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David Shaw: Strength and Grace

Articles about David, his competitions, his training and his training of others, such as the late Dave Johns, have appeared in IRON MAN and more recently in MILO.


I first saw David Shaw compete at the ’74 Junior National Powerlifting Championships. David was impressive, strong and confident’descriptions of the man that his friends and competitors have used for the past 30 years. Articles about David, his competitions, his training and his training of others, such as the late Dave Johns, have appeared in IRON MAN and more recently in MILO.

Dave Johns wasn’t David Shaw’s only connection to the bodybuilding world, however. Shaw visited Joe Gold at the original Gold’s Gym and World Gym regularly and sometimes trained with strongman Steve Merjanian. Bodybuilders talk about Shaw’s physique, and powerlifters talk about his strength. Said legendary bodybuilder Dave Draper, ‘Record-setting power is often released from cumbersome bodies. Dave Shaw’s super strength bursts from a heap of well-placed river rock and a slab of rough-hewn granite. The man’s a mountain.’ Most trainees simply say, ‘Wow,’ when they see a photo of Shaw deadlifting 848 pounds.

Johns sought Shaw’s help because he wanted to look thicker and more powerful. At a photo shoot at the Soft Tissue Center with Shaw, world-class shot-putter John Brenner (550-pound bench press, 800-pound squat and 460-pound power clean) and former NFL player Pete Koch (best known as an actor for his role as Swede in ‘Heartbreak Ridge’), the photographer asked the three to hit a biceps shot. I informed the photographer that they were not bodybuilders, but she insisted. Brenner and Koch reluctantly flexed their arms, and Shaw followed suit. When Koch saw Shaw, he chided, ‘Great. Dave had to flip up the 22-inch [arm].’

The aspect of Shaw’s career that perhaps carries the most weight is a training style and program design that can enable anyone to make training a lifestyle for the long haul. So often trainees stop working out because of injuries or time restrictions due to life changes, such as school, jobs, career, relationships, marriage and children. Some years ago I witnessed a conversation between Shaw and bodybuilder John Heart. John was impressed with David’s strength and size and asked him how many hours per week he trained. David replied, ‘Three hours per week.’ ‘No, I mean how much did you train when you held world records?’ John said. Replied Shaw, ‘Four hours per week.’ John changed his training along the lines of Shaw’s suggestions, and he gained strength and size and won the Natural Mr. Universe competition.

Shaw wanted a training style he could maintain throughout life’s changes. He earned an A.A. degree, a B.A., and then he worked full-time while training and competing on the national and international levels and earning two master’s degrees. Sometimes when the schedule was very tough, Shaw would perform just one exercise per day. He felt that was certainly better than not training at all. Any trainee can find the time to perform one exercise at home. It’s critical for trainees to be able to train, work and achieve higher education. I recently attended a seminar given by a new strongman at the L.A. FitExpo. His nutritional program alone was a full-time job.

One very interesting point for those who train at home is that Shaw trained the bench press and squat at home’alone. That’s quite a feat for someone who benches more than 500 pounds and squats more than 800. That type of training requires complete honesty with one’s self. Shaw did go to a gym to train the deadlift with world champions Terry McCormick and Bill Kazmaier.

David Shaw’s accomplishments in the 275-pound class include an 821-pound squat, 523-pound bench press (without a shirt) and 848-pound deadlift. His other training highlights include: 460×1 and 350×11 on the barbell row, 300×10 on the pulldown, 100×6 on the concentration curl and 100×5 on the standing dumbbell curl after a deadlift workout.

Shaw’s training program led to five world records, one national championship and the Guinness Book of World Records for the deadlift. The pinnacle of his career came on March 27, 2004, when he was inducted into the California Powerlifting Hall of Fame with other legends such as Pat Casey, George Frenn, Roger Estep, Terry McCormick, Larry Kidney, Enrique Hernandez and Tommy Overholtzer. The induction ceremony drew powerlifters, bodybuilders, football players and Olympic weightlifting coaches to watch and applaud. Dave Draper traveled to Southern California to see it, an appearance that echoes back to a time when there was more camaraderie in the iron game’more respect and a sense of connection to others who trained regardless of which sport they competed in.

Sometimes we can best see ourselves through others’ eyes. Pat Casey said, ‘David Shaw is the most honest, clean-cut man I have known. He possesses phenomenal strength, and I don’t think he realized how strong he is. He has always been a perfect gentleman. David came after me in the iron game, but I followed his career. I have the utmost respect for him.’

Fitness pioneer and gym legend Joe Gold stated, ‘David is always a gentleman. He is one of the few people who knew his body and how to train it.’

Doc Kreis, head speed-strength and conditioning coach at UCLA, said, ‘David Shaw is the example of an athlete whose sportsmanship, determination and passion evolved into his becoming the best.’

It’s a rare athlete who is given accolades by legends. David Shaw has been in the iron game for 35 years and is associated with strength, class, grace and dignity. He has now taken his place with the legends. IM

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