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Ed Coan – the Greatest Powerlifter of All Time

Take a look at Ed Coan in his prime and you’d realize why the term ‘Genetic Outlier’ exists in bodybuilding and sports.

With a diminutive frame weighing only 220 lbs. in his prime, the man smashed records left, right and center. Sometimes lifting enough iron to make goliaths much above his weight class quiver.

71 Official powerlifting records and 30 unofficial ones, including an all-time record total of lifting 2462 lbs. at the USPF world championships in 1998. 

That’s why Edward Coan hogs a spot in the hall of fame of powerlifting. Today, we will try to decode the enigma that is Eddie Coan, the GOAT.


Ed Coan Daily Life - What Type of Man Was He when He Wasn’t Lifting?

Ed Coan came from a nobody who was at the receiving end of bullying in school to build himself up with bodybuilding

As a young kid, Ed Coan participated in football, baseball, and basketball in school. But eventually, Wrestling caught his eye. But much to his dismay, he was in the 98 lbs. weight category, something that he wasn’t too proud off.

It’s almost a template that’s repeated across history. Ed Coan started lifting because he was a scrawny kid who was tired of being bullied in school.

Ed was just 13 at this time. But he set up some iso-kinetic cord machines in his dingy basement and started to train by himself. After a while, one of his buddies called ‘Ken Rice’ gifted him a Olympic Barbell set and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘Education of a Bodybuilder’.

They would do 10 reps of each exercise in the book, training for hours each day. In the book, ‘Man, the Myth, and the Method’ (learn more about this book here), he mentions that he gained 40 lbs. in the first year of training.

For the longest time, Ed wanted to be Arnie. Who didn’t in those days? That’s until he bumped into the Austrian oak in Chicago and realized that Arnie was much taller and bigger than most and definitely more so than Ed was, and could ever be. 

So Ed started to emulate Franco Columbo, who was much close to Ed in terms of physical attributes. But Franco in those days, was one of the strongest bodybuilders around, often matching Schwarzenegger in numbers and volume. He didnt match the almighty Schwarzenegger's muscle building life story but he damn sure got close in numbers.

This was around the time when he first saw Bill Kazmaier powerlift on TV. It was instant infatuation. Kazmaier was synonymous of everything that Ed yearned for. Stood 6’2 tall and weighed 335 lbs. in his prime, holding the world powerlifting total record for a decade.

A few months later, he joined the Chicago Health Club which coincidentally happened to be the home turf for ‘James Rouse’, a great powerlifter on his own accord. It was here that Ed learnt the ropes of powerlifting.

Before long, he was impressing his coaches in the gym with his incredible strength and numbers. The day he walked out of the gym, he started to set records.


What Gym Did Ed Coan Train At?

 Ed did train in a number of gyms, but Quad's and Lance's gym were his all time favorites

Ed started off at the Chicago Health Club. But soon shifted base to Quad’s gym in Chicago. He might have trained in numerous gyms around the world during his travel. But Quad’s remained his primary training center, followed by Lance’s gym owned by Lance Karabel.


How Tall Is Eddie Coan?

Despite the outstanding feats that Ed managed to pull off, he was just about 5 feet 7 inches

The official statistics mention that Ed Coan is 5’7. Although the buzz is that he is 5’6 which, by most standards, is considered to be quite short. That’s what amazes most people who were fortunate enough to witness this man in action. He’s a pure freak of nature. Designed for pure brute strength, which seems unimaginable for a man his size. 

There are reports that mention how Ed was so short that it was impossible to adjust the height of the squat rack that low. This forced the spotters to unrack the entire bar with all of it's weight and set it on his back during his fist powerlifting meet. 

Ed was caught off balance, as expected. But despite this, he posted some impressive numbers for a 16-year old. 


Ed Coan Age

Having been born in 1963, Ed is well into his late 50s now

Ed Coan was born ‘Edward Ignatius Coan’ on 24 July 1963, which means he’s 58-years now. To give you some context, he achieved a 495 lbs. deadlift when we weighed around 150 lbs. at the Class III novice powerlifting meet in 1980.


What Exactly Made Him One Of, if Not the Greatest Power Lifter of All Time?

There are several factors that made Ed prove to be among the greatest lifters of his time

The world wants to know the answer to this. What is it about Ed Coan that makes him the GOAT?

Well, there are theories galore. But no definitive way to explain his freakish strength. In an interview, he once said that he never really learnt technique. In fact, most of his training methods would make modern fitness coaches cringe.

Yet, at the age of 21, he was the IPF world champion with a total of 1929 lbs. Someone crunched a lot of numbers and came to the conclusion that at his peak, he was 15% better than any other power lifter, regardless of the weight class. That’s just incredible and unprecedented.

He deadlifted 901 lbs. in 1991. Now, there are some fundamental differences in deadlifting in those days vs. deadlifting today, which underlines the importance of Ed’s record.

  • There was no dedicated deadlift bar yet. The bars back then were much stiffer with very little flex as compared to the deadlift bars of today. This means that there was minimal leverage from the bar flexing before the plates are lifted by the lifter. 
  • The weigh-in time was just 2-hours then, unlike the 24-hour weigh-ins of today. So, it’s impossible for a lifter to cut drastically before the weigh-in and then rehydrate within the next 24-hours. It would be fair to assume that Ed’s bodyweight of 220 was true and there was minimal manipulation.

As expected, a lot of people were quick to brush him off as a genetic freak. But Marty Gallagher, former Olympic and powerlifting champion and coach to many powerlifters, including Coan himself, explains that Ed Coan was a ‘thinker and a sophisticate’.

Ed was deeply inspired by Ernie Frantz’s training methodologies for strength. Well, Ernie was one of the few guys on this planet who could deadlift 405 lbs. at the age of 78. So, the foundation certainly was as strong as it needed to be.

There are discussions on what could explain Ed’s success. Some people opine that the short torso, back-dominant style of squatting, the ability to take the bar really low in the squat rack and the near perfect physique for pulling, are some of the factors.

Well, he’s one of the few athletes who’s severely underrated for his benching prowess. He once benched 578.7 lbs. raw.

To be fair, Ed’s strength and success can be attributed to a mix of genetic potential, dedication to start off from a low ceiling basement gym and seek brute strength over anything else, resilience to continue pursuing the sport despite 3 doping bans, & a tiny bit of luck to tide over injuries which would have been career-ending for most. 


Ed Coan’s Fav Lifts

Reports have stated that Ed focused more on complex lifts as his prefered lifts

Ed Coan has always emphasized that he treated his compound lifts as his primary ones. Think deadlifts, squats, and bench press. The deadlift is hands down, his favorite of them all, followed by the squat and the bent over row. 

Few people know that he has a bent over row record of 260 lbs. for two reps. He did it without belts, often picking the bar off the floor and bringing the lats into play when he lifted.

That’s roughly his record for the chest press too.


ED Coan Program & Training Routine

Turns out, Ed Coan has come up with a collection of great training routines that today's lifters have come to love

Over the years, Ed Coan has developed some amazing training programs and routines which have become the go-to choice for young powerlifters looking to develop strength.

One of these is the Ed Coan Deadlift Routine which he designed for Mark Philippi.


Ed Coan Deadlift Routine

This deadlift routine by Ed Coan was and still is a 10 week program for improving deadlift performance

This is a 10-week program designed with one sole aim, to improve your deadlift. Naturally, before you begin, you should have a fair idea of your current 1 rep max and your desired 1 rep max, which ideally should be 30-40 lbs. more than your current one.

You only deadlift once a week. But it’s a combination of heavy deadlifts, followed by speed lifts and other accessory exercises for the lower back.

Week 1-4 are all about getting your back ready and will focus heavily (no pun intended) on top sets. Then you will dramatically reduce the weight and shift focus to acceleration.

Weeks 6-10 will be about getting to the peak of your deadlift form. The volume drops greatly while you get more rest in between sets. There will be a fair bit of accessory work involved too on these days, like Underhand Grip Lat Pulldowns, Bent Over Rows & Arched Back Good Mornings.

You can find the complete routine over here.


Ed Coan Powerlifting Program

This powerlifting program is more old school and veers more towards compound lifts

The second Ed Coan training program that you might bump into, is the ‘Ed Coan Powerlifting Training Program’. This is an old school training routine that emphasizes heavily on the compound lifts. 

  • Day 1 – Squat day (Exercises include squat, single leg press, single leg curl, leg extensions, seated calf raises)
  • Day 2 – Rest
  • Day 3 – Bench Day (Exercises include paused bench press, paused close grip bench press, incline Press, tricep extensions, ab workout) 
  • Day 4 – Press Day (Exercises include behind the neck press, front dumbbell laterals, seated side laterals)
  • Day 5 – Deadlift Day (Exercises include deadlifts, stiff leg deadlifts, bent over rows, t-bar rows, chin-ups, pull downs, bent over dumbbell laterals, abs)
  • Day 6 – Light Bench Day (Exercises include light wide grip bench press, dumbbell flys, weighted dips, tricep extensions, barbell curls)
  • Day 7 – Rest

Ed recommends that you limit the workout durations to 30-60 minutes while exerting maximal power while you are at it. While conventional old school programs tend to overlook the minor muscle groups, this one includes most of them, including ab work thrice a week.


How Do You Do Ed Coan Squats?

If you are focused on nailing squats head-on, then Ed Coan is one of the best coaches you can learn from

Ed Coan is a pioneer in power lifting and Olypmic lifts. A lot of that is honed repeatedly by emphasizing compound exercises like the squats. Here’s him squatting 585 lbs. after two hip replacements. So if you want to know the basics of squatting, there’s no better coach.

Coan & Dave Tate once trained athletes on how to perfect the squat. Coan emphasized on the importance of perfecting the stance. Conventional wisdom recommends opening up the knees and driving the legs into the ground to move upwards.

But Coan recommends opening your upper groin instead, by breaking his hips open. This minimizes the strain on the knees and reduces the risk of overworking or injury.

Another vital point that he highlights is hand position on the bar. Far too often, we see athletes place their hands far over the bar, which pushes the elbows up too. This can force your shoulders forward making you lean over a tad too much.

The trick is to position the hands under the bar as much as possible. This allows you to lock the entire torso into position, protecting your lower back from the strain, by preventing the unhealthy lean.


What Is Ed Coan up To Nowadays?

After taking back stage, Ed Coan is now into counter violence martial arts skills training

After his professional retirement from Power lifting following repeated doping bans, Ed Coan published a series of DVDs and books on powerlifting. His old website was ‘Strength INC’. But it is no longer functional.

For a while, he did seminars and podcasts travelling around the country. But WADA banned athletes from attending his seminars citing that it would be a violation of their norms. To the best of our knowledge, he’s currently training in ‘Counter Violence Martial Arts’


Ed Coan Wife & Daughter

Ed Coan's wife and daughter are both accomplished lifters too with impressive records under their belts

Ed Coan is married to Hege Nielsen who’s a powerlifter and was ED’s longtime girlfriend. Their daughter Stefi Cohen is a 25x world record holding powerlifter and the only woman to deadlift 4.4 times her own bodyweight.

Stefi currently offers training tutorials and tips on Hybridperformance, a company that she co-found with Elite Powerlifter and strength coach Hayden Bowe. Stefi recently made her boxing debut by KO, when she beat Haydee Zapa of Colombia.

Related Readings:

References:

  1. https://www.coursehero.com/file/p6b7100/Ed-Coan-training-at-Quads-Gym-in-Chicago-Prepared-exclusively-for/
  2. https://bult-for-life.simplecast.com/episodes/ep011-true-strength-ed-coan-rMZEkGAF
  3. https://www.ironcompany.com/blog/marty-gallagher-raw-resistance-training-greatness-of-ed-coan
  4. https://www.elitefts.com/education/motivation/whatever-happened-toernie-frantz/
  5. https://www.lift.net/workout-routines/ed-coan-deadlift-routine/
  6. https://www.midgardstrength.com/articles/ed-coans-training-program
  7. https://barbend.com/ed-coan-585-lb-squat/
  8. https://www.reddit.com/r/powerlifting/comments/420c40/statement_from_ipf_regarding_ed_coan_seminars/
  9. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poriHW0skYQ
  10. https://www.hybridperformancemethod.com/about



Ben Mayz

Hi there! I'm Ben, main author and chief editor at Fitlifefanatics.com. I have been obsessed with Strength Training and Fitness for 16 years now. My passion for living a happy fit lifestyle is what made me realize that fitness is what I wanted for my future. I went on to earn my Masters in Sports Training & Biomechanics. My passion for Strength training & fitness and my love of helping others is what made me start Fitlifefanatics. Here, myself, and a team of specialist aim to provide the most accurate, and actionable information possible in hopes to help foster the fitness community forward. You can learn more about Fitlifefanatics on our About Page