The Road to the Thousand Pound Barrier
Those of you who know your Greek mythology may remember the story of Atlas, God of lifting and all other heavy burdens, who was sentenced by Zeus to bear the weight of the heavens on his shoulders for all eternity. This legend has become the universal symbolization of strength and is depicted in various images throughout the world, including the official logo of the Worlds Strongest Man Contest. However, what many of you may not know about is the follow up stunt that Atlas tried to pull on Hercules by tricking him into "temporarily" taking over while he popped off to acquire the Golden Apples from the Hespiredes for him, -thereby fulfilling one of Hercules 12 labors. Without a history lesson, let's just say things didn't go quite to plan for poor (dumb) Atlas; upon his return, using the old "itchy back trick", Hercules soon had him holding the baby again. Unfortunately for Atlas, it would be at least another 3000 years before help was at hand, or November 4th 2006 AB (After Bolton) to be exact, -the date that Andy Bolton would deadlift over 1000lbs and transcend mere mortality to join the Gods! For sure, after the most gargantuan demonstration of back strength in history, Andy could tackle the favor with the same degree of difficulty one would experience holding a friend's beer while he visits the restroom.
Before I launch into the how and the why, I believe it's imperative to take on board the significance and magnitude of this historic feat. Since the late great Dan Wohleber became the first man to pull 900 in 1982 (it actually weighed out at 904lbs), there has seldom been more than one man on the planet capable of matching that weight in any one year. Some years would produce a real dealifting drought, with no chance of any such ponderous weight to be seen anywhere on the horizon. In fact, nearly four years would pass before Doyle Kenady would match this awesome number. Then, five years later, Ed Coan would be beamed to us from another planet and pull 902 at 220lbs bodyweight, -the first sign that we were not alone! A few other Super heavies notched up the numbers here and there, some under questionable circumstances, others through legitimate strength. When Andy Bolton first showed up on the international scene, his rawness would often leave him having to deadlift tactically in order to chase gold. But right from the get go, it was glaringly obvious that this guy had almost incalculable back strength. When the creases were ironed out, the records just kept falling; he would pull over 900lbs an astonishing fifteen times before he historically crashed that 1000lb barrier, -a line that most experts in the field predicted would not even be approached let alone crossed! But these "prophets of power" should not be mocked, like me, they've also been fortunate enough to know, work with and meet some of the strongest men that have ever lived. We all realize that the significance of this huge milestone is actually even harder to swallow when we review the list of awesome athletes that didn't quite reach (officially) the magic 900lbs. Consider Bill Kazmaier, O.D. Wilson or Gerritt Badenhorst, three incredibly powerful athletes that came within a whisker of the 900 mark. All three were accomplished winners and world record holders in powerlifting and international strongman competition (Kaz is a three-time winner of WSM). They were balanced all-rounders with no weak lifts or gimmicks, whatever they accomplished, they did so for one reason only; they were incredibly strong. I knew these guys well, witnessing many of their feats of strength, I can tell you that their overall strength was far more impressive than most members of "The 900lb club". But to think that some day a guy would come along and out lift them by over 100lbs in this the purest of lifts is almost inconceivable.
This view is shared by many of Andy's peers and strength statisticians the world over. Legendary strength coach Louie Simmons was on hand at the meet where history was made, on completion of the lift, he turned to me and said "I was there when Don Cundy pulled the first 800 deadlift. I was there when Danny Wohleber pulled the first official 900. He (Andy) just broke the 1000lb barrier and it's been an honor to be here to witness it". The great Eddy Coan, an icon who has become a good friend to Andy, phoned him the night before the meet to wish him all the best and foretell the obvious. His words always carry a lot of weight with Andy. On hearing the result, Eddy dropped me an e-mail which said the following. "I have seen Andy Bolton lift on a number of occasions. When Andy says," Load the weight on the bar", he will do it. The 1,003lb deadlift was a done deal before he even walked onto the platform. The man knows what he can do. He does not make promises he cannot keep. The moment he started the lift, you just knew he would get that lift. I have never seen an explosion of power off the floor like this Great Lifter exhibited that day." Awesome words from The Don.
Bolton; the Man
Originally hailing from Dewsbury, England, Andy (36) now lives and trains out of Leeds, -a few miles down the road, but still within the county of Yorkshire. This northern county is famous for producing great powerlifters and strength athletes, including former Worlds Strongest Man Jamie Reeves, a former training partner from whom Andy learned a great deal in the early days. With a successful background as a junior sprinter, but a predisposition to rapid growth, he became an ideal candidate for the bone-crunching sport of rugby league, which he went on to play at quite a high level. The required strength training would result in Andy being firmly bitten by the iron bug, a familiar story. In 1991, at age 21, he made the switch to powerlifting, pulling 330kg (727.5lbs) in his first meet. In 1992, he would give the ultimate demonstration that, when all else is even (diet, training, etc), great athletes are born and not made, when he pulled a staggering gym lift of 904lbs! Unfortunately, even with age on his side, employing traditional strength training methodology would often result in his best lifts being left in the gym. However, by the end of 1992, while still a junior, he would still pull an official 858lbs for a 275lb class senior World Record! In 1993, after only two years of competitive lifting, he won the WPC World Powerlifting Championships, in France. At this point, Andy hung up his belt and turned to strongman competition, lured by the greater exposure and financial promise of a game that was on the rise. Traditionally, great powerlifters had always done well in this game, Kaz, Jon Pall Sigmarsson and Magnus Ver Magnusson had won 11 WSM titles between them, -all three were world-class powerlifters. But the goal posts were moving, true strength athletes could no longer compete on an even playing field, a great traditional event was being replaced by entertainment. Like everything in entertainment, the face had to fit, favored athletes would be given inside information about the events and have access to the actual props to train on. Meanwhile, true strength athletes would be corralled into qualifying rounds which included a lot of cardiovascular events or that focused on the particular weakness of any athlete that had fallen out of favor. The format became so silly, it bordered on ludicrous, with many athletes being retired by dangerous events that included loading barrels out of water and tossing a car with no safety measures to stop the athlete being crushed if he slipped. Needless to say, Andy soon became disillusioned by the whole fiasco, after snapping a bicep tendon in a show in 1999 (the last of several injuries), he turned his back on strongman for good. Fortunately for me, I was at this show, I was in the process of scouting for our national powerlifting team and Andy, whose phenomenal record preceded him, was right at the top of my hot list. It didn't take much encouragement and in early 2000, he returned to his first love, -powerlifting competition. With his bicep tear rehabilitated and his reverse grip switched, he entered the WPC Worlds in Vegas in the (308lb) class, where pulled 407.5kg (898lbs) to take the great Gerritt Badenhorst's long-standing record. Andy has flatteringly gone on record to say that since he started working with me during his comeback, his lifting has gone from strength to strength. While I have worked with him extensively on various factors (diet, training, etc), I will still stand by my earlier statement that great athletes are born and not made.
Andy's training schedule has him training just three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This pretty much flies in the face of much of the conventional strength training protocols we are increasingly seeing being adapted from Eastern European methodology. This is not to say that science plays no part in Andy's training schedule, on the contrary, his periodized training is very much science-based. However, it's our general belief that much of the extremely high volume, multiple session programs that we hear being used by Eastern European athletes are adaptations from remnant Olympic lifting theory. This adaptation is a lot more complex than it seems, powerlifting involves a whole lot of muscle isolation, no matter how much pure power work may be involved (plyometrics, isokinetics, etc), this issue cannot be escaped.
In weightlifting, you are striving for the extreme opposite, trying to get the body to work as a total unit. Ok, so why do we see so much phenomenal lifting coming from athletes that are apparently benching 2-3 times a week? The answer can be found in three things; their average age, the pre-existing training history even at that age and an overwhelming genetic pool of athletes which are easy to locate in a group of countries with such an extensive history of successful weightlifting. For example, the IPF Russian Nationals are known to take around a week to complete, giving you some idea of numbers involved and depth of quality. Much like Louie Simmons famous conjugate training, you will find much usable Olympic theory involved in Andy's approach. For most of the year, his training is comprised of a series of 6 week mesocycles, each focusing on ironing out technical errors and peaking in a variation of one or more lifts or assistance exercises, e.g. a deadlift or bench from a particular height block. Employing the supercompensation principle, they follow a pattern of four weeks heavy, one week light, with a new maximum being established in the sixth week. The exception here will be the last pre-competition mesocycle going into a meet, which will be an 8 week program. Eight weeks may not sound long, but the preceding shorter mesocycles are all structured with specific goals to form part of a much bigger macrocycle of about 6 months. Thus, there is no off-season and there is no period where he is more than 6-8 weeks from competition form.
The structure of Andy's training week is as follows:
Monday: Bench press and relevant assistance work (board presses, etc). Shoulder work, which will include some pressing up to around 8 weeks out, then heavy front and side raises. Assorted triceps work, with pressdowns forming the base.
Wednesday: Squat and deadlift, with both lifts being trained within the set percentage parameters required by each particular mesocycle. After deadlifts, very heavy leg presses and leg curls are performed for 6 sets of 8-10 reps. Heavy abdominal work concludes the workout.
Friday: This is reserved for upper back assistance work and will involve two forms of rowing, followed by one form of pulldowns. Heavy shrugs will be performed for six sets and some biceps work will wrap up the session.
I will cover Andy's precise training routines for his other lifts in a future issue, but for the time being, the question is where did that deadlift come from?
The phase that launched a thousand pounds!
The exact 8 week pre-competition mesocycle employed by Andy for the 1003lb pull is as follows. All deadlifts are pulled extremely explosively, this is the total focus of the movement.
Week 1. 70 x 5, 100 x 5, 140 x 5, 180 x 5, 200 x 5, 220 x 5, 180x3x3. No suit.
Week 2. 70 x 5, 120 x 5, 160 x 5, 200 x 5, 240 x 5, 190 x 3 x3. No suit.
Week 3. 70 x 5, 100,x 5, 140 x 5, 180 x 5, 220 x 5, 260 x 5, 200 x 3 x3. No suit.
Week 4. 70 x 5, 120 x 5, 160 x 5, 200 x 5, 240 x 3, 280 x 3, 210 x 3 x3. No suit.
Week 5. 70 x 5, 100 x 5, 140 x 5, 180 x 5, 220 x 5, 260 x 3, 300 x 3, 220 x 3 x 3. No suit.
Week 6. 70 x 5, 100 x 5, 140 x 5, 180 x 5, 220 x 3, 260 x 3, 290 x 3, 320 x 3. Suit down.
Week 7. 70 x 3, 120 x 3, 160 x 3, 200 x 3, 240 x 3, 270 x 3, 300 x 3, 340 x 3. Suit on, straps up.
Week 8. Competition.
Bear in mind, Andy pulls on a Wednesday, but usually competes on a Saturday or Sunday. Thus, this equates to 10-11 days rest.
In his build up to this meet, he would follow up his squat/deadlift training with heavy leg presses (600kg x 10's) and leg curls.
In his build up to this meet, he would follow up his squat/deadlift training with heavy leg presses (600kg x 10's) and leg curls.
His Friday upper back workout this time round comprised of the following:
Hammer Strength single arm rows, 5 sets, working up to 200kg each arm x 10. Low cable rows, 4-5 sets, 300lb x 10. Pulldowns, 4-5 sets of 10, 140kg (weight stack). Shrugs, 5-6 sets of 10, done very strict up to 380kg. Finally, ab work, including very heavy side bends, crunches and leg raises would be done.
In his preceding mesocycle, Andy worked up to 410kg x 3 and 362.5 x 8 in the partial deadlift (off a 4 inch block) with no straps.
Many will be surprised at the low percentages Andy actually works with in the deadlift, but he feels that this is central to his success. With optimum genetics for the lift, squatting over 900lbs in the same workout and working on explosiveness have kept him relatively injury free and still allowed room for progressive improvement. Talking about injuries, Andy suffered an IT band problem in this build up and had to hold right back on his squatting. He was understandably cautious here, he'd previously torn the quad during his strongman days. He feels that the lift would have been easier had this not been the case, the fact that he pulled 972 after a 1124lb squat at the Arnold indicates he was probably correct.
Andy is extremely conscientious about his diet, in much the same way as a competitive bodybuilder. He will consume around 2.5g/kg of protein, which for him equates to 400 grams per day, 50% of this coming from supplements (ProPeptide). A similar figure is reached in carbs, primarily low-glycemic. Around 20% of his calorific intake comes from fats, he consumes a high amount of omega 3's. For the last few months, he has been using 4.5-6g/day of beta-alanine (ProteinSLAM!, CNP Professional), scientifically proven to redress systemic acidosis, this product dramatically reduced muscle soreness and improved his recovery.
The future; where will the madness end?
Perhaps the most exciting thing about Andy is that he still appears to be on an upward curve. He is extremely "coachable" and always positive, performing at his best under pressure. He is that rare mix of genetic freakiness and limitless enthusiasm. However, breaking the 1000lb barrier really did take its toll on his mind and body for the first time. Never had he trained so obsessively for a lift, he was concerned by the fact that he had temporarily lost sight of everything else in his life, including his wife, Stacy, and beautiful baby daughter, Madison, - the most important people in his life. He will stop when his body tells him it's had enough. But for the mean time, his very realistic goals are winning the Arnold, squatting over 1200lbs, pulling even heavier and owning the total record by pushing it past the 3000lb mark!
Andy would like to thank the following people for their help and support in helping him achieve this momentous feat. Stacy and Madison, his friend and training partner, Dave "Bulldog" Beattie, John Inzer, Kerry Kayes, Phil Connolly and James Ernster (CNP Professional Ltd), Bill Crawford, Louie Simmons, Ed Coan and Jeff Everson.