Powerlifter Ted Arcidi interview
Arcidi Bench Press Video
By Dennis B. Weis "The Yukon Hercules"
On March 3, 1985, Ted became
the first man in powerlifting history to officially bench-press 700.5 pounds.
He made that APF & USPF world-record lift at Gus Rethwisch's Budweiser
World Record Breakers in Hawaii. Then, on September 30, 1990, after 5 1/2
years away from competition, he made the comeback of the decade and stormed
the APF Bench Press Invitational in Keene, New Hampshire, hoisting a monstrous
718.1 lbs effortlessly for yet another world record. Ted Arcidi then busted
heads with another member of the 700 club, Anthony Clark, at Joe Weider's
IFBB Mr. Olympia Bench Press Challenge, which took place in Florida on
September 14, 1991. At that event Ted benched a gigantic 725 lbs for a
sanctioned WPC & APF world record.
Shortly after that record-shattering performance,
however, the 5'11", 295 pound Hercules received a phone call from Powerlifting
USA magazine informing him that the sanctioning powers were calling his
725-pound record a three-fourths lift because he couldn't lock out his
arms. Ted was devastated. With bench-pressing records in the 700-pound
category soaring to heavens, he could have dropped a bomb on the powerlifting
community and pulled out of competition forever, but that's not the way
As it turned out, Ted Arcidi has been
lifting with what he referred to as "dead man's elbows" for some time when
the Mr. Olympia event took place. In the following conversation he reveals
what he had to do to remain on the bench press bandwagon...
DW: This is the first time I've heard
you make reference to benching with dead man's elbows. What's that all
TA: Training for the Mr. Olympia bench
press competition in 1991 was extremely hard because of the stress on my
wrists and elbows. At that time I had lost 60 degrees of range of movement
in both elbows. I mentioned this to the officials, and they, along with
one of Anthony Clark's guys, checked out the extension of my arms by hanging
and pulling on them. They found that my arms were not as fully extended
as those of most powerlifters.
DW: So the officials knew before-hand
the limitations of your lockout? Obviously, they must have given you the
TA: That's right. We did our power show
during the intermission of the Mr. Olympia. Anthony took a 620 lbs for
an opener, but his bench shirt completely blew out & the bar collapsed
to his chest. I took 685 lbs for an easy opener. Clark jumped to 700 lbs
for an unsuccessful second attempt. I took 725 lbs for a final attempt,
but to no avail. I felt strong and in control and went for a big 750 lbs,
but I did not achieve the lift.
DW: What was it like doing those mega
bench presses with gimped wrists and very limited range of movement at
TA: With the 725-pound world record I
had great explosion off my chest, just as I've always had; however, because
of the elbow joint closure, which was due to bone calcification, I had
no triceps muscle or ligament lockout. With no lockout there was no luxury
of the joints supporting that monstrous poundage, and I had to constantly
keep flexing to keep the weight up till I received the judge's signal to
rack it, even though it wasn't full lockout. It's a very strange and lone-some
feeling to have once had full range and access and the use of a full-length
triceps and biceps. But now I had no triceps lockout muscles because the
bone spurs had shut me down, so to speak.
DW: Wow! You really had to over-come quite
a physical handicap. Then you got the terrible phone call informing you
that your record was only going to be called a three-fourths attempt. How
did that make you feel?
TA: My head was in a sad state when I
heard the news. I was very depressed after the Olympia, and I felt as if
it was useless to ever go for another world record if I was going to get
that type of clamor and criticism from the press and everybody.
DW: All this must have affected your attitude...
TA: The bone spurs in my elbows affected
me in numerous ways. First, I couldn't get into a comfortable position
in bed at night. I'd have nightmares that I was trapped in a box and didn't
have full extension of everything, especially my upper body. I dreamed
I couldn't yawn or stretch. It was a hell of a scenario...
My elbows were always cramped, and I had
tremendous pain in my wrists, especially at night. My whole private life
was inhibited - I couldn't play a decent game of tennis, shoot a basketball
ot throw a baseball to my nieces and nephews...
I noticed in pictures that my shoulders
weren't as broad or thick as they used to be. The muscle bellies of my
biceps and my triceps were shortened to the point that I looked like a
handicapped person who didn't have full use of his upper extremities...
One of the most pronounced things was
my elbows. It always looked as if I were about to pick up something because
my arms were bent to extreme extent that they hung like hooks. I felt like
I was going for custody of my son (at
that time), so I was very depressed. Even though I felt it was useless
to go for another world record bench press, I wasn't content to leave the
lifting world and not try again in the future.
I simply would not accept losing!!!
I had to find a doctor who would recognize the problem and correct.
DW: You've talked about bone spur and
pain, which in part contributed to the limit range of movement in your
arms. That didn't happen overnight, did it?
TA: No, actually it was a progressive
condition that began around 1983.
DW: What was the turning point for you?
TA: In February 1992 Tom Ciola (president
of National Health Products) invited me and 12 other world class powerlifters,
strength coaches and doctors to participate in the first ever USA Power
& Strength Symposium, which was held in Orlando, Florida. Through connections
I made there, I was referred to a number of practitioners in New York.
I ultimately went with Dr. Steven McLlveen.
DW:Tell me about the preparations that
led to your elbow injury?
TA: Prior to going under the knife at
Columbia Prebyterian Medical Center in New York, I went to see Dr. John
Merrick, who is a top-notch physical therapist and chiropractor and conducts
seminars on physical therapy protocol, such as rehab and joint manipulation,
around the country...
I explained to Dr. Merrick that I wanted
to increase the range of movement in my arms. Normal extension and flexion
passive limitations are 180 degrees. Upon testing I was found to have only
40 percent of this range at maximum! The doctor then proceeded to take
some X-rays, which showed that I was loaded with bone spurs and calcification
in my soft tissue and joints.
DW: Just what exactly causes such problems?
TA: From what I was told, the bone spurs
locked up my elbows not only at the joints but at the actual muscle fascia
as well. This was caused by putting my joints and muscles under the heavy
stress, weight-bearing traction, as it's called, of benching. My joints,
muscles, ligaments and tendons were literally loaded with heavy traction.
My body's response to the stress was to protect the joints via the route
of calcification and bone spur growth.
DW: I'd guess that you probably subjected
your appendages to the heavy of more 600- and 700-pound bench presses in
training and competition than any other power & strength champion in
the history of the iron game. Other world-class lifters such as Anthony
Clark, Chris Confessore and Ken Lain have also benched under heavy traction,
but as far as I know, they haven't experienced these problems.
TA: It does seam as if some individuals
are able to lift in heavy traction with no current ill effects. I suppose
it's like smoking cigarettes or cigars. Some people smoke two to three
packs a day for 50 years with no ill effects - or so it seams - yet others
smoke perhaps half a pack a day for say, 10 years and ultimately lose a
lung, develop a heart disease and, worse yet, pass away.
DW: Did Dr. Merrick suggest that anything
might have prevented you from getting the bone spurs and calcifications?
TA: It was obvious to him that I hadn't
been getting enough soft tissue management between workouts, nor had I
been icing and stretching my joints properly over the past few years.
Dr. Merrick did some therapy on me, and
soon I was on my way to New York City for the first of two operations.
DW: Tell me about Dr. McLlveen's preoperative
TA: To begin with, he looked over the
X-rays I'd brought with me and said that the preoperative diagnosis for
both of my dead man's elbows, as I call them, was osteoarthritis of the
elbow joint with spur and osteophyte formation and secondary stiffness.
I remember muttering: "Can we go in with a scope and remove the bone spurs?"
This brought a grin to the doctor's face. He said it was unusual for a
person to have such a severe degree of spur and osteophyte formation -
and in both elbows. He also said that this was the worst case he's ever
seen! While bone spurs in most individuals can be measured in millimeters,
mine were measurable in centimeters.
These were not hollow words, for the doctor
had performed countless surgical repairs on auto mechanics and transmission
specialists who do a lot of heavy hoisting and holding in there occupations
and as a result sometimes develop bone spurs. The doctor went on to say
that the absence of any particular significant traumatic event it was quite
possible that my years of heavy lifting and the inevitable micro trauma
and macro trauma that were delivered to my elbow joints caused the conditions
DW: When you woke up in the recovery room,
what was the first thing you said?
TA: The first thing I remember saying
to Dr. McLlveen was: "Did you get the range?" He demonstrated on his left
arm what range I would get on mine. Keep in mind that my elbows were in
flaccid state during the actual surgical repair, so the doctor could tell
in the operating room what range I could get.
DW: How did you feel when you heard that?
TA: It was a feeling of euphoria, and
I almost started crying because I knew there was a chance of coming back
(to competition). I told my brother that I didn't care how much therapy
was ahead of me. I was determined to follow the physician-directed physical
therapy, and I was going to be extremely dedicated in stretching and performing
my own exercises on a regular daily basis.
I was so darned happy, even though I had
my work cut out for me, I wanted to get the left elbow operated on the
DW: After the operation on the right elbow,
it was undoubtedly weak for a time, until it healed, with the opposite
taking place after the operation on the left elbow. Did it take long for
each arm to catch up with the other after surgery?
TA: It's funny how nature works. The body
is so dynamic that one arm caught up with the other in a relatively brief
period of time. There is a process called "transverse bilateral effect",
in which there is a cross transference of energy, nutrients and nerve impulses
from the stronger limb to the weaker one. It seams that the strength in
the two arms should be totally lopsided, but it doesn't work out that way.
DW: You exemplify something the great
strongman Paul Anderson said on numerous occasions: "No matter how tough
it seams - throw your head back and look up. You won't be defeated!" Tell
me about the physical and mechanical means of restoration that Dr. Merrick
designed for you.
TA: First, I did stretching exercises
to get a full range of movement in the joint. Second, contrast, or progressuve-thermal
therapy of ice, then heat, then ice moderated and controlled blood circulation
for the healing of joint and muscle dysfunction. Finally, the third objective
was to acquire muscle stabilization and strength.
DW: You've told me on numerous occasions
that optimal nutrition is a primary consideration in successful bodybuilding
and in your case - powerlifting. How did nutrition enhance your recovery
TA: Overall my nutritional integrity was
sound, but I made sure to take in a liberal 100 grams-plus of branched-chain
amino capsules because they account for 33% of muscle repair. I took five
grams of vitamin C from rose hips and 1500 units of E every day.
DW: Thank you for the interview, Ted.
TA: You're welcome!