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Bill StarrThe Baby With the Bathwater Part 4
Five years passed before the well-kept secret slipped out that Bill March, Louis Riecke and others connected with the York Barbell Club were using anabolic steroids and that the drug, not isometric contraction, was the real reason they were all making such spectacular progress. Once on the iron grapevine, however, word spread rapidly. Soon Olympic weightlifters in Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, New York, Jacksonville and Winston-Salem found local sources for the Dianabol that would so dramatically improve their totals.
They also discovered that any routine, done consistently and diligently, produced startling results, as long as they took the little pink pills regularly. Thatís when the systems of rack training that Dr. John Ziegler had developed and Bob Hoffman had so successfully marketed became passé. The weightlifting community figured that Hoffman had deliberately concealed the drug use of athletes whoíd trained with isometrics and isotonic-isometrics just so he could sell courses and racks. Which was true.
Sales for isometric courses and all types of power racks fell like a missed jerk. I recall going to a room in an old warehouse in York to pick up back copies of Strength & Health to take to a coachesí convention and seeing power racks stacked from floor to ceiling. Theyíre probably still there.
Rack training as designed by Dr. Ziegler might no longer have been considered beneficial, but it was a case of the baby going out with the bathwater. Thatís because the system, when executed correctly, is extremely effectiveóespecially the isotonic-isometric movements, in which you shift a weighted bar a short distance before locking it into a 12-second isometric hold.
Before I moved to York from Marion, Indiana, I improved my clean by 15 pounds and my snatch by 10 by using Zieglerís system in the rack. Youíll remember that rack training seems to have more influence on one area of the body than others. In my case the positions for the pull helped me more than the ones for the squats and presses.
Lifters whoíd been taught by Ziegler or one of his students, such as Bill March, continued to use his system even after steroids became part of weightlifting and bodybuilding. Garcy, March, Bednarski, Brannum, Whitcomb, Moore, Mielec, Glenney, Suggs, Pickett, Bartholomew and I used it till the end of our competitive careers, as did top bodybuilders like Bill St. John, Val Vasilef, Bob Gajda and Sergio Oliva. Perhaps it was no coincidence that Zieglerís disciples were among the first used by professional-football strength coaches in the country: Riecke for the Steelers, John Gourgott for the Saints, Tommy Suggs for the Oilers, and I worked with the Colts.
When I took the position of strength coach at the University of Hawaii, though, I really got the opportunity to test the Ziegler system on a large group of athletes who were not using any form of steroids. In the early 1970s you couldnít get them on Oahu anyway. Thatís changed, but during my island tour I had plenty of pure, willing subjects.
For isotonic-isometrics to have any real effect, the athlete has to be past the beginning stage. The longer heís been training hard, the better. My primary job was to work with the football team, and none of them had done serious strength training, so I didnít put any of them in the rack until my second year there. I did find an ideal subject soon after I joined the coaching staff, however.
I attended an Olympic meet in Honolulu, mainly to see Tommy Kono, Pete George and Harold Sakata, since there was no lifter of any note. All the lifters were Asian except one, a transplanted Pennsylvanian named Steve Dussia. He won the 181 class with a 220 snatch and 270 clean and jerk. After the contest we talked about mutual acquaintances, and I learned that Marty Cypher, one of the best coaches in the country, had introduced him to the Olympic lifts. Steve asked if he could train occasionally at the UH weight room so I could help him with his form on the split snatch, which was the style I used when I competed. I agreed on the condition that he assist me in teaching the football players and other athletes lifts like the power clean, overhead press, jerk and front squat.