Just Meatheads?

TAGS: pulcinella, IronSport, meathead, seminar

Just meatheads? I don’t think so! The strong men of EliteFTS bring strength training knowledge to Iron Sport Gym located in Glenolden, PA owned by Steve Pulcinella.

Maria: I first learned of Iron Sport Gym through a fellow crossfitter. I was in search of a gym which could provide me with additional supplemental equipment and training. Specifically, strongman-type training.

Pulcinella’s spot has an old-school feel but in the modern sense of the term. Iron Sport is not only equipped with the typical GloboGym equipment (treadmills, ellipticals, etc.)

Ben: But turn the corner and you get a real sense of what the gym is all about. Scattered on the walls are pictures of strong men and women lifting, throwing, powering and tossing - not just barbells, but anything and everything that is heavy. And you can’t walk past the huge 1500 pound train wheels in the hallway without at least a feigned attempt at budging it.

Maria: The rest of the gym is equipped with all the strongman toys you could ask for including: atlas stones, yokes, logs, various bars (safety squat, buffalo and fat bars), tires and kegs, to name a few.

Iron Sport is not intimidating and fosters an environment of liberation. What do I mean by liberation? One's ability to have the courage, confidence and the knowledge to lift heavy weights is liberating to me. I AM WOMAN and I like to lift heavy shit too! There are so many women out there who are afraid of lifting weights, much less heavy weights because of  a fear of “bulking up." I can assure you this will not happen to you,  as a matter of fact the only thing that “bulked up” on me was my booty and I’m sure ladies, we all want a nice ass!

Ben: I can attest to that. Maria has a great backside! Ladies put down the Skittles' colored dumbbells and pick up a barbell or flip some tires.

Maria: I followed the happenings of Iron Sport via Facebook, Twitter, and the gym’s website. That's where I saw the EFS Strength Seminar with Jim Wendler, Vincent Dizenzo and Matt Rhodes. I registered immediately since I currently had two of my clients on Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 Strength Program. I also wanted to learn more about technique and getting stronger from lifters who have been in the game for years. Right away I informed my boyfriend (co-writer) of this article to attend with me since he was the one who introduced me to 5/3/1.

Ben: The 5/3/1 program spoke to me. I've been a follower of Bill Starr’s for quite some time. In reading Starr’s material over the years, I became an avid fan of the big lifts – the deadlift, the bench, the press, the clean and most of all, the squat. I’ve been training with weights off and on since I was 12 years old. Sometimes with a coach and sometimes not. My goal has never been to be bodybuilder huge or powerlifter strong, just “athletically” strong. I wanted to be strong enough to perform well at sports. What I've found over the years is nothing is more effective in getting you stronger, fitter and more athletically confident than those big lifts.

Since Starr doesn’t seem to write as much as he used to, I’m always on the lookout for similar-minded and articulated information. Jim’s 5/3/1 program is right up that alley. And I decided to share it with my lady since she likes to lift heavy as much as I do.

When Maria told me about the seminar I thought it would be cool to attend. (Truth be told, I went primarily to please her).  When she first shared the seminar with me, I wasn’t as enthusiastic as I should've been. This was partly due to how well the 5/3/1 program was written. I thought, "What more can these guys add?" The 5/3/1 program is working well for me. I already felt plenty strong for my needs. By Mark Rippetoe Basic Strength standards, I sit somewhere in the top 1 - 5 percent of strength, depending on the lift, for my weight. In fact, so does Maria. By comparison, Jim, Matt and Vince are probably somewhere in the top .001 percent of strength. Everything is relative. So what more could these guys possibly teach me? Well, they taught me a lot…

Maria: The seminar started out with questions and answers. Attendees were encouraged to ask whatever they wished and the panel answered to the best of their knowledge giving answers through their past and current experiences. What stood out most important for me during this time was all men agreed, they wish they knew then, what they know now. Nutrition, rest and recovery are paramount to an elite athlete. All three talked about the sacrifices they made in other aspects of their health – weight gain and injuries – for the pursuit of lifting big. What each seemed to say was that perhaps, with a more prudent approach, they could have avoided both and still achieved their goals.

Ben: What struck me most was each of these guys all seemed to agree, that it doesn’t matter what weight lifting philosophy you use, as lond as it’s well thought out and you dedicate yourself to the pursuit over a long period of time. I just so happen to be reading a book called, Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Forbes magazine columnist, Geoffrey Colvin. As the title suggests the book is about getting to what really accounts for success. Although I have not finished the book, Colvin gave the punch line in the early chapters:

“The differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.  [Top performers engage in deliberate practice which] is activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help; it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it’s highly demanding mentally…and it isn’t much fun. The best performers set goals that are not about the outcome but about the process of reaching the outcome.”

These guys each described hours in the gym working on supporting musculature, conditioning, ice baths and foam rollers, surgeries… not fun. They each talked about setting out on a plan, writing down their plan and logging their results. Thus, experimenting over long periods of time. Learning through trial and error as well as trying things with scientific support. Each seemed to attribute their success to doing all these things consistently and persistently for decades at a time. “The Hard Work" concentrated on the process with the end goal being to move heavy loads.

These guys are all living proof of what Colvin talks about in his book. You can be extremely good at something if you put in decades of well thought out and planned practice in a very specific domain. My take-away is that I would immediately apply “The Hard Work” approach to other aspects of my life, including business, play and my personal relationships.

Maria: After lunch we broke into groups to learn hands on technique about three specific lifts: squat, bench, and deadlift. Each coach worked individually with all attendees. They corrected, cued and asked questions about individuals’ techniques. What could be fixed here to make his lift more efficient and the areas of flexibility they must work on in order to better develop the skill of the movement. Basically, how to move the weight in order to make strength gains.

Jim Wendler on the squat: Jim stressed the importance of not over-coaching the squat. Allow yourself or athlete to get into the position they are most comfortable and cue them on these specific things:

  • Squeeze the bar. This will tighten up your whole body.
  • Arch your upper back and squeeze your back bones together. This will place your body (head, lumbar, and glutes) in the proper position for your squat.
  • Get down! Squat as low as possible and this means past parallel. Move your ass towards the floor. Lighten up the load if needed to perform a full range squat.

Ben: Vincent Dizenzo on bench: Of the three lifts, Vince’s instruction of technique on the bench was the most unfamiliar to me. As a result, Vince’s tutelage may eventually prove to make a great difference in my strength gains. Vince first demonstrated how he got into position for the bench. It looked like the Incredible Hulk trying to do the limbo. I was definitely impressed with his flexibility. Vince emphasized, squeezing the shoulder blades to engage the lats in the movement and pulling the bar down low on your torso. He also stressed using the power in your legs and hips and transferring that energy into lifting the bar. For years I had been lifting like the typical gym rat. Feet wherever, shoulders not engaged, and letting the bar down to the middle of my chest. Of the two of us, Maria tried the new technique first and immediately reverted to the technique we had both been using for years. Vince made the proper cues and she eventually got it. I was next and was determined not to have Maria perform better than me in the lift. (Can you spell ego?) Although awkward, the lift felt pretty good. In fact, I had a hard time pulling the bar down. Actively engaging my lats and hips, the bar wanted to come back up off my torso. Thanks Vince for making Maria and I more awesome than we already were.

Matt Rhodes on the deadlift: Matt urged us to set up our lift properly whether we were flexible enough or not. This meant lining your feet under the bar and allow the shins to greet it.

  • Be sure your feet are flat and pushing down into the floor.
  • Grip the bar outside of your legs, bend down at your knees, and push your hips back.
  • Use an overhand grip until your grip gives out, then move into the hook grip.
  • Chest should be lifted, upper back engaged and your arms should be locked and NOT pulling at the bar.
  • Do not pulling the bar because this could lead to a possible bicep tear.
  • You want to keep your weight in your heels with your shoulders slightly forward of the bar.
  • Now, take a deep breath, create tension throughout your body.
  • Shoulders and hips moving together, bar traveling straight up and close to the body.
  • As the bar passes the knees, squeeze your ass and allow the torso to extend upright.
  • At the top of lift hips fully extend with your body upright arms perpendicular to the floor.

He noted to one lifter who was continuously allowing his hips to rise quickly, extending the knees before the bar reached them, (basically a straight leg deadlift) and then over-pulling which put him in a overly arched (hyperextension) of the lumbar spine to move his body in one unit.  This will make the lift safer for his back.

When the day wound down we shook a few hands and got couple of last minute tips. Maria and I both promised to be back to visit so we can shoulder a few stones and possibly get some coaching on the Olympic lifts from Steve and his lovely wife, Mrs. P.

Maria: This was a great seminar! There was quite a bit of information I took away from it, but too much to share in the article. I learned there are various ways of producing a great lift based on an individual’s mechanics. Try different styles and techniques and see what works for you. Be open to trying things differently!

I also took a few quotes along with me. Vulgar? Perhaps. But once cued folks were moving the bar correctly…

“Let me see your balls at the bottom of that squat.” – Jim Wendler (Squat)

“Put your nut sack on the bar as you sit in the movement.”– Matt Rhodes (Deadlift)

“Pretend you are trying to give your wife a little extra.” – Vincent Dizenzo (Bench)


Maria Jones is a Corporate Health & Wellness Manager from Westfield, NJ.  She has been in the fitness industry for over 15years and currently holds a Level 1 Crossfit Certification and is a certified AFAA Group Exercise Instructor.  Maria also personal trains and will be sitting for her ACSM-HFI in March 2011.   Maria is an active member of Guerrilla Fitness Crossfit Montclair and USATF Masters Athlete.  She enjoys lifting heavy weights and running track.  Maria is also restructuring her business where she sells fun knee high socks.  You can reach Maria at badasssox@gmail.com


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