I want to talk about a man that had a great influence on me as an athlete and a man: Fred “Dr Squat” Hatfield PhD. At the conclusion of my rookie NFL season (an unremarkable stretch in Cincinnati the Bengals) I headed west to Los Angeles at the invitation of my friend Perry Rosen. My close friend, a training partner from my Long Island days (Rab’s Gym in Lynbrook), Perry had made the move west to pursue his dream of becoming a Hollywood star. It was an easy decision to accept his invitation to join him and spend my NFL off-season in balmy LA. When my season ended I stowed my striped orange helmet and headed directly east to Reseda, CA. Although I often worked out with Perry, who was reasonably strong at 215 pounds, I was in need of a training partner who could challenge me both physically and mentally. Not long after I arrived in “The Valley” (The movie Valley Girls with Nicholas Cage was the big movie that summer) I began dating a young lady who said “There’s a really strong man that works in my dad’s office and you totally have to meet him; he’s really smart and you two will hit it off!” Turns out my friend Jill’s dad worked for Joe Weider at his corporate headquarters in Woodland Hills, CA. Jill’s dad was in sales but friendly with one of Weider’s senior directors and sports science director Dr. Fred Hatfield. I had certainly heard of Dr. Squat and jumped at the chance to meet him and just as Jill had predicted Fred and I became fast friends. Before long Fred invited me to workout with him in his garage gym and that’s when it started to get interesting.
There is no denying that Fred was powerfully built especially when viewed from the back; neck to a hamstrings Fred’s muscularity was incredibly thick and ropey. His lumbar paraspinals were so powerfully developed they created an appearance of having slabs of steak strapped on either side of his spinal column. Broad shoulders and thick pec too. His 250 pound body was compressed, with single digit body fat, on to just 5’6″. Think fire plug with traps. A tick more than a foot shorter than me but just 30 pounds lighter.
I was a good lifter, by football player standards, but was looking to improve myself as a football player and athlete and I know strength was a crucially important athletic quality. At the time I was squatting around 585. I realize that many reading his have never training the squat to the standards of high level powerlifters and football players so permit me to define the all important depth of the squat as is the standard; the crease of the hip passes BELOW the crease of the knee. Yep – it’s way down there where gravity is nasty, your chest is slammed into your knees and leverages are compromised. I held weightlifting records when I was at the University of Maryland and was among the stronger Bengals players. Incredibly Fred had me beat in the squat by 400 – not 40 – but 400 pounds! My first thought was Holy Crap, what am I doing training with this guy. My second thought was to align myself with Fred, pay close attention to everything he said and did and work as hard as I could. He was my chance to spend an off season getting stronger and develop the most important asset in sport – power!
I spent three off-season’s training with Fred in his garage gym along with various athletes, amateur and professional, who would drop by to workout of just shoot the baloney. There was nothing fancy about the gym; a converted three car garage who’s dominant feature was an industrial strength power rack. Dumbbells ran in pairs up to 150 lbs. medicine balls, pull-up bar etc. Notable pieces of equipment included a “safety squat bar”, common in serious training gyms today but revolutionary in the 80’s. Many don’t know this but it was Fred who popularized the SSB when he began training with it in the the 70’s. Fred and I used it quite a bit in the 80’s. Notable too were the special bars and plates necessitated by the poundages Fred squatted. I’ll explain; the standard weightlifting bars in gyms across the world are designed and built to accommodate a load of 650-800 pounds. Load the bar with plates totaling more than that amount and the bar fails (bends) rendering it unusable. Yet reasonably new bars never bend. Here’s why; most obviously, there are few mighty enough to require their bar be loaded to 800 pounds and secondly the collars of the bar fill to horizontal capacity with 45 pound plates in effect “maxing out” the bar. Hence the need for the specialized bars and plates in Fred’s gym. The first order of business are bars, made of freakishly strong iron, that can accommodate 1,200 pounds. Secondly Fred had a stash of rare 100 pound plates – heavier than manhole covers and beastly to manage. These were the metaphorical hammer and chisel of super strength training employed buy only the strongest on the planet. Mind you this was a decade before “gear” (metal strut reenforced suits that permit one, while wearing it, to squat 200-300 pounds more than they could wearing a cotton single worn by Fred and the powerlifters of the day) was introduced to the sport of powerlifting – hastening its spiraling popularity.
I made great progress in all my lifts; in the NFL they test what I call the NFL Total: Bench Press, Power Clean and Full Squat. My NFL Total PR’s were: Bench 500, Clean 365, Squat 665. Of course the training led to improvements in my game, after all the reason I was training was ultimately to be a better NFL defensive lineman. The power I added while working with Fred led to increased “pop” at the point of contact ability to impose upper-body violence on my opponent. My game improved and importantly “I” improved; as an athlete, and a man. Those summers, Dr. Squat and me in Fred’s Gym were special times. Early on I asked Fred if had a would turn the stereo on to which said “don’t have one … I train to the music in my head”. Okey-dokie, no music was fine with me, besides the conversation was so power – mostly Fred talking and me listening – that music would only have mucked it up. Conversation, heavy training, followed by more conversation and seventy-five minutes later when the session was over Fred would fire up a Kool and kick back in his easy chair. Those were the days. Dr. Squat and me. PK