Interview With Chris Mason of AtLarge Nutrition by Ben Tatar of CriticalBench.com
1) CRITICAL BENCH: Chris tell us about yourself.
I am 36 years old and married with 3 children. I am the co-owner of AtLarge Nutrition, LLC ( www.atlargenutrition.com) which is an online retailer of proprietary sports supplements. Our product line includes the following:
Nitrean: is our 24g per serving protein-only powder utilizing a special blend of whey (isolate, hydrolyzed, and concentrate), caseinates, and egg albumin. It is quite simply one of the best protein products on the market.
Opticen: is our MRP (Meal Replacement Powder). It utilizes the same protein matrix as Nitrean (with 52g of protein per serving) and adds to it carbohydrates, a trace amount of fats, and various vitamins and minerals.
ETS: is a VERY unique product which we offer that dramatically improves your recovery from intense exercise. It also greatly reduces DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness) and markedly helps with the everyday joint pain all lifters and athletes suffer from time to time. It truly is a wonder product and is something that every one of your readers should have in their supplement arsenal.
Thermocin: is our potent thermogenic. It contains a myriad of powerful ingredients which are proven to be effective for body fat loss in humans. There are so many products our there that contain ingredients proven only to work in animals. You may train like an animal but you are a HUMAN and should use products that work in HUMANS. Thermocin also contains various potent stimulants to help give you a boost for your training or just to power you through the day.
Creatine 500: is our creatine product. It is Creapure ™ German creatine monohydrate which is one of the purest creatine products in the world. It is effective and reasonably priced.
Multi-Plus: is our multiple vitamin. Unlike most of our competitors we did not take the "everything but the kitchen sink" approach with Multi-Plus. We incorporated the various vitamins and minerals that have been shown to be most important to the hard training individual and included them in significant, viable doses. If you train hard Multi-Plus is the multi vitamin product for you.
My goal (and that of my partner Daniel Clough) when starting AtLarge was to provide the strength athlete a superior alternative supplement company which sells only products which work as claimed and are of the highest quality. We were tired of the false claims and bogus products which are so rampant in the sports supplement industry.
Another of our goals with AtLarge is to help support the sports we love. Both of us have a passion for strength sports and have and will continue to pour money back into those sports as we grow. Just one example of this is our sponsorship of several of the top powerlifters in the world. Here are just a few:
We also sponsor scores of powerlifting meets each year from local shows to big-time events like the NERB competition and the upcoming bench meet at the Olympia Expo this October.
2) CRITICAL BENCH: Can you please outline your training and dietary regimens?
I train "instinctively" (to use an old Weider phrase---sorry!) to some extent. In other words, my routine is not set in stone. I will outline the basic routine I currently follow below:
* Unless otherwise noted I do NOT train to failure. I stop most movements 2-3 reps short of concentric failure. I train totally raw never using a belt or anything else. I do this because I believe it builds greater overall bodily power and my goal is not just strength in specific movements but to have a general base of power which can be applied to any circumstance.
Stiff-Legged Deadlifts - I pyramid up in weight for 4-5 sets and then do a top set single rep. I use a hook grip because I feel it is easier on my lower back by eliminating the torque a mixed-grip creates. I recently set a PR of 605 lbs.
Calf Raises – I do these on a machine for 1 breakdown set. I do no warm-up and start with the stack for as many reps as I can muster. I then drop the load to half of the stack and immediately bang out as many more reps as possible. My calves have always been a weak body part and I probably should place more focus on them but I just don't have the time or inclination these days.
Hammer Strength Overhead Row – I use the Hammer Strength machine to perform a pulldown/row hybrid movement (as the machine dictates). I will pyramid up to 1 top set with this movement. My rep count is 3-8 reps with the top set being 3-5 reps.
Close-Grip Paused Bench Press – Due to an old shoulder injury I am limited to this movement for benching. In fact, I could not bench at all for several years and have only recently been able to return to this movement. I set the safety catches to about 2" above my chest in my power cage and then lower the bar to the catches and let it rest there for a second before pressing. My goal is do these until I can handle 405 lbs for reps raw and then go back to a close-grip full press. I limit the ROM (Range Of Motion) because my left shoulder essentially "gives-out" when I lower all the way to my chest.
Single Arm Dumbbell Extensions – This movement is performed while lying on a bench. I perform a full ROM with one arm at a time. No warm-up is needed as my triceps are ready to go from the pressing. I do 7-10 reps to failure or close to it.
Pulley Pushdowns – I work up to 2 top sets of 7-10 reps.
Squats – I have recently switched back to a wider, powerlifting style squat. I had been performing Olympic style squats going as deep as possible (VERY deep) with a pause at the bottom of the movement. My reason for switching is two-fold. First, I wanted to vary my routine. Second, I want to build these back up and then switch to a sumo style deadlift and go for a 700 + lb pull. I pull the most weight sumo style and wide-stance squats will prime me for getting right back into the flow of the movement. I pyramid up to 1 top set of 5 reps.
Leg Press – I will work up to 1 top set of 2-5 reps.
Leg Extensions – I need no warm-up here and will do 2 sets of 5-10 reps.
Calf Raises – Same as on Tuesday.
Chins – I use no additional weight on these and either perform them behind the neck with a pronated grip or with a neutral grip (in which case I am not going behind the neck). I will do 2 sets of as many as I can while stopping 1 rep short of failure.
The above is pretty much set and the following is where the "instinctive" part comes in. When I feel like it I will add some standing behind the neck presses, e-z bar curls, and some extra sets of chins. This could be on Thursday or Saturday evenings (usually) or just about any other day.
I do not periodize my training but I do change-up some of the exercises when I feel I am becoming stagnant and it is time for a change. I am a natural trainee and I believe that for naturals the best method of training is the basics for relatively low volume and with heavy loads. This builds a nice combination of size and strength.
3) CRITICAL BENCH: What is going through your head before attempting a
I try to envision the act itself which helps me to get focused. I do believe in visualization in that I like to visualize myself completing the rep(s). I go so far as to try to "feel" what it will be like as I do the lift. I am a naturally high-strung guy so getting motivated has never really been a problem. I like to call on this natural proclivity and heighten my level of arousal just prior to my top sets especially on heavy compound movements.
4) CRITICAL BENCH: What adversities have you faced during your weight
lifting journey? How did you overcome them? Are you thankful for them?
I have experienced many adversities in the sense that I have injured myself many times in my 19 years of resistance training. Below is just a brief list:
Injured both knees
Partially torn my left biceps
Injured the area right where the quad ties into the hip on my left side. This particular injury prevented my from a wide-stance squat for over a decade. I have only recently returned to squatting with a wide stance and it seems to be going well so far.
Injured my left pec/delt tie-in area to the point that I could not bench press for MANY years.
Herniated a couple of discs in my lower back.
There have been so many other strains and so forth that I cannot keep track of it all.
Am I thankful for my injuries? HECK NO!!! Man, I wish I had NEVER injured myself. Heck, I just strained my groin doing some heavy leg presses today. I got too ballistic with the movement and just pulled something. VERY annoying!
I try to learn from every mistake but I wish I had listened to others and avoided those mistakes in the first place. To all of the young trainees reading this; LISTEN TO THE OLDER LIFTERS WHEN THEY ARE TRYING TO TELL YOU HOW TO AVOID INJURY. You are young and indestructible now but you WILL get injured one day if you do not train intelligently.
My advice to avoid injury is to give your body active rest when you feel it beginning to breakdown. Depending on your mental state, what you are doing outside of the gym, your age, and your general health your body can deal with varying levels of training volume and intensity. When you start to feel over-trained use some light, maintenance-style sessions in the gym to provide your body the active rest it needs to avoid a possible injury. Additionally, be sure to always gradually work up to heavy loads after having avoided a given lift for any appreciable length of time. Your body can take almost anything you can throw at it in terms of ballistic style training or extremely heavy loads but only if it has a chance to adapt to it over time and through gradual increases in the load. I was reminded of this last one when I was in the gym last Sunday practicing heavy leg presses and getting a bit overzealous with the speed and style of reps used. It was only my 3 rd leg press session in several years. Give your body a chance to adapt!
In terms of overcoming my injuries I always trained around them. Other than a 1 month span due to severe illness I have never taken off more than a few days from the gym in the last 19 years. I am a bit obsessed with it I suppose. I do not recommend others handle their injuries as I have because I would be a better lifter today if I had seen a doctor and allowed them to heal properly. So there you have it, do as I say not as I do!
5) CRITICAL BENCH: You started off as a bodybuilder why the switch to more of a strength based training protocol?
Well, I always trained for strength. I was able to raw bench 405 lbs for a double when I was 19 or 20. I could curl 225 lbs for 3 reps using decent form. I didn't even train deadlift back then and pulled 545 lbs for 3 (sumo) one day when I decided to give them a try.
My bodybuilding training always focused on the compound lifts for lower reps as the primary movements and then I would include accessory work to give me the "pumping" effect.
I never wanted to be a big guy who was not as strong as he looked. Being big and strong was always more important to me than being ripped.
When I realized the amount of drug use it would take to be competitive at the highest levels in bodybuilding my competitive aspirations waned and I kept training to just be as big and strong as I could naturally.
6) CRITICAL BENCH: During your powerlifting journey what has been your:
My favorite moment is every time I hit a PR. I really don't have just one favorite.
Most insane moment?
I would have to say when I passed out after attempting a max overhead press. I actually got it on video! I got stuck about half way up on the press and just stood there and strained a bit longer than I should have. I then set the weight down and turned around to go shut the camera off. I proceeded to fall forward almost flat on my face but I was still aware enough to put my hands out. I then tried to roll-over and get up and my body went into temporary convulsions. It was VERY scary and I learned to take it a bit easier on the overhead presses after that.
In a sick way, the most insane moment above.
7) CRITICAL BENCH: What are some of your "inside secrets" for optimal results in the gym?
Well, the following are not "secrets" per se but they are some general "rules" for getting big and strong that so many people often ignore.
I have to paraphrase Ronnie Coleman here, "Everybody wants to be big but nobody wants to lift no heavy ass weights". Irrespective of everything else you have to lift big to get big and strong. That is just a stone-cold fact. You also have to eat big to get big. So many young men write to me about how they cannot gain weight even though they eat a "ton" of food. What they do not realize is that you have to train your stomach just like your body in order to be able to ingest the necessary number of calories to spur really massive growth.
If you want to be able to eat enough to truly get some massive size you need to stretch your stomach through controlled overeating. There is no other way around it and that is what separates the truly motivated from the wannabes. You need to have at least 2 meals a day where you eat and drink (milk is the fluid of choice if you are not lactose intolerant) to the point where you nearly vomit! Take care not to vomit or the calories are obviously wasted. What will happen in short order is you will expand your stomach and eating enough food to grow will be NO problem. As with anything, don't be an idiot and harm yourself but you need to push it a bit just like when you train.
Overtraining is another big problem when it comes to progress. You must train hard and heavy but you must also provide for sufficient rest. The thing young men and women need to remember when reading about the training routines of the champions is that these folks are hereditary recovery freaks and often using anabolics which takes their superior recovery ability and makes it inhuman. You probably cannot follow the routine of a champion and truly benefit from it.
Prior to the infusion of drugs into the sport men trained hard and heavy but they also made sure to avoid overtraining for anything more than a brief period. We can learn so much more of value to natural training by looking at the routines of drug free men like Doug Hepburn and Bob Peoples. These men were incredibly strong yet trained intelligently. I don't want to turn this interview into a Russian novel so it will suffice to say that most trainees should limit themselves to 2-4 "working sets" (defined as post-warm-up sets) per body part and to training said body part 1-3 times per week.
I also want to add that I very much respect Louie Simmons's Westside training principles and I encourage lifters of all levels to check out his website at www.westside-barbell.com. Louie knows many "secrets" to training and has laid them out with the Westside training principles.
8) CRITICAL BENCH: What motivated you to switch from bodybuilding to
I grew disenfranchised with the excessive drug use and health risks associated with high level bodybuilding. I also have known several professionals over the years and have seen how they got screwed by the politics inherent to bodybuilding. Finally, I respect powerlifting as a true sport and not a beauty contest. Don't get me wrong, I still love bodybuilding on some level and always will but I have a greater overall respect for strength athletes than bodybuilders.
9) CRITICAL BENCH: What is your stance on steroids and what supplements do
My stance on steroid use is that I do not use them and I recommend others avoid them. I know for a fact they compromise your long-term health via various mechanisms and I just don't think that consequence is worth the payoff.
The above said, I have known and do know many individuals who have or do use them and I have no less respect for them. They have made a personal choice and I intimately understand the need to be big and strong at nearly any cost.
10) CRITICAL BENCH: What are your future goals?
Professionally, it is to build AtLarge Nutrition into a major player in the supplement industry and to use our success to fuel powerlifting to new heights in prize money and prestige.
In terms of my own lifting my long-term goal is to pull over 750 lbs at 220 lbs or less.
Is there anyone you would like to thank and anything else that you would
like to tell Critical Bench readers?
I would like to thank all of our customers who have graced us with their patronage. Without them we are nothing.
I would also like to take this chance to make an offer to all Critical Bench readers who have not yet tried our products. When you place your first order just mention this interview in the "comments" section and we will include a free Multi-Plus as our special way of saying thanks for giving us a try. Come
check out the site at http://www.atlargenutrition.com