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  /  tips   /  Hugh Cassidy- How to Eat Your Way Through Sticking Points

Hugh Cassidy- How to Eat Your Way Through Sticking Points

Plateaus- exactly like the Babadook, only scary and real.

Plateaus are the ever-present bane of every lifter’s existence. Over time, a lot of us just develop the ability to change our focus- we switch from powerlifting to bodybuilding, to variations on the Olympic lifts, to strongman, to Crossfit, or whatever strikes our fancy. The same weight will be waiting there for us when we return to whatever our previous focus was however, looming over us like the goddamned Babadook, only far less horrifically unscary and far more real. There is another way, though, and it doesn’t involve a five year training plan and spending enough money to put a third world kid to college for a couple of years- eating.

Ever want to know why Ripp tells people to look down when squatting? Question answered.

More specifically, the best way to blast through plateaus is (not coincidentally) the approach of the subject of this article:

“train like a psycho, eat everything in sight, rest up, and grow gargantuan” (Gallagher Primitive 34).

Clearly, the foregoing articles on Bruno Sammartino, Bruce Randall, Chuck Ahrens, Chuck Sipes, and Steve Merjanian stressed this point as well, so I present this article at the risk of flogging a dead horse. It is a subject of interest to me, however, because I ignored it for about 25 years and it is only now, at the age of 41, that I realize the error of my ways. Having adopted this strategy and watched PR after PR fall in the gym driven solely by the force of my appetite, I feel like I need to be standing on a goddamned milk crate in front of every gym on the planet screaming like one of those end of times lunatics raving about hellfire and corpse gods. If I had the ability I would travel back in time and beat my own ass like I was a group of heavily armed cops and my younger self was an unarmed black man. Like I was Ed Norton tuning up the singer from 30 Seconds to Mars. I would literally beat my younger self like I was my own dick, because it’s about the only way my younger self would realize that the sacrifice of two abs to Khorne for a couple of years would mean that at the age of 41 I would likely be benching 500 rather than 415 and front squatting 600+ rather than 545, etc. At the time I thought that mass would come over time but I might as well sacrifice strength for abs in the meantime was as stupid as it was sad.

If Hugh Cassidy had only been able to tap into the “wealth” of knowledge on Instagram, he could have “fixed” his form and really put up big numbers.

Unlike a lot of the guys pushing huge poundages in powerlifting’s infancy, Cassidy was not much of an athlete growing up. As a college junior he was 5’10” and 155lbs, and realized very quickly that he didn’t have the size, strength, or ability to play football, so he bought a 110lb set of weights at a sporting goods store. By his own account,Cassidy was so weak he might as well have been a modern-day Channer- he had to take two trips to get a 110lb weight set into the house from the streetcar he’d taken to buy them. To say that the guy was not all that genetically predisposed to putting on muscle is like saying that a fistfight between Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber would probably end in buttsex or that if you left a bowl of heroin sitting out in a roomful of musicians, it would probably be gone by the time you got back from the bathroom. After a year of training with that set, Cassidy was up to a whopping 156lbs and started looking around for other options. Instead of taking the modern tack and consulting a bunch of weak strangers with no muscle mass on how best to go about getting jacked, Cassidy hit his local YMCA and joined immediately upon seeing the most jacked dude he’d ever laid eyes on walk out the front door. Within six months of joining, simply aping the movements of the people around him, Cassidy was up to a respectable 185 pounds and took third in a local YMCA bodybuilding competition, a feat he repeated the following year.

After another two years he was up to 205 and joined the Army, where he started drinking seven or eight quarts (6.6L-7.5L) of milk a day and put on 46lbs in six goddamned weeks. It is no exaggeration when I say that simply typing that sentence inspired me to get up and make a protein shake in 24oz of milk (where in the past I would have made a shake at a predetermined time and mixed in water, rather than just said to hell with it and bombed down a massive shake in milk just because gainz). At that point he was big and strong enough that he decided to try his hand at Olympic lifting, posting an aggressively unimpressive 260lbs-200lbs-275lbs (the third being the press) because he had absolutely no clue how to do the lifts. It was then he realized he had no future in Olympic lifting, but he persisted in smashing weights and milk like they were ladyboi booty in a Thai whorehouse anyway.

At that point, powerlifting was truly in its infancy, but although it was neither well-known nor well-respected, Cassidy was bitten by the powerlifting bug after watched the York Powerlifting Championships in 1965. After going ape training the powerlifts for a year, Cassidy entered his first powerlifting meet and posted a 1410 total at 242- nothing terribly exciting these days, but it was respectable in those. Bear in mind when you read his numbers going forward that powerlifting was not done then the way it is now. The lift order was bench-squat-deadlift, and the attempts were not separated into flights- they went strictly by weight. Thus, if your opener was so heavy that it was after the next strongest person’s third attempt, you did all three attempts back to back, with 90 seconds between lifts. Same goes for the weak guys- if all three of their lifts were crazy light compared to the rest, they might be doing theirs back to back.

In perhaps the last flattering photo ever taken of any of the three, a remarkably unincarcerated Big Jim Williams, Hugh, doing his best impression of Charlie Brown, an inexplicably brittle looking John Kuc, and Bob Hoffman with enough weird lapel medals to be tin pot dictator. I guess he forgot his epaulets that day.

By 1969 Cassidy had found his groove and hit a 1765 total at 242 with 475-615-675, but it was the next year he really started to tear the powerlifting world up, because he went back to strategy of “EAT MOFO” and hit a 2010 total at 275 with 540-730-740. Drink that in like a baby bird sucking down its momma’s delicious puke- by packing on an extra 30lbs of weight, his bench went up 65lbs, his squat went up 115lbs, and his deadlift went up 65lbs in a single year, long after his noob gains had disappeared. The coup-de-gras was in 1971, though, when he defeated two absolute titans of powerlifting at the World Power Meet with a total of 2160, posting lifts of 570-800-790 at 291lbs (and absolutely no equipment- not even a belt). To say that is phenomenal progress hardly begins to describe these events, because hardly anyone on Earth makes those kinds of gains 15 years into lifting, and it all comes down to one thing- eating your goddamned face off.

Whatever you’re thinking “eating your goddamned face off” entails, you’re thinking like a wuss. According to Marty Gallagher, when Cassidy was making the jump from 242 to heavyweight (there was no 308 class at that time), the man was a machine. When attending the first ever National Powerlifting Championships as a spectator, Cassidy waddled into the auditorium with a big-ass cooler full of milk and sandwiches- to be exact, a dozen sandwiches and two half gallons of milk. As the lifting progressed, Cassidy methodically destroyed the sandwiches one by one, washing them down with big-ass gulps from the milk cartons (Gallagher Primitive 32). When at home, he’d drink extra pint cartons of milk between sandwiches and meals, and after dinner would drink a protein shake consisting of “two eggs, one instant breakfast, and two cups of powdered milk with a half gallon of skim milk in a large container” that he’d sip slowly while winding down for the evening (Cassidy “Long Road”). He continued that approach day in and day out, endless sandwiches and gallon after gallon of milk, until he ended up nine pounds short of his goal weight of 300 at the World Power Meet.

Ever the innovator, that man could come up with some weird-ass methods for moving weight. How he didn’t end up on his face with this method is a mystery up there with the meaning of the Voynich Manuscript. Here is his reasoning for this method, explained:

“Hugh Cassidy had us look at a spot on the floor roughly 3-4 feet in front of us as we squatted – this of course is totally contrary to everything taught in standardized powerlifting wherein the head is thrown up and back – Hugh felt this ‘site spot’ created a better spinal position for pushing – I teach this as an advanced technique – the triangle refers to the imaginary line that runs from ankle to ankle and from each ankle to the site spot” (Furman).

That weight gain didn’t come without a price, however. As Cassidy put it:

“I still plan to continue training although I’ll be very happy to shed some of this excess poundage. Although I’m impressed with the “big guys” I find it isn’t easy to be one of them without a lot of sacrifice. There is the constant sweating and the rashes that last until cooler winter weather. There is frequent acid indigestion and ever-present diarrhea from all the milk and eggs and protein powder. You have to walk like a duck or your thighs grind into hamburger. There are the spinal erectors that go into spasm whenever you walk up a grade and of course the food bill and the clothes that no longer fit. Big men’s sizes are about as tasteful as some guy wrapped up in an awning. Most of my shirts look like I’m still in pajamas. What with the extra naps and the shortness of breath I’ve decided to reduce to the 242’s again. I’ve been miserable these last two years but also very pleased with the gains in power” (Cassidy “Long Road”).

In short, eating like you’re training for the World’s Hot Dog Eating Competition non-stop, year-round, takes its toll on a human being. Rather than being a fun-filled exploit wherein you simply see how much KFC you can jam down your throat in one sitting at all times, the type of aggressive eating required to make serious strength and size gains can be more miserable than being forced to binge watch alternating episodes of The Golden Girls and Antiques Roadshow, and in many ways is less pleasant than actually dieting to be lean.

“‘Eat your way through sticking points!’

He’d say. If the poundage were feeling heavy on Saturday morning weighing 216, push your bodyweight to 220 by Wednesday and make those weights seem light” (Gallagher Primitive 35).

Such is life- if it were easy, everyone would do it, right? As for training, it’s astonishing that Cassidy and his training partners weren’t puking into trash cans through half of each session, since they were all following Cassidy’s prescription for eating-until-half-dead. His training methods evolved over time, but the focus remained very simple- beat the living hell out of the main lifts and throw in minimal arm, shoulder, and neck work as supplementary work. The supplementary work was only included to prevent boredom (and a throwback to his bodybuilding past) that he even suggested people vary their hand spacing, sets, and reps- the man was all business (Niemi). For the World Meet, Cassidy’s training looked like this (Cassidy “Long Road”):

Hugh Cassidy’s WR Training Routine


Bench Press – 135×15, 245×10, 345×6, 425×3, 475×3, 510×1, 530×1 or 2, 545×1.

Bench Press (with two second pause) – 470×5, 505×3, 525×1 or 2, 545×1.

Squat – 275×8, 435×5, 560×3, 650×3, 700×3, 725×3, 650×3, 670×3.

Deadlift – 335×8, 535×5, 670×2, 750×2.


Upright Row (press grip, with straps) – 185×20, 225×12, 275×8, 205×15.

Neck Work (with helmet, front) – 40×25, 60×25, 75×20, 50×40;

Neck Work (with helmet, back) – 40×25, 60×25, 75×20, 50×30.

“‘I’m so sick of this overtraining crap! It’s such a cop out. It appeals to our laziest instincts. It says less is better and suggests there really is a substitute for hard work. Kid, when you’re squatting 800 pounds, then we’ll talk about overtraining. Work load capacity can be systematically increased…. You can improve the body’s ability to work heavier, longer and more often. INTENSITY, DURATION and FREQUENCY is what we’re talkin’ in this gym'” (Cassidy and Gallagher).

For a while, Hugh decided to use his teeth for something other than endless sandwiches and turned his eye toward setting records in teeth lifting. For the life of me I cannot figure out what the logic is there- I have an easier time understanding why people might become furries and how two invariably fat people manage to make their naughty bits touch while dressed up like Disney characters. I’m assuming he read the biography of Joseph “The Mighty Atom” Greenstein and was inspired, though I fail to understand why. The why, however, isn’t important- for all we know Hugh liked masturbating with old ladies’ church shoes and while dressed like a flamenco dancer. Hugh goes into great detail about his teeth training, which is such a bizarre and specific type of strongman feat there’s no real point in detailing the bits about strengthening your teeth, choosing a mouthguard. What should be of importance, however, is how the structure of his training changed to suit the specific type of strength he sought- and note the distinct lack of periodization, which Hugh stated at least once was a stupid goddamned way to structure a program.

Hugh Cassidy’s Teeth Lifting Program (Cassidy “Teeth”)

Deadlifts – 335×8, 435×8, 505×8.

Upright Row (press grip) – 115×15, 135x10x3sets, 115×15.

Neck Work (helmet with weights loaded on a pipe on top) – 40x25x2, 55x25x2, 70×15, 70×20, 50x30x4.

Teeth Lifting – 85×20, 150×15, 200×10, 250×5.

There were two standard accessories from which Cassidy never strayed- neck work and the stiff legged deadlift. Neck work, Hugh (rightly) believed, was crucial to total body strength. Beyond aiding in the bench press by providing stability and being an obvious critical area of strength for teeth lifting, Hugh espoused direct neck work (which is basically listed above but covered in detail here) for anyone competing in contact sports because the next serves as a shock absorber, and for everyone else just because a person with a powerful looking neck is a powerful looking person. I can attest to the fact that I automatically have more respect for men with thick necks, little respect for pencil necks, and I want to bang Gina Carano almost entirely due to her awesome neck. My lizard brain screams to me that I need to produce offspring with a woman who’s got a neck bigger than most of the dudes reading this, and that our progeny would easily dominate coming generations simply by the authority and power derived from their massive necks.

Hugh’s other beloved assistance work was stiff legged deadlifts. As I alluded to above, Cassidy was a devout believer in the adage that the best assistance exercises are those that most closely match the lift itself- close grip bench for bench press, narrow stance squats for the squat, and the stiff legged deadlift for the deadlift (Gallagher “Trade”). To that end, every deadlift workout would conclude with two sets of stiff legged deadlifts, ultra strict, with the goal of turning lifters’ spinal erectors “into industrial cranes” (Ibid). Occasionally done standing on a 3″ thick 100lb plate, these would initially be pulled off the floor conventional, as a deficit deadlift, keeping the bar in contact with the shin the entire time. It’d then be lowered with a stiff-legged method, maintaining contact with the shin and a slight bend in the knee, light touch to the floor, and repeat. Like Chuck Sipes with the skull crusher, Cassidy and his lifters knew for a certainty that if their stiff legged deadlift PR increased, their deadlift would too. The ratio was different for every lifter, but seemed to hover in the 40-50lb range- ergo, if their stiff legged PR was 650, they were good for 700 or so on the conventional deadlift (Ibid).

Cassidy, at a lean 195lbs taking third yet again in a bodybuilding competition after retiring from PL.

After setting his world record, Cassidy blew out his knee and retired from competing, but as you can see above, he definitely didn’t quit lifting. Cassidy cut back down to 195 and competed in bodybuilding for a while, but he kept training powerlifters in his basement gym for years. A man after my own heart, Cassidy was Marilyn Manson-style weird- a metal sculpture artist in his spare time, Cassidy built demonic metal monstrosities that scared the living hell out of any Christians who happened to wander by his yard. Additionally, he was a badass guitarist and bass player, but the bulk of his ingenuity was devoted to new ways to torture his proteges into become powerlifting behemoths… and it worked. Cassidy coached retired semi-pro baseball player-turned-powerlifter Marshall “Doc” Peck to a 790lb squat, 530lb bench, and 710lb pull at 220 using what I assume was first gen powerlifting gear, and Mark “Duck” Dimiduk to an 800lb squat and deadlift and a 500lb bench at 220. Their program was even more brutal than the one Cassidy used to hit his world record total.

Hugh Cassidy Training Split (Gallagher Primitive 34)


Squat– Top set of 8 reps, then 3 back off sets of 10 reps (Week 1-4)

Top set of 5 reps, then 3 back off sets of 8 reps (Week 4-8)

Top set of 3 reps, then 3 back off sets of 5 reps (Week 8-12)

Bench Press– Same as squat cycle

Deadlift– Same as squat cycle

Heaves (Heavy high pulls)- 2-3 sets done explosively for 6-8 reps

Stiff Legged Deadlifts– 2-3×5

*One of the two

{Bicep Curls– 3-4×6-8

{Tricep Pushdowns or Skullcrushers– 3-4×6-8

* Arm work was generally supersetted

** 2-3 sets of 5 of close stance squats could follow squat if you want, and the same for bench, though generally he only had his lifters do deadlift assistance.


Repeat Saturday

As to the loading for the backoff sets, here’s how it worked:

“‘For a 500 pound squatter, we might go 145×15, 235×10, 325×7, 400×5. No suit, no wraps. Okay, after you work up to your heavy five rep set, reduce the weight to 275 or so an do a set of 10 reps. Take a five minute rest and load the bar to 300 and do a set of 10 reps. Rest about five more minutes and load the bar to 320 and do your final set of 10 reps. All three back-off sets must be done within 15 minutes. That’s the cardinal rule. We’re building reserve power here and increasing the body’s workload capacity” (Cassidy and Gallagher).

And there you have it- the best way to smash through sticking points and demolish plateaus isn’t any of the happy horsecrapyou read about changing exercises and rep schemes, or finding a coach and paying him hundreds of ultimately wasted dollars to provide you with some tired routine that is almost guaranteed not to work. The best way to smash through sticking points and drive your lifts into the stratosphere is to eat like you’re the glutton in the movie 7even and just try not to die at the end, then lift until you’re practically bleeding from the eyes. Then sleep and repeat. Stop making this stuff out to be harder than it is.


Cassidy used protein shakes to blast through his sticking points, so it makes sense I might as well make it cheaper for the lot of us to get to 500lb benches. Use promo code Bloat20 at checkout to get 20% off your entire order at Chaos and Pain– our badass whey Cannibal Kraken is back in stock with 5 badass flavors (including Pumpkinhead Latte, which I’ve been adding to my Honduran Lempira Chaos and Pain coffee like a basic Starbucks bitch).


Cassidy, Hugh. My long road to the top (1972). The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. 8 Oct 2017. Web. 2 Jun 2018.

Cassidy, Hugh. New wrinkles in neck work (1973). The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. 16 Oct 2017. Web.

2 Jun 2018.

Cassidy, Hugh. Teeth lifting. The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. 15 Oct 2017. Web. 2 Jun 2018.

Cassidy, Hugh and Marty Gallagher. All Trax Lead To Jax: A Modern Squatting Parable (1985). The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. 4 Mar 2017. Web. 2 Jun 2018.

Furman, Tom. Really, really simple strength from Hugh Cassidy. Train for Life. 22 Nov 2006. Web. 2 Jun 2018.

Gallagher, Marty. Trade Secret #77: Stiff-leg deadlift. Powerlifting Watch. 5 Feb 2008. Web. 2 Jun 2018.

Gallagher, Marty. Purposeful Primitive. St. Paul: Dragon Door Publications, 2008.

John, Dan. 10 things every lifter should be able to do. T-Nation. 10 Jun 2016. Web. 2 Jun 2018.

Niemi, Paul. Power training simplified. The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. 2 Aug 2010. Web. 2 Jun 2018.

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