Arnold Wooden by the numbers
1950 — The year he began lifting weights
330 — Maximum pounds he has bench pressed
81 — His age
18 — How many years he competed
17 — Trophies he won
15 — How old he was when he started weightlifting
Arnold Wooden began lifting weights longer ago than many Forsyth County residents have been alive, and he attributes his longevity to the practice.
Wooden, 81, got his start more than 60 years ago in Chattanooga, Tennessee, just across the state line from his hometown of Rossville.
“I was 15 years old in 1950,” he said. “I started with the Lookout Barbell Club.”
After some time, he made Chattanooga’s Frye Institute his new home base for lifting.
“We had a barbell club and boxing and weightlifting and all of that, and that’s where I started and spent just about all of my weightlifting time there,” Wooden said.
Wooden first began competing in high school and has since lost track of how many competitions in which he participated.
“My first weightlifting meet was in 1952 at Georgia Tech,” he said. “I can’t remember how many more I had; at least 17, because that’s how many trophies I have.”
While he might not recall the number of competitions, there are some that stick out.
“In 1960, in a power lift meet, I did a 330-pound bench press, a real strict one – you had judges watching you, you couldn’t bounce it off your chest like they do in the clubs now – a 400-pound squat and 500-pound deadlift,” he said. “The guy who beat me did about 600; I think he was part ox.”
In total, Wooden lifted for nearly 20 years before stepping away.
And went out on top.
“The last came in 1968, and that’s where I did my best lifting,” he said. “I weighed about 220 in the heavyweight class, and I did a 270 [Olympic] press, 255 squat-snatch and a 330 clean and jerk with an 855 total, and that stood for a record for quite a time … for people from Chattanooga.”
His weightlifting prime coincided with his time in the U.S. Navy, which he joined after graduating high school in 1954 and served in for two years.
Wooden’s all-time maximum lifts were a 500-pound deadlift, 440-pound squat, 330-pound bench press, 270-pound Olympic press, 260-pound squat-snatch and 330-pound clean and jerk.
“That was pretty good for back then. Now they’re doing 500 and 600 pounds in the clean and jerk,” he said. “I think the world record now in the deadlift is about 1,200 pounds, and I did 500.”
Not just a lifter, Wooden also sang for 22 years with the Southern Gospel Quartet, where he recorded 11 albums and performed more than 1,000 concerts.
Today, Wooden works at out the Fitness 1440 near his home and worships at Cumming Baptist Church. He stays active, but he doesn’t do the heavy lifting anymore.
“I go about four times a week now to the club, and I spend one day out in my yard cutting my grass and that’s a workout,” he said. “I work out just about every day. Three days a week I use the weights, and two days a week I do cardio.”
He attributes his healthy lifestyle to his recovery from a recent heart attack.
“It keeps you in shape,” Wooden said. “I’m in excellent health right now, better than I’ve been in in a long time. That lifting is awesome; it keeps you flexible. It keeps you going.”