Mark Chaillet - Occam’s Unknowing Disciple - Strength Training Minimalism article by Marty Gallagher at IRON COMPANY

Mark Chaillet - Occam’s Unknowing Disciple

Dare to do less!

Occam’s proof: Mark Chaillet (above) pulls 800-pounds weighing 220 at age 20: note veins on his delts and pecs. Mark was my training partner for six years. He was a deadlift grand maestro, a world champion and world record holder. Mark eventually pulled 880. He was the all-time master of minimalism.

"The simplest solution is most likely the right one." but only if results match. Occam's razor suggests that when presented with competing hypotheses that make the same predictions or produce the same results, select the solution with the fewest assumptions and fewest moving parts.

In April of 1985 Mark Challiet was the current world record holder in the barbell deadlift. He had pulled 865-pounds (weighing 271) the previous June. It was Thursday and the workout began at 4 pm sharp. On this day Chaillet, who stood 5-9, weighed an athletic 280-pounds. He had the widest shoulders and the largest hands I have ever seen on a man that height. He was lean, with no belly, monstrous muscles, yet hard as a diamond. With his long arms, oversized hands, freaky wide back, huge head and short legs, Mark looked positively simian, a human Silver Back.

A good-looking man, an athlete, Mark Chaillet was no shrinking violet, Mark was an uber-alpha male that would have been successful as a Hell’s Angel chapter president, prison gang leader, Tier 1 spec ops fighter or mob enforcer. Author (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) Ken Kesey once asked Hell’s Angel founder Sonny Barger how they “picked” Hell’s Angels. “We don’t pick ‘em – we recognize them!” Sonny retorted. Barger would have recognized Chaillet in a heartbeat.

Mark Chaillet was closer to me than a brother for a long period of time. His whole family, dad Buck, mom, sister and brother Ray “recognized” and embraced me. When I first met Mark, he was a college student. At the 1977 collegiate national championships he weighed 220 and deadlifted 800. The photo at the top of this article was taken on that day. It is a photo of him deadlifting the 800-pounds needed to win the national title, this after coming back from a 70-pound deficit.

The other lifters in the 220-pound class were so far ahead of Mark after the squat and bench press that they forgot all about him. They were shocked stupid when he asked for 800-pounds, 100-pounds more than anyone of his eighteen 220-class opponents had deadlifted. Mark ripped the 800 off the floor. It slowed at the knees, his sticking point. His hip-hinge kicked in and Mark pulled the ponderous poundage to lockout. Elation turned to rage when the lift was turned down. Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

In powerlifting, every lift is judged by three referees. Two out of three need agree that a lift has no disqualifying technical flaws. Two judges “felt” that on Mark’s 800 the power bar velocity had stalled. Stopping is a legitimate cause for disqualification, slowing or stalling is not. Very subjective – and while Mark’s lift might have slowed, it might have stalled, it did NOT stop.

The silver lining in this black cloud day was powerlifting God Larry Pacifico (nine-time world champion) was at the meet and after seeing Mark in action offered him an apprenticeship. Mark would move to Dayton and study under Larry for several years. Mark worked as a manager in one of Larry’s gyms and trained with Larry and Eric Von Stuber and the other Dayton super lifters.

Mark Chaillet moved back to Maryland in 1980 and opened Chaillet’s Gym in Temple Hills. The gym was the hardest of the hardcore, a power palace that generated national and world champions on a regular and routine basis. When Mark’s gym opened, our training group (myself, Marshall Peck, Joe Ferry) began training at Mark’s gym. We had trained together in Cassidy’s basement for five years and our move to Mark’s was with Hugh Cassidy’s blessing.

On this particular Thursday, Mark Challiet was five weeks “out” from the national powerlifting championships. I was Mark’s coach. He and I devised his training schedule. For twelve weeks, twice a week, we’d gather to train. Monday was squat and bench day. Thursday was deadlift day. These sessions were not open to the public: those that made the cut could attend and participate.

On a typical Thursday twenty + deadlifters would show up to lift on one of three adjacent weightlifting platforms, all in the same sunlit room on the second floor over the auto-parts store. On platform #1 would be those that had deadlifted up to 550-pounds. On platform #2 was the 550 to 700 club. The main deadlift platform was elevated. Platform #3 sat in the center of Chaillet’s gym, like the altar it was. This was the 700 + platform.

There would be a half-dozen of us lifting with Mark Chaillet on the big platform. One Thursday in the mid-eighties I counted fourteen guys, locals, gym members, men that had pulled 700 or more in competition: myself, Mark, brother Ray, Graham, Markovich, Don Mills, Joe Povinale, Joe F., Marshall, Frank Neicter, Frank Hottendorf, Jeff B., Rooney and Mark Dimiduk.

We all used the same deadlift style, a technique invented by world champion Hugh Cassidy. Our collective style was a narrow-stance, upright, conventional deadlift technique that used a lot of leg power to break the bar from the floor. Hugh Cassidy passed his well-thought-out technique along to his senior students, all of whom later became national and world champions: Dimiduk, Chaillet, Don Mills and me. We spread the word further.

Mark Chaillet would deadlift wearing his lifting singlet and his white wrestling shoes. To my eternal aggravation he was always on the telephone. Mark talked on the telephone more than a 15-year old cheerleader. The portable phone, then a new invention, was a technological wonder: how was it possible to talk over a phone that didn’t have a curly cord coming off the receiver?

Mark Chaillet had a giant ass “portable” phone the size of a cigar box. It had a three-foot antenna. He would wander around the gym, oblivious to anyone and everyone, having the most incredible phone conversations with god-knows-who about god-knows-what. I wanted to grab it and throw it out the window.

At 4 pm sharp on Monday he’d hang up the phone, flatten the antenna and walk to the lifting platform for his first set of deadlifts, a triple with 255-pounds: two gold 100-pound weight plates on a 45-pound power bar with a pair of 5-pound barbell collars. He pulled this without fanfare. Between sets he’d sit backwards on a folding chair and watch the others lift, offering comment and exhortations.

Five minutes after his first warm-up with 255, he took his second warm-up with 455 (four 100's) for another quick triple. Five minutes later we’d “chip it,” add another pair of 100 lb. barbell plates, now six gold hundreds, bar + collars = 655. Mark pulled this for a single explosive rep.

Forged Passion Leather Power Belt
Forged Passion Leather Power Belt

Five minutes later he took another warmup, 735 x 1, again, effortless. He waited his usual 5-minutes for his final warm-up: 785, again for a single. He was on and ready. As was his habit when hitting his top set, when ready he’d stand up, cinch his custom-made weightlifting belt, chalk his hands and have me or brother Ray pop an ammonia popper under his nose.

He’d inhale the hideous vapors and let out three successively louder stentorian bellows. He’d then turn, stride to the barbell and without fanfare rip it to completion. Mark manhandled 835 for a crisp explosive single rep. He was done for the day. He had done six sets of deadlifts for a grand total of ten reps. That would be the entirety of his back work for the week: he only did three exercises per week and only did them once a week.

Mark Chaillet would do no other assistance work. None, zero, nada. No back-off sets or back down sets, no arm work, no shoulder or ab work, no nothing. As soon as he was done with his top single for the session, the training session was over.  He’d immediately jump back on his portable phone. No, he wasn’t injured or debilitated. Here was his secret: though he was very good at it, Mark didn’t like to lift weights all that much.

His Thursday workout was no aberration: on Monday he’d work up to a single rep in the squat and a single rep in the bench press. Done! Altogether, Chaillet might perform a total of 30-reps per week, cumulative. He eventually squatted a below parallel 1,000 lbs with an old school George Zangas squat suit and lousy 1st generation Inzer knee wraps. Mark benched 540 and deadlifted 880.  His best lifts were done weighing 275-pounds.

Mark Chaillet showed me how little could be done – yet still obtain optimal results.

The plan was to hit every preplanned periodized rep and poundage target for twelve straight weeks. All that matters are that the lifter hit the weekly periodized goal. Who cares what strategy is used? If you made all the weekly goals for 12 straight weeks performing 30-reps a week, spike the ball, you’re the winner! You don’t have to live in the gym to win titles and set records – and grow gargantuan.

Most turn their lives upside down to obtain the muscle and strength results Chaillet came by with so little training. Schwarzenegger performed over 700-sets a week to obtain his size and strength. Do we need to live in the gym in order to attain sensational gains? Mark didn’t.

Occam’s razor states that if two methods deliver the same results (world championships and world records,) select the simpler method, the method with fewer moving parts, the method that takes less time.

You can’t have fewer moving parts than Chaillet’s three-exercise training menu of (mainly) single-rep sets. You can’t train less than once a week (zero times a week?) and you can’t spend less time training and achieve as much as Mark Chaillet. What made it all work was his off-the-charts intensity and his relentless consistency. Despite his handling gargantuan poundage, the training weights were extremely conservative and realistic for him. He very, very rarely missed a training rep.

Mark Chaillet, unknowingly, was the ultimate personification of Occam’s ideal of sparse effectiveness. Mark was Occam’s finest adherent without knowing who the 13th century monk was. Chaillet was way too bright to be called an idiot savant, yet he devised something that was the ultimate in sparse, efficient effectiveness. He found the nucleus of the power and strength atom: it was unintended genius. Dare to do less!

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 - 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.