ED Coan: the greatest powerlifter of all time
There are many legendary names in the world of strength, but some stand out even among these luminaries. With 71 official and 30 unofficial world records throughout his career, nobody has dominated in the world of powerlifting, or strength sports more generally, quite like the man commonly cited as the greatest powerlifter to have ever lived: Edward 'Ed' Ignatius Coan.
Standing at 5'6 and weighing 240lbs, Coan is built for pure, brute power: “I never really learned technique,” he once joked. But it wasn't always this way. In a tale many strength athletes will recognise Coan says he started out as a skinny kid being picked on at school, and decided to take up bodybuilding.
Starting out in his basement using old iso-kinetic cord machines, Coan eventually moved on to an Olympic weightlifting set owned by a friend, guided by the exercise instructions in Arnold Schwarzenegger's Education of a Bodybuilder.
But it's when he moved to a real gym – the Chicago Health Club – in his mid teens that Coan's incredible strength potential became apparent. Inspired by watching Strongman legend Bill Kazamaier on tv, Coan began training for powerlifting with a friend.
Despite training in a way that would make modern coaches wince – “I squatted twice a week, and maxed out both days,” he told fellow powerlifting legend Mark Bell in an interview – Coan was squatting 500lbs within 6 months.
At this point, in 1980, Coan entered his first Class III novice powerlifting meet. According to Coan he was so small the squat racks didn't go low enough, so the spotters had to lift the bar onto his back. Despite this, aged just 16 and 'barely weighing 150lbs' he achieved a 485lb squat, a 295lb bench, and a 495lb deadlift – numbers that would make many men twice his age and weight proud.
After this flying start Coan went from strength to strength – literally. By the age of 21 he was IPF world champion in the 180lb class, with a total of 1929lbs.
Coan's highest total was 2462 at the USPF world championships in 1998 – more weight than any other lifter in history, regardless of weight class, and he did it weighing at at just 220lbs. But he, as well as other experts, cite another total as the highlight of his career – and perhaps the highest point of the sport of powerlifting.
In 1991, weighing 218lbs, Coan entered a meet in Dallas, Texas, where he totalled 2402 lbs (squat 962, bench press 545, deadlift 901). This was a 14.5% increase on the best in the world at the time. To put this in perspective, that's like a 100 metre sprinter knocking almost 1.5 seconds off the current 9.58 second world record, or a heavyweight boxer adding 7 winning fights to Rocky Merciano's 49-0 all time best.
Despite, or perhaps because of these legendary achievements, Coan comes across as thoughtful, self deprecating, and honest. He still competes, but spends more time these days mentoring young lifters.
And if you're wondering about how much emphasis he places on lifting for aesthetics, he had this to say when asked if he curls: “nope, biceps are like ornaments on a xmas tree”.
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