Why did I?

by: Paul Leonard

Paul Leonard’s 600 Pound Deadlift

Mike Martin is one of the best training partners and even better friend I have ever had. We live similar life styles but he is twice the man I will ever be. Both Mike and I have followed the Westside Barbell Conjugate Method for the past quarter century. Like many who have followed this method, neither of us, although invited, have never actually trained at Westside Barbell in Columbus. Mike and I will connect with each other through texts or calls and we will often repeat that famous line that Louie Simmons attributes his comeback to the platform that was uttered to him by Powerlifting god Jesse Kellum, “Why don’t you?”

2018 marked my 50th year on this planet as well as my 33rd of entering a Powerlifting or Strongman competition. You learn a few things during a third of a century as a competitive strength athlete. 2018 also marked the 4th year since I pulled an official deadlift of 600 lbs. That is right folks, I first pulled 600 in 1988 but 30 years later I had allowed an entire high school career pass without hauling 6 plates and change. My latest pectoral tendon injury in 2015 resulted in me trying to switch to the hook grip, ala Brad Gillingham, in an effort to increase my deadlift but not stress my latest upper body injury.

I began working my deadlift hard with the hook grip, but in February 2016, I pulled a set of deadlifts with over 500 lbs and something popped in my left scapula area causing me pain for months as well as numbness in my pinkie and ring finger on my left hand. In addition the long head of my tricep on the left lost its normal tone and now felt mushy. I did a meet a few months later. Why did I? Because the two young lifters I was training at the time, Tavian and Sean were signed up for it already. I stick to my commitments people. Trust me, although I pulled a 573 for a USAPL state record, it was embarrassing to not bench body weight because I could not fire my left tricep. We all know Josh is a bench legend, but in 2000 I was able to beat Josh at the USPF National Bench Championships-the only time my old ass beat my amazing, then teenage training partner.

I trained in 2017 but made minimal improvements. No Dr or therapist in Tucson could help-but I kept scratching as Chuck Voghelpohl is alleged to have said to Louie. Why did I? I have three kids who compete in football, Jiu Jitsu, volleyball and lift as well. I also had loyal training partners, Tavian and Sean who were entering their senior year of High School football. Both these young men set multiple Arizona State USAPL records and earned college football scholarships.

Tavian and Sean went away to college and I selfishly lost myself in my son’s senior year of high school football. Why did I? If I have to explain to you how you can immerse yourself in your kids sports/activities/life-just stop reading now. This is not for you. Friday’s took on a whole new life as I would make sure nothing got in the way of my son’s varsity football games. My son is by no means a five star recruit, he was third string at best- but he earned the right to carry the football as a running back on a team that won their division in Southern Arizona.

Sunday morning would roll around and I would realize Lou’s football career would soon end, so I would train in my garage and deadlift. I often trained with my youngest son Max, who really took to lifting this year. I was not able to train with any other competitors as my focus is on what works best for my family’s schedule-period. I follow the well run USAPL Arizona website and I saw a contest announced for December 9th in Tucson. I entered. Why did I? As Louie Simmons says, compete locally often in order to grow the sport or possibly meet new training partners. There was more to it than that though as I let my mind open as to something that is always there, but comes around during the holiday season.

My father died of medical malpractice on Christmas Eve 1998. Ironically my dad suffered from Kyphosis or hunchback and suffered greatly following surgery to correct his back. Sadly, after an operation, my father received dirty blood during a transfusion and the resulting hepatitis killed him. Yes, I am still mad about it today. With the twenty year anniversary of my father’s death playing in my mind, I decided to take my seething anger out on a bar. But first I needed to plan my attack as I had not pulled a 600lb deadlift in over 1300 days.

After much reflection, I settled on a program beginning in September where I would pull heavy one week and somewhat lighter the following week. All summer I had tried to copy Brad Gillingham with heavy rack singles as my primary deadlift max effort work. Strike two for me being a distant Gillingham as rack pulls gave me my first case of sciatica. Thankfully Donnie Thompson’s lower back protocol (hanging upside down by the now illegal monster band) as well as John Kuc’s leg raise for reps every day rid me of sciatica. Instead of Big Brad, I deduced I would copy 1000lb deadlifted Martin Licis, whose Instagram posts indicated he trained the deadlift in RDL form, squeezing the bar off the floor with less leg drive and saving his biggest pulls for within 8 weeks of a contest. Licis, like Gillingham, advocates RDLs raw to build their posterior chain. The only other twist I added this year was focusing on the negative during a deadlift to give me more muscle building tension-thank you Chad Coy.

My deadlift workouts went as such (Only top set listed/only one “money shot” set done-remember, I am 50 now):

9/2: Safety bar squat to a 12” box with a belt 405×2 reps; deadlift Licis style 412 X 5 reps no belt but straps-pause each rep at the ankle with a 3 second negative each rep.

9/8: Competition deadlift grip (the old over and under) with a belt, 498 X 5 reps.

9/15: Squat with 14” cambered bar 403X2, Reverse band with blue band (strong) 66” from floor-deadlift with competition grip 623lbs.

9/23: Zercher squat 388lbs X 1 with deadlift stance; Licis style no belt but straps with 440 X 5.

9/30: Safety Bar Squat to 12” box with 415 X 2, reverse band in green (medium bands) 66” off floor up to 610 competition grip deadlift with belt.

10/7: Deadlift raw with competition grip: 450 bar weight plus 40lbs in chains X 3, 450 bar weight plus 68 total in chains x 3 reps for 2 sets. I did the three work sets above in 15 minutes. I try to do multiple work set days within the same time it takes to run a flight of lifts at a meet.

10/14: Competition grip deadlift from floor with belt: 450 X 3, 525 X 3.

10/21: Ironminds Apollon’s Axl bar zercher with deadlift stance, work up to 265lbs for 3 wearing a light belt (The old Safe Company belt from Minnesota); Deadlift with competition grip: 360 bar weight with 108 total in chains X 3 reps, 410 bar weight plus 108 in chains X 3 reps- sets. Three deadlift work sets done in 17 minutes.

At this point, with 6 weeks to go, I switched my deadlift day to midweek because I like to pull my last deadlift ten days before a meet. I also begin to note the rate of perceived effort (RPE) a set takes.

10/25: Competition grip deadlift with belt: 470 X 3 (RPE 7), 540 X 3.

10/29: Squat with 14” cambered bar 443 X 2 reps with belt. Bent Over Rows with Safe belt and raw grip: 207lbs 4 sets of 5 reps

10/31: Competition grip deadlifts raw: 407 bar weight plus 108 total in chains X 5 reps, 427 bar weight plus 108 in chains X 4 reps, 457 bar weight plus 108 in chains X 3 reps, 467 bar weight plus 108 in chains X 2 reps. I did the four work sets in 20 minutes. That is a Jon Cole workout. I then proceeded to pig out that night as my wife, son and his girlfriend ate as much candy as we handed out. What a blubbergut I was.

11/3: Safety bar squat to a 12” box with 352lbs bar weight and tight blue bands for a double (About the time a grinding deadlift would take)

11/7: Competition grip deadlift with power belt: 556lbs for 3 reps (RPE 9). (Heaviest workout of the entire cycle)

11/11: Deload workout in the squat with Safety squat bar and green bands for two sets of triples paused on a 12” box. Snatch grip bent over rows with a safe belt and no straps up to 278lbs for two triples.

11/15: Competition grip deadlift with 450 lbs bar weight plus 108 in chains X 1 no belt. Add Safe belt: 500lbs bar weight plus 108 in chains X 1 rep (RPE 9), 520 bar weight plus 108 in chains X 1 rep (RPE 10).

11/18: Squat with Westside Bow Bar up to 398 lbs to a hassock on 1” 45 lb plate. Used Safe belt and took deadlift stance. All squatting during this training cycle was done with a deadlift stance to build leg drive off the floor. Watch a YouTube video of Eddie Hall squatting some time.

11/22: Thanksgiving morning with Max, Bow bar squat to a hassock on a 1”45 lb plate up to 431 lbs with power belt and knees wrapped; being peaking cycle for deadlift meet with Prilipen’s chart figures for Dynamic Effort deadlifts: 500lbs bar weight for 8 singles in 14 minutes wearing a Safe belt and using my competition grip.

11/25: Bent over rows with Safe belt and straps: 228 X 3, 248 X 3 X 2 sets, 268 X 3 reps. Safety bar deadlift stance good mornings with 135 lbs X 10 reps raw, leg raises X 40 reps

11/29: Dynamic deadlift workout, competition grip and power belt: 517 lbs for 6 singles in 9 minutes. Felt awesome. Recovering and ready to pull big soon.

12/2: Safety bar squat inside power rack to hassock on a 45 lb plate with deadlift stance up to 375lbs for 1 pause rep with power belt; add monster mini bands to the bar overhead to deload the weight in the bottom- 465 lb bar weight x 1 rep. Dimmel deadlifts with straps and no belt: 138lbs X 20 sets of 2 reps done quick to flush back out, decline bench abs with 10lb plate behind head.

12/7: Friday. On a cold, rainy day in Tucson, I attended the funeral of Deputy United States Marshal Chase White who was slain in the line of duty. These type of events are sobering and put life in perspective for me.

12/8: Saturday. I had to buy a new car because one of our cars was totaled on 11/26. No one was hurt. Just my wallet.

12/9: Meet day. Max and I drove over in my old Hemi Charger. The meet site was not well marked but we found it. I weighed in at 126 kilos, or Superheavyweight in the USPAL. I did warms ups of 460 and 515. I opened at 551 then took my goal weight of 600lbs. It was pretty easy and I was super focused for lift-period. I thought about my dad and my Max who was there with me. My last thought before I tightened my belt was that I hope all my kids love something in their life as much as I love lifting weights. Something 100% objective that can never be disputed and will always mean something to those who “get it.” I love Henry Rollins wisdom and 200lbs will always be 200 lbs….but so will 600-it is just 3 times better.

I had some close friends at the meet as well, Ray Robey ( somehow two alpha males became friends after age 40-like Bigfoot riding the Loch Ness Monster-it can happen!), his son Tavian back from school, and the Barrega Family- who let me train their athletes.  My friend and new training partner Mike Alperstein came to support me. Thank you for coming folks. 

As for the other type of training I did during the fall of 2018, all of my pressing was incline pressing as my left shoulder inflamed greatly from flat pressing with my football players as they got ready for their season. Lots of miles in them there pecs. I was able to strictly incline bench more weight than I benched in my last full meet in 2016. In addition to focusing on my incline press, I did a great deal of upper body pulling exercises ala Bruce Wilhelm and Bill Starr- with a snatch grip. I have never worked any snatch grip pulls in my lifting career so there were new strength gains to be mined and I was able to strengthen that weak scapula area I strained in 2016. Like the immortal Jon Cole would train very heavy upright rows with 405 then he would enter an Olympic lifting meet and beat everyone but Olympian Kenny Patera.

A few of my peers saw the 600 lb lift and asked….why didn’t you go for more? Well Why Did I pass my third attempt? I passed my third because I wanted to save some energy for my family over the holidays. I also passed the attempt so that I could smash some weights a few weeks later on the 20th anniversary of my father’s passing. Training is my anchor and I exist to do it.

Since you frequent this site you know Josh has benched more than 620 raw, and many of his clients pull over 800 lbs. My pull is no big deal – to you. I am just an ally and friend of Josh’s who became the first USAPL 50 year old in Arizona to pull 600lbs. So now I ask you about your goal, Why don’t you?

For lifting consultations you can email me at Pleonard71@comcast.net.