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Big Jim Williams - Powerlifting Legend

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The following info was provided by Magnus…

Big Jim Williams - Powerlifting Legend

Big Jim Williams: World’s Greatest Bench Presser!

Jim Williams – to older guys in the iron game an almost mythical figure at the top of the bench press tree – to young guys an old name that has been surpassed by today’s top lifters. The truth? Read this and maybe you will agree Jim was the greatest bencher of them all!


Back in the early 1960s Jim entered his first power contest in the YMCA at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. At that time so called ‘odd’ lift contests had not been around for long and generally consisted of 3 lifts such as the squat, benchpress, barbell curl, Zercher squat etc. Jim benched 430 lb. and totalled 1405 lb. for first place.

Jim’s first big contest was the Junior National Championships held in Patterson, New Jersey and by this time the name ‘powerlifting’ was in use, the 3 lifts contested being the benchpress, squat and either the barbell curl or the deadlift. Jim tied Ernie Pickett for first place with a total of 1705 lb. and lost due to his heavier bodyweight.

Finally remembering some dates, Jim lifted at the Senior Nationals in York, Pennsylvania in 1969 and benched 601 lb. becoming the second man (after Pat Casey) to reach 600.Jim totalled 2,000 lb. making him the third lifter to reach this milestone but once again placed second.

1970 Saw Jim enter the Seniors in New Orleans, Louisiana where he benched 615 lb. but he finally eclipsed Casey’s record to become the benchpress king with 628 lb. later that year at the Junior Middle Atlantic Championships in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Next came the first World Powerlifting Championships in York, Pennsylvania in November 1971, staged by Bob Hoffman who did not like powerlifting stealing prospective Olympic lifters but was not going to let someone else take the prestige for holding this contest. Jim weighed in at 328 lb. and benchpressed 660 lb. (300 kg 10 years before Kazmaier did it!). Jim was the favourite to win and his young training partner John Kuc to come in second but Hugh ‘huge’ Cassidy spoiled that plan by winning on lighter bodyweight, weighing 290 lb. and totalling 2,160 lb. Jim was beaten on bodyweight many times and it was his deadlift letting him down as his bench and squat were world beating. Due to his huge 48 inch waist and 34 inch thighs he could not get into a good position to pull a deadlift and almost stiff-legged his lifts.

After this Jim was invited to a power meet at Bordentown Reformity in New Jersey and benched 650, squatted 860 and deadlifted 725 to total a record 2,235 lb. The squat actually weighed 865 and was so easy everyone tried to persuade him to become the first to squat 900 as he had an attempt left but Jim saved it for the deadlift and never did make 900 in competition.

Jim’s last contest was the 1972 World’s held in York again. Jim was the favourite but a new threat beat him; his training partner John Kuc! John had gained 50 lb. more bodyweight since 1971 and his squat had increased from 755 to 905 – he also became the third man to reach a 600 benchpress and deadlifted 845 to total a record 2.345 lb. (the squat was counted as 900 in the total). Jim had his glory in the benchpress making 675 lb. and got a final attempt at 700 to within an inch of lockout! With today’s looser standard of judging that probably would have been passed.

Aside from powerlifting Jim dabbled with arm-wrestling but did not really train for it, relying on sheer strength to win. His greatest match was against Maurice ‘Moe’ Baker (sorry I don’t remember the year) when Moe was at the top of his game. Even though Jim lost it took Moe 55 seconds of all-out effort to win and he paid tribute to Jim by saying ‘if I had Jim’s strength I could beat anyone anywhere.’ Moe said facing up to Jim was intimidating because he was so massive, and if Jim had learned arm-wrestling techniques he would have been unbeatable.

That was it for Jim as his erratic private life spoiled future plans, regular visits to the penitentiary being the outcome of his criminal activities. Jim (or ‘Chimsey’ as he was known by his friends) was a gentle giant who was often led astray into a dangerous lifestyle and paid for it with prison sentences, but the aim of this article is to highlight his iron game career so I will say no more about his private life.


Peak measurements: Bodyweight approx. 350 lb., height 6 feet 1 and half inches, Chest 59 inches, thighs 34 and half inches, calves 22 inches (!), arms 23 inches, deltoids measured from back to front 12 inches thick, forearms 17 and three-quarter inches (!), waist 48 inches.

Pretty big don’t you think? Yet as big as Jim was he could still jump and touch the rim of a basketball hoop, throw the discus, ran third leg on a half mile relay team and played at fullback and tackle positions in American football!

You may also think Jim’s training would be typical low volume, low rep superheavyweight fare – in fact Jim’s training included such a massive amount of volume that even Bill Kazmaier’s high volume workout looked easy by comparison. Believe it or not Jim benched 5 days a week and when building up his body did his entire upper body 5 days a week, squats 3 days a week and deadlifts twice.

Jim wrote a brief ‘how to benchpress’ article in 1972. In it he stressed the importance of lots of heavy assistance work to build up the body as ‘without the fully-developed man there can be no big benchpress.’ Typically Jim would perform 10 sets of 10 reps per exercise, and as noted hit every upper body muscle group 5 days a week. Jim probably picked up the habit of training for hours every day from one of his early prison stays. A sample day from Jim’s routine follows:

Squat – various sets/reps

Bench Press – 2 sets of 1 rep with 525-550 lbs. 1 set of 10 reps with 315 lbs.

Lat Machine Pull downs to the Neck – 10 sets of 10 reps with 275 lbs.

Lat Machine Pull downs to the Chest – 10 sets of 10 reps with 275 lbs.

Upright Rows – 5 sets of 10 reps with 100-250 lbs.

Deadlift – various sets/reps

Incline Dumbbell Press – 10 sets of 10 reps with 135 lbs.

Jim Williams Front Plate Lift – 10 sets of 10 reps with 100 lbs.

Dumbbell Curls – 10 sets of 10 reps with 75-100 lbs.

Lying Triceps Extensions – 6 sets: 15 reps (135 lbs.) -3 reps (325 lbs.)  Plus 1 burnout set with 200 lbs.

Triceps Pushdowns – Entire stack various sets/reps

That was just one day and the other 4 days included a similar amount of work although the exercises may have been different. Some examples include Pullover presses for 8 sets starting with 135 lb. for 10 reps and working up to 425 lb. for 5 reps! Standing barbell curls 6 sets going from 135 lb. for 10 reps to 275 lb. for 3 reps. As you can see, Jim was doing a huge amount of work each day and hitting the same body parts with heavy weights and high volume 5 days a week! Jim did not believe in training each body part only once in a week, instead declaring ‘think of a chef – a chef cooks every day to get good at what they do, not once a week. I am like a chef, I practise my skill (lifting) every day and that’s my secret!’

Jim’s special exercises for benching were the Lying Shrug with dumbbells typically done for 10 sets of 10 reps with 150 lb. bells, and forced reps benchpress. The forced reps consisted of the benchpress lowered slowly then lifted with assistance from his training partner. The key to these was using 100 lb. OVER his max. Bench!

In 1972 Jim and John Kuc put in an appearance at the York Barbell gym and performed a very heavy workout which stopped the gym! Jim said ‘John and I used all the weight in the gym and after a while all the weightlifters that were there stopped training and sat down and watched us!’ In this workout Jim and John both squatted 900 lb. and John benched 600. Jim benched 705 and John said ‘it was a perfect competition-legal bench with 2 second pause on the chest. There were judges in the gym but no one did anything about officially recognising it.’ Worse, Jim received no recognition for his 675 lb. benchpress either, because the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) was formed and took over official contests from 1973 onwards, and they started with a clean slate by ignoring all the records that had been set before they existed. This led to Don Reinhoudt being able to claim that he held all the world records in the superheavy class a couple of years later. Don’s ‘world record’ benchpress? 606lb. A very good lift indeed but a long way behind Jim’s best.

A couple more memories from John Kuc – in his book ‘John Kuc speaks’ John says ‘there were times when Jim would finish his bench routine and walk up to an Olympic bar loaded at 405 lb. He would clean and press it in strict style with no warm-up other than his bench pressing. The man had unparalleled upper body power.’

John trained with Jim but did not bench 5 days a week saying it was too much for him, and during this time said Jim had reduced his assistance work almost to zero after at least 10 years of building up on his high- volume workout. By this time Jim was benching more than 600 nearly every day in training and it was more than enough workload to maintain his upper body.

Why Jim was the greatest bench presser of them all!

Today’s record ‘raw’ bench (without bench shirt) is 715 lb. – heavier than Jim’s best. But while I take my hat off to Scot Mendelson for lifting this, a comparison of styles proves Jim was stronger:

First, today’s lifters use a very high arch to cut the distance the bar moves and this adds up to 10 – 15% to a max lift. Jim in his 1972 benchpress article talked about setting up on the bench using a normal (not high) arch, and photos of Jim and John Kuc show they benched with almost no arch at all!

Second, leg drive can add 5% or more to a max – in contrast Jim advised lifters to ‘place your feet in a comfortable position, then forget them and concentrate on pressing the weight.’

Third, Jim’s lifts were performed with a minimum pause on his chest of 2 seconds, whereas generally today the bar touches down and is pressed almost immediately, gaining maybe 3 to 5% advantage.

Fourth, today’s bench record-holders specialise on the bench and set records in bench only contests, whereas Jim trained all 3 lifts hard and was a record squatter as well. If Jim had been a one-lift specialist we can speculate that it might have added another 10% to his bench.

And finally, Jim used ace bandages around his elbows which may have helped a little but did not use wrist wraps which are allowed in most raw contests – but just to be very fair let’s take off 5% from Jim’s bench. Total all 5 points and we can guess that Jim may have added 25% to his best, making 705 up to 881 lb. or 400 kg!!

Could it have been possible? We will never know, but I think even the most cautious followers of this argument would agree that Jim would have out-lifted Scot who is 10 lb. ahead of Jim over 40 years after Jim did his best lifting.

That’s all folks – if any of you out there know other interesting things about Jim please post on this thread – I would love to know more about Scranton’s superman!


The following info was provided by Ray Nobile…

excellent article. i spoke to john kuc in 1980 at the worlds in texas.he said that he and jim trained the bench press heavy 5 days a week.after a while this was too much for big jim modified the workout,they still benched heavy 5 days, however they never went over a total of 21 reps per workout.example reps went like this….6 5 then 5 sets of 2.or it could even be 7 sets of 3.or any combination not exceeding 21.he said this was a better system for him.this was the early days in the late sixties early seventies.

The following info was provided by Magnus…

Thanks for the info Ray,

This 21 rep system must have been during Jim’s peak when he had cut the assistance work and was benching 600 plus nearly every day.

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