11 May 2011

Baddest Motherfuckers Ever #22- Captain Kirk Karwoski

It's rare that anyone finds themselves up on a pedestal with the alien-fucking, karate chopping, stilted delivery having awesomeness of the man with the hardest cock to ever hit the big screen, Mr. James T. Kirk.  One powerlifter, however, rolled insanely fucking hard through every meet and happened to rock the same first name as that esteemed space-faring Captain, and thus had a moniker befitting his exalted status bestowed upon him- Captain Kirk Karwoski.

Karwoski dominated the squatting scene in the 1990s the way that Ron Jeremy dominated porn in the 1980s- big, mean and ugly, only way fucking leaner, bereft of 1970s throwback porn mustache, and with a hell of a lot more yelling.  As such, I suppose he doesn't share all that much in common with Ron Jeremy.  Nevertheless, Karwoski likely banged a bunch of broads due to his massive success in the wildly popular mainstream sport of powerlifting, and thus shares that in common with Jeremy.

Bullshitting aside, Karwoski was the real fucking deal.  He squatted so far ahead of his time in the 1990s that his record of 1003 lbs int the 275lb weightclass stood for over 20 years.  Over his career, Karwoski pulled down 3 teenage and 3 junior world titles in addition to 7 national and 6 straight world championships.  (Parillo)  After all of that, Karwoski reentered competition for shits and giggles in 2005, ten years after he'd left the podium previously with the world record, and got himself ranked 19th All Time amongst unequipped squatters with an 826lb squat at 240 lbs.(Powerliftingwatch)  Best part of the whole bit?  He did it while lean as shit.
Right after rolling out of bed the day of the meet.

According to Marty Gallagher, Karwoski was one of the only lifters of his era who caused the "flee phenomenon", in which other lifters bail out of a particular class to avoid going to to toe with the dominant lifter in that class.  At his peak, Karwoski totalled 2306, which stood for over 10 years as the number to beat, even though rapid advancements in gear started allowing people to damn near double their bench presses.  Gear whores, relax- you can use a fucking pallet lift for all I fucking care.  You just have to respect the bench pressers of bygone eras if for no other reason than the fact that they, unlike you, would not live through a T-Rex attack if wearing their old school bench shirts, which lacked the denim, kevlar, chain mail, elfin magic, hydraulics, and whatever else Inzer's managed to wedge into their wacky constructs lately.
This picture of physical health is safe from gunshot wounds and t-rexes... but probably not mirrors.

... and how did this bad motherfucker get so ungodly good at squatting?  By being batshit insane and breaking his ass in the fucking gym, of course.  For instance, if he found someone in his rack on Monday night at 5:30, he 'd throw the guy's shit on the ground in front of the rack, look at the guy, and yell "Five minutes!" at the top of his lungs.  If the guy was still there in five minutes, Karwoski would strip the weights, throw them on the floor, grab the guy's shit and throw it across the room, and scream at the dude that he "better never see that motherfucker in the gym again on a Monday night.  Ever."  Though dickish, it's hilarious, and it shows how deadly serious Karwoski was about his squat workouts- no one and nothing were going to keep him from squatting on Monday nights.

"Most power lifters share some common defects, as a whole for whatever reason, LOVE to punish, beat and torture ourselves beyond the limits of mind and body. It is our spirit that prevails. This defect of intelligence and sensibility pushes us onto the next level, makes us better and stronger. We all have lifted sick and badly hurt,, When this subject comes up with normal people and other meatheads, we all have the prideful smile when we talk about lifting with a 100 degree temperature or a torn groin. Thank God that therapy doesn't work on us." - Captain Kirk

I have two versions of Karwoski's typical training week.  The first comes from a Parrillo mag dating to 2005, and the second (pre-competition routine) comes from Marty Gallagher's Purposeful Primitive.  They have the same structure, but different execution.

Monday- Squats and Legs.

Squat: 135x8 (reps) 255x5, 455x5, 655x3, 735x1, 825x1, 905x5 (with gear)
Leg press: work up to 1,500 for reps
Leg extensions: whole stack+
Calf raise: three sets to failure, whole stack plus 100’s
Lying leg curls: three sets with whole stack+

Squat- 7-10 x 2-8 (his last set would be a balls out, beltless, 80% 1RM 8 rep set.
Leg curl- 2-3 x 5
Leg extensions 2-3 x 5

Tuesday- Close Grip Bench and Arms.  Later in his career, Karwoski eschewed small, single-joint, high-risk exercises like skull crushers for bigger, lower-risk movements like the close grip bench.  He credited this decision with his avoidance of most common joint injuries as he got older career.  When younger, however, he did the following:
Biceps: E-Z curls, dumbbell curls (can do strict set of 8 with 100’s)

Triceps: Nose breakers, Pushdowns

Close grip bench, touch & go- 7-10 x 2-8
Dumbbell curls- 2-3 x 5
Triceps pushdowns- 2-3 x 5

Thursday- Deadlift and Back.  Thursday's workout was interesting because Karwoski did an exercise he invented called grip shrugs, which he used to get his deadlift up to 800 in the gym.  The exercise, “grip shrugs,” was a hybrid upright row/shrug done with a thumbless grip and paused at the navel, and was designed to help Karwoski develop a grip that would enable him to pull big poundages. Unfortunately, he expended so much energy on the squat in competition that he was never able to pull 800+ in competition, but it improved his grip strength considerably.(Steel)

Deadlift: 255x8, 465x3, 665x1, 755x1, 790x3
Barbell rows: 405 for reps
Lat pulldowns: entire stack+
Dumbbell shrugs: two sets to failure
Seated press: 225x8, 275x8, 315x5

Deadlift- 7-10 x 2-8
Grip shrugs- 3 x 5
T-bar row- 3 x 5-8
Pulldowns- 2-3 x 5

Saturday- Bench, Chest and Shoulders.

Flat bench press: 135x12, 255x5, 345x3, 435x1, 495x1, 535x5 all paused
Wide-grip bench: work up to 485 for reps
Narrow grip bench press: work up to 455 for reps
Incline barbell press: 225x8, 315x3, 405x5
Lateral raises: 3-4 sets, 60s

Bench Press (Competition grip)- 7-10 x 2-8
Wide Grip Bench with pause- 3 x 5
Incline Bench- 3 x 5
Front Raises- 2-3 x 5
Side Raises- 2-3 x 5

According to Karwoski, he usually did a primary movement and four assistance exercises each workout, a couple of which were mainstays. (Critical Bench)  He, like his fellow superhuman Ed Coan, felt that sets of 5 on everything were the best way to get brutally fucking strong, so they focussed most of their effort within that rep range.  (Gallagher)  As such, Karwoski eventually built up to a 900 x 5 rep set in the squat, along with fellow mutants Ed Coan and Doug Furnas.

The key, then, to Karwoski's undying and face-crushingly brutal success seems not to have stemmed from massive training innovation or wild-eyed, train-til-you-bleed-from-your-pores training frequency, but rather from two things- animal intensity and consistency.  Even in the ten years during which he didn't compete, Karwoski was in the gym every training day busting ass, and it clearly paid off.  He was so wedded to the idea of consistency, in fact, that he might as well have brought a fucking accountant into the gym to record his workouts- according to Marty Gallagher, that motherfucker never missed a single predetermined rep in a 12 week training cycle prior to a major meet, after having planned out every workout 3 months in advance. (Purposeful, 89) Sounds completely fucking ridiculous to me, but that apparently happened.

Will screaming at random gym-goers and doing double-entry bookkeeping in the gym bestow upon you a 1003 squat?  Probably not... but it might be worth a try.

Gallagher, Marty.  "Kirk Karwoski".  Parrillo Performance Press.  March 2007.
Gallagher, Marty.  Purposeful Primitive. 2008.
Video Interview.  Power Unlimited.
Powerliftingwatch All Time Rankings.  http://www.powerliftingwatch.com/files/Rankings-04-24-11.pdf
Steel, Jim.  My Experiences In The Iron Game.  Starting Strength.  http://startingstrength.com/articles/experiences_steel.pdf


  1. First to comment. thanks for the great read, as par... The narrow-grip bench presses seem to make a lot of sense for pushing power...

  2. 2nd! Wheres my fuckin ribbon?!?!

  3. Pretty shitty, throwing someone's plates of the floor and generally acting like a raging childish reprobate.

    On the other hand, the 1000x2 squat is the most impressive powerlifting feat I've ever seen.

  4. That quote of him saying he lifts better when he carries a lower body fat % made me laugh.

    Of course you are going to be stronger when you are 275@10% vs 275@15%, you are carrying more muscle for fuck sakes.

    Also, you didn't make mention of the fact that he does leg extensions and leg curls!

  5. "Contest:
    Squat- 7-10 x 2-8 (his last set would be a balls out, beltless, 80% 1RM 8 rep set.
    Leg curl- 2-3 x 5
    Leg extensions 2-3 x 5"

    The "Baddest Motherfuckers Ever" series is not about social skills or philanthropy. It is about men who have performed amazing feats of strength and athleticism". I think you may be looking for Oprah's blog.

    That is all, retards.

  6. "Of course you are going to be stronger when you are 275@10% vs 275@15%, you are carrying more muscle for fuck sakes."

    MV, many don't even realize what that sentence means. To them, weight is weight. Period. That's why such shitty systems like the BMI exist.

  7. The man is a legend! Thanks for posting this.

  8. If you were doing sets of 5, how many sets would you do? It seems like a lot of the bad asses use sets of 5 to get brutally strong

  9. He has a nipple piercing? What the fuck posesses a man to do that?????