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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Vasily Alekseyev, RIP

Vasily Alekseyev, the Olympic superheavyweight weightlifting champion in 1972 and 1976, died last week in Russia. Starting in 1970, he set a total of 80 world records, and was widely considered to be the world's strongest man during that decade. He was the first man to clear 600 kilograms in the Olympic lifts, and ended up with a best of 645 kilograms.

Alekseyev embodied the principle that real, usable strength, and pretty Hollywood muscles are not the same thing. At about the same time Alexeyev was winning his second gold medal, Arnold Schwarzenegger was winning the first of his titles as Mr. Olympia. But Schwarzenegger would have been as out of place in an Olympic weight-lifting competition as Alekseyev would have been at a Mr. Olympia pose-off.

At his prime, Alekseyev stood 6'1" and weighed 350. Schwarzenegger was 6'2" and weighed 220. 

Schwarzenegger's workout routine was geared towards isolating individual muscles, and growing and sculpting them. Alekseyev's was geared toward being able to lift massive amounts of weight. My guess is that Schwarzenegger would have been lucky to lift half of what Alekseyev did in the Olympic lifts, which require utilizing all of your muscles at once, and having great tendon strength and grip strength. Olympic lifting also requires great coordination and balance, as well as a little bit of speed. Alekseyev almost seemed to use the momentum generated from his huge torso to jerk the weights upward.

Alekseyev's type of strength would have been far more useful, say, on a farm. After Schwarzenegger had driven the small tractor into a ditch because he was admiring his biceps rather than paying attention to where he was going, Alekseyev could have pushed it out.

Of course, Alekseyev would also have been laughed off the stage at Mr. Olympia.

Just maybe not to his face.

Alekseyev reigned at a time when steroids were already extant, especially in the eastern bloc. It would beggar common sense to suggest that one of the Soviet Union's premier athletes was never doped up; but Alekseyev didn't look as if he was. He always looked seven months pregnant, and didn't have the type of bulging, defined muscles, especially the trapezius (between the neck and shoulder) which characterize steroid users. While wearing street clothes he could easily have been mistaken for just another big fatty.

With his huge body, vaguely ethnic look, perpetually unshaven face, and usually disgruntled expression, Alekseyev looked like one of the bad guys in a Schwarzenegger film -- you know, the type who might have given Arnold a decent fight before Arnold sent him flying with one of his trademark haymakers. But had the two ever met, and had the director ever suggested they go at it for real, Vasily Alekseyev would not have been the one to be picked up and sent flying.


Brian Fradet said...

How can I gain his kind of weight--just 20 or so pounds of it? Am I asking to much. Yesterday I was becoming optomistic as the scale said 141 and almost a half. Now today it says 139--and that's after a huge steak last night. I need healthy weight, not from jelly dough nuts. John--kindly show me what to do. Thanks in advance. B

John Craig said...

Brian --
I'm probably not the right person to ask, but it's my impression that the best way to gain muscle is to do dead lifts, squats, bench, and pull-ups. work your way up to heavy weights, do these exercises only twice a week, and stay out of the pool and away from other cardio exercises.

The problem with that routine, though, is it's not healthy. It's easy to injure yourself working up to heavy weights (you have to be careful to warm up slowly), and you may lose some flexibility. Plus the fact is, it's almost impossible to gain any really significant muscle after the age of 23.The best we can realistically hope for at our age is to only go downhill very slowly.

If you're really determined, go on steroids (like Arnold). Wait -- I didn't say that. You'll cut years off your life, but you'll feel like a real stud while you're on them.

I've actually seen a number of people in masters swimming who I'm fairly sure are on either steroids or human growth hormone. Disgusting, but true.