The Wisdom of Ed Coan: Part 1 - I am recruited by the King
Featured Strength Equipment: Olympic bar, barbell, squat bar, rubber gym mats, squat rack, weightlifting platform
Mark Chaillet and I made a good team. As lifter and coach we both improved as a result of the relationship. My coaching career began when I suffered a compound fracture of my left lower leg in 1983. That injury shattered not only my leg but also my big time competitive aspirations. The week of the accident, I had squatted 845-pounds on Monday at Mark's gym, this weighing 248. I felt I had a really good shot at breaking the then-current 242-pound class world record of 871. The Thursday following the 845 single, I took a "light" no gear squat session and worked up to (a sub-maximal) 705. Since it was "only" 700" I was squatting alone and without a spotter, this at a local neighborhood gym, not Chaillet's.
On my 2nd rep with 700, I was coming out of the hole and was about halfway erect when the Olympic bar slipped down my back. It was hot and I was sweaty, my t-shirt was soaked. The barbell broke out of the notch between my lower trap ridge and my flexed rear delts and started avalanching down my back. I readied myself to bail out, to toss the squat bar off my back and let it crash to the rubber gym mats loudly yet harmlessly behind my back. John, the owner of the gym, would be pissed at the noise but he would get over it.
Right as I was ready to launch, a good friend came rushing across the gym to save me. He grabbed me in a bear hug from behind inside the squat rack and tried to help stand me up. Instead, I lost my balance and we went down in a tangled heap: an uncontrolled 705-pound barbell obeys only gravity and it went straight down, as was its wont. My left lower leg didn't stand a chance; the bones were snapped like dry twigs. It was Emergency room time and Sayonara to the world record squat assault. It took me two years to fully recover from this horrific incident.
I wanted to stay in the game during my injury recovery period and did not want to become an official, so I got real serious about coaching. There are two types of powerlifting coaching to master: working with the lifter on a continual basis in the gym and working with the lifter at the actual powerlifting competitions. These are different and distinct skills. Mark made steady inexorable improvement on a continual basis, both in the gym and at competitions. We collaborated and campaigned for five years at the national and international level and he set many a world record. He was closer to me than my own brother.
I got really good at big league competition coaching and actually created a system for timing warm-ups that was foolproof. The other lifters and coaches took note on how well prepared we were at national competitions. I liken handling a major lifter at a major competition to being an auto racing pit crew chief: you have a small squad of guys surrounding a major lifter like Mark and my job was to orchestrate the crew in such a way that the lifter was delivered to the weightlifting platform warmed up thoroughly, not rushed, on time, optimally psyched and given productive last minute instruction.
In about this same time, I began writing for Muscle & Fitness magazine, then the largest fitness magazine in the world with 500,000 paid subscribers and two million monthly newsstand sales. Dr. Jim Wright, a former Army Colonel and commander of the army's experimental fitness school, was the science editor for Flex magazine. He knew of me because of my frequent articles in Powerlifting USA magazine. Jim recommended me to Dr. Tom Deters, the big boss, and I was brought aboard. I became the training editor, the guy that wrote about the specifics of the training and nutrition for the Weider stable of 50 contract bodybuilders.
My job was to interview the best bodybuilders in the world on how they ate and how they trained. During my tenure at M&F I generated 87 published feature articles, including five of my articles (under three different names) in a single issue. I was routinely sent to the Arnold Classic and Mr. Olympia to write contest coverage. I picked up a hell of a lot of training and nutritional information, both on and off the record, from the elite bodybuilders I interviewed. Personally, I had zero interest in bodybuilding. Form without function is of no interest to me – this doesn't mean I couldn't write incredible, insightful articles on and about bodybuilding. M&F was great pay but my heart and soul was in powerlifting.
When Mark Chaillet went to the national championships he always had an entourage. His dad Buck, his beautiful girlfriend and later wife Ellen, his sister, his brother Ray for sure and 3-5 elite lifters from Chaillet's gym; it was always a ten to fifteen person travel posse. The lifters that came were put to work. Each lifter had a role, a part to play, in the Mark Chaillet pit crew. They got to get backstage at the national championships and see all of their strength heroes, up close and personal. I would direct our squadron in a tightly choreographed sequence of events as we systematically prepared Mark backstage. We stayed at his side from his first warm-up until his last deadlift hit the floor.
In the mid to late 80's we traveled to Dayton Ohio for the nationals. We arrived on Friday afternoon and checked into the hotel that was part of the convention center. We decided that night to go to dinner per usual en masse. We walked to the Spaghetti house restaurant across the street from the hotel. As our group of ten was walking, we passed a group of Chicago lifters heading the other way. As we got closer we noticed that this was Ed "King" Coan's entourage. Respectful howdies were exchanged.
Coan was in the middle of the passing mobs. He suddenly halted and all eight of his posse ground to a halt. He caught my eye and said, "Gallagher I need to speak with you." I knew Ed. I had interviewed him for M&F and with Jim Wright had helped convince Joe Weider to give Ed a contract, the first and only Weider contract ever awarded to a powerlifter. I was a Coan groupie and did everything in my power to relate to those outside the sport how incredible he was: a full 15% better than the best in the world, unprecedented, maybe in any sport.
I walked over to him and he said, "Doug (Furnas) called. He has an emergency at home and cannot make it. I am going to need you to coach me tomorrow."
I was dumbfounded. Sure Ed, whatever you need. Coan would be the star lifter of the entire competition and would headline tomorrow night. Shouldn't we get together tomorrow, Ed, before the competition and go over stuff? I asked.
"I don't see the need for that."
And off they went; leaving me standing there slack-jawed. I would now handle the world's greatest lifter as his competition coach. I had a lot of excitement mixed with a lot more trepidation and turmoil. I had a sleepless night. Around noon we saw each other at lunch in the hotel. The lifting in his 220-pound weight class would start at four. He told me to meet him and his posse backstage at two pm. I arrived backstage at the appointed time and finally huddled with Coan as he slowly changed out of his street clothes and into lifting gear.
He wanted a specific number of warm-ups; he asked my opinion on the warm-up poundage needed to end with an 865-pound final warm-up before opening with 900. I wrote down the agreed upon warm-up weights and as he finished dressing I suggested we take a warm-up attempt every five minutes. He agreed. This meant we needed 35-minutes for seven warm-ups spaced five minutes apart. Ergo, we would commence the squat warm-ups at 3:20.
The warm-ups went off without a hitch and Ed arrived onstage perfectly prepared for his opening attempt with 900-pounds, which he made with shocking ease. I got my own shock when coming offstage I asked what he wanted for his second squat attempt.
"You pick! I don't want to know!" Ed then walked off to psyche up for his second attempt. I had exactly one minute to grock and process this: I, Marty Gallagher was selecting the world's greatest lifter's lifts; it was surreal and nerve-wracking. I felt honored. I handed in 922 and he crushed it. He went on to squat a world record 944 on his third attempt. He had me select his poundage on his 2nd and 3rd attempt squats, bench presses and deadlifts. I was a nervous wreck by the time it was all over. I believe he made 7 of 9 attempts. He was thrilled. If Ed was thrilled I was thrilled.
I continued to coach him and had the honor of competition coaching Ed Coan when he made his historic 2,400 pound total weighing 219-pounds. This including a 959 squat, a 550 raw bench press and likely the greatest lift in the history of powerlifting, a 901 pound deadlift. I also coached him when he made the highest total ever posted, regardless of bodyweight, 2,461, this while weighing a plutonium-dense 240-pounds. Ed squatted 1,003 pounds that day and left even the jaded, seen-it-all Bill Kazmier gobsmacked. After watching Ed destroy the thousand, Kaz was elated, "Did you see how fast and deep that squat was!?"
Ed Coan used his signature "Silver Back Gorilla" sumo deadlift technique to pull the historic 900 deadlift. The 900 was pulled after squatting 770 and 840 in the warm-up room, then 920 and 959 on the platform; he then deadlifted 770, 832 and 876 before being able to tie into the 900. The point being, in contrast to the current craze of deadlift-only competitions, Ed had a massive amount of leg, hip, lower back and ab fatigue before he pulled the 900. In training he had done a 900 double and pulled 920.
Not long afterwards, Ed suffered a devastating hamstring injury, one so severe he was never again able to pull sumo style. In a cruel and ironic twist of fate, the greatest sumo deadlifter in history was deprived of his signature technique immediately after his greatest triumph. Had he not injured himself, had he been able to continue to sumo there is zero doubt in my mind he would have deadlifted 950.
Nothing could stop him; deprived of sumo, he built up to an 887-pound world record deadlift using a conventional deadlift technique. I had a ringside seat to see the King of powerlifting at the absolute peak of his incredible career. I was so inspired I wrote a book on Ed called, Coan, The Man, The Myth, The Method. Joe Weider was kind enough to call it "the greatest book on and about powerlifting ever written." As mentioned earlier, at his peak, his 2,400 pound total made him 15% better than the rest of the world. And the men he bested were all time greats.
At the time of Ed's 2,400 pound total in the 220-pound class, hall of fame lifters, men like Jim Cash (832 deadlift,) Fred "Dr. Squat" Hatfield and Joe Ladiner had just pushed the world record total thru the 2100 pound barrier. To give some perspective, to equal Coan's degree of dominance a sprinter would need to exceed Usain Bolts 9.6 100-meter world record with an 8.16 effort. To exceed the current 8-foot high jump WR by 15% would require a leap of over 9 feet. The current 29-foot world record long jump would soar to over 33-feet to match Ed's lead over the rest of the world. Best of all, Coan was no genetic wonder or superstar athlete: he devised a method of training that split the difference between volume and intensity. Coan's ultra-rational training template was the ultimate in sophisticated simplicity: his "plain vanilla" approach was powered by off the charts intensity. He "backed up" the three powerlifts with a broad and thoughtful array of assistance exercises.
Athletes and coaches that should have known better passed his method by, without a second glance, seduced by more varied and exotic strength training strategies. In the world of academic strength training, there is an assumed equality of outcomes, leaving trainees to pick whatever they want from the buffet cafeteria of academic strength strategies. In the white hot spotlight of national and international strength competitions, there is no equality of outcomes.
In the world of empiricism and actual athletic outcomes, Ed Coan's system of strength is without rival or peer. Most coaches and athletes prefer to be seduced by the shiny objects that dangle everywhere in the pretend world of equal outcomes. We will explore in depth the training template of the Grand Maestro: his methods were, are and forever shall be the benchmark training template for powerlifting dominance and for the unrivaled acquisition of raw, brutal strength.
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.