What Being Big Means To…. (Part Two)

TAGS: strength, powerlifting

JL: Donnie, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. You see, I’ve been hounding Dave Tate about his reasons for being big. For him, it was all about being strong. So to get another perspective, I thought you would be a good person to hear from when it comes to gaining weight and getting bigger.

That having been said, let’s start from the beginning. How big were you when you first started powerlifting?

DT: Well back when I started, I was 257 lbs. When I played arena football years before that, I was 292 lbs.

JL: So being big was nothing new to you then?

DT: No, but I went down to Westside in 1998 to learn from Louie Simmons and the other guys at Westside. That’s actually the first time I met Dave Tate. Dave said to me at dinner, “So, are you gonna be one of those guys that comes here to watch or are you gonna lift?” I said, “I’m here to lift.”

I went back to South Carolina and started implementing all of the things that Louie had taught me—sled dragging, extra workouts, etc. Well, I got stronger, but I also dropped down to 225 lbs after only three months. My first meet was a 1655 lb total at 257 lbs, but when I dropped down to the 220 lb class, I totaled 1750 lbs. I knew I was getting stronger.

At the time, I owned the health club (that Marc Bartley now runs) so it was important to look good for the members. I kept my weight down because they didn’t want to see some fat, overweight owner walking around. Well in 2000, I went down to see Louie again and he said, “Donnie, you need to get your weight up!”

JL: What did you adjust to make your weight go up after being at 220 lbs for awhile?

DT: I had been eating six meals a day and exactly 4600 calories each day. To gain weight, I dropped it to two or three really big meals a day. Very high calorie meals like pizza, Wendy’s, whatever it took. In three months, I went from 225 lbs to 275 lbs. I kept eating big, and three months later, I was up to 301 lbs. I had gained 75 lbs in six months drug free.

JL: Did you see any side effects of gaining so much weight in so little time?

DT: Yeah, I lost a lot of mobility. I had a hard time tying my shoes, and I developed back problems. This wasn’t because I was heavy but because I had gained the weight in a short amount of time. My body didn’t have time to adjust to the weight. It took awhile to adjust, but I slowly crept up to 317 lbs and then 345 lbs. I saw Louie again in 2002 at the Arnold, and he said, “You may weigh big, but can you lift big?” I totaled 2400 lbs at that meet. Then I pretty much leveled out at 355 lbs until I got my hands on some kettlebells. Those things added 20 lbs of muscle instantly. I’ve been at 370 lbs ever since.

JL: How do you feel now that you’ve gained all that weight?

DT: I felt better when I was leaner, but I got adjusted to the weight and I feel good now. Because of my height, I knew that being bigger was inevitable.

JL: Other than eating more, what did you do to help gain weight?

DT: To be completely honest, it just happened. With the training that we do—the bands and chains and kettlebells—it just developed that way. My weight holds steady at 370 lbs now no matter what. My meals and calories are down but my weight hasn’t changed.

JL: Yeah, when I talked to Dave, he really had to force-feed himself to keep his weight up. And for him, it was all about getting stronger.

DT: Guys force-feed all the time. I never had to do that. It’s not very healthy either.

JL: Other than being stronger and lifting more weight, what are the benefits, if any, of being big and weighing more? Any perks? Chicks dig it? It’s cool? Anything?

DT: I feel like a superhero. I feel invincible, ya know?

JL: No, not really. Explain.

DT: You know how you go through all your training cycles, your squat cycles and everything? Going through that makes me feel like I can stop a bullet. I’m not a bully nor would I ever fight anyone, but I feel like a superhero. It’s hard to explain. When I was lean, I felt incapable. Yeah, I was lean, but I never felt unstoppable like I do now. And with the girls…I don’t want to sound cocky here, but when I was lean, I had abs. The girls thought I was stuck up, but they would look. Actually, I feel sexier now at 370 lbs, but girls don’t look! And I tell them, “You liked me when I was 220 lbs. Now it’s just a bigger playground.” But they don’t buy it.

JL: That’s hilarious, Donnie. So, is there a freak factor involved with being big? Do people look at you and stare because you’re so big?

DT: For me, I know I only notice big people if they are in shape and big. If it’s just a fat f***, who cares? I don’t really get many stares now. I got way more at 220 lbs.

JL: Dave said the same thing. He said he gets more looks now because the general public notices a person with lots of muscle more than they notice someone who is just big.

DT: I totally agree. As a matter of fact, my wife and I were on our honeymoon a couple weeks ago. We were sitting at the table and across from us were these guys. They came up to me and asked me if I was some kind of professional athlete or something. I showed them my championship ring from the Arnold, and they just thought it was the coolest thing. They brought their girlfriends over and took pictures with me. It was great.

JL: So they actually understood your bigness whereas most people would just pass you by?

DT: Yes, and on the flip side of that, here’s another story. I knew a bodybuilder guy who used to work out at the gym. Some lady from the shop across the street asked me, “Who’s the guy who works out there? You know—the strongest one?” And I said, “Who?” She said, “The guy with all the muscles, the one who’s the strongest out of all you guys.” And I said, “I’M the strongest one out of everyone. Who are you talking about?” Come to find out, she was talking about this bodybuilder guy who weighed probably 190 lbs. But just because he was lean and you could see all his muscles, she thought that he was the strongest.

JL: Yes, people who don’t understand the sport or lifting in general confuse muscles with strong. And in my case, when people hear about me being strong, as a female, they assume that I look like a man. Same idea. So if you could offer advice to someone who wants to get bigger or gain weight for whatever reason, what would it be?

DT: My advice is to never be big just to be big. It’s unhealthy. I’m dropping my weight after I’m done competing. (My wife can’t wait!) And also you have to have attitude. This is huge. You have to tell yourself that it’s ok to gain weight because you’ll accomplish something. And it’s ok to lose when you’re done or want to drop weight. It sounds weird, but I believe you have to will it to happen and it will. You have to be ok with either gaining or losing.

JL: Was your main reason for getting big to lift more?

DT: Actually, no. I didn’t gain weight just to lift more. I just went to my natural state, which is over 300 lbs. You train like us so you know the demands it puts on the body. My body deals with it by getting to the size it needs to be for the meet. It is always within ten pounds of itself from meet to meet. If I was concerned about how big I was getting, I would care about it and weigh myself daily. I don’t eat quantities of food and stuff myself to stay big. It’s just easy for me to do so.

However, staying lean was a challenge. I kept to the same calorie intake (4600) daily and never skipped a meal. Very clean, no fast food, and no processed food. No white sugar or white flour. Incidentally, no heartburn ever. Those were the days.

JL: Interesting because Dave Tate thinks the opposite. For him, it was much harder to keep the weight on than to lose it. Just shows that everyone is different, and we each need to do what works for us.

Donnie, thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions. Hopefully this will allow EFS readers to see inside the bellies of some of the sport’s biggest people. For most of us, it’s difficult to understand so thanks for your time.

DT: My pleasure. And be sure to check out pictures of my bulldog, Buddy, dressed up in a tux. Just go to www.southcarolinabarbell.com.

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