The year is 1947 and in a small gym at the local Boston YMCA, Archie Burgess embarks on a journey that will span over 6 decades and continues to this day. During this time, Archie learned the basics of “odd-lifts” (a term used before power-lifting was invented) with the help of a fitness coach and body builder at the YMCA of greater Boston Central ranch. Bored with basketball and wanting to alleviate his low back discomfort Archie learned the disciplines of body building mixed with power-lifting and along with his peers set the stage for competing at the local and national levels.
The equipment was ordinary but the energy and heart invested into each workout was extraordinary. After a few years, Archie was a regular in the power lifting circuit, appeared in strength and health magazines, and won numerous local and national competitions.
Today, at age 80, Archie remains dedicated to strength & conditioning and is the product of living a healthy lifestyle. Whether it is instructing a youth in correct technique or quietly training himself, Archie continues to influence countless others to go the extra mile in their own personal fitness journey.
This interview was done on March 5th, 2007.
FF: Can you explain the difference between odd-lifts and power-lifting?
Archie: Back then each gym used to select their own exercises for their contests. It varied from bicep curls, upright rows, bench presses etc. So they coined the saying “odd-lifts” to describe the variations. The odd lifts favored the body builders because they would spend more time on sculpting individual body parts than power lifting. Eventually, much to the dismay of bodybuilders, the gyms condensed the exercises to the 3 heaviest lifts- bench press, dead lifts and squats. Hence the phrase “power lifts” was given to differentiate from “odd lifts/physique” contests.
FF: What motivated you to go into power-lifting? Archie: At first I was attracted to physique and odd lifts contests but quickly learned that the judge’s decisions were biased. Unfortunately, this was a time of bigotry and despite winning numerous odd lifts contests I could not win the physique competitions. It was always 3rd or 4th place.
My mentor at the time was Val Boston, a body builder and wellness coach at the YMCA of greater Boston Central Branch. He thought I should focus on power lifts competition because it was based on how much you could lift and not physique. No judge could deny you first place if you lift more than your competitors. Another reason to focus on power lifts was the points you would earn depending on your rank in the competition. These points could be applied to the physique competitions so the odds of placing in the top 3 were greater.
During the day I would compete in power lifting competitions and at night enter the physique contests with points earned from the earlier meet.
Archie took Val’s suggestion to another level and achieved some milestones… for example he was the first power lifter to squat 400lbs in the New England Power Lifting Competition.
FF: At what age did you start working out? Archie: I started right after high school at age 17 and weighed around 145lbs. By age 23 I weighed 175. Ironically I, did not notice how much size I had gained until I was getting a chest X-Ray. My chest could barely squeeze into the X-Ray machine!
FF: Why did you choose the YMCA? How did it differ from other clubs? Archie: It was the only facility around! The YMCA also had lifting competition within its network. Note: Before trophies were handed out there were YMCA medals.
FF: Was there any one who influenced your training? Archie: Val Boston, the YMCA wellness coach and a body builder, for sure. He was highly respected and had an awesome physique. He observed my dedication to strength training and invited me to train with him.
Val guided me with exercise instruction, support and instilled the ideal to be “the best you can be”.
FF: Did you stick to the basics in your training and nutrition? Archie: We only used barbells and dumbbells and occasionally used the incline bench. Regarding nutrition,I ate balanced meals and did not use supplements.
FF: How many were on your team? Archie: There were 2 teams. There was an odd-lift/physique team which had more members because of its appeal. The power lifting group had 4-6 regular members.
FF: How often did you compete? Archie: The season started in November and ended in June; usually 6 contests during this period. I trained diligently 3 times per week , year round.
FF: What is your most memorable contest? Archie: It was the Keystone Championship in Pennsylvania. I set out to dead lift 600lbs and fulfilled this goal. At the time, there was only one other man on record who could dead lift 600lb in his class…(Archie weighed 175lbs and was 35 years old at this time! Light heavy weight class.)
FF: What is your favorite activity today? Archie: Conditioning. I don’t worry about how much I lift, but still workout with dumbbells and nautilus machines. I also use the YMCA indoor track to jog twice a week.
FF: Can you give us any suggestions about power-lifting 101? Do you believe that quality is more important than quantity? Archie: Form (technique) is the most important factor. Train properly for the each contest, specifically meeting the full requirements for the lifts (no cheating).
Also, beware of pride. My favorite line is from Clint Eastwood “ You have to know your limitations” in other words, not everyone can be a competitive power lifter. Set your own goals and meet your own expectations.
Thank you Archie for your time and for sharing your strength and experience!!!
Be well and stay ACTIVE!!!
Julio A. Salado, NSCA C.P.T., USAW Level 1 Coach