Sunday, October 13, 2013

Marty Gallagher's "Ban All Equipment" Article

Mark Rippetoe interviews Marty Gallagher
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

by Marty Gallagher (PLUSA, August, 1996.)

Fifteen years ago my old coach (and world champion) Hugh Cassidy wrote an article entitled "Ban the Squat." In it, the iconoclastic Cassidy postulated that loose judging and (then) newly invented powerlifting equipment had distorted the squat into something other than the benchmark test of strength it had always been. 

Hugh Cassidy
Wraps, belts and suits had made a mockery of the "King of Lifts" and, he gravely warned, once the Pandora's box of equipment-aided strength was opened, where would it end? "Chain mail suits? Spring devices placed behind knees?" At the time, we laughed it off. "That Hugh . . ." we chuckled, "what a prehistoric attitude; take a chill pill, coach. It's the 80's fer Chrissake. Powerlifters discover the super-suit and you act like it's some sort of apocalyptic armageddon - Relax! The sky ain't falling!" 

In 1996 the sky fell on powerlifting. In 1996, Cassidy's worst fears were confirmed. The wide-spread use of hi-tech equipment has confused the issue of who really is the strongest and lax judging has made it impossible to compare one federation's lifts to another's. We are experiencing the powerlifting equivalent of the biblical Tower of Babel. 

On a personal level, it all came crashing home to me like a head-on collision, when, in quick succession, I witnessed a 700-plus pound bench press and several 1000-plus squats. The bench was done in a bench shirt so tight and layered that the athlete literally could not get the weight down to his chest to receive the "press" signal. Can you imagine? The technology of the shirt was so restrictive that the lifter was actually unable to lower over 1/3 of a ton to his chest. What an incredible advantage this technology offers. To add insult to injury, in this particular instance, though (rightfully) no signal was given by the head judge, the lifter nevertheless pushed the weight to arms' length. Incredibly, the lift was passed and the crowd went crazy with glee.

Another tale - 

An honorable and sincere man recently told me how low and legitimate a recent 1000-pound squat had been. My friend was inadvertently making a profound commentary on the lifting times . . . that a big-time lift was legal was news! This is one helluva long way from the prehistoric days of yore when a bad lift that was passed was bad news. Nowadays if a record lift is "good", that is news. I had some personal knowledge of this lift and pondered the insider information like a Wall Street bond trader with a hot tip. Should I tell him? In the end, I didn't have the heart to tell him that in addition to groove briefs, a second half-suit, a double-ply reinforced squat suit and power-belt, the lifter used extra-length, specially made wraps. Totally illegal. The federation this fellow lifted in had equipment rules on the books, but had long ago dispensed with equipment checks prior to lifting or upon completion of a national or world record. Rules without enforcement are an invitation to anarchy.

Recent bench shirt innovations have lifters being corseted into shirts like Victorian women in search of 19-inch waists. Double ply shirts, quite literally twice as effective as single ply "normal" shirts, are available to average lifters. Triple and quadruple versions are being quietly made for the elite. The manufacturers of power-garb are engaging in a hi-tech powerlifting version of the nuclear arms race. In 1996 the equipment has overtaken the lifter in powerlifting - to the point that finance, garb and connections are as important to powerlifting success as raw human strength. Bizarro wold has invaded powerlifting. Hugh Cassidy's grave prognostications are now reality; unleashed upon the sport like the seven biblical plagues of eons passed.

Loose judging is the dirty little secret of the sport. We have mile-high squats being passed with brazen impunity. Benches that don't touch and aren't locked-out garner white lights. Lifts that would have been laughed off the platform ten years ago are now being held up as all-time strength feats. It mocks the strength gods and will surely bring the sport to its knees.

In 1986, in Maui, Hawaii, I helped Doug Furnas ready for his lifting in the inaugural APF world championships. The meet was being held in a community center and the warmup area was on a concrete back porch. The sun was hot and the  tropical breezes blew as we watched world class surfers negotiate 5-footers in Kaanapali Bay. It was perfect. To make things even more perfect, I was about to witness Doug Furnas achieve his greatest powerlifting total. Not that he needed much help. Doug stood 5'10" and weighed 275 pounds. He had a clean-cut abdominal six-pack with veins all over his delt-pec tie-ins and up and down his massive 32" thighs. Doug sat in a lawn chair dressed in a stretchy bathing suit. He was getting a suntan as he warmed up. He yawned a lot, said basically nothing and sipped a Gatorade. His friend Ric, his brother, and I collectively loaded weights, coached, gophered and warmed up Doug, Ed Coan and the great Mark Chaillet - as good a group as this man as ever worked with.

Every 10 minutes or so Furnas would ask us to load his warmup weights. 255, 455, 655 were all dispatched in rock-bottom, ass on heels, no-big-deal style. Furnas would squat and tan, squat and tan - seemingly more attracted to the crystal breakers and the gulls cavorting on the pristine beach then winning the world title. More into the surfing than the squatting.

He asked me to load the bar to 855. That was easy. Four 100-lb. plates on each side of a 45-lb. bar with collars equates to 855. I went into his gym bag to get his suit and wraps. As I was digging around, I glanced up to the warmup platform. Doug was positioning himself under the bar. He wore a bathing suit and no wraps, a pair of wrestling shoes with untied laces, and no spotters. He did wear a powerbelt, his sole concession to the ponderous poundage. Doug unracked the weight, stepped out, set up like he was walking t through a mine field and then squatted the son-of-a-bitch three inches below parallel, firing back up to fully erect in a milli-second. He re-racked the weight and looked at me holding his suit and wraps. "I hate wearing that shit!" Later that afternoon, wearing that shit: a suit, wraps and a belt, Doug squatted 986 like it was helium filled; literally smiling on his way up. "Let me put in for 1035 on a fourth," I pleaded. Doug would not hear of it. He wanted a total. He got his total when he benched 600 and deadlifted 826, for 2400. Later, he did a standing back-flip on the bench. Lord almight, what an athlete that man was!

In the not too distant past, I saw a man take over 1000 pounds out of a cradle. This cradle dropped the bar directly on the lifter's back, thereby allowing the athlete to avoid the walkout portion of the squat, a critical portion of the lift since time immemorial. Great men have had to walk weight out. Some have had a helluva time with their walkouts. All-time greats like Hatfield, McCain and Furnas have had terrible battles setting a weight up. The walkout portion has been an integral part of the squat since the inception of powerlifting. To eliminate the walkout is sacrilege. It makes the lift easier. Squats should not be made easier. If you make some squats easier than others, it eliminates our ability to compare one to another. The lifter who had taken the 1000-lb. weight out of the cradle stood cocked at a 45-degree angle, unable to stand erect with the ponderous weight. In prehistoric times, this lifter would never have been given the squat signal. Apparently, the modern head judge is now reduced to figurehead and cheerleader. The 1000-lb. head judge timed a perfunctory signal to coincide with the exact release of the cradle. No pause or insistence that the lifter demonstrate control before being allowed to continue - control, apparently, was just another quaint or antiquated notion. Another intrinsic ingredient of the squat discarded like trash, like yesterday's newspapers.

The lifter dropped and stopped to a point three full inches above parallel. He paused and began to ascend. When he reached the previous start position - bent over, unable to achieve uprightness - the referee quickly called "rack it" and the six spotters grabbed lifter and weight before calamity ensued. Three white lights. What equipment did he wear to accomplish this magnificent feat? The lifter wore a set of custom made groove briefs, then a "half-suit" (suit without straps) was placed over the briefs. Over top came the double ply squat suit. The material was over 1/4" thick with double stitched seams and patches at key locations. He wore a huge powerlifting belt and had extra-length wraps. Without equipment, this man would be hard-pressed to walkout and legally squat 700 pounds. With it, he had just exceeded Doug Furnas' world record.

Powergear and loose judging threaten powerlifting's existence and should be eliminated. ) ) No suits, no shirts, no groove briefs, ho half suits, no wraps. Maybe a belt. Maybe not. Judges need to be strict. Standards revisited and reestablished. A Jihad is a religious holy war. In powerlifting we need a Jihad, a holy war against equipment and slack refereeing, lest it devour us, corrupt us and turn us one against each other as we either impugn of defend the integrity of lifts. This Jihad would require us, as athletes, to face each other fairly, evenly and on a level playing field - as it once was. If we get the equipment out of powerlifting and the strictness back into the judging, we will return the sport to a fundamental purity that is has lost. This commitment is philosophical in nature and will require great ego sacrifice on the part of the lifts. In terms of sheer poundage, we won't be as strong. Make no mistake about it, to go equipment-free is to handle far less poundage. Strength is a greedy mistress, as scribe Bill Starr once observed; and part of the greed relates to a mindset that decrees that being able to squat 500 pounds (with equipment) is far better than "only" being able to negotiate 400 (without). Equipment manufacturers pander to and exploit this mass psychosis, this psychological delusion, this faulty logic that allows our egos to proclaim that heavier is necessarily better, even if heavier is artificial. It is not.

Lifters intuitively know that something is amiss in the sport. It can be corrected, but will require a grassroots groundswell on the part of the nameless, faceless, rank-and-file that make up the bulk of every organization. There is a collective outrage bubbling just below the surface, a revulsion at the direction the sport has taken. Sophisticated power-gear and incompetent judging emasculates the sport and makes powerlifting a laughing stock in the greater athletic community. Time for a revolution by the masses. The voting members of a federation ultimately control that federation. The membership of each of the respective organizations can simply vote the equipment out of their federations and legislate tight judging back in. Simple as that. Gather the concerned, coordinate the politics, get a motion on the floor and legislate the equipment out of the sport. Seize control of your federation of choice. Contact your friends and allies. You will be amazed at the consensus. Toss this crap. Crank it back and tighten it up. Restore some integrity and commonalities; or before you know it an athlete will need $1,000 in equipment to compete and be competitive. Are we truly interested in determining who amongst us is the strongest? Do we really want economics to partially determine who is the strongest? Is the strongest to be determined by who can afford a $225 shirt or has the connections to get illegal-length wraps?

Beware those who use the "equipment is protection" argument. This old faulty line has been with us since Christ was a carpenter and is as false and retarded now as it was way back when it was first offered up. Equipment is not meant to mask pain or reduce the chance of injury. The use of equipment increases the chance of injury because of the increased poundage it allows the lifter to lift. It is illogical to say that wraps allow you to squat 400 safely. If your body cannot handle a poundage safely, you have no business lifting that poundage. Period. If through the use of equipment you can suddenly handle this heretofore unsafe poundage, then friend, you are in serious jeopardy. If equipment strictly prevented injury and did nothing to increase the gross poundage handled, you would see equipment disappear from the sport overnight.

Let us be honest. We like equipment because it allows us to handle more and more poundage. There is (apparently) far more ego satisfaction to be derived from handling 600 with equipment than 500 without. We need to turn our back on such reasoning. My old coach concluded his exhortations in "Ban the Squat" with a simple premise; either eliminate the equipment from the squat or eliminate the squat from the sport. Of course, the bench shirt had not been invented when Hugh penned the piece. Had it been, I'm sure he would have included this diabolical invention in his vitriolic opine. In 1996 the choice seems to be all the more imperative. Either ban the equipment from the sport and tighten up the judging or watch as the sport perishes.     

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