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Rickey Dale CrainRickey Dale Crain
by Terry Todd (1978) Of all the athletes featured in this book (“Inside Powerlifting”), Rickey Crain has the strange distinction of being both the youngest and the one with the most years of experience in the sport of powerlifting. At the age of 24, he’s almost ten years younger than the average age of the rest of the champions I’ve covered; but he has spent close to ten years more in the iron game than the average time spent in the sport by the other eight people in the book. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Well, had it not been for one person, it would certainly have been improbable, if not impossible. That one person is hid dad, Jack Crain, one of the groundbreakers of powerlifting. Jack took Rickey and his other son Randy to the Oakland Y when they were only three or four years old, and Rickey can’t remember a time when he wasn’t lifting weights. “I literally grew up on it,” he says. “And my earliest memories are of me and Dad and Randy going down to the Y and tossing the weights around.” He won his first lifting contest at the age of ten, and that same year he and Randy both made triple bodyweight deadlifts – he with 200 weighing 66 pounds and nine-year-old, 55-pound Randy with 165. To commemorate this important bit of family history, Rickey’s father had two belt buckles made which carried the inscription, Triple Bodyweight. Thinking back on those days, Rickey recalls that his dad used to bribe, threaten, cajole, or shame the boys into being regular in their training, and although Rickey didn’t always appreciate it back then, he’s mighty glad now that the old man cared enough to use his influence to get them to stick to their programs. “He showed me the way,” Rickey told me. “I owe him.” Of course, one of the best ways to teach is by example. As the Chinese philosopher Lao-tse said, “We teach by what we are,” and what Jack Crain was and is is one hell of a lifter. Today, at the age of 50 and at a bodyweight of 165-170, he’s STILL improving and can total right at 1,500 pounds with a squat of 500, bench press of 380 and deadlift of 620. Naturally this makes his son both proud and confident that his own lifting career will span several more decades. One thing about Rickey is sure – he’s off to quite a start. In the Spring of 1977, he established the almost unbelievable world-record total of 1,591 pounds in the lightweight (148.75 pound) class, a total which is the highest pound-for-pound total ever made, according to the Schwartz formula. And yet as astonishing as this total is, his plans for the next season were to push it even higher. His goal for the 1977 National Championships was 1,700 pounds, made up of a 630 squat, 390 bench press and 680 deadlift, and his target for the World Championships two months later in Perth, Australia, was 1,750 pounds via 650, 400 and 700. To be honest, I doubt seriously that Rickey will reach these figures; in fact, I doubt if even his father expects him to reach them. But that doesn’t matter. The important thing – the crucial thing – is that Rickey believes he’ll do it, and this belief energizes his training and gives him the courage to address himself to weights no man his size has ever lifted. All the lifters in the book, in fact, share this almost obsessive belief in themselves – otherwise, they’d be unable to approach barbells which outweigh them two, three, and even four times. IF THE MIND WON’T BELIEVE IT, THE BODY WON’T HEAVE IT. Believe it. These stratospheric poundages serve to provide a focus for his pre-contest training cycle by giving him a starting point. Basically, Rickey has four cycles – a six-week cycle, a five-week cycle, a four-week cycle, and a three-week cycle – and he plugs into the appropriate cycle depending on how far ahead the next meet is. For instance, if he had a contest in ten weeks he’d plug into the third week of the five-week cycle, and this would lead him in turn to the four-week cycle and, finally to the three-week cycle. What he does in the squat is to predict the poundage he feels he can make on the day of the contest, and then take off 10 pounds for every week left. In other words, if he plans to squat with 630 on the day of the National meet and the meet is 14 weeks away, he would back off 140 pounds, to 490, and then use that as his top single. Then, every week of the 14 pre-meet weeks he would plan to add ten pounds, thus bringing him to the contest date with the gradually built strength to squat with 630. Being 14 weeks ahead of the meet, he would begin with the fifth week of his six-week cycle. These two weeks (the fifth and sixth weeks of the six-week cycle), plus the five weeks of the five-week cycle, the four weeks of the four-week cycle, and the three of the three-week cycle add up to 14 weeks. The fifth week of his six-week cycle would call for the following sets, reps, and poundages: Monday Squat: 145 x 10 245 x 6 325 x 4 420 x 1 465 x 1 490 x 1 410 x 8 410 x 8 410 x 8 410 x 8 Pause Squat: 390 x 5, with a three-second pause at the bottom on each repetition. Wednesday Squat: 145 x 10 245 x 6 345 x 4 420 x 1 465 x 1 490 x 1 Pause Squat: 390 x 5, same as Monday. For his three singles (420, 465, and 490), Rickey uses the exact costume that he would wear at a meet – the exact lifting suit, shoes, belt, and knee wraps. Also, he uses the same weight increases between his first and second single and his second and third single that he plans to use at the meet. He always prefers to jump 45 pounds between his first and second attempts and 25 pounds between his second and third. For his 4 sets of 8 on Monday, he drops 10 pounds per repetition from his top single, thus going from 490 to 410. For his set of five in the pause squats, he always drops 100 pounds from his top single of the day. He said quite emphatically when I spoke with him that he considered this final set of pausing squats to be “by far the most important part” of his squatting routine. After two weeks of the six-week cycle, he’s ready for his five-week cycle, which would begin as follows on the first week: Monday Squat: 145 x 10 245 x6 345 x 4 450 x 1 485 x 1 520 x 1 470 x 5 470 x 5 470 x 5 470 x 5 Pause Squat: 420 x 5 Wednesday Squat: 145 x 10 245 x 6 345 x 4 450 x 1 485 x 1 520 x 1 Pause Squat: 420 x 5 As can be seen, the only difference between the six-week cycle and the five-week cycle is that he moves from 4 sets of 8 in the six-week cycle to 4 sets of 5 in the five-week cycle. After building up 10 pounds per week during each week of the five-week cycle, he’s ready to begin the four-week cycle. By then, he’d be up to 570 for a top single, so his first week’s workouts would be as follows: Monday Squat: 145 x 10 245 x 6 345 x 4 445 x 2 500 x 1 545 x 2 570 x 1 520 x 5 530 x 4 540 x 3 550 x 2 560 x 1 Pause Squat: 470 x 5 Wednesday Squat: 145 x 10 245 x 6 345 x 4 445 x 2 500 x 1 545 x 1 570 x 1 Pause Squat: 470 x 5 For his final cycle of three weeks, he would continue adding weight and would train in the following way: Monday Squat: 145 x 10 245 x 6 345 x 4 445 x 2 520 x 2 575 x 1 600 x 1 570 x 3 580 x 2 590 x 1 580 x 2 570 x 3 Pause Squat: 500 x 5 Wednesday Squat: 145 x 10 245 x 6 345 x 4 445 x2 530 x 1 575 x 1 600 x 1 By the end of the three-week cycle, he would reach 620 as a top single the week before the meet, and thus be prepared both mentally and physically for his planned competition single with 630 pounds. As in the squat, Rickey trains his bench twice a week – Tuesdays and Saturday s – but, instead of increasing 10 pounds each week, he only looks for a gain of 5 pounds. Using a 390-pound bench as a contest-day goal, this would mean that he’d drop back to 315 if he were 15 weeks away from the meet. Therefore, his first week’s workouts would be as follows: Tuesday Bench Press: 135 x 10 225 x 5 270 x 3 285 x 1 300 x 1 315 x 1 285 x 3 285 x 3 285 x 3 285 x 3 Pausing Bench Press: 240 x 5, with a 5-second pause on the chest on each rep. Narrow-Grip Bench Press: 240 x 5 240x 5 ‘Military’ Press: 135 x 5 175 x 5 175 x 5 175 x 5 Wide-Grip Chin: 3 sets of 10 Saturday Bench Press Pausing Bench Press ‘Military Press’ Wide-Grip Chin all – same as Tuesday. As the contest approaches, rather than switching routines or cycles as he does in the squat, Rickey uses the exact same bench routine – 3 progressively heavier singles followed by 4 sets of 3’s – and assistance exercises throughout the final 15 weeks. The only difference - the vital one, naturally – is that he adds 5 pounds to all his benches every week that he trains. He told me that although he has experimented with many other methods of bench press training, this one seems to suit him the best. For his deadlift, Rickey divides his final 15 weeks into two equal cycles of seven weeks each and one week (the final one) of complete rest. Projecting a 680 for the forthcoming Nationals, he dropped back to 540 to begin his ascent. His final week of the first seven-week cycle would be as follows: Friday Deadlift: (sumo style) 145 x 10 245 x 6 345 x 4 445 x 2 530 x 1 575 x 1 600 x 1 550 x 5 Deadlift (regular style) 500 x 5 Deadlift Off Blocks (regular stance) 450 x 10, done whole standing on blocks which are four or five inches higher than the level of the floor. For his final seven weeks, he alters the program somewhat, cutting down on his repetitions and gearing for the big singles he’ll need at the meet. Assuming he’s in the fifth week of his seven-week cycle, his top single would be 650 and his entire workout would be done thus: Friday Deadlift: (sumo style) 145 x 10 245 x 6 345 x 4 445 x 2 545 x 1 580 x 2 625 x 1 630 x 3 620 x 3 Deadlift: (traditional style) 570 x 3 570 x 3 Deadlift Off Blocks: (traditional stance) 520 x 10 Note that throughout the 14 weeks of heavy training he always does his three heavy contest singles in exactly the same way he does his heavy squats. That is, he takes them as if he were in a meet, wearing competition gear and making the same inter-attempt weight increases that he intends to use at the meet. As in the squat, he uses a 45-pound jump between his first and second attempts and a 25-pound jump between the second and third. Because of his particular structure (relatively long back and relatively short thighs), Rickey has excellent leverage in the squat. This leverage, plus great strength in the hips and thighs, makes it advantageous for him to use the wide stance, close-grip, sumo style in the deadlift. Even though this method of deadlifting allows the bulk of the work to be done by the hips and thighs rather than the back, Rickey realized that even in the sumo style the back STILL plays a vital role. This realization prompted him to wisely add the traditional style deadlift and the deficit deadlift off blocks to his routine, as these two exercises place more strength-building stress on he muscles of the lower and mid-back than do sumo-style deadlifts. In addition to all the exercises already listed, Rickey also does supplementary work for his legs every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Mondays and Wednesdays it follows his squat program and on Fridays it comes after his deadlifts. He uses the following supplementary exercises three times a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday Leg Extension – 3 moderate sets of 10. Leg Curl – 3 moderate sets of 10. Calf Raise – 3 moderate sets of 10. Weightless Calf Raise – 2 sets of 50. He never neglects these exercises because he feels they have contributed heavily to his success in the squat. In particular, he thinks the calf raises are absolutely essential for maximum gains. So, taken as a whole, without going back over his poundages, sets and reps, his weekly schedule would look like this: Monday: Squat Pause Squat Leg Extension Leg Curl Calf Raise Weightless Calf Raise Tuesday: Bench Press Pausing Bench Press Narrow-Grip Bench Press ‘Military’ Press Wide Grip Chin Wednesday: Squat Pause Squat Leg Extension Leg Curl Calf Raise Weightless Calf Raise Friday: Deadlift (sumo) Deadlift (traditional) Deadlift Off Blocks Leg Extension Leg Curl Calf Raise Weightless Calf Raise Saturday: Bench Press Pausing Bench Press Narrow-Grip Bench Press ‘Military’ Press Wide Grip Chin In addition, Rickey does 200 situps a day, which tops off what must be one of the most rigorous exercise programs followed by any world-class powerlifter. He seems to thrive on this rather rigid, methodical schedule, but he told me to warn all beginners and intermediates that not only is his routine a very advanced one, it also is tailored exactly to his own particular physiological and psychological requirements. Consider yourselves warned. In order to fuel himself for this high-stress training, he is very careful to concentrate on beef, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, and fresh fruits and vegetables. As for daily supplements, he takes a good vitamin-mineral tablet, a B-complex tablet, Energol, and 3 grams of vitamin C. Through the years he’s tried such things as zinc sulfate, niacin, and ginseng, but he noticed no benefit from them. In the future he plans to follow his dad’s lead and try B3 and B7 complex (hydrosolates), as they are said by some to provide muscle-building assistance similar to anabolic steroids. Oh, I wish I was an Oscar Meyer wiener. Besides his nutritious diet, Rickey keeps close tabs on his energy level so that he knows when he needs a little extra sack time. All this good food and rest have been put to good use, as a glance at the accompanying photos will confirm. Besides his huge, wide-swept thighs, take note of the fact that in the squat his lifting belt is turned so that the wide part is on the front of his body. Many lifters, including Rickey, have noticed that not only do they get more abdominal support this way, but they also get a rebound effect when the belt provides a brace between the hip joint and the lower part of the rib cage. In order for this to work best, the belt should be pushed low on the hips and it should be pulled as tightly as tightly as it can possibly be pulled. Anyone having a belt made could save themselves the trouble of turning it around simply by having it made the maximum allowable width (10 centimeters) all the way around. Marv Phillips and his father make belts this way, and they’re the best I’ve ever seen. Within the last couple of years, Rickey has learned other tricks of the trade besides turning his belt around, such as placing his feet wide enough and turning his toes out enough so that the large, powerful muscles of the hips and the rear of the thighs are brought into full play. Also, since his Achilles tendons are sufficiently loose for him to “break parallel” without using shoes with raised heels, he has sensibly chosen to squat in low-heeled, but solid, tennis shoes. As the pictures show, he places the bar extraordinarily high on the trapezius muscles, which forces him to maintain a very upright position throughout the lift. This position is dictated by his particular body type – for him it is ideal, allowing him to go below parallel without reaching a particularly acute angle at the knee. Using this upright style, he “sits” into the squat, dips just below parallel, and before you know it, he’s got another world record. Most of Rickey’s career has been one success after another, but last year at the 1976 World Championships he had a meet I’m sure he’d much rather forget. After easily winning the Nationals, he made the mistake of allowing his training bodyweight to creep up far too high, all the way into the 170-pound range. This, plus a poorly planned pre-contest reducing schedule, left him a pound or two too heavy when the time limit ran out for the 148¾ pound weigh-in. Even with steam-baths, last minute starvation, and diuretics he was still unable to make it, and this failure contributed significantly to America’s loss to Great Britain in the team championship. A lesser man than Rickey would no doubt have enlisted in the French Foreign Legion and disappeared after such a disgrace, but he swallowed his pride, got back in shape, and set the lifting world on its ear with that monumental 1,591 pound total. Perhaps he was sustained during his tribulations by his devout faith in Christ. He was then and is now a student at the Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary, where he plans to get a master’s degree and finally, a Ph.D. degree in religious education. Eventually, he hopes to teach or do youth work at a church. Hopefully, he’ll stay in powerlifting, because with his youth, strength, and consistent family support, he could become one of the legends of the game. |

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