And so it continues. After a careful examination of the opinions of elite lifters and the the fact that modern lifters cannot hold a fucking candle to lifters of the Ninteen Seventies, one reality appears to loom stark over the horizon:
Powerlifting Seems to be Well and Truly Fucked.
According to the best of the best at present:
- Powerlifting is too fractured across feds and classes for any one fed to field enough good lifters to make a meet worth a shit.
- Powerlifting needs some sort of an "amateur" federation and system of meets.
- Unlike powerlifters of yesteryear, who competed because they wanted to prove they were the strongest, powerlifters of today are as mean as medieval English villagers and require compensation to do anything.
- Powerlifting is fucked.
- the older the information is, the less reliable the averages. Powerliftingwatch only started in 2007 and they were not provided ample meet results. The 2007 data essentially shows the entirety of reported data, as opposed to the top twenty best lifters.
- raw classic (without wraps) and raw modern (with wraps) are not differentiated outside of 2013 and 2014, so the totals examined were a combination of the two.
- some people were listed more than once in the top twenty.
- the numbers I'm using hardly give the whole picture- they're just the top 50. Per Johnny Vasquez, one of the owners of Powerliftingwatch, there were 518 raw lifters in the 181 class since Jan 2013. Thus, we're looking at roughly 400 lifters in that class per year. That means, against all odds, there were 350 people in the 181s who posted a total lower than 1361.
A visual representation of what I found, and remember those totals are the average of wrapped and unwrapped totals.
Quick takeaways from the data:
- the 308 weightclass has no reason to exist, and 148 and 275 aren't much better
- women powerlifters are rapidly getting better
- raw powerlifting as a whole appears to be getting better, but is still fucking abysmal
- there is a massive gap in performance between the top of the top 50 and the bottom of the top 50
Quick Sidebar: Johnny Vasquez of Powerliftingwatch is one of the guys who instituted the elite standards fro Raw Unity, and when asked for female elite classifications stated that he agreed with the USPA standards. This means that unlike the men, the women are holding it down on the platform, as the averages for the top 20 in the 114 and 132 classes are over the cutoff for elite, and the 165 class is just under it. Had I more time to investigate, I am fairly certain that the top twenty in every weightclass through 148 would exceed the elite standards for the USPA, which is impressive as hell considering the fairly low levels of participation, and often lifting backgrounds in the competitors of the females.Make of it what you will- I realize in this effort how poor the record keeping is for powerlifting. For instance, Michael Soong's top historical performances are a great starting point for the best performances in history, but I saw more than one unrecorded top total on the list just while looking up the rankings of the lifters I interviewed. That is doubtless part and parcel of the sport's fractured nature, and makes direct comparisons of current and past generations of lifters even more difficult, but it also paints modern lifters in an even worse light- even if modern lifting is progressing at a phenomenal rate, it's still lagging far behind the lifters of the 1970s. Before the Millennials chime in with insistence that survey of powerlifting performance is proof their generation doesn't suck, let me pre-emptively retort- one of the people interviewed above actually stated that generations like the Millennials are the direct cause of the rise of violent reactionary movements and pogroms. Given that I doubted he wanted that statement included in the interview, I redacted it, but I felt it was worthy of note because it's rare I hear him say a cross word about anyone, and he obliquely advocated the liquidation of an entire generation.
The data above does not tell the whole story though- we're still left with the fact that modern powerlifters cannot hold a candle to the lifters of the 1970s. Powerlifting, for all intents and purposes, sprang into being as a sport in 1966. According to Paul Sutphin,
"Era One (1960 thru 1976)- All lifting in this period met the criteria for what is now known as "RAW" Powerlifting. The only wraps allowed were ace bandages or a one (1) ply wrap with similar elasticity. Beginning January 1st, 1973 all wraps were declared illegal in powerlifting competition. Knee wraps and wrist wraps were reinstituted in 1974. Throughout Era One, many Powerlifting meets were held in conjuctions with physique competitions which took place after the Powerlifting was over"(24-25).This means, then, that the elite standards current lifters cannot match were met by roughly 5% of the total competitors in each weightclass without knee sleeves or wrist wraps. I've already shown that there have only been 70 elite totals posted in the last 7 years, and though I didn't notice it when I wrote about it initially, that's including wrapped lifters prior to 2013 and multiple performances by the same lifters to the top 5% of lifters in each weightclass, but just to the top 5% of the top 50 lifters in each weightclass in 2013. The picture of how shitty modern lifters is gets a little more stark- looking at my little chart above, it's really only 26 people in the last two years carrying the entire sport, and if you include lifters competing in wraps in 2012 and 2011, that number only increases to 34 people... in a sport that is ubiquitous to every corner of America, costs very little in terms of investment, and doesn't really require much in the way of special equipment or training.
Mel Hennessey- #19 on the bench at 242 on Michael Soon's historical rankings list, and who trained on homemade equipment made of wood.
According to Johnny Vasquez, there were a bit over 4600 participants in raw powerlifting in 2013. This means that there should have been 230 lifters qualifying as elite, if raw powerlifting's average strength had simply remained static since the 1970 as the numbers increased. Given the advances in nutritional supplementation and equipment (i.e. better racks, benches, recovery methods, etc.), this seems like a reasonable expectation rather than the pipe dream it actually is. Instead, as powerlifting has grown, the elite classifications of the 1970s leave us with a picture of powerlifting more grim than one's opinion of dating after watching Closer and In the Company of Men in the same weekend (which I did accidentally and don't recommend). Frankly, even those movies hardly capture the utter futility of modern powerlifting competition in a historical context because at least in the aforementioned movies, just about everyone got laid- in powerlifting, not only are the average saddies competing walking away with empty pockets and laughable physiques, but they're definitely not getting laid out of the deal, either. Looking at it statistically, there are likely only .5% of participants who are... and they're the only ones totaling elite.
Pacifico, looking a proper beast at 198.
So what is the cause of the shittiness, you might ask? Is it the Millenials? The fracture of the sport of powerlifting into dozens of tiny feudal states? Lack of participation? Is it geared lifting, which drove raw powerlifting to the brink of extinction? Is it drugs? Is it the current method of training and programming? Is it xeno and phytoestrogens in our water? Our diet? WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON? I should hope I'm not the only one horrified and flummoxed by this issue- it seems like something worth of investigation from the top down.
For whatever reason, people seem to think that more participation is the answer, in spite of the fact that it's well known that an increase in the popularity of anything invariably leads to the decline of that things measure of "cool", in addition to the fact that whenever the teeming unwashed hordes get hold of anything, they ruin it. Powerlifting is no exception- what was once a sport in which people were actually fucking strong (elite meant top 5%)- is now filled with people who outright fucking suck at life. Posers overwhelm the squat racks at gyms, fucking about with foam rolling and stretching and warming up and yammering on about their program and calculating percentages and updating their Facebook and filming their shitheap lifts and NEVER ACTUALLY FUCKING LIFTING WEIGHTS, but at least they look adorable in their fucking Chuck Taylors and Elite FTS shirts, skinny-fat, sloppy, useless assholes that they are.
Remember how Bob Benedix mentioned you should look like you fucking lift? Lifters in the 1970s were about being fucking jacked and smashing ass post workout- they were not about foam rolling.
No matter how many people espouse the idea that more participation will result in better competition, the facts simply do not support this concept. In fact, there is no easier way to dissemble that argument than to point to the facts- raw powerlifting has regressed as no other sport has, and that regression has occurred in a time period describe by the IPF as one in which, "a matter of thirty-six years after its foundation, Powerlifting has achieved worldwide recognition and popularity that could only be dreamed of in those heady days of the 70’s" (Unitt)
If you're just there to participate, you neither count, nor belong. Count bodies, not sheep.
Increased participation, then, is obviously not the answer, and may well be part of the problem.
This, at least, is a reasonable suggestion. Powerlifting really used to be controlled by one or two major organizations. Unfortunately, the AAU barely even exists as an organization any more, and professional organizations are limited by regional fractures and inconsistent rule application. One must pay any number of minor potentates hundreds of dollars for "membership" in these different dogshit federations, with little opportunity to even recoup their membership fees and entry fees in the event they win. Moreover, no federation really seems to respect another (save for Raw Unity, which has consigned itself to a Florida backwater that nearly requires a penny farthing and a fucking horse and buggy to reach), leaving lifters to either remain in one federation or to continually requalify for large meets if they have an interest in competing elsewhere. All of this is, of course, fucking retarded, and precludes participation by lifters outside of their home region unless they truly enjoy burning money for no reason. And let's not even bother bringing the USAPL/IPF into the discussion, as listing the problems with those feds exceed the limits of my patience- instead, we'll just deal with pro federations who encourage competitiveness and elite performance.
Drugs and Geared Lifting
From time to time, I will see some ill-bred, uneducated, pompous, self-righteous, dickless dipshit bring up the subject of drugs, apparently in the belief that steroids and other performance-enhancing substances are the culprit in any number of scenarios that will justify their own shitty performance. Knowing that these feckless retards are going to chime in on the subject of drugs, I felt it necessary to do some digging on the subject. In the 1970s, steroids had not yet been demonized by Western governments, as our politicians had not yet realized they could use a class of drugs widely regarded to be excellent for one's health to become the demon by which they could accuse the Soviet bloc of cheating- that's right, "natty" bros, you're engaging in neo-McCarthyism because you're fucking sheep. Congrats.
In any event, steroid use fell off toward the beginning of the 2000s, then ramped up sharply in 2007 in the United States (Rogers). According to multiple sources, steroids did not become popular among recreational athletes until the early 1970s, so it's highly unlikely that steroid use contributed that heavily to the superior performance of the athletes in the 1970s, despite the fact that the steroids used by those athletes were pharmaceuticals produced in labs rather than some sweaty guy's bathtub as they are now. Quantity has a quality all its own, however, and “One center reported a ten-fold increase [in steroid use] in the last decade” (Bradshaw), so it's highly unlikely that steroid use is less prevalent now than it was in the early 1970s.
Approaching the platform for his third attempt on bench.
The other type of gear that might have contributed to the decline of powerlifting is the kind generally associated with bullets flying, bloodshed, and the possibility of an otherwise unassuming Indonesian man jump kicking you in the face, stabbing you fourteen times in various parts of your body, and then shooting you in the face- that which is comprised of denim and kevlar. Virtually from the outset of powerlifting, lifters were doing crazy shit to boost their totals. As Bob Benedix mentioned in the previous article, lifters were wearing multiple layers of squat suits as early as the early 1980s, and raw powerlifting really only existed until the mid 1970s. As the decades passed, totals and individual lifts flew higher than powerlifters' bodyfat percentages as new gear generally associated with surviving gunfights made even more impossible poundages possible. As I've long held that geared powerlifting is something fat people do to pretend they're strong, I decided to ask someone with a kevlar fetish and knowledge of pharmaceuticals for his opinion- did geared powerlifting kill raw strength?
Nick Tsourounis, 2100 pro multiply total at 242.
As I wanted to cover a few topics with Nick due to his unique perspective, this one will read much in the same way my conversation with Bob Benedix did. Not only does Nick compete in gear, which is incredibly rare in my life, but he is a registered pharmacist, which will address a couple of the outstanding questions at once.
In re whether geared lifting has advanced raw powerlifting, i.e. since geared lifting seems to basically amount to extreme forklift driving, what its effect on raw powerlifting was.
In re the death of geared lifting:
In re whether geared lifting has advanced raw powerlifting, i.e. since geared lifting seems to basically amount to extreme forklift driving, what its effect on raw powerlifting was.
"OK - soapbox moment - and don't take offense to this- I'm not saying the geared guys are crossing over at the same level they were geared, but you see a lot more geared guys cross over and do ok in raw, rather than vice versa. Raw guys won't cross over - so that forklift comment is a perfect example of not having a frame of reference. Many guys take their gear off and are still pretty damn strong right away- connective tissue little dicey, but whatever. I'll give you that guys who start out raw are strong enough to handle the loads with gear and guys who start out in gear are flashes in the pan, and guys who train in gear all year, just like the guys who run gear right from the outset of training- the 20 year old phenoms with more backne than muscle mass.
Look at it this way, though- go to a high level geared meet and watch the guys in the warm up room. Most people don't want to acknowledge it, but the best geared guys are incredibly strong raw. I'll give you an example- Frankl smoked 40lbs under the raw world record in the warm up room before his geared WR bench. I've seen more 500 and 600lb raw benches in the warm up room at geared meets over the years than I've seen on raw platforms. Another factor playing into the myth that geared guys are weak out of their gear is that geared guys don't even know what their raw maxes are, because maxing raw is risky, and if that's not your sport why bother? It's like an MLB pitcher trying to find out how fast he can throw a softball.
In short, geared lifting has made me stronger raw. It brought my tricep strength up a lot being in a shirt, and my confidence to get under a heavy squat. You guys might think it's just a way for fat fucks to move weight, and that we're all weak, but that's just not the case- we're strong as hell, and [Ed: sometimes] jacked too. Ladnier and Pacifico were jacked, as was Coan. Chaillet (my first coach) was a monster. Kaz, Doug Furnas, Rick Weil, John Gamble, and Kirk were all incredibly strong and muscular in and out of gear."
In re the death of geared lifting:
"Geared lifting is on the decline but not necessarily dying. Take a large step back from the sport - interest in powersports in the US are dwindling across the board. In my perspective it's a cultural issue - the demasculinization of America. Planet Fitness is a perfect example of this phenomenon, and moving past that, children are raised to NOT be competitive, to NOT want to be better than their peers, so we're losing that new crop of young kids that is supposed to come in as new talent. CrossFit is bringing a few people back to the iron sports, but it's not like it was 15 years ago when you would see high schools with full PL teams. The CrossFit crew is competing raw - further depleting the talent pool. On top of all of that, times are financially tough, and geared lifting costs too much. Gear is ridiculously expensive - not many people can afford $500-700 in new gear for each meet."
If only the saddies were as awesome as this dog.
In re raw powerlifting and the decline in performance there:
"Historically speaking - all raw feds starting popping up in 2002ish. These feds tried to agree on standards and thus the elite totals dropped from the original AAU 1973 lists then (around 2005-2006 if I remember correctly).
Another factor that needs to be considered is drugs. Though recreational steroid use has steadily increased over time, you are also not dealing with pharmaceutical 'I got this at the pharmacy' grade drug use. Pre-1991, you could get bottles of dbol, anadrol, deca, test, equipoise, and halo from your local CVS, straight from an FDA approved manufacturer. Now the stuff you get is questionable at best- made in a bathtub or someone's kitchen. The raws now come from China, and just look at the news reports the past 6 years- we can't even trust them to make dishes, dog food, or tampons without accidentally poisoning the end product anymore, can we? What makes us think that powder is real, or at least - not contaminated? People are getting heavy metal poisoning from a lot of these powders that are contaminated, especially with primobolan and masteron, it seems. How many guys have you known get on HRT and say '200 of the real shit feels like 500 a week of homebrew'?"
I tire of finding non-porn pictures.
In re the concept of "fairness", as it pertains to cutting weight, cutting squats close rather than sinking them, etc.
"Squeaking around the rules has ALWAYS been there- it's what happens when people get competitive. Hatfield had the spotters pull the rack away from him so he didn't have to walk out. People can add all of the arbitrary and uncodified additions to rules about form they want, but interpretations are a bitch, and bending the rules is still going to happen. Throw on top of that the non-uniformity of enforcement and people will always bitch."
"All of the aforementioned factors combined - and I just skimmed [the first article in this series] you shared (now that's fucking GOLD) - is a multifactorial view of what's wrong. I agree with the millennial bullshit as well."Well, then. It was apparently not geared squatting, and probably wasn't drugs, in spite of the fact that the drugs of the 1970s were far better than those of today. What's that leave, then? It leaves the internet convincing every special snowflake that he's not wasting his time, and the modern programming methods. That's right- the programs against which I have consistently railed, because beyond that and xenoestrogens and being useless Millenials, the lifters of today, save for myself and about two dozen other people, suck fucking ass. Want to know why?
GREAT LIFTERS LOVE TO LIFT
That's right, bitches- we love to lift. When do we ask what a lift works? NEVER. When do we worry about "crossover"? NEVER. When do we worry about "overtraining"? NEVER. Know why? WE LIKE TO FUCKING LIFT. We actually like to go into the gym and move weight. We like trying new things. We like seeing what our maxes are. We like going heavy. We like looking like we lift. We like thinking for ourselves. In short- we are everything the average lifter is not. Just look at your program- it's one of a handful of shitty cookie cutter programs, and it lacks volume, accessories, and fun. Then, look at how lifters in the 1970s lifted- they hit the big lifts 3-4 times a week, then did bodybuilding shit 2-3 other days. That's right- they trained like bodybuilders half the time.
- Mel Hennessy (#19 bench at 242in Soong's historical rankings) trained heavy two days a week and did bodybuilding the other two days.
- John Kuc (#3 total at 242 in Soong's historical rankings) trained the powerlifts three days a week and did bodybuilding the other three or four (Kuc).
- Ricky Dale Crain (#1 squat and #3 total at 148 in Soong's historical rankings) trained powerlifting and bodybuilding side by side five days a week, using unreal volume and capping every workout with 200 situps Todd).
- Vince Anello (#5 equipped deadlift at 198 in Soong's historical rankings) did one set to failure on every Nautilus machine to finish his workouts "for all [his] bodybuilding" (Anello).
- Gene Bell (#12 equipped squat and #7 equipped total at 181 and ranked top twenty in both for 198, using shitty 1980s suits and wraps) competed in both powerlifting and bodybuilding simultaneously, and incorporated all of the typical bodybuilder lifts like hack squats into his routine year round (Tuscherer).
I could go on, but I think my point should have been made at this point- all of the elite lifters I interviewed look like bodybuilders. I am constantly accused of being a bodybuilder. The lifters of the 1970s included bodybuilding specifically in their routines, and many of them competed in both bodybuilding and powerlifting. That's not the entire story, however, because as Paul Sutphin described when I asked him what he thought the problem with modern lifters is, they don't go heavy enough, either. As I've long harped on this, I don't think it really bears much more treatment. In the event, however, that you need an example, just look at the training methods of Mike MacDonald, who is in the top five on Michael Soong's Historical Rankings List for the bench press at 181lbs (#4 with 522), 198lbs (#2 with 562), 220lbs (#1 with 582), 242 lbs (#3 with 603). Mike barely trained the other two lifts, as he really just wanted to be a badass at the bench, and he obviously fucking was. His routine was simplicity itself, and it was fucking HEAVY (Todd):
Science is still trying to determine how those arms handled that poundage, but he fucking moved weight.
135 x 5 x 2 sets, to get the feel of the bar.
325 x 1
325 x 1
325 x 1
425 x 1
525 x 1
625 x 1, all sets concentrating on technique and form.
Sticking Point Lockout (moves grip in 2"-3")
475 x 3
475 x 3
Bent-Bar Benches (using a special bar that increased his range of motion for an extreme stretch at the bottom that would turn a 300lb bencher into a 225lb bencher using it)
435 x 3
435 x 3, using a 5-second pause on each rep
435 x 3
Unless this is a shot of your bedroom, block periodization is likely not your best bet.
In summary- the state of modern powerlifting is poorer than a rural Moldovan IT technician, and it seems from the feedback that there a a great many people content with that situation, and who will bandy about the performance of the few people who actually give a shit about training as a counterargument to the unassailable fact that modern lifters cannot hold a candle to the lifters that preceded them. As such, it is incumbent upon everyone to drag this shit up out of the muck, as meets these days appear to be rapidly dissolving into something akin to a Bronie convention, and that cannot be allowed to happen.
This, however, needs to happen more often.
Anello, Vince. 14-Week Deadlift Cycle. The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. 11 Feb 2011. Web. 20 Apr 2014. http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2011/02/14-week-deadlift-cycle-vince-anello.html
Bradshaw, Nick. Steroids investigated. Men's Health UK. Web. 17 Apr 2014. http://www.menshealth.co.uk/steroids-investigated
Hollister, Vernon. Mel Hennessey, Bench Press King. Muscular Development, 1972. Web. 20 Apr 2014. http://www.strength-oldschool.com/topic/187-mel-hennessy-bench-press-king/
Kanayama G, Hudson JI, Pope HG Jr. Illicit anabolic-androgenic steroid use. Horm Behav. 2010 Jun;58(1):111-21. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2883629/
Kuc, John. An Advanced Squat Training Program. Tight tan slacks of Dezso Ban. 22 Oct 2013. Web. 20 Apr 2014. http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2013/10/advanced-squat-training-john-kuc.html
Rogers, Cori. Anabolic steroid imports up and on the rise. Zepol. 19 Jan 2013. Web. 17 Apr 2014. http://www.zepol.com/blog/post/2013/1/19/anabolic-steroid-imports-up-and-on-the-rise.aspx
Sutphin, Paul. Powerlifting: The total package. Bloomington: AuthorHouse, 2014.
Tatar, Ben. Vince Anello Deadlift Legend With Interview. Critical Bench. 20 Apr 2014. Web. 20 Apr 2014. http://www.criticalbench.com/Vince-Anello.htm
Todd, Terry. Mike MacDonald. The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. 13 Sep 2011. Web. 20 Apr 2014. http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2011/09/mike-macdonald-terry-todd.html
Todd, Terry. Rickey Dale Crain. The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. 16 Jul 2011. Web. 20 Apr 2014. http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2011/07/rickey-dale-crain-terry-todd.html
Unitt, Dennis J. The history of the International Powerlifting Federation. IPF. Web. 17 Apr 2014.