Flame Out

Flame Out

Featured Equipment: barbell, squat racks,

In 1972 I turned my back on progressive resistance training. After eleven years as my passion, my raison d’etre, as the focus and center of my life, I found myself in a place and time that made it easy to drop all things athletic. So I turned my back on the thing that had provided me with my defining characteristics: size, strength, muscle, power and the earned swagger and arrogance that goes with the possession of such things.

I quit. It was a reaction and overdue. I was burnt out. For the first time in my life I got out of shape. That took a lot of work. I was naturally predisposed to be in shape: as a lifelong athlete with good genetics and a savage work ethic, as a man with superb mentors and a decade of competitive experience, it took a lot of hard work to get out of shape. The disciplined regimentation that is the essence of lifting was clashing with my life and preferred lifestyle. The lifting mindset requires patterned existence and regimented regularity. I was heading in the opposite direction.

My official quitting occurred when the International Weightlifting Federation banned the overhead barbell press in 1972. I was an Olympic weightlifter and the press was my best lift, my bread and butter lift, my leg up. The reason given by the IPF was that the press had become “un-judge-able.” Which was ruefully ironic because they were the judges. Let us sidebar for an instant and relate some overhead press history…

In the 1930s and 1940s, the competitive press was the “military press” and was done with the heels touching (!) and a torso so upright that the lifter would (literally) have the maneuverer the barbell around the chin on the way up and again around the top of the skull on the downward descent.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, judges began allowing a slight layback at the start of the Olympic press. This enabled the lifter to avoid hitting the chin at the start. It also turned the military press into a steep incline press and as a result records soared. Paul Anderson was the all time champion at this type of strict pressing. At his awesome peak he could overhead press, in strict style, 485-pounds, this after taking the loaded barbell out of the squat racks.

The next Olympic press iteration occurred when judges started allowing the lifters to use backbend. As a presser is pushing a limit weight overhead, the natural tendency is to bend away from the payload, thereby improving leverage. Leaning away from the barbell, using backbend as the bar passes through the sticking point, makes pressing easier. Once the judges allowed bending backwards during the press, the gold rush was on: now lifters mastered super deep, lightening fast laybacks and extreme laybacks. Records soared.

By 1965 the “Russian Press” had become the gold standard. The lifter would start the press from a layback position and when the referee gave the lifter the “Press!” command, the slumping lifter would flex the torso and come rigidly erect. This violent jolt would throw the barbell upward to the forehead, at which point the lifter would perform a deep layback and lock out the press. This was speed, athletics, timing and power all combined. Records soared.

The Finns came up with yet another technical twist: start the press standing bolt upright; when the referee yells, “Press!” slump and immediately rebound from the slump, thus throwing the bar to forehead height with even more violence. The slump-and-heave press finished with a backbend/layback that was nearly parallel to the floor. Records soared.

The final iteration of the press occurred in 1970 when judges, for some inexplicable reason, suddenly allowed lifters to start the press with unlocked knees. Presses became push-jerks. Records soared. The judges that allowed this devolution suddenly said the press was un-judge-able and it needed to be banned. All they had to do was tighten up the judging – they were the judges. The athletes were simply taking advantage of what was allowed.

The real reason the press was dropped was that the powerbrokers that ran the sport wanted shorter competitions. The Olympic press, even with all the complex layback techniques, was a strength lift. Without the press, the more acrobatic and facile athletes, those adept at the “quick lifts” were given an insurmountable advantage. All the bruiser types left Olympic lifting. I quit lifting in a huff when the press was banned.

I had not really had the steady training or the steady life needed to maximize training results, I was bouncing around between Portland and DC and when I quit going to Loprinzi’s Gym my training became sporadic and ineffectual. I had also been reading up on some martial arts styles and many were saying that weight training interfered with “chi circulation.” I later found this to be superficial and bogus but I wanted to try some of these Chinese martial styles that dissuaded weight training. Add to this the banning of the Olympic press and I had a lot of good incentive to take a time out from resistance training.

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.