderson’s initial squat discoveries.
Monster amongst humans: Jim Williams was massive, muscled-up, and athletic. This photo is a great representation of William’s physical stature compared to normal people.
3. Jim Williams bench presses 700 in 1971: Big Jim Williams was a genetic marvel that loved to bench press. Williams stood 6’ 3” and weighed a few biscuits shy of 400 lbs.. In a workout in the famous York Gym, he bench-pressed 700-pounds with a 2-second pause on the chest. Naysayers point out that Williams wore elbow wraps. I would counter that the 2-second pause on the chest (…one thousand and one, one thousand and two…PRESS!) was a far more serious impediment than wearing pathetic Ace Bandage elbow wraps. Williams was a world record holder in the squat and only his deadlift (low 700s) in a lift he never practiced kept him from world domination. Cassidy defeated Williams to win the first world powerlifting championship in 1971 by coming from 80-pounds behind to win the world title with a clutch 790-pound deadlift. Williams’ training partner was future hall-of-fame powerlifter John Kuc.
Lamar Gant shows how to deadlift 5-times his own bodyweight: he pulled 623 at 123-pounds and 688-pounds at 132. The secret to his 688-pull was his 600-pound squat. The only man to hold the World Record in all three lifts simultaneously.
4. Lamar Gant deadlifts 688-pounds weighing 132: Lamar Gant won 16 world championships. From age 16 onward, the mighty mite ruled the powerlifting world. At his peak, Gant, weighing a ripped to shreds 132-pounds, squatted 600-pounds, bench pressed 352 (raw, with a long pause) and deadlifted 688-pounds, an astounding 5.2 times bodyweight. Gant is the only man in history to deadlift 5 times bodyweight and he did that repeatedly. Gant was the only man in powerlifting history to simultaneously hold the world record in all three powerlifts. His 600-pound squat and 352-pound raw bench press were done by a man built all wrong for those two lifts. While his long arms and twisty spinal column worked to his advantage in the deadlift. He overcame in the bench with an incredible arch that turned the flat bench into a decline with a radically shortened rep stroke. His 600-pound squat was the key to his pull.
Mike McDonald, a 5-10-inch 180-pound man, is shown bench pressing 523-pounds, this after a long pause on the chest. I was there and saw it. To me, it was an iron miracle. Note – no real arch, no tricks, his arms were 16-inches.
5. Mike McDonald: the most unlikely looking world record holder I ever saw was Mike McDonald. In 1979 this 5-foot-10-inch, 180-pound-man bench pressed 523 pounds, this wearing a t-shirt, exhibiting no outward psyche and with a long pause. Mike’s arms could not have been more than 16-inches flexed. At his height, with his skinny body, weighing 180, I would have said there no way this guy could deadlift over 500 lbs., let alone bench press it?? Impossible! This was the frontend of a power career that saw McDonald bench press 550 in the 198-pound class, 580 as 220-pounder and 635 weighing a doughy 230-pounds. Mike was not a bench press specialist; he squatted 600 and deadlifted 650 in the 198-pound class. His world record setting battles with Larry Pacifico and Mel Hennessey were epic; these three 220-pound class lifters pushed the raw bench upward to just shy of 600-pounds. Mike was a physiologic impossibility.
Bill Kazmaier trimmed down from 330 to 305 to compete in strongman competition. He is shown at a Scottish Games competition chalking up before an event. His physique and athletic abilities defused his powerlifting focus.
6. Kaz breaks the 2400-pound barrier: Bill “Kaz” Kazmaier was a Division I football player that began concentrating on powerlifting in the mid-70s. He first appeared on the national powerlifting scene as a muscled-up 275-pound lifter. He attained superstardom when in an 18-month period he added 50-pounds of bodyweight and at 325-pounds posted all-time best lifts of 940-pound squat, 661-pound bench press a deadlift of 887-pounds. Kaz became the first man in history to post a three-lift total of 2,400-pounds. He could easily have improved on his historic marks had he focused solely on powerlifting. Kaz, with his incredible body, was seduced by professional football, pro wrestling, and strongman competition. His strongman battles with Jon Paul were the stuff of legend. I believe that Paul Anderson and Kaz (with apologies to Herman Goerner) were the strongest humans of the 20th century.
A rare photo of a young 20-year-old Dan Wohleber setting a world record squat in the 242-pound class. Dan was the first man in history to deadlift 900 – which he did one hour after squatting 960.
7. Dan Wohleber becomes the first man to deadlift 900-pounds: Dan Wohleber grew up hard on the hard streets of Cleveland. He wandered into John Black’s hardcore gym and as a 14-year-old deadlifted 405 for 15-reps. Black was gob smacked. The boy-child began training with the infamous Wild Bunch. He won the national title in 1982 in the 242-pound class beating my training partner, Mark Chaillet. Danny squatted a world record 871-pounds and backed it up with an 826-pound deadlift. Dan tore his left pectoral muscle clean off the bone, destroying his bench pressing for the remainder of his meteoric career. As a full-fledged 275-pound lifter, in 1980 Wohleber (5-10) shocked the world when he squatted 960 and that same day deadlifted 900-pounds. His two lift, squat/deadlift total of 1,860 (960+900) were unsurpassed for 14 years. Wohleber suffered a catastrophic, career-ending squat injury with 980-pounds.
The greatest squat technician of all-time: schooled and mentored by his Okie neighbor, world champion and world record holder, Dennis Wright, Doug Furnas Squatted this 986 in Hawaii with ease. Ernie Frantz is a spotter.
8. Furnas squats 986, first man to total 2400 twice: Doug Furnas was an elite athlete that grew up on a ranch and had wonderful genetics. A rodeo star as a youngster, nearly killed in a head-on auto collision at age 15, he used weights to rehab. His high school team won the state championship, his Junior College team won the national JC championship. Furnas headed to Tennessee where he was the starting fullback on a team the included Reggie White and Willie Gault. Chronic hamstring pulls ended his NFL career. He turned his full attention to powerlifting and within a year set his first world record. I competition coached Doug in Maui: he squatted 986 with ease and became (by far) the lightest man (the 4th) to crash the 2,400-pound total record. I worked with him six months later in Minnesota when he became the first man to total 2,400 twice. He then began a 20-year professional wrestling career.
I shot this photo in the mirror of the Maryland Athletic Club. Kirk Karwoski was finishing his deadlift workout with a set of thumbless shrugs to failure with 455 when I grabbed my Nikon F2 with a fast 35MM lens and 400 asa film
9. Karwoski doubles 1000, squats 800x5 raw: I was Kirk’s coach for a decade. He was a thick-boned, bottom-heavy youngster full of strut and swagger. It took many years for his performance to catch up to his ego. For a decade, he centered his life around the sole pursuit of improving. He worked hard to correct his symmetrical imbalances and built an upper body (600-pound raw bench press) to match his incredible legs. At his physical peak, he stood 5-7, weighed 275-pounds. He had 33-inch thighs under a six-pack laden 38-inch waist. He squatted 800 for five reps, every rep below parallel, wearing only a lifting belt and allowing himself one breath per rep. Four weeks later he squatted 1,000-pounds for a double weighing 275-pounds. He set IPF world records in the squat and total. Karwoski is the only man in history to win USPF national championships in three weight classes: 242, 275 and superheavyweight.
Ed Coan locks out 900-pounds weighing 219. The greatest powerlift of all time. Only Lamar Gant’s 688 pull at 132 could be compared. His 2,400 total was 300-pounds better than the 2nd best in the world. No athlete has ever been further ahead (15%!) of the competition.
10. Ed Coan deadlifts 900-pounds weighing 220; squats 1,000 weighing 240: I had a front row seat to Ed Coan’s greatest competitions. I was his competition coach when, weighing 219-pounds, Coan deadlifted 900 – this after squatting 965 – and totaled 2,400. That was, and remains, science fiction stuff. A few years later Coan pushed his bodyweight upward to 240-pounds: he squatted 1,000-pounds and totaled 2,461, the highest three-lift total anyone in history had recorded, regardless of bodyweight. Coan was (and is) a training genius who created a “power-bodybuilding” training template that saw him attack the core four lifts (the three powerlifts + the press-behind-the-neck) augmented with a wide range of “assistance exercises.” Ed got as strong as possible in the “off-season” wearing no supportive gear. He would enter the competitive cycle in shape and super strong. Genius. Coan is the GOAT of GOATS.
About the Author - Marty Gallagher
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher Biography for a more in depth look at his credentials as an athlete, coach and writer.