American Power Lift Evolution: 1964

In June 1964 the AAU Weightlifting Committee met in Chicago and its members voted to eliminate the barbell curl and kept only the bench, squat, and deadlift in that order for power lift competition. In addition, dates for the inaugural Junior and Senior National Powerlifting Championships of 1965 were set for August and September. Six months later in Houston Texas, the AAU National Convention officially accepted and adopted powerlifting as a sport. Although still under the National Weightlifting Committee's umbrella, powerlifting would now be governed by a Powerlifting Subcommittee and have its own Powerlifting Chairman. Thus ended powerlifting's long fight for legitimacy among American strength sports!

To get an idea of just how commonplace powerlift venues had become by 1964, check out the extensive meet coverage given by some of the major muscle mags. And speaking of muscle mags: Strength & Health would step aside for its new sister publication Muscular Development which Bob Hoffman was now calling the "official powerlifting organ". At the helm of this new magazine was the one and only John Carl Grimek.

Meanwhile, powerlifting was still getting tons of excellent coverage in Peary Rader's Iron Man Lifting News magazine. In contrast, Joe Weider's flagship publication, Muscle Builder, would only rarely mention powerlifting, choosing instead to emphasize weightlifting news during the early 1960's. Weider would soon see the light however and eventually gave the west coast powerlifting scene some long overdue attention.

Despite the rule changes that took place in December 1963 (also reported here in Iron Man), there would still be some problems officiating the power lifts as Peary Rader reports. Power rack training would also receive quite a bit of coverage in 1964 as can be seen in these articles from Iron Man, Lifting News, and Muscular Development. Notice the heavy press exposure a young lifter named Terry Todd was receiving at this time.

From this article in Iron Man, we see another in the growing number of muscle mag editorials coming out against anabolic steroid use during the early 60's. Despite their good intentions, articles like this often contained egregious claims that drug-users laughingly pointed out as typical pencil neck propaganda. Nevertheless, the drug use "problem" worsened throughout the decade and would eventually become a watershed issue affecting the fabric of our sport.

Possibly the biggest event for powerlifters in 1964 was the York "Power Lift Tournament of America" that was held in September. Due to AAU restrictions governing use of the term "championship" by any sport not yet officially recognized by that organization (remember: the sport wouldn't become "official" until December 1964), the York Pennsylvania meet would forever be labeled a "tournament". Nevertheless, after several failed attempts by different promoters over the years to organize a national level power meet, the York Tournament would finally be the first! Read Muscular Development's and Iron Man Lifting News' meet reports of this historic meet.

The York Tournament gave considerable exposure to the heavyweight winner, Terry Todd. In fact, it was right about this time that Todd formed a close relationship with Bob Hoffman and started writing for the York magazine publisher. Todd's nearest competitor was Kansas' Wilbur Miller, a legendary deadlifter and all around great guy.

Another big power meet held a couple of months later in Dallas: The Southwest Power Lift Championships, ably promoted by local lifter Jim Witt. So notable was this event that even Peary Rader had to show up, especially since he was already in Texas for the Houston AAU Convention. Two other power lift celebrities in attendance: Paul Anderson and Terry Todd.

Of course, America was not alone in pioneering the sport of powerlifting: our British friends overseas called their version the "strength set" and in 1964 were still including curls in lieu of dead lifts. Here is their National Championship meet report. Such was the growth in popularity of the power lifts (particularly in Great Britain and the United States) that even the executive committee of the International Weightlifting Federation was pushing for their sanctioning at international lifting events. Peary Rader would later report on the outcome of this move.

It should be borne in mind that as of January 1, 1965, ALL power lift records would once again begin anew... None of the official AAU squat, bench, or deadlift records set prior to this date would be recognized. This was per the Weightlifting Committee directive from the June 1964 AAU Convention and not unlike the situation that existed after the 1958 Committee discounted all official odd lift records set prior to that date. Meanwhile, powerlifters planning to compete in the newly sanctioned AAU strength sport in 1965 would have to follow this first official set of power lift rules that were ratified at the Houston Convention in December 1964. For an insider's look at this momentous AAU meeting, see Peary Rader's brief overview.