Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Doc Rhodes Approach to Powerlifting and Life - Arley Vest (1984)

Doc Rhodes: A True Champion
Arley Vest (1984)

Joseph "Doc" Rhodes is one of those rare people who seem almost too good to be true. He is, for example, a state, national, and world powerlifting champion and a world record holder besides, yet getting Doc to talk about himself is about as easy as trying to outlift him. And when he does speak, it is definitely not in the boisterous terms so commonly used by athletes today . . . no phrases such as "I'm the greatest!" or "I'll blow them all away!" or "I'll win or die!" Instead, he speaks quietly and modestly about his own considerable accomplishments while giving louder praise to those who have helped and encouraged him.

All of which does not mean that Doc takes winning lightly, but rather that he has sorted out his priorities in life with intelligence and compassion. His drive to succeed is more than considerable as the following story illustrates.

At the 1973 National championships, Doc -- lifting drug-free and without wraps as a middleweight -- got off to a good start with a 535 squat. On his third attempt bench, however, the bar slipped from his grip and 365 pounds slammed into his chest. The injury was so painful that Doc could not even warm up for the deadlift. It seemed the contest was over for Mr. Rhodes this day, but he had other thoughts. He waited until the bar reached the poundage he needed to win (a seemingly impossible, under the circumstances, 605), then went out and pulled it up. He blacked out at the completion of the lift but he was the winner!

Doc Rhodes was born in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi in 1947. He began weight training when he was twelve years old to overcome a lack of size and strength and to improve his ability in football. His first workouts were taken with J.E. Loiacano in the Loiacano garage gym and to this day Doc credits J.E. -- who now operates a fine healthy club in Bay St. Louis -- with being his original inspiration.

Doc made steady, if not spectacular, progress both football and lifting. During his senior year in high school he entered his first lifting meet, the Louisiana State Championships, and placed second as a 165-pounder. His freshman year in college -- Doc is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi -- saw his exodus from the playing field and his serious entry onto the lifting platform. By 1966 he entered his first national competition, the Junior Nationals, and has been a factor in national and international powerlifting ever since.

Since 1979 a series of injuries, plus increased family and business responsibilities, have limited his training, but Doc is currently in excellent shape and could be a serious threat any time he chooses to step on the platform. He has personal best lifts of 600 Squat, 402 Bench, and 688 Deadlift as a middleweight, but the feeling is that his all-time best lifts are out there in the future, waiting for Doc to claim them.

The top men in the Iron Game are frequently besieged with questions about their 'secrets.' In Doc's case, the 'secret' was the usual hard and consistent work plus more hard and consistent work coupled with an intelligent and careful approach. Naturally, Doc has tried a number of systems over the years but he has evolved certain basic training principles that work best for him.

To capsulize, he favors high intensity, relatively low volume work, averaging 3 to 5 training sessions per week, concentrating almost exclusively on the three lifts themselves but using different positions with different lifts in order to avert fatigue.

Bench presses, for example, are worked 3 times per week. On Monday, Doc works up to an all-out set of 5 reps, taking perhaps 4 progressive warmup sets to get to the maximum poundage. Then he will do 2 sets of 5 reps on either the close-grip or the medium-grip bench only, whichever he did not perform on Monday. On Fridays, sets of triples are done in regular competition style. Doc has used behind  the neck presses in the past but does not rely on them now.

Squats are done every 4 to 5 days, working to either a set of all-out triples or all-out fives. Because of a longstanding back problem incurred in 1974, Doc often used a bodybuilding (Olympic) style squat with the bar riding high on his traps and his feet fairly close together. Recently, the back problem evidently corrected, and he has widened his stance and lowered the bar, but he still includes bodybuilding or Olympic style squats to induce leg strength. Leg extensions and leg curls follow squats, 2 sets of 15-20 reps each. Doc has utilized singles with good results in the squat but feels that reps are less stressful on his back because of the lighter weights involved. It is worth noting that he has done a 600 squat and a 402 bench -- completely drug free!

Deadlifts are worked twice per week, with somewhat higher reps in deference to the aforementioned back problem. Here the workload goes to approximately 85% for 6 reps. He emphasizes the use of deadlifts from varying heights, alternating between lifts done standing on a 3 inch block and high deadlifts off boxes with the bar being at about knee level, working up to dead-stop triples. Doc stressed several times that back position is VERY important . . . the back must be kept FLAT. In contrast to some other top lifters, Doc does not perform lat work or shrugs to supplement his deadlift workouts . . . just the main lift and the box work.

As noted, he does not place much emphasis on assistance movements, preferring to concentrate on the actual lifts. A proponent of his own 'muscle relativity principle', he suggests that if certain assistance groups grow disproportionately strong compared to the primary muscles used in a lift, the lifter will get out of the proper lifting groove. Balanced and proportionate strength gains are the key.

For beginners, Doc recommends a 3 day a week program, working light for 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps and concentrating on developing sound technique. Again, Doc mentioned the importance of maintaining proper back position and strengthening the lower back.

Concerning nutrition, the former world champion follows a basic, well-balanced diet, consuming between 100-150 grams of protein per day, with a sufficient amount of good quality carbohydrates to furnish energy. He takes nothing more than a vitamin/mineral supplement, 2,000 mg. of Vitamin C, and occasionally a protein supplement when he's rushed for time. He does make a definite effort to avoid junk food but otherwise follows a fairly normal diet. [Note: this was back in the day, before we geniuses realized it was necessary to agonize over every tiny element of our 'nutritional program' and eat like, what's it now . . . cavemen? . . . in order to make any real headway.]

On the matter of steroids, Doc Rhodes is very firm, though typically polite, in his beliefs. Simply put, Doc feels that the use of anabolic steroids is wrong and is simply a wrong turn leading to a dead end.

In 1979, Doc opened the Rhodes Fitness Center in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Though he is a successful athlete and businessman, Doc rates his family higher in his life than any material successes. Married since 1969, he and his wife, Karen, have four children. Doc is visibly proud and devoted to his family and gives Karen great credit for being so supportive of his lifting efforts through the years.

In addition to mentioning Karen as being instrumental in both his lifting and business careers, he mentions the support, sacrifices and patience of his parents, brother and sister, the help and inspiration of J.E. Loiacano, and the efforts of friend and former training partner Frank Venturini, whom he considers to be one of the most knowledgeable people anywhere when it comes to powerlifting.     

Finally, and yet foremost, Doc states that with the Lord's blessing, we can do anything.

Like we said at the beginning of this article, Doc Rhodes is a rare person. A devoted family man, a hardworking businessman, a world champion athlete, a man of deep religious convictions, a teacher, leader and coach who is an inspiration to so many others . . .

A World Class Lifer, but even more important, a World Class Person.


Blog Archive