Steve Merjanian Says- “Why Squat When You Can Incline 500lbs?”
If the cannibalistic weightlifting community in The Bad Batch isn’t the closest cinematic thing to Valhalla ever, I will eat my goddamned laptop. Die Antwoord, jacked people, and human barbecues going 24/7? Count me the hell in.
In the interest of stemming the tide of disinformation that is so prevalent on the internet today, I decided to highlight yet another mammoth of the past who reminds us that there is a better way than what most of us are doing, and that way is as jacked and strong as humanly possible and enjoying lifting, rather than lean and rigidly locked into some stupid goddamned program. Lest you think I am sitting astride some long legged horse handing down life lessons and tossing you apples from the tree of knowledge like some dwarvish version of Odin, that’s not the case- I do, however, have a hell of a lot of experience under my belt, and I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t. If message boards, Instagram, and Reddit are any indication, most you people are wallowing in a pit of despair and don’t even know it, because you’re all drowning in weakness together. I’ll admit, however, that writing shit like this gets me fired the hell up as well, however, so I figure we might as well all get jacked as hell so that when the collapse of Western civilization hits us in a wave of Christian fundamentalism and wild-eyed anarcho-collectivist horseshit, we lot can simply waddle around and rip people in half with our bare hands. And then eat them. And thus gain whatever paltry power they had and grow even bigger and stronger, living in one gigantic happy cannibalistic weightlifting community like The movie The Bad Batch.
Circa 1964 back width.
Knowing how the minds of the people who read about training work, writing about four upper body specialists who regarded the squat in the same way most people regard having gypsies in their house unattended back to back might have the lot of you thinking I have turned my back on the exercise that brought me to the pinnacle of the 181 class in powerlifting. Rest easy- I’ve hardly stopped squatting, and unless you just want to bulk to mammoth proportions and rock 22 inch arms and unequal lower body development, I don’t advocate dropping it from your program altogether. What I have advocated long and hard, however, is focusing on what you love and hammering it like it’s a five dollar prostitute right before you head back to the front. Hammer that thing like you’re playing Whack-A-Mole on speed, and anyone who has something to say about it can go to hell. There is far too much lifting for the sake of other people going on these days, and too many people are going through the motions of workouts they appear to hate because they want the cache associated with doing a certain program, and too many people approaching lifting like work rather than fun.
The colossuses of the 1950s and 1960s didn’t give a good goddamn what anyone thought about their workouts- they did what they liked, and because they liked it, they were monsters. The guy with what Weider writers would undoubtedly refer to as a “barn door back” pictured above was just one of those people. Steve Merjanian was actually a training partner of the last upper body specialist I profiled, Chuck Ahrens, and the two of them trained with another 500+lb bencher, Richard Kee, so hard that none of us even seem to lift by comparison. These 300lb beasts stomped around the Bruce Conner gym in Westwood, California handing weights unthinkable in most gyms today on equipment that was as rickety and homemade as it was effective. They didn’t train for any reason other than love for the game- they trained often and they trained heavy, and they had the physiques and lifts that belied their efforts. They rarely, if ever, entered contests because that’s not what they were about- they were about having a good time, heaving weights around, and throwing up double bis that would melt the underpants off anyone nearby if they didn’t just blow straight off from shock and awe.
They might have eschewed powerlifting meets for being the boring piles of shit they are, but Steve and the rest of the Gold’s gym team (the hilariously filthily named “Gold Ropers”) would turn up for a tug ‘ war competition, and as you’d guess, they trashed everyone.
What’s this you say? Panties blew off and the man didn’t scamper about in the gym wearing goddamned tights and endlessly blabbering on about Smolov? Well then, he must have done Sheiko? How about neither, and he was content with running a mile in the sand and doing calves for his legs. Every now and again he’d bust a half squat just for shits and giggles, but Steve Merjanian was not about that life- he just loved training heavy and loved being strong. Even at age 44, he was still hitting 405 for a behind the neck press, which is an age and a number so inconceivable to the average message board goer these days I’m sure they’re screaming bullshit at their screen and hypergraphically scribbling “STEROIDS” on the wall in crayon.
Steve and Zabo Koszewski messing around with Joe Gold. In banana hammocks. The 60’s were a much different time.
Unlike the three preceding 300lb monsters, Merjanian’s success didn’t come overnight- he broke his ass day in and day out for fifteen years, first as a bodybuilder and then a powerbuilder, to build up to the massive poundages he ended up moving at his peak. Perseverance and harder work than a Thai ladyboi at a NAMBLA convention definitely paid off better than George Soros shorting the dollar in an engineered recession, and Marjarian became one of the strongest upper body specialists to ever live. Those two bizarre similes notwithstanding, here are Merjanian’s stats:
Steve Merjanian’s Vital Stats
Born: 29 Jul 1935 (82 years old)
“Doug Hepburn, Ronnie Ray, Chuck Ahrens, Paul Anderson, Marvin Eder, Mel Hennessy, John Molinaro, Bill Seno. Chuck Sipes, Steve Merjanian, Bruno Sammartino, Karl Norberg, Jim Williams, Bud Ravenscroft. Pat Neve, Jon Cole, Tom Hardman, John Kuc, Bill Kazmaier, Joe Bradley, James Roude, Jeff Magruder, Mike Bridges, Lee Moran, Ted Arcidi, and Mike MacDonald are the great men in history. Bev Francis is the great woman.”
“What about Roosevelt, Salk, Einstein, Kennedy, Ghandi, and Lincoln? A bunch of nothings with low benches (although Abe Lincoln benched 325 for a double and you have to admit he did have a long way to push the sucker).”
“The only way to remedy this national malady is to start now and GET YOUR BENCH UP.“
– Jeff Everson
Steve Merjanian’s Best Lifts
Incline Bench Press (40° Angle)– 500lbs
Flat Bench Press– 560bs (touch and go)
Press Behind Neck– 405lbs; 335lbs x 7
Dumbbell Overhead Press – 190lb dumbbells x 2 reps
Front Lateral Raise– 165 lb dumbbell x 1
Lateral Raise – 125lb dumbbells x 2, 100 x 4
Half Squat – 850lbs
Unlike the aforementioned leviathans of late 50’s/early 60’s Muscle Beach, Steve Merjanian didn’t eat like he was recently released from a North Korean prison camp four times a day. Instead, his diet consisted mostly of meat, eggs, and (interestingly) fruit juice in massive quantities. Nor was he a GOMAD guy- he never seemed to drink the stuff, and had little interest in the supplements of the day (which were appalling tasting and remarkably primitive) beyond multi-vitamins. Nope- big Steve was content eating a couple of breakfasts, a few sandwiches mid-morning, an early afternoon salad, and a dinner consisting primarily of massive amounts of some form of dead animal.
Single greatest outfit ever.
If his diet looks like he rode a brontosaurus to work, his training looked like he rode to the gym in a chariot pulled by velociraptors on meth. Every week big Steve maxed on everything he felt like maxing on… though that thing was almost never the back squat. Merjanian hated squatting, preferring instead to just run a mile a day through the sand four times a week and warm up with a 400 yard beach run before every workout. Although I’ve only got the details of one of his workout styles, Merjanian had two basic routines. One consisted of 10-12 sets of an exercise, the last five of which were singles with roughly 95% 1RM. His other type of routine was 8 sets of 5, as heavier than a Crowbar concert after an all you can eat buffet. The only thing Merjanian did with getting a pump in mind was back- he did lots of sets and lots of reps emphasizing a serious squeeze and brutal stretch to force as much blood into the muscle as possible. Whatever he did, however, it was hardly flexible and never a rigidly structured program- he just went as hard as he felt like and blasted weights like they were some broad’s face in a bukkake film.
Steve Merjanian’s Typical Routine
Monday / Wednesday / Friday
Dumbbell Press – 5×7
Dumbbell Laterals– 5×7
Front Dumbbell Raises– 5×7
Pulley Rowing Motion– 5×7
Dumbbell Curl– 5×7
Lying Triceps Extension– 5×7
60 Degree Incline Press– 10×7 reps, 7×1 using 20 lbs. less than max (Brace yourself for this news- his first warmup was 350 x 10)
Bench Press– 5×7
Tuesday / Thursday / Saturday / Sunday
Calf Raise– 10-15 x10 reps
Pulley Forearm Curl– 10-15×10
Face Pulls– 10-15×10
Standing Triceps Extension– 10-15×10
Running– approximately one mile in the sand
Word is Steve trained legs early on in his lifting career but abandoned them for one reason or another as he got huge. It didn’t seem to negatively impact his lifts, however, and his leg strength was pretty serious in spite of his disdain for training them. He was known to occasionally jump in on legs out of curiosity, and would pull off shit like banging out a set of five easy reps with 315 in the front squat as a goof, or a single with no warmup, and his legs were always strong enough to allow him to hang with the guys who treated the front squat like it was going to reveal the meaning of life to them. In fact, big Steve’s legs were so strong that he would occasionally jump from a standing start onto what had to have been the stoutest ping pong table in the history of the sport to mess with anyone who said “gigantic white men can’t jump” and to just scare the shit out of unruly teenagers. It was his shoulder, chest, and tricep strength that was the show stopper, though. He’d do cheating lateral raises with the 144lb dumbbells and a standing triceps extension with a ridiculous 275lbs, but both of those paled in comparison to his gargantuan 405lb behind the neck press.
“Presses behind the neck were usually done sitting on a flat bench, ducking your head under the bar and lifting it clear of the rack on the back of your shoulders, pressing it overhead and then lowering it to your shoulders and returning it to the rack. A man who could do three hundred in this manner was considered strong. I reckon there are a lot of the guys that do (or claim to do) four hundred or more in the current style (overhead liftoff, bringing the bar down to the top of the head & pressing it up) would be unable to do three hundred in this manner” (Neece).
The amount of camaraderie the lifters in Muscle Beach, and particularly at Gold’s, enjoyed in that time period would make the Care Bears look like a bunch of backbiting, foam rolling, shit talking, natty powerlifters by comparison- these dudes not only lifted together, but they formed a sort of informal Guardian’s Angels of jacked dudes to scrap with young ruffians on the beach when they’d get out of hand, and they all participated in goofy shit like tug-of-war competitions on the weekends. And these weren’t nobodies, either- were talking pro baseball players, NFL players, epic strongmen, actors, at least one Olympic silver medalist, and even the vice principal of a local high school (Neece). Given that most “serious” strength gyms these days are populated by people who would be harder to wrangle than wet cats, and would assent to heading in the same direction with far more yowling and general disaffection than those cats, the fact that everyone was so willing to chip in and help out in the community should illustrate exactly how tragic the modern era is.
I’m starting to wonder if big Steve even owned a pair of pants.
It’s even more poignant when you consider that Gold’s Gym in 1968 boasted three monsters “who were over four hundred on the incline: Steve, myself, and a man named Joe Kanaster, about whom I will tell you later. There were several others in the 375-400 range, there were others who had gone over four hundred in the past but no longer trained there and a couple of others who would hit four hundred or more at a later date” (Neece). Having three guys benching over 400 on the incline in a single gym in a single year is like having three guys in the same gym who own multiple Lambos and call their hot-ass slut of a girlfriend “Concubine,” or having three chicks in the gym so hot you can’t even look directly at them who shit Froot Loops on demand. It’s like opening your closet and having six masturbating leprechauns jump out, and then telling your friend about it and him saying the same thing happened to him last week. Winning the Powerball three months in a row is less likely, and yet, that was what was happening in Gold’s Venice in 1968.
Bryan Salamone is living the goddamned life… and I was not kidding- that broad calls herself “Conc.”
Looking a little closer, for those of you who are like me and yearning for yesteryear, it wasn’t all blowjobs and cheesecake then either, because powerlifting. There was a small faction of very early powerlifters led by Bill “Peanuts” West who resented the hell out of big Steve’s pressing power and the fact that he gave less craps about powerlifting than most people do about Olympic curling. They employed various schemes to punk Merjanian, but in the end like the lifting efforts of channers, they were ultimately fruitless.
“It is my opinion that Peanuts resented Steve’ not competing in the three powerlifts and only occasionally training at his (Peanuts’) garage. Peanuts thought of himself as one of the founders of the sport and he was very zealous in his efforts to get everybody involved in what he probably considered to be at least partly his creation. Steve, however, marched to his own drummer and had no interest in the three lifts. In addition, he liked to enjoy life and only trained when he felt like it” [Emphasis mine].
“Peanuts used to needle Pat about Steve’s inclines and one day in 1967 just before he retired Pat decided to settle it once and for all. It was at Peanut’s garage and George Frenn wrote about it in Weider’s magazine. Someone also took a picture of Pat inclining 515. Peanuts and his bunch told Steve that he had been dethroned However, looking at the photo I could tell they were using an angle of about thirty degrees, or eight to ten degrees less than the angle on the bench Steve and the Gold’s/Venice/Muscle Beach crew used” (Neece).
For those among you still freaking the hell out that this is now the third consecutive person about whom I’ve written who was at or over 300lbs, jacked in ways most people on treat their dicks, and strong as a goddamned ox, yet rarely if ever trained legs, guess what? Hollywood doesn’t care if you squat ass-to-grass, and in fact probably prefers half squatters over the “my asshole was itchy so I back squatted and worked out that itch in the hole on the floor, don’t mind the stain” people because ATG squatters never shut the hell up about depth, and you’ve got to be the most annoying people on the planet with whom to party. Anyway, here’s big Steve’s filmography, proving once more the USAPL/IPF knows nothing about anything and the fact you rub your asshole on the floor when squatting means nothing, because none of those humorless asshats have had a speaking role on the Monkees or in a Jackie Chan movie.
Steve Merjanian Filmography
- played Abdul alongside Davy Jones in The Monkees, Season 2, Episode 3 (1967)- “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik”
- played The Moroccan alongside Jackie Chan in The Big Brawl (1980)
- played Tug the muscle man alongside Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in Muscle Beach Party
- was a stuntman in the first Planet of the Apes
The “Muscle Apes”- Seymour Koenig, Zabo Koszewski, Jerry Trayler, and Steve Merjanian.
So there you have it- Steve Merjanian in a nutshell. A bloody great big nutshell. So big he should be one of the 8 Natural Wonders of the World, stronger than a couple of oxen cybernetically attached Frankenstein’s Army-style, and chill as hell, though ready to scrap for fun on the weekends. Still training daily at the age of 65, Steve kept with it because “enjoyed training and being strong but he enjoyed life as much or more,” and in spite of the fact that he was a goddamned monster, he had a sense of humor about himself and training most people could stand to emulate. In short, Steve Merjanian was the goddamned man, and the lot of us can learn a great deal from following his example.
I haven’t fact checked this video, so I can’t attest to its accuracy, but since I know everyone loves watching videos, here’s an extraordinarily slowly narrated video (Steven Wright sounds like a high school girl on coke compared to whoever narrated this thing) about Steve Merjanian:
“Plenty of rest and relaxation, a mind free of worry, good food and regular training. I agree, and feel that although Steve Merjanian does not hold titles or records that others have, a lot can be learned from his approach to training for maximum progress and fulfilling one’s potential” (Shaw).
Neece, S. Some lesser known strongmen of the Fifties and Sixties. Iron Game History. 1998 May; 5(1):16-25.
Shaw, Dave. Steve Merjanian. Rpt. in Forgotten Secrets of the Culver City Westside Barbell Club Revealed. By Dave Yarnell. Lexington: Self Published, 2014.
Weaver, Vern. Meet “Powerhouse” Steve Merjanian. The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. 21 Oct 2017. Web. 21 May 2018. http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2017/10/steve-merjanian-vern-weaver-1965.html