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Stiff's memories of that meeting are equally vivid, though he expresses them in a voice somewhat less likely to register notably on the Richter scale. "Lamar was already so strong I knew he had the capability to break a world record," he says. "All he needed was the desire, and he had that from the beginning. Lamar never missed a workout. Not ever. Even if he had to hitch a ride, he'd be at my home in the evenings for our sessions. He trained so hard I've seen his hands bleed, literally, after one of his marathon deadlifting sessions.
"He used a deadlift routine based on one I'd gotten from an old professional strongman from Grand Rapids, Harold Ansorge, and it was amazing to watch. Especially the way Lamar did it. I remember one day when he was about 18 seeing him do 25 sets of five repetitions in the deadlift. Twenty-five sets! With the heaviest at 585 pounds—well over the world record in his class for one rep! And this was after he'd done squats and bench presses. He called it his Monster Man routine, and I suppose it was hardly what you'd call your basic health spa workout."
The result of Gant's combination of natural aptitude and godawful training schedule was that his small frame quickly became overstrapped with thick layers of fat-free flesh. Stiff recalls that tests conducted 10 years ago at the University of Michigan revealed that only 2% of Gant's bodyweight was fat. By comparison, an average college athlete has a body fat percentage of 16%. And Gant was eating a balanced diet of the sort recommended by most mainstream nutritionists, not the extreme, near-zero-carbohydrate regimens often followed by the few bodybuilders who have come near to having only 2% body fat.
Even today, when he rarely trains as hard as he did during his teens, Gant retains the paper-thin skin and muscularity usually seen only in bodybuilders when they've severely dehydrated themselves for competition. The only way such hypermuscularity can be explained is metabolism. Apparently Gant's metabolic engine is so well tuned that it converts almost everything he eats into muscle, blood, bone, tendons, ligaments, organs, teeth and hair. Anything but embonpoint.
So he has a muscular body. But what can he do with it? How strong is he when compared with the best lifters in the other 10 powerlifting classes? Let's look at the deadlift, because it's the basic test of body strength in athletics. It involves simply bending down, grasping a bar with both hands and then straightening the body to a normal standing position, arms down at the sides and the bar resting across the front of the thighs. It isn't a pretty athletic event in the way even a snatch can be in weightlifting, but a heavy deadlift is impressive.
Gant is the only man ever to deadlift more than five times his own weight. His lift was 638 in the 123-pound class, an attainment that, according to the Schwartz formula, which allows competitors of various sizes to compare lifting ability, gives him primacy over all powerlifters, past or present. Leaving aside the Schwartz formula and using the simpler pound-for-pound method of comparison, powerlifting's other world-record holders would have to lift the following amounts more than their marks to reach five times their own weight (assume a 325-pound lifter in superheavyweight):
114-pound class 59.5 pounds
In the 132-pound class, in which he has won three of his nine world titles, Gant's world record is 654 pounds, seven pounds shy of five times his weight, but several times in practice he has lifted 661 pounds when his weight was 132 pounds or less. He has also done such stupendous training feats as 615 pounds for five repetitions and 500 for 20 reps.
Not surprisingly, Gant is ideally built for the deadlift. His trunk is extremely short for his height, which means that the lever arm made up of the distance from his shoulders to his hips is short. For reasons having to do with the basic law of mechanics, a man with a shorter lever arm can lift more than a man with a longer one, all other things being equal. Gant's arms also are relatively long (32" inseam), an advantage best understood by imagining how much easier the deadlift would be if you could put the bar up on blocks several inches high. In short—or, rather, in long—Gant's arms allow him the luxury of lifting the weight a shorter distance. Those long arms are partly responsible for the fact that, at the conclusion of a heavy deadlift, Gant's hands are only an inch or two above the tops of his kneecaps.
This causes anyone with experience in powerlifting who sees Gant deadlift for the first time to do a double take, because it somehow looks as if he were free of the obstacle any lifter encounters on any lift—the sticking point (or point of least leverage). Anyone who has bench-pressed knows the feeling: A weight that was easily lifted off the chest seems to run into a wall of resistance about halfway up to full arm extension. If the lifter is able to push through that wall, the resistance gradually disappears, making the last few inches of the bench press the easiest.