My journey in powerlifting and strength sports, what I would do differently and what I would not change.
2022 marks the 36th anniversary of my first powerlifting contest, when a non sanctioned meet was contested at the YMCA I trained at in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. I always wanted to be a big and strong person as soon as I began junior high school in 7th grade. I began lifting weights on my own in high school with one of those 110lb Sears weight set and bench press in my garage. Once high school began, I discovered lifting weights for football, with an emphasis on the bench press and some squatting- but not powerlifting.
A small, unsanctioned powerlifting meet was contested at the local YMCA I was training at. I squatted 315, benched 260 and deadlifted 405 in my first meet, after training for 6 weeks following the end of my high school football career. I weighed about 220, and at 6’2” knew I had the desire and the frame to build muscle and pursue powerlifting with everything I had.
I grew from that 17 year old who totaled 980 to a man who would weigh as much as 325 and squat 810 bench press 534 and deadlift 750 for a total of 2094 in the official lifts. I did a lot of things right, but I also made many mistakes. If I had to do it all over again, I would advise a 17 year old male to do the following:
- Find dedicated training partners. I am on my 5th or 6th generation of training partners since I began training. I prioritized my education, career, and family at the appropriate times in my life. I had periods of time when I did not have training partners because of my aforementioned priorities. When I had regular training partners, I made the most training and competitive progress. I say this after analyzing my 30 plus year competitive career.
- Include some aerobic training for three or four sessions per week. Strength cardio is best such as medley style work of farmers walks and dragging or yoke and sled work. Use moderate weight and move dynamically to increase your heart rate and build your cardio respiratory system.
- Pay better attention to nutrition. Stan Efferding’s vertical diet is a great program to follow- steak and rice with salt being the cornerstone of a strength athlete’s fuel. I ate a large amount of dairy, carbohydrates and protein powder in my quest to become as big and strong as possible. I should have focused on nutrient dense meats such as beef and buffalo.
- Incorporate strongman training into my powerlifting program. The strongest athletes in the world when I started lifting were powerlifters. There were no strongman contests in the U.S. Today you can see that men such as Zydrunas Savickas, Eddie Hall, Brian Shaw and Thor Bjornsson are the strongest dead lifters and lot pressers in the world. They do lots of powerlifting and strongman training to become the ultimate hybrid strength athletes. Their YouTube videos show incredible weights being lifted in the powerlifts, rowing movements,incline presses, smith machine presses, arm work, and leg pressing movements.
- I would have traveled more to different training crews once I was an elite lifter. I had been invited to Westside Barbell on a few occasions and have not gone yet.
- Read all you can about training from the experts. Louie Simmons, Josh Bryant and Matt Wenning produce great material. Find Dr. Ken Leistners writings from Milo or his newsletter from the 80s, the Steel Tip. Buy John McCallum’s the Keys to Progress. Build your body while you are a teenager with hypertrophy work as they call it now. Bill Kazmaier had amazing programs of how to build muscular bulk and power, as did Anthony Ditillo. I followed and still do study these experts. Push up your 20 rep squat. I got mine to 315 for 20, and squatted 600 for 1 at 21. I should have pushed my 20 rep squat to at least 100 lbs over my weight of 240 for 20. High rep squatting builds your whole body like nothing else.
- Play sports when you are a teenager and in high school. The group setting with peers will teach you how to push yourself and you will meet training partners you may have for life. Today, many high school weight rooms have incredible facility that are just for the athletes so take advantage. I would also suggest you take a martial art to build your fitness base. I took American style TaeKwondo and today Jiu Jitsu is popular. The flexibility, endurance, cardio capability and mental toughness gained from the arts cannot be replicated.
- I used to travel to local gyms all over New England when I was young. I saw the Ultimate Warrior do a set of Upright Rows with 315 for a set of 10. It was impressive to say the least! Today, a young lifter can see famous athletes from around the world perform their workouts on social media. You can ask them questions and interact with them. My close friend Josh Bryant has amazing content as Jailhousestrong on YouTube and Instagram. Josh trained Brian Shaw during the pandemic and Brian shared these training sessions on YouTube! I just watched Brian’s latest YouTube video of his first training session of 2022, now under the guidance of Joe Kenn, long time strength coach from College Football and the NFL.
- Research old school workouts of the greats in the Iron Game as profiled on Neckberg.com.
- Find a Doctor who supports your goals and dreams as a strength athlete. I had amazing doctors in California, one in Texas and now in Arizona. You will never get strong if you are not healthy. As I write this, we are entering the second year of the pandemic. I have friends who have recovered easily from the virus- as they are strong and health conscious. Never settle for anyone who does not support you getting as strong as you can be in a safe and healthy manner. My doctors are always amazed by my laboratory work after 40 years of lifting. I tell them all the time what to do. Whether they listen is up to them.