It was a timely moment for powerlifters. Anabolic steroids were by then de rigour. Weightlifting shoes, straps and suits had all evolved and greater attention was being paid to training and nutrition. Official powerlifting meets had been running for over two decades and the poundages were increasing with every competition it seemed.
Just as the Americans had rushed to the moon the previous decade, the 1970s and 80s in the powerlifting community were concerned with the race to the thousand pound squat. In today’s article we examine the first recorded effort at the thousand pound squat, undertaken by the American lifter, Dave Waddington.
The Race to 1,000 lbs.
There’s something undeniably satisfying about large whole numbers for the weightlifting community at large. Perhaps it stems from an unquenchable desire for progression or perhaps a need to test the limits of human endurance. Nevertheless numbers don’t lie and in the world of powerlifting, the number is king.
In the first official US powerlifting contest, detailed here, the largest squat was performed by Terry Todd with 600 pounds. This came in the early 1960s. By 1972 Jon Cole was lifting over 900 pounds in the squat thanks to a combination of sheer power, squatting bodysuits and years of training. The race was on for the thousand pound squat, it was only a question of when.
To put this progression into context, heavy barbell squatting had only really come about in America in the 1920s and 1930s. In the space of fifty years, people went from squatting with their bodyweight only to squatting two to three times their bodyweight. Cliches about American exceptionalism and rush for progress seem particularly apt in this particular case. While many expected the squatting record to be broken during the 70s, they didn’t know who would do it, and when.
Enter Dave Waddington.
Known more so nowadays for his performances in the World’s Strongest Man competitions of the early 1980s, Waddington was unsurprisingly a talented powerlifter in his own right. Though finishing third in his inaugural WSM appearance in 1981 behind the legendary Bill Kazmier and Geoff Capes, Waddington’s true claim to fame ran within powerlifting circles.
In 1977 he was victorious in both the AAU and Pan American powerlifting championships. Feats he bettered in 1980 when he emerged victorious several tournaments. A showing of dominance which no doubt prompted him to enter the WSM for 1981.
While he was unsuccessful in WSM, 1981 saw Waddington enter the lore of powerlifting history when he attempted his own thousand pound squat.
The Lift and The Problem
At a local powerlifting meet on 13 June 1981, in Zanesville, Ohio, Dave Waddington made powerlifting history. Approaching the bar with a one-pointed focus, the Ohio strongman produced the first recorded thousand pound squat in history, much to the chagrin and disbelief of the powerlifting community.
Not only had he squatted a thousand pounds, he had done one better. He squatted 1,013 pounds for one slow and grinding rep. A feat of incredible human strength.
There was just one small problem….no officials were there to judge the attempt. This meant that Waddington’s lift was not recorded within the lifting annals but rather became the stuff of myth and urban legend. The thousand pound squat had been completed, and indeed the Guinness Book of World Records briefly accredited it as such, but for the powerlifting powers that be, it was a non-event.
Looking toward the future
Dave’s disqualified lift was met with both anger and excitement within the powerlifting community. Anger that no one at the meet had been qualified to count the lift, and excited because it meant the official thousand pound lift was still attainable.
In the years that followed many men attempted the lift but to no real avail. In fact it wasn’t until 1984 when the ‘squatting duel’ of the century took place, that a record was broken. That however, is a story for another day, and one that shall appear here in the coming weeks.
In the meantime we’ll take a minute to remember Dave Waddington’s herculean effort from 1981. Not only did he brave what so few dared to do, he conquered it.
Dr. Fred Hatfield, ‘Lee Moran’s 1003 lb. Squat’. Available here.
David Gentle, Fascinating Feats of Strength. Available here.
Sandusky Register, ‘Stronger Than Dirt’, 6 May (2016). Available here.
Many thanks to an unnamed reader for alerting us to the following video detailing Waddington’s training career, lifting and training group. Although it doesn’t cover the thousand pound squat, it shows Waddington lifting 955 lbs. in the Squat.