Wednesday, October 8, 2008

How Ike Berger Trained - Howard Alpert





Train for Strength with Ike Berger
by Howard Alpert (1982)


The period of the 1950’s to 1960’s spans what has been called the Golden Age for America in weightlifting. Among the names that appeared regularly in the results of national and international competitions are those of John Davis, Norbert Schemansky, Dave Sheppard, Pete George, Tommy Kono, Stan Stanczyk, Chuck Vinci and Paul Anderson. But perhaps the name that appeared most frequently, the lifter that dominated his class throughout this period of time, the athlete who pound for pound was often called the strongest man in the world, is that of Isaac “Ike” Berger.

Ike’s accomplishments are legendary. Lifting in the 132 lb. class, he won nine National Championships, three World titles, a gold medal in the 1956 Olympics and silver medals in the 1960 and 1964 Olympics. His 270 pound press, 242 snatch and 336 clean & jerk are evidence of his phenomenal strength.

While Ike used such lifts as the squat and bench press only as assistance exercises, his 500 lb. full squat and 320 bench press would be among the highest ever performed in national or international powerlifting competition. Even though Ike did not do deadlifts on any regular basis, his performance in the clean & jerk and the repetitions he would do in clean pulls with poundages in excess of 400 lbs. would seem to indicate a deadlift capability in the area of 500 lbs. Thus, if powerlifting meets were held during the years Ike was competing, he would have held the National and World titles in his class in this sport too.


A detailed look at the training philosophy of this lifting great could provide invaluable information for anyone interested in strength training. The principles that helped build one champion may be of assistance in building others.

Ike trained three times a week on the Olympic lifts. Assistance exercises such as squats, bench presses and pulls were included in two of those workouts. when he wasn’t training for a contest, Ike would work up to about 80% of his personal records. Ike would start with a given poundage and work up gradually over 6 to 8 sets to the heaviest weight for that day. Singles were performed for all sets after the first three. These periods between contests were devoted to maintaining a base of strength to build from. “This was a time to allow my body to recover from the heavy training that went on just before a contest. Without this type of training period, I would have run the risk of becoming physically and mentally drained. This could have left me open to injuries that would have set my training back for months or even years.”

Contest preparation involved a twelve-week period of training with the lifting event scheduled at the end of the twelfth week. The twelve weeks were divided into two-week sequences. While the basic approach to training was the same as during the non-contest periods, the intensity of the training was increased. A typical two-week schedule would be as follows:

Monday – up to 90% - Olympic lifts and assistance exercises.
Wednesday – up to 80-85% - Olympic lifts.
Friday Week One – up to 95% Olympic lifts and assistance exercises.
Friday - Week Two – up to 100-100 plus percent – Olympic lifts and assistance exercises.
The Friday workouts of weeks four, six and eight were pushed very hard to try to establish new personal records. The Friday workout for week ten included only the Olympic lifts and was an all-out effort. Assistance exercises were dropped for the last two weeks.

“This method of training continued to produce positive results for me throughout my lifting career. It made it possible for me to successfully represent the United States in many competitions and I am deeply grateful for this.”

Ike Berger did it his way and became one of the greatest lifting champions of all time. Today he is strong, healthy, muscular and injury free. He performs 20 to 25 handstand presses on a bench at the end of each workout.

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