Ronnie Coleman’s First Powerlifting Competition

Ronnie Coleman Deadlift
Ronnie Coleman Deadlift

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How many of you knew Ronnie Coleman was a powerlifter? His first meet went down at the Fourth Annual Texas Deadlift Classic held in Alvarado, Texas. This video features a pre-Mr. Olympia Coleman successfully deadlifting a massive 728 pounds, followed by 76 year old former preacher and truck driver Roy Mason, aka Whistling Roy, deadlifting 539 lbs. Shouts of “Yeah, buddy” and “light weight” are heard as Coleman snorts ammonia and psyches himself up, feeding on the audience’s energy. With all the biceps stress deadlifts create, especially with a full lockout, he’s lucky that at least torn biceps have eluded him thus far. Coleman is on record saying he’ll stop lifting when he’s dead and he isn’t kidding. He has always been quickly back in the gym after each of his numerous surgeries and has recently been going through physical therapy to get on his feet again after his latest back surgery.

For the record, the ammonia powerlifters snort is not the cleaning agent but smelling salts aka ammonia inhalants. The usual active compound is ammonium carbonate. Traditionally, smelling salts have been used to prevent fainting. Their use was not uncommon in the boxing ring to revive dazed fighters but is now banned in most boxing competitions. Smelling salts have been used since Roman times and many athletes today such as Phil Kessel, Alexander Ovechkin, Tyler Seguin, Sean Monahan, Derick Brassard, Keith Kinkaid, Ilya Kovalchuk, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Carlos Boozer, Samuel Eto’o, David Desharnais, Greg Hardy, Johnny Gaudreau and Tom Brady have been seen using smelling salts on the sidelines.

Here’s some technical data related to ammonia:

Smelling salts release ammonia (NH3) gas, which triggers an inhalation reflex (that is, cause the muscles that control breathing to work faster by irritating the mucous membranes of the nose and lungs. Additionally, the irritant elevates the heart rate, blood pressure, and brain activity by activating the sympathetic nervous system. Fainting can be caused by excessive parasympathetic and vagal activity that slows the heart, and decreases perfusion of the brain. The sympathetic irritant effect is exploited to counteract these vagal parasympathetic effects and thereby reverse the faint.


There have been no reported adverse health effects associated with smelling salts. They produce only a small amount of ammonia gas. However, ammonia gas is toxic in large concentrations for prolonged periods and can be deadly.

One reason smelling salts have been banned in the boxing ring is because if a fighter needs smelling salts to revive, then they don’t belong in the ring. Also, anyone knocked out from a punch, or otherwise, with unseen spinal injuries, could have their neck jerked sharply as the smelling salts abruptly wakens them, thus exacerbating the injury.

If you’re wondering if smelling salts are legal in powerlifting competitions, the answer is yes. Yeah, buddy!

Ronnie Coleman went on to become the best bodybuilder in the world for eight years and Roy Mason, July 1986 Powerlifting Magazine cover man and author of “The Life of a Truck-Driver Preacher and Weight Lifter for Christ”, died in 2005. He was 87 years of age.

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