Is it harder to get strong today?

Smolov, Smolov Jr., Sheiko, 5/3/1, Starting Strength, Texas Method, Max Effort/Dynamic Effort, 5x5, German Volume Training, StrongLifts, etc, ad nauseum.  So many programs, so many choices.

Not to sound too much like an old timer but back when I started lifting weights in 1982, we started with 3 sets of 10 reps and added weight.  Simple linear progression.  Virtually every 'program' of the day was a variation of a linear progression. Sometimes 3's, sometimes 5's, sometimes 1's.  It wasn't very complicated and the talented lifters got real strong.  The rest of us got stronger too.

In the following video from 1989, Bill Cavalier was 44  and Dusty Caldwell, R.I.P. was 41.  Cavalier, one of the greatest deadlifters of all time, lifted as a light 198 lb class lifter and easily hoists 733 lbs.  Caldwell also easily completes a deadlift in the high 600's as a light 242 lb class lifter.  Cavalier's deadlift would be a top 10 deadlift even today based on all time (since 2007) list.  Strength is strength, it transcends time and programming.

Back in 1989 when this contest occurred, there was no Sheiko or Smolov.  There was linear progression.  Louis Simmons was writing his articles on training by percents but there was no back then so it was hard to figure out how to implement his training articles.  You see, back in the 'old days', the way one learned about how to get stronger was to find the strongest guys in the gym or the strongest guys at the meet and ask them questions.  There were no personal training certifications and no internet fakes, only lifters that were strong from natural talent and ability or those that learned how to get stronger and maximize their potential.  They walked the walk and earned the right to talk the talk.

I grew up in southern California so visiting Louie Simmons or Dr. Ken Leistner or the lifters at Quads Gym etc. to see how they got strong was not a feasible option for my university student strapped budget. There were limited sources of media -- I used to devour each issue of Powerlifting USA trying to glean some nuggets of wisdom but more often than not, ended up getting suckered into buying the latest supplement promising effortless gains.  Anyone remember Gamma Oryzanol, Chromium Picolinate, or Ornithine?  Trolling for suckers is still common today except there are an even more befuddling array of supplements trying to separate a lifter from their hard earned dollars.

I was lucky that I met two extremely intelligent and strong lifters while at UCLA.  Dr. Jon Arenberg and Dr. Kenn Fujioka (they weren't doctors yet) approached me one day while I was working out at the John Wooden Center and asked me if I was interested in powerlifting.  I had no idea what it was but it seemed interesting and I wanted to learn.  As we went to competitions, we met other lifters and slowly learned what it took to get stronger.  Not surprisingly it was hard work and patience.
Kenn on top, Jon on the bottom, both these guys still hold USAPL Calif State records set back in the early 90's

starting top left, clockwise, Jon lifting off my bench press, Jon  about to deadlift, Kenn in mid-deadlift, Jon locking out a deadlift, Me squatting in Air Jordans with Rich Peters as one of my spotters.

Looking back, I think I actually had it easier than a beginner starting up today.  We had fewer choices, fewer distracting sources of media, and it was easier to identify an expert even if it was much harder to actually communicate with one.  There were fewer machines, most gyms back then did have a squat rack and/or a power cage and plates were round.  If you had enough of them on a bar, they clanged in confirmation that the weight was respectable.  We lifted weights, continually increased the loads, and made progress.  Just like we do today without all of the hand-wringing over which "program" is going to be "best".   

I don't think kids or beginners today realize we all got stronger from programs that didn't require a macro-enabled spreadsheet.  And with the advent of and internet forums, beginners today don't have to search out an expert, they can put their lifts out there and accept critique and suggestion from any number of anonymous, sometimes questionable, 'experts'.  If they're lucky, they get good advice that isn't contradicted by 10 other opinions, each one touting their particular 'program'.  So many lifters--never the good ones it seems--identify themselves by their 'program'.  They're a "5/3/1" guy, or a "westside" guy or a "smolov" or a "sheiko" guy, etc.  What they fail to realize is, they're not defined by their program, the program is just a tool.  They are their lifts and the progress they've made.  That's it.  At the end, the medals or trophies or the Personal Bests aren't awarded to a program, they go to the lifter that busted his/her butt in the gym and forced his/her body to adapt and thrive.

165lb lifters were deadlifting 705 lbs before the internet and sheiko existed.

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