In the past I’ve been asked why I focus so heavily on the outliers in the strength community, rather than the more conventional lifters who’ve had success over the years in a more reserved fashion. The answer is quite frankly that greatness and boring rarely coincide, and where they do it is more coincidence than a causal relationship. The clock-punching Rudy-style workhorse who starts at the bottom with no talent and achieves marginal success from a refusal to give up and a no-shucks-given attitude only inspires pussies to continue being pussies. Moreover, they’re boring as hell, and succeeded not because of their utter lack of personality but despite it. I’d go so far as to say I despise those people, because they convince the weak sauce posers in the lifting community that they belong in the presence of titans simply because they take the same supplements and wear similar clothes.
Damn that noise- it’s the Benny Poddas of the world who are the humans to be admired and emulated. Not indeed but in spirit- in the refusal to take the easy road to mediocrity, in the desire to be the shot heard round the world rather than some fitspiration douche in melon colored joggers. People who find the average human to be utterly disgusting and aren’t afraid to show it, because normality is a disease to be avoided by anyone with a scintilla of a desire to be someone who shall be remembered by successive generations.
Lest you think that I am simply holding aloft a pack of weightlifting sideshow freaks as people to emulate, you needn’t- these dudes weren’t simply weird and violent for the sake of being weird and violent. They were weird and violent because it was in their nature to be that way, and that nature is what propelled them to the top levels of bodybuilding and the upper echelon of elite strength. Follow in their footsteps or don’t- I don’t give a good goddamn. Just know that the road less traveled is the more interesting one, and the one from which there is the most to be learned.
Benny Podda Vital Statistics
Weight: 215 – 255lbs
Squat: 850lbs x 1 rep; 315lbs x 50 reps, FOR FIVE SETS
Bent Row (for reps): 500lbs
Bar balanced on throat, no hands, for more than a minute: 415lbs
Just the fact that the last bit could be included is a testament to how goddamned awesome and ridiculous Benny Podda was in his prime. The man’s life is like a Warner Brothers cartoon come to life and turned X-rated. He’s trained elite athletes and blockbuster actors, shunned the spotlight more than he’s sought it, and combined more esoterica into a single cohesive (at least to him) training methodology and lifestyle than even Bruce Lee considered doing.
Benny Podda out-weirded dudes in bodybuilding at a time when those dudes lived on Nubian and cocaine, claiming crazy superpowers like vampirism in bodybuilding contests that featured everything from Lilliputians to maniacs who’d jump offstage screaming because they broke both ankles (like Mike Quinn) but would get high fives rather than medical attention to Jimmy “The Iron Bull” Pellechia’s outrageous strength stunts consisting of moving massive poundages over short ranges of motion with a lot of help from spotters and a ton of body English.
“You know that feeling when you’re blowing your load?” he asks. “Instead of letting that go out, you reverse the whole thing. It feels like your body is on f***ing FIRE! I lift weights with that [energy] coursing through my body and my ticking testosterone a thousand-times normal–’cause I just f***ed myself.” Then he smiles calmly. “See? That’s why I can hang 220 pounds from my f***in’ nuts.”
Frankly, I’ve no idea if it helps or hurts to list the weirdest bits about Benny first. Redditors would argue that it hurts, due to the fact they think his eccentricity discredits his entire methodology. Given that I’m inclined to do the exact opposite of whatever Reddit says, I’ll begin with what I consider to be the best parts about a guy who likely warmed up with the best lifts r/weight room has ever posted as max attempts.
- He lives in a goddamned cave. That’s right, a cave.
“To get to Benny’s cave, you must first go to a remote waterfall to be purified. This is especially important for first timers. You don’t want the cave to reject you–when this happens, it induces terror. “Your soul is rented from your body in a spiritual tear,” Benny explains. So, you suffer the pain and indignities of purification. The water pours down on you with the shocking force of spiritual flagellation.
The cave’s climate is reminiscent of Podda’s Pittsburgh: hotter than hell in the summer, freezing cold in the winter. The cave has been
inhabited for thousands of years, Benny says, and it leads to an outdoor amphitheater with perfect acoustics that can only be reached via the cave. ‘The opening is a vaginal orifice. In initiation ceremonies, the Cahuilla would pass through it one by one to be ‘reborn’ as warriors'” (O’Connell).
- He takes training like an escaped mental patient to an
entirely different level.
Forget Intensity or Insanity, Blood and Guts, and all the other
rhabdo-inducing, man-killer regimes of which you’ve heard. Podda’s
methodology makes all that crap look like the produce of a bottom-tier USAPL lifter’s mind… if you discount the fact that information on the Mongols’ training techniques is, at best, extremely scanty.
“Philosophically, Benny merges German Sturm und Drang, Eastern asceticism and a lot of other weird s***. “My physical training is based on the philosophies of Genghis Khan,” Benny says. “He taught his troops the importance of exterior and interior training.
His warriors learned how to turn themselves inside out so that they could project their inner power out like lightning” (O’Connell).
His psych up methods make even WSM-era Kaz look like a
vanilla chai latte sipping vegan men’s physique competitor.
He once ran straight through a wall, Wile E. Coyote-style, to psych himself up for a heavy lift. In another fit of apparent Super Saiyanism, Benny ran full tilt into a lineman from the Pittsburgh Steelers, who was not lifting but talking on a pay phone. Not only did this early predecessor to crowd killing crush CYC’s best efforts to date just on their face, but Podda managed not only to knock a 285 lb. man who benched over 600lbs ass over teakettle, but he headbutted him with such force that the pay phone was ripped out of the goddamned wall.
He had a bizarre pharmacological and herbological
regimen that led to stuff like this:
“Fueled by everything from the visualization techniques of Vipasanna Buddhism to anabolic steroids and herbal concoctions that he drank
from root-filled mayonnaise jars, Benny trained like a human wrecking ball. Manion recalls walking into his establishment one day and seeing Benny doing reps with his head wrapped in a blood-drenched towel, others scattered nearby. “The cable had snapped on a long cable-row machine and the handle had hit him on the head,” recalls Manion. “He had to keep replacing the towels when they got soaked with blood. I made a guy take him to the hospital, and it took 12 stitches to close the open wound in his head” (O’Connell).
- He transcends every possible conception of what is
“cool,” “possible,” or “human,” and shows just how goddamned brutal people can be if they stop letting society dictate what their behavior should be, think for themselves, and not be afraid to try stuff that is so far out of the box they’ve forgotten what boxes look like.
“I have seen Benny break bricks with magazines, crush coconuts with his bare hands, squirt blood out of his nose, and swing 225
pounds from his testicles. This is NOT Benny being crazy, this is him
transferring energy and power to accomplish what he wants accomplished. He puts himself in a state of mind that defies any normal brain patterns you and I may have which gives him the ability to do these abnormal things, like take a 2×4 to the gut and smile while doing it. When Benny was doing his body building contests, he would invite a couple people from the audience to come up and hit
him with 2×4’s while he did his routine. Nothing is normal with Benny, normal is boring to him” (O’Connell).
Quite frankly, with a laundry list of violent peculiarities like that, you’d assume some sort of fittingly comic-book-esque backstory, like the man was raised in the weight room of an insane asylum by a kindly, elderly Chinese orderly and his trained attack monkeys. Tragically, it was nothing so interesting, and no one could have predicted upon Podda’s birth the path his life would take. Born in a tiny mining town east of Pittsburgh into an old bootlegging family, Podda’s boredom in a small town led to his involvement in a variety of extra-legal activities that definitively included car theft and possibly included acting as muscle for local mobsters. What the mob was doing in Bumblef***, Pennsylvania is absolutely anyone’s guess, but that allegedly led to Benny being sent to China to live with a family friend
for five years. Given that we had neither travel nor trade with Nixon until the mid-to-late 1970s, that story is almost certainly specious. What did happen is that Benny acted like a complete goddamned maniac and tried to rob a pharmacy with a goddamned bow and arrow. He was apparently shot in that failed attempt at stone age weaponry to secure painkillers and landed his happy ass in prison.
Substitute a couple of letters after the “S” and swap a blind kid in a hospital for a murderous psychopath in solitary confinement and this could be a case of art imitating life, because Stick wasn’t introduced until 1981 and Podda might’ve met The Swan in the 1970s.
Prison only served to make the already nutty Benny even stranger, and in a story seemingly lifted right out of a Daredevil comic book Podda was taught to master his chi by a man in solitary confinement
known as “The Swan”… after beating his cellmate half to death with
a food tray. While Podda mastered his chi he apparently spent long hours reading various esoterica like the Bhagavad Gita, and he emerged from jail even more peculiar than he was when he entered. Nevertheless, he went on to nab a football scholarship at the University of Richmond, where he majored in biochemistry, but he ended up doing more drinking than training and studying and was expelled.
At some point in this story, Benny Podda started lifting, and he discovered he was a goddamned badass at it. After dabbling in powerlifting he gravitated toward bodybuilding and became a legend
in the East Coast bodybuilding scene for his psychotic training style and zany posing routines. Benny knew he lacked the classic lines of the pretty boys of that era like Mohammed Makkawwy, Chris Dickerson, and Samir Bannout, so he went the other way and tried to drive his black-hole-dense physique to the limits of thickness and vascularity. Doing that, however, required him to take it to the extreme… which to Benny seems to have meant that he had to
live in a small, windowless room with nothing but a cot and a stack of books. Apparently, his “Spartan lifestyle was a purposeful attempt to avoid distractions from his goals. So devoted was he to his goals that “The Beast” would wake up three hours before his 6:30 AM workout to perform Taoist meditation” (Colescott). By the time he got onstage, Benny was completely unhinged, and his performances reflected his mental state- he’d flex so hard blood would spurt out of his goddamned nose, rock Wolfman masks, and do other bizarre stuff, including the one time he hung himself for 5 straight minutes and then lifted his head and gave the audience the finger before cutting himself down.