Jerry Pritchett, 2017 America’s Strongest Man hosted Bill Kazmaier at his gym for a seminar recently and I was lucky enough to attend. The Kaz has graced us with a great deal of social media information such as YouTube videos with Josh Bryant, many of his European seminars appear online, as well as his own Instagram postings. Kaz’s induction speech into the Arnold a Sports Hall of Fame is must see viewing. Despite these gems online, there is nothing like listening to the self proclaimed Strongest man who ever lived in person. That quote from Kaz at the 1982 WSM Contest to a British broadcaster was not said boastfully, just factually. Kaz today in person is a very humble and captivating speaker.
The first thing you realize when you are in Kaz’s presence is that he is very athletic in appearance despite being over 60 years of age. Kaz is also still fucking huge. There is no other way to say it. I myself had only met Kaz once before at the 1997 WSM in Las Vegas and I was impressed with him then, but even more so now, almost 20 years later.
Kaz described his philosophy in lifting as being heavily influenced by Iron Icon Bill Pearl, who authored the Keys to the Inner Universe, a very influential book for Kaz. Kaz played football in high school, specifically nose guard and fullback, graduating at 222 lbs after also competing in the shot put as well as the 100 meter dash. Kaz said that when he was 215lbs in high school he could press his body weight for a set of 5.
Kaz also wrestled in high school and entered the University of Wisconsin after graduation. Kaz dropped out of school and began his Powerlifting odyssey at the Madison YMCA. Kaz fondly recalled his early influences from the YMCA, specifically Bob Lowrie, Mike Morgan, and his best partner Steve Disalvo.
Kaz recalled that he was benching 300 initially after entering college but within a matter of months he was benching 400.
The first time Bill deadlifted was his first day of college when he pulled 600. Genetics anyone?
Despite obvious physical gifts, Bill came from what I would describe as an abusive household. Bill did not describe his relationship with his father as abusive, but I would after hearing about it. Bill said that his father often described him as horse shot and detailed a story of how his father once hit him with a brick in the back from a distance. These stories really put into perspective Kaz’s accomplishments now that it is public knowledge that Kaz had anything but a supportive father-son relationship.
Bill stated that he developed his incredible work ethic at an early age because he worked for a tree surgeon during which he had to cut and haul trees from beside a lake up to a work truck.
Kaz’s work ethic immediately endeared him to California Powerlifters such as Joe Free and Bud Ravenscroft. Kaz described that once in California he would often do 7 sets of 7 reps for many of his exercises, intensely telling the seminar that by set 4 or 5 he would be “rolling.” Kaz who held the world record Powerlifting total for almost the entire decade of the 80s, had competitive bests of 925 661 837 2425. Kaz fondly recalled some of his gym repetition personal records such as deadlifting 650 for 10, cheat curling 315 for 15 with lots of back heave, and dumbbell pressing 156lb dumbbells for a set of 10.
Kaz told the audience about his usual bench press workout which included 550 for 5 sets of 5 with a down-set of 430lbs for 30 reps, not locking out the reps because he always trained triceps the day after bench pressing. Kaz proudly described that he would “smash” 35 to 47 work sets for his lats while occasionally supersetting rear delt work between. Kaz had a preference for higher reps and this continued into his retirement from contests when Kaz described that he would powerbuild his delts by seated pressing the 100s for 38 reps when he was in his late 40s.
Kaz broke down his philosophy for training each of the power lifts, beginning with the squat. Kaz was influenced in how he trained the squat by Powerlifting legends Dave Shaw and Bruce Randall. Kaz stated that in 1979 he was correctly fitted for his first TMJ splint and as a result he was able to correctly harness the power of his teeth, the most important of the 12 neurosystems of the body. Kaz also used custom made Addidas power boots which kept his knee inline with his ankle. At his peak, Kaz squatted 900 for 3 in the gym as he tried to become the first powerlifter to officially squat 1000lbs. Kaz was never able to squat a grand in a meet but he did complete squatting movements in Strongman contests that were more than half a ton.
Kaz described his mental attitude towards squatting as “loathing the weights”, getting agitated before a heavy set and always striving to increase his pain tolerance. Kaz spoke often about meditation and visualization. For those of us who had Kaz’s training manuals when in college we recall they were signed with the phrase “conceive, believe, achieve.” Kaz said that he would envision a red light and a green light which was the signal his brain was receiving from a heavy weight. Kaz believed he was in such control of his mind that he could re-wire his mind to over ride the red light and see green. “When others quit, hit the gas.”
Kaz referred to his famous traps as Mt Fugi and Mt Kilamangaro, stating that he trained them heavy as possible with sets of shrugs such as 650 lbs for 50! Kaz said he believed that training should focus on doing as much base work as possible because the bigger the base the higher the pyramid can rise. Kaz spoke of of completing 12 weeks cycles with high reps for all 3 of the lifts. Kaz talked of cycling his poundages from 70 percent to 100 percent during the 12 week cycle. Kaz remarked that he would set short term and long term goals in regards to a workout, a week of workouts, and for months at a time. Kaz said he was analytical and would make minor adjustments to each workout. Kaz knew that he could bench 50 lbs more than his top triple from training.
He described that he could not bench 135 the day after heavy squats. This was the result of the cramming his ridiculously jacked 340lb body under the standard squat bar. Kaz said when he benched he would maintain a 90 degree angle when the bar was on his chest. Kaz said if this angle was not present then all the stress would be on the pec. Kaz said that during his peak years benching he was hard, fast and reckless when he benched as well as when he lowered the bar. Kaz stressed training your delts hard for bench press success, stating that the range of motion for delts is short and demonstrated some side and front raises. “You have to make delts burn to grow.”
For tricep strength Kaz stated he preferred decline tricep presses for 10 to 15 reps. Kaz spoke of warming up to deadlift heavy with lighter, high bar style squats. “You should look like a sewing machine, going straight up and down, doing non-lock squats. Kaz said that the body really has to be pushed because the body can take “a lot of weight.” Not to think that this was your average light day, Kaz cited sets of over 600lbs for 15 reps to build his leg drive for the deadlift. Squatting legend Marvin Phillips taught Kaz these non lock squats and a as a result he built world class hip flexor strength like that mentor.
Kaz stated he utilized very heavy partial squats leading into a meet, lifting the bar concentrically from pins in the power rack working with 100lbs over his max. Kaz said he also utilized rack deadlifts with very heavy weights. Kaz remarked that deadlift god John Kuc once told Kaz he did 150 sets of upper back per week. No wonder he pulled 870 at 242. “When you pull a deadlift, push your feet through the floor,” was Kaz’s words of wisdom. To keep the front of his back strong, i.e. his abs, Kaz loved twists on a hyper bench as well as decline sit-ups with a 100lb plate.
Kaz made a very profound statement when asked to discuss why 99.9 percent of most powerlifters will not approach his records.
“Lifters need to get in better shape, they need to lean up, build muscle, dial in their form, and go back to go forward.”
Kaz cited Andy Bolton of being the perfect example of a lifter who needs to apply his knowledge. Kaz said that except for squats, the rest between sets should be 1.5 to 2 minutes. Push the volume and amount of work done per work up constantly. Calves, abs, and traps should be trained with high volume and frequency. Kaz did not track workout tonnage, he believed in training hard, fast and intense.
Kaz spoke very highly of many of his contemporaries such as Jon Cole-“probably the best strength athlete ever”, OD Wilson-a great guy, and Tom McGlaughlin, who was a genius.
Like most big strong men, Kaz spoke intelligently about food. “The more mass you have, the harder you can contract.”
Kaz closed out the seminar with such gems as “Your perception of reality is your reality.” “Honestly assess where you are at and where you are going” in your training and competitive career.
My day with Kaz was extremely memorable. In my 50s now, I have been amazed by him since I was a teenager. Getting to know him in person and over lunch that day was a day I learned so much and validated the course I have lived my life as a strength athlete. It was great to see the fellowship which exists between Kaz and modern day strength monster Jerry Pritchett. It gets no better than that Neckberg fans.
Thank you to Kaz and for Jerry Pritchett and his incredible family for making that day a reality.
Strength athlete for 35 years who wants to share Classic Powerlifting and strength history. I am Arizona based and seek to share my knowledge.