[This is a complete rewrite of my ancient Chuck Sipes article- the guy was such a goddamned beast he deserves afittingly brutal treatment, and given my penchant for writing about the lifters of the 1950s and 1960s of late, it seemed fitting to just blow away the old article and erect a massive monument to Sipes in its place.]
Over the last couple of articles I have joked about the near-mythical status of the badasses of the 1950s and 1960s, all of whom made insanely heavy lifts commonplace by taking every single modern truism about lifting, dumping it in the trash, and deciding that the solution to every problem in the weight room is more food and harder training. An anathema to the broke dick, science-tastic, weak-as-hell "evidence based" lifters of the modern era who have deluded themselves into thinking that aping the methods of the successful is preposterous, the lifters of the mid-20th Century actually succeeded in the weight room by applying a little observation and introspection and a hell of a lot of effort.
One such lifter is Chuck "The Iron Warrior" Sipes, a paratrooper / lumberjack / powerlifter / bodybuilder / proto-Bear Grylls. More hardcore than one of the kill scenes in I Spit On Your Grave 3, Sipes managed to rock one of the top three physiques in the world while benching 570lbs and working 12 hours a day slaughtering trees like they were hymens after the prom. Though the Olympia title eluded him like he was an ICE agent chasing Dan Akroyd across the US in a eerily precognizant social commentary on American isolationism, Sipes managed to snag the 1959 IFBB “Mr. America”, the 1960 IFBB “Mr. Universe”, the 1967 NABBA “Mr. World”, and the 1968 IFBB “Mr. World”, while natty as hell and out-benching every single person on the planet not named Pat Casey (who, incidentally, outweighed Sipes by 135 lbs.)
Now, I realize that the nickname upon which I bestowed Sipes is not the one I just used, but in performing a retrospective on the man's life, I think "Wrath Of The Axe Giant" is far more fitting than the "Iron Warrior", as the former is the pastiche of the title and subtitle of a spectacularly bad Paul Bunyan-themed horror movie in which "somebody takes one of the cave trolls from Lord of the Rings, stuffs him into a bunch of flannel and hands him a giant axe, and then sets him loose on a group of assorted degenerates on a maximum-security prison field trip to singalong/labor camp in the Minnesota woods" (Neil). Given that Sipes was a goddamned monster, worked in a youth prison, was a tree serial killer by trade, and routinely took at-risk youth into the woods for survivalist and general primeval badassery training, "Wrath of the Axe Giant" fits like a Tijuana hooker onto a donkey's gentleman sausage.
Chuck Sipes was apparently conceived with the grip strength that later served him so well as a strongman, and he literally just grabbed fistfuls of his mother's uterus and ripped her abdomen open, forcing himself into the world in a Chuck Norris-esque manner in late 1932. In spite of the brutal manner by which Sipes birthed himself, he grew up a somewhat scrawny kid. As he wanted to play high school football like any other red-blooded, commie-hating, steak-loving American boy, he enlisted the aid of his neighbor, weightlifting equipment luminary Chuck Coker (who later founded Universal Equipment Company).
Utilizing the techniques he learned from Coker, Sipes became a beast on the football field and after graduation joined the US Army as a paratrooper. In a bizarre effort to demonstrate the fact that the only person who could kill Chuck Sipes was Chuck Sipes, he found himself tangled with another trooper during a practice drop when he chute didn't open, and then free-fell 70 feet to the ground. Though he steadfastly refused to die, Sipes was stuck in the hospital for four month recuperating from grievous head injuries. Upon receiving a medical discharge in 1952, Sipes went home with a headful of epilepsy and depression and the brass balls of a man who could free fall out of an airplane without a parachute and not only live to tell the tale, but go onto be one of the greatest bodybuilders of the golden era and the greatest drug-free 220lb bencher of all time.
Chuck Sipes' Vital Statistics
Weight: 220 lbs.
Arms: 19 ½" (relaxed)
Thighs: 25 ½"
Because the concept of a "natural genetic limit" had not yet been set, Chuck Sipes went about his business in happy ignorance of the "facts" the evidence-based halfwits spreading their specious claims across the internet like cancer. Training with Mr. Universe Bill Pearl, Sipes set his sights on being the greatest bodybuilder to ever live, though he didn't give two craps about posing and spent the vast majority of his time heaving huge weights around like toddler throwing his toys during a tantrum. In spite of that fact, he racked up an impressive number of wins, including pulling down the “Mr. Pacific Coast” title at the ripe old age of 41.
Notice that headline, natty bros? You guys might want to stop paying attention to those stupid fucking genetics limits charts. The only reason for consulting for examining those entirely specious charts (which I'll cover in a subsequent article) is because you're looking for an excuse to be small and weak.
Unlike modern lifters, who possess all of the personality of a wax replica of Ben Stein, the depth of a spilled shot of vodka, and the varied interests of autistic trapped in a stairwell, Chuck Sipes didn't just lift weights and stare at himself in the mirror. He organized the American Bodybuilding Club in the 1960's, which was practically free to join, and gave exhibitions and lectures on the benefits of fitness and recreational sports. After he hung up his posing trunks, Chuck volunteered with crippled and retarded kids, which is impressive because he was not too far removed from a time when humanity either euthanized them or stuffed them in the basement of a mental institution until some asshole doctor wanted to torture, lobotomize, or starve them to death.
It's not every day you see the second biggest bencher on the planet bending rebar in half wearing nothing but an adult diaper and a peace medallion.
As if that wasn't enough do-goodery and well-roundedness, Sipes also painted a shitload of Western landscapes and 19th century mountain men. He also took teenage criminals on on week-long trips into the mountains to teach them to rely on teamwork for survival, presaging the spate of horrible reality television American women would come to watch 30 years later. In spite of all that and his hyper-enthusiastic faith in the Christians' corpse god, Chuck Sipes apparently had enough of the seizures and depression stemming from his head injuries and hung it up on February 24, 1993, at the age of 61. Ever the badass, Sipes was buried in buckskins, just like Davy Crockett would have been if Mexican soldiers hadn't scattered and defiled his remains out of bitterness that they suck at war harder than channers suck at lifting.
"According to [Chuck's best friend] Norm, Chuck began his competitive bodybuilding career unwillingly. Chuck Coker recalls that when Sipes was a lifting competitor in his junior college days in Modesto, there was one occasion when a physique contest was held in connection with the lifting. Chuck’s buddies on the team filled out an entry form to the physique contest, then informed Chuck that he had to get up on stage and pose. He said no at first, but then did sort of a stroll across the stage and hit a few poses" (Roark).
Chuck Sipes' Contest History
1958 Mr. Northern California 1st
1958 Jr. Mr. America 3rd (Western section)
1958 Mr. America 9th
1959 IFBB Mr. America 1st
1960 IFBB Mr. Universe 1st
1966 Mr. Olympia 3rd (won by Larry Scott)
1967 Mr. Olympia 2nd (won by Sergio Oliva)
1967 NABBA World Championships 1st
1968 Mr. Northern California 1st
1968 IFBB Mr. World 1st (The Mr. Olympia was held the same day, and had also taken time to perform strongman stunts.)
1970 IFBB Mr. Universe 2nd medium class (Overall won by Arnold)
1974 Mr. Pacific Coast 1st (over-40 class)
Chuck Sipes' Best Lifts
Bench press: 570 lbs.
Squat: 600 lbs.
Standing Barbell Curl: 250 lbs.
Yes, yes- get on with how this superhuman maniac trained, right? The man was a goddamn bulldozer, crushing weights all goddamned day long, breaking hearts and spines all the live-long day. According to Dennis Weis, Sipes believed in training often, training heavy, and doing a crapload of supports and partials do build sick tendon and ligament strength. To determine the proper exercises and his set and rep range, Sipes treated lifting like a blind man does an orgy (he just feels it out) and examined the effect of the exercises in previous workouts to determine the best combination of movements to achieve his goals. Sipes believed that he could feel out a good workout, rather than following a set regime in which he followed a system of glacial, unrelentingly boring, counter-intuitive, artificial, incremental progression based on the half cocked theories of geographically distant Communists. Additionally, like any rational, thinking person with a belief in biology, the theory of specialized adaptation, and a general belief in the theory of evolution, Sipes said, "whenever I specialize on a body part, my stamina and endurance improve remarkably. In this way, the muscle ache and tightness I spoke of subsides quickly and in this way, there is less rest between sets" (Weis Power).
This led Sipes, even while training for strength, to rest between sets "only momentarily, probably less than 10 seconds. On most regular type exercise schedules, my rest periods between sets are around 20 to 30 seconds and no more." Additionally, he followed a super-intense split, in which he trained two to three times a day, six days a week. There was no retarded Stuart McRobert-loving whining about how he had bad genetics, or a Mentzer-esque love for abstaining from the gym in deference to the library and methamphetamines, wherein he would have spent countless hours misinterpreting an extremely simple subset of Russian philosophy, or an incessant screeching about the need for layoffs and deloads, but rather a dedication to busting his ass on the exercise on which he wanted to get very, very good.
Even in his 50s, Sipes looked like a fucking golden god with his shirt off.
In spite of his nearly psychotic dedication to training, Sipes wasn't above heading off into the woods with up-and-coming teenage criminals, with friends, or by himself for a week or more at a time. Giving exactly zero fucks about his diet or how it would impact his latest round of a terrible cookie-cutter Russian routine, Chuck would just forge out into the woods and have a good time.
"Norm recalls trips into the mountains and workouts involving cables, which would be tied around trees and then stretched in various exercises. Their conversations around campfires on such outings were the underpinnings of a lifelong friendship, and now, when Norm speaks of Chuck, it is with warmth, love, respect, and bewilderment as to what changed Chuck’s outlook later in life. After a month in the woods, Chuck’s bodyweight often decreased by 15 to 20 pounds, and Norm remembers the amazing transformation Chuck could undergo in regaining the lost weight and muscle. He simply ate more and lifted. No drugs" (Roark).
A message to everyone who thinks the bench is pointless- every sopping pair of panties generated by this photo would care to disagree.
If nothing else, Chuck Sipes should stand as an example of how to approach training- with an open mind and zero damns given. His method was essentially a weightlifting paean to Bruce Lee's philosophy of amalgamating the most effective fighting styles into his own, and a nod to everyone whose ever thrown anything they could find in the fridge and cupboard into a pot and unwittingly produced the best chili anyone ever ate. Additionally, it's not unlike the Paleo crossfitter who buys a burger and tosses the bun- there's something to be learned from just about everybody, and no one's above analyzing the greats from any sport to help propel themselves to a semblance of that greatness.
That said, here are some of the methods Sipes employed over the course of his career (and those methods were legion).
Chuck Sipes' Power Routine
Back Squat – 6, 6, 4, 4, 2, 2
Bench Press – 6, 6, 4, 4, 2, 2
Conventional Deadlift – 6, 6, 4, 4, 2, 2,
Shrug – 4 x 8
Cheat Curl – 4 x 6
Preacher Curl – 5 x 10
Situp – 3 x 20
Leg Raise – 4 x 15
Overhead Press – 5 x 6
Incline DB Flye – 3 x 8
Calf Raise – 4 x 20
Heavy 1/4 Bench Press – 5 x 8
Heavy 1/4 Back Squat, (no lockout, 50-100lb over your max squat)– 5 x 8
Stiff Legged Deadlift off Bench or Box (bodybuilding-style deficits) – 5 x 4
Chins – 6 x 6
Dips – 5 x 8
Lying French Press – 5 x 8
Incidentally, Sipes recommended trying for max on the powerlifts every two months, and added weight whenever possible to his training weights to facilitate progress.
Chuck Sipes' Bench Routine
Of all of Sipes' routines, this is the one in which we all are likely most interested, because Sipes' bench was insane. True to form, this routine is not for the faint of heart, fans of Rippetoe or anything with "Starting" in the title, Channers, or the vast majority of Redditors, because it involves no equivocation, stupid selfies, or whining. Chuck did this lunacy for six straight months prior to a meet and was what gave him a flat backed, 2 second pause on the chest, 570lb competition bench press.
Monday / Wednesday
Bench Press – 2 x 10 (warmup); 2 x 6; 2 x 4; 2 x 2; 4 x 1
Tuesday / Thursday
Heavy Supports – 5 x 8 (100 lbs. over best press from ¼ way down to lockout)
Bench Press – Close to maximum poundage.
Heavy Supports – 150 lbs. over best press, holding with a slight elbow bend.
Bench Press – close to maximum poundage.
Incline Press (wide grip, slow reps) – 4 x 6.
Dumbell Incline Press (slow reps) – 4 x 6.
Pullovers (very light weight, deep breaths following 1 minute jumping rope) – 2 x 20
Flat Flyes (very deep breaths) – 4 x 8.
Chuck Sipes' Alternate Bench Routine
This routine was done three times a week to bring the bench up quickly or to prepare for a meet.
Speed Bench – 6 sets of 10. Use a light weight and accelerate the bar from the chest as rapidly as possible.
Ultra-heavy Negative Bench Press – 4 × 8. Fight weight slowly to chest. Use about 100 lbs. over best lift.
Supports (Hold supramaximal weight at lockout)– 6 x 10 seconds
Sipes had some seriously big quads and upper arms at 220, but his calves and forearms were the really fucking ridiculous sections of his limbs.
Chuck Sipes' Squat Routine
Full Squat – 2 x 8 (warmup); 2 x 6: 2 x 4; 2 x 2; 2 x 1
Quarter Squat – 6 x 10
Leg Press – 8 x 6
Interestingly, Chuck Sipes and I arrived at the same solution for getting stuck in the hole on squats. Great minds and all that, it seems.
"Chuck recommended incorporating jumping squats with a barbell of a dumbbell in each hand, using a light weight. He mentioned 4 sets of 10 reps. The last 2 reps should feel hard but you should still be able to spring up forcefully. When you can do 8 out of 10 reps the weight is probably just right. When you achieve 10 proper reps it is time to add 20 lbs. to the squat bar or 10 lbs. to each dumbbell. This exercise will build the initial driving power" (Weis Power).
Chuck Sipes' Forearm Routine
Guaranteed to turn your hands into immobile claws for a couple of weeks, this brutal routine is what resulted in Sipes' insane 18" forearms... along with a hell of a lot of chopping wood. How the man managed to do both is a mystery for the ages, because a day of swinging an axe alone is enough to reduce most humans to a pile of blubbering bullcrap, and this dude did both.
Reverse Curl (slowly) – 4 x 8
DB Wrist Forearm Curl (off knee)–4 × 15
Cable or Pulley Reverse Curl – 4 × 12
Rubber Ball Squeeze, Newspaper Roll-up, etc.
Chuck Sipes' Ab Routine
Though Sipes was something of a mass monster for his era and an absolute life-ruiner on the bench, even Zabo Koszewski envied the man's abs. When following this program, this indefatigable tree-slaughtering maniac would do the following twice a day for the first six months and then there times a day the second half of the year. The man trained so hard peoples' eyes bleed just reading this insanity, but it's one more reminder that we're all a pack of bitches by comparison to lifters of yesteryear.
Not even the rage virus will have you ready for this insanity.
"I feel that SPEED OF MOVEMENT in abs training is the KEY to ZENITH development in the abdominal region. I always tried to CONCENTRATE on rapid, quick movements with continuous tension and flexing in the movements of waist work. I might mention that that I didn’t sacrifice strictness of movement in the exercises. The speed of movement is obtained over a period of many months while on this SPECIAL program. The increased speed of movement per rep doesn’t happen in the first month of training. From what I have observed from my many travels and training with many bodybuilders, most don’t concentrate on this speed of movement in their abs programs" (Weis Power).
Incline Situps – 2 x 25
Incline Situps (25lb plate behind head)– 2 x 8 at each position on a 7 run incline board.
Front Bends – 2 x 50 (done with a stick or bar held behind the neck, he would expel all the air from my lungs and bend forward to a parallel position to the floor)
Side Bends – 2 x 50 (done with a stick or bar held behind the neck, bending from side to side in a rapid succession, touching the elbows to the sides)
Incline Board Leg Raises (with iron boots for resistance)– 4 x 8.
Stomach Vacuums – 4 x 8.
Chuck Sipes' Shape and Size Arm Routine
As with every other bodypart, Sipes had a lot of different methods for training his gigantic arms, each one crazier than a bunny in a blender on Easter morning. Interestingly, Chuck had extremely different methods for training his arms based on what he was doing- when it was for shape and size, he focused on biceps, but as you'll see in the power section, triceps were his focus in training for pressing power. In his own words:
"Many bodybuilders say the triceps is first in arm importance, saying it is the largest muscle in the arm. I rank the triceps last on my list. Why? An unimpressive, large but droopy and poorly shaped arm is not what I want. Besides, the triceps are not as important in my strength feats.
With the triceps last, next up the list with me is forearms. This muscular area of the arms is vital both to appearance - nothing is so unsightly as a big upper arm and a pair of sticks for forearms - and for gripping strength well developed forearms are essential. Every bodybuilder should work the forearms regularly as part of their workouts. I worked in sawmills and lumberjacking when I was younger, and this helped my development and strength quite a bit.
But, at the top of the list is the biceps area. The better developed and stronger your biceps are, the better off you will be physically. They should be #1 on your arm training list. Therefore, this arm development article will concentrate on developing this area, the biceps" (Sipes Biceps).
Barbell Curl 21's
7 reps from bottom position to middle position,
7 reps from middle position to top of movement,
7 full-range reps
4 sets x 21 reps
Cheat Barbell Curl: 16 x 4 (You read that right- sixteen sets of four)
Alternate one set of 21's to each 4 sets of Cheat Curls.
Lying French Press 21's
Conventional Lying French Press: 16 x 4
One set of 21's to each 4 sets of regular French presses
Chuck Sipes' Power Arm Routine
Cheat Curls – 5 x 6 - 8 (explosive cheat on the concentric, extremely slow descent on the eccentric portion)
Concentration Curls – 5 x 10 - 12 (Elbow braced on the thigh, one second peak contraction, one second pause fully relaxed at bottom)
Alternating Dumbell Curls – 5 x 6 - 8 (ultra heavy with a slight cheat)
Alternating Incline Curl – 5 x 8 (moderate weight, slow and controlled)
Reverse Barbell Curl – 6 x 6 - 8
As for the triceps, Sipes thought this was basically the most important accessory work you could do for the bench, and he studied it like most male Redditors study PUA techniques in an effort to get their dick wet before their 50th birthday.
"The history of weight training has proved to be a constant game of hide and seek. Truant muscles are no longer safe from the prying efforts of modern power lifters. In the case of the bench press, the triceps, with its natural capacity for development, became suspect when it appeared to be riding on the efforts of the delts and pecs.
At first, no one could say for sure. Maybe it was the delts. So they tried military presses. they didn't prove to help the bench a great deal. So they tried parallel dips with plenty of weight. Pat Casey did them endlessly, dropping to an extremely low position, but they ground up his shoulders, and he stopped. Extreme range of motion like the military and dip was out; the pecs and delts were out. That left the triceps" (Sipes Tricep Power 109).
"Thus comes into being the 'Triceps Power Cheats,' a movement that is spanking the triceps into unprecedented effort and routine [bench press] records up the line. The movement flanks the regular bench press on the alternate workout of the week in which the bench press and [box squats]. In terms of two workouts a week, Saturday (heavy) and Tuesday, the power cheats fall on Tuesday" (Sipes Tricep Power 112).
The pic I took isn't blurry- the pic of which I took a pic was.
The two exercises Sipes recommended were the Pullover Triceps Cheat and the Power Rack Triceps Lockout. Done twice a week with one of two methodologies, Sipes and other huge benchers of the time considered these exercises critical for a massive bench. Depending on your preference, you can use the Bill West style for this or Pat Casey's style- Sipes respected the hell out of both men and thought both styles had merit.
Pullover Triceps Cheat
(Bill West Method) West would put a folded towel on the bench a few inches over his head and do his pullovers from that point, heaving the weight up over his eyes and then bouncing it off the bench in between reps so he could handle bigger poundages (pictured above top left). His rep scheme looked like this:
135 - 10
185 - 5
205 - 5
205 - 1
255 - 6 singles
(Pat Casey Method) Casey was the only human on the planet benching more than Sipes, and he used this method- he'd have the loaded barbell on the floor off the end of the bench, hooks his feet around the supports for stability, starts the movement as a pullover off the floor and continues it as an extension to the top. Per the picture it looks like a pullover and press, but from the description it sounds like you're using lat strength and momentum to get the bar moving and then finish it like you did a skull crusher from just over the top of your head.
135 - 10
225 - 5
275 - 5
305 - 3
325 - 1
275 - 8
Power Rack Triceps Lockout
(Bill West Method) On an incline bench set at a 60 degree incline, take the barbell out of the rack with a grip about six inches apart and do short range skull crushers from just above your forehead to lockout. Your upper arm should stay in the same vertical plane as the bar.
135 - 10
150 - 10
170 - 7 x 7
(Pat Casey Method) Casey did these slightly differently, setting the pins in the power rack just above forehead level and pressing off the pins. He did these quickly, for a pump.
225 - 6 x 7
Seated French Presses (as a high rep burnout)
3 x 10
Of note, Sipes basically thought you were a pink-bitch candy ass if you used the cambered bar on tricep work and that you were basically just wasting your time, so give the Olympic barbell a shot for these and see how they work for you.
Chuck Sipes' Diet
Sipes was not a complicated man- like a lot of wildly successful maniacs, he preferred a simple plan involving a headlong charge into the proverbial teeth of the enemy to a complex strategy with a lot of moving parts. As such, his diet was so simple even a Trump supporter could follow it, if they could fit the feedings in between tent revivals, denouncing science, and attending Flat Earther conventions.
"Eat a well-balanced diet of meats, fish, fruits and vegetables. Avoid high-calorie foods such as bread, cake, candy, macaroni products and all foods containing white flour and white sugar. High-calorie foods add fat to your waistline and will make your abdominal training a whole lot tougher than it should be. [The most important additions to your regular diet are] germ oils, sunflower seeds, papaya, peanuts and lots of milk.
Drink 3-4 quarts of certified low-fat raw milk each day, a Chuck Sipes favorite for gaining (at least one pint or more with each feeding)" (Weis Huge).
Never one to follow the same day to day program like a mindless robot hell bent on mediocrity, it's impossible to get a highly accurate depiction of what Chuck ate day to day, but this is a general overview of his daily eating habits.
4 eggs with cheese
Whole-wheat stoneground bread and honey
Wholegrain cereal milk and fruit
Fresh fruit and almonds
Large salad with sunflower seeds and 2 large whole-wheat peanut butter sandwiches, two classes of milk
Nuts and fruit or his bulk drink, which was:
- 2 cups milk
- Protein powder
- 2 spoonfuls Blackstrap molasses
- 1 spoonful honey
- 1 spoonful Ovaltine
- 1 banana
- 1 scoop natural ice cream
Steak or fish with salad and brown rice
Some whole-wheat bread and butter
Tea with honey
And some natural ice cream
Meal 6 (Bedtime)
A glass of fresh juice and sunflower seeds
So, in summary:
- Chuck was a badass
- He trained around the clock on lifts on which he wanted to improve.
- He was strong as a goddamned bull moose and took no crap in competition.
- He was simultaneously ripped to shreds and insanely strong.
Certainly, none of the bitch-made charlatans out there promoting evidence based training would support Sipes' methodology, but none of them could reproduce Sipes' results, either. That alone should point to the fact that their methodology is flawed, but given the fact I would have a better chance convincing a born-again Christian that Jesus is sharing a bunk bed with the Easter Bunny in hell than convincing a fan of evidence based training that the "facts" they hold so dear are anything but, I suppose I'm just pissing in the wind and calling it rain. Nevertheless, you ignore the methods utilized by this mythic badass at your peril. Don't imperil yourself.
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Sipes, Chuck. Triceps power cheats (1966). Muscle Builder Magazine. Reprinted in Forgotten Secrets of the Culver City Westside Barbell Club Revealed by Dave Yarnell. Lexington: Self Published, 2014.
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