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Wraps, Suits and Shirts - Some History

Strength Oldschool

By Dr. Ken E. Leistner

Inzer Supersuit

I’ll give you the Part I story on wraps because it involved Zuver’s Gym. This will be an introduction so to speak, on how all of this started and I’ll pick the rest of it up tomorrow or the next day. Tom Overholtzer was Pat Casey’s protoge. When Pat had his gym in Seal Beach (CA) and was a police officer, he trained Tom. When Pat sold the gym, Tom trained at Zuver’s.

Bob Zuver - Famous Gym

He had a back and forth battle in meets with Jack Barnes of Arizona. At 181, both were flirting with a 600 squat. In Calif. from 1966-1969, it was the “fashion” to take a pair of very tight jeans (recall that the style in those days was to wear tight pants, at least if you were “hip” which I of course was not) and cut them very short so they could be worn under a lifting singlet. Some guys wore two or more pair of these, one a size larger than the one beneath it.

Zuvers Gym

Obviously, this made for bigger squats. I did not see this until I was in Calif. 1967-68 but it eventually made its way to the East Coast although definitely, it was a Calif phenomenon. At the 1968 Seniors, Tom was “caught”, as some lifters complained to the judges, that some of his teammates were wrapping him in a bedsheet. Placed over the jean shorts, the bedsheet was then wrapped with a layer of Ace bandages. The singlet went on over this. To aid the bench press which was performed first, there was already some static because some lifters had t shirts that went below the elbow, obscuring Ace bandages that had been wrapped around the upper arms and/or chest area.

The judges moaned about the bedsheet but there was no official rule that prohibited any of this. Most guys just wore a weightlifting or wrestling singlet, or a t shirt and shorts (both were acceptable until the rule was change to “singlet”, with or without a t shirt worn UNDER the singlet). After this contest, those in power came to the conclusion that some type of rule was necessary to prevent further “bending” of the attire rules. This led at first to the limiting of “one Ace type bandage”, then included the York rubber/neoprene knee sleeve (and for a few years, the waist belt too!, and then for a one or two year period, no wraps were allowed because guys were sewing two pair of Ace bandages together and calling it “one” Ace bandage. Jerry Jones reportedly cut tennis balls in half and placed them behind his knees beneath his knee wraps. So this was the start of things. George Zangas marketed the first “super suit”, a beige, canvas type of material suit that left blood blisters all over one’s thighs when trying to put it on.

I first want to note that I spoke with Mike Lambert the other day. Mike is a long time friend (decades, who also is ultimately responsible for my wife and I marrying each other as he played Cupid! and he believes that George Frenn and Peanuts West tried to place the half tennis balls behind their knee wraps before Jerry Jones allegedly did.

Peanuts West and George Frenn

Also, at the first World Championship in 1971, he also thought the British team were the first to sew two pair of Ace bandages together in order to take advantage of the “one Ace bandage” knee wrap rule.

After the one year ban on “all wraps” from the AAU, as Steve Baldwin noted, and then the elimination at the same time of the York neoprene knee and waist sleeve(s), George Zangas and his Marathon company came out with the first super suit and that was the brand name. It became the equivalent of Q Tip instead of cotton swab and the generic instead of a brand name for the tight lifting suit made specifically for powerlifting. Dan and Steve will recall how unforgiving the material was. He then began to dye them red, blue, or black but there were an inordinate amount of blowouts with the black ones.

Pete Alaniz came to me around 1982 and wanted to put his own suit out. I agreed to try it and posed for one of his first ads which ran on the back of PLUSA (with some of the tattoos airbrushed out as propriety was the order of the day! for a number of months. Pete said that the black dye seemed to weaken the suit material and his black ones also blew out more frequently than the others. Pete would custom size the suits, whereas the Marathon suits were “off the rack”. Marathon suits were first offered around 1977 or 78 and this was the first time Bob Morris, another of the Zangas/Marathon lifters (Dave Shaw, Larry Kidney, Marvin Phillips, Terry Phillips, etc) made his wide (4″ or 10cm) lifting belt which offered the same thickness and width “all around”.

Powerlifter Dave Shaw

Prior to that, guys would turn their Olympic lifting belts around so that the wide part was in the front for increased abdominal support/pressure and/or wear a towel under the front of their belt for the same reason (in training only, not legal in competition). Bud Mucci then made a suit out in LA to compete with the Marathon and Alaniz Titan suits (1983 or so) but I can’t recall the name. Fred Hatfield came up with his Outlaw suit as Fred II noted, then Inzer, in addition to his shirts (1983-84). Rickey Crain and others have either manufactured or distributed suits under their own name on and off through the years.


* Some interesting info I found online...

"There was a great article in the old Muscle Builder about a zillion years ago ( actually 1973 or so) entitled "Wrap up or Shut Up", written by George Frenn. In a nutshell, Frenn said that since powerlifters handled bone crunching poundages they naturally needed the protection from injury via the extra layers of gear. He recommended canvas shorts worn under a standard singlet, 1-2 6 inch ACE Branch knee wraps and a single ( per elbow) 3 inch ACE brand elbow wrap and wrist wraps. Remember, no such thing as Inzer, Frantz, Ginnie Phillips, Karin Klein, Metal, Titan in those days. Powerlifters had to improvise with old cut off jeans in lieu of briefs, extra wraps, some even resorted to cutting a tennis ball in two and wrapping it behind the knee joint ( ouch!). Some of the lifters on the West Coast were able to hook up with sailmakers and get the actual sailcloth used in ships . These damn things were allegedly so strong that it was like sitting on a heavy box, easily the predecessor of todays sophisticated canvas suits. Tom Overholtzer got "busted" by some judge after a 505 lb Bench for wearing 8 ( count em 8!) tight t-shirts underneath his lifting suit ( 8 ply?????) If you wanted heavier knee wraps than ACE, you went to a fabric store and asked for the nylon edging used in curtains and other heavier fabrics. You could buy rolls of the stuff, and if you wanted a 10 yard per knee wrap, ( and could get away with it) you could! By the 80's however, the rules and equipment were standardized, and the judges eyes got a little more "beady" shall we say, and nothing to the left of center was allowed. So, like the previous writer said, there isnt too much new under the sun!" ~ unknown

"One thing I would argue is that the issue of wearing gear to prevent injuries, as George Frenn espoused, is just simply ludicrous. Taking Tom Overholtzer for example, I think he would have been much more likely to have hurt himself doing the 666 lb. mummy-wrapped squat record than his rather pedestrian 480 lb. lift at the 1969 Sr. Natls. Same thing in the bench press.

The lack of wraps would drop poundages so severely that injuries would be much less likely.

The same argument flourished in football where, over the years, protective gear has increased markedly... and so have injuries. The reason? When players are all geared up, they hit each other so much harder and with impunity that injuries occur much more frequently. If they played with nothing more than light protective gear on their heads, it would cut back on the severity of tackles and the blunt force they can throw around today." ~ unknown

* Hope Strength Oldschool fans have found the above article and statements interesting. Please voice your comments below and give your opinion on whether supersuits / bench shirts etc should be allowed in powerlifting competition? Personally speaking, I think the only equipment that should be allowed in powerlifting meets are belts and knee / wrist wraps only. No suits whatsoever! Suits, bench shirts have destroyed the sport of powerlifting. But that's just my opinion.

Here's a video I made on the extremes powerlifters go through now by wearing so much gear coupled with extreme arching techniques in order to bench more weight.


Thanks for reading,

Keep training hard,

Strength Oldschool


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