Losing weight as a strength athlete is quite the experience. While most people in the regular world view weight loss as a positive, the strength world treats it like it’s some sort of disease.
Lose weight? Why? Losing weights changes leverages! It’ll make you weak! Weight moves weight!
I know this as well as anyone, because I used to be that guy, screaming from the hill top about the terrors of losing weight at the cost of that mighty one-rep max. Well, I’m here to show you a different view.
Just over a year ago, I weighed in around 320 pounds. I was a national-level amateur strongman and I was pretty strong. I boasted a 725-pound raw deadlift, a completely raw 675-pound squat, an over 400-pound overhead clean and press with both a log and an axle, and a few other lifts that I was (and still am) very proud of. These were all accomplishments, but they came with a toll.
I trained extremely hard, dedicated all my time and resources to strongman. I ate as much as I could, because we all know this sport is about get big or die trying, right? I thought, “man, if I could just put 20 more pounds on my overhead or 50 pounds more on my deadlift, I’ll be happy. Things will just work out. I tied my life to the weights. Never mind the fact that I didn’t have a social life. I had no energy for anything else, I was unhealthy, and I was well on my way to bigger problems.
Enter Trevor Kashey. After a few sarcastic posts on social media about being stage ready and making my quarterly “time to start operation don’t be so fat”, Trevor sent me a message. He asked me if I wanted to make a change. A real change. He challenged me to lose the weight, but this time for real. He made claims I thought were ridiculous. Drop down to 265? What, is he out of his fucking mind? WHAT ABOUT MY STRENGTH?! What will people think of me if I’m not strong as fuck?
Not one to let opportunity pass me by, Trevor and I agreed on a deal, and we got to work. I turned my brain off, and let him do all the thinking. We made some pretty drastic changes to my lifestyle. First off, we changed the way I ate entirely. I had been on the low carb, backloading, intermittent fasting, high-fat, high-protein bandwagons for years. All I did was get fat. It wasn’t that I hopped around diet plans…I just tried to combine all of them. This time, I was more regimented and instead of low-carb/high-fat, I ate more carbs in a day than I used to eat in a week (or so I thought).
Carbs scared the hell out of me. I ate more than I probably would like to admit, but since my diet mostly consisted of protein and fat, I figured everything else just fell into place. Now, I was taking in a lot of carbs, relatively low fat, and my protein was pulled back. All of this was counterintuitive to the books and articles I had read everywhere on the internet. I mean, no bacon? What was I going to do?
The next initial hurdle we had to deal with was the possibility of strength loss. I’m a strength athlete — strength loss is not ideal and weight loss meant strength loss in my mind. However, we talked about the long-term positives and how they would outweigh the negatives. Trevor explained to me that I had to look further down the road and not directly in front of me. It’s hard to do that when you’ve been crushing PR’s left and right.
A few weeks into the diet, I competed at NJ’s strongest man. I completed a long-term goal of mine to hit a 420-pound axle clean and press in competition. I was ecstatic. It got to me though, because I remember on that day thinking, “I’m on top of my game! I don’t want to lose this!” It was hard to think that I may lose something that I had worked toward for so long. The next day something happened to change my mind. I thought it was bad luck. Now, I realize it was positive.
NJ’s Strongest Man was a two-day event. On the second day, I was in first place with a solid lead. On the first event, we had an 800-pound yoke and 700-pound frame medley. During the frame, I got about 10 feet in, and something popped in my right arm. I thought I tore my bicep, but it turned out to just be something in my forearm. This made me unable to overhead press anything for quite a while. Even an unloaded barbell caused a lot of pain. Overnight I went from setting an unofficial national record to not being able to press a bar.
I got depressed, but in that depression I decided to embrace the diet lifestyle. What else was I going to do? My injury was the catalyst that led to my diet.
Then a funny thing started to happen. Week after week, as I saw my weight decrease and I saw changes in my body, I started to get more motivated. My clients started to notice that I had more pep in my step. Then, as the weeks went on, more and more things started to happen. People started noticing me more. People smiled at me. Women smiled at me. People were more open to talk to me. I know how sad that sounds, but when I was a 315-pound fat guy, people didn’t look at me like that. Women didn’t notice me or at least didn’t smile at me in the supermarket. Things started to get better for me; I started to get happier.
This may sound like a bunch of tree hugging, hippy bullshit, but that happiness that I received from getting healthier and being noticed more carries over. Remember, everything in your life affects everything else in your life; We are creatures of balance. If one thing is off in your life, then everything else is going to be off. I was way off when I was fat. Strength made up about 90% of what it meant for me to be happy in the past decade, but now it’s importance to my overall wellbeing has started to wane.
Now, as I’ve started to lose weight, my happiness increased and so has my performance. Yes, the absolute strength was taking small hits here and there, but my performance started to rise in and out of the gym (wink, wink). My work capacity went up. I recovered quicker, and I had more motivation. Things slowly but surely came into better balance.
Yes, there were other hurdles to overcome. Leverage changes threw me a few curve balls, but working with a coach like Trevor, I was assured that these were just minor bumps in the longer journey.
The second big change I made when starting to work with Trevor was the introduction of cardio. Yes, that’s right; I started doing cardio. Steady state cardio, for periods longer than five minutes, and you know what? I like cardio. It gives me a sense of accomplishment when I’m done. Also, despite every bullshit article on the internet that justifies fat guys being fat and out of shape, it makes you healthier. Did a fitness professional just say that? Yeah, I did.
Strongmen are athletes. We run, sometimes jump (I use that term loosely), and we throw. One of the biggest mistakes I think I made in the years earlier is that I didn’t train like a strongman and I didn’t train like an athlete. Sure, I trained to be really strong, but I neglected the conditioning aspect of the sport. Like it or not, it ain’t powerlifting; one rep maxes rarely occur. Speed and power is the name of the game. Trevor (and Mike Mastell) both helped me rethink a lot of my training ideology for strongman. I stopped chasing numbers and started valuing performance. It is a huge deal for a strongman to be able to look at performance and make measurable gains. Most chase numbers, and I think that’s where they get left behind. That’s another article for another time.
Fast forward 80+ weeks of working with Trevor, and here I am, writing this. I’ve just finished competing at the Arnold Amateur Strongman World Championships and though I wasn’t a top finisher, I performed at a higher level than I would have at 315 pounds of bodyweight. Life is good and I’m happy. All I can do from here is get better. In a future article, I’ll go over some of the dietary changes we made in greater detail and share things I learned from Trevor along the way.
Zach is a strength coach at The Spot Athletics. He is a former United States Paratrooper and has been competing in Strongman since 2008.