PR Friday and Robert’s First Meet

I asked one of my Vintage Strong lifters, Robert, to write up a recap after his first powerlifting meet last week. I’ve been incredibly proud of his work in and out of the gym, and thought his story would be a great one to share with you all, and knew that he’s a great writer and it would make a good read. What he sent me impressed me even more than I imagined. This is a heart-felt and honest story, folks. Check it out, and post your PRs in the comments as you would any other Friday – but go ahead and mention how many days out from your next meet you are while you’re at it. – Cloud 

When I first started trying to write this I had a difficult time deciding what was worth sharing. Should I talk about how I learned pretty quickly that a competition bench is much wider than the bench I use for training at my gym, and as a result I felt rock solid steady on that thing? Or how on my third bench attempt my face split into a huge grin as soon as I got the press command because I felt how easy 248 was, and then got teased by the judges because, “there ain’t no smiling during the lift?” How about the incredible embodiment of strength in all the participants through their support, compassion, and empathy? Or how I went nine for nine (and got a perfect 27 for 27 from the judges), set four PRs (three coming on my final attempts for each lift), and I shattered my goal of a 1000lb total by hitting 1063? All of these were eye opening, and very important for me, but I was still curious as to what I could possibly have to say that is worth hearing. Then it hit me: this has been my biggest hurdle both in and out of the gym. I rarely understand why anyone would think I am worth whatever he or she is asking of me, because I constantly think I am not good enough. Maybe, just maybe, Cloud is still coaching me out of the gym, and knows I need to work on this… so I decided to write about how I hit 1063 by NOT listening to that asshole little voice in the back of my head that tells me, “you are not good enough,” and instead listened to my coach and my handler (here is a great article by Cloud that hammers this same stuff out very clearly).

Cloud started coaching me back in March. I had been running the Greyskull LP for about a month or so, and had been really enjoying it. However, I had been program hopping for the last three and a half years, and as a result, I had basically the same PRs in March that I had four years prior. GSLP might be a good program, but I finally realized that I needed to reach out and ask for some help.

Cloud slid into the role of coach effortlessly, and he knew really quickly how to explain to me the plans we were implementing, and how to get my head out of my ass. We continued to run a modified LP right up to four weeks out from the meet, when we transitioned to a Texas Method taper approach. I could go into all the detail for you, but suffice to say, that for the first time since my D1 swim coach in college, I trusted someone to tell me what to do, when to do it, and that it would be the right move. I trusted that Cloud knew more than I did, and as a result the whole “not good enough” attitude started to fade.

Come meet day it was impossible for Cloud to be there in person to keep an eye on me. He was out in Austin for his Push/Pull, and I was in Atlanta. Cloud and I did take some time to map out exactly how to approach the attempts, and he made a fantastic plan for me to give to my handler when things got rolling. Enter my buddy Alex.

I asked Alex to handle me because Alex coaches another guy at our gym, Dave, and Dave set some solid PRs a few weeks back. He told me he never knew what was on the bar because Alex put in the weights so he wouldn’t think. I immediately wanted Alex to do the same. As someone who overthinks, I knew I could ruin the meet by overthinking my second and third attempts.

Alex is a few years my junior, but he is a huge inspiration to me. He also competes in the 198lb weight class, and is a trainer at the gym where I train: Core Body Decatur. Besides his great lifting knowledge, Alex is just an all around great person, and despite my insistence on paying him, agreed to come handle me free of charge. I sent him Cloud’s spreadsheet two days out, and all I heard from him between then and meet day was, “looks good, but let’s see how your openers look.” I was a bit disheartened by this, because I of course interpreted Alex’s response as, “You are not good enough to hit those weights.” Boy, was I wrong. Alex did not tell me, but he thought I was shortchanging myself.

When Alex arrived on Saturday morning he completely overhauled what I had planned. He cut my expected warm-up reps by almost two-thirds, and I was admittedly a bit nervous going into the first squat. Next thing I knew, 319 felt like kiddy weight and was quickly followed by a very easy 342 (which was the worst case scenario third attempt Cloud and I had come up with). I was starting to buy in. Third attempt goes up with a bit of a fight, but nothing bad. I went to the table and asked how much it was. They just laughed at me and said 358. 358!? A thirteen-pound PR that easily? That was what Cloud and I thought might be a best-case scenario. Needless to say, I was listening to my handler from there on out.

The bench went similarly. Smaller warm up, super easy opener and second attempt. Third attempt felt so light I grinned like a fool, and then came to find out I had just pushed 248, an eight-pound PR, easily. Moreover, Alex actually had to go beyond the plan Cloud and I had mapped out, because we guessed 242 at best.

Deadlift time: my bread and butter. The one lift I knew I had in the bag. I also knew that I had performed so well on the squat and bench, that all I had to do was hit my 395 opener to break 1000. That felt awesome. No pressure now, just fun time. Same thing: super short warm up, incredibly easy opener. Second attempt, Alex gives me advice for the first time: “Keep your hips high and your shoulders over the bar. This ought to go up pretty easy, but you tend to hitch when you get those shoulders back too early.” Fair enough, except it was not pretty easy. It was SUPER easy. It was also 430, a fifteen pound PR, and what Cloud and I mapped out as my most likely third attempt. I am geared up now, thinking “third attempt, what might happen?” Again, Alex steps close to me, “I have no doubt you have the strength to make this pull, but you have got to keep your shoulders ahead of the bar, otherwise you will hitch.” I step up, start to pull, and it gets going and then it hits me, this is a tough pull. However, I kept my shoulders back, and actually remembered Cloud’s advice instead of Alex’s: “when it gets heavy, just ride it out. Do not let go. Just keep it moving. It will be there.” It was. A 457 deadlift, a forty-two- pound PR, and it sure as hell was good enough.

IPF Classic Worlds

The IPF is hosting the “first” annual IPF World Classic Championship this week in Russia. I use the term “first” a bit loosely, because they had a nearly identical raw contest last year, but slightly changed the name this year (primarily because this year, they are hosting Junior and Sub-Junior Raw classes as well as Open).

Here’s where you can watch it live (scroll down for the schedule – keep in mind that they are 9 hours ahead of the Central Time Zone, 8 hours ahead of EST, etc.):

Here’s the lifter start list:

Here’s where you can check out the IPF Classic World Records/Standards, MANY of which will be broken this week:

Some (American) Men’s lifters of note (I’ll make another post about the ladies):

Eric Kupperstein (59kg) and Shawn Frasquillo (66kg) lift Tuesday at 5pm (in Russian time – subtract the proper # of hours for your time zone). Eric’s been lifting for about 200 years, including last year at the IPF Classic Cup, and has pulled over 550lbs at 123lbs bodyweight, and 578 at 132. Shawn’s a local central-Texas fella who looks about a week out from a bodybuilding show at any point, and holds the US record with a 341lb bench in the 148 class, and 363 as a light 165.

For some reason, we don’t have any entries in the 74 or 83kg Open classes, but LS McClain (another Texan) will put on a great show as a 93kg. You might have seen him win Raw Nationals last year, and if you did, you’ll remember his bench – he hit 201kg/443lbs as a 198 – with a pretty close grip and a minimal arch. He’s a beast. The man he edged out at Raw Nats has a familiar name, and will be competing in the 93kg Junior class – Ian Bell. He will absolutely destroy the Jr. World Standard in the deadlift – probably on his second attempt. He’s got a great chance of bringing another Gold back to Austin. Ian lifts Thursday at 10am, and LS lifts on Friday at 12:30pm (remember, that’s Russian time).

Robert Trettin is a strong young guy that I saw at Raw Nats, but haven’t met. He’ll be in an extremely tough 105kg field, led by Russian Alex-Edward Raus, whose 325kg squat is a thing of beauty. They’ll be lifting Saturday at 1pm.

Everyone knows Mike T. He had a very tough IPF Classics last year (to say the least – read my coverage here), and we’re all hoping he can come out this year and take the gold, though he’s coming in ranked second to a Russian monster. There’s also another American in the class, Michael Hedlesky, who I haven’t heard of, but has very respectable numbers, including a 350kg deadlift. They lift Sunday at 11am, along with the SHW lifters – notably, Brad Gillingham. Brad is an all-time great, and comes in as the heavy favorite to win (and to demolish the WR DL, naturally). Getting up Sunday morning to watch these two classes is going to be worth it!


Take a good look at the American representation in the Junior classes – I’m not familiar with most of them, but I’m sure I will be soon, and so will you. The future of powerlifting in the US – especially raw – is pretty stellar. Guys like Gregory Johnson (who I’ve seen at pretty much every local TX meet, and has pulled 727.5 as a 220) are a lot of fun to watch and have just begun reaching their potential.


Agility Ladders

The majority of people in what I call “the online training communities” are general strength and conditioning trainees. That means they are lifting, doing high intensity conditioning, but not much else. They may be competing in powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting or CrossFit, but those sports or competitions feature testing movements that are repeated over and over in training, albeit in different variations. Unfortunately some athletic elements are neglected, no matter how much CrossFit wants to claim athletic supremacy or strength trainees want to claim magical athletic prowess just because they are stronger.

(Here’s a completely inarticulate video about agility ladders. Watch Chris on the ladder — he’s very deft for a 310 pound guy)

General strength and conditioning training doesn’t include many dynamic movements that require re-positioning the body in space. Or any activities that require reaction to visual or other sensory stimulus. And there especially aren’t any rotation or lateral shear stresses on the spine, though we won’t be getting into that today. Instead, we’re focusing on those important athletic skills under the umbrella of “mobility” like agility, speed, balance, and overall kinesthetic coordination. These skills aren’t present in most general types of training, but are prevalent in high school, collegiate, and professional sport training programs. And I think it’s something everyone should utilize.

Agility, or foot work, drills are the easiest activity to add to your training. They aren’t significantly stressful, they can be done in a short amount of time, and can be done as part of your warm-up. Agility drills will also be a safe way for your lower leg structures to adapt to actual activity — stuff other than walking around and squatting. The drills will develop overall coordination, improve balance, and do so dynamically. It’s one thing to think, “I have good balance” when your feet are planted firmly under your shoulders, but it’s another thing entirely to move quickly and need to change direction without losing your balance. At the very least this is useful in a worst case scenario (dodging a moving car, fighting someone, etc.).

Agility ladder drills are a great way to perform foot drills and can be performed as part of the warm-up. I suggest doing your mobility work first, then go ahead and start on the ladder. Drills can be done for 5 to 10 minutes as a general warm-up before moving to your lifting schedule. Whatever drills you perform won’t be debilitating to your lifting, and if it is you are probably out of shape and need to do some conditioning work anyway. If you were going to lift maximally, then I would excuse you from agility work, but if you don’t compete in a strength sport I would have you do agility ladder drills as part of your warm-up every day. Especially for team sport athletes and soldiers.

I’m not going to get into the drills here — this is more of a post to teach the utility in doing agility ladder work — but some of the good ones include one foot in every hole (forward and lateral), one foot in every other hole (forward or lateral), single Ickey shuffle, double Ickey shuffle, and hop scotch. Running through each of those seven drills once will only take a few minutes. You can do two reps of each drill to get some more work in. The best drills are the single and double Ickey shuffles with the single version being the best. It’s excellent at teaching a person how to shift their weight laterally, how to maintain balance while changing directions, and improves foot speed. These drills can also be used as high intensity conditioning work, and you could even time your rest periods. If you aimed to use ladder drills as conditioning, then it would be okay to do them at the end of your training session (though your skill and agility development will be inhibited when you are fatigued).

Briefly, a point of emphasis in all agility work, including ladder drills, is to keep the feet under the hips. If the feet extend out in front, behind, or to the sides of the hips, then the base of support diminishes. Change of direction is dependent on having your feet under your center of mass to quickly apply force to stop or start, so keep the feet under the hips. To use the single Ickey shuffle as an example (which is what Chris and I do in the video above), must people will step too far lateral with their outside foot preventing a good base to push off that foot to move in the opposite direction — Chris does this a little bit. Keeping the feet under the hips is the key to agility and lateral speed. It’s also useful to burst into a ten yard sprint after completing the last segment of the ladder drill — it will teach the transition from agility or lateral movement to linear speed.

You can find cheap ladders on Amazon or sport stores, but I am partial to ladder segments that don’t slide up and down the straps. It can be quite annoying setting up a ladder with segments pushed around in a big bungle fuck. Most ladders are about 10 yards long, and that’s all you would need for training (we used a longer one in the above video).

If you want a new, interesting, method to warm-up and develop important athletic skills, then try out an agility ladder. When I played football I prided myself on my foot work and lateral speed, but that was probably due to the fact that I was linearly slow. Throw it in as a regular warm-up, or put it at the end of your workout for conditioning (doing agility work when tired is better than no agility work at all). Focus on a good, athletic body position (knees/hips bent, slight forward lean) with the feet under the hips. You’ll improve your coordination, perform conditioning that isn’t laborious, and ultimately improve your athletic ability with regular work.

Koklyaev and Russian Weightlifting

Mikhail “Misha” Koklyaev is one of the coolest and most successful strength athletes ever. In his career he has put up impressive performances in strongman, Olympic weightlifting, and powerlifting (the strongman stuff is recorded here).

I’ve always said that we would get along really well with Misha. Need proof? Watch this video of him comically flexing during photos after he won the super heavyweight class at the Russian nationals in 2005. A simple YouTube search will bring up all kinds of impressive athletic performances — like doing a jerk with people on his bar — combined with his trademarked goofy humor and smile. Need more proof? Here’s a video of him lifting a stone while wearing a speedo with Andrey Chemerkin recording:

You’ll note that in the above video, Misha went 200/250 for a 450kg total. Recently he won the Russian Cup with 200/248 despite tweaking something during warm-ups (video below). This led many of us to think, “Does this mean he’ll be going to the Olympics?”

The answer most of us saw online was that the Russian team was not taking him, and it was because of his public admission of PEDs use. The World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) and Olympic committee allegedly only give countries a couple of chances to fail drug tests. The PR storm over allowing a known drug user on the team would have probably made things difficult, and the Russians allegedly were unwilling to risk a positive test since it could remove their weightlifting team from Olympic competition. This seems to be the primary reason, but Russian national team coach David Rigert and Russian Weightlifting Federation president Sergey Syrtsov discuss other points in this translated press conference.

I get the impression that Koklyaev doesn’t get along with the RWF. Perhaps it stems from his admission of drug use? Or maybe it’s that Misha is unwilling to bleed himself dry for the RWF? Misha admits to “quarreling with people” (in the video below), and the Syrtsov says in the press conference that Misha pursued strongman in order to earn more money. If Russian weightlifters fare a quarter as bad as American weightlifters, then you can’t really blame him.

Syrtsov points out that Koklyaev regularly competed internationally as a teen and junior competitor, even besting the 2000 and 2004 gold medal super heavyweight Hossein Rezazadeh as a junior. Yet Syrtsov and Rigert basically come to the point that Misha’s international performance is poor, which effected his Olympic team consideration. They point out that international competition is different than success at home.

Rigert then points out that he coached Misha three times and he lifted up to 30kg lower in the total. Then he weirdly points out how Misha’s wife stopped working for Rigert once she and Misha got together — bitter much, Rigert?

This is a well produced video of Misha’s 2011 Russian Cup victory:

Rigert talks about how Misha was invited and attended training at the national facility. In Rigert’s words, after two weeks Misha just left. Obviously there’s more to the story, and there seems to be an obvious friction between Misha and Rigert, but this was what Rigert told reporters. He then went on to lambaste Misha by saying his eight national championships were all earned when his real competitors were busy preparing for bigger competitions. He’s basically saying, “It’s not that impressive because the real competition wasn’t there.”

Despite all of this, his victory in the Russian Cup made him a candidate for the team. Yet Syrtsov says that the documents they sent Misha were returned in the mail because Misha no longer lived at the address. Then Rigert candidly points out that all of the relevant information — about protocol and what Misha was expected to do — was explained to him. He was subject to a medical examination (i.e. a drug test). Rigert cannot put him on the team if he doesn’t pass this test, and Misha was not present for his test. Rigert then points out that they have two strikes regarding drug tests, implying that if they fail, it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, they will be removed from Olympic competition. He finishes by basically saying, “Of course I’d want a strong athlete on the team, but not if he can only compete in Russia.”

I’m sure there is more to the story, but it all seems to stem from Misha’s drug use. It must be frustrating for him to go from strongman, a sport that inherently has athletes using PEDs, to a sport like weightlifting where the official committees pretend to stamp out PEDs while most of the athletes use them and don’t get caught. Perhaps Misha has a problem with authority, but he seems to be in good humor in all of his videos. It’s unfortunately clear that politics can decide a guy’s fate. Nevertheless, Misha is still one of the most impressive strength athletes of all time at 34 years old.


Doyle Kenady Is A Model Citizen

903 pound WR deadlift by Doyal Kenady

Doyle Kenady weighed 305 pounds of, as you can see, grizzled muscle. Dr. Fred Hatfield (AKA Dr. Squat) pays tribute to Doyle (he gives him the honor of Dr. Deadlift) in this excellent article written in Powerlifting USA (November, 1986). The world record at the time was Bill Kazmaier’s 886. This may not seem like much nowadays since the 1,000 pound barrier has been breached and there are amazing deadlifters like Andy Bolton, Benedikt Magnusson, and Konstantin Konstantinovs. Yet it was still the world record, and Kazmaier was a powerlifting phenom before he transitioned to a career in strongman competitions.

Kenady’s performance in this meet is amazing. I’ll let Dr. Squat give you the recap:

Doyle’s lift will take a special place in the history of great lifts because he did his record buster after massive attempts in the squat and bench press only minutes before. His deadlift was done under the most trying of circumstances possible, under near crippling conditions of fatigue.

Moreover, it was his third attempt that cracked the 900 pound barrier. Imagine! Two attempts in the squat, one of which was over 900 pounds; three attempts in the bench press, all over 500 pounds; then two attempts over 830 pounds in the deadlift before pulling the heaviest, official record breaking deadlift of mankind to an erect standing position.

Hatfield also recounts how Doyle called for a 4th attempt (allowed after setting a world record) and got it to just above his knees despite having to follow his own attempt. I’m sitting here in disbelief; breaking past 900 pounds — when it has never been done before — to set the world record without taking token squat and bench attempts is amazing. No wonder they called this guy “Sasquatch” and “Grizzly Bear” — two of the most bad ass nicknames ever.

Kenady was an amazing athlete, yes, but I want to point out that all of the people that met him or knew him said that he was a very laid back guy. He was kind, supportive, and helpful. Humble and amiable. Kenady had the look of a bad ass but was a genuine nice guy; what a man should be. In a time where athletes trash talk each other and want attention, I look up to Kenady for his “old school” personality. I look up to him as an athlete as well as a man; he is the epitome of a 70’s Big attitude.

Edit: Doyle is no longer living; apparently he died of heart disease. His training consisted of the three big lifts without much assistance work, and his schedule had more rest days than training days. Read Dr. Hatfield’s article and he tells a story of training with Kenady a few weeks before the meet — Doyle pulled 895 for a triple!