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Teachers of the Iron Game: Part 1 - Anthony Ditillo
What I learned from Anthony Ditillo
9/28/2009 1:54:49 PM

One of the questions I often get from seminar attendees is “Who influenced you the most in program design?” The truth is I have had many, many teachers, and in this upcoming series I will tell you who taught me the most and what I learned from them.

It's often been said in the field of strength training that there are two kinds of coaches: those who substitute knowledge for experience, and those who substitute experience for knowledge. It's true. In my practice I've seen trainers with degrees in exercise physiology incapable of performing a squat or power clean, much less teaching one. Likewise, I've seen top bodybuilders and powerlifters who have no business being in the personal training business. This new series will be about the exceptions.

 

When I think about legends in the iron game, the first person who comes to my mind is the late Anthony Ditillo. He was a strength athlete, and a teacher as well - ahead of his time.

Ditillo was, first and foremost, a man who practiced what he preached. Looking at the physique photos of him that have circulated in many magazines and on the Internet, you'll see a person who was as thick as a Paul Anderson or Serge Reding. At 5'7", he bulked up to a massive 300 pounds at one time. Then, to show his knowledge of physique transformation, he cut down to 190 pounds. As for strength, he was definitely as strong as he looked, especially in the pressing department - I saw one photo of Ditillo seated pressing to his forehead 435 pounds, which he reportedly did for 3 reps!

Ditillo is known to most followers of the iron game as a writer for Iron Man magazine, with regular articles appearing from 1968 to 1985, and later Milo. (By the way, these two magazines are among the best in the industry, as they welcome writers from different training philosophies and have helped preserve the history of the iron game with regular features on the pioneers in the field. I highly recommend them.)

The following statement may surprise some of you, but Ditillo is the author of my favorite book of all time on strength training, The Development of Physical Strength, a classic that was published in 1982. I bought it from Iron Man magazine after reading several of his articles. I thought his approach was logical and full of common sense; and more importantly, it worked! It is the only book I have read more than once, and I actually bought a second copy after I misplaced my original one. I always tell my interns to get their own copy. It is a gem.

The Development of Physical Strength is only 137 pages on a 6" x 9" format, but it's chock-full of practical information about how to develop the highest levels of strength and muscle mass as quickly as possible. Topics discussed in the book include the following:

  • dumbbell training
  • eating to gain muscle bulk
  • intensity
  • isometrics
  • isometronics
  • program design
  • single-lift specialization
  • power rack training
  • powerlifting
  • single and double progression method
  • sets and repetitions
  • training volume

 

The following are some of the training gems I learned from Ditillo:

 

  • There is no substitute for hard work. Ditillo was popular at the same time as Mike Mentzer was, but he was saying completely the opposite of what Mike Mentzer was saying. Having made zero gains on the Mentzer approach, I had nothing to lose trying the Ditillo programs. It was a good change, as his workouts enabled me to make impressive gains in strength and muscle bulk.
  • You don't have to take all your sets to failure. Yes, you do need to strive to continually increase the intensity of your workouts (and by intensity I mean the amount of weight you lift), but Ditillo believed that there is also value in increasing your tolerance to work.
  • How to do isometronics. Isometronics involves performing lifts through a partial range of motion in a power rack, and finishing each rep with an isometric contraction. It's a great plateau buster that I have used for many of my clients, from shot putters to bobsledders.
  • The importance of performing power rack exercises. Ditillo believed that the power rack was more than just a large squat rack, and much of his training focused on power rack exercises. Power rack training is another sticking-point blaster, whether you want to increase your squat proficiency or sport a pair of strong, muscular arms.
  • Be patient. The foundation of Ditillo's training paradigms was to gradually improve both training volume and average training intensity. One of the reps/sets schemes he espoused was the 7 x 3-5 system. This method calls for starting each exercise with a weight that can be completed for 7 sets of 3 reps; the weight is increased only when 7 sets of 5 are completed.
  • Emphasize exercises that give you the most bang for your buck. Want to get big and strong? If so, Ditillo believes you must concentrate on the dynamic exercises such as the power snatch, power clean, and pulls of all sorts; he was also big on heavy-duty presses and rows. You'll find no cable kickbacks and plank exercises in a Ditillo workout.
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