The Power Savant - Ultra-Minimal Power Training
Limit training, maximize intensity, create the ‘rested effort’
Mark Chaillet stands with one leg on the weight bench talking with me between warm-up attempts with Doug Furnas at the APF world championships in Maui in 1987. Mark won the APF superheavyweight title on this day squatting 930 and deadlifting 860. Furnas squatted 986, raw benched 600 and deadlifted 826 to crash the 2,400 barrier.
Mark Chaillet was a tunnel-visioned radical, a true iconoclast who at an early age happened upon a unique style of training that suited him and suited his personality. He stayed with this rigid regimen without variation for the entirety of his career. That he got results was indisputable: physically, Mark morphed himself into a gargantuan freak, a muscular monster that held the world record in the deadlift.
Mark stood 5 foot 9 inches and weighed 275-pounds with a 9% bodyfat percentile. He deadlifted 880-pounds. His training was always the same. Young Mark fell in love with the competitive powerlifting experience and sought to replicate that atmosphere in every training session. Chaillet training sessions were mini-powerlifting competitions. Training sessions were twice weekly, Monday and Thursday, at Mark’s pristine power gym in Temple Hills, Maryland.
The men that gathered at 4 pm were not a bunch of individuals that happened to all be training in the same room at the same time, each pursuing their own individualized resistance training programs, this was a ritualistic group training session. At 4 pm on Monday everyone in the room started squatting. Then they bench pressed. At 4 pm on Thursday everyone in the room started deadlifting.
There would be four separate lifting platforms going simultaneously, each geared to a different strength level. On each platform, each man in turn stepped up and performed, working upward in poundage. As one man lifted the others in his group watched, spotted, exhorted, and critiqued.
Mark Chaillet was ferocious. Because he took it so serious, life or death stuff, everyone else did likewise. There was no grab-assing or stupid boy shit occurring; this was a roomful of scary dudes screaming and snorting ammonia while repping 800 on the barbell. There was a collective warrior/war vibe that took everyone’s game to the next level.
Asked why he did nothing but single rep top sets and why he did so few of them, Mark spoke with Zen clarity. “I am a powerlifter. We are judged by our best single rep in each lift, this done in competition. I train for what we are judged on. If you are judged by your single rep strength – why would you avoid single reps in training? That makes no sense: why avoid that you are to be judged on?” When every training session is a power competition competing in powerlifting competitions becomes second nature.
Before a top set, Mark would chalk his massive bearpaw hands and have me or his brother Ray tighten his lifting belt. Mark would lean forward and snap an ammonia capsule under his nose. He would take three deep snorts and let loose with an inhuman bellow. He was summoning up the Gods of rage, psychosis, and chaos. He would then turn and hurl himself at the barbell.
Up close he was freaking scary. With his monstrous hands, gorilla leverages, insane temperament, indestructible body loaded with gobs of low-end torque, he could (literally) tear a man apart. He was able to generate this degree of manufactured psychological fury on every top set of every squat, bench press and deadlift. Mark was a psyche master.
He showed me, without words, what a real psych was: a real psyche is a scary psyche, not a faux WWE psyche. Chaillet boosted his performance by a full 10% with his summoned-from-hell mindset. He skillfully controlled, channeled, and redirected his rage towards an inanimate object, a barbell.
In addition to Chaillet’s unshakable loyalty to his lifting menu of nothing but singles – and no other lifting of any kind – Mark had equally strong ideas about recovery. Mark was fanatical in his insistence that lifters trained too often, did too much, and ergo, always lifted in a fatigued state. At the time Mark was accused of being lazy. Mark was championing the same sophisticated “rested effort” strategy that sprint guru Charlie Francis later codified in his book Speed Trap. Charlie’s sprint revelations included…
- Train all out: only by working up to and past current limits does a sprinter get faster. All out speed is available for only 3-7 seconds per sprint.
- Train all out less: classically, sprinters trained “all out” in every training session. Because they were never fully recovered, they were unable to increase top-end speed.
- Consider the CNS: elite coaches factored the Central Nervous System into the recovery equation. Optimal top speed requires a fresh CNS. Longer rest between reps and sessions.
- To become faster (or stronger,) you must train at 102% when 100% rested. You cannot get faster (or stronger) training at 102% when 84% rested.
Charlie’s sprint revelations mirror Chaillet’s strength training approach. Mark sought to exceed current 100% capacities - but only when 100% rested and recovered. How best do you rest and recover? Mark insisted you limit your exercise menu. Any exercises other than the three lifts “just wear you down.” In addition to training as little as possible – train as hard as possible. Then take a full seven days of rest. Here is an example of a typical Chaillet periodized training split….
|Monday||Squat and Bench||work up to a single rep|
|Thursday||Deadlift||work up to a single rep|
Mark would start a 12-week periodized training cycle, underweight, weighing around 255-pounds, doughy, essentially untrained, or perhaps more accurately, detrained. Mark had the thick bone structure of Silver Back gorilla. Even completely out of shape he was still capable of a 700-pound squat and deadlift.
Mark was a relatively light eater. When the cycle started, he would buckle down and get consistent about his food intake. Every week he would make a 20-pound jump in the squat and a 15-pound increase in the deadlift. He would push his bodyweight upward. He never got fat, the deeper into the cycle we got, he just got bigger and harder, more muscled-up and leaner.
Mark Chaillet was the unconscious iconoclast. Stubborn and steadfast beyond comprehension, Mark had an unshakable belief in how best to weight train. He eventually squatted a below parallel 1,000 in training and 940 in competition. Mark deadlifted 880 weighing 270. He set a dozen world records in the deadlift. I was his training partner and competition coach for six years.
Mark was a powerlifting savant. He asked for no one’s opinion about training. He had one way of training: period. Thank God. Mark staked out the uber-extreme of ultra-minimalism. He trained minimally within each session: three lifts and three lifts only, each done once a week for a single periodized rep. He trained infrequently and he championed the “rested effort.” Mark showed us how little was needed, in terms of training volume, to become massive and strong beyond comprehension. Never has a man done less and gone further. Incredible.
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.