Saturday, November 25, 2023

Tuckered Out and Taking a Break


Plenty of things outside of lifting going on lately at home and busy at work, so I'm taking a wee break from the blog for a while. By mid-December I'll have new flooring where I lift and the walls painted fresh, plus I dumped a ton of books, mags and old plates to simplify the look and lifting a little. 

Judging by the size and strength of the mice at night after pulling the floors up, I'm guessing they've been bit by the lifting bug too . . . bulked buggers! 

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Training Heavy Duty with Jim Neidhart - Doug Nassif (1981)

To facilitate ease in loading, Sam Sulek Sr. deadlifts
from inside the rack. Here he struggles
to double at 674. Note how 
the knees are forced out. 

More from Doug Nassif here: 

". . . And in this corner -- from the Oakland Raiders . . . Big Jim Neidhart!" screamed the wrestling announcer as this extremely large athlete lumbered slowly into the ring. But Neidhart is massive, and it seemed as though he made his entrance in sections

"Ahhh," gasped an obviously captivated pro-wrestling fan. "It looks like he's half the team!"

It was just another night for this very special weight trained individual. Recently placed on waivers by the NFL Oakland club, Neidhart, all 285 pounds, was not so quietly making his living tonight at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles as a professional wrestler. Pay for what turns out to be a 25 minute bout? $135. 

His 195 pound opponent, a Texas lad with blonde locks and innocence oozing from a cherubic face, took one quick, nervous glance at Neidhart's twitching, menacing traps and must have prayed that there had been some kind of mistake. More than 8,000 bloodthirsty fans were staring openmouthed as this sweating, grunting human mountain stretched and flexed through his warmup. 

Just before the opening bell rang, the Texan's knees were (I swear) slightly quivering. Promoters throughout the country understand that Neidhart the wrestler commonly evokes this kind of reaction. 

In Canada, they call him simply "The Wall." 

For the 25-year old Neidhart, lifting in all its various forms has been a constant driving force since he took his first turn at the bench press in seventh grade.

After winning the 1975 national high school shot put championship (69'3") and representing the United States on an AAU tour through Russia, East Germany and Polandm, Neidhart, despite recruitment pitches from over 200 college football coaches, chose to put the shot, accepting a track scholarship from Perennial West Coast powerhouse UCLA. 

But after two years there, one at the University of Hawaii and a disastrous season of red-shirting at Long Beach State, Neidhart says he "got tired of living hand to mouth and decided to use his muscle and shot-putter's explosive speed to land a professional football contract. 

His strength totals were impressive: at a track clinic his junior year, Neidhart recorded a legal 570 bench, 689 squat and 410 power clean in the course of one afternoon! He deadlifted 720 in high school and inclined (45 degrees) 485 in the UCLA weight room.

Locking horns with a 674 squat double. 

"I've never lifted to impress anyone or to set any kind of record," Neidhart explains. "I've never entered any kind of powerlifting or weightlifting meet. I lift to make myself stronger for whatever sport I'm training for at the time." 

One look at Neidhart's lifts were enough for the Dallas Cowboys and in May, 1979, the signed the track man with intentions of playing him at defensive tackle. Then, during the fifth week of double sessions an intricate court proceeding called Jim away from the Dallas camp, prompting Cowboy brass to place him on wavers.

Discouraged but not ready to hit the skids, Neidhart was summoned that Autumn to Calgary, Alberta, by Canadian professional wrestling kingpin Stu Hart. With less than $100 in his pocket, Neidhart  packed his lifting boots and sweats and headed north, determined to make a name for himself in a business where superstars can gross $500,000 a year. The big American became an instant sensation in Western Canada. 

"In my many years in this sport I have never seen a young man with the combination of strength, speed and magnetic appeal that Jimmy has," exclaims Hart, a wrestling legend himself. "Neidhart's potential is virtually unlimited." 

So the Southern Californian spent a freezing, lonely winter in the Canadian hinterlands, wrestling in dreary, faraway sounding locales like Red Deer, Edmonton, and Regina, slowly breaking into the tumultuous pro grappling world, taking the bumps and bruises as they came. 

But somehow, incredibly, Neidhart seldom neglected his training, even it it meant hitting the gym at 4:00 a.m. after a match and a grueling 500 mile bus trek through sub-zero gales. 

When examined on the inevitable allegation of fakery in pro wrestling, Neidhart wanted to go on record this way: "You're invited to step into the ring against any of us at any time; we'll take on anybody. Decide afterwards if you still believe we're a bunch of clowns." 

A career break hit in July, 1979, when the Oakland Raiders signed Neidhart to his second NFL contract (he is one of a very few free agents ever to sign with a second team). But a freak elbow injury sidelined him before the season began and Jim never saw any game action. Still, he was a Raider as evidenced by the lucrative weekly checks. Neidhart was re-signed after the draft then waived. At the time of this writing he's talking with other NFL general managers.

For the record, Neidhart is highly regarded as one of the five strongest men in pro football. And if it came down to an actual bench, squat, and deadlift competition, it is generally agrees among those who know that he would win it. 

A firm believer in blasting the traps with nothing but heavy weight, Neidhart steadies himself in a 394-lb snatch high pull double. 

Neidhart's first genuine exposure to the science of heavy weight training began the day Russ Knipp, weightlifting Olympian, sat down with the high school junior and charted an intensive workout program based on percentages. 

Today, Jim swears by the concept and over the years has tailored it to his specific needs: shot putting, football, or wrestling. 

His training partners have included such "heavy metal" giants as Pat Casey, George Frenn, Wayne Bouvier and former shot put world record holders Al Feuerbach and Terry Albritton. 

  Wayne Bouvier

Okay, enough of the foreplay, Neidhart's training schedule (for strength):


Bench - 5 doubles, max.
Squat - 5 singles, 5 doubles, max.
Power Clean - 10 singles, max.
Incline DB Press - 4 x 10 x 120's. 


Bench - 3x10, 75% max.
Squat - 3x10, 75% max.
Snatch High Pulls - 5 doubles, 25% over Snatch max. 


Bench - single lockouts, 30% above max.
Bench - 30 reps, 85% max.
Squat - 5x3, high box, 10% over max.
Power Clean - 3x10, 75% max.
Incline DB Press - 4x10, 120's. 

     Bench, Single Lockouts

When "the feeling is right" Jim will launch into multiple sets of Russian twists, back hyperextensions and various forms of abdominal work. Miles and sprints are run on off days. 

Neidhart believes lockouts are sadly unused by everyone save the polished, competitive powerlifter. 

"Lockouts are really the only way to improve your bench. You must get used to HANDLING a heavy weight before you can press it," he adds. "And don't be afraid to load the bar up." 

Other tips: 

 - It's very important when squatting heavy to avoid taking extra steps away from the rack; one-half step is perfect. Don't let the bar clank, either. Each time the plates clank it means the pressure on your body is changing. Keep the bar perfectly controlled and silent. Open your knees, force them out, and drop straight down as relaxed as possible.

 - Tuck your chin in when benching. 

 - Stretch continually throughout your workout. This is the key to getting full extension and actually performing the lift correctly. 

 - Don't wear gloves. Part of the training is toughening up the palms. 

 - Most people wear their belt too high. Lower it and wear it especially low on the squat and deadlift. 

 - How much rest between sets? Take as much rest as you need. Listen to your body and respond appropriately. 

 - Get your mind on competition. It's not enough to train year in and out without actually testing yourself against your peers, whether you're into lifting or bodybuilding. I've seen too many sad cases of men getting old in the weight room and leaving the contest aspect of our world outside the door. 

Neidhart dismisses most Nautilus equipment saying, "Somebody is always trying to invent a machine to replace the bench press. But how can they? The human body doesn't respond to something favorably just because it is by far the single best strength builder. 

Calling himself "an intense student" of weight training, Neidhart doesn't hold back on opinions or comparisons. He has stated "football players on any given level aren't close to having anywhere near the sheer athletic ability of a world class shot putter." 

"To put the shot you must have tremendous "elastic explosion" but even that doesn't mean a thing without the form . . . which Feuerbach, Albritton, George Woods and Bryan Oldfield have mastered," he says. "When you look at their amazing combination of speed, strength, time and coordination, you'd have to call them the greatest athletes alive, I believe. 

Neidhart termed CBS' "Strongest Man in Football" a travesty, criticizing the show's "most reps" method of determining strength. "I always thought 'strongest' meant the most anyone the most anyone could lift, not how many times someone could pump a medium weight," he added. Stating that it should have been conducted like a powerlifting meet, Neidhart nevertheless feels he would have won if asked to compete.

Strangely, the same type of snafu occurred at the original "World's Strongest Man" affair, again on CBS. Neidhart received a written verification that he had been selected a contestant along with a detailed description of the events. A month before it was scheduled for filming, a producer called with the bad news that he was out. Why did the organizers pass up Neidhart while allowing a "mind control" expert to compete?

"That's the way it goes sometimes," the producer shrugged. 

Enjoy Your Lifting! 


Wednesday, November 1, 2023

On Oliver Sacks' Obsession With Weightlifting - Ross McIndoe (2019)


When a writer talks about the sport they play, you can see something of how their mind works in how they have chosen to use their body. 

Hemingway's frustrated fascination with machismo was written in bloodstains on the boxing and bullfighting rings. 

Haruki Murakami's gentle, aimless prose is synchronized into the calm, solitary rhythms of running and swimming. 

David Foster Wallace's hyperactive intellect was made for the twitch-reflex chess of the tennis court. 

Oliver Sacks participated in many sports throughout his life, but never dedicated himself so completely to, nor expressed himself so clearly through, and quite like powerlifting. 

The part of his brain that took pleasure in mathematics was drawn to the sport's numerical side. At one point his routine was to back squat 500 pounds for 5 sets of 5 reps on every 5th day, delighting in the neatness of this arrangement. At the same time, his medical mind was given free reign to treat his own body like a science project, bulking up into the sport's heaviest weight category and maximizing his hulking form's strength. And, like everything else in his life, he pushed himself as far as he could possibly go, culminating in a California State Record in 1961 with a 600 pound squat. 

The sport seemed to appeal to something deeper in him than his attraction to numbers and physiology. Sacks' careers as both a doctor were defined by his quest to demystify the connections between body and mind, to understand how the lump of pink flesh and electricity inside our skulls could produce something as complex, contradictory, and variable as a human being. He pursued the idea of a self that sat somewhere between body and mind; a product of both, but exclusive to neither. As he enlarged and empowered his body, he looked to alter something about the self that it contained. 

He explains this in his memoir, On the Move: "My motive, I think, was not an uncommon one; I was not the ninety-eight-pound weakling of bodybuilding advertisements, but I was timid, diffident, insecure, submissive." 

Take a look around any given weight room and you will see this same desire played out in a hundred different forms by people working to build the versions of themselves they would like the world to see. it is filled with people grunting and gurning (nice word choice!) their way towards a body that matches the inner self they would like to possess. Something bigger, stronger, with more impact. Boys growl into the mirrored walls, grafting under the strain of their own male gaze. Women sweat against the old ideas of delicacy and fragility, building bodies to break convention's strangling molds. 

Lifting is at once highly solitary -- a solo sport in which most of your time is spent in competition with yourself -- and highly communal. Even as each person pursues their own interior quest, the weight room makes everything public. All around you are fellow lifters to compare yourself to, their numbers lit up in yellows, blues and greens. They provide contest for your achievements, a wide-angle view of how far you have progressed, how far you have to go. 

Later in On the Move, Sacks relates an anecdote about his first time lifting at a new gym that will be immediately recognizable to anyone who has dabbled in the sport: "The first time I went there (the Central YMCA in San Francisco), my eye was caught by a bench press bar loaded with nearly 400 pounds. No one at the Macabi could bench press anything like this, and when I looked around, I saw no one in the Y who looked up to such a weight." Having located the bench presser in question and witnessed him in action, Sacks came away from the experience determined to lift more himself.

I began lifting hear the end of my undergraduate years, around the same time I started writing. I could have been the "before" guy in one of the advertisements, Sacks mentions: a lanky stick figure without an ounce of fat or muscle to spare. I wasn't a sporty kid, and, by high school, I had accepted the idea of myself as a non-athlete as an inalterable fact of reality. From then on, rather than working to improve on my shortcomings, I sought ways to cover for them. I ducked sporting situations and, when involved, cracked jokes rather than risking sincere failure. The self-image I held in my head became a self-fulfilling prophecy for my body, as my outer self was shaped to my inner one. 

This continued well into my university days as I fed my body on caffeine, alcohol and candy denying it sleep or nutrition. As a result, I could easily have fled the weight room after my first visit and never returned. The weaknesses I'd spent years learning to mask were suddenly exposed in the skinny limbs sticking out of my gym gear. But I put on my shoes for weightlifting and kept going and, slowly, I improved. 

As my interest in the sport increased, it pushed me to feed my body the things it needed to function properly. It offered me a framework with which I could better understand the other aspects of my life, especially writing. It was not enough to have good intentions -- to intend to work out more or harder -- I needed a clear plan of when and how, otherwise lethargy and fear would kill the intention before it was enacted. The same was true of writing. I had always intended to write more but had never moved that desire beyond a fantasy, never expressed it out into the world and made it real. 

I had to alter the habits of my daily life. 

This all flew in the face of my lackadaisical nature, but I stuck to it.

And, slowly, I improved. 

Oliver Sacks reaction to seeing someone soar above his level of ability is the one we would all like to have: inspired, motivated, determined. But it is so easy to be discouraged by the success of those around us. Watching someone do double your bench press can make you wonder why you even bother. Your goals, which seemed so clear in your head a moment ago, suddenly seem to dissolve into the air; that person is a lifter, you are just someone who lifts

Being a freelance writer often feels the same. You are always looking sideways, always tracking the progress of those around you and comparing it to your own. They claim a byline you have never managed, or an award or a job title, and your heart can sink. Again, that hopeful place you have been working your way towards suddenly seems to vanish from your horizon. 

You have been exposed. They are a writer, you are just someone who writes. 

But these comparisons almost always lack proper context. 

When we look at the person lifting next to us, all we see is the weight on the bar and how easily they can move it. We get a rough, visual sense of how their size compares to ours but we don't see how long they have been training in the sport or how intensely.

We don't see the other factors in their lives -- work, health, money -- which can contribute or detract from their successes. 

It's the same in writing. We see only the results, not the work; snapshots of success with all the necessary failures left out beyond the frame. 

In On the Move, Sack described his record-breaking squat as his introduction to the weightlifting world, the "equivalent, in these circles, to publishing a scientific paper or a book in academia. It was his opportunity to say, "Here I am, look what I can do. I made a boom on the rug. No, not that last bit." 

Whatever our passion or profession, this is what many of us spend our time in search of: a panacea for our imposter syndrome, a chance to announce, to the world, and to ourselves, that we are good at what we do. That we are good enough. That our booms on the rug are worthy of the world's gaze. But that's not in this article, right. 


Blog Archive