Child stars are invariably more fucked up than a bondage scat porn film set to the looped theme songs of beloved childrens’ movies, yet the world constantly looks at them, hands wringing, and wonders “why?” and “how could we have saved them?” when in fact the answer is usually obvious. It likely surprised no one when Dana Plato offed herself with Valium after years of being shit-poor on the heels of starring in Diff’rent Strokes- her cunt mom had been forcing the kid through audition after audition as a toddler, and Plato was whacked out of her head on coke as a 14 year old actress. Same goes for Justin Bieber- the world will breathe a collective sigh of relief when that human shitstain hangs himself in a closet wearing nothing but a pair of thigh high stockings and a butt plug after being forced into pop stardom by an overbearing, formerly drug addicted, super ripshit pissed for Jesus (yet hates the Jews) mother. Though strength sports rarely have child stars, they’re not immune to this issue either- that’s why when Phil Grippaldi, former protege of bouncer and bodyguard to the half-dead starvation model Twiggy, got arrested as the world’s oldest crack dealer at age 61, exactly no one was surprised.
Born in 1946 in the postapocalyptic nuclear wasteland of New Jersey, Grippaldi started training at age 14 under the watchful eye of a massive amateur, non-competitive bodybuilder Mike Gubliano. Gubliano had this little guido trashing his arms for three hours a day in the company of like-minded spaghetti-gobbling benchbros, and by age 16 all of his hard work paid off. No, Redditors, the kid didn’t end up in a cemetery from doing hours of curls and close grip bench presses every single day- he ended up a 16 year old kid with 19 inch arms weighing under 190 lbs, and likely more sopping wet vagina thrown at him on the street on a daily basis than most of us will see in the span of our lives (Everson, Gallagher “Phil” 2).
Shortly thereafter, Grippaldi met the coach of the legendary Keasby Eagles weightlifting team, which churned out badass American Olympic weightlifters throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In his weightlifting debut, Grippaldi smashed the Junior World Record at 90kg by 35 lbs, then entered the Senior Nationals for his second meet and placed second to world record holder Bill March with another Junior World Record in the press with a 348 lb attempt. The following year he switched coaches and broke his own record again with a 352 press. At this point, the dude with arms so fucking big that he was studied by Soviet scientists seemed like he was on the verge of bending over the Eastern block and fucking it in the ear by himself. That, however, was not exactly how things would play out.
“The grimly serious Grippaldi’s arms were so hypertrophied from bodybuilding done in his teens that the Russian weightlifting experts at the Soviet Academy of Sport—in an article translated for American magazines—diagnosed those prodigious arms as the cause of a technique problem that inhibited his ultimate success. Phil may have been okay with that. He didn’t get Olympic gold, but a silver medal and a band of worshippers is not too bad” (McKeen 87) .
In 1968, Grippaldi beat weightlifting legend Bill March in the national championships like he was a 20 year old Mike Tyson going up against an aging Joe Frazier, clocking a sick 1,055 lb three lift total. Grippaldi went on to be a sensation on the international circuit, racking up some incredibly impressive finishes for an American whose nation had turned its collective back on weightlifting 20 years prior. Working as a teacher by day and putting in 20 to 30 hours of training a day, Grippaldi continued to log massive numbers, even after his pet exercise, the press, was discarded like a used condom to cut down on duration of weightlifting meets (Gallagher “Phil”). In spite of his nearly legendary success, however, an elbow injury sustained in competition in 1980 destroyed Grippaldi’s Olympic gold aspirations, although he attempted a comeback training only his legs that was apparently comprised of nothing but thousands of 1,000 pound-plus leg presses (McKeen 93). No one’s quite sure how a teacher consumed with lifting could only have an ending crazier than the beginning, it seems, but it seems only fitting looking at the way he lived.
Phil Grippaldi’s Relevant Stats
Weight: 195 lbs.
Arms: 20″-22″ (depending on the source)
Clean and Press: 396 lbs.
Clean and Jerk: 451 lbs.
Snatch: 341 lbs.
1st- 1967 Pan American Games, 90kg
2nd- 1970 World Championship, 90kg (160kg Press, 140kg Snatch, 190kg Jerk)
1st- 1971 Pan American Games, 90kg
1st- 1975 Pan American Games, 90kg
By all accounts, Phil Grippaldi’s training methods ranged from “jesus fuck, he’s a maniac” to “my eyes are bleeding watching this guy.” According to Jeff McKeen, a light warmup prior to pulling consisted of 5 totally cold reps with 495 on the squat, at which point he was ready to rock. The guys around him considered him to be a demi-god, so Grippaldi was always the one setting the pace for their marathon workouts. Thought the workouts varied widely, their mainstay lifts almost never changed. On average, Grippaldi’s workouts looked like this:
Monday, Wednesday, Friday
Clean and Jerk
Four 10 second holds in full extended position
Total on all three lifts
Unlike most Olympic lifters of the time, Grippaldi absolutely refused to quit curling and benching, and for that reason often had trouble making weight at meets (Charniga). Though most Olympic lifters though bench pressing would impede their shoulder flexibility, Grippaldi just knocked out shoulder dislocates before, during, and after benching to maintain a full range of motion. Additionally, Grippaldi was famous in his gym for breaking lifts down into their component parts and training his weak points doing that. This is how he build his press to such prodigious poundages- he’d identify component parts and use unrelated lifts to strengthen different parts of each lift, rotating the assistance work on a weekly basis (Gallagher “Grippaldi”).
To make his sick overhead press so disgusting it caused nubile women to spontaneously ovulate in his presence, Grippaldi did the following three things:
- Blast his body with a wide array of non-shoulder specific assistance exercises
- Focus on press-related assistance exercises
- Refine his technique like a hipster refines his palette for wine tastings
In regards to the first point, which might seem about as sensible as owning one of those massive diesel pickup trucks dudes with micropenises have embraced during a global energy crunch, Grippaldi identified his abs and intercostals as incredibly important factors in his press. Just as it’d be retarded to build a house on a sinkhole, it’d be fucking stupid to attempt and overhead press with a weak midsection. According to the man himself, “A lifter must have excellent abdominal and intercostal strength and to that end it is imperative that the lifter employ some of the following abdominal exercises in his routine. Ab work aids in creating the ‘giant spring.’ During the Olympic press the abs and hips must be coordinated to create the initial thrust. On a related note: remember to drive the hips forward as the weight is being pressed. A lifter must isolate and work on his thrust” (Gallagher “Grippaldi”)
Everyone’s heard about the exercise du jour in that era for abs- guys like Serge Nubret and Frank Zane were famous for building their shredded midsections with thousands of unweighted Roman Chain situps. While Grippaldi gave no fucks about stepping on a bodybuilding stage, he did take a page out of the bodybuilders’ book and start doing Roman chair situps holding a 20kg plate either behind his head or on his chest. Unlike Frank Zane, who would do sets of over 50 reps, Grippaldi held his shenanigans to 20 reps or less (Ibid).
After he knocked out abs, Grippaldi would flip over and do weighted hyperextensions to build thick spinal erectors. This was the exercise of the Russians, and powered some of their most famous lifters to greatness just on the strength of their spine. Though some Russians did these with a 220lb barbell behind their neck, Grippaldi stuck to a plate behind the neck or held to the chest and kept his reps between 5 and 15 (Ibid).
Grippaldi’s direct shoulder assistance work was fairly conventional. It consisted of:
70-degree Incline Barbell Press- 6 x 5
Push press- 5 x 3
Isotonic/isometric rack pressing- 4 x 3. This bears some explanation, as this was incredibly popular in the 1970s but has completely fallen out of use, likely because racks only come with a single set of pins. Should you have access to two sets for a single rack, here’s how these are done- break the lift into thirds. Set one set of pins at the bottom third of the rep and the other set at the top, then press the barbell from one set of pins to the other, holding the third rep against the top pins for 3-5 seconds.
“There was something wrong with us. We chose a sport with no pot of gold and no rainbow. Weightlifters didn’t get appearance fees or product endorsements, do commercials or interviews, and most spent their entire income on their training and travel to competitions. Some lifters got fed up, and turned pro wrestler, or switched to the new sport of professional strongman competition; the strong legs and backs of Olympic lifters made it a natural transition.
And we usually passed on fun. Fun was tied to spontaneity outside of the weight room. Skiing for the weekend? Might get injured. Trip to the Outer Banks? Where should I train? “You are going to the gym on Christmas Day?” my wife demanded, incredulous.
“It’s Wednesday. Wednesday is jerk day. I’ll just be a couple of hours,” I said.
“It is Jerk Day, isn’t it?” She turned away. Why the turn wasn’t permanent, I’m not sure.
All that for the possible reward of respect by a few thousand or so Olympic lifters in the country, of being a Grippaldi. We few, we slap-happy few” (McKee 90-91).
So, he might not have ended up a world champion… and he might have ended up a piece of shit slinging crack rock on the corner, but for a decade, Phil “The Man With Four Legs” Grippaldi was the baddest motherfucker under 200lbs the world had ever seen, and was regarded as a god. He represented everything awesome about an entire generation of lifters to that generation. For ten years, no one looked back to the past for inspiration- they just looked across a dimly lit shithole of a gym to a dude with sides of beef for arms and an abject hatred of being a mere human.
Charniga, Jr., Andrew. There Is No System, Part IV. Sportivnypress. 2009. Web. 25 Jan 2014. http://www.sportivnypress.com/documents/54.html
Connelly, Michael. An Informal Boston Education: Boston Boomers, Beaches, Buddies, Broads, Bars, Beer, Baseball, and Barbells. Bloomington: iUniverse, 2007.
Everson, Jeff. True Or False. The tight tan slacks of Dezso Ban. 30 Sept 2008. Web. 25 Jan 2014. http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2008/09/true-or-false-jeff-everson.html
Gallagher, Marty. Grippaldi the Great: How to Train the Overhead Press. 1 Aug 2013. Web. 25 Jan 2014. http://startingstrength.com/index.php/site/article/grippaldi_the_great_how_to_train_the_overhead_press/P3#.UuSHtPQo5tQ
Gallagher, Marty. Phil Grippaldi: Boy Wonder. Starting Strength. 2012. Web. 24 Sep 2014. http://startingstrength.com/articles/grippaldi_history_gallagher.pdf
McKeen, Jay. Heavy Metal Days. Cimarron Review. May 2012. Web. 24 Sep 2014. http://cimarronreview.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/169mckeen.pdf