If you’re a musclehead of a certain age (or even just someone who was online in the early days of YouTube), the phrases “yeah buddy” and “light weight” are probably ingrained deep within your psyche. That’s thanks to Ronnie Coleman, the legendary powerlifter and bodybuilder who, along with winning eight straight Mr. Olympia titles, was one of the first viral stars of the fitness internet.
Coleman’s big lifts and intense energy (along with those catchphrases) made his early clips immensely popular, no matter where on the web they were posted. He’s now retired from bodybuilding and training, but Coleman has found an outlet on YouTube. For a recent video, he filmed a reaction to what might be the most iconic of his lifts caught on film: his 800-pound squat. For context, the official clip hosted on Coleman’s own page has over 61 million views, while other unofficial postings have over a million views as well.
When Coleman took on the squat, he had never attempted that much weight before. “My thought process began on my way to the gym when I was riding in the car,” he says. “I was trying to think to myself exactly how am I going to do this… I was getting myself psyched up, telling myself I knew I could do it because… I had done the 800-pound deadlift two years before.”
Coleman says if there’s one thing he would do over, he would’ve attempted more than just the two reps that he wound up completing. He had pulled two reps on that deadlift, so he thought two for the squat would be a safe number.
Exactly how he would go about the attempt was just as important for Coleman as his plan for how many reps he’d aim for once the weight was on his back. He had been a competitive powerlifter—but for this feat of strength, he decided that he wouldn’t stick to the sport’s rigid guidelines for form, which dictate that competitors break a parallel squat depth, then hold the weight at the top position for reps to count. “I’m not gonna do that, because I have never done this before so I don’t know how heavy this is gonna be,” he recounts. “So I’m just gonna try to squat it, go down, and come back up.”
The bodybuilding legend also comments on one of the most notable parts of the video: his intense pre-lift yelling and preparation. In the clip, one of his spotters smacks him on the upper back just before Coleman gets under the barbell. “As soon as he hit me, I was highly upset,” Coleman remembers. “And the first rep I did was light, like super light.” After that first smooth squat, he finished another, deeper rep.
Once he was finished with the two heavy reps, Coleman wished he had gone for more. But he wasn’t in the right space to get back under the bar. “The process of getting myself geeked up and getting myself psyched up to do that was just so much stress,” he says. “And I’m like, there’s no way I’m going to do that again.”
Brett Williams, NASM
Brett Williams, a fitness editor at Men’s Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former pro football player and tech reporter who splits his workout time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts, and running.
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