How much can you bench?
This is an article from the Sept. 20, 1999 issue
Any guy who pumps iron knows how important that question is. The
bench press is the benchmark of muscular prowess. The deadlift
is a dead issue. Nobody cares squat about the squat. Anyone who
has ever asked, "Can you spot me?" knows his maximum bench press
as well as he knows his phone number.
One man sees it differently. "People place too much emphasis on
the bench press," says 37-year-old Tim Isaac. "They used to ask
me, 'What do you bench?' I'd tell them, 'Don't ask me what I can
bench. Ask me what I can squat.'"
That was 10 years ago, when Isaac, a ponytailed, 6'1", 290-pound
behemoth, was squatting 975 pounds. It was before 1990, when,
while attempting to squat a world-record 1,045 pounds, he tore
the patellar tendons in both knees. "It sounded like a pair of
two-by-fours snapping," recalls Isaac, who was bedridden for
three months afterward. "After that I started concentrating more
On July 24 in Phoenix, Isaac became the first man to eclipse the
800-pound mark in the bench press. He lifted a world-record 802
pounds, easily surpassing the mark of 775 set in 1998 by Anthony
Clark, who outweighed Isaac by 80 pounds.
"Luck had a role in it," says Isaac, downplaying the part that
his 59-inch chest played. So did Burger King. As a prelift meal,
Tim and his son, Tim Jr., a 5'8 1/2", 210-pounder who competes
in the 16-17 age class, loaded up on Whoppers and fries. "I eat
junk food right before a meet," says Isaac, "because it raises
your blood pressure."
At the meet, held in a downtown Phoenix church and sponsored by
the World Strength Federation, the 350 or so fans were loudly
cheering for both Isaacs. Tim Jr. competed first. On his first
lift he benched 395 pounds. Then 425. Then 440 pounds, an
age-group world record.
Twenty minutes after his son's feat, Isaac lay down on the bench
for his record try. He lifted the bar--which was groaning with a
variety of weights ranging from two to 100 pounds--straight up.
No good, ruled the three judges, who felt that Isaac's left arm
was not in the correct "locked out" position.
"That's because I can no longer lock my left arm," Isaac told
the judges. Two years ago Isaac, who lives in Phoenix, had a Jet
Ski accident that tore the triceps tendon from his left elbow.
He showed the judges his limitation--and his seven-inch surgical
scar--and they made an allowance for his second attempt. This
time when he pressed the 802 pounds, they ruled it good.
Isaac, who owns Ultra Health Products, a vitamin manufacturing
company, says he has never used steroids or failed a drug test.
He does gulp down protein drinks, multivitamins and occasional
"I've got to take care of myself," he says. "The world
championships are coming up [on Nov. 5-7 in Portland], and
nobody over 240 has ever bench-pressed three times his body
weight. Might as well be me."