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Was the Tom Platz vs. Fred Hatfield Squat-Off Legit?

Twenty-six years ago, two titans met in a legendary contest of strength that some experts find difficult to believe.

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Tom-Platz-Hack-Squat
Courtesy of Weider Health and Fitness / M+F Magazine

The 1993 FIBO trade show in Cologne, Germany, was the location of one of the most intriguing yet underreported contests in the history of bodybuilding. It featured IFBB bodybuilder Tom Platz, known as “the Golden Eagle” and “Quadzilla,” facing off against powerlifting legend Dr. Fred Hatfield (aka “Dr. Squat”) in a squat competition that would be informally dubbed “The Great American Squat-Off.”

Though many details of the contest have been lost to history, we do know that it had two components: a one-rep max followed by max reps with 525 pounds. Some of the numbers are a bit fuzzy, but this we do know: Hatfield was the first man to ever break 1,000 pounds on the squat, while Platz is considered to have the best legs in the history of bodybuilding, with a savage work ethic and a dedication to the squat that bordered on religious zealotry. Hatfield’s record-breaking squat occurred six years earlier, right around the time of Platz’s last IFBB contest.

FIBO has long been the largest fitness gathering across the pond, Europe’s version of the Arnold Sports Festival. In front of an estimated 10,000 spectators, Hatfield cruised to a victory in the one-rep max, putting up 855 pounds to Platz’s 765 pounds. Then it was Platz’s turn to shine. With 525 pounds on his back, the Golden Eagle hit 23 picture-perfect reps, more than double what Hatfield managed.

TOO STRONG TO BE TRUE?

As years pass, the idea of a retired 200-pound bodybuilder squatting 525 pounds for 23 reps seems less and less plausible to mainstream audiences. It’s doubtful many modern Mr. Olympia competitors, even the ones who weigh 50 or 60 pounds more than Platz did, could come close to his total. In 2016, for example, powerlifting champion and two-time World’s Strongest Man Bill Kazmaier, who had been onstage as a spotter during the Platz-Hatfield squat contest, stated at a seminar that he thought Platz had used fake weights. He cited the lack of bend in the bar and appreciable degradation of Platz’s squat form as evidence. He’s not the only one who has had his doubts.

“Platz was a freak, but that was obvious BS,” says Scott Marshall, former bodybuilder and powerlifter and owner of Muscle Underground gym in Chatsworth, CA. “With 525 pounds, the bar will flex at the bottom, but in the video it is hardly bending. Look at his tempo. Look how fast the eccentric phase of his squat is. And with 525 pounds he coiled right out of the hole. I don’t care how strong he is, you wouldn’t recoil out of there without the bar bending like crazy. I’m not bashing Platz. I love the guy; I think if anyone could have done that, he could have. But I would bet money that was not 525 pounds.”

A number of factors lend credence to Platz’s lift. For one, former IFBB competitor Lee Priest has gone on record to say that he personally saw Platz squat 500 pounds for 20 reps on more than one occasion. Take into account Platz’s maniacal training focus and his high-rep workouts, and the feat begins to seem more plausible.

“I don’t think it’s fake at all,” says Pat Davidson, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and former world-level strongman competitor. “A guy I work with is a bodybuilder, and I have seen him do over 20 ass-to-grass perfect reps with 450 pounds. And he’s no Tom Platz. Tom Platz is legendary. Tom Platz is a god. He would do workouts where he would squat until he would cry. Someone at that level, in a big moment, could find that head-space where he could do the impossible.”

Brian Richardson, M.S., owner of Dynamic Fitness in Temecula, CA, sees Platz as a representative from an era of bodybuilding when the athletes placed a high value on developing strength, and hypertrophy was achieved mainly through sheer volume.

“Platz is the definition of training experience. He has a lot of years and a lot of volume. Think about his neuromuscular efficiency. His ability to contract the right muscles, in the right order, at the right speed, keeps him from leaking force and getting as tired as someone who is equally as strong but has not developed neuromuscular efficiency,” says Richardson. “In other words, the more reps he has ‘grooved’ into his central nervous system, the less energy he has to use.”

For Jay Ashman, strength coach and owner of Kansas City Barbell in Kansas City, MO, it’s almost too hard of a call to make. But the grainy, imperfect YouTube video of Platz’s lift leaves him with a different thought than pondering the use of fake weights.

“I think events like this should be more common. I would like to see this happen more and more at contests like the Arnold. It would be fun,” Ashman says. “People get involved in their sport too much and not in the actual training aspect of it. Let’s go out and have fun!”

Tom Platz Leg Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Squat 8-10 5-20
Hack Squat 5 10-15
Leg Extension 5-8 10-15
Lying Leg Curl 6-10 10-15

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