Nature abhors a strength vacuum. The death of Olympic weightlifting gives rise to Powerlifting
Featured Equipment: Olympic barbell, squat bar, power rack
I stayed in the old neighborhood with a friend. When I turned 18, for some miraculous reason the government started sending me small monthly checks. Something to do with the death of my mother; regardless, for the next five years I was given a monthly stipend, enough in those days to cover the rent and still have leftover beer money. This was fortuitous and gave me great freedom. I hated school and had been such a bad student that I flunked off the football team not once but twice, two years in a row. This cost me college scholarships and sent my father into orbit. I didn’t care because I had NO intention of going to college. This was the late 60s and there was a counterculture explosion in music and culture taking place and I burned to see the wider world. My buddy let me stay for free in his basement, which I did until I got asked if I wanted to join a commune in downtown DC. Sure. I was bored with suburbia.
The commune was a four-story row house in northwest DC a few blocks off DuPont Circle. The building had 22 rooms and housed between 10 and 20 college-aged kids at any one time. Everyone chipped in $75 a month and that included one meal a day. There was a cluster of communes in DC in 1969, at least a dozen in a two mile square area; each had a theme: there was the Free Press commune, the SDS commune, ours was the Art commune on account of most of the 18-24 year old inhabitants attended art school. I loved my commune time, on the dole, drinking quarts of beer and smoking weed every day by noon, no cares. Lots of beautiful hippie art waifs that thought I was exciting and exotic compared to the tame Beta-males that inhabited the “art house”. I was extra popular on account of I could cook and cook I did: making killer mac and cheese and cheeseburgers (with government cheese) for 15 people, fried chicken and in the winter thick brown stews made with cheap meat and vegetables. I was a hero.
I took up with the languid, luscious and lustful Frankie Bunch, a voluptuous natural blonde that liked the same things I did and was as physical as I was. She eventually moved back to Baltimore and I eventually got restless and when a pal said he was moving to Portland Oregon and would I like to go, I said, sure, why not. I had actually moved an Olympic barbell into the basement of the commune and had intended on competing at the 1969 teenage nationals, my last eligible year. But circumstance, mainly the fact that I would have to fly to the competition, stay in a hotel and spend money, all conspired to make me miss my final teen competition. I arrived in Portland in 1969 and rented a house in southeast Portland. As it turns out, the house was right around the corner from Sam Loprinzi’s famous hardcore gym. I joined just in time to see Ken Patera, one of the world’s greatest Olympic weightlifters get thrown out.
On my third day training at Loprinzi’s, the guys were atwitter when I walked in: Ken was going to squat; the barbell was loaded to 385 when the massive Patera, 6-foot, a rock-hard 300 pounds, strolled out of the locker room, wordlessly adjusted his horn-rim glasses, stepped under the squat bar, un-racked the weight, stepped backwards, set up and prepared to squat – he then proceeded to press the 385-pound weight behind his neck overhead for three reps. Our minds were blown. He walked away from the power rack, nonchalant. A week later I was informed Ken had be excommunicated, kicked out for dropping yet another 450-pound barbell from overhead. Sam lived upstairs above the gym and had warned Patera repeatedly. Ken became one of the top three Olympic weightlifters in the world and while he was a giant step behind the world’s greatest lifter, Vasily Alekseev, he was better than the other great superheavyweight lifters of the day, Belgium’s Serge Redding and West Germany’s Rudolph Mang, who was my age.
Ken was the greatest American overhead presser in history, posting an official world record of 505; he had a best training press of 523. In 1972 the International Weightlifting Federation eliminated the press. Those lifters for whom the press was their best lift, like me, like Patera, felt betrayed. I quit Olympic lifting and slowly drifted into the emerging sport of powerlifting. After three years, I got bored with Oregon, my local pals had all moved on or moved away. So I relocated back to Washington DC. I took a job as a pump jockey at a gas station and reconnected with world powerlifting champion Hugh Cassidy when I spied a blurb in the ‘upcoming events’ section of the Washington Post mentioning that world Powerlifting champion Hugh Cassidy would be putting on a seminar in College Park, Maryland. I decided to attend. Little did I suspect this meeting would change my life and give me direction and purpose.
60’s “whole body” thrice-weekly training split
High volume, high intensity, high frequency, high calorie...
These sessions would take roughly two hours to complete; the idea was simple, in every exercise, work up to a single all out set with low to medium reps, then move on. There would be some slight changes in exercises, session to session. Results were logged but no sophisticated preplanning was done. Each session was approached with the idea of exceeding previous best efforts. We trained hard, long, frequently and in addition, played sports and had great cardio capacity. We were fit athletes and massive caloric intake was needed to recover and survive from the continual pounding.
Olympic press, 5-rep top set, power snatch, 3-rep top set; power clean, 5-rep top set; jerk out of the rack, triple; back squat, 5-rep top set; bench press, 5-rep top set; barbell row, 6-8 rep top set; cheat curl, 8-10 rep top set; weighted dips, 6-8 reps set
Strict military press, 5-rep top set; hang snatch, 5-rep set; squat clean and jerk, triple; bench press, narrow grip, 5-rep set; front squat, 5-rep set; deadlift, triple; row, 5-rep set; dumbbell curls, 8-10 reps; triceps nose breakers, 6-8 rep
Press, snatch, clean and jerk and deadlift, work up to a single rep; back squat, triple; bench press, triple; pull-ups, to failure; standing dumbbell curl, 8-10 rep top set, overhead triceps press, 6-8 rep top set
This is a lot of work. On every exercise, warm-up sets are required before tackling the all out “top set.” Essentially, you push or pull your guts out on the top set of each and every exercise. We were young and had blazing fast metabolisms on account of our continual athletic activities. All through high school I would purchase three school lunches (total: $1.00) plus four supplemental pints of whole milk to augment the three that came with my three lunches. I was famous in the lunchroom and others would drop by the jock table to make food offerings to me. For three straight years I fell dead asleep in whatever class followed lunch.
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.