June 24, 2001. Mountaineer Cup. Ed Coan strolls over to a group of metal folding chairs and plops down on a backward-facing chair. He rests his meaty forearms on the rounded chairback and drapes a towel over his shoulders. Surrounded by a group of friends and competitors representing the Chicago area Quad's Gyms, he is clearly the "alpha male" of his pack. Even if he were not considered the king of powerlifting, his easy smile and pleasant personality would still make him a popular figure.
When you see Eddie Coan lifting at a meet, you WANT him to win. Beyond the baby-faced grin and Midwest wholesomeness, he has a unique way of carrying himself. He displays a complete command over his mental state. As if flipping a cerebral switch, his carefree smile can quickly give way to a fierce yet bridled internal rage when approaching the bar. He avoids the theatrics often associated with competitive lifters. Guttural screams and the exchange of open-palmed bitch slaps prior to a lift are not a part of his repertoire. The reigning king of powerlifting prefers to let his lifting speak for itself.
Coan has just driven up a ponderous 567-pound bench press. Added to the 975-pound squat he achieved early this morning, this gives him a comfortable lead of nearly 150 pounds over his closest competitor. Later in the day he will pull a 710-pound deadlift (far from his best due to a partial biceps tear a few weeks earlier) which will lock in a decided victory for the second Mountaineer Cup in a row.
For now, his focus shifts to guiding his friends - the amateur lifters following his example as they work their way slowly up the rankings. His assistance goes beyond an ability to inspire. He shares the lessons learned in his two-decade struggle to be the best he can become and, in so doing, helps countless others reach their goals. Simply put; Ed Coan conducts himself as the champion each of us would want to be, but so few actually are able to epitomize once the tag of "champion" is actually placed on them.
Powerlifting differs greatly from its brother sport of bodybuilding. Deprived of visionary leaders like the Joe and Ben Weider and charismatic Austrian athletes turned box office superstars, powerlifters are just now beginning to taste the financial prosperity bodybuilding has enjoyed. For elite powerlifting, this means that big-money competitions are a relatively new phenomenon. The six-figure supplement endorsement contracts that seem to be handed to dozens of pro bodybuilders are non-existent in the power world. In fact, while considered the "Michael Jordan of powerlifting," Ed Coan has not earned "Nike dollars." He still relies on personal training and auxiliary business ventures to make a real living. It is raw love of competition and the inner need to lift heavy weights that keeps Coan, and others like him, pushing the strength envelope on a daily basis.
This being said, Ed Coan nonetheless expects to benefit from the recent surge in "lift-for-cash" events, which now include the Arnold Classic Championships (a "bench press only" meet), the Mountaineer Cup and a variety of exciting new WPO events.
To Coan, these events are merely financial and competitive stepping stones to his personal goal of pushing his strength potential as far as possible. As he tells it, he is driven by his need to "satisfy whatever it is inside him that wants to lift a certain amount of weight before he retires." His immediate goal includes (but is not limited to) recording a 2500 pound total. This means roughly a one thousand-pound squat, six hundred-pound bench press and a nine hundred-pound deadlift. Each of these lifts, in and of themselves, is a formidable task. For one athlete to be able to do all three, and on the same day, is nothing short of incredible!
As his records stand, Coan has totaled 2463 while weighing 220 pounds. His top squat is 1038 pounds. His best competition bench press is a respectable 578, (although he has done 585 in the gym). In the deadlift, he has stood with an impressive 901 pounds. In a sport filled with a growing number of "one-lift specialists," Coan's numbers are even more intimidating. The long arms that assist in launching his ground-shaking deadlifts also mean he has to push his bench presses an excruciating distance to fully lockout. The varying mechanics necessary for each of the three lifts make them as much a test of sustained desire as genetic predisposition. It is this combination of fully actualized potential and unparalleled self-mastery that has made Ed Coan the reigning champion of powerlifting for nearly two decades.
Ed Coan's lifting career started at the age of fifteen in his hometown of Evergreen Park, Illinois, a Southside suburb of Chicago. His original drive to train came after watching the movie "Pumping Iron." Coan's early dream was to have a world-class physique rather than be the world's strongest man. To this day he still has an appreciation for bodybuilding and follows the sport.
He commenced training in a friend's basement and shortly after entered a local bodybuilding contest. The name of this show is forgotten, perhaps due to the mind's tendency to block out less than pleasant memories. "I did horribly. This was before bodybuilders even posed to music," relays Coan. "Looking back, I realize I had no idea what I was doing." Shortly after, the young lifter stumbled upon a powerlifting meet featuring Bill Kazmaier on ABC's Wide World of Sports. The impact was pronounced, leading Coan to jump iron sports and focus his efforts on the three powerlifts.
Coan entered power competition in 1981, competing in, but not winning, a couple of local meets in the 165-pound class. In his earliest meets he posted some decent numbers, driven up more by determination and raw potential than textbook technique. Being an astute observer of the more experienced lifters around him, his lifting mechanics and therefore his poundages made dramatic improvements.
At the 1983 USPF Nationals, Ed Coan moved up to the 181-pound class and drew the attention of the powerlifting world. Coming second to power legend Mike Bridges while still a teenager, he served notice of great promise in the years to come. This was the last time he was to be defeated in a powerlifting meet.
Later that year, Coan won his class convincingly at the YMCA Nationals, and began a domination of the sport that will most likely never be repeated. He established a pattern of competing approximately twice a year, once at a prestigious national level meet and a second time at an international meet. Along the way, he has collected thirteen national championships, eleven world titles and nearly sixty world records. At 5'6", his body has grown into a deceptively powerful 240-pound human forklift. Being the best ambassador the sport could ask for (although it is doubtful he thinks of himself as such), he has unselfishly assisted and inspired hundreds of power disciples. And he seems far from finished.
As for his future, Coan feels he cannot get that much stronger. "Its more being a little smarter and peaking at the right time and making sure I do not get hurt in any way." Exactly how prevalent is the risk of injury when one is breaking new ground in the war against gravity? Over the course of his career, Coan has suffered partial tears in the biceps and pec, and a variety of minor pulls and strains.
When dealing with half-ton poundages, these ailments seem minor. Its evident that it is not WHETHER you are going to get injured at this level, just how much you can minimize the injuries. While some athletes have managed long careers in powerlifting without being sidelined by injury, Coan points out, "I was able to lift a huge amount of weight at such an early age so the risk of injury is definitely greater." Keep in mind this is coming from a man that has been squatting over 900 pounds for the past fifteen years, beginning when he was just 22 years old. These minor "tweaks" (as he calls them) seem a negligible and thoroughly handled aspect of his career.
There was some discussion in past issues of Flex, in which senior editor Jim Schmaltz took offense to a MuscleMag International article which rather ridiculously claimed that non-placing IFBB Pro Greg Kovacs was "the strongest man alive." Coan's invitation to Kovacs to enter a powerlifting meet and demonstrate the functionality of his physique in a head-to-head comparison has gone unanswered. When pressed on this non-issue, Coan states, "These claims were made in an advertisement, so I take them with that in mind. Just from looking at the guy he has got to be able to move some weight around because he's a monster. But against me in real powerlifting, I think he'd probably get hurt."
June 24, 2001. APF Senior Nationals. Perhaps a more direct threat to the Coan powerlifting reign comes from the "Louisiana Leviathan" Garry Frank. Just months earlier, Frank beat Coan as the first powerlifter to crash the 2500-pound total barrier. With a 1003 pound squat, 738 pound bench press and 859 pound deadlift, he easily dominated the APF super-heavyweight class, posting a 2601 total. Although a mind-boggling achievement, one must keep in mind that (at 6'4" and 375-pounds) Frank outweighed Coan by roughly 135 pounds.
When asked if this usurper has lit a competitive fire under his ass, the reigning king of power replies, "Everyone wants to be the best and have the highest total. He just showed everyone what COULD be done. I don't care what someone weighs. In my heart I know I can do a lot more weight. He's obviously an extremely strong son of a bitch."
Although Coan speaks with a great deal of respect about Garry Frank's accomplishments, it should be noted that, in addition to the disparity in their bodyweight, Garry Frank broke these barriers under different rules. In a sport that has more federations than a sports bar has brands of import beer, the rules and judging vary widely - particularly in use of equipment and support gear. Liberal use of these items allows for higher totals. Supporters of these items claim a decreased risk of injury to the athletes, while purists feel the heavy canvas and rubber-woven bench shirts, squat suits and "groove briefs" make a mockery of the sport.
While Coan's lifts were performed under the guidelines of USPF, IPF and the aforementioned Mountaineer Cup (which are generally known for stricter judging), those of Garry Frank were done at APF and WPO events. According to most powerliters in the know, the WPO is a little looser on the equipment they allow, letting lifters wear double-ply lifting suits and support gear. They also use a Monolift in the squat [a device in which the lifter needs to just stand with the weight and the supports swing out of the way] eliminating the need to walk out with the weight. If this seems like a trivial difference, ask anyone that has squatted a half-ton how dangerous and taxing those two or three short steps out of the rack are. Many traditionalists feel that the use of the Monolift is a travesty which removes an integral part of the lift. This is like being allowed to wear lifting straps in a deadlift competition. Although Ed Coan's preferences lean towards the traditional method of squatting in which the lifter has to "walk-out" with the weight from the stands, he is first and foremost a competitor. As such, he is drawn to compete wherever the best lifters gather, regardless of the setting or rules.
August 12, 2001. WPO Semi-finals. Seeming fully adapted to the equipment, August 12th finds Ed Coan standing under the Monolift at the WPO Semi-Finals in Orlando, Florida. He is here to battle for the $160,000 in prize money (spread amongst a variety of class winners). Despite the unfamiliar equipment, Coan posted a new personal squat record but, still not feeling 100% recovered from a partial biceps tear incurred while deadlifting prior to the Mountaineer Cup, Coan called it quits at a 771 deadlift - which was sufficient for him to win his class.
Garry Frank, obviously out of his groove on this day, missed both of his opening bench press attempts, effectively bombing out of the meet. The anticipated battle of titans will have to wait for another day.
On August 12, 2002, at the Mountaineer Cup V, disaster strikes as Ed Coan suffered a potentially career-ending injury in the while squatting. He has since retired, although he continues to train and stays involved in the sport. While his records in a variety of weight classes will eventually be replaced, the true Coan legacy is that of an undying champion, overcoming obstacles and pushing the limits of strength.
Squats 7-10 sets of 2-8 reps
Leg Extensions 2 sets of 10-12
Leg Curls 2 sets of 10-12 reps
(In the off-season, high bar squats to activate more of the quads and sometimes front squats afterwards).
Seated Calf Raises 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Bench Press (regular grip) 7-10 sets of 2-8 reps
Wide-grip bench 3 sets of 8-10
Incline Dumbell or Barbell Press 2 sets of 2-8 reps
Flyes (high reps) 2 sets of 10-15 reps
Tricep extensions (a whole bunch) 2 sets of 2-8 reps
Regular deadlifts or S-L Deadlifts 8 sets of 2-8 reps
Bent-over Rows 2 sets of 8-10 reps
(Coan does these with 485 for 8 strict reps - "no problem.")
Pulley Rows 2 sets of 8-10 reps
Pulldowns 2 sets of 8-10 reps
Hammer Strength Back Machine (alternating which Hammer machine he utilizes)
2 sets of 8-10 reps
Rear Delt raises 2 sets of 10-12 reps
Close-grip bench 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Shoulder Press 5 sets of 2-8 reps
(either Behind-the-Neck Press, Front Military Press, or Seated Dumbell Presses. Coan has done a Seated Behind-the-Neck Press with 400 pounds)
Side Laterals 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Pushdowns 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Light Barbell Curls 1 set of 20 reps
•1) Keep it simple. Ed Coan's lifestyle can best be described as relaxed and routine. His time outside of the gym is designed to serve as a support system to increase recuperation and build maximal strength. His training is definitely "old school." His routine is basic and to the point. He does not waste his energy with complicated formulas which adjust his total workload in accordance to planetary alignment. He lifts brief and heavy - and then goes home and grows stronger.
•2) Don't overtrain. When asked the area in which most bodybuilders can most benefit from the experience of powerlifters, Coan explains it would be in their ability to avoid overtraining. The more objective nature of powerlifting (you are either getting stronger or you are not) gives a more direct feedback to symptoms of overtraining. Wise men pay attention to this.
Also, when approaching a heavy training weight, a competition lift or a new personal record, the key is to keep out negative thoughts. Do not waste time in front of the bar; just lock yourself into your starting position and move the weight.