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


  1. I have no idea what the fuck is going on with blogger regarding the fonts- the shit goes wonky every time I update. My apologies.

  2. ahahah amazing, I wanted to write you about this guy but confused him with with Gary Aprahamian, check him btw

    1. Looking him up now. Since his only movie was the Last Dragon- did you know they're remaking that flick with Samuel L Jackson as Sho Nuff? Fucking amazing.

    2. That's something to watch, thanks!I would also consider Anthony Ditillo, that guy was a candy shop owner turned proto-powerbuilder, he looked like a mix between winnie pooh and stan efferding

    3. Isn't he the guy who runs Dezso Ban?

    4. Ditillo's son ran the original ditillo.blogspot.com , which was all Anthony all the time

    5. No he was a top trainer (of italian descent) in the 70s, I think he was the first to made popular many powerbuilding concepts (high volume, high frequency, low reps etc).The man really looked cartoonish ans was extremely good at weight manipulation.110% chaos&pain

    6. I'll look into him. Thanks man! Article on Zabo drops today and will blow some minds.

  3. "exactly how tragic the modern era is."

  4. I didn't know Paul Blart was so strong.

  5. Who would think that lifting for the sake of lifting would be a radical fucking concept.

    I hate barbell squats, so for the past year I've been doing partial lockouts, farmer's walks, and bodyweight squatting. My legs are stronger and look better doing the above than when I was squatting 3x a week on a dogshit 5x5 program. And now I feel vindicated in my choice.

    1. I think all of us have gotten away from why most of us started lifting in the first place- it's fucking fun. I know I did. I literally jump out of the bed in the morning now with a new zest for life since I said fuck powerlifting. I spend two plus hours a day in the gym because I don't even realize I've been there that long. It's awesome.

  6. Speaking of barbeceing skinny bitches with your gym buddies... Its time for another "training for the apocalypse" 2018 version?!

    1. Jajajaja thhat would be awesome

    2. It is definitely in the offing. I'm finishing up an acticle on Big Steve's buddy Zabo, and I discovered something awesome about him literally no one in the strength world seems to know. After that I have an article on the benefits of being a slut, and then I'll hit up the robopocalypse article. I have to source a couple of books and comics for that one, haha.

    3. I’d love to see another “training for the apocalypse” article. That’s one I continue to go back to when I look through the article archive

    4. I'll do that next then. Zabo article will drop today.

  7. Given your historical knowledge and feel for lifting...Vikings could be interesting. They trained...http://sciencenordic.com/how-vikings-killed-time

  8. The squat, as much fun as Wolverine getting his bones plated...i.e. horrible. But a price worth paying?...that is your individual call. I think so. Squat is extreme and it gets the job done, scares the living shit out of your body and gets you to put up a a protective barrier of living armour urgently. I notice that infrequent squatting knocks the shit out of your system, yet frequent squatting creates a sort of permanent state of mild soreness which is not so bad. Squat is an evil mind fuck because until you have started and done some reps and got the body boiling, it feels horrible, no desire to do it, depth is a million miles too low and every civilised instinct is to fuck it right off. But fun, where is the fun...I dunno, it is kinda fun to be massive and strong and the squat will do a lot in that regard if you are willing to pay in lots of non fun pain. Maybe it is just a game for life's oddballs, losers and fuckups, if you cannot be happy, well lets play with pain. I just know that I will squat till I cannot, till, I have completely ruined every joint or the Chinese and Yanks finally get WW3 on.

  9. Just thought of this...you don't have to kill yourself squatting if its not your thing, nor any other move. Just put whatever you like on the backburner, put them in some sort of a complex or just do a set or two when you want. Specialising on your strong points is good, you can specialise on a couple of moves for a while and everything else just give a bit of attention.
    Today I did this EMOM complex squat - Military Press - Trap bar dead - I did 1 2 3 as the rep scheme, but you can tweak it as you like. The whole think only involved five singles on the squat. This is simply an example, there are billions of possible permutations.

  10. And just to stir the hornets nest - FFS, sitting on a fucking bench and lifting might do something for some people, but if the fun you are looking for involves big and strong without being a candidate for hospitalised fat bastard, you may have to think again. Like all things, there are nearly always exceptions. It all strikes me as being another element of the state of the USA, lazy fat bastard pill poppers, living the dream unaware of the reality lurking round the corner. Not discriminating against the US in particular, I have no nationalism to promote, but when it comes to fat bastardness, they take some beating. Sting away, hornets.

    1. Why do you insist on leaving five or more comments on each article? No one cares what you have to say

    2. I've been wondering this as well. Is he somebody of note that we've never heard of?

    3. I think he’s been commenting here for a while. Never spammed comments until recently though, which is extremely obnoxious

    4. There was I, happily indulging in a bit of banter on my favourite lifting page, when lo, a voice from the digital heavens thundered "Misearble mortal, I am Analease, Lord of the Internet, I forbid thee from tapping thy corrupt keyboard, I smite thee and I abhor thee." Somewhat irked I thought to myself, who the fuck is this guy to control the global web, I never heard we had voted on that one. Go fuck yourself.

    5. Hahaha that actually was pretty funny. You’re alright, Steve.

    6. Cheers buddy, I may take a bit of getting used to, but its all good.

  11. Analease, you hit a nerve haha

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

    Lycra is the only way to go. Jamie will protest but I say lycra is the man's choice because a) you don't give a fuck, b) you get your knee sleeves on easy, c) you don't give a fuck and d) you get full range of motion. And you don't give a fuck.

    I cannot run in anything bar lycra, everything else results in chafing. Deadlifting it runs up easy on lycra clad legs, squatting deep is no issue.

    For anyone with the slightest sense of giving a fuck, lycra is to be avoided at all cost. Me, I wear lycra. I care not.

    However for the beta try hards posing as alphas, just put some shitty shorts on top of your lycra if you are so concerned that someone is going to even notice you.