Interviewer Mike Roberts, Ph.D.: Greg, it’s an honor to interview you. You have a rather big following online, and have numerous weightlifting feats yourself. I could ask you 100 questions, but let’s keep it to these 5:
Q1: What got you into the sport of powerlifting, and can you provide some of your personal powerlifting personal records (or PRs)?
[GN]: I initially started lifting weights to get better at basketball. After a series of pretty serious injuries that knocked me out of team sports, my trainer, who happened to be a powerlifter, told me that I was probably better-suited to powerlifting in the first place. So, I started training for powerlifting as a way to satisfy my competitive urges. My personal records are a 765 squat (with knee wraps; 725 without knee wraps), a 485 bench press, and a 735 deadlift, all performed at a bodyweight of about 240 lbs.
Q2: What is the sport of powerlifting all about and what are good relative numbers in terms of performance for say a 180-lb man or a 140-lb woman?
[GN]: The sport of powerlifting consists of the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Your only goal is to lift more in those three exercises than the other people in your weight class. You’ll typically go months between competitions, though, so the sport is really about staying motivated to train and, of course, picking the right parents.
What someone considers good relative numbers really depends on your perspective. In most commercial gyms, if you squat more than 315, bench more than 225, and deadlift more than 405 as a man, you’ll some turn heads. Similar numbers for a woman would be squatting 185, benching 100, and deadlifting 275. On the other hand, if you’re a 180 pound man who doesn’t squat at least 550, bench at least 375, and deadlift at least 600, or you’re a 140 pound woman who doesn’t squat at least 315, bench at least 185, and deadlift at least 405, you’re a pretty long way from being a good lifter by international competitive standards.
If you want to see how your lifts stack up against powerlifters your size, check out the database of meet results at Open Powerlifting.
Q3: Let’s say I want to PR for a specific lift in the next 2 months. What are general tips to follow?
[GN]: 1) Make sure that your life outside the gym is helping you rather than sabotaging you. Make sure you’re sleeping enough (7-8 hours is the recommendation for the general population, but some data from Cheri Mah’s lab suggests that 9-10 hours may be a better recommendation for people undergoing strenuous training), make sure you’re eating enough calories to at least maintain weight, make sure you’re consuming enough protein (at least 0.8g of protein per pound of body weight), and try to minimize stress.
2) Get an experienced lifter or coach to check out your technique, to ensure that your performance isn’t being limited by obvious technical errors. If you have a big technique flaw, you may be able to hit a PR in a matter of weeks after cleaning it up.
3) Make sure your training is heavy enough to improve the skill of lifting max weights. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to train with at least 80-85% of your max at least once per week, and you’ll want to lift near-max weights (90-95% of your max) at least a couple times before attempting a new PR. This isn’t necessary, of course, but it increases your odds of success.
4) Tailor your training volume to your own ability to recover. This is obviously subjective, but if you always feel fresh and spry outside the gym, there’s a pretty good chance you’re not training hard enough. On the other hand, if you’re worn down, sore from head-to-toe, having sleep issues, getting hurt or sick frequently, and starting to feel apathetic about training, your training volume is probably too high. If you’re feeling a little sore and stiff, a little worn down, constantly hungry, and still very motivated to train, those are good subjective indicators that you’re training hard enough to elicit positive adaptations, but that you’re not overtraining.
Q4: It’s freaky how you can recall scientific data from dozens of studies while performing your thesis and run multiple companies. What’s your secret to this sort of multi-tasking?
[GN]: I wish I had a secret! I’d bottle it, make my billion, and retire to some island in the Caribbean. In reality, I’ve just always had strangely good recall for everything I read, and I handle sleep deprivation better than most people. It certainly helps that I enjoy what I do, though.
Q5: Can you briefly describe the missions of “Stronger by Science” and “MASS Research Reviews.”
[GN]: Stronger by Science is basically just a letter to my teenage self. When I first got into lifting, I believed a bunch of stupid things, and I did a lot of stupid things in my training because I wasn’t exposed to good information. So, I write about the stuff that would have helped me avoid a lot of the mistakes I made. I suppose the mission is to help out anyone who just wants to know more about strength training or exercise science, and who has the patience to read longform content.
The mission of MASS is to make science more accessible for athletes and coaches who either don’t know how to read and interpret scientific literature, or who just don’t have the time to do so.
Thanks so much for the time today, Greg. Look forward to catching up soon.
To learn more from Greg, check out these links below:
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