Iron Subculture: Part 2

The Fall of Vlad

VladAlhazov1300Those of you that are powerlifting fans require no introduction to Westside Barbell. Louie Simmons' Columbus-based gym is the ultimate hardcore iron dungeon with powerlifters traveling from around the world to train under his guidance. One of these was the Russian Dynamo Vlad Alhazov, owner of the current world record squat of 1,250 pounds.


I have been a fairly frequent guest at Westside with Friday, June 27, 2008 being my fourth visit in that month.  As I spoke with Louie, the big Russian was getting set for a world record 1300-pound squat. Vlad was making this attempt against Louie's counsel, a tricky position for a coach, as they must balance decades of experience against the enthusiasm of the athlete hungry to push greater and greater poundages. In the end the coach is only an advisor, and the athlete must make the final call. But when Louie Simmons gives an opinion on powerlifting, it is hard to distinguish between scientifically determined analysis or precognitive vision. Either way, I know this was one time in which Louie wished he had been wrong.


After a handful of progressively heavier sets, Vlad was ready to go for the record breaking 1,300 pounds, giving real meaning to the term "Max Strength training session." He was wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with the brand name "THULE" which immediately made me think of Thulsa Doom, the serpent-controlling sorcery from the first Conan movie (played by James Earl Jones), but was probably a brand name of some type of high octane vodka.


If you have ever seen anyone squat even half that weight you realize that a single spotter just won't cut it. Anyone maxing out with over four-plates should have at least three alert spotters, one following him through the motions, and a pair of sentries on each side shadowing the plates. On this instance, there were no less than eight spotters backing up big Vlad. As we were soon to see, eight isn't enough when that much weight comes crashing down. Not only can the bars descent not be stopped, it is a life-threatening task to even attempt it.


With his stereotypical blonde buzzcut, Vlad sets himself for the lift, his eye bulging out with a slight hypothyroidal glare. His pasty white skin takes on a reddened tint matching the hue of the Monolift as he sets his traps and spinal cord to support the immense poundage, the team of spotters swarming him like a NASCAR pitcrew.


With a practiced effort, Vlad stood with the ponderous poundage, the rack supports mechanically swiveling out of the way leaving the bar suspended by a loose collection of bones, muscle and soft connective tissues. As the mighty Russian begins his descent, all hell rips loose. His overly thick joints (knees the size of the waist of a small girl) are still not enough to buttress the tightly packed collection of 100- and 45-pound plates bouncing on the ends of the carbon-reinforced bar. In a blur, his left leg rolls inward, tendons and ligaments separating from their anchoring points on the knee.


The obviousness of the resultant cause-and-effect relationship propels the heavy bar crashing into the ground. These are the best spotters in the world, but there is little they can do. While Vlad's safety is their main concern, their own safety is compromised in the effort. Fortunately, other than a badly bruised leg on one of the spotters, which was caught between the bar and the wall, all save Vlad, walked away from the attempt.


As a paramedic, every day on the job has unique challenges. But the two ambulance jockeys summoned to Westside had no inkling what they were getting themselves into. Their hesitation is palpable, as they see the agitated, rough looking, testosterone and adrenaline-charged mob lurking in the garage door opening of the warehouse gym. It's a safe bet that they have never had to gingerly cut off a reinforced MetalTM Pro Squatter suit, doubly hard due to the thickly reinforced material and its tourniquet-like tightness.


One challenge out of the way, the two paramedics (averaging about a buck fifty in weight) realize that moving the gurney with the strapped down 350-pound Russian just ain't gonna happen. A couple of guys from the spotter's group are recruited and I can't help but think of pallbearers as I watch them carry Vlad to the waiting wagon, where he is never seen from again.


Is this the end of Vlad Alhazov's powerlifting career? Is 1,300 pounds just more than the human body is meant to support? The answer to both of those questions may just come down to human will but Vlad Alhazov should be commended for pushing the limits of human strength. We will be wishing him a fast and full recovery.


Raising the Bar

PulcinellaThis film is not a new release but it is highly under-rated. If you have not seen the documentary "Raising the Bar: The Inside Story of a Life in Bodybuilding" you need to. This DVD not only captures the trials and tribulations of the bodybuilding lifestyle but Mike Pulcinella, brother of the subject of the documentary David Pulcinella, is a damned talented filmmaker.


I've known Dave since he won his class at the NABBA USA Nationals in 1996, where I sat on the judging panel. Dave has won most of the big shows on the East Coast, including the NPC Delaware state contest (twice) and his class at the NPC Masters Nationals (three times). Of all the champion lifters I have met, there are few that have pushed their genetics as far as Dave, through pure dedication and love of competition.


The first Raise the Bar video (107-minutes) has met with such rave reviews that Mike has put out a second one - RTB2. He is currently working on RTB3 which chronicles Dave's prep for the North American championship. I have watched and re-watched the first installment, and even showed it to a non-bodybuilding girlfriend, and she even liked it, which is high praise.


I have been afraid to see the second one because, quite frankly, I am afraid it won't live up to the incredibly high expectations I would have of it. My praise for Raise the Bar is so high, I will go so far as to say that it is the Pumping Iron of the modern generation. Here is a promo trailer for the film:



And here is a preview clip in which Dave discusses "the six foods that work":



Mike and Dave should be commended for this contribution to the sport. Raise the Bar 1 and 2 are available in a special combo price of $34.95 through:



To add to the family connection, the online store selling the videos is administrated by web-tech Joe Pulcinella (Dave and Mike's cousin). The store is attached to IronSport Gym in Glenolden, PA - one of my favorite gyms when I am in the eastern Philadelphia suburbs which, you should not at this stage be surprised to hear, is owned by Steve Pulcinella (Dave and Mike's cousin and Joe's brother. Quite a close-knit family.


Steve is a Strongman and Highland Games competitor and his gym is one of the last true temples of old-time strength training. IronSport balances a friendly but competitive no-frills atmosphere. They provide TONS of weight and solid equipment, including sleds, farmer's walk implements, 600 to one-thousand pound tires for flipping and a variety of concrete spheres for stone lifters. In fact, I felt like I had to park a block away since I was afraid my jalopy might have been mistaken by members as a car Steve had purchased so that they could practice the car flipping event seen on World's Strongest Man competitions. If you are visiting the area stop in, and if you live in that area, why in the hell would you train anywhere else? Check them out at www.ironsport.com



Big Contest Announcement!

In 1965, Joe Weider launched the Mr. Olympia contest with a simple and straight-forward premise... rather than allowing past Mr. America and Mr. Universe winners to gradually drift into oblivion, he provided them with a much loftier goal. The initial winner of the Olympia was rewarded for decades of hard training and months of strict dieting with gaudy red velvet and gold foil crown and a check for a grand!

Since then the price money and quality of the competitors has dramatically improved. Next year's Olympia is boasting the largest purse with a total purse of $800,000 and the winner walking home with a whopping $200,000. Now in an even bigger contest announcement, we proudly launch The Rx Muscle Bodybuilding Federation's Mr. MegalympiaTM Contest.

That's right! Sure, the Olympia is a decent show but it has its flaws. First off, while the O may have most of the top bodybuilders of any given year battling it out (with only half of them being in peak condition), we can do it one better. The MegalympiaTM has the best physique stars of history slugging it out online in their very best shape! Imagine Victor Martinez going head-to-head with Sergio Oliva or Tim Belknap trying to outmuscle Branch Warren!

Secondly, the judging is always problematic to me. Sure the judges seem qualified and most have risen through the system so that they really know what they are looking at, but they are not me. I'd really rather be the one deciding who wins a pro show. With the MegalympiaTM we get to choose the victors!

The idea for this online polling-based contest is something I blatantly stole from the IronAge website (thanks guys!). Since the Rx Muscle community has their own unique way of viewing things, I wanted to see which champions rose to the top with us making the call.

First order of business is doling out the special invites. To get us started, I compiled a list of 144 bodybuilding superstars for your consideration. Look the list over carefully and if you notice some obvious omissions, go to the Megalympia thread in the forum (link at the bottom) and tell us which names should be added. Feel free to being your post with, "Steve, you imbecile! How could you have missed [insert name here]..."

You have four days to get your special invite choices posted, after that we will spend three days voting on eliminations (narrowing the field down to a mammoth 128 shredded freaks).

Then its showtime! We pair off the remaining 128 competitors in a one-on-one elimination posedown. After one week of voting (I hope these guys have adequate electrolytes because a seven-day posedown tends to cause cramping) we will be left with the top 64 bodybuilders in the world. Just imagine: Frank Zane versus Lee Labrada in their own mano a mano symmetry round; Erik Fankhouser hitting quad-shots against Tom Platz; Schwarzenegger at his peak battling a monstrous Lee Haney; Melvin Anthony spreading his V-taper next to Brian Buchanon's; Bertil Fox pitting his brutal mass against Branch Warren's hardcore size.

Each of these genetic freaks are in their all-time best condition and, because we spare no expense, we have enlisted Dr. Scott Connelly to reinvigorate some of our fallen compatriots (this took his as-of-now unreleased version of Progenex-RIP and plenty of essential fatty acids to lube up those dry joints). These guys have some unfinished business and they came back knowing they will truly be able to rest in peace once they are able to carve a big title on their tombstone!

We have even gone to the legal trouble of arranging a temporary release for Craig Titus and extradition of Bertil Fox and... dammit those "slaughtering the competition" puns are just too damn easy. Leave it at this, both of these guys are hungry for redemption in the bodybuilding community and this may be their last chance.

From there the contestants are matched up with new adversaries and we have another week to whittle the field down to the top 32 in the world. Another week and new match-ups gets us to the top sixteen and on from there to eight, four, two and then our ultimate crowning of the first Rx Muscle Megalympia champion! Don't worry though, these guys all are granted free consultations with Dave Palumbo so they will able to hold their peak condition for the entire two months!



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