A Sit Down Interview with Chuck Vogelpohl
Below is a transcribed interview that took place within Westside Barbell between Louie Simmons [Louie] and Chuck Vogelpohl [Chuck]. Anyone who knows Chuck will appreciate the fact he is a man of few words so this interview is brief and to the point.
We hope you enjoy it,
Louie: Today I am interviewing Chuck Vogelpohl to talk about his time at Westside, the place where he has spent more than half his life.
So, Chuck, when did you meet me and start training at Westside?
Chuck: Thanks, Louie. I first met you at a bench press contest at the Valley View YMCA. I was still in high school, and Kenny Read helped handle me.
I then came to your garage gym on Larcomb on the Westside. I could not believe this garage housed a national team.
The gym had just a power rack, a lat pulldown, a calf-ham glute bench, a back-raise bench, and lots of weights, but most of all, lots of attitude.
You later opened a gym on Demorest Road, and I joined up. It had a powerlifting room by itself, and I started to train with lots of guys like Kenny Patterson (KP) and Joe McCoy, but would work my way into your group. This was 1986. I knew by that time you had already broken your back twice, and had torn your right bicep entirely off, but nothing seemed to bother you. I had played high school football and had lots of fights, so I was ready for something new.
Louie: I remember. I was going for my fifth Elite Total in the 275-class, but I only weighed 233, and I could see the outline of Toledo. You started handing me Gatorades.
I downed one after another until I came in at 243 pounds to lift in the 275-class. I became only the third to do it with two-hour weigh-ins.
You lifted, but did not do so good. Next, Dominic Ritolo came into the gym and started to train with you.
You lifted in Cleveland and made your first Elite Total, and pulled a 700 deadlift. This was only the start once you had lots of equipment and strong training partners. I remember that on the day before, you had found out you had a broken vertebrate in your thoracic spine. That was nothing to you, and I knew then that you had what it would take to be great.
At that time, I ruptured my left patella tendon and would be out for some time. I had an 821-pound squat, and you had a 738-pound squat. I said you would have to take over and help lead the guys for a while.
Chuck: I had lots of good training mates who could push me, like KP and George Halbert, with the bench.
Louie: I had made a training tape that showed two young men—one was to build bench—that was KP (Kenny Patterson). And you to build the deadlift. You both would stand the test of time while KP would hold world records in the bench along with George Halbert, and you would first break the 220-class squat record along with Matt Dimel. Everyone got along well while training and partying.
So, what started your run of world records?
Chuck: First, you showed all of us the box squat and what exercises would build it. But also, how to handle the high volume for all three lifts. This was the foundation of using a high volume and high-intensity training to reach the top.
This could get my lifts only so high, but as usual, you came into our training and added putting chains onto the bar for Accommodating Resistance. This put a real kick into our training in the squat and deadlift, but also the bench.
Louie: I could think of two things that took your lifts up, especially the squat, to unbelievable levels. After all, you were not built that good to squat, but you were best suited for the deadlift.
Chuck:The wave system was already in place—using 75 percent to 85 percent for 25 lifts, plus 25 pulls.
I think the heavy sled pulls made a huge difference in my lower body strength as well. If I recall, we did three meets before you wrote about it in Powerlifting USA. At that point, we had gone a year and a half to check the progress we had made before you would write about it.
Louie: Your lifts kept going up, and you won your first nationals in 1987 in Columbus. I told you that everyone was strong at this meet, but you came late and made only one warm-up with 445 pounds and then had to open with 683. It was good somehow, and you would later go on at your third attempt with 738 pounds.
Chuck, you had a very high tolerance to high volume, and you maintained it for your entire lifting career.
Chuck:Yes. I just liked to workout. I recall showing up early, and you would always be waiting for me at the gym a half-hour or three-quarters of an hour before anyone else got there. I would do 1,000 sit-ups and lat pulldowns. And you would do Reverse Hypers or pull a weight sled for your warm-up.
Louie: At that time, you were always calling people out in the gym for some kind of a contest in some lift or exercise. It was always for money, and it was mostly a team thing. I remember that if your team were 25 pounds behind in, let’s say a rack pull; somehow, you would pull a big pull record to win the contest.
Chuck: Right. It was good for the team to learn to make, not only lifts, but to compete. At that point, we were lifting at many meets and kicking everybody’s asses.
We won the APF Nationals from 1993 through 1997. But things were getting weird, and we left for the IPA. It was funny how it was called the High PA. But all the federations were the same—just jealous of each other.
Louie: Many people started their own federations and were criticized, but there was a good reason for so many. It was the original IPF, the father of the USPF. And, Chuck, I know you know why Westside left the USPF.
Chuck: Oh, yes. We were lifting in Canton, Ohio. I was moving up to the 242-class for the first time. As we came into the lifting, all we heard my name called. You said you would see what they wanted. You came back and told me they had started the meet with the 242s. I had no warm-ups and bombed out.
Louie, you were really pissed off. You ended up getting kicked out and had to have Amy Weisberger go to the scorers’ table and give all of our attempts. This was the last time I lifted in a USPF meet,
Louie: We needed a boost to our training, but how? Dave Williams of Liberty University was coming for a visit. While he was there, he told me he would pay me if I would show him how to use jump stretch, rubber bands. I told him that I didn’t need money from my friends. And I had never heard of jump stretch bands.
A week later, Dick Hartzell came to town with the bands at a basketball clinic. I took Dave Tate with me. I put the bands over my shoulder and knew this could change the world, and it did. Dave Tate thought I was crazy, but that would soon change everything at Westside.
Chuck: I knew that those bands would lead to more experiments, and eccentric, concentric, and over-speed eccentric training.
My lifts were going up at a slow, steady pace, but when we added bands, they really shot up. Louie, I knew you kept track of all our training, and you were always trying to get me to taper back for a meet and not squat all the time and pull a weight sled, but I would not listen. Maybe that’s how I got a cage in my back.
My legs would never grow until I started using bands over the bar. Louie, you asked me how I got my legs to grow, and I said the bands. I knew you already knew, but you just wanted to confirm it.
New meets were coming up, and new records would fall. My squat would jump from 859-pounds to a 1,000-pound world record, but I did get a better suit, too. In one month, I would do 1,025 pounds to push my 220-pound world record up. The WPO was starting, and it had money to win. Count me in!
My deadlift was going up again by using lots of bands on top of the bar. I remember you asked what I got out of using bands on the bar. I said it showed me how to think while I was pulling. Thinking is important, but often overlooked.
Louie: I thought you were done, but the WPO was about to come on the scene with money. And we all know money talks, and nobody walks. I would see you had a new interest in powerlifting, and you started to gear up again, just like when you first came to Westside.
The first WPO meet was in Florida and ran until about 2 am the next morning when they shut the place down. I know you won some cash, but when everyone showed up at 5 am, no one showed up to pay. Great lifters, poor organization, like many power meets.
You lifted in the 220-pound class coming down from the 255-pound class, but still won the division belt. You cutting that much weight finally caught up to you. Chuck, you got bigger and bigger, but kept cutting to 220 pounds. The last time I recall you said your legs felt like they weighed 900 pounds.
You had won the division from great lifters like Jesse Kellum and Travis Mash, but it was time to do something healthier. You also won your heavy weight division for your second belt. I was putting up $3,000 for a meet one month, so you came in at 265 pounds and killed a 1,150-pound squat for a new all-time world record. For the time you jumped over the 242 class.
Chuck: Yes, I was tired of cutting weight and just put on 10 pounds. You were right; the 220-pound class was no more. You wanted me to gain weight into the 308 and break Paul Childress’ 1168-pound world record, but it was hard on my health. New equipment and new training, and I made a 1,180 at 264 pounds. It was the top coefficient of all time.
The WPO was no more, and you would fund the Power Station Pro-Am in Dayton, Ohio, with $23,000 in prize money. My body was starting to fall apart. First, Matt Dimel broke my neck playing around in the gym. Oh, yes, I remember you told me not to mess with him; that he was too big and too fast. That was a big setback for over a year. Then, I tore my triceps off.
Louie: I recall you pressed a 155-pound dumbbell for five or six reps one-armed.
Chuck: Louie, I am like you. I cannot stop training. For a while, I did some tough man fights and won a couple of tournaments, but got the power bug. Lifting in the 242-pound class, I set the world record at 1,140 pounds.
My back was starting to hurt all the time to the point I could hardly bend over. I had a cage put in my back so that I could lift some good weights like 700-pounds raw squats and 750-pound raw sumo deadlifts with straps. I had no grip at all, so I started BJJ to stay busy.
At that time, I would just help out at meets and try to show the new guys at Westside.
Louie: Chuck, what do you think of today’s lifters compared to 20 years ago?
Chuck: Today’s lifters, for the most part, are not as passionate as 20 years ago. It could be too many phones in the gym. Outside of you making a training DVD, we never filmed any workouts.
Louie: I know you are about to retire from work. You said you would like to do personal training along with your BJJ. And, of course, your four-wheeling on the weekends. One last thing: How do you like raw compared to gear lifting?
Chuck: Well, I could care less. But raw should be just a belt—no three-meter knee wraps. I know you lifted with no gear at all in the 1960s and 70s, but as gear came into powerlifting, you adapted to gear and made top ten lifts for 34 years, so who cares?
Louie: Well, Chuck, we have been through a lot since you came to Westside in 1987. Now you raise bull terriers along with your other hobbies. I provided lots of education so younger lifters won’t make the mistakes we did. We saw many lifters stop lifting for all kinds of reasons, and Westside built the best male and female lifters of all time. I know we are both proud of what Westside became. The flame hat you wore should be in its own Hall of Fame!
Thanks for sitting down with me and talking about the old times.