In 1954 Roger Bannister ran the first 4-minute mile. In 1962 Wilt Chamberlain became the first (and only) player to score 100 points in a pro basketball game. And in 1988 Steffi Graf became the first (and only) tennis player to win all four major titles and the Olympics in the same season. The magnitude of their accomplishments is such that they are often referred to by their first names: Roger, Wilt, and Steffi. One additional name that should be added to this list of first-timers is Pat Casey, who in 1967 became the first man to bench press 600 pounds.
Thanks to special supportive gear and a considerably larger talent pool of athletes lifting heavy weights, a 600-pound bench press is now commonplace.
Casey was born in 1939, so it’s not that Casey made a decision not to use gear, but that it simply wasn’t created yet! Casey also didn’t have access to the superior knowledge about nutrition, supplements, recovery methods, or sports medicine that we have today. So a 600-pound bench press in 1967 was, indeed, a very big deal.
Although best known for his bench press prowess, Casey was also the first man to officially squat 800 pounds and total 2,000 pounds in the three powerlifts (bench press, squat, deadlift). Bodybuilding legend Bill Pearl first met Casey at a teenage physical competition in 1956. It was then Bill personally witnessed the powerful teenager easily bench press 400 pounds with a cheap bar on a bench with no padding. Eventually Casey, weighing as much as 340 pounds, bench pressed 630, squatted 835, and totaled 2,025.
Bruce Wilhelm, an Iron Game journalist and the first American to snatch 400 pounds, was so impressed by Casey that he wrote a book called “Pat Casey: King of the Powerlifters.” Casey passed away on April 22, 2005, after a long battle with lung cancer. Wilhelm’s work, which includes a fascinating question-and-answer section with Casey, is the most complete account of Casey’s life and lifting career.
On page 37 of “King of the Powerlifters,” you will see a photo of Casey bench pressing with a fairly narrow grip, without a bench press shirt or wrist wraps, and no arch – the weight: 615 pounds! Further, because many assistant exercises are often not performed with bench shirts or competition wraps, you can get an idea of how strong Casey was when you compare these assistant lifts to those of today’s champions.
It would be rare, for example, to see an athlete who can bench press 600 pounds with gear do an incline barbell press with 525 pounds, but Casey could. Casey also did a seated military press with 405 pounds (when at the time the standing Olympic press record was 436), a lying triceps extension with 365x3, and dips with 380 pounds strapped to his waist.
Casey was bench pressing 420 pounds as a 17-year-old, and at the time his primary bench press workout system was 5x5, performed twice a week. His training evolved, and it could be said it is based on the high volume/high intensity workouts of Marvin Eder. Eder was a world-class bodybuilder who was the first man to bench press 500 pounds weighing less than 200 pounds – he also did a parallel bar dip with 435 pounds! As such, spending four hours in a gym was not a big deal for Casey. In fact, during one marathon training session, Casey did parallel bar dips with 250 pounds for 200 reps over a 7-hour period!
One of the unique aspects of Casey’s bench press training was lockouts. “I needed something to jolt my body once I got past 500 in the bench press,” said Casey to Wilhelm. “I thought about doing the lockouts from two positions: 4” off the chest and 7” off the chest. The thought being that I would strengthen my tendons and ligaments. Then I could do more volume work in the other exercises without breaking down or getting injured. I was also after the psychological effect of lifting tremendous weights as well as thinking there might be some motor pathway carryover.”
As he held down a fulltime job and his workouts were extremely long, Casey would only bench press twice a week, Monday and Friday. Tuesday and Saturday he would squat and perform other leg exercises, and also on Tuesday he would perform rack deadlifts. Here is an example of his Monday and Friday workouts:
A. Bench Press Lockouts, 3 singles from 4 inches off chest, 3 singles from 7 inches off the chest. After lockouts, 2 sets of regular benches with 405x3.
B. Incline Press, Dumbbells, 3x5 (sets x reps) warm-up, 120x10, 200x3x5
C. Triceps Extension, Lying, 5-6x3-5
D. Chin-up: 2-3x8-10
E. Curl, Barbell, 100x3x5
A. Bench Press, 135x20, 225x10, 315x5, 405x5, 515x1, 560/570x5, 405x10, 315x20
B. Military Press, Seated, 135x10, 225x5, 315x3, 400x1, 315x5, 225x8
C. Dips, Parallel Bars, Bodyweight x 3x5, then 205x10x5
As with many of today’s bench press specialists, Casey stressed the importance of overhead pressing strength. In the November 1965 issue of Strength & Health magazine, Casey shared the following advanced shoulder specialization program. It combines high intensity with high volume with high frequency. As such, to avoid overtraining Casey warned that it should only be performed for six weeks.
A. Military Press, Seated, Wide Grip, Warm-up thoroughly, then 10x5 and 1x20
B. Cheating One-Arm Lateral Raise, Dumbbell, 5x5 then 1x20
C. Cheating One-Arm Front Raise, 5x5 then 1x20
D. Dips, Parallel Bars, 8x5 then 1x20
A. Handstand Pushups Against a Wall, 10x5
B. One-Arm Lateral Raise, Incline Bench, 5x8 then 1x20
C. Rear Lateral Raise, 5x8 then 1x20
D. Shoulder Shrug, Dumbbells, 10x10 then 1x20
A. Press Behind Neck, Seated, Barbell, 10x5 then 1x20
B. Shoulder Shrug, Dumbbells, 5x10
C. One-Arm Overhead Press, Brace with the Other Hand, Dumbbell, 10x5 then 1x20
D. Lateral Raise, Standing, Dumbbells, 6x10
Casey promised his wife Carol that he would retire when he bench pressed 600 pounds and totaled 2000, which he did in 1967. Who knows what more amazing lifts he could have accomplished had Casey continued training hard. Nevertheless, Pat Casey was unquestionably one of the greatest athletes in history, and his pioneering lifts deserve a special place in Iron Game history.