Larry Pacifico - Old School Powerlifting Gran Maestro

Larry Pacifico was the dominant powerlifter of the 1970s. He set 54 world records and captured nine straight world championships. Only political intrigue and injury kept him from winning more. Short and athletic, Larry stood 5-5 and had been a high school gymnast. Even at the peak of his power career, Larry could walk on his hands and do a standing backflip. He was capable of this type of athleticism even when weighing 220 + pounds. He once (allegedly) injured himself backstage at a power competition performing a round-off back handspring in front of a gaggle of gob-smacked powerlifters, men so muscled-up that they couldn’t scratch the middle of their backs on a bet or touch their toes without ripping a hamstring.

In competition, Larry Pacifico had an aggressive personality. He was very much taken with Muhammad Ali and Ali’s smack talk. Once at the national championships, he wandered over to my training partner, the fearsome Mark Dimiduk (undercover DC narc) who was competing against Larry in the 220-pound class, “Hey Mark!” He yelled in front of a bunch of hard-ass lifters, “You look in shape – too bad you travelled all this way to finish 4th! Ha Ha Ha!”

Dimiduk packed a .380 Berretta in an ankle holster with every step he took in life. He stared at Pacifico with his dead, lifeless shark eyes, debating whether to give Pacifico the beating of his life; just like the ones he regularly administered to drug-bust perps on his midnight shift in the DC stick-up zone around 14th and U Street. Dimiduk was a professional street fighter and an ass-beater par excellence. The beatific Don Mills stepped in and cooled Dimiduk down.

On another occasion, Larry Pacifico thought his long-running feud with a rival topflight lifter might get out of hand, this backstage at one of Larry’s national championship competitions. I was standing with Mark Challiet (who had mentored under Larry) when Larry rolled up and said, “Mark, if ­­­­­­­­­________   gets in my face, watch my back. If he ties into me, take him down!” Mark stood up, cracked his knuckles and nodded. Thank God that never went down. The guy Larry wanted Mark to take down had been the US Army freestyle wrestling champion.

Larry Pacifico was a two-fisted American entrepreneur who, along with his brother Dick, put on the greatest powerlifting competitions in the history of the sport. These incredible strength festivals held at the Dayton Convention Center; a beautiful facility connected by skywalk to the excellent meet hotel. The competitions were run with swiss-watch efficiency. Larry had his people pick lifters up at the airport and top lifters got airfare paid and free rooms.

They had a $12 lobster buffet on Sunday at the posh hotel restaurant. One year, Larry imported Klaus, the blind Hammond B-3 organ player from Austria. Klaus would get the packed house rocking playing Groove Holmes soul riffs between lifts. That same year Larry had a steam table buffet set up next to the lifting. Women with hair nets sold heaping platefuls of delicious American diner food. A bottle of beer cost a dollar. It was powerlifting Valhalla.

As a lifter, Larry Pacifico was the last and best of the old school high volume/high intensity trainers. Larry thought nothing of training his balls off 3-4 times a week, handling incredible poundage, body-breaking poundage, in every session, then recovering quicky and doing it again and again and again. He trained heavy, hard, and often, world without end. He trained continually, this while living an incredibly busy and demanding life. His frequency bordered on obsessive-compulsive yet, when a competition occurred, he routinely exceeded his massive training poundage by a country mile.

For example, before the Bob Moon memorial meet in 1978, the most Larry handled in the bench press was 530 for a triple (mind-blowing for a raw 220 bencher) yet in competition he bench-pressed a staggering 570. To this day, a 470-pound bench press is a fantastic raw bench press for a world-class 220-pound lifter. 570? Raw? In 1978? Mind blowing in 2020. Pacifico was no one-lift specialist.

He would have similar performance leaps in the barbell squat: before the Bob Moon meet, the most he squatted was 735 for a double in training – yet he hit 800 in competition. Larry was a “meet lifter,” a natural extrovert, like Kirk Karwoski, he drew energy from an audience and used that energy to exceed realistic expectations.

From 1970 to 1986 Larry Pacifico religiously logged and notated every single lifting session. He would also write a post-competition review after every competition. He created a book, Champion of Champions, a compilation of his training diary and blow-by-blow reportage of his competitions. This is a book of numbers. If you are a coach and speak the idiom, it makes for fascinating reading. You see his mind work. Like a scientist, he makes tweaks and changes, I followed his inflight corrections and observed that he had a thoughtfulness to his brutality.

Since I speak and read fluent powerlifting, for me, the book was a treasure-trove, a guidebook on how the greatest power volume trainer of all time did it – exactly, precisely. I might be the only man on the planet to have read this book twice. Allow me to walk you through a typical week of training with Larry. We start on Monday, July 12th, 1978. Pacifico takes seven workouts over the next 10-days. The sets and poundage listed were done after Larry had completed the appropriate warm-up sets for the squat, bench press and deadlift. As you read, keep in mind this was a 220-pound man…

 

July 12th Squat   615x2, 670x2, 700x2 Bench press 325x6 four sets, 415x3, 510x2. Tricep press E-Z curl bar 325x3 three sets
July 14th Deadlift 615x2, 685x1, 735x1. Pulldowns 4 sets of 8 Shrugs 425x8 three sets, row 245x6.  Tricep prones 210x4, 225x4, 235x4 two sets
July 16 Squat 615x2, 705x2, 725x1 Bench press 415x4, 505x3, 530x3, 415x16(!)
July 18th Chins 4x10, row 245x5, 315x4 Shrug 315x10 two sets wrist curls 4x12
July 19th Squat 615x2, 685x2, 725x1 Bench press 415x4, 505x3
July 20th Deadlift isometric pulls:  two levels Four pulls, six seconds per pull
July 22nd Deadlift 615x2, 700x2, 700x1 Row 245x5 3 sets, chin 3x10, pulldown 4x10

At an August 6th competition, Larry Pacifico squatted 800, bench pressed 570, deadlifted 740 weighing 220

  • squatted & bench pressed three times in 10 days – always paired squat and bench
  • deadlifted and performed his lying tricep presses twice in 10 days
  • used a wide range of “assistance exercises” – note – lots of triceps, no curls, none, zero
  • squat and deadlift, low reps 1 or 2 reps; bench 4,3,2,1reps – note 415 x 16 reps!

Mark Chaillet mentored under Larry Pacifico and related that Larry had a huge appetite for food. Mark said Larry could eat three steak dinners for lunch at Sizzler Steak house. It took a lot of calories for Pacifico to push his bodyweight up to his massive maximum. At 235-pounds bodyweight he raw bench pressed 600-pounds. Larry was a good deadlifter, a great squatter, and the best bench presser in the world (along with Mike McDonald and Mel Hennessy.) In competition, Larry would squat with the leaders before blowing away the rest of the world by 100-pounds in the bench press. He had a good deadlift, and for a decade his three-lift total was untouchable.

Powerlifters Larry Pacifico, Joe Ladiner and Fred Hatfield Powerlifters (left to right) Larry Pacifico, Joe Ladiner and Fred Hatfield

 

Larry Pacifico, Joe Ladiner and Fred “Dr. Squat” Hatfield stand backstage after competing in the 220-pound class at the 1984 nationals. Larry still has on his deadlift suit. Joe was 20-years old at the time. Fred squatted 880 weighing 220 at this meet. I was with Mark Chaillet talking to these guys when this photo was taken.

I think much of Pacifico’s dominance lay in his inherent athletic ability, his great natural structural leverages for benching and squatting, his tremendous work ethic, a stupendous ability to recover – and his big brain. He was a student that learned and adapted. One huge take away for me: though he trained a lot, his reps were always low, singles and doubles in the squat and deadlift. In the bench press, he would work up to a 4,3 or 2 rep set.  The notable exception being when, at the end of the bench workout on July 16th – and after benching 505 for a triple and 530 for a triple, he hit 405 for 16 reps!

Are there any “Larry Lessons” for the 2020 trainee?

Do you have the hunger for low-rep squatting and benching twice a week? Now add to that weekly heavy single and double rep deadlifts. Plus, quite a bit of assistance work: tricep extensions, pulldowns, rows, chins, shrugs, wrist curls, etc.

Are you ready and willing to fire down the requisite calories needed to establish anabolism and accelerate recovery? If you do not fire down copious calories you will not survive. Can you take power naps and get great sleep? Can you stay hungry for big eating and big weights (relatively speaking) all the time? It takes a certain type of man with a certain type of situation and certain motivation to cope with this degree of continual pounding.

This type of training – volume and intensity – traces its roots back to Paul Anderson, Marvin Eder, Doug Hepburn, Reg Park, Norbert Schemansky, and all the other greats of the pre-steroid 1950s. Regular food (and lots of whole milk) is used to establish anabolism, the prerequisite to muscle growth, muscle growth being the prerequisite to strength and power gains.

His approach works: this is unquestionable. The question is – is the adherent willing to go to the outer limits needed to survive the severity of the pounding? If not, give Larry’s volume/intensity approach a wide berth. Larry’s book, Champion of Champions is a handbook of fanaticism. Unfortunately, in 2020 this oldest of old school approaches seems doomed to exile on the Island of Broken Toys, effective yet ignored.

 

 

RAW with Marty Gallagher, J.P. Brice and Jim Steel Podcast RAW with Marty Gallagher, J.P. Brice and Jim Steel Podcast

 

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 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 here.