Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Athlete Interview Series: Kevin Oak

We had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin "Oak" Okolie for this week's interview installment. Kevin is a record-holding powerlifter in the 220lb class, with his eyes on a world record total in the future.

1. Kevin, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, you are one of our favorite lifters on the interwebs. How long have you been lifting competitively, and did you do any competitive sports before Powerlifting?

Thanks for choosing me to interview, there's plenty of successful lifters out there and I take it as a compliment that you guys want to pick my brain. My name is Kevin "OAK" Okolie aka OakStrong. I originally was a runner, sprinter to be more specific. I was all American in the 100 & 200 meter dashes and ended up going to Villanova University on a 4 year track and field scholarship. In terms of lifting, I started out my junior year in high school to get a little stronger for sprinting. I was kind of indifferent to it at first until I started my winter track season and realized how much faster I had gotten. I've been addicted to the gym ever since. At first, if I remember correctly I used to do bench press, leg extensions, leg curls, lat pull downs, lateral raises, bicep curls and tricep extensions. I think my first gym goal was to bench 185 which I got after a couple of months. I don't think I was ever an outstanding bencher I've just literally been getting stronger little by little since I was 16. 12 years later I'm benching 500+. It's basically the same story with the other exercises. I think I started squatting freshman year in college and I actually didn't start deadlifting until I was 24/25.

After I graduated college I was working on Wall Street which was really stressful so at night I would go to the gym and lift just to get rid of stress. I was primarily doing bodybuilding movements but I was always starting my workouts out with squats or bench press and always trying to get those numbers up. After a while I realized powerlifting was the sport for me. So I started training specifically for powerlifting and entered my first competition in July 2013. It didn't go very well. I made a lot of rookie mistakes and ended up with a 1600lb total. A year later after being fully dedicated in July of this year I hit a 2002lb total at the same Bodyweight.

2. Low-bar squats are something very prevalent in Powerlifting. What advantages do you think your high-bar squats offer you over low-bar?

The reason I've squatted high bar is because that's how I originally learned to squat. However I'm in the process of switching to low bar. I tried to make the switch during my last cycle but started getting really bad tendinitis and pain through my arms into my shoulders. The issues seemed to stem from some technical issues and doing them too often. So during my current cycle I'm alternating weeks where one week I do high bar squats with a little volume and the next week I do low bar squats working up as heavy as I can get. This way give me more time to recover because my arms and shoulders get very beat up from the low bar position. So far I've hit PR's of 752lbs x 3 with knee wraps and a 752lb single no knee wraps.

3. The word on the street is you added 400lbs to your total in just one year. What major changes in your programming and/or diet took place to help you put on that 400lbs?

It's really closer to about 250lbs, I just made some rookie mistakes my first comp. I think my official numbers were 575/450/575 I squat 675 but I was about an inch high and instead of doing it over on my third I went for 750 because I just wanted to feel the weight since it was my only chance in a monolift. I was quite high on that attempt haha. Bench went well. On deadlift I locked out 650 but put the weight down to early because I thought I heard the command.

In terms of training, I've just been extremely focused since I started. My form on all 3 lifts has improved substantially. In January I started training at Coliseum Gym which is great for powerlifting. The gym has everything you need from a monolift to the forza competition bench to the deadlift bars. So just training there with the powerlifting team and being around people who know what they're doing really aided me in breaking that 2,000lb total barrier.

4. Do you feel that your form has changed within the last year because your body is still adapting to such a rapid increase, or has your body kept the pace?

My form as I touched on before is way better than when I first started. Maintaining good form in positioning during lifts is very important to me, more so than actually getting the lift. The way I view lifts is there are certain acceptable reasons for missing a lift and certain unacceptable reasons. For example with a squat the only acceptable reason to miss is because your legs weren't strong enough to push the weight. An unacceptable reason would be bending over to far and not being able to get back in to proper position to finish the lift which actually is similar to something that recently occurred at my last competition.

5. How much assistance work do you do to maintain such an impressive physique?

I used to do a lot of assistance / accessory work and lifted more like a bodybuilder but as time has passed I've done less and less and stick primarily to the big three movements. What I will do is variations of the main three lifts to target weaknesses such as Zercher Squats for squat, board presses for bench press and stiff leg deadlifts to help my deadlift.

6. There is a very clear racial disparity in strength sports in America, what do you think it will take to get more African-Americans involved in US strength sports?

African Americans are a monitory in Strength sports however I wouldn't necessarily say there are barriers to entry which is important. I've personally never felt awkward competing in powerlifting but at the moment powerlifting isn't very popular in the African American community. I do believe it's becoming more popular it will probably just take some time and just seeing good examples of African American strength athletes.

7. How do you feel about rounded-upper back deadlifts? This is a fairly rhetorical question.

If you're pulling real weight it's basically a necessity.

When people say not to round your back when you deadlift they're being very broad. The key is not to round your lower back. I can't think of any top dead lifters that don't round their upper back. There's plenty of 3 plate deadlifters pulling with backs straighter than arrows though.

8. Squat, bench, or deadlift: Which is your favorite, and which would you pick to do forever, if you could only do one?

My favorite of three varies. Right now it's probably the squat since hitting some good numbers in training right now. With bench press at the moment I'm doing a lot of lockout work trying to build up to a 520 - 530 bench press in November at World Champs. And for the deadlift at the moment I'm doing a lot of stiff leg and sumo Deadlifts trying to strengthen my lower back and hips (I'm a conventional puller.) so squats are the only lift I'm really throwing weight around. Usually whatever I'm doing best at is my favorite. If I could only do one it would be Deadlifts. It's the easiest to set up for yet takes the most energy and probably utilizes the most muscle.

9. Where do you see your lifting career in the next five years?

Right now I'm focused on World Championships in Australia this November. My goal for that meet is a 2,100+ lb total at 220lbs which would be the world record. After that I have the Raw Unity Meet in February. I won my division last year so I'm looking to defend my title. Besides I'm looking to compete at 220lbs through 2015 and probably move up to the 242's after that.

10. Do you have any pieces of advice for up-and-coming lifters, or Crossfitters who are looking to transition to Powerlifting?

First off don't take forever to do your first competition. People always tell me a million reasons why they can't compete now and have to wait. They seem like legitimate reasons to them but it's really all BS. I met Jay Cutler (4 time Mr. Olympia) a couple of years ago and one of the things I told him was I wasn't sure when I should compete (bodybuilding) and he simply said just pick a local show and compete. You're never going to feel 100% ready. Just compete, make your mistakes learn and keep improving. Another piece of advice is just make progress. All the little bits of progression build up. And before you know it you're once mediocre numbers are now elite.

923lb trap bar deadlift

Five things you may not know about me:

I'm Nigerian, probably the reason I'm lean and full of fast twitch muscle from head to toe.

2. I have really bad body awareness. I literally watch every set I do right after to see what I looked like and adjust. And a lot of the time in very surprised by what I see.

3. I was born and raised in Long Island, NY.

4. My favorite color is red.

5. I like taking pictures at 2:30 am.

Instagram: @OakStrong
Facebook: Kevin Oak
YouTube: Kevin Oak Youtube


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Tips for a Successful Powerlifting Meet

Article written by Alanna Casey
I am writing this article after volunteering to judge/spot/load at a local powerlifting meet. This article is geared toward a lifter who is newer to competing. I have competed in about 8 different powerlifting meets over the past 5 years. My first meet I made a lot of mistakes. I have since learned, by both trial and error and from listening to those who are much better at powerlifting than me. I’ve been lucky enough to train and learn from powerlifting champions such as Jill Mills, Nick Best, and founder, Johnny Vasquez. I’m also fortunate enough to be sponsored by the powerlifting gear company, Titan Support Systems.
Read this article and hopefully you can avoid many of the mistakes that I have made over the past few years. I have competed both raw and single ply. I have gone 9 for 9 and I have bombed out (once). I have competed in local competitions and in national competitions such as Raw Unity Meet and the Olympia. Results from my most recent raw meet, in pounds:

Squat: 303 (good lift), 352 (good lift), 386 (good lift)
Bench: 198 (good lift), 237 (good lift), 252 (no lift)
Deadlift: 380 (good lift), 424 (good lift), 452 (good lift)
Total: 1,075 lb
Body weight: 158.0 lb

Learn the Rules, Play by the Rules: 

o   Understand what your commands will be and PRACTICE your lifts with those commands. If you’ll need a “PRESS” command at the bottom of your bench, have a training partner give you that command. Practice with commands by your final training session (preferably last two) before your meet. Similarly, practice waiting to rack your squat until you get the “RACK” command. Hold your deadlift until a “DOWN” command.
o   Understand how all of your lifts will be judged. Do you need to squat below parallel? Know exactly what that means. Get a hold of your federation’s rule book and read what the criteria will be for each lift. Most importantly, train to those criteria. If you’re only training bench by bouncing the barbell off your chest or a touch and go, most likely you will jump the “press” command at your meet, resulting in a no lift.

Make sure your training partner is keeping you honest:

o   I suggest having a training partner (who understands the standards you’ll be judged by) judge your squat depth and tell you if you’re hitting depth. Also, video your lifts so you can see your form. It’s okay if you miss a couple squats (by depth) during training but, you want the majority of them to pass as a “good lift.” You want to develop that muscle memory so that when you compete you don’t have to even worry about hitting depth. Your muscles remember when you stop the downward movement and get the bar moving upward! If you’re training partner is being generous with how he judges your lifts, he is NOT doing you any favors. I had a client who kept cutting her squats short. I told her to go lower. She had her training partner film her then give her an “up” command when he thought she was low enough. What ended up happening was that he yelled “UP” whenever SHE had already decided to go up. After I saw the video I told my client that that particular training partner was never allowed to give her commands again. He wasn’t helping; he was hurting her by validating bad lifts. DON’T be that training partner! A great training partner is honest, encouraging, and therefore, helpful. 

Check your equipment

o   Understand what type of equipment you will be allowed to wear at the meet. Do you need to be in a singlet? Are long socks mandatory on deadlift? What size knee wraps are allowed? The last thing you want to do is show up with 2.5 meter knee wraps and find that only 2.0 meter knee wraps are allowed. That will screw with your head. Find out if your lifting belt is legal (Velcro usually isn’t allowed for powerlifting). 

Nourish your body 

o   Meets take anywhere from 4 to 10 hours. Bring at least a gallon of water and a large Gatorade or other sports drink. Bring simple carbs to snack on as well. For example, bagels, Oreos, Fig Newtons, or a pastry. Electrolyte gummies (Cliff Shot Bloks)/Emergen-C/Pedialyte isn’t a bad idea either, especially if you’re still recovering from cutting weight.  Force yourself to eat little bits throughout your meet. Force yourself to drink. If you do not eat or drink it WILL make a difference by the time you get to your bench. 

Take Weigh Cuts into Account

o   I learned this one the hard way. I cut 12 lbs in one week. I had a 24 hours weigh ins and after I made weight I did rehydrated/eat adequately. But, 20 hours later I was not as strong as I was the week prior. I have since learned that you cannot cut more than 7% of your bodyweight in one week and have zero strength decrease. You can cut about 4% of your body weight in a week and rehydrate and avoid strength loss. But, there is a fine line. A drastic weight cut may or may not be the best for you (most likely it’s not). Ihave previously written a separate article on this topic if you search for it in the LBEB archive.

o   Also, take life events into account. There was a woman who showed up at the meet that I volunteered for who attempted a weight that she had nailed during training (her 2d attempt). She missed it. Afterwards she told me that she had only gotten 2 hours of sleep the night before and, she had driven 6 hours to the meet that morning. I thought, “Well duh! Of course under those circumstances you’re not going to be as strong as you were in training!” But, she had given into peer pressure and allowed her lifting buddies to convince her to attempt more than what she was comfortable with. 

Choose Your Attempts Wisely 

o   I suggest you come into your meet with an overall game plan. You should, at minimum, select your openers. Hopefully you have been training with a goal PR weight in mind. Those goal numbers should give you a good idea of what your third attempt will be. 

o   Your first attempt’s only purpose is to keep you from bombing out of the meet. If you don’t get at least one of your squat/bench/squat attempts then NONE of your lifts matter and you’re out of the overall Best Lifter competition. Think of your first attempt as your last warm-up. I recommend that your opener be a weight you can and have tripled, easily. There is absolutely no use in wasting energy on your first attempt. You’re not there to make your first attempt, that’s not your end goal. You are there for a PR or a title. So, it’s your second and third attempts that you should be busting your balls on, not your opener. Your opener’s only purpose is to keep you in the meet and give you a first “good lift”. 

o   Your second attempt should be a slight gym PR. By “slight,” I mean about 5 lbs heavier than a recent training PR.  

o   Your third attempt should be “if all the stars align” PR. If you have a super experienced friend at the meet with you, usually he/she can tell you “if it looked good for another xx lbs,” after your second attempt. Depending on who that person is, you may have a good recommendation. Beware of friends who THINK they are super experienced and tell you, “ohh that last one looked SUUUPPER easy! You have another 30 lbs in you!!” Unless the person saying that has MAJOR accolades under his belt, his recommendations are most likely crap and you probably shouldn’t go up by as much as he recommends. Always do what YOU feel comfortable with. Don’t be peer pressured by Joe Shmo. It’s not Joe Shmo who has to lift the weight, it’s you. YOU, the lifter, always have the final say. Do what you want.
Chalk vs Baby Powder

o   Chalk goes on your hands and back. It’s used to help avoid the bar from moving or your hands from slipping. 

o   Baby powder goes on your thighs during the deadlift. It’s used to help the bar avoid getting stuck and instead, glide across your skin. 

I hope this article helps you as you prepare for your next meet. Keep in mind there is much more to learn and you will inevitably make mistakes. Mistakes are okay, everyone makes them, even the most experienced of lifters. But, at least now you know a few things to avoid. Train hard, train smart, and compete the same way!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Want To Cut Weight For Competitions? This Is How I Do It

Article written by Matt Mills
First thing I have to say in regards to the plan I’m going to outline, is that this is not a safe way to lose body fat.  Cutting weight this fast is not healthy, and not something I recommend doing more than once a year.  If you are able to compete in the weight class you normally walk around at then this is where you should compete to be the strongest.  This rule is especially true if you are a powerlifter.  Every competition I have done for powerlifting I had no idea who I was competing against, and my only goal was to beat my own previous numbers.  In my last two meets I competed in the 275lb open class but only weighing 255-260.  I could have easily cut down to 242 weight class, but to me this wouldn’t make sense, unless you are going for a record, which I will explain in further detail.  I mean a real record, not some federation world record that doesn’t mean shit, that you can go brag to your friends about that don’t know any better. 

 The only records that matter are the all-time records.  Now that my rant is out of the way, it does make sense to do a weight cut for the sport of strong(wo)man.  The reason being, there are set weights you must do. In Powerlifting you can choose what your weights are, regardless of your weight class.  You might be above 231lbs, putting you into the heavyweight category but you may not be able to handle the weights.  You have two choices: one of them is to simply get stronger, if the weights are still out of your range then you will have to cut weight to make the next class.  5 weeks ago I competed in a Powerlifting meet and weighed in at 260lbs.  This past weekend I competed in Mid America’s Strongest Man in the Lightweight Pro division.  The cut off is 231.4 lbs to be exact and I weighed in at 230.1 losing 30lbs in 5 weeks.  

The picture on the right I weighed 235lbs and this was the day before I had to step on the scale to make weight. 

First I have to say that I eat A LOT all day long.  I didn’t get to be a part of Lift Big Eat Big without living it.  My calorie intake was 5500 per day, which can honestly be done fairly easy if you want to eat sugary processed food, but staying strong and lean is no easy task.   My protein sources consisted of a lot of red meat, ground bison, and whole eggs.  I would also have 2 very big protein shakes a day with 3 scoops of protein powder.  I have always been big on keeping fats high in people’s diets as they support hormone function, and dropping your fat intake below 30% has been shown to decrease testosterone.  My fats came from cooking oils such as coconut oil, macadamia nut oil, and red palm oil.  These oils are not only great for you and loaded with nutrients, but they are also safe to cook in higher heats with.  My other fats came from coconut milk that I would add to my shakes, olive oil for salads, and lots of nut butters. 

 I’m sure many of you can understand how easy it is to eat a whole jar of cashew butter, or almond butter.  I will add this caveat: avocados are also a great source, and one that I always add when designing a meal plan, but unfortunately for me I don’t digest them well (I know, sucks to be me).  My carb sources were typically body building foods as I wanted to gain as much muscle as possible while minimizing fat gain.  As any of you have tried, this is very tough to do.  My go to carbs were oatmeal, Ezekiel bread, sweet potatos, brown rice, white rice, and I would use Karboload during my training from  

I have cut weight plenty of times before this, but I always allowed myself 8 weeks to have enough time to bring the weight down slowly, so I recommend you do the same.  Coming from the powerlifting meet I didn’t give myself much time, but I knew it was doable.  My first step was to lower my carb intake, so I cut it down to roughly 200 grams a day while keeping 100 grams of the Karboload through my training followed by carbs in my post workout meal.  The rest of the day was all protein, lots of vegetables, and good fats.  On my off days of training, I would have no carb sources at all.  One thing I will say about cutting weight is that you need to eat a lot of vegetables.  The hardest part of making weight is the mental aspect of being around food, and not being able to eat it.  All of a sudden you see everyone on Facebook post their “epic” meals and immediately start to hate them, because you can’t do the same.  The vegetables will keep you fuller longer, and provide you with plenty of micronutrients your body will need as you will no doubt be training harder than ever leading up to the competition.  

During the first week of dropping my carbs, I weighed in at 252lbs so 8lbs in one week.  I do know that when I have a lot of carbs my body holds onto a lot of water weight, so this is mainly what I lost.  The start of the second week I lowered my carb intake during training to 75 grams of karboload and would generally have a sweet potato, or rice following my training.  I kept my protein, and fats about the same through the week.  I would even take spoons of coconut oil twice a day just to keep my fats high.  At this point my training was also getting very heavy, as well as increasing volume so I needed to make sure I could stay recovered while lowering my calories.  Recovery should always be a priority when a competition is approaching fast.  Sleep is such a crucial part of your training, and drastically lowering carbs while not sleeping enough is a recipe for disaster and an injury.  Make sure you get plenty of sleep.  I know I need at least 7 hours and preferably 9 if I can.  At the end of week 4 I was down to 248 so just a 4lb loss but that was to be expected as I had already shed most of my water weight the first week.  

3 weeks out from the contest and the last heavy week of training I kept my carbs the same on training days, while having zero on non-training days.  I was training 4 days a week while doing 2 conditioning days that I outlined here.  With this being the last week of heavy training I kept my diet exactly the same as I didn’t want to sacrifice recovery.  At the end of the week I was very pleased to be 245lbs with only 2 weeks to go and 14lbs to lose.  

The second week out is when I start my deload so this is when I completely drop my carbs out.  During training I would just drink plenty of water and BCAA’s to make sure I am able to recover.  Again plenty of veggies to keep me feeling full, and to boost my energy levels.  It’s not uncommon to feel a little foggy and out of it when you completely cut carbs out, but your body will get used to it within a few days. My deload was at 65% of my usual weights, so this was a very easy week of training, just working on technique and speed.  Nothing should be overly taxing as your body will need the full 2 weeks to deload if you were training hard enough previously.  Sunday morning I woke up at 239.5lbs, and was right on track.  

The last week is where the real magic happens as you have to be extremely careful with what you put in your body.  There can be no slip ups, no binges, nothing!  You have to stick to the plan as this is the most crucial week where everything you put in your mouth will make a difference.  The last thing you want is to starve yourself all week and get on that scale dehydrated and see that you are a pound over because you had some cookies.  

The competition was Saturday so what I’m outlining here is to make weight the day before.  Do not follow this protocol if you have to weigh in the day of.  It took me the full 24 hours to come back to my normal strength.

Sunday through Tuesday: Drink 3 gallons of water with salt added, also add salt to all other food you eat.  My diet was only 4 meals compared to my usual 8 before I started the cut.

Meal 1: 3 egg omelet, spinach, chopped peppers.
Meal 2: 2 scoop protein shake, 1tbsp peanut butter.
Meal 3 Spinach salad 2 hard-boiled eggs, 2oz steak, olive oil & vinegar.
Meal 4: 6oz steak, asparagus.

Monday: 3 gallons of water, add salt to everything.

Wednesday: 1 gallon of distilled water, no salt at all.
4 meals of only 4oz chicken breast, and asparagus –this will suck.

Thursday: 3 meals of only 2oz chicken breast, and asparagus.  Only sip some distilled water to swallow –this will suck even more.

Friday: Nothing until you weigh in, yes you will be completely miserable.

Throughout the week I weighed myself every day to make sure things were going where they should.  Throughout the salt and water load, don’t be alarmed if you gain weight.  I was up to 241 by Wednesday morning, and it’s totally fine.  The purpose of the salt and water load is to trick your body into thinking it is getting too much, so it will start to flush it out of your system.  Once you switch to distilled water and only one gallon you will lose an incredibly amount of water weight.  By Thursday I woke up at 235.5 and by the time I went to sleep I was 233lbs.  

The reason I recommend doing a slower cut is that you don’t want the stress of having to make weight so drastically.  When I have a big contest coming up I like to relax and focus on what I need to do.  Any added stress will only tire you out, not to mention big water cuts WILL affect your performance the next day.  I would not recommend cutting more then 3-4% of your weight in one week as I have seen too many competitors try and are completely drained to compete.  

Once I arrived for weigh-ins I stepped right on the scale to see 230.1 just as planned.  I will also add that it is important to be a little under, because you never know how someone else’s scale will be.  For any wrestlers out there you will know exactly what I’m talking about.  To this day I have never had to use a sauna, or a sweat suit and I never plan on it.  If you start with enough time and stick to the plan, you will have no issues making weight, so you can focus on what you came to do. 

I won’t get into too much detail on what to do once you make weight, as that could be a whole different article.  I drink two bottles of pedialyte, as it has plenty of electrolytes to bring you back to life.  Just be careful and don’t chug them too fast, as your stomach probably shrunk considerably.  Go slow and take your time.  You will want to get plenty of carbs back in, but again, do it slowly.  No matter what, you will most likely get a slight stomach ache, so don’t hit up the local Chinese buffet, because you won’t have a good time when the competition comes.  Make sure you eat foods that you know your body can tolerate.  When you go out to eat, have plenty of bread, potatoes, and good protein.  Personally I like to have a nice big steak, sweet potato, and snack on bread and butter.  Also add salt to everything as your body will be craving it from flushing it all out.  

I will finish with this, everyone’s body is different so I would recommend testing this out to see how your body reacts.  I know some competitors that drop 20lbs in a week salt loading with soy sauce, and bouillon cubes but that is something I choose to stay away from.  The slower you make the cut the less strength, if at all, you will lose.   Drop a comment below, or on the Facebook page if you have any tips that you like to use to make weight or questions.