Interview with Ernie Frantz
by: Eric Stone

Ernie Frantz

Eric Stone: Tell us a bit about yourself, how old you are, what you do outside of powerlifting, where you live, where you grew up and how you got your start in powerlifting.

EF: I will be 70 years old in May of 2004.  My wife and I live in Oswego, Illinois.  We have seven children between ourselves, 4 on her side and 3 on mine.  We have been together now for 28 years.   I grew up mostly in Oswego but was born in Chicago and lived there until I was 13.  My father owned a Motel and Gas Station and that is where I lived until I went into the Korean War.  I spent three years there, received two major battle stars and grew up fast.

After the war I decided to change my life style I quit smoking, drinking and fighting and started going to the Y.  There I met Pete Perez from the Chicago Bears who inspired me a great deal.  I also met Harry Darlen who ran a bodybuilding class and was studying to be a Doctor.  My brother who was 4 years older and myself decided to join his class.  We liked it so well we ended up taking over his class for a few years.  There I also met many of the old time powerlifters, who also did Feats of Strength, and that is how I got into that.

Prison Team

My brother and I with one of the old timers, Alex Kazar from the 30’s ran a Feats of Strength Show in Aurora for the kids and schools.  I competed in bodybuilding contests; physique contests and odd lift contests.  I broke a record in the two-arm curl where I curled 155 lbs with my back against the wall.  I enjoyed Powerlifting from the beginning but did a lot of physique and bodybuilding shows also.  I competed in Jr. Mr. America in 1956 and took 3rd place.  In 1964, two years after my first wife died of cancer I opened my gym where I worked a lot with juveniles and young kids.  I was also a police officer for a few years along with construction work.

In 1974 I entered my first World Championships and was runner up Mr. USA.  I then realized that Powerlifting was my sport.  I worked for the State of Illinois setting up weightlifting in the prison system.  At first I worked with juveniles where we went from one boys school to another for competition.  Then I went to the adult system and set up the weightlifting/powerlifting programs in most of the prisons in Illinois.
Young FrantzFrantz Pose

ES: What are your best lifts in powerlifting in competition and training, and at what weight?

EF:    In 1964 at 181 lb class I broke the world record at 1620.  I’ve done world record lifts in 198 lb class totaling 1951.  At a meet in Moline I did a 775 squat 775 deadlift and 440 bench.  I did an 826 lb squat in Hawaii and was benching around 490 with a loose shirt and in practice I could go up to 550.  At the age of 64 I broke the squat record with 821 lbs. in the 220 lb class.  In practice I went down with 903 on the high side.

ES: What are some of your proudest accomplishments in powerlifting?

EF:    My proudest accomplishments were in the 198 lb class when I did the 1951 total.  And in the 220 lb class at North Western University I did a 2000 total.  That is where I did my first 800 lb deadlift, that I could hang on to.  I could deadlift more with straps but that was the only time I could hang on to 800 lbs.  Also would be the 821 squat at age 64.

ES: What is your best moment in powerlifting?

EF:    These were probably my best moments in Powerlifting except for teaching my wife how to become a 20-time world champion.  Diane was the first woman to deadlift 400 lbs at 114 lb class.  She was also runner up Ms America and was Ms Mid America and had the chance to go to the Ms Olympia.  Some of my best moments were watching her being as good as she was.    

ES: Who are some of the people who have most influenced your training and powerlifting career in general?

EF:    That would be some of the old timers from the 30’s and also Pete Perez from the Chicago Bears who could lift so much weight, and took time out to show me how.

Frantz Squat

ES: In your book, you describe the "all or none" principle, talking about how you only believe in training heavy singles. How did you come to this conclusion? Why never any reps?

EF:    I only believe in training heavy singles.  I have tried triples but I only rely on singles, triples were good but singles told you how strong you are and negatives gave me the advantage to go for the heavy singles.  It has always seemed to work for myself, and anyone that I coached.  

ES: Also in your book, it detailed how you trained the big three all together 3-4 times a week. How did you handle this volume? Why do all three lifts together, instead of on their own day?

EF:    If you handle the weight of all three lifts in competition, then you have to get accustomed to it.  I wanted to build up the endurance to do all three lifts.  Saturday was still our key day back then to do our max.  Monday was like a rep day to work out the soreness and Wednesday or Thursday was to get prepared for Saturday so your mind was prepared for 60-80 % of what you wanted to get on Saturday. That was basically how I trained the team on a strict basis. 

Frantz Book

ES: Did/do you ever do any assistance exercises, or did you just do the big three?

EF:    I do believe in many assistance exercises.  I believe in very heavy lat work and very heavy lockouts for the triceps.  I believe in a lot of different motions where you would have your sticking points in
Powerlifting.  It all basically pertained to heavy lifting weights, even abdominal work was a matter of just getting 4-5 reps as heavy as you can and work your way down to a single with a big heavy plate behind your head and maybe doing it on a decline basis.

ES: What advice would you give to the younger powerlifter just starting out?

EF:    Have someone coach you that understand the importance of form; breathing and the proper equipment to make sure that you are safe in your lifting.  Also, being able to push you and give you momentum to bring you up the ladder to become a champion.

ES: How important do you think training partners like the Frantz Power Team are to training?

EF:    I believe that training partners are a necessity.  Training partners can help assist you, help wrap you, encourage you to go heavier and help to motivate you to go heavier.  Team members help in the safety of spotting as well as loading.  It is important to help one another, keep it interesting and making it fun.  Always having a team encourages people to go further ahead and to get out of the slumps and build the confidence that they need to move forward and become a champion.

ES: How have you been able to continue powerlifting for as long as you have at such a high level?

EF:    I love the sport; it has been my hobby for all these years and always will be.  I’ve always enjoyed working with people and watching them get ahead and accomplish or exceed their goals.  I like to make new friends and you can’t have any better friends than the ones in powerlifting.  I have made many true friendships over the years.

Frantz Squat

ES: You were one of the main people who introduced some of the more "extreme" equipment used in powerlifting currently. Can you describe how you came up with using things like canvas and denim for equipment?

I started designing powerlifting apparatus while I worked in the prison. I kept designing new products and haven’t stopped since. I still lay awake at night thinking of new designs and improving the ones I already have. I would think of what would help in training, like the first safety power rack that I invented and still have in my gym today.  I would just think of what could help and support a lifter and I would invent new things.

As far as suits and shirts I was always experimenting and working with different materials and styles for the best possible equipment for safety, strength, convenience and protection.
The denim bench shirt, the velcro shirt, the canvas squat suit, the power briefs as well as many other things are all of my design.  Now just about every other powerlifting company out there sells the same thing, however, they cannot claim they are original.  I remember when I first came up with the canvas suit so many people laughed at it and called it a diaper now just about everyone has one.

ES: Do you think equipment can go too far?

EF:    I believe the equipment can go too far.  I believe it is good to have supportive gear to help prevent injuries and protect the lifter but not to the extent that you cannot get the weight down to your chest.  I think with the suits you cannot go any further than the canvas, in order to get down and come back up.  

ES: How did you go about forming the APF? And what was the main reason you decided to form the APF?

EF:    The reason I formed the APF was because the organization I was with at that time and was chairman of did not believe that a master lifter over 40 should be broken down into 5-year increments.  There were other rules that myself and other lifters did not agree upon.  I listened to the lifters and quite a few where behind me and so we decided to start our own federation.  I didn’t think I was actually going to do it I tried to work with the organization I was with at the time but they did not want to listen to me or the other lifters.  At the time there was only one organization.  I went ahead and formed another, which only grew and grew and grew; I guess it opened the doors for others to do the same.

ES: What is your opinion of all the alphabet soup of federations in the current day? Provides options for the lifter, or just confusing and unnecessary?

EF: Many organizations have been formed since I’ve started lifting, a few of which were with me in the beginning such as Scott Taylor (APA), Gus Rethewisch (WABDL) and Mark Chaillet (IPA), all of these people were with me at some time or another.  I believe it is good to have the option but with so many federations today it can be very confusing to a person.

ES: Why do you think there has been so many of these political "incidents" with you in the WPC such as the one with Carl Smith, or recently with L B Baker and Jim Rouse?

EF: I don’t know why people feel that they can just take something away from you, something that you have spent your whole life building.  I don’t know if it is greed or power or what, maybe they think there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  Most people don’t know that I have used my money from my business to help run the organization all these years.  Throughout the years there have been many people that have tried to “take over” the organization and have not succeeded.

ES: What do you think about the professional movement of the WPO and Mountaineer Cup? Are they the future of this sport? Is this sport marketable to the public as a professional sport?

EF: I think the professional movement is good.  It gives the lifter a chance to win money.  It also gives them goals to set to train for.  As long as it doesn’t turn into a circus like the professional wrestling I don’t mind it.

Frantz & KK

ES: Along the same lines, why did you decide to hand the reigns of the APF/WPC to Kieran Kidder?

EF: I handed the reigns to Kieran because he has the love of the sport and I am convinced he will take care of the APF, WPC, AAPF, AWPC.  He runs the professional side of Powerlifting and has like me put a great deal of his own money into the sport.       

ES: What do you think about the Olympic movement in powerlifting? A possibility? Worth striving for?

EF: There is a possibility.  Every sport is growing and every sport seems to make the Olympics sooner or later so why not Powerlifting.  I’m sure it will make the Olympics someday but not if it is split up in 20 different directions.  I don’t believe it will be a three lift deal either I believe it will be down like Olympic lifting to a two lift, which two lifts I don’t know.

ES: Ernie, thanks so much for taking the time to do the interview! Like KK said, you are the Godfather of Powerlifting! I appreciate all the help you have given me in my lifting career, and there are so many you have helped as well. Is there anything else you would like to add?

EF: I just want to say that I have enjoyed helping you and the others with their lifting.  I want to congratulate you on your new website and thank you for giving me this opportunity to tell you about my life and my career in powerlifting.

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