Exposure to real strength badassery

Originally Posted on Sunday, September 09, 2012 11:17 PM

I just replied to a post on a popular Forum with a program which will, in my opinion, get someone stronger.  It's not a rocket science program; essentially, it's three weeks of lifting hard followed by a week of taking it easy.  But I told the guy that his real problem is strength; any 215 pound man who can only squat 300 pounds needs to get stronger.


WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT McKenna, what are you talking about?  300 pounds is a lot of weight.  


No, really, it isn't.  And yes, I know that I have a distorted idea of weight and strength.  Too many times I've been in a gym, or even in my gym, and seen people get proud over the weight they just lifted.  *sigh*  Be proud because you ARE lifting, the weight is meaningless.  Don't brag because you did some weak squat and want to talk about how you could do another 15 pounds if you had a different femur length.  Let me sort this out for you:  your first 225 pound bench press is a big deal, but it isn't a big deal that you benched 225 pounds.  What matters is that you're in the gym.  Don't get cocky because you benched what only six women I know personally can bench. EDITOR"S NOTE: This comment, and others down below, is not meant or intended to disparage women.  SInce men are generally physiologically stronger than women, it is a comment meant to show that women can be really strong, and that many men don't really try hard at all.  


When I was at High Energy Gym in Newark, DE my Freshman year at UD, some people would come in and say I was strong.  I didn't know what they meant.  We had guys in that gym benching 500 pounds or more, and some guys- including a USMC reservist in my German Class- could DL 600+.  My meager 365 bench as a 198 pound 17 year old was embarrassing.  But you know what?  I said "Thanks" and watched the good guys lift, and replicated what they did.  I even spoke to a couple of them, and I listened.  Here are some keys I picked up from watching them:



  • Every rep was the same, no matter the weight.  fast, powerful, under control;
  • they got set, loaded the weight, and lifted without making a show of what they were going to do;
  • they asked for spotters and were willing to spot others;
  • They didn't talk too much, use a pager, or hit on girls WHILE they lifted;
  • Amazingly, they all kept their shirts on; most worked out in T-Shirts and sweats year round
  • They were all easy to talk to when you asked them a question, but when you kissed their ass they intimidated the hell out of you.  
  • and they came to the gym and benched every week, heavy.  I'm sure some of the reps I saw weren't too heavy, but 405 for sets of 10 was mind boggling to me

My Sophomore year I went to the UD Track team and lifted with these guys:  Wade Coleman and Brian D'Amico and Larry Pratt.  Larry was our coach, and he had lifted with Bob Bednarski, Bill Starr, and those guys  back in the early 70s.  Larry purchased and donated the first bench, rack, and barbell set for the UD.  He even went to pick it up in York.  Back in the 70s, Larry squatted quite a bit of weight- in the high 600s, maybe even 700+ if you believe the stories.  In his 50s, Larry did little but bench heavy and squat medium, always wrapping his knees with some old knee wraps.  When he benched, he kept his feet on the bench.  And he would, as a 230 pound 55 year old, rep 315 in the bench for sets of 3.  So there you go, he was strong.  But Larry again wasn't cocky about it- he didn't brag, he didn't scream when he got under the bar, none of that stuff.  He would get loud for me, for Wade, for Brian, but not for himself.  Wade, too, was a master of the understated.  An All-American Hammer thrower, who at 295 pounds ran an 16.0 100 and qualified for the IC4A Championships in every throwing event, Wade had a personal best in the 35# Weight Throw of 67'7 3/4" (to understand what that's like, try throwing a light truck tire the distance of three pick up trucks).  Wade was, until I competed against Shame Hamman, the strongest man I'd ever met.  We used to have to sit on the leg press for Wade (Ronnie Coleman's video wasn't original for me), and Wade had injured his back and would do obnoxiously strong hang cleans- like 315 for reps and pressing it, not jerking it, every time.  Wade's squat workouts, too, were legendary- 600/700+ on a weekly basis.  Now, to you purists out there, Wade wore a belt and knee wraps and did low bar squats.  Still, to this day, I've never run as fast as Wade or squatted as much.  Any high bar or low bar arrogance goes away when the weights get that heavy.  Wade wasn't a show off, either. He would lift, say thanks when someone said he was good or strong, and just come to the gym and lift every day.  The most impressive lifter at UD was Jimmy Flynn, who played football (Kicker) at Gettysburg.  Jimmy was in his 20s when I knew him, and would later study for the priesthood, though he wouldn't take his vows.  But Jimmy would come in and do volume which was unbelievable.  One Saturday morning (8:00 a.m. Saturday workouts suck), he did over 20 reps at 600 or more pounds in the deadlift.  This, folks, was my introduction to the power of doubles and singles.  Work up to a heavy single, then do some doubles, then do higher reps to take care of your back.  Jimmy never wore a belt, no knee wraps, just pure out humble strength.  And yes, he always lifted in those gray sweatpants and sweatshirt.When I came back to lifting at 27, I trained at The Training Center in New Castle, DE.  I had some good Olympic lifters there- Alex McInnes, and soon Brian Swedrock.  I had some great bodybuilders and powerlifters there to train with.  Jason Cox, a 1000 pound squatter, worked out there http://freepdfhosting.com/6b03328f9d.pdf, as did  Milt Holloway. IFBB Pro:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoPfAHXwQts&feature=fvwrel


These guys always talked shit to us in the back room where only strong people trained, but when we were lifting, we just lifted.  Jason would squat with serious attitude, but he wouldn't be obnoxious, he wouldn't get any attitude, none of that crap that passes for intensity in some gyms.  He would simply squat heavy.  Milt would come to the back room and rep out 405 deep in the squat for sets of 20, but he would never draw attention to himself and brag.  And he would talk about diet, training, how we trained and why etc.  We also had John Green, the Westside Disciple, Sue Scheppele, Women's Bodybuilder:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/femalemuscleclips/sets/72157629741014389/


We'll have a Blogterview with Sue in the upcoming weeks, but yes, she's humble, too.  And lifts a hell of a lot more than you do, most likely.  


In Moorestown, NJ, though, we had a great group of Olympic lifters form 2003-2008.  The list included Inga Denunzio, Shannon Pole-Summers, Jenna Bussard, Kiyo Fujimoto, Lance Frye, Jason Gump, Joe Fondale, Matt Devine, Missy Saucedo, and some other up and comers.  These workouts rivaled anything you see on youtube today from the powerhouse training centers; Jason once cleaned 190 on a Saturday morning without a warm-up.  Tom Black, an 85 who qualified for the American Open many times, had dropped a back squat and bet Jason 20 bucks he couldn't clean it back up for him.  Jason did.  Lance would regularly snatch up to 150 kilos and clean upwards of 190; one day he push jerked 207.5 out of the rack weighing about 80 kilos.  Missy qualified for Nationals several years in a row in two weight classes, Joe, Matt, Inga were all Olympic Trials qualifiers and Matt represented the US on a Pan-Am team (As did Jason and Lance);  distinctly remember doing 170 for a double in the clean and having it be the third heaviest clean of the day (Matt and Lance, you can both kiss my... sorry, this is a family show).  Of all these lifters, only one was arrogant and obnoxious, and he's living a troubled life right now.  The rest of them were humble, kind, easy to talk to, even self-deprecating.  We all knew- and know- that people were stronger than us, were better lifters, and we knew we had a long way to go, through many more years of hard work, to get where we wanted to be.  


So here's a note to all you shirtless fools out there bragging about your 225 pound cleans:  I was in a weight room where women regularly cleaned 275 pounds, where I saw first hand lifts that rivaled the best on you tube today, and where a 77 kg lifter hung with me for singles at 270 kg in the BS.  And throughout the entire time, these folks- most of them- were humble, easy to talk to, and didn't leave sweat angels on the floor to show how hard they worked.  They won, they competed, and they shut the hell up and got under the bar.  None of these folks started off lifting record weights, and none of them were satisfied or needed some guy on TV telling them they were strong because they could lift a minimum of weight.  They worked hard, stopped showing off, and got stronger.



One final note to you strength gurus and the coaches out there who've never lifted big:  Put your shirt on, stop wondering what program to do, go find some lifters who know what they're doing (not the shirtless fools out there, but the ones in old champion sweats and beat up 20 year old T-Shirts), and watch them and listen.  Then you'll figure out the secret to strength:   


  • listen first
  • do no harm
  • be humble
  • every rep counts, make each one intense and focus on form
  • keep adding weight
  • and realize that someone, somewhere, is better than you are.  Go get them.  
Michael McKennaComment