Thursday, August 2, 2012

Don Reinhoudt - Terry Todd

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Don Reinhoudt
by Terry Todd ( 1978)

http://www.starkcenter.org/

Much has been written through the years, some of it by me, about just exactly who is, or was, the strongest man in the world. As of 1977, many people feel that the title still belongs in the meaty paws of 44-year old Paul Anderson, the famed Dixie Derrick, but most Olympic lifters would argue that their own great champion, Vasily Alexeev, deserves it more. And competitive powerlifters, of course, contend that they have a man who is stronger than either Anderson or Alexeev, stronger than anyone who has ever lived. That man is the 6-feet, 3.5 inch, 360-pound Don Reinhoudt, Superheavyweight Powerlifting Champion of the World since 1973, holder of the world record in the squat (with 935), the deadlift (with 885), and the total (with 2,420).

Although this is neither the time nor the place to examine the question of who, if anyone, can be truly said to be the world's strongest man, it still seems fair to point out that in the deadlift, the most basic and simple test of overall bodily strength in existence, no one has ever done as much as big Don. I was there the day he pulled the 885, and let me tell you I was impressed. At my best, I could deadlift 800 pounds and once, using straps, I pulled 900 pounds a couple of inches off the floor; so I knew more than most what an awesome weight it was that Don had hauled all the way up to the top. The day I almost busted a gusset to break that 900 loose I remarked to one of my training partners that although I guessed that someone, someday, would pull 900 all the way up, it sure as hell wasn't going to be me.

I was also there the afternoon down in Texas at the 1976 Nationals when Don pulled 860 so easily that I'd lay money that on that day he could've made the big nine. He told me the day after he'd won his fourth consecutive world title that the feat of strength of which he was most proud was that 860 deadlift. Even though his 885 was heavier, he felt better about the 860 because it was made at a National meet and because he had pulled it so strongly. We had a long talk - one of many we've had over the years - the day after the 1976 World's, and naturally our talk centered on the deadlift, not only because of Don's historic swansong attempt at 900 pounds less than 24 hours before but because, to us, the lift in itself is to fascinating.

The evening before I had been deeply disappointed by Don's failure to complete the 900, but I knew that my disappointment was nothing compared to what he was feeling after having trained so long and so hard with the idea in mind to go out in high style - to let his last official lift as a competitive superheavyweight be a three white-light deadlift wiht the barrier weight of 900 pounds. "Give them something to remember the big guy," he was thinking. And he damn near pulled it. For my part, I would've given $100 to have seen him make it because if  there was ever a kindlier, more gracious, or gentler giant than Don or a more jovial ambassador for our sport I've never met him. He deserved to make it.

904 pound attempt




I'm no different from most folks in that I like storybook endings and had Don pulled that 900 on the last attempt of the last lift in the last contest of his long carreer, with the whole crowd up stomping and shouting for him as his old friend Larry Pacifico urged them on over the microphone by announcing that the attempt at 900 would be his farewell lift, it would have been the kind of ending in keeping with Ernest Hemingway's advice that a champion should go out on a particularly good day.

As Don and I reveiwed the training he had done for the meet, I felt even sorrier for the big man because if there was ever a batch of "best laid plans" it was his program of cyclical increases leading up to thte assault on the 900. Normally, his program calls for bench presses twice a week (Tuesday and Friday), squats twice a week (Wednesday and Saturday), and deadlifts once a week (Wednesday). During the last five weeks of heavy training before the meet, however, he dropped his Saturday squatting so he could really load on the iron on Wednesday and give his legs, hips, and back a full week to recover.

During those final five weeks, he used the following weights, sets and repetitions:

First Week:
Squat -
245 x 5
445 x 2
645 x 2
760 x 2
805 x 3
865 x 1

Deadlift -
245 x 5
445 x 2
645 x 2
760 x 2
805 x 3


Second Week:
Squat -
245 x 5
445 x 2
645 x 2
760 x 2
810 x 3
875 x 1

Deadlift -
245 x 5
445 x 2
645 x 2
760 x 2
810 x 3


Third Week:
Squat -
245 x 5
445 x 2
645 x 2
760 x 2
815 x 3
885 x 1

Deadlift -
245 x 5
445 x 2
645 x 2
760 x 2
820 x 1


Fourth Week:
Squat -
245 x 5
445 x 2
645 x 2
760 x 2
820 x 3
900 x 1

Deadlift -
245 x 5
445 x 2
645 x 2
760 x 2
860 x 1


Fifth Week:
Squat -
245 x 5
445 x 2
645 x2
760 x 2
825 x 3
920 x 1

Deadlift -
245 x 5
445 x 2
645 x 2
760 x 2
880 x 1

That monumental fifth-week session in which he totalled 1,800 pounds without even bench pressing was done two and a half weeks before the scheduled contest. He tapered down to the meet in the following way:

Eleven days before:
Squat -
245 x 5
445 x 2
645 x 2
760 x 2

Deadlift -
245 x 5
445 x 2
645 x 2
760 x 1

Seven days before:
Squat -
245 x 5
445 x 2
64 x 2
760 x 1

Deadlift -
245 x 5
445 x 2
645 x1

Besides the awesome weights he handles, several other things about Don's deadlift training are unusual, such as the fact  that he always uses straps in training, gripping the bar with his hands only in the meets. What's more, he never in any way trains his grip, simply relying on his huge hand size and great strength to keep the bar from slipping. Actually, part of the reason he always uses the straps is because of the size of thickness, the meatiness of his hands. His palms are so fleshy that he is understandably fearful that his hands would tear if he trained the deadlift without straps. Amazingly, his grip has never failed him.

Another unusual aspect of his training is his almost preposterous weight increases between sets. On his heaviest deadlift training day, he made successive jumps of 200 pounds, 200 pounds, 115 pounds, and 120 pounds - far more than usual, even for superheavyweights. His argument is that these huge jumps save his energy for the really heavy final single. He says that if you wear proper workout clothes so that you stay warm, all you need to do enough exercise to be sure that the muscles are sufficiently warm to handle a maximum attempt. He also feels that this technique gets his mind right for a big meet in that he doesn't need the usual large number of warmup attempts. He says it keeps him hungry for the big ones.



And speaking of being hungry, now might be a good time to discuss the victuals it takes to build 365 pounds worth of muscle and blood, although the average person will no doubt be surprised by the fact that Don is like most superheavyweights in that his average food daily food intake was probably in the 5,000-7,000 calorie range. Nowhere in his diet will you find whole suckling pigs or roasted turkeys eaten at a single sitting, and nowhere will you find gallon after gallon of milk. The era of the legendary trenchermen seems to have died with the likes of Louis Cyr, Horace Barre, and Louis Uni, men who thought nothing of going through ten pounds of meat in a day along with all the trimmings. Uni was once reported to have remarked to a waiter in a Paris restaurant after having eaten a filet mignon, "The sample was exquisite, now bring me the dinner."
Buying a whole beef tenderloin and trimming it yourself at home has its advantages. Not only will it give you different cuts of meat, it can cost about one-third the price of beef that has already been cut.


All this is not to say that Don andother supers don't do a far better than average job of hiding the groceries, but those of you who want to add bodyweight should be pleased to learn that size can be gained without rupturing either your stomach or your pocketbook. As Don trained through the years he concentrated on what can only be called standard American food: he ate lots of meat of various knids, lots of vegetables, and he drank his share of milk. In addition, he has used predigested protein for the last couple of years as he cut back on his milk consumption in an effort to avoid the bloated feeling which so often accompanies swilling glassful after glassful of the wonderful white stuff.

At least part of the reason for Don's success in gaining solid bodyweight was the REGULARITY with which he ate, trained, and rested. Don is no different from most champions. He is DISCIPLINED. When his program called for him to train, he trained; when his diet called for him to eat, he ate; and when his schedule called for him to rest, he rested, sleeping 8-9 hours each night. If any single thing can be said to be the secret to making gains in size and strength, that one single thing is REGULARITY. Don did not miss workouts, and he rarely, if ever, failed to get his required amount of food and sleep. Without this enormous capacity for self-discipline no amount of natural talent would have made him a champion.

And while I'm on the subject of the various things which helped big Don set 20 world records and dominate the superheavies for the last four years, I want to be sure to give the proper credit where credit is due, because he didn't do it alone. He couldn't have done it without his coach. He couldn't have done it without his longtime training partner, and he couldn't have done it without his masseuse. Fortunately for Don and fortunately for lifting, his wife not only isn't jealous of these close relationships, she couldn't be jealous of them because they were with her. You see, Don's wife coaches him, lifts with him, and when she has a couple of hours to kill, rubs him down. (Rubbing him down would be rather like painting the Titanic, I'd imagine.)

For years, Don and Cindy have trained together, coaching one another in their basement gym as well as on the platforms of the world in international competition. In my time I've seen many close personal relationships in lifting, but I've never seen one as close as theirs. They are in fact such a marvelous team - both so big and strong and gentle - that when my wife and I bought a pair of draft horses we named them after the Reinhoudts. Of course, our Don weighs 2,000 rather than 360 and our Cindy 1,850 instead of 165, but when it comes to teamwork I'm afraid the two-legged namesakes are a distant second to their two-legged godparents.

People who have never seen Don perform are amazed to see this absolutely gargantuan man accompanied onto the stage by a handsome woman who hands him his chalk, adjusts his uniform, and then shouts encouragement to him as he prepares to lift. And the things she shouts are hardly the traditional wifely urgings of "C'mon, honey" or "You can do it" or whatever. Instead she yells such things as you'd expect a workout partner and coach to yell: "Stay tight!" "Blow it up now!" And so on. Personally, I find their relationship deeply touching.

Besides being such a smooth-working team, they are both really first-rate people, so open and generous with their time. Because of this, Don is immensely popular with the fans, a true people's champion. Sometimes, he seems almost too friendly, and his energy and concentration before a big meet are drained away by endless questions and requests for photos from the hordes of fans who follow him wherever he goes. I remarked once that he reminded me a bit of one of the large greeds of dog (St. Bernard, Newfoundland, Great Pyrenees, etc.) whose friendliness seems to spring from the realization that only in that way will they get their fair share of petting - basically, they are fearful that their size will frighten people. They seem to keep on wagging their tails and hoping that the effect of their size will be secondary to the effect of their friendliness. Don's case, his friendliness is so open and transparently honest that his size does seem to diminish - to become somehow less threatening.


But don't doubt for a moment that he is a spectacularly big man. All-aroound, he is the biggest world-class lifter in Olympic or powerlifting history. Other men have perhaps been is some ways thicker - Anderson (5' 9.5", 375 pounds); Reding (5' 8", 320); Williams (6' 1", 345); and others have been a bit taller, Pickett (6' 5"), but no other top superheavyweight has had the overall size of Reinhoudt. Listen. He is between 6' 3" and 6' 4" tall and he has weighed as much as 380 pounds. Without exercising or "pumping up" his chest is 60 inches, neck 22", and his upper arm is 22.75". The most amazing thing of all, however, is that of his monumental forearms. His wife measured  his right forearm with his arm almost completely straight but with his wrist flexed to swell the forearm andthe measurement she got was 18.5". Lord have mercy! An 18.5" forearm!

The important thing is that I believe the measurement. I've seen all of the big men of the past 20 years, and none of them had forearms and wrists like Don. Of course none of them have had hands and feet like his either. Alexeev, for instance, wears a size 10 shoe, whereas Don wears a 15 EEE. Anderson has enormously thick, broad hands, but they aren't exceptionally long - Don's are thick, wide, and long. Even Dons head is unusually big, too big for even a size 8 hat. In short, his bigness is not all manufactured. He was born big and he just kept growing.

His father was also a big man, weighing 260 pounds at the time of his recent death; so Don came by his size honestly. In high school, for instance, before he'd ever touched a weight, he weighed 220 pounds in the middle of basketball season at the age of 17. So naturally when he began hitting the weights, the size came quickly as the muscles began to pack themselves into the nooks and crannies of his titanic frame. Don had weigher over 300 pounds for the past six or seven years, reaching the previously mentioned top bodyweight of 380 last year in training, but this past November after his retirement as a competitive superheavyweight, he decided to drop a hundred pounds or so.

When he got back home to Fredonia after winning the World's, he found that he weighed 365 pounds. That was November 10, 1976. On March 5, 1977, less than four months later, what was left of Don stepped on the scales and read that they registered 239 pounds, a loss of 125 pounds in less than 120 . As you can see, when Don decides to do something he does it, Jack. You can depend on it. At 239 he felt far too light; so he has let his weight slide back up to around 280, where he plans to remain in hopes that the proposed 275-pound class becomes a reality. He loves to compete, but he feels that he'd rather compete at the healthier weight of 275. The extra 100 pounds gave him great trouble as well as great strength. He was bothered by shortness of breath, lack of flexibility, and the continuing difficulty of being unable to do a lot of things that normal people do, such as bicycle riding, hiking, and fitting into regular seats in movies, restaurants, and airplanes. To be a superheavyweight is a sacrifice, and Don and Cindy both felt that four years at the top had been sacrifice enough.



As Don and I talked last November and again this past April when we were in New Hampshire to watch our wives lift, I tried to tell him what it has been like to be a retired superheavy - about the satisfactions and sorrows of losing almost a third of yourself. As talked, we came again to the topic that seems to us so endlessly absorbing . . . the deadlift. I asked Don to describe the man he felt would one day reach the seemingly unreachable weight of 1,000 pounds, and he said that he thought the first man to hoist a half-ton would be a truly big man; tall and heavy, with large powerful hands, a relatively short back, and an efficient deadlift technique. He said he knew of no one who was currently lifting who had the physical potential to make such a lift, but he agreed with me that among the ranks of pro football there must be a few men who could, with training, reach into four figures.

He told me about several of the Buffalo Bills who used to train with him and Cindy in Fredonia, one of whom was unable to lift 500 even though he was 6' 6" tall and weighed 285 pounds. We talked about Don's own amazing improvement in the deadlift - from an awkward-looking lift in the low 600's to a majestic success with 885. I told Don that he had reversed the usual trend of the superheavyweights by making bigger gains in the deadlift through the years t han in the squat. Usually, as big men gain they find that although the extra bodyweight provides far better leverage in the squat, it tends to hurt them in the deadlift by making it uncomfortable to bend over far enough and "sit" or squat low enough to have a solid starting position. This generally results in large increases in squat poundages and small increases (if any) in the deadlift. In 1972, for example, John Kuk gained 50 pounds in bodyweight from the year before (272 to 322) and although he put well over 100 pounds on his squat, he made no gains at all in the deadlift.

Don said he realized early in his career that this would be a problem for him; so he always worked extra hard on his bottom position, forcing himself to sit lower and lower until he was able to reach a point from which the great power of his legs and hips could be brought into play. He concentrated on keeping his heels close together but pointing his toes outward so that as he b ent down to the bar his thighs would spread and allow his belly to pass between them, thus preventing the cramped feeling most supers have at the bottom of the deadlift. He also was careful to keep the bar as close to his shins and thighs as possible throughout the lift, therefore maximizing his leverage. Another trick that he uses is to keep his head down during both the deadlift and the squat. In order to do this with full concentration, he simply focuses on the head referee's feet.  

Other than the deadlift itself, Don has done no other assistance exercises besides partial deadlifts on the rack. He used these before the 1976 Nationals, pulling a best of 935 pounds from the knees up. He always did them on Wednesdays, following his regular deadlifts. And he usually did six or seven sets of one repetition, starting at around 700 pounds and jumping 50 or 60 pounds per set. He has never done rows or power cleans or high pulls or shoulder shrugs, but he did experiment a bit with the good morning exercise some years ago. As in his squat and bench-press training, the big man likes his workouts basic - heavy and simple. Mainly heavy. His advice for beginners echoes this philosophy. He says that they should do the squat and bench press at least twice a week and the deadlift at least once and that they should concentrate on good  technique, using midrange repetitions.  



As we talkded about the various pretenders to his throne, Don had only praise for them, particularly for Doyle Kanady and Paul Wrenn. He realizes that his records, high as they are, will fall before the broom of history, and he thinks that Kanady and Wrenn have the best chance to do the sweeping. As this is being written in fact, I've just heard that both Kanady and Wrenn have in the past couple of weeks attempted to exceed Don's squat record of 935 pounds. Though neither of them broke it, one of them soon will and this would leave only the total and the deadlift in the mighty mitts of the big man from New York. And before very long even those will pass, as mine have done, into the pages of record books and the memories of powerlifting fans. At that time, Don will be sustained by the same thing that sustains me, which is that for a longer time than most he was the best in the world.

It will do.











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