The History of Powerlifting


History of Powerlifting

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Siegmund Klein's Studio of Physical Culture in New York City. circa 1920

Into the 1920's, strongmanism, like vaudeville, has already seen its best days come and go. The long ago strength feats of men like Louis Cyr, Eugen Sandow, and Arthur Saxon were by then stuff of legend and remembered fondly by older lifters. For the younger generation however, the real strength stars were of more recent vintage: men like Siegmund Klein, Henry Steinborn, Hermann Goerner, and others.

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Milo Steinborn (better known as just 'Milo') working out atop Hermann's Gym in Philadelphia. 1930's

After assuming control of weightlifting in the US, the American Athletic Union established rules governing the performance of the power movements and dozens of other "odd" lifts. In Bob Hoffman's Weightlifting (1939), AAU definitions and rules for the deep knee bend, press on box and dead weight lift are given along with standards of performance. The AAU also exercised considerable influence over how strength shows were run there. With its mixed format structure, these events remained exellent venues for those wishing to exhibit their power lift prowess

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A couple of typical iron studios from the 1950's: John Fritshe's gym in Philadelphia (left) and Ray Van Cleef's in San Jose (right).

By the early 1960's, grass roots support for the odd/power lift movement was rolling across the American strength landscape like an iron juggernaut! Accordingly, the AAU had no other choice but to officially sanction powerlifting's existence as a sport in December of 1964.

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Want an insider's view of what powerlifting was like during the 1960's? Rickey Dale Crain (a 148/165 lb superstar during the 70's and 80's) summarized it very nicely in this excerpt taken from the July 1977 issue of Powerlifting USA:

"As a true blooded powerlifter, who literally grew up in the sport, born with a York barbell in one hand and a bottle of Energol in the other, I can easily view the overall growth of weightlifting and powerlifting particularly in the last 20 years as nothing short of fantastic!"

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Steve Wilson and Roger Estep.

During the 1970's the records were improving because the sport was taking off! Powerlifting was growing by leaps and bounds. Lifter registration in the US was closing in on 5,000+ by the mid-70's and nearing 8,000 by 1980. Television coverage was being provided. The major networks were actually after powerlifters! The first mainstream publication ever written about powerlifting was released in 1978. The International Powerlifting Federation was born in 1972 and had nearly 20 nations participating in the IPF World Championships before the decade was over.

Thanks to American Power Evolution

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Author: Thanks to American Power Evolution | Created: Tue May 08 19:22:43 UTC 2012 | Last Updated: Sat Jul 03 00:50:03 UTC 2021