Steve Merjanian: The Powerhouse!

Those of us who are and have been avid admirers of size and strength, can well remember the days before powerlifting became the recognized sport it is today.

In California there was a group of men that used bodybuilding exercises with unlimited poundages and the results had to be seen to be believed. These men existed and trained from the mid to late 1950’s to the late 1960’s.

They never entered contests, so often they were thought of as fictitious characters with no credits to their names, other than the rumors that surrounded them.

Whenever the magazines reported a strength feat about the men, it was usually prefaced with “mystery man.” To a degree, they were mysterious, preferring to train when few people were around. But, the word still spread. There was Chuck Ahrens with his extremely heavy dumbbells, using them in such exercises as the Dumbbell Inlcline Press (250 pound dumbbells in each hand), Dumbbell Press (over 300 pounds), seated Dumbbell Curl (200 pound dumbbells in each hand), and a 405 pound Bench Press for 20 reps. He was strictly an upper body specialist, and weighed 330-340 pounds.

He was living in the Santa Monica area, but preferred to remain to himself.

Next was Richard Kee, who was known for his incredible shoulder width which tapered to a very thin waist. He had great strength, Bench Pressing 525 back in 1957. He, too, weighed over 300 pounds.He was a probation officer.

Steve merjanian powerlifting

The third man, and probably the least mysterious of all was Steve Merjanian. Steve has been seen by man people, performing a variety of exercises, so he is very real.

Steve is considered a shoulder and back specialist, and the photographs support this. His bodyweight flucatuates between 280-300. Steve trained five days a week, with the age of 44 he did repetitions with heavy weights.

In the 60’s, he would commence each workout with a quarter mile run, then begin his routine.

young steve merjanian

At one time, Steve trained for three years with Bill Peanuts West and Pat Casey at the famous Westside Barbell Club, where everyone there trained heavy. Since one of Steve’s favorite exercises was the Incline Press, it was not uncommon to see him take 350 pounds as a warm up and perform 10 easy repetitions. His maximum was 495 pounds. The other exercise he considered a favorite was the Press Behind the Neck seated; 335 pounds for 7 repetition were Steve’s best attempts.

Other exercises he used extensively were:

Dumbbell Front Raise – 165lb a single rep
Dumbbell Press – seated 190×2 rep
Lateral Raise – 125×2, 100×4 reps
Seated Press – 460lb with pause at the bottom
Benchpress – 560 pounds, touch and go
Half – squat – 850lb for 1 rep

Squat were not done frequently, running in sand for resistance, and running stairs were often favored over squatting. Holding two 75lb dumbbells out to the side at shoulder height in an iron cross position was also a strength feat Steve performed.

Steve favored two types of routines. One emphasized 10-12 sets doing 5 singles for the last five sets with a heavy weight. The other was 8 sets of 5 reps using as heavy a weight as possible.

His back work emphasized pulleys of various types, twice a week using high repetitions for a good stretch and muscle pump.

Steve Merjanian’s training routine

Dumbbell Press, 5×7 reps
Dumbbell Laterals, 5×7
Front Dumbbell Raises, 5×7
Pulley Rowing Motion, 5×7
Dumbbell Curl, 5×7
Dips, 5×7
Lying Triceps Extension, 5×7
60 Degree Incline Press, 10×7 reps, 7×1 with max minus 20 lbs.
Bench Press, 5×7.

Calf Raise, 10 to 15sets x10 reps
Pulley Forearm Curl, 10-15×10
Pulls on Pulley Machine (for posterior deltoids), 10-15×10
Standing Triceps Extension, 10-15×10
Running, approximately one mile.

Steve’s diet was basic. No protein supplements, just multi-vitamins daily. He ate two breakfasts, had several sandwiches at mid-morning, a salad in the early afternoon and for dinner: fish, turkey, chicken or another lean meat.

His eating habits have changed little in the 80s. He has not changed his approach very much to training. He weighed 295lb and was very strong, Incline Pressed over 405 pounds and Press Behind Neck over 315 pounds for repetitions.

In an a conversation with Bill “Peanuts” West, it was his opinion that Steve has kept his great strength because over the years he has kept his routine consistent. Plenty of rest and relaxation, a mind free of worry, good food and regular training.

Steve’s measurements are a 23 inch neck, 60 inch chest, 19 1/4 inch forearm flexed, 20 inch upper arm, and 20 inch calf stands 5 feet 11 inches, bodyweight 280-300.

4 thoughts on “Steve Merjanian: The Powerhouse!”

  1. At age 18 I was the youngest member of muscle Beach gym on Broadway in Santa Monica. I knew both big Steve Marjanian, and Charlie Ahrens. They were both good friends and we’re famous for riding around town in a Volkswagen bug. You have to understand that each man was almost as big as the car they were riding in. I was told they worked for a collection agency and would work neighborhoods most people would never want to frequent. Once while driving that car up to painted canyon and motorist in a fancy British sports car was honking at them as he was frustrated at how slow they were driving. Local legend has it that Chuck and Steve pulled over, picked the car up and threw it into the canyon. I don’t know if that story is true but it is definitely believable. Out of respect for both men I want to confirm that I saw several of the lifts mentioned in this article personally. Everything listed here as to their physical prowess is true.

    • Steve passed away last night (08/10/2023). He leaves behind his wife Nancy Merjanian. He helped Joe Gold when he built the original Gold’s Gym, and would open the gym in the morning. He also had worked out at the original Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, prior to the site being moved to Venice. One of only a handful of people remaining from that time period. He was 88.
      He was a friend to me and my family and will be missed.

  2. Steve is a good friend of the family. About two years ago I took Steve over to Gold’s in Venice where a film crew was recording the history of Gold’s Gym. Steve is a modest person who does not brag about his feats, but preferred to speak about others from that time period. Steve loves to speak about his lifelong friend Chuck Ahrens who passed away years ago. He did open up when questioned about some of his lifts, and stated that when down at the beach lifting, he was one of the “last man standing” after others had made their lifting attempts.
    He was the morning guy at the original Gold’s Gym. He lived next door to Joe Gold, and had a key to the gym. Steve would open the gym and train in the early morning hours when few were around, so many never knew how strong he was. As the story goes when Franco first came to Gold’s Gym he was amazed at how strong Steve was. Franco was a powerlifting champion and learned early on that there were a few members of the original Gold’s Gym that were very strong, but preferred to keep to themselves and not compete. Steve was one of those lifters. As a young man he also helped Joe Gold while he was constructing the building for what would became the original Gold’s Gym. Joe told me that the reason some of his equipment had to be so heavy duty, and the poundage on the dumbbells went up so high, was due to Steve and a rare few members like him. Steve kept to himself and was well before the internet and U-Tube. History sometimes overlooks people like Steve in this day and age, which I hope is not the case.
    I received a call from Nancy his wife last night, and it appears we may be losing Steve shortly due to ill health. I believe he is now 87 years old as of this writing. 08/2023

  3. Steve Merjanian Passed away on August 8, 2023-He was 88.
    There will be a memorial service at Inglewood cemetery on Sept 6.2023.
    As a Charter Member of Gold’s Gym in 1965, I witnessed many of Steve’s
    feats of strength. A gentle giant. R.I.P.


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