Sunday, July 20, 2008

From 115 To A World Record Press - George "Ernie" Pickett

From 115 To A World Record Press
by George “Ernie” Pickett (1968)

I remember when I first started weightlifting in 1959. My friend, a Maryland State heavyweight champion, had succeeded with a 240-pound press. This looked astronomical to me then, and I certainly had no idea that I would one day press almost twice as much.

Unlike most lifters, I did not begin training until I was 22 years old. My friend got me to try the weights, and I managed a very wobbly 115 pound press. I weighed 185 pounds at a height of 6’4”. But after this there was only one thing for me to do, and that was start working.

As a beginner I did just about all the things beginners usually do. Bench presses, behind the neck presses, squats, curls, situps and all the rest. But I always worked very hard on the power clean, because I knew no matter how strong you were at pressing, if you couldn’t get the weight to your shoulders you weren’t going anywhere.

With the help of my blender and as much protein powder as I could afford I managed to put on some muscular weight. I remember my brother and I used to buy Energol by the gallon and then split it to save money. And after some more time training, I decided to enter my first contest. I felt pretty cocky as I had about two years of training under my belt, and could press 205 quite easily in training. But it was different at the contest. My first press wandered out front and my toes rose. My friend said jump to a higher weight, so I took 215, which I failed to get off my chest. So, I had a fine start in competition with one contest entered, one contest lost.

I tried again in 1962 with a little better result, as I won the Best Lifter Award. Two months later I pressed 260, snatched 240 and clean & jerked 330 to win my first state title. I weighed 230 at this time.

The following summer I tried a new press routine consisting of 7 sets of 3 repetitions with the same weight, after warming up with lighter weights. I did this off the squat rack because I wanted to concentrate on the press without worrying about the clean. This routine was very successful, as it not only gave me increased power, but as my arms and shoulders got tired it forced me to learn to lay back, and use more body drive. When I started, I was doing 7 sets of 3 with 185. Six months later I was doing 7 sets of 3 with 235.

But after a while I made no further progress on this routine. I tried a varied program of bench presses, standing dumbell presses and other assistance exercises. I worked my press up to 290, which was a Maryland record at the time. I felt pretty good about it too. But my pride was short-lived, because I was greeted one day by one of my lifting friends with the statement, “A little 175 pound Scotsman just pressed 300 pounds!” The Scotsman was Bill Andrews, who turned out to be the 181 National Powerlifting Champion.

At first I did not like him, for obvious reasons, but after a while y curiosity overcame my injured pride and we got to be good friends. I noticed that his press was entirely different from mine. He drove the bar off his chest with a tremendous body whip. I asked him about this and he enthusiastically began to describe the Olympic press to me. He drew a diagram on the blackboard, showing that the whole body is bowed from head to heels in an arc. It was important that the lifter keep his buttocks licked tight, which would keep the body from bending at the knees and waist. One of the most difficult mistakes I had to correct was my habit of driving the weight too far forward and losing the press in this manner. O solved this by laying back and looking over the referee’s head, and concentrating on pressing the weight back over the head.

I had now developed the pressing style that is with me today. This style helped me to break my old record by 30 pounds. Within four months I was pressing 320. Because of my new style, the power clean was no longer right for me. It caused me to stagger about, and lose energy that I could use for pressing. I switched back to the squat clean, which not only saved energy, but made sure the bar was in the same place on my chest every time.

With the new press and the squat clean, I decided that what I needed most was power. Because I have always felt that the press should be attacked from all angles, I used every assistance pressing exercise I could find, at one time or another. To increase my press from 320 to 340 I used the Isometric rack, working from the starting press position, driving the bar about six inches, and holding the bar for about ten seconds on the third rep. I also worked from eye level, and press out level on the rack with three reps at each position.

It took me about four months to increase my press from 340 to 370. I used wide-grip presses in sets of three, and push presses, as well as isometrics, and increasing my bodyweight.

In the summer of 1967 I worked on the powerlifts, with emphasis on bench presses, dips, and steep seated inclines to put most of the work on the deltoids and triceps. These played an important part in my pressing 400 pounds at the York picnic on Labor Day last year, which was the first time I had ever pressed this much. I continued to use this routine, and this helped me press the 410 I needed at the try-outs at the York gym, and the 413 I pressed at the Pre-Olympic games. I missed my first clean with 402 at these games, and had to take this weight again which kept me from a chance at the 425 which I had hoped to press.

At this time I felt that 420 or 425 would be the most I would be able to press for some time, but on the 29th of January I tried some heavy presses off the racks at the local YMCA. I worked up to 430 for a new personal record and made an easy success with it. I took 445, which was above the world’s record and made another good lift with it. Everybody in the gym was surprised that I had done it, but I don’t think there was anyone as surprised as I was.

With this under my belt and the 450 clean I had made at an earlier contest, I felt I had a chance at a World Record, and decided to try for it at the YMCA Nationals. I trained hard up until a week before the contest, and then tapered off the last week. This gave me enough rest to be ready for the contest, but not too much, which would kill my appetite for heavier weights.

On Sunday, January 24th, 1968, I pressed a World Record of 445 pounds. And it was an easy press. I now feel that I am capable of a 460 press by Spring.

Although I have never had a steady coach, many people have given me advice and encouragement. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them. They have really helped.

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