What is Powerlifting? It consists of the three power movements, the squat, bench press and deadlift. It’s a brutal test of strength and mental fortitude-period. You compete against your past performances as well as anyone in your weight class to make the heaviest weight in each lift that you call will to completion. You need to perform the lift in accordance with the existing rules so that you obtain two out of three judge’s approval – white lights – in order to have an official lift on the score sheet to count towards your three lift total.
Are all powerlifters fat or unhealthy? One only needs to look at my YouTube channel to see me battle Mike O’Hearn and Steve Denison for the 1995 California Powerlifting State Championships to see that none of us were fat. Actually none of the footage from that meet, which can be seen on my channel, contains any fat or unhealthy lifters – because there were none competing that day!
In today’s social media environment there is many videos and posts questioning Mike O’Hearn’s natural status and claims that he is all natty. What do I think of that? I think Mike is laughing all the way to the bank. I competed against Mike and I gave him my best shot. Same weights, same judges, same flight, exact same GPS spot on this amazing planet we stood and did our best. I respect Mike and appreciate that he brought out the best in me.
HERE IS MY STORY
The 1995 USPF State Powerlifting Championships were held on April 22, 1995, at the El Toro Marine Air Corp Station. Twenty five years later, I found the VHS copy of the meet that was filmed, edited and sold by Guy Adams. The meet was promoted by Vic Elliot, who was an outstanding lifter himself. The competition was held in the basketball gymnasium while the warm up area was the adjacent weight room. The contest was important to me because I had been following the Westside Barbell training protocol as best I could by having never been to Westside. I say trying to follow it because as the lifters from Westside and founder Louie Simmons himself say, if you have never trained at Westside than you are not training Westside. In the mid 90s, Louie’s video tapes, writings, and recommended reading list of Russian authors were my sources of inspiratio
I had received the 3 original Westside tapes for Christmas of 1993 and began applying the ideas with a shit ton of balls out effort, mostly training alone in a office space at night after work, once everyone had left for the work day. I had a 1600 lb total when I started Westside style and in one year I officially totaled 1717 at the 1994 USPF Vandenberg Air Force Bass Open in the 275 lb class. Soon after that, I relocated to the North Orange County area and began training at a real gym, Uptown Gym in Whittier that had an existing Powerlifting crew.
When I showed up at the gym, the lifters there were split in that two of them (Gary Hogan and Mike Morgan ) wanted to train Westside style like me, while three of them were vehemently opposed to Westside and said it would not work (Al Morentin, Ray Cosio, and Ron Perkins).
How We Trained For Power
I lead the way with Gary and Mike, using a dynamic effort (DE) day for both squat and bench pressing, as well as a max effort (ME) day for the bench and squat/deadlift as well. Our split called for ME lower on Saturday, ME bench on Thursday, DE bench on Monday, and DE squats on Tuesday. We did no training on our off days, but I trained as hard as I could the 4 days per week that I did hit the gym- balls to the wall and no deloads at that time, just Louie’s percentages on DE days and go as heavy as you could til you missed on ME day.
Of all the days, our Tuesdays were the worst, with literally ten minutes of terror as we would do all our DE squats sets, 10 or 12 sets of doubles to a 12” box with a medium stance and only a belt. Basically we would do the sets while AC DC blared Hell’s Bells and Have a Drink on Me or Rage Against the Machine screeched a Bullet to the Head or Calm like a Bomb. Ten minutes of music, 10 or 12 doubles as hard as we could apply compensatory acceleration to each rep-ala Fred Hatfield whom Louie revered. Chains and bands were not used nor where they known about by myself in 1995.
After DE squats we would do power good mornings to build up our back static strength for a big squat. With 365 to 405 for triples with a belt, I was able to squat 700lbs in competition with ease after training this way for two years. After good mornings we would do cable pull throughs with up to our respective bodyweight for hamstring isolation. I would alternate stance width, from medium to wide, digging my heels into the floor and focusing on my hip extending hamstrings. Uptown Gym has a 400 lb heavy duty cable stack that would allow us to overload and isolate our leg biceps. Side bends for the obliques followed as they hit the side muscles and hip insertions hard while tractioning the lower back for the heavy ME lower back based work to follow 4 days later on Saturday.
Tuesday’s workouts were completed like every other workout, with conditioning. We would do heavy abdominal work supersetted with either ad hoc reverse hypers or Dimel deadlifts. On days we did lower body work, we would condition with sit up type work on either the floor, a hyper bench or a decline bench. On upper body days, abdominal conditioning was done with leg raises, floor, hanging, or on a ramp to open up that lower back for the posterior chain work to follow in the workout to follow the upper session. The gym did not have a reverse hyper, we cut a leather weight belt so that you could slide 25lb Olympic plates on to the belt and do the movement by setting up on a regular hyper extension bench with your feet able to swing underneath and back behind the body.
Monday’s DE bench press day was completed on Monday evening. We followed the typical prescribed 65% for 8 sets of 3 reps on the flat bench with three different grips, two closer than my regular competition grip so that my triceps got extra work. I would wear gear at the 1995 State Championships, but 95% of my training was done raw. Following my bench sets I would do tricep extensions such as Paul Dicks presses and rolling dumbbell extensions. Deltoids were trained with plate raises, Bradford presses, and one arm strict side raises. Lat pull downs or chest supported rows were done for lats and upper back strength. After hammer curls, conditioning was done with Dimel deadlifts for 20 reps or reverse hypers, supersetted with leg raises.
Thursday evening was max effort bench with some of the staple exercises being floor press and board presses. A bench shirt was put on once per month in order to gauge progress. Heavy dumbbell bench presses for reps on the flat bench were done as a supplemental exercise following working up to a heavy single ME rep. I would do lat work following the pressing, focusing on upper back work and not tiring my lower back for Saturday’s onslaught. As with every workout, conditioning was done to complete the days training with lower back and ab work.
Saturday morning meant no work that day, just an ass kicking lower body workout that would include a ME variation squat such as a parallel bench squat , Zercher squat, kneeling squat, or a close stance, sub-12” hassock squat. Following a ME record squat, we would deadlift conventionally using Prilepin’s chart as written in an article by Louie titled so you want to deadlift.
It was a 6 week cycle which called for 15 singles pulled with 65%, 12 singles with 70%, 10 singles with 75%, 8 singles with 80%, and finally 6 singles with 85%. These deadlifts were done with a belt and competition grip only. These pulls were done as furious as the DE squats on Tuesdays. I do recall that I pulled 605lbs for 6 singles in 8 minutes – doing this workout ten days before the meet. I ended up pulling 705 at the meet so doing DE deadlifts on ME squat day worked great.
Leading up to the meet, there was friction in the gym as half the team was not training Westside style. The meet would be the test of whose training system was better- my version of Westside or the old school, progressive overload method the other half of the powerlifters were using. There was also lots of shit talking as to who would lift what. There was mention in the contemporary bodybuilding magazines of some of the Gold’s Gym Powerlifters of the day, such as how Mike O’hearn, Ron Fedkiw, Jon Arenberg, and Kurt Elder we’re preparing for the State Powerlifting meet by hoisting impressive poundages in training.
At the time, bodybuilding magazines were popular and Flex, Muscular Development, Ironman, and MuscleMag International had columns that would occasionally mention bodybuilders who practiced the power lifts with respectable weights, often times at Golds Gym Venice Beach. I had read bodybuilding magazines since I began lifting weights in 1984.
Weider’s magazines, Ironman, Muscular Development, Strength and Health, and MuscleMag International always had at least one piece of content per issue that would help a burgeoning strength fanatic such as myself. While in college I worked at two GNC stores so I would peruse the pages during the slow times- seeking information on how to get stronger, bigger and more muscular. I do not know when I first saw Mike O’hearn in a magazine, but I am sure it was in 1990 or 1991 while I was selling protein, Hot Stuff, or Cybergenics.
The first time I saw Mike O’hearn in person was when he was working the front door of a nightclub, I believe called Club H20, in Manhattan Beach, California on Friday evening November 19, 1993. How do I remember the date so well?
I was invited to Royce Gracie’s victory party for winning the first UFC in Denver the Friday before. My room mate rolled with the Gracies in Jiu Jitsu so I was invited. I congratulated Royce and met the scariest man in the world at the same time- his older brother Rickson (Search him on YouTube). I did not meet Mike but I saw him enjoying being a doorman, flirting with some girls. I was a doorman too so I know the deal. Perks of the job.
1995 California State Powerlifting Championships
It has been a quarter of a century, but I remember many parts of the contest well. I drove down the 40 minutes from my condo with Gary Hogan as it was all business. My fiancé got to the sight later with Gary’s wife and sat with all team members wives or girlfriends. I recall warming up, and as was my philosophy, I was there to hit PRs in all three lifts and go as close to 9 for 9 as possible. At a meet I am always just concerned about me- as that is the only person I can control. I have always been a better deadlifter so my goal would be to check the sub totals after the last bench and determine what I would need to pull on my third attempt to place as high as possible.
I took my two scoops of Ultimate Orange and warmed up. I proceeded to squat 617, 644, and 661 for 3 successes. Benches were disappointing in that I went 396, 413, and 424 but got reds on the third attempt for a lift I thought was good. I was behind my friend Steve Denison and Mike O’hearn at subtotal.
One thing about the Westside style of training, I was very well conditioned for a powerlifter. I never got tired during a meet once I trained Westside, as the workouts were so much more severe than any contest. The reason for this was because I would train with short rest periods, making the weak muscle fibers fire off before they had recovered. Weaknesses could not hide.
To rest 10 or 15 minutes between one squat was very easy and allowed me to rage against the bar. I was able to deadlift 644, 683, and 705 to beat Mike and place second to Steve.
How strong is Mike O’Hearn?
Mike’s official Powerlifting Numbers that day were Squat 650lb (295kg), Bench 451lb (204kg) and Deadlift 650lb (295kg). I out deadlifted both Mike and Steve and hit the last big deadlift of the entire meet as no other heavy division lifter hit all 3 pulls, or even took three attempts. You can hear Ray Cosio encourage me before my last pull. The three members of my team were total converts to the Westside style after that meet.
I met and impressed World Class Powerlifter Art LaBare at this meet as well as his partners Gary Garcia, Rick Purchase, Manny Sanchez, George Pessel, and Brian Meek. Those guys became my new training partners soon after, with only Gary staying by my side. We all went on to lift the greatest weights we ever would lifting out of my garage Yorba Barbell over the next decade after the 95 California States.
I never competed against Mike O’hearn again, although I tried by entering every big California meet in Powerlifting and Strongman until I left the State in 2004.
I have every Powerlifting USA Magazine ever printed, all 420 issues beginning in 1977 and ending sadly in 2012. I have the issue that documents this state meet. My performance that day lead me to being interviewed and appearing on Ned Low’s Powerlifter Video Magazine and appearing in PLUSA in Ned’s and Dr Ken Leistner’s Columns.
Once I achieved success in Powerlifting, I gave back to the sport by writing articles for Powerlifting USA as well as other publications.
Strength athlete for 35 years who wants to share Classic Powerlifting and strength history. I am Arizona based and seek to share my knowledge.