Why Don't They Look Strong?

Create: 04/07/2006 - 07:15
Tim Bruner remarks that most powerlifters today don't look strong like the powerlifters of old. He argues that it's because of lax rules enforcement. He touches on, but then dismisses, equipment as a possible primary cause.

Where have all the "POWER" lifters gone? For example, Gamble,Cash, Ausby, Coan, Kaz, Wilson, Young, Reinhart,Thomas, Bradley, and so on? What have all these guys have in common? MUSCLE! Todays lifter with the exception of a few and I mean very few have the "look" and muscle that the true giants of yester year have. Before most of you get a bright idea and start calling me names let me tell you in advance...SHUT YOUR PIEHOLES! I was there 25 years ago and I am here today! I have seen the best and now I am seeing the rest! Why is powerlifting a JOKE by the public, because when a guy today benches 500 or 900 one would expect to see a pretty strong looking guy but today when one of these so called "power" lifters mingle with the crowds then the first thing a person says is, what the hell, he is a fat bastard! or he has no muscle at all! Better yet I am bigger than him! At this very instance the public discounts the lift as legit! Then they start making jokes about the sport! I was at a APF meet and saw kids(15 years) doing 500 squat and bench 300 etc and when they changed into street clothes they still had layers of baby fat with no sort of muscle at all. Then at the same meet guys who were 250 plus who looked like they never touched a weight yet moved some heavy pounds. How does this happen? Simple the rules were so bad that the general lifting pool has bought into the the idea that we should start doing 1/4 squats and bounce bench, etc SHUT THE HELL up! Everyone of you know this is true and you all are stupid for going along with it just to "UP" your lifts! ALL of you know it and should be ashamed of yourselfs. Look, don't use "its the gear" crap, its the cheating and phoney rules that is the problem! Lets be true and instead of making the rules easier, just so you can come close to the great lifters, make the rules harder! I know many of you are not strong at all and so that will be the end of your game! Just like the MASTERS, they made the course harder and longer, because of the new clubs and balls. SO I say lets make the squats go deeper(past 1/2 squat) and pause 2 or 3 secs instaed of bounce...its really simple Lets stay in tune with the times and loose the ego and stop with all the bogus lifts.

Others suggest that there are many powerlifters who look the part as well as pointing to equipment, not rules, as the primary culprit to Bruner's observation:

I agree! But, take the bench shirts away and we will see who the best of the best is! These shirts now a days gives up to 300lbs more. If you talk crap, to this post, we know you count on that shirt. That makes you a world champ!

Its more like steroids were easier to get and there wasn't much testing back in the day. Now lifters have to count on a bench shirt for strength! TAKE IT OFF!!! DO YOU NEED IT! OR ARE YOU NOT STRONG

From your list I think there are definitely comparable physiques in today's version of powerlifting. I do agree though that there's LOTS of guys out there that don't LOOK like they can do what they do. Course it's not about the look but the DO so does it really matter? But to name a few that certainly have the old school "look": Frank, Bolton, Kennelly, Chuck V., Mendy, Dirty Harry, Chabot (granted, not competing anymore), Ladnier, Andy Fiedler, Mike Miller, Arnold Coleman, Ruggerio, Halbert, Matt Smith...

Since you took off after your Texas Powerlifting Hall of Fame duties at the meet Tim, you missed the deadlifts. I haven't seen the results yet so I don't have exact numbers but, there were alot of squats attempted above 700, a few above 800, a handful of 900+ attempts, and one 1000 squat. The guy that did the 1000 pound squat gets a pass because he tore his bicep. Of those big squatters, do you know how many 700+ deadlifts there were? There was 1 successful attempt at over 700 pounds. And that guy didn't even squat 700! Now then, a 700+ pull is a big pull. But with guys squatting 200-300 pounds more than they pulled, you would think there would be more big deadlifts. I know that there is gonna be descrepencies between squats and deadlifts. People are sometimes just built better to squat than deadlift and vice versa. But still a 275'er who can squat a high 8 or low 9 should be able to muscle up 7!

Easy answer. You can buy 150-200lbs in your squat and bench with new equipment. It's roughly $1.00 per LB. The DL you have to actually work for. The days are gone when you see someone like Dave Pasanella routinely in the gym do reps with over a 900 in the squat and pull 750 for 5 and do stiff legged 650 for 5 in the same week and look like Hercules. It is too easy now adays to increase your squat and bench by over 100 pounds in just one phone call. There are a few guys out there who still train every lift hard raw and equipped. You yourself are one of those. Probably not quite as much fast food back in yesteryear either. There are still some guys out there today who train hard and look hard. Not fuel for an arguement, just my perspective.

Tim, I understand what you're trying to say, but have to disagree with some of it: 1. Look at guys like Ryan Kennelly and Billy Carpenter. Strong and ripped. There are probably others, but I don't know all the bodies, only the names. Garry Frank looks pretty strong to me. 2. Guys like Mendy, Meeker, Siders, Wolfe, Lattimer, Miller, Brandeburg - all have realized that gaining weight helps them move more weight. (Except for Meeker - he stays at 308 and just gets better!)

I have gone from 440 to 360 and have become stronger, As far as the deadlift goes I spent many years trying to emulate everyone elses technique and it did not woork for me so I lost weight started working my lower back, and despite what many say I have found that just because you have a big squat does not mean you will have a big deadlift at least not in my case. I started lifteing 50 gal drums with wheel weights. My deadlift has improved drasticly although my technique somewhat unconventional works for me. Tim I would agree with you in that people are way to eager to jump into gear I train people all the time and they just don't want to put forth the effort but I think this relates to a society as whole we would rather take a pill than do the work. The strongmen of today in my opinion no way compair to those of old. I have a gentleman who lives down the road from me who is in his 80's and in his prime at york deadlifted 500 at 135 raw. he can still do one arm chin ups. I think there are tons of great and strong lifters out there. scott rowe, brad vargison, jeff Mc Vcar and brian weston all look like they could go onto a body building platform and all have the heart of a lion. I used to think I worked out hard until last year when I started strongman....Tim I would say one more thing I am all for the rules and I will compete in anyway my federation wants, raw equiped etc. but lets not be to hard on everyone I have seen some strong raw guy out there I have seen bobby field do dips with 300 lbs I have seen one of my new guys squat 600 in the bucket raw after 6 mts of training I at 360 lab have done 39 dips and 10 pullups, I have walked a 900 lb yolk look at Josh bryant from what I have been told the kid is an animal. I do think we need to get the young kids a solid foundation as well as new people who come into the sport.

Joe Mazza have seen him do 315 for reps like it was 135as well as dipp well ove 100 lbs. booby fields built like a bick shit house have seen him do 530 for 3 raw. Bill Crawfor have seen him do 500 plus raw, Phill harrrington, anther well built guy, Joe Ladnier, sorry if I screwed up the last name. I agree alot with what you said Tim, it's one of the main reasons I started to cut weight I wanted to be strong and look strong as well, but not everyone is like that or has the genetics. As far as rule go they need to be uniformed and you need judges who are fair and don't play politics or have favorites...best of luk finding 3 of them and putting them in the same room...

Mikeyou forgot Billy Carpenter. He reps 500 like its nothing and is built like a greek god. I can also hold my own week after week! Jeff McVicar is a nother guy built like a greek god that is strong as hell! Brad Hein, Aaron Wilson, Jim Grandick, Nick Hatch the list goes on and on!


Submitted by TheGymMuse on
How many times have you seen an aspiring powerliftier come into the gym and the first thing they do before they touch the bar is put on a belt? They are conditioned and in their mind if they are going to lift weight, they need to use equipment. And they start right away when they should be developing a base level of strength. My thought is to get strong as you can without the aid of equipment prior to starting down that road. When I started trying to get stronger at an early age, I wanted to look strong. Some of us are not gifted with the genetics to look like a greek god. Neither am I. My goal when I tried to get in shape later in life was to get in shape and if I got stronger, that would be a plus. When I got into the sport of powerlifting and continued to train total body (like a body builder or fitness) I was critisized for not focusing on the three lifts and that I was wasting my energy on too many movements. Now that I am older, hopefully wiser and more in tuned to what I need to do to compete and stay fit, I try to find balance in that if I am training for a meet, the three lifts becomes my focus. If I am between cycles, conditioning and fitness becomes my focus. And this is something that is occuring with more frequency in that many lifters do not have a between or conditioning cycle in that they are constantly competing. My feeling is that more encouragement needs to be made towards aspiring lifters to train total body and get strong. Instead of only focusing on movements that will only target the squat, bench or deadlift. Perhaps we will then see lifters who are in better shape and better able to deal with the rigors of training void of some injuires. We also need to get back in the practice of performing the lifts according to the way in which the rules intended. There was a time when US lifters were famous for the depth of their squat. Now it is the Europeans and we no longer have the dominant lifters we once had. Lift..., what else?

Submitted by Lattimer on
OK, so when did powerlifting become about looks? Bruner wants everybody to look more muscular, Kidder doesn't like bald guys with goatee's, what next? What happened to lifting the heaviest weight you can, enjoying it, and trying to lift more next time? Last I checked, thats what this sport was. Not "who can lift the right amount the right way looking the right way". Shawn Lattimer www.shawnlattimer.com

Submitted by Doc Iron (not verified) on
Powerlifting, or strength athletics in general, shouldn't be about how you look. It should be about whether you can get the job done. There have been plenty of stength athletes in the past that haven't "looked the part". Think about the great Russian weightlifter Vasily Alexeev. The guy looked 9 months pregnant and his upper body wasn't exactly huge, but he could toss 250 kilos over his head. Hossein Resadeh looks kinda soft too ... but he totals 472.5 (second highest weightlifting total in history). In strongman consider Janne Virtanen. Looks more like a basketball player than a weightlifter but he did win World's Strongest man. At the other extreme think about Glenn Ross, certainly not the most athletic looking guy but he has tremendous static stength. Even Zynduras Savickas, who can definately make an argument for being the strongest human being who has ever lived, looks soft ... huge, but soft. Or consider Magnus Ver, even in his prime he had a belly and didn't look that huge but was nearly unbeatable. And as far as powerlifting is concerned, Don Reinhoudt certainly wouldn't win any bodybuilding contests but totaled well over 2400 with next to no equipment (about the same as Kaz, who WOULD stand a good chance of winning a bodybuilding contest). So it's not about how you look, but whether you can get the job done. That said, I DO agree with some of the posters remarks, continued in next message ...

Submitted by phreak on
powerlifting, from what I see of it, is already about looks. "Who's got the baddest goatee?", "Who can design the most metal(\m/)-looking meet shirt?", "Who is sporting the most tattoos?", "Who has the coolest beanie?", "Who has the most outrageous platform demeanor?", etc. Not that I care either way how lifters look. But it definitely already is about looks for a large portion of lifters. And like it or not: before ever having lifted a weight that will turn off the 16-y.o., 150-Lb kid who sees this and thinks: "I'll just bodybuild, because if I do this I'm never getting laid!". Smile The old argument "PL is for non-conformists" doesn't hold water. A lot of PLers aren't non-conformists. They just want to conform to a different social group, but conform they do.

Submitted by Doc Iron (not verified) on
Still, the poster has point. Between using equipment as a crutch, and allowing arch belly benching and virtually unlimited use of drugs, physiques in PL have generally gotten worse. I was reading a discussion on another website the other day where guys were discussing ways of reducing their range of motion (ROM) on the bench (to up their lifts). The consensus was that the fatter you make your belly and chest, the smaller the distance you have to move the weight. They were all praising a guy calling himself Bubbabench because I guess this fellow has a range of motion of only a few inches. This type of thinking IS indicative of the disturbing trend I've been talking about in powerlifting. Instead of thinking about "how can I work harder in the gym to become stronger and hence up my lifts" the prevailing thinking these days is "how can I bend the rules to my advantage to up my lift (without necessarily getting stronger). Can I dial in my equipment any better / or switch to better equipment? Can I reduce my range of motion (by cutting my squat a little short, developing a bigger arch or adding my belly fat)? Can I find a better steroid cycle? Now, this isn't to say that the best lifters in the world right now aren't strong. Mendelson, who holds the WR in bench right now at 1006, has apparently done 715 raw. Obviously, you must be massively strong to push 715 raw (even with a big arch). And obviously he had to work hard in the gym to get that way. However, I do feel that many younger, aspiring lifters see the equipment, the questionable technique and the drugs and get the wrong message from the current "masters". In the 1970's if you were an aspiring powerlifter and you saw Kaz and Reinhoudt totalling over 2000 while you were barely breaking 1000 your first thought was: "Damn, gotta work ten times harder in the gym if I ever want to be in the same league as those guys." Today, when you see Rychlak and Mendelson putting up over 1000 pounds on the bench, Becca Swanson totaling over 2000 pounds and Garry Frank totaling over 2800, you may think about training harder but that's probably secondary to: "Damn, I wonder what kind of equipment and chemicals they used ... and where do I get some? Also, let's study their technique and figure out how to make all the lifts easier." And sadly, I do agree with the poster that as soon as an "outsider" learns that the master powerlifter who put up the huge numbers did it: 1) Using equipment that added a few hundred pounds to his lift. 2) Was taking a boat load of steroids. 3) Used a technique that looks nothing like what the "outsider" considers legitimate (i.e. a huge arch belly bench). Our sport loses credibility. The lift and lifter get dismissed (Ah, he'd never be able to do that without all that help, if I had that help I could do it too!). Which is sad because, appearance aside, those lifters are tremendously strong, and that kind of thinking IS B.S. (speaking from experience, I couldn't bench 1000+ pounds or squat 1200+ if I had a forklift helping me!)

Submitted by Hoss (not verified) on
Doc Iron - you hit the nail on the head! The "old school" lifters needed to train just about every bodypart - shoulders, calves, etc., in order to maximize their potential. Using certain gear has all but negated the need for that. How many times to you hear of shirted benchers doing heavy military presses, etc. Don't get me wrong, the top powerlifters are strong Mo-Fo's but the training is not the same as it used to be, for better or worse.

Submitted by Lattimer on
I disagree with some of the thoughts here. #1, if the state of the sport turns people off, they really shouldn't be looking here anyways. #2, I was bald and fat long before I got into powerlifting at any sort of level #3, Who says the modern guys don't train hard and train everything? For instance, I totaled 1830 raw at my very first full meet, with a bum elbow and a questionable pec, and I had been training my squat seriously for about 8 weeks, same with my dead. How could I do that if i wasn't strong overall? Plus it was raw, so I don't want to hear the arguement that the modern guys are all equipment and no muscle. #4, I still stand by the fact that there are no points given for looks or prettiness in this sport. Most of the people I know just want to lift heavy stuff, and their looks, tattos, whatever, are a result of influences outside of powerlifting. Just my opinion. Shawn Lattimer www.shawnlattimer.com

Submitted by ZTrain on
Are you kidding me? Take a look at the picture of the guy deadlifting near a thousand a few posts back and tell me about looking strong... Dead suits don't give you crap, and the only truly phenomenal 100% raw all the time bench presser is either an injured one, one who's weights don't really matter, or someone who isn't currently capable of his lifetime max anymore and continues to milk it... Everybody on his list was strong, some were doughboys, and lots didn't need to be tested... I don't really get the focus of his post, first it's about the old guys somehow looking better than modern competitors and then its a squat rant. Any one of a dozen top level, I could break the record today competitors, look just as strong today. What's his point?

Submitted by Hoss (not verified) on
Shawn, I understand where you're coming from and I, myself could care less how somebody decides to present their physical appearance on the lifting platform. I guess the point of my comments is that training methods today are quite different than they used to be, say from the '80s and earlier... I'm not saying they are better or worse, although I feel they are actually better today in some instances.

Submitted by angelwarrior on
I think the time is come to make a revolution, a powerlifting rebellion, raw lifting is the answer! Powerlifting bad ass attitude is the key to lift big !!!

Submitted by Lattimer on
Hoss, Training is definitely different, but I don't for a second believe that people today train less hard for their results. Most train smarter, and in a more specialized manner. That is natural evolution, and a lot of the evolution has to do with the equipment. If you think people today don't train as hard, come to a Metal Militia workout sometime!!!! Shawn Lattimer www.shawnlattimer.com

Submitted by admin on
The point that powerlifting has nothing to do with looking good or strong is an accurate one. But does the fact that looking good might attract more people to the sport play any role in dismissing Bruner's observation out of hand? Is the argument that equipment contributes to powerlifter's not looking good a reason to question the use of equipment?

Submitted by ZTrain on
Looking asthetically good has zero to do with the bottom line though... Remember the old Weider magazine that pitted Coans typical weights against Dorian Yates? One guy looked like a greek god and the other looked like the mailman - the weights told a different story though... If you want to check out the better looking guy, go watch strongman competitions. Strength and asthetics are mutually exclusive. Bodybuilder guy looks better, but isn't stronger than a strongman competitor, strongman competitor looks better, but doesn't have the static strength of a powerlifter (unless he's juiced out of his gourd). You want better looking? You're going to sacrifice the cutting edge weight attempts, and if you want cutting edge weight attempts sometimes your going to fail...Bottom line is that no one on his list holds a record anymore, and some never did - even with pharmaceutical help... A couple of the guys I've never heard of though. He points out poor form, and I say bigger weights are being attempted. You want to make an omelet you gotta crack some eggs - and if you aren't failing, you're not trying hard enough. Most elite level lifters would tell you that their failed attempts far outnumber their successes... Is it easier for Mr motivation to put on their equipment, train with it for 2 or 3 years and then compete at a local and national level and succeed? Yes it is. I think in the old days powerlifting was a pursuit that was specific to certain body types or people hooked up with a good connection (or a combination of the two). New equipment and materials have now blurred that line, and there are many ways for a clean motivated lifter to get on the top tier of that podium. Supers have the luxury of not having to maintain a weight class (and subsequently start to look like crap) but don't forget, its a full time job maintaining your body weight at maximum mass for your frame size. This isn't rocket science, it's moving heavy things, and mass is king whether your eyes like it or not...

Submitted by admin on
Some great observations. But a question on one of them. You said:

You want better looking? You're going to sacrifice the cutting edge weight attempts

Is it better to not care about looking strong and hitting the cutting edge weights or looking strong, hitting a bit less weight and possibly making powerlifting appeal to a larger audience? In other words, is it okay to sacrifice the pursuit of the absolute biggest lifts to make powerlifting bigger?

Submitted by Lattimer on
Jon, I'm still lost on WHY powerlifting needs a bigger audience, more appeal, or whatever. The sport has been basically underground since its inception. We have already witnessed the damage being done by attempts to create a professional venue. I really do not think that making this sport bigger or more mainstream is a good thing. Besides, have you seen the sumo wrestling on ESPN? They are far from pretty, but they packed Madison Square Garden for the event. The other thing I see, is that the whole concept of "looking" strong is crap. Some of the strongest people I have ever seen do not really look strong. Public perception aside, how are you going to tell somebodythey can't compete because they are too fat/ugly/bald/tattooed, not ripped enough, too tall, whatever, when they are physically able to be competitive. Sounds pretty anti-American to me. This very false notion that all the superheavies just add on fat to be bigger is really crap. I weighed 300 in high school, before i knew powerlifting existed. Mike Miller was over 315. Rychlak was in the 300's back when he was struggling to hit 500 in backyard comps. Take a look at Jeff Lewis's website, he was big as a little kid. These people did not become who they are for the sport. Who they are made them good at this sport. Many of the people speaking on this subject need to recalibrate their views, they have the cart in front of the horse. Shawn Lattimer www.shawnlattimer.com

Submitted by admin on
You're absolutely right that powerlifting doesn't "need" a bigger audience. But many would like to see wider acceptance, understanding and growth. Trotting out "strong" looking people might not even be the road to a larger audience. But it's one to consider. As in your sumo example, perhaps powerlifting just has to be packaged and sold differently.

The other thing I see, is that the whole concept of "looking" strong is crap. Some of the strongest people I have ever seen do not really look strong.

It is crap! But whether it's crap or not that's the public perception that needs to be dealt with.

These people did not become who they are for the sport.

True, but you've got to admit that there are many others who are big who have done it for the sport.

Submitted by ZTrain on
In your followup you said: Is it better to not care about looking strong and hitting the cutting edge weights or looking strong, hitting a bit less weight and possibly making powerlifting appeal to a larger audience? In other words, is it okay to sacrifice the pursuit of the absolute biggest lifts to make powerlifting bigger? I guess the answer depends on what your emphasis is. Why do I want to make powerlifting bigger and more accessible to the common person? I lift now for the thrill of beating down competition, but I originally took it up for the "Don't tread on me" aspect. Not exactly socially endearing... Powerlifting has a life cycle like any other endeavor and interests seems to eb and flow. From a business standpoint, the larger audiences for sports usually flock to see something they have an emotional investment in. My state against your state, my town against your town, my team against your team, my dad against your dad etc. Powerlifting simply isn't appealing to an outsiders need for emotional investment, your wife and kids love to watch you, but that's about it... Less weight and more physical appeal? Like I said, strongman is already doing that, with the added plus of having nationalities compete against each other in very interesting tests of strength. The layman has no idea what it is or what it feels like to hold 8 or 9 plates worth of deadlift, and seeing it in competition is like watching the grass grow. Turn that weight into wagon wheels or a Hummer, then all of a sudden there is a little empathy and emotional involvement. Rooting for a nationality is the icing on the cake, something Europeans excel at and Americans have drifted from. Check out any "Best state for powerlifting" thread, and sit back and watch the rabid replies... Mountaineer Cup and the Atlantis Foundation events seem to be touching on this needed (picking sides) team oriented emotional aspect. Up in my neck of the woods, the Hudson Open could touch on it, but somehow misses the mark. Personally, I made the decision a long time ago to trade sex appeal and mass appeal for being a little winded at the top of the stairs...

Submitted by admin on

Why do I want to make powerlifting bigger and more accessible to the common person?

Well, any single individual may not want to nor care. But if we believe in the uniqueness of powerlifting shouldn't we want more people exposed to it? Wouldn't it be more fun if you were "beating down competition" that were double or triple the number that you face now? Wouldn't it be great to have crowds of screaming fans that were manyfold what they are now? Wouldn't it be great to turn on your television and watch... powerlifting?

I lift now for the thrill of beating down competition, but I originally took it up for the "Don't tread on me" aspect. Not exactly socially endearing...

Can't both of those be packaged and sold to a wider audience? Bet a lot of MMA participants mirror your road. As far as an emotional investment, that may be where powerlifting is at now. But don't discount being able to package it a bit differently so that it has some.

Submitted by phreak on
I agree with you, Jon. More exposure for PL would mean more money involved. This can of course be a bad thing. But it could also ensure the best of the best could actually compete! Now virtually all lifters worldwide (especially outside of the US) have to pay their own way to world championships. Wouldn't it be great if they could get just their travel expenses paid for? Plus some top name lifters (and some not even at that level) are complaining that they want more money for their efforts. And you won't get more money without more fans. Is working on the exterior (good looks) of PL the answer? Maybe not. But people are shallow beings, so it is not unreasonable to assume it could>/i> make some sort of difference. But agreeing with some posters here: I too think watching meets is boring as all hell. A move back to the system still used by OL would probably help PL a lot more -- but that's another topic altogether. Biggrin

Submitted by admin on
That's an excellent topic you've started at FI. This is the kind of thinking that needs to occur to make powerlifting more spectator friendly.

Submitted by ZTrain on

Bet a lot of MMA participants mirror your road

Funny you use MMA as an example, it receives way too much of my time and money...:wink: Remember the early 90's UFC? Almost unrecognizable by todays standards due to rule and subsequent philosophy changes... The promotors make out like bandits though... Powerlifting will require rule changes, that will quite possibly make it unrecognizable, and put people outside their comfort zones. Which is usually a recipe for a new federation. Any takers...? As far as Olympic lifting goes, Overhead press - gone, Continental lift - gone. That sport evolved and they're still probably going to nix the event in the coming years... I'm not saying making it accessible can't be done, I'm just saying that it won't look like it does now... Constructive suggestion? One of my aquaintances (world ranked bencher) asked the question on a forum once... "Is there a way to make this a two or three man team vs two or three man team competition?" Maybe like a golfing best ball comp is run? It may be interesting to see a bunch of ringers/specialists gang up against similar teams... You see it in world strongman competition all the time. It always struck me as a fresh idea. I get the trademark though...