Don’t You Quit, Don’t You Quit!!

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Years ago, I reckon it was 1996 or so,
I was 29 years old at the time, coaching football and teaching weight
training at a high school in Florida after coaching in college for 5
years. I didn’t last long coaching high school – too much parental
involvement. One time a senior skipped weight training, so I told him
to make sure that he didn’t ever ask me to go into a game again. I
said, “Don’t be tugging on my shirt in the fourth quarter,
begging me to let you play. No lifting, no playing.” I guess he ran
home and told his mommy all about it, so she made a scene at practice
about her little precious son’s feelings being hurt. He still
didn’t play.

I was always in a quest for strength,
especially in the squat. I disliked bench press, probably because I
wasn’t that good at it. I was never a “natural” at bench
pressing. I really hadn’t deadlifted much before so it was a new
lift for me, but I was always a squatter, and loved it. It seemed to
me that the squat took more balls to be good at than the other lifts,
so I always got my squats in. My best squat at the time was around
575 pounds. Respectable poundage, but nothing earth-shattering.

I decided that it was time to really
push the squat poundage and see where I could end up. I had always
run a lot, both for football and for fun. I wanted to find out how
strong I could get by just lifting and eating and not tapping into my
recovery with all the running.

The goal was to squat 600 pounds, and I
got to work on it. The first step was to eat more. I was weighing
around 245 pounds at the time. In 2 months of eating pasta and beef
combined together, and plenty of tuna sandwiches, I gained 20 pounds.
I squatted 600 after those two months and thought I was hot stuff,
that is until I found out I wasn’t.

I was aware that the sport of
powerlifting existed at the time, but I really knew nothing about it.
I read all the bodybuilding magazines growing up. I knew that
Powerlifting USA was the magazine with all of the top lifts of the
year in it, so I bought a copy. My 600-pound squat didn’t even put me
in the top 100 in my weight class. In fact, I believe I had to go all
the way down to the 148-pound division to even crack the top 50.

Now I had some goals. I needed to squat
700. I wanted to do it in a meet, but I wanted to do 700 in the gym
first. I put the feedbag back on: 8 tuna sandwiches a day, each
loaded with mayo, chicken and rice with chicken soup mixed in it like
a casserole, fast food, milk, whatever I could get my hands on. I
carried one of those big Igloo coolers everywhere that I went. After
a solid 6 months of eating that brought me to 285 pounds, I was ready
for 700. I completed the lift in the gym and then did 700 in a “squat
only” powerlifting meet. Once again, I thought I was Big Time.

In the back of Powerlifting USA
magazine was an advertisement for Powerlifter Video Magazine. VHS of
course. It couldn’t arrive fast enough for me. And when it did, I
once again found out that I was just a small fish in a big-ass pond
of strength, because on the tape was a video of Kirk Karwoski
squatting 800×5, and also 1000×2. Now I was depressed. I had a
long way to go to get even close to Kirk’s level. I knew that the
fastest way to get strong was to eat my ass off, so I bumped the
calories up even more.

My belly was huge, and my blood
pressure was up, but I was getting stronger. I even deadlifted and
benched some, too. I conserved as much energy as possible, sitting
around when I could, never running when I could walk, and never
walking when I could sit down. It was becoming an obsession to me. It
was all that I thought about. My next goal was to compete in the USPF
Nationals a few months away, and after looking at the year-before
numbers at the championships, I needed to squat in the mid-700s to be
competitive in the squat in the heavyweight class.

I quit my fancy Gold’s Gym membership
and made my way to a place called The Power Pit, in Cocoa, Florida.
If I wanted to get really strong, I needed an old school atmosphere.
Plus, Gold’s had rules against chalk, and it was just too fancy and
clean. The Power Pit? Now, this was a gym. It was owned by
some police officers, I believe, but we never saw any owners in
there. Sometimes there would be a man behind a small desk where we
signed in. He was pleasant, and never said anything but “Good
morning.” This place was just right: old carpet that was frayed in
places, no air conditioning, rusty bars, old York plates. I loved it
right away.

I had 3 training partners joining me
for my journey to the Nationals. Two of them were linebackers on the
football team at the high school where I was coaching, Jason and
Derek. Both of them were strong and motivated. Jason ended up
deadlifting 700 years later and Derek squatted 600 pounds in a meet
while still in high school. Think back to when you first started and
remember your enthusiasm for lifting and your motivation for getting
bigger and stronger. You probably had freaking motivation pouring out
of you. That’s the way those two were. Both of them ended up
following me to Charleston Southern University when I left high
school to get back into college coaching, and they were my training
partners there also.

The other partner was Bill the
Wrestler, a powerlifter that I met when I was still training at
Gold’s. He was trying to start a pro-wrestling league on the side,
and was an insurance adjuster for his full time job. He had plenty of
powerlifting experience in meets, and I hung on every word he said.
He wore a big handlebar mustache, and he was just a big strong guy.
He weighed about 220 and his squat was over 650. Bill was just
getting back into heavy training, and being around us gave him the
impetus to push top weights.

We trained at 9 am on Saturdays. I
would make the rounds, picking everyone up at their respective
houses. We would all ride together, with Bill and I jacked up on
caffeine and ephedrine, and the kids jacked up on youthful
enthusiasm. I enjoyed the ride to the gym almost as much as the
training session itself. We would crank up some heavy metal music and
discuss the weights to be lifted that day. It was around a 20 minute
drive, and by the time we got to the gym, we were champing at the bit
and ready to go.

I was using a squat program that I
learned from Dr. Fred Hatfield – “Dr. Squat” – very smart man
and a great powerlifter. The program was extreme in its
effectiveness, and just plain brutally hard. Hatfield called for the
lifter to squat 2 x a week, but I never recovered enough when doing
that, so I decided to squat once a week. Notice that Hatfield has a
“constant” day at 80% for 5 sets of 2 reps, and the heavier day
began at 85% for 5×3. Each week, you added a rep to the 85% day,
until you completed the 5×6 day. But here is the real kicker:
Hatfield said that you should add 5 pounds a week to both the lighter
day and the heavy day. He felt like you got that much stronger each
week. I rounded up the numbers some when I got to 90 and 95%. On the
80% days, I wore wraps and a belt, and on the 85% days and above, I
wore a squat suit, belt, and wraps. I set my max at 700 pounds. This
was the most productive routine that I ever used.

  • Week 1 80% 5 sets of 2 reps 560
  • Week 2 85% 5×3 595
  • Week 3 80% 5×2 565
  • Week 4 85% 5×4 600
  • Week 5 80% 5×2 570
  • Week 6 85% 5×5 605
  • Week 7 80% 5×2 575
  • Week 8 85% 5×6 610
  • Week 9 80% 5×2 580
  • Week 10 90% 3×2 650
  • Week 11 80% 5×2 585
  • Week 12 3×3 95% 695
  • Week 13 5×2 80% 590
  • Week 14 3×2 100% 730

The most memorable day of that squat
cycle was when I had to squat 610 pounds for 5 sets of 6 reps. It was
the hardest squat workout that I have ever done. I remember it being
especially hot that day, even for Florida. At that time, I was
weighing around 285 pounds, so I began sweating immediately just
walking from the car to the gym.

Time to squat. We set up movable
benches to both sit on and also to block the path of anyone who
didn’t understand the gym etiquette of not walking into the area
where folks are squatting. (World champion Rob Wagner used to put
caution tape to block people off from walking in front of him when he
was squatting.) After warm ups, I was ready to go. I barely got
through the first set. I remember sitting down and taking off my
wraps and thinking that this workout was going to be a bitch. The
second set, done after about a 10 minute rest, was difficult as well,
but I got it done. I finished the third set, but just barely. I had a
bad habit of losing the tightness in my upper back at the bottom of
the squat – that made the bar roll down my back and made some of
the squats look like a goodmorning.

During the sets, the pressure in my
head made me feel as though it would explode. When I finished the
third set, I sat down and began to dry heave. Jason ran over and got
me the small trash can from the front desk, which I promptly filled
with vomit. Then I walked outside and vomited some more. Two more
sets to go. The fourth set was more of the same with one more
challenge added in: my squat suit ripped in the crotch area in the
middle of the set. I was so paranoid about washing my squat suit and
weakening the material that the dried sweat from previous training
sessions and the sweat from the day caused it to split.

So there I was, puking with a ripped
crotch and one more set to go. That last set was the ugliest,
hardest, gnarliest set of my life. I finished it, with all three of
my partners encouraging me, I remember Jason yelling in my ear,
Don’t You Quit, Don’t You Quit!” over and over. I can
hear him in my head to this day. With all of the sets completed, I
laid down on the gym floor for awhile afterwards. I was completely,
utterly spent.

My partners pushed me through that
squat workout, and I’m glad they were there. I was sore for over a
week from that session, and was sore even during the next 80% squat
day. But the week after that, I felt great, smoked 650 pounds, and
ended up a few weeks later squatting a new max of 730 pounds.

I squatted 755 pounds at the Nationals,
and ended up a few years later hitting an all time best meet squat of
820 pounds, but I will always remember that 610-pound session down at
The Power Pit in the heat in Florida. Pushing through that day taught
me a lot about myself and how to dig down deep.

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