Ted Arcidi Bench Press

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Powerlifter Ted Arcidi interview

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Ted 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 he's built...

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 about?

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 go-ahead!

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 your elbows?

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 a crab!

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 diagnosis...

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 I displayed.

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 next week...

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 from surgery?

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!

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