The first time I met Carlos at TPS, he (unknowingly?) trolled our weightlifting team by loading up a bar to 400-500lbs on a platform and then disappearing for 45 mins while his “deadlift suit stretched out.” Despite this (and pulling sumo at the time too!) over time I came to find him as a laidback, incredibly friendly guy who was always in the gym, either lifting or showing up just to help others train. His transformation and programming makes for a great story that I’m happy to share here. – Brian
Tell us about your background, how you got started lifting, and how long you have been powerlifting.
Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to be muscular and strong so I picked up my first magazine issue of Men’s Health at my local CVS in Andover, Massachusetts (at the time, I thought the bodybuilder magazines were too gross looking). I found a chest and back workout, that had some arm work thrown in. l did that workout at the town’s local health club for at least a month, thinking I didn’t need to train legs as I was still playing soccer at the time. On top of soccer I did lacrosse and track and field, but was always dissatisfied with team sports when teammates didn’t give it their all even though I always did.
I got into lifting weights in my senior year of high school. I had just finished my last season of cross-country, weighing in at 125lbs, and wanted to get into another individual sport. In May of 2008 I found my current gym, Total Performance Sports in Boston, and started seriously Powerlifting. This has more or less been the only gym I’ve ever gone to since I first started lifting weights. It’s one of the few gyms I know that houses Olympic Weightlifters, Strongmen, Powerlifters, and MMA/combat fighters. [ed. note: this gym is legit, definitely 70's Big]
What’s your programming typically look like? Do/have you use(d) any of the popular programs (531, TX method, etc) and if so which do you like the best?
When I first started lifting I started by using Westside. Then I came across Sheiko and was intrigued by it and ran these three different cycles of it in this order: #29 then #37 and peaked with #32. I found that this improved my total more so than the Westside training ever had so I kept doing it for a while and started tinkering with it.
About two years ago, I became interested in the block concept because I read that Sheiko was a form of this bigger concept called Block Periodization and asked my friend Thomas Butler about it. Thomas is a close friend of mine who I met through competing in Powerlifting in the 181 class. I was stronger than him at the meets we did together but his gift with Powerlifting has more to do with programming and we quickly became good friends. Tom was also interested in trying out a block program and sent me a training cycle that he had written. I followed it through to the letter and loved it. We eventually collaborated on an adaption of it that best suited my needs and as a result I really started to see my totals increase.
Starting at my ~1400 total and using Tom’s block programming, I hit:
- 1520 Total: 525 Squat, 365 Bench, 630 Deadlift (October 22nd, 2011)
- 1640 Total: 610 Squat, 370 Bench, 660 Deadlift (October 20th, 2012)
- 1700 Total: 635 Squat, 400 Bench, 665 Deadlift (March 23rd, 2013)
In less than a year and a half, I put 300 pounds on my total.
Carlos pulls 665 to round out a 1700lb total
I always go with Thomas’ programming whenever I do a meet because I tend to have paralysis by analysis; thankfully he takes all the thinking out of it for me. So while I have programmed other lifters, I could never write out my own training because I could never be that objective with myself. Whenever I’m not prepping for a meet, I always gravitate to 5/3/1 to maintain and give my body a rest. I find that Block Periodization tends to beat me up too much; if I used it as an annual plan I would either burn out or injure myself.
Block isn’t a routine ala 5/3/1. It’s a concept designed to move effectively towards a specific end using three training blocks: Accumulation, Transmutation, and Realization. Each block is roughly 3 weeks of training, followed by a one week deload at the end of each block. In accumulation you get into “Powerlifting shape,” meaning that increased hypertrophy and work capacity are the goals of this block. The basis of the transmutation block is to take the general abilities and transfer them to specific abilities using increased intensity and reduced volume. I think it’s important to know it’s normal to feel like shit during this block, but you should still be able to hit all of the numbers you planned to hit. The realization block is the final stage of training before a meet where volume is low and the intensity is high. It’s often referred to as a taper and the training is directed to the competition lifts.
You are a really well balanced 220lber, do you ever take more time to focus on one lift more so than the others, or have you always pretty much given the squat/bench/deadlift equal treatment?
Here’s my training philosophy: I practice the competition lifts to get good at them. Granted, there are some programming considerations to make when preparing for a meet, but to ignore any of the competitive lifts is a big mistake. You want all of the contest lifts to be automatic; to be second nature. To get there you need to do many reps the same way you would in the meet, including using gear if you’re equipped.
Your meat and potatoes of your total is going to come from your Squat and Deadlift, but the Bench Press is vital to maintain momentum leading into the Deadlift flight of a Powerlifting meet. I may never have any of my one individual lifts be in the top 10 lifts of all time, but that doesn’t matter to me. The end goal is having the best total, and the lists I care about are the National and World record totals for whichever weight class I compete in.
I believe that in order to be great, you must look at Powerlifting like any other sport. You have to be skill specific and therefore train to meet the explicit demands of Powerlifting. Hitting the upper echelons of strength involves training speed strength, limit strength, and etc. Therefore you can’t reasonably spend your training economy on specialization of a certain lift and on top of that you need to be aware of how much volume you do. I’m nowhere close to perfect on these things. I’m just trying to highlight the fact that to be a good Powerlifter you have you practice your skill and not ignore any of the competition lifts.
You train at a gym with a decent amount of geared lifters. Have you gotten any influence from the geared guys, or been able to take training ideas from geared lifters and successfully use them to get stronger at raw lifting?
I think choosing to pursue raw lifting rather than equipped lifting was crucial for me because it forced me to focus entirely on what really matters: getting stronger.
The last equipped meet I did was the 2011 Europa Battle of Champions. During the meet, after Squatting 705lbs, I thought to myself, “Do I look like a guy that can Squat 705lbs?” Unfortunately I bombed on Bench, and gave myself an early exit to the showers.
The next day when I saw myself in my bathroom mirror, my face was absolutely obliterated; it was completely covered in popped blood vessels and the whites of my eyes were entirely covered in blood. I told myself that this wasn’t healthy at all; I could only imagine the intra-cranial pressure my brain must have experienced as a result of the supramaximal weights my body was handling. It was then that I told myself that I was never going to compete equipped again. It’s scary to think that lifting maximal weights alone might potentiate brain damage, let alone handling weights that are 200, 300, hell 400 pounds over your raw max.
Since then, I’ve decided to go raw. I still look at the geared lifters at my gym as my mentors. I am still a kid in their eyes, since most of them have at least ten years of lifting experience and if anything, I take every piece of advice they give me and apply it. I’m very big on mobility work and getting your body as healthy as possible. In seeing how some of my more experienced peers are limited by their chronic injuries, have I decided to learn from their mistakes and do my best to keep on top of things and to take care of my body.
I may be 23, but I desire longevity in this sport in order to achieve my goals. I cannot afford to lose time due to preventable injury. As lifters, we can barely afford to have a bad training session, let alone get sidelined by an otherwise avoidable injury. I do my best to see a Chiropractor and undergo A.R.T. and Graston treatments on a semi-regular basis. Plus, I am always sure to do a general and sport specific warm ups before EVERY training session. It may look goofy, but I rather spend the 10-15 minutes to get my body ready for the task at hand.
Tell us about what you generally eat. Do you follow any of the popular diets (paleo, carb cycling, vegan lol, etc)
When I first started training, I was 125lbs, so the first thing I did was temporarily cut out any cardio I was doing. I was running just about 10 miles per day at the time, so going from one extreme to another was a huge paradigm shift. However, I knew that if I wanted to reach my size and strength goals, I had to really focus on changing my eating habits. If memory serves me right, my first “real” training program was the infamous “Squats and Milk” program:
- Press behind neck 3 x 12
- Squat 1 x 20
- Pullover 1 x 20
- Bench press 3 x 12
- Rowing 3 x 15
- Stiff legged deadlift 1 x 15
- Pullover 1 x 20
This in addition to, of course, a gallon of whole milk a day. At that time I ate every 2-3 hours, totaling six meals per day, all while using the milk as a supplemental source of extra calories. Following this routine, I gained 55lbs in 8 months, thus shifting my weight from 125lbs to 180lbs.
When I came to Total Performance Sports, I began following a program similar to that of the Westside approach. My diet therefore had to change, so I wrote myself a quality mass diet to go along with my new training style. I ate 90-95% of “clean” foods; i.e. no candy, no fried stuff, no junk food, and no fast food. In order to calculate my caloric intake goals, I used this formula: body weight x 16 + 20%
Following that logic, I consumed 3456 calories on training days, and on non-training days I consumed maintenance caloric levels. This approach worked well, as I was able to consistently gain 10lbs every 3 months. When my lifts stopped advancing, I made sure to gain another 10lbs over the next 3 months.
By the time I reached the 200-210lb mark, I realized I had put on too much body fat, and had to tweak my dietary program. I began using a carb cycling approach, and started improving my body composition. I’ve been in the 200+ body weight range for the past two years, but my body composition has been steadily improving. When I began, I was 210lbs at 25% bodyfat, and now I’m at 215lbs at 17%. I think measuring your body fat on a regular basis and using concrete numbers to monitor your body composition is absolutely crucial to making progress.
Thomas and I track my body composition as a marker of whether or not a training block was successful. If my lifts are improving, but I’ve only put on body fat, it generally tells us that improvements are due to mass leverage, and that I’m becoming an inefficient lifter. There is no point in adding mass for the sake of mass if it is solely acting as deadweight.
My current body composition goal is to be 210lbs with 10-12% body fat. My ultimate goal is to maintain that body fat percentage while at 225lbs. Although it is a painstaking process, the substantial increases in my competition totals make it well worth the effort; it’s verification for me.
When you interact with skinny hipsters do they react to you like you are Godzilla? And how do you find hipster style clothes that fit you?
I couldn’t help but laugh at this question. Powerlifting is a sport that I will live and die for, but it is only one facet of who I am. I’ve been a musician for about ten years, and culturally speaking, I’ve always been a hipster-nerd type that enjoys going to thrift shops, pretentious coffee shops, and underground metal shows. You’re just as likely to see me grinding out reps on the squat as you would catch me talking about existentialism in Harvard Square.
I find it kind of weird that in the Powerlifting and music scenes often it’s not about just lifting weights or the music, but you have to dress and act a certain way to be part of the sport/scene. Like it’s mandatory to have a shaved head, facial hair, and tattoos in order to be a “true” Powerlifter. There have been times that I haven’t been taken seriously as a lifter because of those superficial things, and I think it’s silly. The majority of my friends knew me before I became a serious Powerlifter, and they don’t treat me any differently as a skinny 125lb’er versus me now at 215lbs.
One of the things that I love about Powerlifting is that it’s a pure way of expressing yourself. The weights are objective, and they’re extremely honest with you, there’s no bullshit when it comes to lifting a max weight.
If you really want to talk appearances, for actual hipster fashion, I’m lucky to live in Boston. There’s so much culture and all different walks of life here that you can find whatever you’re into and augment it to your style. I like going to this store called Bodega or any of the shops in Allston to get some fashion. Funny enough, my old tailor that use to be my go to guy for tailoring my multi-ply suits is now my actual clothing tailor. If he can make my squat suit fit I trust him with my jeans.
When is your next planned meet?
RPS and my gym are getting together to hold a meet in the Boston area, I believe it’s going to be October 12-13, that’s definitely my next meet. Any of the guys from my gym, myself included, are going to compete for bragging rights.