NATURALSTRENGTH.com – Old School Weight Training Strength Strongman Power Vintage Bodybuilding: In Search Of A Small Pond


I stopped training in a commercial gym several years ago.  Fortunately, it was before Covid so I didn’t have to scramble to find a place to train when everything shut down during the Spring of 2020.  I have never regretted my decision to do all of my lifting at home.  Being a “cellar dweller, “ even though I have no cellar, or a “garage gorilla,” even though I don’t have a garage,  has enabled me to avoid a lot of the silliness that takes place at the typical commercial gym.  Of course, I am not totally immune from the craziness.  A casual glance at various videos that have gone public has confirmed what many serious strength athletes have known for years:  If you want to train seriously and progressively, then you will definitely be in the minority if you train at a gym.

     Years ago, “Maximum” Bob Whelan used to sell a t-shirt that read as follows:  “No Toning. No Chrome. No Bull. Just The Workout of Your Life!”  This was in reference to his great training facility in Washington, DC.  I had the pleasure of visiting his place on two occasions, and I can tell you that even though it was considered a “small” facility, it was one of the best equipped gyms I’ve seen.  Some basic machines ( Hammer Strength mainly), some bars ( Olympic, trap bar, thick bars), and lots of free weights.  YORK weights.  This was the kind of place where the inspiration and motivation was palpable.  If you couldn’t make gains in a place like that then you should have been embalmed.  I particularly remember one of the signs hanging on the entrance door.  It went something like this:  “ If You Train Here You Are Not Normal.”  I’ve always remembered this because it is true on so many levels.

     Today, as it was back then, the desire to get bigger and stronger seems to fly in the face of current training.  When I first began to lift, most people who went to the gym wanted to get brutally strong.  Most lifters also sought to get massive, too.  Size and strength were the hallmarks of most training routines.  Nobody wanted to get “buff,” or “jacked,” or “cut up.”  Incidentally, I still don’t know what buff or jacked means, and I really don’t care to know.  But I’m fairly certain it has to do with mirrors, posing, and/or shirtless selfies.  

     Now trying to gain size and strength is still a goal, especially for younger trainees, but how many people will do what is needed to get stronger?  Everybody may have the desire to make progress, but how many have the will to work brutally hard on the basic movements in order to make progress?  Years ago, Hall of Fame Basketball Coach Bob Knight was quoted as saying “Everybody has the will to win.  Few people have the will to PREPARE to win.”  Whether your goal is becoming a great basketball player, or a successful lifter, you must be willing to train brutally hard, on a consistent basis, while forcing yourself to push the poundage progression so that gains in strength will accrue.  

     I think when Bob said the people who trained with him were not normal, he was stating an obvious truth:  Most people do not want to put in the work.  Heavy Squats, brutal deadlifts, and strict movements are not glamorous.  Nor are they always fun.  Getting sufficient rest in the form of adequate sleep and recuperation between workouts requires discipline and sacrifice.  If you are considered a “hard gainer,” then you will have to pay strict attention to your diet to ensure that you are adequately fueling your body so as to make gains.  Eating four or five meals per day, training heavy three days per week, going to bed early are not considered to be “normal” for most people.  But if you’re serious about getting stronger, you will do whatever it takes to make progress.  

     Naturally, when I say “whatever it takes” I mean doing it without the use of steroids, PEDs or any other drugs.  It should go without saying that on this website, “natural strength” should be unequivocal.  That’s another advantage of training at home.  I don’t have to be witness to some steroid-bloated druggies taking up space in a commercial gym trying to impress themselves.  But that doesn’t mean that I can totally avoid some things that are unsavory, silly, or outright dangerous.

     I’m referring to the endless videos that some of these yo-yos love to post.  These yahoos, and their ever-present retinue of “gym bros” put out a lot of material for the public consumption.  I’ve written about some of these clowns before.  The guy who is wrapped to the gills in a supersuit, knee wraps, while squatting with the bar half-way down his back, lowers himself into a quarter-squat, then comes up to the deafening cheer of his cheerleaders ( “All You Bro!), and then claims it as a raw squat.  Or the guy wearing a double-denim bench shirt, then letting the bar bounce off his chest and claim an unequipped bench press.  However, lately I have noticed something that has been happening with increasing frequency.  After performing these dubious, even bogus lifts, they have the nerve to claim it as some sort of world record.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a video where the title is something like “New World Record Squat,” or “So-and so just broke the world bench press record.”  Obviously, most experienced  lifters know the real deal when they see it, and more importantly, they know when someone is pretending to be something they’re not.  Performing a bench press or a squat with a four inch range of motion will not cut the mustard. Neither will using a trap bar with raised handles and claiming that you have broken the world deadlift record.   Yes, you may be a hit with a gym full of impressionable beginners or others who may not know better, but in reality, who are they kidding?  The answer to that is quite simple, they are only kidding themselves with their bogus lifts.  If these people are that desperate for attention that they have to make false claims on their videos, then where will it end?  Yes, they seek smaller ponds in which to dominate, but is that really the goal of lifting?

     Recently, I had the “pleasure” of seeing an instructional video that dedicated to teaching lifters the correct way to hitch their deadlifts.  Yes, I realize that deadlifts performed in strongman contests are different than those in powerlifting meets, although I honestly don’t know why there has to be a difference.  I also realize that not everyone is a purist when it comes to the lifts.  But when you throw away the rules, who really benefits?  Does the end always justifies the means?  Has the world of strength become so Machiavellian that we overlook simple, common sense?

     Pulling a bar off the floor to the tops of your knees, then bending your knees and riding the bar up your thighs is many things, but it is not now nor ever will be a legitimate deadlift.  Just like wearing a sling-shot device and wrist wraps and elbow sleeves will never be a “raw” bench press.  What happens when rules ( and laws for that matter) are not enforced? Nothing good.

     Recently, I remember seeing something on the IWF website about considering making major changes to Olympic weightlifting.  No more press-out rule, fewer referees ( one instead of three), and new formats of competitions.  During the last few years, while powerlifting has become more and more of a joke, it was refreshing that Olympic lifting had maintained their standards.  Indeed, it even appeared as if they were getting even more strict about the rules.  It would be a damn shame if these changes were to take place.  

     I’ve mentioned the late Rudy Sablo in previous articles.  Mr. Sablo was one of the most respected figures in international weightlifting.  He was one of the most respected figures in the sport.  He was also known for being one of the most strict referees.  “Red Light Rudy” was known for being a stickler for the rules.  That may sound petty and mean, but the bright side was that if you got a lift passed by Mr. Sablo, then you knew it met the highest standards of the sport and that there would be no question as to the legitimacy of your accomplishment.  What good does lowering the standards do?  What kind of lifter would want to compete in an “anything goes” type of contest?  I would hope that the great majority of lifters would like to compete in a strictly run contest, with rigid adherence to the rules.  Yes, your total may go down, but your legitimacy and integrity will remain intact.  I understand that there are those who thrive in loosely run contests where the rulebook is “thrown out the window.”   Sadly, judging by the videos, this number seems to be growing.  For those, I say again, keep looking for that smaller pond.  You will eventually find your niche, and your  world records.

     Last month, on July 27, was the fortieth anniversary of my joining Bruno’s.  I remember that day as if it were yesterday.  I can remember the sights, the smells, the sounds ( The Eurythmics were on the radio ) from when I first walked through the door.  One of the many things for which I am grateful was the opportunity to train in an environment where you learned to lift “the right way.”  Not only was drug use strictly forbidden, but those who trained there were taught to perform the lifts in a safe, effective manner.  Those of us who went on to compete were taught to do the lifts in a strict manner.  Larry, and many of us, were accused of being purists.  Perhaps that is so, but in our defense, I don’t ever remember a contest when any of us came close to bombing out of a meet.  We always put up a total.  There were times when that total was good enough to win, and even set some local and state records.  But we were content to swim in a big pond and let our lifting do our talking for ourselves.  Win or lose, our lifts were always legitimate and above reproach.   

Left to right: Dr. Rich Seibert, Tom Tedesco, Bill Mannino, Chris Newins, Bob Sailor, Mike Doucette, Jim Duggan 



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