The routine used by Ronnie Ray in training for powerlifting championships calls to mind a little musician known as Johnny One-Note. Johnny messed around until he found the note he liked -- and then he stayed with it.
That's Ronnie Ray's secret. He has found what he considers a perfect training routine, and he has stuck with it year in and year out, six days a week, for four years now. And though we might argue that Johnny One-Note was something less than a polished musician, it's hard to say that the one-note system hasn't been right for Ray.
His lifts have continued their upward path . . . up, up, up to national championships and national records, with no sign of a sticking point, no flatness. [up, Up, UP would work nice there. I'll stop now].
"You don't have to get stale if your lifts keep climbing," Ray told Muscular Development recently. "Some guys might get stale, I guess, but I don't. I've trained this way for four years without changing."
The only change is that he adds more weight to the bar every year. "You can't reach your peak in a hurry in powerlifting," he said. "You've got to get stronger though the years. I think that's where some people make a mistake; they work on powerlifts a little while and they don't make fabulous progress, so they get discouraged and switch to Olympic lifting. The same thing happens there, so they switch back; and it's back and forth all the time wondering why they show no progress.
"Powerlifting is something you have to stick with, something you have to be dedicated to. Anyone can get stronger -- a lot stronger -- but strength just simply doesn't come overnight," Ray injected.
Ray's strength has come over a period of five years, which is how long he has been powerlifting seriously. Before that, his lifting was devoted to bodybuilding. The marks of a bodybuilder are still upon him? The V-shaped back, thick chest and baseball biceps. The marks show through even though he now carries 205 pounds on his five-foot three-inch frame. He can drop the 24 pounds necessary for competition as a light-heavy in "about a month," he said, with a combination of will power, diet and steam. By taking that long to shed the weight, he loses little strength.
Ray spends something less than eight hours a week in workouts. He works fast, partly out of habit and partly because he has other business to tend to. He doesn't have time to waste. Ray owns three health studios, but his major source of income, he noted, are his apartment buildings and land dealings. One does not make money in real estate unless one keeps one's eye on one's business. Carelessness in the marketplace can cost a fellow his T-shirt.
But even though he stays busy making money, Ray finds time to train six days a week. He splits his training into two sections: Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the squat and deadlift; Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for the bench press, his favorite lift. His partiality for the bench press is evident in his totals, for he consistently breaks American records in both the 181-pound and 198-pound classes.
Pre-arch, pre-suit, pre-extreme usage.
"Here's the bar. Now press it."
As a guy who's toeing 69 years I realize
all things evolve, and not always for the better.
Ray traces his bench press ability to two things: First, he has short arms, which gives him an advantage of leverage in pressing up the bar. Second, he had a head start through his years of physique work.
"Most bodybuilders," he said, "have deep chests and big pectoral muscles, because they have to have these things to win physique contests. They develop these muscles in a lot of ways, but mainly on the bench.
"I was benching 300 when I was still in physique competition, so it was no trouble for me to go into heavy work in powerlift competition." Ray has a 48-inch chest, huge for a man of his height.
Ray switched over from bodybuilding to powerlifting for keeps in 1964. He had begun working with weights six years earlier, in December of 1958, when he as a scrawny 115-pounder. He was 16 years old then; he's 26 now. He gained to 160 and started winning physique contests regularly by the time he was 20. He won Mr. Dallas, Mr. North Texas and Mr. Texas titles before he changed to powerlifting.
Ray deserted the physique ranks after an accident at work (on a construction job, before he went into business for himself). The accident kept him away from the weights for most of 1963. He pulled the ligaments in his back, and the doctors told him he would never lift seriously again.
Ray wore a back brace for six months and came close to giving up the sport. But with the help of Jerry Travis, a Dallas Health studio owner, he started lifting again, only this time the powerlifts were done to strengthen his weakened back.
Deadlifts are included in his power program to keep his back, legs and hips strong. Though he works his back hard he avoids excessive poundage and thus prevents injury.
Still, Ray made less than a tremendous impression in his first powerlift contest, held in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He posted an unusual set of figures, starting with a respectable 345 bench press. He raised some eyebrows with that -- a good showing for a kid in his first contest. He raised eyebrows again with his squat -- but for a different reason. He squatted with 295, making his squat 50 pounds below his bench press. Ray rounded off the night with a 315 deadlift and went home with no medals, no praise . . . and no intention of letting things stay like that for future contests . . . they didn't!
Ray's bench press took off from there and went out of sight. His squat and deadlift didn't go quite that far, but they tagged along close enough to his benching ability to make Ray a contender for any championship.
And in the 1965 Senior National Championships, held in York, Ray got what he calls his biggest thrill in sports. He won the Senior Nationals for the first time, totaling 1470. Ray is quick to cite that victory as his most memorable. "There's nothing like the Nationals," he said. None of his many other victories comes close to matching that first big one.
He lost the 1966 title, ironically, in his hometown of Dallas. Ray had reinjured his back two months before the contest and wouldn't have lifted had it been out of town. But he lifted for the home folks and came close to his second championship. Bill Andrews beat him out by 15 pounds.
Ray redeemed himself a year later by winning the Senior Nationals again, still as a 181-pounder, and breaking the bench press and total records. He lifted 1525 and had a 450 bench, which was 75 pounds better than anyone else.
His big problem in 1968 was deciding whether to go for the 181 title of the 198. At the middle of July he weighed 206, and he was still undecided. It wasn't a question of getting the weight off but of choosing his competition. The competition is tough is both classes; it always is at the Nationals. But it is perhaps rougher in the 198 class, which has a larger number of established stars.
Ray praised Bill Andrews as one of the sport's few triple-threat men -- physique, powerlifting and Olympic lifting. "That man's an athlete, " he said. "He can do it all, and that's unusual."
Ronnie has never been adept at Olympic lifting. Calcium deposits stiffened his shoulders and hindered his overhead movements. Since the three Olympic lifts require overhead movements, Ray was left out in the cold.
He has borrowed from the bench press routines of Pat Casey, Doub (sic) Hepburn and Paul Anderson, and you can't really argue with his choice of lifters. "I found something I liked in the workout routines of those men," Ray said. "It made them big and strong and it has helped me."
Ray's bench routine, the one he has followed for four years and the one that has taken him to the top, is performed Tuesday and Thursday. It goes like this:
135 x 8
225 x 8
275 x 14 (no typing error there)
400 x 4 singles
400 x 5
335 x 8 x 2 sets
After that, he lays on "a little arm work." He has 19" arms, which might lead some people to question his definition of "a little.")
His Saturday workout is the same as the Tuesday and Thursday routine except that he hits it harder. He will go beyond 400. How far beyond depends on how he feels; he tries to get close to his limit every Saturday. Yes, every Saturday. He doesn't get all psyched up for it, but he pushes close to whatever he can do.
Ray has what he believes may be one secret for training. If it's not a secret, it's at least a valuable hint. "That's the PAUSE," he said. That's what the kids need to learn -- to pause with the bar on the chest and not to bounce it off and get it back up in a hurry. If they learn to hold the pause, then they'll never get messed up if a referee gives them a long count in a contest."
By pause, Ray doesn't mean just a good hesitation. He means PAUSE. "When I get up to 400 pounds in my workout, I pause with the bar on my chest and COUNT TO 30. Then, up it goes as fast as I can make it go," he said.
Such a pause is in the neighborhood of 15 SECONDS, depending on how fast you count. Ray gets through his count in something under 20 seconds.
Ray doesn't use the pause system in training for the squat and deadlift, although that isn't to say he bounces his squats. He simply goes down and then comes up. He doesn't enjoy either lift as much as he likes to bench; that is obvious in his speech and in his workouts. Still, those two lifts are part of the competition, and they are good exercises, so he does them without complaining.
His workouts are heavies on Monday and Friday, with Wednesday an extremely light day in which he does little more than warm up. He does five sets of squats on Wednesday with 395 x 3 the heaviest. His deadlift stops at just 385 that day.
Ah, but on Monday the workout is heavier. Like this, for example -- Squats:
135 x 8
225 x 8
275 x 3
325 x 12 (no typing error)
395 x 3
445 x four singles
445 x 8
405 x 3 x 2 sets
On Friday he does the same workout except that he tops it a bit higher, nearer his limit. He will do 3 reps of 535 and may even shoot at 560.
This squat routine takes less than an hour. It is followed, on the same days, by a deadlift routine of lesser length. Here's his Monday/Friday version:
225 x 8
315 x 1
385 x 1
445 x 1
500 x 1
550 x 1
He then does a single with his maximum if he feels right.
These routines have been unchanged, except for weights, in four years. Possibly their most unusual feature is the big jump in reps on the fourth set of the the bench and squat. This breaks the usual pattern of "up on weight and down on reps."
Thus Ray has a combination that gives him high reps for endurance and heavy weights for building tables by Prilepen. SCHTRENGTH! Endurance means his muscles can withstand more exercise and benefit from it.
Ray's decision to stay with the same routine is contrary to the practice of almost all weight men, both bodybuilders and lifters. Most people change every three months or so to break the monotony and stay fresh. They can't imagine sticking the same routine for four years.
Then again, they can't imagine what it's like to win a National Championship, either. Maybe old Johnny One-Note had something going for him.
Note: This book may also be of interest to you:
Ed Coan bottoming Richard Simmons
Enjoy Your Lifting!