Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Steve Merjanian - Dave Shaw

Steve Merjanian
by Dave Shaw

Those of us who are and have been admirers of size and strength can well remember the days before powerlifting became the recognized sport it is today.

In California there was a group of men who used bodybuilding exercises with unlimited poundages, and the results had to be seen to be believed. These men trained from the mid 1950’s to the late ‘60’s. They rarely entered contests and so were often thought of as fictional characters with no credits to their names, other than the rumors that surrounded them. Whenever the magazines reported a strength feat about the men, it was usually prefaced with “mystery man.” To a degree, they were mysterious, preferring to train when few people were around. But, the word still spread.

There was Chuck Ahrens, with his extremely heavy dumbbells, using them in such exercises as the incline press (250 pounds in each hand), dumbbell press (over 300 pounds), seated dumbbell curl (200 pounds in each hand), and a 405 pound bench press for 20 reps. He was strictly an upper body specialist, and weighed between 330-340 pounds. He is still living (1980) in the Santa Monica area, preferring to remain to himself, training very little.

Next was Richard Kee, who was known for his incredible shoulder width which tapered to a very thin waist. He had great strength, bench pressing 525 back in 1957. He too, weighed over 300 pounds, and is now a probation officer.

The third man, and probably the least mysterious of all, was Steve Merjanian. Steve has been seen by many people, performing a variety of exercises, so he is very real. Steve is considered a shoulder and back specialist, and photographs definitely support this. His bodyweight fluctuates between 280-300 no, as it did in the late ‘60’s when his training was heavy and hard. Steve trained, and continues to train five days a week, preferring now at age 44 to do repetitions with heavy weights, and not the weekly maximum attempts of the past.

In the ‘60’s he would commence each workout with a quarter-mile run, then begin his routine. At one time Steve trained with Bill “Peanuts” West and Pat Casey at the then famous Westside Barbell Club, where everyone trained heavy. Since one of his favorite exercises was the incline press, it was not uncommon to see him take 350 pounds as a warmup and perform 10 easy repetitions. His maximum was 495 pounds. Te other exercise he considered a favorite was the seated press behind neck; 335 pounds for seven repetitions and 395 pounds for one were Steve’s best attempts. Other exercises he used extensively were:

Dumbbell Front Raise – 165 pounds, one rep; Dumbbell Press, seated – 190 x 2 reps; Lateral Raise – 125 x 2, 100 x 4; Bench Press – 560 x 1 touch and go; Half Squat – 850 x 1. Squats were not done frequently; running in sand for resistance and running stairs were often favored over squatting. Holding two dumbbells out to the side at shoulder height in an iron cross position was also a strength feat that Steve performed.

Steve favored two types of routines. One emphasized 10-12 sets, doing 5 singles for the last five sets with a heavy weight. The other was 8 sets of 5 reps using as heavy a weight as possible. His back work emphasized pulleys of various types, twice a week using high repetitions, for a good stretch and muscle pump.

His diet was basic. No protein supplements, just multi-vitamins daily. He ate two breakfasts, had several sandwiches midmorning, a salad in the early afternoon fish, turkey, chicken or another lean meat for dinner. His eating habits have changed little. Today, Steve has not changed his approach to training very much. He weighs 295 and is still very strong, incline pressing over 405 pounds behind the neck pressing over 315 for reps.

In a recent conversation with Bill West, it was his opinion that Steve has kept his great strength over the years because over the years he has kept his routine consistent. Plenty of rest and relaxation, a mind free of worry, good food and regular training. I agree, and feel that although Steve Merjanian does not hold titles or records that others have, a lot can be learned from his approach to training for maximum progress and fulfilling one’s potential. Steve has been an inspiration to those interested in size and strength, myself included. How a person could be his size and achieve a physique with such muscular proportions has amazed and bewildered quite a few people, even advanced lifters, Few could approach his lat taper or shoulder width.

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