For many years I have been aware that there existed some grainy, low-light video tape, raw footage of six-time world champion, seven-time national champion, world record holder Kirk Karwoski strolling around, shirtless, ripped and massive, back in his awesome prime. I had seen the ancient VHS format tape numerous times over these many years on my countless visits to Kirk’s home in suburban Washington DC.
Several times a year I trek down from the Catoctin mountains in south central Pennsylvania to visit Karwoski, one of the most wonderfully unpredictable people on the face of the earth. God broke, dropped or purposefully shattered the mold after he made Kirk. I travel the 100 miles, arrive early in the morning and spend the day. I spend the night and then head back home early the next morning.
Our routine was pretty much always the same. Eat good food (Kirk is an excellent cook) have some adult beverages and watch ancient weightlifting videos for hours – with his priceless commentary. Predictably, around 9 pm I’d pass out. I’d get up at my usual 4 am and drive home before the insane DC traffic jams commenced.
Amongst his extensive video lifting collection is the infamous “Beach Video” shot in 1994 in Ocean City Maryland. Kirk was the 28-years old IPF world champion in the 275-pound class. It was a transitory time for Kirk and there was more stress then usual in his life. He told me that he was having a terrible time trying to keep his bodyweight over 260. I said, hey, why fight it? Go down to 242 and blow everyone’s mind. His eyes lit up; he loved the idea.
Keep in mind Kirk had won his first USPF national championship as a superheavyweight and was the defending 275-pound champion. If he won a national championship at 242 he would join a tiny club of men that had won national championships in three different weight classes. As we mulled over the scheme, I mentioned to him the current world records.
I told him he could shatter the world record in the squat and had a great chance to exceed John Kuc’s 2,204-pound three-lift total world record, a mark that had stood untouched since 1980.
By June of 1994, the secret plan was in motion. Prior to the USPF national championships in July, where he would make his surprise debut at 242, Kirk took a tune-up meet, this a week before he hit the beach.
The Saturday before the beach video was shot, Kirk guest lifted in a local Maryland meet. Weighing 254-pounds Kirk squatted 925, bench pressed 545 and deadlifted 760 pounds for a 2,230 total. Kirk also locked out an 800-pound deadlift. The barbell popped out of his hands just as the referee was giving him the down signal. Now the question became, could he retain this level of strength while losing another 12-pounds of bodyweight?
After the competition Kirk had a week off from training and decided to hit the beach with his buddies. One of his boys had a video camera. Kirk was looking freaky. His pal followed Kirk around and shot video in a variety of situations that showed the penultimate powerlifter at his physical peak. Oddly, his best body parts, his 32-inch shredded thighs and 20-inch calves were covered throughout. With his outsized legs covered in all the videos, all attention was on his torso. Viewed from front, side or back, he was past freaky, he was a muscled-up super freak.
I was paid to interview the world’s best bodybuilders and write contest results from my front row seat at the Arnold and Olympia. I was not a man easily bowled over by some local yokel that thinks they’re the next Dorian. When it came to accessing bodies, I was not a guy who just fell off the bodybuilding potato truck.
I had seen the best bodybuilders in the world, up close and personal. And having said that, Karwoski at his peak outdid the best bodybuilders in the world – in body part comparisons. For bodybuilding, Kirk’s skeletal framework worked against him: wide hips helped make him a great squatter yet created a block physique instead of the classic bodybuilding V-taper.
Kirk not only a freaky thickness, he also had a low body fat percentile. His arms and legs, his limbs, were incredible. His legs were better than those of any current IFBB pro. His arms when relaxed measured 20-inches with 17-inch relaxed forearms. Not that his chest and back were bad, but his legs and arms were otherworldly.
Many beach episodes had to be left on the cutting room floor. Still, the few grainy images that survive reveal the multi-time world champion and world record holder in incredible condition. On one shirtless stroll down the board walk, a stunned passerby was heard to say, gawking at Kirk, “Who shaved that ape???” Kirk said, “It was a proud moment for me. All my hard work recognized.”
Then there is the kitchen scene that is blowing up the internet. In it, Kirk, after a long day, is seen shirtless in the kitchen of the beach condo. Without a hint of irony. Karwoski proceeds to mix a packet of MET-Rx with a 12-ounce Coors beer in blender. While blending the hideous mixture his back is to the camera in a tight, up-close. Every inch of his unpumped, completely cold back is swollen with muscle. His back muscles ripple as he fixes his drink.
His erectors are python-like and deep, his lats hang like slabs of beef, his traps touch his ears. He turns back to the camera and guzzles the mixture. Just another day in the life of Kirk, the first rock star powerlifter.
At the USPF national championships that July, Karwoski weighed in at 240-pounds and was so shredded his glutes had cuts. I coached him per usual. He started things off by atomizing the world record in the squat. He positively crushed Dan Wolheber’s 871-pound squat record, a record that had stood for ten years when he squatted an astounding 914-pounds. He backed that up with a 518-pound bench press and deadlifted 760 to total 2,196, tantalizingly close to Kuc’s 2,204 total record. He dropped a 771-pound 3rdattempt deadlift (again after locking it out) that would have given him the total record.
It is too damned bad that more video wasn’t made of “The Captain” at his awesome peak. Even these small glimpses are incredibly cool: episodic bus stops in life chock full of adventure. This tape is a tiny snapshot in time, another episode, one of hundreds Kirk engaged in on his iconic episodic athletic quest. He lived large. He led an amazing life. I know, I was there with a ringside seat.
Check out Kirk’s Cadet to Captain DVD that traces his athletic achievements, available through IRON COMPANY.
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About the Author
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 numerous 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 here.