The Undisputed King of Weight Training Minimalism
No one ever did less and got further
Powerlifter Mark Chaillet was unique in all the world. He was by turns stubborn, single-minded, obstinate, pig-headed and an unwitting visionary. No one ever trained less and rose higher. At his awesome peak he stood 5-9 and weighed a super-tight 280-pounds. I guesstimate he carried no more than a 10% body fat percentile. He had freaky wide shoulders and the biggest hands I have ever seen on a man his height. Mark had relatively narrow hips, big bones and 8.25-inch wrists. He could hang a lot of muscle on that massive exoskeleton and even at his heaviest he moved like a cat. He was a star football player, a center, whose lack of height prevented him from playing D1 football.
Mark became the best 275-pound deadlifter in the world for a five-year stretch. He routinely pulled 840-850. He deadlifted 880 in one of our training sessions. I was his training partner and coach for six years. Mark barbell squatted 900 + IPF below parallel and blasted up a below-parallel 1,000-pounds in training. I know the 1000 was below parallel because as his coach I scrutinized his depth and called him “UP!” at the turnaround, when he had sunk to legal depth on the rep and it was time to arise.
No one truly coached Mark. He was proudly un-coachable. He had one way of training, a lone template and that is all he ever used. Period. He was influenced by no one. His training template was simplicity reduced to absurdity: on Monday he would work up to a single repetition in the barbell back squat and bench press. On Thursday Mark would work up to a single repetition in the deadlift. That was it. Mark happened on to this approach early on, he invented it and he was its sole proponent. He was unshakable in his allegiance to ultra-minimalism. He was a one-man march and I was his coach.
He broke onto the national scene as a super-lean 220-pound lifter with an 800-pound deadlift. His hands were so huge he could hold onto any deadlift forever. He never lost a deadlift because of grip. While he was a volume minimalist, he was also a stylist – his lifting techniques were pure perfection. His squat style was wide-stance and powerful, an ‘all leg’ effort. His deadlift built on his incredible leg strength. He used to tell me, “With our deadlift style, if we successfully push up the squat, our deadlift automatically goes up. We use leg power to break the bar from the floor.”
At age 21 Mark was “drafted” by powerlifting legend Larry Pacifico. Larry would generously offer promising young lifters jobs within his mini-empire in Dayton, Ohio. The young lifters could be given gym jobs or warehouse jobs. This would allow them to live and train together in Dayton and be mentored by the greatest powerlifter of the era, the unbeatable great white shark of powerlifting. Larry was a man with a 600-pound raw bench press (weighing 235) and a world record 800-pound squat weighing 220. It was an honor and privilege to be mentored, coached, guided along a power pathway to greatness by the great Pacifico.
Mark took the job, moved to Dayton and began working for Larry (“Amongst other duties, Larry had me teaching aerobics to ladies”) yet politely declined Larry’s input insofar as training went. Thanks, but no thanks to the nine-time world champion. Larry must have been stunned. Yet for a long as I knew him, Mark called Larry his mentor. Mark moved back to Temple Hills to open a gym that was more like a frontier saloon than a fitness club. Within his pie-sliver of expertise, Mark was a purposeful primitive yet simultaneously an unwitting sophisticate.
While I didn’t deviate from the training template, he’d have me work up 12-week straight line periodized cycles. Each week for twelve successive weeks leading up to a competition, Challiet would bump up his top set single by 20-pounds in the squat, 15-pounds in the deadlift and 10-pounds in the bench press. Ergo, we’d start off a cycle 240-pounds below what we expected in the squat, 120-pounds below the sought-after competition bench and 180-pounds less than our anticipated competition deadlift.
We would put our heads together and work backwards from what we wanted to hit at the regional, national or world championships. Typically, it took four weeks for Mark to get back into shape. He might start the 12-week cycle weighing a doughy 255. Over the next three months he’d swell to 280, adding 25-pounds of pure muscle while simultaneously leaning out. Mark was not a voracious eater. He has an athlete’s amped up metabolism. He told me his favorite “gain weight” tactics was to eat 25 ice cream sandwiches a day. These were the good old days when there were no nutrient breakdowns on food, no warning labels on cigarettes, no seatbelts and pop-top beer cans and no breathalyzers.
For the first four weeks of the 12-cycle, he worked well below his capacity, this allowed him to regain his technical edge and “feel” some weight again. He did not do a hell of a lot in the off-season, concentrating primarily on tanning in the sunbed. He needed the first four weeks as a shape up period. Eight weeks out was when the real work started. When asked about his crazed philosophy by outsiders, he would brush them off, “Powerlifting is a not a 5-rep competition, or a 3-rep competition, or a 2-rep competition, powerlifting is a ONE REP competition. Therefore, I do one rep. Just like in competition.” Gump-like reasoning with a streak of unintentional Zen.
Each training session had a life or death seriousness. There was a top set target, a single rep poundage to be achieved, and by God he was going to achieve it or die trying. By the end of his IPF career, we as a team became so adept at realistic self-assessment that he and I could sit down four months before a major competition and create a 12-week periodized cycle where he attained every single predetermined weight every single week. Success reinforced his faith in his solitary path.
He was a fearsome competitor, extremely athletic and aggressive. Even at his thickest, he had a quickness and lightness about how he carried himself. He built himself into a human silverback gorilla and did so on an exclusive diet of single rep training. Never has a man trained less and achieved more. The long gorilla arms that helped his deadlift (don’t have to pull as far) hurt his bench. At best he was a 525-pound bencher while his 275-pound competitors routinely hit 580-600 without bench shirts.
His pre-lift psyche was incredible. His brother Ray and I would walk him to the chalk box before an attempt. He’d chalk up as some incredible deadlift poundage was made ready. Ray would talk to him in secret brother talk and Mark would start his berserker psyche. He’d turn to me and I would pop an ammonia capsule under his nose. He would make three successive growls, each one louder than the previous one. He’d then wheel and attack the barbell. It was thrilling to be a part of. He always had the last deadlift, the last shotgun blast that could and often would snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Anything up to 850 and his opponents were dead men walking. He rarely if ever missed in the clutch. He got beat on rare occasion – but was never outclassed.
Chaillet was a minimalistic genius. He showed how much could be done with so little. His approach was self-justifying in that he won world titles and set world records. In academia they would dismiss Mark as an outlier or antidotal or a genetic freak…in empirical world we call what he did and how he did it kicking ass on the national and world stage for a protracted period. Mark’s experience was routinely dismissed by smart guys with a PHD’s who champion Russian methods based on studies of 10,000 Olympic weightlifters.
No Russian ever beat Mark, or Ed Coan or Kirk Karwoski, or Walter Thomas or Lamar Gant or Estep, nor Cash or Kaz or Brad – so why does strength academia worship Russian training? It’s a mystery as to why these world-dominating American giants remain ignored. We live in a world where results are dismissed as inconsequential. In this world without report cards, all systems are equal. We separate the wheat from the chaff by injecting empiricism into the mix: you put up your champions and we’ll put up ours.
Chaillet’s success justified his method. His template was progressive resistance training reduced to an irreducible essence, the vital core. His method is still one of dozens of valid, battle-tested training arrows in my arrow quiver of effective training methods. Mark staked out the extreme radical left of the intensity-versus-volume argument. He made a religion of the single rep and thrived. Rip a page from his playbook and do fewer things better.
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.