Over the weekend, a video quickly started spreading amongst the powerlifters of the world. Everyone stared in disbelief as they watched…questioning at first, but finally settling into simple awe. This shocking video depicts a man none of us have ever heard of, squatting over 900 pounds with just a singlet and a belt at the Alabama State USAPL Championships. No XXS knee sleeves (certainly no wraps), no special squat-suit – not even special lifting shoes. Just a large man with a LARGE amount of weight on his back, moving it around like he’d done it a hundred times.
This man is Ray Williams. In only his second powerlifting meet, he smashed the American USAPL Squat record with his second attempt, and on his third, easily squatted a weight that would shatter the current IPF world record, were it done in the proper circumstances, with the proper judging, and, of course, assuming he becomes accustomed to waiting for the “rack” command. Did I mention this is his second meet?
I tracked down Ray in Mississippi and spoke with him on the phone about his past, his lifting, and his future goals in the sport. I had no choice but to speak to him as a fan more than as a fellow lifter – he was as respectful, humble, and generous with his time as anyone you’ll ever meet (and likely the only person who addresses me as “sir!”). He was quick to give credit to his family, especially his brother, who got him into the sport and will be competing alongside him at 2013 USAPL Raw Nationals in Orlando. Last year, the Super-Heavy showdown between Brad Gillingham and Randall Harris was epic, to say the least. I can’t wait to see what goes down this year.
Everyone is saying “Who is this guy?! Where did he come from?” Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Ray Williams, and I’m from the small town of Demopolis, Alabama. I’m about 6 feet, 361 pounds – that’s what I weighed in at the meet this past weekend. I coach Junior College Football. I’ll be married 2 years in November, and have 2 beautiful kids. My wife and my kids – they’re my motivation for powerlifting. One of the biggest reasons I think I was able to get 900lbs this past weekend was because in 2011, my daughter died. She was born, survived 11 days, and passed away due to being born premature. That, over everything else, is my motivation – her.
You have a pretty extensive football background as a player, and now you’re a coach. How important has football been to your life?
Football kept me out of trouble growing up. Seventh and Eighth grades were the toughest two years of my life. I had more discipline referrals than I had positive comments. In High School, everybody was like “come out and play football!” It was naturally easy – people pat you on the back for going and knocking the mess outta somebody! I signed at UT-Martin, made All- American my Senior year, All-Conference my Junior and Senior years. If I could do it again, I would. I was able to try out for 2 NFL teams, but it didn’t work out for me. I could have played Canadian ball, but it was just too far from my family.
So did you get your introduction to lifting from football? How long have you been lifting in general?
I started really, really getting into weights my 10th grade year. I said “If I want to be good at football, I might want to be good at this, too.” My Senior year, me and my brother William were first and second for every record in the high school. I squatted about 545, benched 440, and hang-cleaned around 315 or 335. I didn’t deadlift until after I was done playing ball.
How long have you been powerlifting specifically?
This was my second meet. My brother got into it first, and one day he talked me into it and I just ran with it.
What are your current meet and gym PRs for the big 3 lifts?
I squatted 860 and 905 (the 905 didn’t count due to a step forward before the call), benched 475, and pulled 700. I’ve benched more in the gym, but everything else was a personal record.
Do you follow a specific training schedule or program?
I try to focus on the core lifts, not so much on the auxiliaries. My week looks like this:
Monday – Deadlift, all sumo from the floor.
Tuesday – Squat, usually it looks something like this:
I want to work up to 5×10 at 700 because the gym I work out in, the bars aren’t long enough for more weight, that’s all I can get on there. Whatever I can get on there, I can’t let myself get comfortable with it, so I’m trying to add reps every week since I can’t add weight.
Wednesday – Bench Press:
Right now I don’t bench enough for my bodyweight, so I have to get to where I can rep 450 comfortably for 5 reps for multiple sets. I do multiple sets of 5 until I’m comfortable with a weight. I strained something in my arm and right shoulder and if I get out too wide, it hurts, so I try to keep my grip narrow.
Thursday – Rest
Friday – This is for all my auxilary work that make me better on my core lifts. My favorites? Curls and Tris! I’ve done biceps and tris every day for the last few weeks. I have to get my arms up.
Saturday – I just go in and loosen up and do a little cardio.
Sunday – Rest
Where do you workout? Do you train alone, or with a partner/group?
We have a huge gym in Fulton, MS, the Davis Event Center, probably one of the best Junior College Basketball Gyms around. Attached to that is a very nice weight room and I work out there. I have a partner, a student assistant that is trying to get back into powerlifting form, and I’m trying to get stronger, so we push each other.
Do you mainly train the big lifts, or do you perform variations of them as mainstays in your training?
I mostly focus on the big lifts and auxiliary work (bis and tris).
What do you think has contributed the most to your phenomenal strength levels?
I hate failure. I hate to fail. When you’re up on that platform, and everyone’s looking at you – I have my wife, my friends, my family looking at me – I don’t want to fail in front of these people. Kind of like when you’re working out, you put 700lbs on the bar, you can almost bet the entire gym is only watching you. If you get back there and you can’t move the weight, you just failed, in front of everyone. I hate failure. I hate to fail.
Tell us more about the “Cornbread and Buttermilk” story in the local newspaper. What’s your diet like?
If you google ways to get stronger, everybody in the world has their own program, “This is how I got stronger.” But somewhere in there it says “you gotta eat!” My wife’s done an awesome job feeding me, and my mother did an awesome job feeding me when I was young. I’ve always been a big dude, and one thing my grandma brought us up on was cornbread, collard greens, good down-home southern food – it’s always been a staple of my diet. I try to eat good – I’m 361 pounds, but I don’t want to look 361. I try to stay away from fried foods and greasy stuff as much as possible, but my #1 Kryptonite right now is Mountain Dew – I love it.
Finally, where do you think this is going? This being your second meet, the sky’s the limit. What are your goals for powerlifting, and your squat in particular?
I don’t want to sound bold… Right now I realize I’m blessed, but that I still need to get stronger. But right now my goal is to just get back to the lab and get better. To answer your question – everyone’s joking about calling me “little Mark Henry.” That guy was really, really good – he squatted something like 933 in high school. But I want to be just as good as him.
Impressed yet? I am. My favorite part of the conversation was a little more informal, but in regards to the 905 squat he took in the video at the top of this post:
Ray: I was wanting to hit a thousand, but they didn’t have enough 100lb plates.
Me: What?? Would you have called it, if they had it?
Ray: Oh yeah! I would have tried it. That’s my goal at Nationals. I want to do 1000 pounds.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, a legend in the making: Ray Williams.