Few Thoughts About the Powerlifting Community

Written by: Kevin Cann

I had a conversation with Vince Anello and Jeremy Hartman last week.  This conversation will be up on Boston’s Strongcast, probably next week.  It was a really great episode, with a lot of good information, especially on the mental pieces of training.

When we were signing off, Vince said “We are all brothers and sisters in the greatest sport on earth.”  He genuinely meant this, and this really stuck out to me.  I have had a fascination lately with the early days of powerlifting.

I just finished reading “The Forgotten Secrets of Westside Barbell Culver City.”  This book was more of a collection of magazine articles and stories than anything else.  What really interested me was the community of powerlifting earlier on.

The internet did not exist and there was not a lot of information out there on how to get ridiculously strong.  This group of pioneers had to figure it out for themselves.  They experimented with different things and they learned from one another.

Vince Anello was part of this community.  People would see that he had a huge deadlift and ask him about his training.  He was always willing to share what he was doing.  I have even heard Louie Simmons talk about Vince Anello in this manner.

I have had conversations with multiple people who called Westside Barbell back in the day and Louie Simmons would answer and just keep talking training with the person on the other end.  Multiple people told me that Louie could talk for hours to a complete stranger like this.

No one was shitting on another person’s training modalities.  Everyone had a genuine curiosity and interest in the sport.  Everyone rooted for each other too because if they got stronger than it would push you to get even stronger.  They knew the importance of that competition back then.

I honestly do not feel this way about the current community of powerlifting.  I saw a video not too long ago of a popular lifter that stated, “Westside conjugate training is dead.”  This is a completely ignorant statement from a 25 year old lifter, but this community has a lot of people that will just echo that sentiment because that kid said it.

Louie Simmons and Ed Coan were very different in the way that they approached training.  However, Louie mentions Ed as one of the greatest ever and Ed has massive respect for Louie.  They never talked negatively about the other’s training methods.  They just gave the information about why they chose to train a given way.

An ignorant statement that says “Westside conjugate training is dead” is cutting off progress in the sport since the 1950s.  Louie learned from Bill West of the original Westside and as he learned more, he tweaked the training programs.  We should be picking up where these coaches and lifters left off.

It seems to be that current coaches and lifters today have almost started over.  A non-peer reviewed study on higher frequency training out of Norway got everyone grasping at this idea.  In America we have always had a fascination with what the other countries were doing.  We saw this with the Russian texts.  Everyone wanted to know what the Russians were doing.

The Americans created this sport.  Pat Casey of the Westside Barbell Culver City group was the first to squat 800lbs, bench 600lbs, and total 2100lbs.  Vince Anello was the first lifter under 200lbs bodyweight to deadlift 800lbs in competition.  Dave Waddington, of Sandusky Ohio, was the first man to squat 1000lbs.

The Americans were setting the bar extremely high right from the start.  Both Westside Barbell groups were far ahead of their times.  Now do not get me wrong, Ed Coan, Brad Gillingham, and many others began to be influenced from the Russians as seen with their linear periodization programs.  However, progressive overload was utilized here in America in a similar fashion.  The original Westside group figured that out from messing around in the gym.

  This new culture of powerlifting has forgotten or is completely unaware of this past.  Now, if you attempt to tinker with things in the gym and do things differently you are spoken about in a negative way.

I did not get involved in coaching to just pump out some other person’s programs.  The majority of the coaches out there now do very similar programs.  They create a fancy Excel spreadsheet and pump out the same DUP programs as the next guy.  These programs from coach to coach look like the exact same programs from where I sit.

Now, there is nothing wrong with training this way.  All training programs work until they don’t.  As long as the coach has the experience to be flexible and adaptable good things can happen.  Too often, I do not feel this is the case.  I feel coaches just prescribe more and more volume and lifters turn to drug use.

When we make fancy Excel spreadsheets, we lose sight of the training process.  The pioneers before us did not have computers.  They had their awareness within the training process and each other.  They learned from others and learned from trying things and seeing if they worked.  The strength feats they accomplished by doing this are as great, if not greater than anything seen today.  We do not have Ray Williams without Pat Casey and Dave Waddington.  Waddington does not squat 1000lbs without Casey first Squatting 800lbs.

The sport progressed because it was a strong community that understood if the competition got stronger, they would get stronger.  No one shit on another training style for their own personal gain.  

I think the explosion of raw lifting played a role in this.  Even though training was raw in the early days, gyms were far and few between and like I said, they relied on each other to get strong.  The internet with “12 weeks to a world record” did not exist.

Now we have lots of gyms and a sport that allows lifters to train alone.  This is especially true in a higher frequency program as the lifter’s do not even need spots.  There is another thing.  The power rack did not exist in the early days.  You needed others to keep you safe.

I feel it is the job of coaches and lifters today to take what we learned from those that came before us and to progress the sport.  Not to disregard it and shame those that use that information.  Progress in the sport will not happen with our faces buried in a computer.  It happens by tinkering in the gym and paying attention.

How do we get better if everybody just does the same shit?  We don’t.  The sport has grown, so we have seen more genetic freaks standing on that platform.  I would not be so quick to state that we know more than those that came before us.  The equipment is much better as well.  If you are using modern numbers to explain why “Westside suck” I would caution you.  To be the first to perform a feat that no one believes can happen is much more difficult to do than to be the 100th one to do it.  Look at the 4 minute mile to see my point.

The business side of powerlifting has not helped either.  This makes every coach competition with one another and of course every lifter is a goddamn coach too.  You cannot be both.  If you are a great lifter, you have to be a less than adequate coach.  If you are a great coach, you will be a less than adequate lifter relatively speaking.

A good coach is required to be selfless.  If you want to be the best powerlifter you can be it requires you to be selfish.  You literally cannot be both.  However, lifters use their numbers as marketing, and hand you a fancy looking program, and lifters feel that program is the key to success.  That “coach” is not paying attention to you and learning who you are as a person and as a lifter.  Louie Simmons can tell you who each of his lifters were as a person.

This competition amongst coaches ties emotions into the training methods.  It is not so much about the community getting stronger, but them proving their way is better.  When people do not have facts to back up that stance, they will revert to putting down other methods to show their methods are superior.

I know I cannot change these things.  I am a nobody in the world of powerlifting.  I do not have a huge total, as Reddit has pointed out, and I have never coached a world champion.  I have been made fun of on the internet, and my lifters have also been made fun of.  This in spite of us being a local blue collar group of inexperienced lifters that show up and compete well at Nationals and we are represented at the Arnold every year.

We are attempting to carve our own path.  We will continue to tinker with things in the gym and try things that others do not have the courage to try because they lack creativity or general knowledge of how the sport works.

With that said, I want to carry the torch of those that came before me in this sport.  To be honest, I fucking hate a few people in this sport and wish fighting was allowed like in hockey.  However, we need to be the change we want to see in the world.  

I will make myself more available for questions and help people out more as they need it.  Of course, I do this for a living and need to make sure I do not do too much for free.  However, I think I will start putting some programs up on Patreon, which is only $20/month, so people can see what our training looks like.  It is nowhere close to being coached, but it might help someone see a different perspective.  I will also make myself more available to others to discuss training.  Over the phone or internet.

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