Written by Chad Wesley Smith
In the age of YouTube, Instagram, and the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of Internet fitness, it is easy to forget about many of the trailblazing athletes who helped push the envelope and inspire the lifters of today. As a fan of all things strength, I think it is important to celebrate the history of these sports and be aware of the greats who came before. So far we have introduced you to 6 all time amazing athletes in Part 1 and Part 2, here are a few more of my favorites…
Adam Nelson (2004 Gold Medalist in the shot put) shared a story with me about meeting Udo Beyer’s former coach and asking him if they had made any mistakes in Udo’s training, to which his coach responded: “We made him too strong.” Anytime you have a world-class shot putter whose coach describes as “too strong,” you know that you are dealing with a phenom of strength and power.
Beyer’s strength and power is truly amazing. Competing for East Germany and standing 6’5” (1.94m) and weighing 310-340 pounds (141-155kg) for most of his career, Beyer won Gold in the shot put at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and added Bronze at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Beyer held the World Record on three separate occasions, finishing his career with a PR of 22.64m (74’3.25”) and was well-known to be able to throw near 22m (about 72’) from a standing position.
The lift that Beyer’s coach referenced as evidence of him being “too strong” is an astounding 300kg seated behind the neck press. Let’s let that sink in for a moment…
In addition to that amazing effort, Beyer is also anecdotally credited with the following performances:
-260kg strict bench press and 295kg x5 bounce press (pillow on chest and explosive hip drive)
-275kg behind the neck jerk
-210kg power clean
-375kg below parallel squat
-460kg x5 “half squat,” likely a few inches above parallel
-157.5kg power snatch
-24m overhead backwards shot throw (this is the farthest I’ve ever heard of)
-11’2” standing broad jump
Beyer’s shot put technique is certainly nothing to emulate, but his strength and power is awe-inspiring.
Alekseyev is undoubtedly the most accomplished heavyweight in the history of weightlifting and quite possibly had one of the greatest singlets of all-time to go along with it.
Alekseyev set 80 World Records during his illustrious career, which included Gold Medals in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics and an 8-year run of World Championships from 1970 to 1977.
Standing 6’1” (1.86m) and weighing around 352 pounds (160kg) for most of his career, Alekseyev advanced the World Records in the Clean and Press, Clean and Jerk and Total from 210.5kg, 221.5kg, and 595kg when he first broke them in 1970, all the way to 236.5kg, 237.5kg, and 645kg in 1972 and then continued to move the Clean and Jerk and Total Records up to 256kg and 445kg respectively, after the Clean and Press was dropped from competition. He finished his career with PRs of 190kg in the Snatch, 236.5kg in the Clean and Press, and 256kg in the Clean and Jerk, 645kg 3 Lift Total and 445kg 2 Lift Total.
After his amazing career as an athlete, he went on to coach the USSR in the 1992 Olympics where they earned 10 medals, including 5 golds.
Alekseyev made a point about training that is something everyone should take to heart. I’m paraphrasing a bit here as I can’t find the original article, but he commented about how everyone wanted to do his program, but that they could not do his program, because then it would be their program. The crux of this point is that you need to take ownership of what you are doing in your training and do things that you need to improve, not necessarily just copy the exact training of the top lifters.
As the owner of the 5th highest raw powerlifting total of all-time, John Kuc’s name is surprisingly rare to hear as an all-time legend of the sport. Kuc won IPF World Championships three times (1974, 1979 and 1980) and added an AAU World Championship (in 1972).
Kuc put together an amazing 2350lb raw total via 905/600/845 in a belt and ace bandage knee wraps at 322lb bodyweight. In another meet, Kuc also pulled an 870 deadlift.
Powerlifting in the ‘70s was a much different place than it is today, unified under one federation. Kuc’s World Championships were true world championships, as he had to defeat the likes of Don Reinhoudt, Jon Cole, and Jim Williams to earn them.
Kuc’s training was simple but effective, training the main lifts for challenging volumes, using variations to address his weak points, building muscle with bodybuilding assistance work, and utilizing linear progression. The deadlift training you find associated with Kuc is very challenging, as he would train heavy and for relatively high volume twice per week.
Kuc was the first man to squat 900 and total over 2,300. He is a true legend of the sport and someone we should all look to and study for improved performances.