29 May 2018

Zabo Koszewski Would Like To Remind You That Not Every Lifter In The 1950's Was Fat (And That Partying And Lifting Can Go Hand In Hand)

I am often asked why I don't write about so-and-so bodybuilder / strongman / powerlifter, and why I seem to ignore anyone who competed after 2000.  The reason for this is simple- lifters in the modern era are so fucking boring that I have to pop ephedrine and slam a Bang just to get through six paragraphs of their endlessly dull, Soviet-factory-worker-esque, grey and beige, do-nothing-but-lift-and-eat, uninteresting lives.  They have all of the personality of a dead carp, all of the intrigue of a Real Housewives episode, the depth of a puddle in the Kalahari, and generally make me wish I could hop in a DeLorean with Marty McFly and fuck off back to 1954, when the chicks looked like Bettie Page and the bros in Muscle Beach were so fucking cool that James Dean looked like a fucking Channer by comparison.

The lifters of yesteryear, however, were a far different breed- they mixed the fuck out of business and pleasure, competed in a variety of sports, and were generally people you'd want to hang around with, rather than dickheads who would simply slump half dead from drugs in front of you mumbling about training while they morosely masticate whatever bland fare they happened to bring with them in their dumbass wheelie bag cooler fuckery.  Fun is dead in the lifting world, killed by people taking a pastime far too fucking seriously for no reason than they lack the personality to do something interesting with it.

My man must've gotten more ass than a proctologist's right hand.  That skinny fucker next to him probably got laid just for standing next to Zabo.  Picking up shrapnel still counts as a notch in your belt, people.

That said, it stands to reason we should investigate the life, training style, and diet of one the most ripped and compelling men in 1950s and 60s Muscle Beach, Irwin "Zabo" Koszewski.  Of all of the guys of whom you’ve likely never heard, Zabo Koszewski should rate pretty highly on your “Holy Shit”-ometer due to his freakish leanness in a time when most guys were softer than a pile of baby shit left out in a light rain on a June day in Bangkok, and respect is due for the fact that he trained and hung out with the aforementioned Steve Merjanian and (likely) Chuck Ahrens, in spite of the fact that he was half as big and ten times as lean as those two.  A fixture of Muscle Beach from 1951 to the end of his life, Koszewski pulled down more “Best Abdominal” awards than anyone in history, likely owing to the fact that he dieted and trained more fanatically than a channer at a gun range before shooting up the local high school (Hise).

Zabo on the left, showing some of the Gold's Gym crew what the fuck was up with his abs.

Zabo Koszewski Vital Statistics

Born: August 20, 1924
Died: March 29, 2009 (Aged 84)
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 170 - 185lbs

Though Zabo was best known for his insane cuts and his amazing year-round condition, the dude trained so often and so hard that he could still put on a show in the gym, barefoot and in street clothes.  For no other reason than because he could, Zabo was seen more than once snatching and clean and strict pressing 220 lbs, followed by a full clean and split jerk with 270lbs in slacks, a button down shirt, and barefoot, with no warmup. Though that’s not Earth shattering, I highly doubt you can name a non-Olympic weightlifter who weighs 170 - 185lbs and can duplicate that feat... and I would venture to guess that Zabo was spitting game to any chicks within earshot the entire time he was putting on that show.

Zabo, ripped and ready to fuck shit up like he was in the prequel to Commando in WW2.

Zabo was nothing if not a showman- the man's life reads like a bucket list for the Dos Equis man.  Former training partner of Arnold and publisher of Iron Man magazine, John Balik, said that even in an era as cartoonishly outlandish as 1960's Muscle Beach, Koszewski "was the embodiment of the spirit of Muscle Beach" (Hise).  Zabo grew in New Jersey, a three sport athlete in high school, although his first love was weightlifting.  After high school, Zabo enlisted in the Army and made three combat landings in WW2, likely running around like Stallone in Rambo II and surviving solely on the basis of his superhumanly shredded physique.  

"Irwin had been in Guadalcanal when the Japanese overran the place, and he stayed under the water sucking air through a piece of bamboo for several days while the enemy was poking around the water with bayonets.  Irwin managed to dodge the bayonets and get home safely" (Yarnell 205).
After running out of bad guys to slaughter, Zabo became the valet of the original Nature Boy, Buddy Rogers, wrestling under the name Jungle Boy.  At the same time, Zabo began entering just about every bodybuilding competition in the continental US, destroying the opposition in small shows but losing the bigger ones to that era's mass monsters (the guys who won "Most Muscular" almost never won the overall, and Zabo always walked away with that trophy).

When Buddy Rogers and Zabo walked into a bar, every guy in there must have considered suicide because there's no way they were getting any ass off a chick within five square miles of those two.

In the early 1950's Zabo had his fill of greasy Italians and hoagies and headed West, to the mecca of bodybuilding in Santa Monica.  It was there that Zabo blossomed into the Venus-flytrap womankiller with whom at least some of you are familiar.   He trained in the same ultra-hardcore basement gym where Steve Merjanian, Chuck Ahrens, and other lifting luminaries of the era trained, and signed on with the ultra-hot cougar Mae West to work in her male review "Something for the Girls."  He, Joe Gold, Mr. America and Mr. Universe George Eiferman, Mr. America Armand Tanny, Mr. Universe Mickey Hargitay, and three other Muscle Beach bodybuilders served as male dancers for the revue, accompanied by a male singer and Hattie McDaniel (Mammy in Gone With The Wind) in what was essentially the hottest Vegas act going in the 1950's.  As such, Zabo was raking in the loot and made connections that would eventually lead to a brief acting career and to him becoming the fucking Marlboro Man in print ads.

As if the man had not made enough connections by touring with the hottest 60 year old slut on the planet, he got even more hooked into the Hollywood scene when Joe Gold asked him to manage the first strictly bodybuilding gym and a "palace" by comparison to other gyms of the era, Gold's Gym, in 1965 (Roach, Vol. 1).  At that point, Zabo was partying his ass off, drinking like a fucking fish and smoking, in Tommy Chong's words "a ton of weed" (Chong).  When Tommy Chong says he gets after it partying, you know that you are a pink bitch pussy compared to Zabo Koszewski, no matter how much you've partied.

"Membership is thirty dollars for three months, no instructions, and you can come as many times as you like.  Don't leave your shit unlocked and put the weights back when you are finished with them.  That's it."

With pussy literally falling out of his pockets, Zabo trained fanatically and managed Gold's (and later World's Gym) by day and partied like a fucking animal at night.  Though the IPF would likely have slapped him with a lifetime ban just for shaking Tommy Chong's hand, Koszewski was still natty as fuck, and maintained that status throughout his life.  Though he talked tough to new members, Zabo was apparently pretty chill at Gold's while nursing what must've been catastrophic hangovers, and he hooked members like Tommy Chong up with basic programs (Chong still uses it to this day) and ran them through the use of equipment to ensure that they didn't kill themselves in the pursuit of maximum jackedness.  It was actually through Zabo's chill demeanor and Animal House-esque party habits that formed a bond between himself and Tommy Chong that landed him a couple of movie roles and eventually had Chong working the desk at World Gym after he was released from prison.

To say say Zabo was a frequent bodybuilding competitor is like saying "Jeff Bezos frequently makes a million dollars."  From age 23 to 46, Zabo competed in at least 31 bodybuilding competitions, winning "Best Abs" in every competition that awarded the trophy, and "Most Muscular" in most of the rest.  Tragically, winning either of those trophies was like winning an MTV Movie award- it virtually guaranteed that people would take you about as seriously as they take Justin Bieber when it was time to hand out a legitimate award.  With his condition at least two decades before its time, Zabo almost always found himself edged out by fuller, less defined competitors.  Undeterred by small details like not winning, Zabo forged ahead and collected his "Best Abs" trophies like millennials collect STDs.

"Would you fuck me?  I'd fuck me."

Zabo Koszewski Competition History

1947 AAU Mr. New Jersey 4th

1948 AAU Mr. New Jersey 1st
1950 AAU Jr. Mr. Middle Atlantic 1st
1950 AAU Mr. Middle Atlantic 1st
1950 AAU Mr. America 13th
1950 IFBB Mr. Eastern America 3rd
1951 AAU Mr. Strength and Health 2nd
1951 AAU Jr. Mr. America 4th
1951 AAU Mr. Eastern America 3rd
1952 AAU Mr. Superman 4th
1952 AAU Mr. Southern California 3rd (tie)
1952 AAU Mr. California 4th
1952 AAU Jr. Mr. America 3rd
1952 AAU Mr. America 4th
1953 AAU Mr. Southern California 2nd
1953 AAU Mr. Los Angeles 1st
1953 AAU Mr. California 2nd
1953 AAU Mr. Pacific Coast 1st
1953 AAU Mr. America 3rd
1954 AAU Mr. California 1st
1954 AAU Jr. Mr. America 2nd
1954 AAU Mr. America 3rd
1956 Pro Mr. USA 3rd
1957 Mr. USA 5th (tie)
1965 IFBB Mr. America 3rd (medium)
1967 Mr. International 1st (medium, 2nd overall)
1967 Pro Mr. California 2nd
1967 IFBB Jr. Mr. America 3rd
1967 Mr. International 1st (medium, 2nd overall)
1967 IFBB Mr. America 2nd (medium)
1970 IFBB Pro Mr. World 4th (short)

In spite of his propensity for getting fucked up and banging sluts, Zabo almost never missed workouts.  Although I can hardly imagine training hungover for three hours a day in an LA gym with no air conditioning, Zabo took that shit on the chin like the stone-jawed Pride fighter Kazuyuki Fujita ate knees to the face.  I guess having survived three combat landings in WW2 would change anyone's perspective about anything as minor as a life-destroying hangover, and he just went into the gym and rocked the fuck out.  His insanely high-volume workouts, dense enough to give the internet's natty bros cancer of the AIDS, looked like this:

Zabo Koszewski Training Routine

Every Day
Incline Situps- 1 x 500 (yup, one set of 500 reps)
Hanging Leg Raise- 1 x 500

Monday / Wednesday / Friday
Legs and Back
Squats supersetted with Leg Curls – 8 x 10
Hack Squats supersetted with Leg Curls – 2 x 20
Stiff Leg Dead Lift – 4 x 10
Power Cleans – 4 x 10


(All exercises done as a giant set, which he repeated 7 times)
Decline Dumbell Press –  x 10
Cable Crossover – x 10
Dips – x 10
Push Ups – x 25


Chins – 7 x 10
Cable Rows – 7 x 10
Behind the Neck Pull Downs – 7 x 10
One Arm Reverse Cable Laterals – 7 x 10

Motherfucker literally appeared to be carved out of stone.

Tuesday / Thursday

Alternating Seated Dumbell Presses – 7 x 10
Dumbbell Laterals – 7 x 10
Seated Behind the Neck Press – 7 x 10
Upright Rows – 7 x 10


Incline Curls supersetted with Tricep Pushdowns – 20 x 10

Zabo (who's at least 50 in this pic, ripped to fucking bits), Arnold, and Franco used to party at Don Peters' "party palace", a mansion owned by James "Dr. Strangelove" Larsen.  Larsen encouraged Don Peters to invite over all of the bodybuilders he could fit into the house for workouts and parties... which he would watch while locked in the closet in the spare bedroom from behind the 18" by 18" two way mirror he had installed specially for that purpose (Roach, Vol. 2).  That's good old fashioned fun right there.
This, however, appears to be a motel pool.  I just wanted to shoehorn that story in.

Fuck Around Day
Generally, he’d head to the beach and swim, or play a sport.

For anyone familiar with Vince Gironda's programming and diet, Zabo seems to have followed both with the kind of obsessive devotion generally reserved for stalkers and 24/7 TPE slaves.  Zabo ate only two meals a day, both of which consisted of fruits, vegetables, lean meat (especially hamburger), eggs, apple juice, coffee, and milk, and he trained six days a week with what amounted to German Volume training, just as Gironda recommended.  Though he would cut all dairy just before a show to achieve paper-thin skin leanness, Zabo was also a huge fan of Rheo H. Blair's protein powder, which Gironda advocated with the kind of vociferousness most chatty people in clubs reserve for cocaine.  

Blair’s protein was crazy advanced for its time, as the only other protein on the market was horrific-tasting soy dogshit, and consisted of casein, egg white protein, and dried whole eggs.  It came only in vanilla, was sweetened with cyclamate to keep the carbs down (though apparently it was nearly as carcinogenic as plutonium), and contained 102 calories, 17.5 grams of protein, 7 grams or carbohydrate and 0.6 grams of fat per scoop (Heffernan).  Blair recommended (as did Gironda), that people take two scoops of protein with eight ounces of cream and eight ounces of milk, which then yielded a whopping 949 calories, 55g protein, 35g carbs, and 62g fat per shake, and that lifters drink three of those shakes a day (so Zabo was getting ~3000 calories a day before he even cut into his first steak of the day).  As with every other lifter from this era, Zabo got the fuck after it calorie-wise, even though he was natty as fuck.  Therefore, if you are one of those natty bros who constantly claims you can't eat that much or you'll get fat, consider this- you're doing it wrong.  And by "it" I mean "literally everything."

For instance, if your bedroom doesn't occasionally look like this, you're doing it wrong.

Speaking of doing it wrong, it seems like the lot of us are doing it wrong when it comes to abs.  As I mentioned, Zabo never lost a "Best Abs" award.  Interestingly, his ab routine was developed out of necessity- when doctors told him only surgery would repair a hernia, he said fuck that and just started training abs like his life depended on it.  Perhaps his life didn't but his guts seemed to depend on it if he didn't want his insides outside his body.  

"I knew that it would be wise for me to "make haste slowly" so my first ab routine consisted of just two exercises: Situps and Leg Raises. Although I could only manage a few reps that first training day, I soon had worked up to the point where 500 Situps and 500 Leg Raises were just warmups for my more advanced training routines every day." 
"To bring out clear-cut abdominals you must do two things:
1.) Burn away all midsection fat that is on the outside, and that which lurks between the muscles . . . the fat you can't see, but causes you too look too smooth and too large in the abdominal region. 
2.) You must continually work for muscularity of the abdominals, and that requires daily diligence. Yes, you don't exercise your abs with a split routine . . . but with an everyday workout with specialized abdominal exercises" (Koszewski).

I won't go into the details of all that Zabo recommended for abs (it's linked in the sources if you're curious), because it's easily summed up with "all of the things."  Basically, he recommended every permutation of situps, levers, and leg raises ever invented, and had this to say about sets and reps:

"Work up to 10 sets of Situps and work up to at least a total of 500 reps. Work up to 10 sets of Leg Raises and work as many reps per set as your pull against gravity will allow. But don't throw, thrust, or maneuver the body by 'assisting' with other muscles. Make the upper abs do the work in Situps; make the lower abs do the work in Leg Raises."
"After each workout practice mirror posing for 15 minutes, contracting first the rectus - then the intercostals, trying to squeeze extra definition from each posing session. This will add interest to your abdominal workouts, and give you valuable posing experience and control" (Koszewski).
Simple enough- bust your fucking ass harder than a drunken retard in a Jackass film and be lean as shit.  Though it's in vogue to seek out some panacea involving a highly complicated system to achieve a simple goal, Zabo is here to show you all of the nonsense of which you might be thinking to rebut this statement is just that- nonsense.  The man was Occam's Razor personified- simple and brutal is far more effective than overly complex.  If it takes longer to explain than it does to do, you're likely fucking up your lifting in every imaginable way.

My man would have made loot off flashing abs on IG and YouTube if he'd been born 70 years later.

In case you're curious as to how far in life a sick set of abs and a love of partying can get you, it seems it can take you pretty fucking far.  A far cry from the cycle-your-coffee-intake-and-don't-fuck-sluts-or-stay-out-late-or-smoke-weed-or-get-hammered attitudes that are seemingly so prevalent in today's ABSOLUTELY NO FUCKING FUN ZONE lifting zeitgeist, Zabo made that shit work, and he lived a life worth talking about.  Here's a list of the ways my vote for the Most Interesting Man In The World is immortalized in celluloid:

The "Muscle Apes"- Seymour Koenig, Zabo Koszewski, Jerry Trayler, and Steve Merjanian.

Zabo Flexin' Abs On The Big Screen
  • was Tommy Chong's stunt double in Things Are Tough All Over (1982)
  • played Body Builder #1 alongside [Body by] Jake Steinfeld in the Cheech and Chong flick Nice Dreams (1981)
  • played a gorilla in Planet of the Apes (1968) 
  • played a football player alongside Shirley MacLaine in John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! (1965)  
  • played a soldier alongside Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier in Spartacus (1960)
  • played a contestant in Debbie Reynold's Athena (1954)
  • was himself, as runner up Mr. America, in Groucho Marx's You Bet Your Life (1959)
  • worked on the TV shows Combat! and Star Trek
And there you have it- in stark contrast to the aforementioned four 1950's lifters, Zabo didn't believe in getting fat to be strong, but he definitely followed the same path of frequent, brutal workouts, tons of calories, and not being a boring pile of shit.  Zabo loved lifting and the beach so much that people joked he wouldn't go more than three blocks inland, and his love of lifting and life translated into being a fucking badass inside and outside the gym.  Instead of robotically trudging his way through life, Zabo grabbed life by the throat and fucked it half to death... and then left a good looking corpse behind.  So if you learn anything from the man, learn to live this shit, not just fucking talk about it on the internet- your life will be all that much better for it.... and for the love of all that's unholy, fucking eat something.

"The best way to never worry about getting into shape is to never get out of shape." 
- Zabo

Chong, Tommy.  Cheech and Chong: The Unauthorized Autobiography.  New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2008.

Freese, Gene Scott.  Hollywood Stunt Performers, 1910s–1970s: A Biographical Dictionary, 2d ed.  Jefferson: McFarland and Company, Inc.  2014.

Hart, Hugh.  He's just pressing on.  Los Angeles Times.  20 Feb 2005.  Web.  27 May 2018.  http://articles.latimes.com/2005/feb/20/entertainment/ca-chong20

Heffernan, Conor.  The secret of Rheo H. Blair's protein powder.  Physical Culture Study.  22 Jun 2016.  Web.  28 May 2018.  https://physicalculturestudy.com/2016/06/22/the-secret-of-rheo-h-blairs-protein-powder/

Hise, Bob. The Fabulous Zabo Koszewski. Strength and Health. Aug 1967. Web.
9 Feb 2013. http://www.musclememory.com/showArticle.php?sh670820

Juliano, Dominick.  The Essence of Being.  Bloomington: Balboa Press, 2015.

Kelemen, Matt.  Q and A: Tommy Chong. Las Vegas Magazine.  17 Jun 2016.  Web.  27 May 2018.  https://lasvegasmagazine.com/interviews/qa/2016/jun/17/qa-tommy-chong-treasure-island-las-vegas-strip/#/0

Koszewski, Zabo.  Developing your abdominals.  The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban.  8 Jan 2018.  Web.  27 May 2018.  http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2018/01/developing-your-abdominals-zabo.html

Roach, Randy.  Muscle, Smoke, and Mirrors, Volume 1.  Bloomington: AuthorHouse, 2008.

Roach, Randy.  Muscle, Smoke, and Mirrors, Volume 2.  Bloomington: AuthorHouse, 2011.

Thurber, John. Irvin 'Zabo' Koszewski dies at 84; bodybuilder renowned for his

abs. LA Times. 2 May 2009. Web. 9 Feb 2013.

Yarnell, Dave.  Forgotten Secrets of the Culver City Westside Barbell Club Revealed.  Lexington: Self Published, 2014.  

27 May 2018

Who The Fuck Says You Have To Squat? Steve Merjanian, His 500lb Incline Bench, And Why You Don't Have To Squat To Get Huge

If the cannibalistic weightlifting community in The Bad Batch isn't the closest cinematic thing to Valhalla ever, I will eat my goddamned laptop.  Die Antwoord, jacked people, and human barbecues going 24/7?  Count me the fuck in.

In the interest of stemming the tide of disinformation that is so prevalent on the internet today, I decided to highlight yet another mammoth of the past who reminds us that there is a better way than what most of us are doing, and that way is as jacked and strong as humanly fucking possible and enjoying lifting, rather than lean and rigidly locked into some stupid fucking program.  Lest you think I am sitting astride some long legged horse handing down life lessons and tossing you apples from the tree of knowledge like some dwarvish version of Odin, that's not the case- I do, however, have a hell of a lot of experience under my belt, and I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't.  If message boards, Instagram, and Reddit are any indication, most of you motherfuckers are wallowing in a pit of despair and don't even know it, because you're all drowning in weakness together.  I'll admit, however, that writing shit like this gets me fired the fuck up as well, however, so I figure we might as well all get jacked as fuck so that when the collapse of Western civilization hits us in a wave of Christian fundamentalism and wild-eyed anarcho-collectivist horseshit, we lot can simply waddle around and rip people in half with our bare hands.  And then eat them.  And thus gain whatever paltry power they had and grow even bigger and stronger, living in one gigantic happy cannibalistic weightlifting community like The movie The Bad Batch.

Circa 1964 back width.

Knowing how the minds of the people who read about training work, writing about four upper body specialists who regarded the squat in the same way most people regard having gypsies in their house unattended back to back might have the lot of you thinking I have turned my back on the exercise that brought me to the pinnacle of the 181 class in powerlifting.  Rest easy- I've hardly stopped squatting, and unless you just want to bulk to mammoth proportions and rock 22 inch arms and unequal lower body development, I don't advocate dropping it from your program altogether.  What I have advocated long and hard, however, is focusing on what you love and hammering it like it's a five dollar prostitute right before you head back to the front.  Hammer that motherfucker like you're playing Whack-A-Mole on speed, and anyone who has something to say about it can get fucked.  There is far too much lifting for the sake of other people going on these days, and too many people are going through the motions of workouts they appear to hate because they want the cache associated with doing a certain program, and too many people approaching lifting like work rather than fun.  

I couldn't find a pic of Richard Kee, but with pecs like that, this broad has to have a huge bench.

The colossuses of the 1950s and 1960s didn't give a flying fuck what anyone thought about their workouts- they did what they liked, and because they liked it, they were fucking monsters.   The guy with what Weider writers would undoubtedly refer to as a "barn door back" pictured above was just one of those people.  Steve Merjanian was actually a training partner of the last upper body specialist I profiled, Chuck Ahrens, and the two of them trained with another 500+lb bencher, Richard Kee, so hard that none of us even seem to lift by comparison.  These 300lb beasts stomped around the Bruce Conner gym in Westwood, California handing weights unthinkable in most gyms today on equipment that was as rickety and homemade as it was effective.  Zero fucks were given- they trained often and they trained heavy, and they had the physiques and lifts that belied their efforts.  They rarely, if ever, entered contests because that's not what they were about- they were about having a good time, heaving weights around, and throwing up double bis that would melt the underpants off anyone nearby if they didn't just blow straight off from shock and awe.  

They might have eschewed powerlifting meets for being the boring piles of shit they are, but Steve and the rest of the Gold's gym team (the hilariously filthily named "Gold Ropers") would turn up for a tug ' war competition, and as you'd guess, they fucking trashed everyone.  

What's this you say?  Panties blew off and the man didn't scamper about in the gym wearing fucking tights and endlessly blabbering on about Smolov?  Well then, he must have done Sheiko?  How about neither, and he was content with running a mile in the sand and doing calves for his legs.  Every now and again he'd bust a half squat just for shits and giggles, but Steve Merjanian was not about that life- he just loved training heavy and loved being strong.  Even at age 44, he was still hitting 405 for a behind the neck press, which is an age and a number so inconceivable to the average message board goer these days I'm sure they're screaming bullshit at their screen and hypergraphically scribbling "STEROIDS" on the wall in crayon.   

Steve and Zabo Koszewski fucking around with Joe Gold.  In banana hammocks.  The 60's were a much different time.

Unlike the three preceding 300lb monsters, Merjanian's success didn't come overnight- he broke his ass day in and day out for fifteen years, first as a bodybuilder and then a powerbuilder, to build up to the massive poundages he ended up moving at his peak.  Perseverance and harder work than a Thai ladyboi at a NAMBLA convention definitely paid off better than George Soros shorting the dollar in an engineered recession, and Marjarian became one of the strongest upper body specialists to ever live.  Those two bizarre similes notwithstanding, here are Merjanian's stats:

Steve Merjanian's Vital Stats

Born: 29 Jul 1935 (82 years old)
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 280-300lbs
Chest: 59.75"
Neck: 21+"
Waist: 39"
Arms: 20.25"
Forearms: 18.5"
Thighs: 28.5"
Calves: 19.5"

"Doug Hepburn, Ronnie Ray, Chuck Ahrens, Paul Anderson, Marvin Eder, Mel Hennessy, John Molinaro, Bill Seno. Chuck Sipes, Steve Merjanian, Bruno Sammartino, Karl Norberg, Jim Williams, Bud Ravenscroft. Pat Neve, Jon Cole, Tom Hardman, John Kuc, Bill Kazmaier, Joe Bradley, James Roude, Jeff Magruder, Mike Bridges, Lee Moran, Ted Arcidi, and Mike MacDonald are the great men in history. Bev Francis is the great woman."
"What about Roosevelt, Salk, Einstein, Kennedy, Ghandi, and Lincoln? A bunch of nothings with low benches (although Abe Lincoln benched 325 for a double and you have to admit he did have a long way to push the sucker)."
"The only way to remedy this national malady is to start now and GET YOUR BENCH UP.
- Jeff Everson

Steve Merjanian's Best Lifts

Incline Bench Press (40° Angle)– 500lbs
Flat Bench Press – 560bs (touch and go)
Press Behind Neck – 405lbs; 335lbs x 7
Dumbbell Overhead Press – 190lb dumbbells x 2 reps
Front Lateral Raise – 165 lb dumbbell x 1
Lateral Raise – 125lb dumbbells x 2, 100 x 4
Half Squat – 850lbs

Unlike the aforementioned leviathans of late 50's/early 60's Muscle Beach, Steve Merjanian didn't eat like he was recently released from a North Korean prison camp four times a day.  Instead, his diet consisted mostly of meat, eggs, and (interestingly) fruit juice in massive quantities.  Nor was he a GOMAD guy- he never seemed to drink the stuff, and had little interest in the supplements of the day (which were appalling tasting and remarkably primitive) beyond multi-vitamins. Nope- big Steve was content eating a couple of breakfasts, a few sandwiches mid-morning, an early afternoon salad, and a dinner consisting primarily of massive amounts of some form of dead animal.  

Single greatest outfit ever.

If his diet looks like he rode a brontosaurus to work, his training looked like he rode to the gym in a chariot pulled by velociraptors on meth.  Every week big Steve maxed on everything he felt like maxing on... though that thing was almost never the back squat.  Merjanian hated squatting, preferring instead to just run a mile a day through the sand four times a week and warm up with a 400 yard beach run before every workout.  Although I've only got the details of one of his workout styles, Merjanian had two basic routines.  One consisted of 10-12 sets of an exercise, the last five of which were singles with roughly 95% 1RM.  His other type of routine was 8 sets of 5, as heavier than a Crowbar concert after an all you can eat buffet.  The only thing Merjanian did with getting a pump in mind was back- he did lots of sets and lots of reps emphasizing a serious squeeze and brutal stretch to force as much blood into the muscle as possible.  Whatever he did, however, it was hardly flexible and never a rigidly structured program- he just went as hard as he felt like and blasted weights like they were some broad's face in a bukkake film.

Steve Merjanian's Typical Routine

Monday / Wednesday / Friday
Dumbbell Press – 5x7 
Dumbbell Laterals – 5x7
Front Dumbbell Raises – 5x7
Pulley Rowing Motion – 5x7
Dumbbell Curl – 5x7
Dips – 5x7
Lying Triceps Extension – 5x7
60 Degree Incline Press – 10x7 reps, 7x1 using 20 lbs. less than max (Brace yourself for this news- his first warmup was 350 x 10)
Bench Press – 5x7

Tuesday / Thursday / Saturday / Sunday

Calf Raise – 10-15 x10 reps
Pulley Forearm Curl – 10-15x10
Face Pulls – 10-15x10
Standing Triceps Extension – 10-15x10
Running – approximately one mile in the sand

Big Steve with Arnold, Reg Park, Ric Drasin (bodybuilder/wrestler/author/actor), Chuck Faust (bodybuilder), Jim Morris (Mr. America), and a couple players from the Los Angeles Rams shooting a commercial for the hot-enough-to-burn-your-retinas Heavy Chevy.

Word is Steve trained legs early on in his lifting career but abandoned them for one reason or another as he got huge.  It didn't seem to negatively impact his lifts, however, and his leg strength was pretty serious in spite of his disdain for training them.  He was known to occasionally jump in on legs out of curiosity, and would pull off shit like banging out a set of five easy reps with 315 in the front squat as a goof, or a single with no warmup, and his legs were always strong enough to allow him to hang with the guys who treated the front squat like it was going to reveal the meaning of life to them.  In fact, big Steve's legs were so strong that he would occasionally jump from a standing start onto what had to have been the stoutest ping pong table in the history of the sport to fuck with anyone who said "gigantic white men can't jump" and to just scare the shit out of unruly teenagers.  It was his shoulder, chest, and tricep strength that was the fucking show stopper, though.  He'd do cheating lateral raises with the 144lb dumbbells and a standing triceps extension with a ridiculous 275lbs, but both of those paled in comparison to his gargantuan 405lb behind the neck press.
"Presses behind the neck were usually done sitting on a flat bench, ducking your head under the bar and lifting it clear of the rack on the back of your shoulders, pressing it overhead and then lowering it to your shoulders and returning it to the rack.  A man who could do three hundred in this manner was considered strong.  I reckon there are a lot of the guys that do (or claim to do) four hundred or more in the current style (overhead liftoff, bringing the bar down to the top of the head & pressing it up) would be unable to do three hundred in this manner" (Neece). 

The amount of camaraderie the lifters in Muscle Beach, and particularly at Gold's, enjoyed in that time period would make the Care Bears look like a bunch of backbiting, foam rolling, shit talking, natty powerlifters by comparison- these dudes not only lifted together, but they formed a sort of informal Guardian's Angels of jacked dudes to scrap with young ruffians on the beach when they'd get out of hand, and they all participated in goofy shit like tug-of-war competitions on the weekends.  And these weren't nobodies, either- were talking pro baseball players, NFL players, epic strongmen, actors, at least one Olympic silver medalist, and even the vice principal of a local high school (Neece).  Given that most "serious" strength gyms these days are populated by people who would be harder to wrangle than wet cats, and would assent to heading in the same direction with far more yowling and general disaffection than those cats, the fact that everyone was so willing to chip in and help out in the community should illustrate exactly how tragic the modern era is.  

I'm starting to wonder if big Steve even owned a pair of fucking pants. 

It's even more poignant when you consider that Gold's Gym in 1968 boasted three monsters "who were over four hundred on the incline: Steve, myself, and a man named Joe Kanaster, about whom I will tell you later. There were several others in the 375-400 range, there were others who had gone over four hundred in the past but no longer trained there and a couple of others who would hit four hundred or more at a later date" (Neece).  Having three guys benching over 400 on the incline in a single gym in a single year is like having three guys in the same gym who own multiple Lambos and call their hot-ass slut of a girlfriend "Concubine," or having three chicks in the gym so hot you can't even look directly at them who shit Froot Loops on demand.  It's like opening your closet and having six masturbating leprechauns jump out, and then telling your friend about it and him saying the same thing happened to him last week.  Winning the Powerball three months in a row is less likely, and yet, that was what was happening in Gold's Venice in 1968.

Bryan Salamone is living the fucking life... and I was not kidding- that broad calls herself "Conc."

Looking a little closer, for those of you who are like me and yearning for yesteryear, it wasn't all blowjobs and cheesecake then either, because powerlifting.  There was a small faction of very early powerlifters led by Bill "Peanuts" West who resented the fuck out of big Steve's pressing power and the fact that he gave less fucks about powerlifting than most people do about Olympic curling.  They employed various schemes to punk Merjanian, but in the end like the lifting efforts of channers, they were ultimately fruitless.

"It is my opinion that Peanuts resented Steve’ not competing in the three powerlifts and only occasionally training at his (Peanuts’) garage. Peanuts thought of himself as one of the founders of the sport and he was very zealous in his efforts to get everybody involved in what he probably considered to be at least partly his creation. Steve, however, marched to his own drummer and had no interest in the three lifts. In addition, he liked to enjoy life and only trained when he felt like it" [Emphasis mine]. 
"Peanuts used to needle Pat about Steve’s inclines and one day in 1967 just before he retired Pat decided to settle it once and for all. It was at Peanut’s garage and George Frenn wrote about it in Weider’s magazine.  Someone also took a picture of Pat inclining 515.  Peanuts and his bunch told Steve that he had been dethroned However, looking at the photo I could tell they were using an angle of about thirty degrees, or eight to ten degrees less than the angle on the bench Steve and the Gold’s/Venice/Muscle Beach crew used" (Neece).  

For those among you still freaking the fuck out that this is now the third consecutive person about whom I've written who was at or over 300lbs, jacked in ways most people on treat their dicks, and strong as a fucking ox, yet rarely if ever trained legs, guess what?  Hollywood doesn't care if you squat ass-to-grass, and in fact probably prefers half squatters over the "my asshole was itchy so I back squatted and worked out that itch in the hole on the floor, don't mind the stain" fuckers because ATG squatters never shut the fuck up about depth, and you've got to be the most annoying people on the planet with whom to party.  Anyway, here's big Steve's filmography, proving once more the USAPL/IPF knows nothing about anything and the fact you rub your asshole on the floor when squatting means nothing, because none of those humorless asshats have had a speaking role on the Monkees or in a Jackie Chan movie.

Steve Merjanian Filmography

  • played Abdul alongside Davy Jones in The Monkees, Season 2, Episode 3 (1967)- "Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik"
  • played The Moroccan alongside Jackie Chan in The Big Brawl (1980)
  • played Tug the muscle man alongside Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in Muscle Beach Party
  • was a stuntman in the first Planet of the Apes film
The "Muscle Apes"- Seymour Koenig, Zabo Koszewski, Jerry Trayler, and Steve Merjanian.

So there you have it- Steve Merjanian in a nutshell.  A bloody great big nutshell.  So big he should be one of the 8 Natural Wonders of the World, stronger than a couple of oxen cybernetically attached Frankenstein's Army-style, and chill as fuck, though ready to scrap for fun on the weekends.  Still training daily at the age of 65, Steve kept with it because "enjoyed training and being strong but he enjoyed life as much or more," and in spite of the fact that he was a fucking monster, he had a sense of humor about himself and training most people could stand to emulate.   In short, Steve Merjanian was the fucking man, and the lot of us can learn a great deal from following his example.

I haven't fact checked this video, so I can't attest to its accuracy, but since I know everyone loves watching videos (and for fuck's sake please stop sending me lifting videos- I would rather watch paint dry), here's an extraordinarily slowly narrated video (Steven Wright sounds like a high school girl on coke compared to whoever narrated this fucking thing) about Steve Merjanian:

"Plenty of rest and relaxation, a mind free of worry, good food and regular training. I agree, and feel that although Steve Merjanian does not hold titles or records that others have, a lot can be learned from his approach to training for maximum progress and fulfilling one’s potential" (Shaw). 

A postscript: It has recently come to my attention that certain IPF/USAPL autists (some of whom weirdly stalked my ex and I in a wild-eyed and generally disordered mishmash of manlet comments and closeted homosexuality) have taken issue with my jokes regarding IPF/USAPL lifters' bizarre lack of a sense of humor and general pomposity.  Apparently they fail to realize that in doing so, they have simply proved my point, and it should shock no one that they love 4chan, which as we all know is the repository for all of the collective intelligence of the human race, and is no way a pack of sexless pussies who can neither lift nor fight shit.  Therefore, I would like to post a retraction of my previous statements and offer my sincere apologies for wounding their extremely sensitive, micropenised, skinny-fat, man-tittied, sexually confused inner children.  

The IPF is filled with Carrot Tops dripping with hilarity and swoleness.  We should all bow at the altar of nattiness and strive to attain their laudable estrogenicity and inflated sense of self worth.  

Neece, S.  Some lesser known strongmen of the Fifties and Sixties.  Iron Game History.  1998 May; 5(1):16-25.

Shaw, Dave.  Steve Merjanian.  Rpt. in Forgotten Secrets of the Culver City Westside Barbell Club Revealed.  By Dave Yarnell.  Lexington: Self Published, 2014.

Weaver, Vern.  Meet "Powerhouse" Steve Merjanian.  The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban.  21 Oct 2017.  Web.  21 May 2018.  http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2017/10/steve-merjanian-vern-weaver-1965.html