Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Squats and Records - By Jim Duggan

     While looking through the August 1971 edition of "Muscular Development" magazine, I came across an article that caught my attention.  The title of the article was "How Low is a Full Squat," and it was written by Paul Brock.  The opening words of the article are as follows: "Confusion surrounding the involvement of what constitutes a Full Squat has, over the past few years, baffled many enthusiasts." What I find interesting is the fact that, nearly fifty years later, that question is still valid, and deserving of an answer.  And, thanks to the increasing number of videos- and the accompanying proliferation of "world records" - the answer to the question of what constitutes a legitimate squat will remain unanswered.  
     It seems that every week, somebody is posting a video of what is claimed to be a "world record" in one of the three powerlifts.   Most of these videos follow a similar script:  A steroid-bloated lifter, wearing the latest suit, wraps, and other equipment, is surrounded by his posse of "gym bros. " He  approaches a loaded bar. As the yelling, screaming, and chest-bumping reaches a crescendo, the lifter performs some variation of one of the Powerlifts.  If the lift in question is a Bench Press, he'll bounce the bar off his chest, and once he gets it about halfway up, his spotter will grab the bar to complete the lift.  If it's a Deadlift, he'll approach a special deadlift bar (designed to bend easier to assist in the initial pull off the floor.) Of course, he'll be wearing lifting straps. And once he gets the bar to his thighs, he'll rest the bar on his thighs and "hitch" the bar up to completion.  Naturally, he'll intentionally drop the bar (gotta make a lot of noise!) In both cases, he'll receive congratulations from his friends on setting a "record."  
     Luckily, most people who have been around the "Iron Game" will not take these exhibitions seriously.  Since most of these "records" are set in a gym, and not under contest conditions, they are mostly a source of amusement.  However, sometimes, these "records" are performed in what is described as a contest. 
     Recently, I had the pleasure of watching a video of a contest where a "world record squat" was performed.  I use quotation marks intentionally, since any impartial observer who witnessed this "record" would have described it as a joke.  To summarize the video, a super-heavyweight lifter approaches a bar loaded to 1,300 Lbs.. Naturally, a monolift is used, so the lifter doesn't have to go through the effort of racking and stepping back with the weight. As the lifter begins the lift, he lowers his body and performs what appears to be a partial squat of some sort. It definitely wasn't a half-squat. Maybe, if we want to be generous, we'll call it a quarter-squat.  Maybe. In any event, he receives three white lights from the judges and, voila, a new world record!  Now to be fair, I don't know if this was a sanctioned contest, or even if the "judges" were card-carrying referees.  If they were they should have their referee cards revoked.  
     Obviously, anyone who's been around the sport has seen their share of spotty judging.  Years ago, at a national meet, I witnessed a well-known lifter/coach/guru compete.  I was directly behind the side judge during the squats.  Each one of his squats were the same:  Feet a mile wide, bar halfway down his back, and depth a good 3"-4" above legal.  Nevertheless, he received nothing but white lights because he was a "big name" in powerlifting. 
     For years, the official rules dictated that for a squat to be legal, the lifter had to bend the knees until the surface of the legs at the hip joint were lower than the tops of the knees.  Naturally, powerlifting, much like the world we live in, is not perfect.  Referees can make mistakes.  But intentionally allowing bogus judging to take place does a disservice to everyone involved. For example, take a lifter who enters a contest and has all his attempts passed ( even when they are not legal lifts.) Maybe he's friends with the judges, meet director, etc.  So, his bogus lifts are passed, and he has new PRs, maybe he even set a "record." Several months later, he enters a legitimate meet, with strict judging. He will bomb out and  embarrass himself.  Lowering the standards, throwing out the rule book, and allowing an "anything goes" approach has ruined what was once a good sport.  
     Sometimes, when I watch these videos, I am reminded of Bruno's Health Club.  Those of us who trained there were fortunate to learn the correct way to perform the lifts.  Squats were done with depth to spare, Bench Presses were done with long pauses, and Deadlifts were done cleanly and correctly.  Maybe none of us ever set a "world record," but we never bombed out of a meet, either.  
     Another thing that comes to mind when I see these bogus video demonstrations is the memory of Rudy Sablo.  For those of you who aren't familiar with Mr. Sablo, he was a world record Olympic Lifter, coach, administrator, and AAU weightlifting chairman.  I only met him once, at an olympic meet at Dr. Ken's Iron Island Gym in 1992.  Anyway, Mr. Sablo was known as one of the very strictest judges around.  "Red Light Rudy" did not tolerate rules infractions, and he did not suffer fools.  But, if you had a lift passed by Mr. Sablo, then you knew it was legitimate in every way.  He was one of the most respected figures in weightlifting. On a side note, Mr. Sablo was a New York City firefighter after serving in WWII. In fact, after, after the 9/11 terror attacks, Mr. Sablo, like many retired firefighters, showed up at the WTC site and volunteered his services to assist in the search for victims.  A remarkable man. It's not difficult to imagine how he would react to these "video records."
     The accompanying photo is of two of the best squatters I've ever known. Tom Tedesco is being spotted by Larry Licandro.  Tommy will be celebrating his 66th birthday later this month.

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