Interview With Powerlifter Steve "The Bringer" Birdsong As told to CriticalBench.com by Curt Dennis Jr. "The Brute" of Planetrage.com - February 2008
STEVE "THE BRINGER" BIRDSONG...truly an iron freak! Steve has been pushing me hard throughout this year even though he trains raw and I train in gear, our goals are the same. When you see this monster lift, it instantly motivates you to lift as well. He's ranked #3 in the 308s raw total and is looking to make his trek to #1. Not to mention, he's a semi-pro football player as well and a soon to be father. He's one of my writers on planetrage.com and damn proud to call him brother. Steve brings the same intensity from the football field to the gym and onto the platform. It shows, and has earned the nickname "THE BRINGER"...but I'll let Steve speak for himself...
Critical Bench: Hey, thanks for doing this interview. Steve, please introduce yourself.
My name is Steven Birdsong, I'm a 24 year old powerlifter in the open raw 308 division, and I wanna say it's an honor to be doing this interview.
Critical Bench: How long have you been into powerlifting?
I started when I was 17 and it's been 7 great years so far.
Critical Bench: Tell us about your childhood and how you got into powerlifting?
Well I was always the kid that got picked on in high school, and I never really felt like I fit in that well. I decided that I needed to take the initiative to change the way things were going, and I picked up my first weight bench for $50 at a yard sale. From that point on, my training became almost an addiction and it all escalated from there.
Critical Bench: Who did you look up to when you were coming up as a powerlifter?
Bill Kazmaier has always been the one guy that amazed me constantly, whether it was on the lifting platform, or in strongman. I still find myself using his accomplishments for motivation.
Critical Bench: How long have you been a semi-pro football player?
I've played 2 full seasons with the Missouri Outlaws football organization. I play both defensive tackle on d line, and left and right guard on the o line.
Critical Bench: What would you say to a novice lifter or to a lifter whose just starting out in powerlifting?
Mainly just this quote by Michelangelo.... "The greater danger for most of us is not that we aim to high and we miss it, but that we aim to low and never reach it." That always made a lot of sense to me and ever since I read it, it's always stuck with me.
Critical Bench: Is the bench your favorite lift out of the three?
It's a close second to the squat. Bench gets my blood pumpin, but I feel that the squat is the man tester. To me, it takes the most energy, and it's where you see the most poundages come from.
Critical Bench: What are the challenges of coming up as a powerlifter?
I think one of the biggest challenges for me is trying to blend into society with the "average person". Most just don't understand the drive, determination, and what we're willing to put our bodies through to get that extra 5 pounds or even advance up that next spot in the rankings. You've got to be ready to train heavy at all times, and always be ready to push yourself past 100%.
Steve Birdsong Benches 315 for 18.75 reps
Critical Bench: Tell everyone here the difference between someone who wants to look "pretty" and someone who do what we do?
The difference between a workout and a training session. I think that being a powerlifter is more about performance than trying to look good in the gym. We're constantly trying to improve our total, or just get stronger in some aspect of our training, where as they're just trying to put another inch on their biceps or use the gym as a place to socialize and talk. Most are there working out just for something' to do, but powerlifters like us have a purpose in mind before we even step foot into the weight room. And that purpose is to unleash everything we have onto the bar in order to set that next PR.
Critical Bench: What would you tell a powerlifter if they are trying to get to the next level in the sport?
Do you believe that powerlifters' have a lifestyle of their own? Basically I'd tell them that training smart is just as important as training hard. Recovery is the key to making big gains. You've also got to be completely dedicated to get to that next level. That means eating that extra meal, choking down that extra protein shake, sleeping that extra hour, and forcing yourself to go that extra mile and get that one last rep. All of this alone forces your lifestyle to be different as a powerlifter, as opposed to the regular "sit on the couch watching leave it to beaver while eating potato chips" kind of person.
Critical Bench: How driven would people say you are about being a powerlifter? How does it affect you outside of the gym?
I'm sure most people would say I'm addicted and over dedicated. But it's a lifestyle for me, and that's never going to change. Out of the gym I'm constantly asked why I want to put my body through the things that I do, why I eat so much, and why am I always getting 8-10 hours of sleep. The response I give to them most of the time is that going to work, and then coming home and plopping down in front of the television just doesn't do it for me. I need healthy challenges and I need to set and constantly accomplish goals. It's too easy to do the normal 9-5 routine and quite frankly it's just boring. Besides I enjoy being the alpha male pretty much anywhere that I go.
Critical Bench: Do you believe in the training methods of Westside Barbell?
To be honest, I've only been using Westside training methods for about a year and a half now. I was skeptical at first to say the least, but once I switched and gave it a try, my strength level and all of my lifts started going up out of nowhere. I have to say that the band work, on both max effort and dynamic effort days, has made the biggest difference in where my totals are at to day.
Critical Bench: What are your workouts like? How are they setup?
My workouts are basically the standard Westside Barbell Sun, Mon, Wed, Fri template. So I've got 2 speed days a week and 2 max effort days. Sunday is DE bench, Monday is my ME Squat or Deadlift, Wednesday is my ME bench, and Friday is my DE Squat/Deadlift day. Other than that, the rep range I use on the main lifts varies from sets of 2-3 reps, and then usually the last set I drop down in weight for a set of 8-15.
Critical Bench: What would you suggest to someone on how to get a big bench or a big squat?
Get your training, recovery, and technique involved first thing. Then after that start focusing on your accessory work which is very important in my opinion. Rows and weighted dips have probably helped my bench the most, and for squat, I like to use good mornings and deadlifts to keep that squat total moving upwards.
Critical Bench: What drives you as a lifter?
I think the fact that each time I go light; someone else is out there going heavy. You've got to continually keep focusing on making gains and getting stronger because there are so many up and coming powerlifters out there. Because of that it's hard for me not to stay motivated. Also the need to constantly better myself, not just as a lifter but as a person as well. I believe that all the years in the gym and all the meets I've competed in have helped to mold me into the person I am today. And I definitely want to keep that going.
Critical Bench: Was your training any different prior to your last meet?
Actually, that was right when I started the 4-day/week westside program with the 2 speed days and the 2 max effort days. I started making the most gains I've ever experienced. I had a 7 hour operation about a month before the meet, so that month before I had to just focus on recovering and getting my strength level as close as I could to where it was pre surgery. That month before the Missouri State Championships was really difficult, but I also believe that it made me stronger and it taught me that no matter what the world throws at me, I'll be able to overcome it.
Critical Bench: Do you think using bench shirts/gear are cheating? Why do you lift raw?
I don't believe it to be cheating, because we're all competing in different divisions most of the time, so the playing field is always even. I do believe all organizations should have some sort of a raw division for the people who choose not to use equipment, but other than that we're all chasing after the same goal, and that goal is to get stronger, set new PR's, and compete the best we can with all that we have. I guess the main reason that I lift raw is that no matter what; I know that it's just me underneath the bar. I've got nothing that's adding any pounds to my bench or squat, and if I miss a lift it's because of something I did and not because I couldn't control a shirt or a suit. Raw strength is a lot more important to me on the football field as well. I mean it's not like I can call timeout and throw on a bench shirt to help keep a 300-pound defensive lineman from sacking my QB.
Critical Bench: What is your view on training in equipment and learning them?
Well I've got tons of respect for all of the equipped lifters out there. It's all uncomfortable as hell to wear, and a pain in the ass to get on. Not to mention how much effort and hard work that's put in just to use the equipment properly. I haven't really used equipment enough to be able to comment on the training, although I had no trouble adjusting when I threw on a bench shirt for the first time. However, in order to get the most out of a bench shirt or squat suit, you've got to put in the time and hard work.
Critical Bench: How does seeing guys like NICK WINTERS and JEREMY HOORNSTRA motivate you? Do you think raw training has evolved as much as geared training?
Man, the first thing that comes to mind is that both of those guys are straight up freaks. It definitely motivates me to see those guys putting up the insane numbers that they do. I think that seeing them accomplish what everything they have brings up the question that "If they can do that, why can't I?" That's something that definitely keeps me pushing myself beyond my limitations. As for the evolution of the raw training versus the geared, it's definitely evolved just as much. I just believe that they've both evolved into whatever works best for each. I mean to see guys throwing up 600 and 700+ raw on bench proves that even the raw aspect of the sport is adapting to get better.
Critical Bench: Do you think the standards went up in the sport?
Definitely. I remember back in high school when Anthony Clark first benched 800 pounds. Now you've got people hitting over a grand, which is just insane. I believe that with all of the dedicated athletes out there today, that the standards are going to continually rise due to the constant pursuit of new PR's. Not to mention we've all gotten a lot more intelligent with the way we train and that's made a huge difference.
Critical Bench: What is your nutrition like now?
I basically try to take in 300-400 grams of protein a day, as well as lots of good carbs. It's usually divided up into 6-8 meals to keep the metabolism going and to keep my body in an anabolic state. I try and keep my diet as clean as possible, but sometimes it's better to eat a couple cheeseburgers than to not eat anything at all if you're pressed for time. I mainly consume a lot of chicken, fish and steak, as well as rice and potatoes. Post workout I down a 100 gram shake mixed with orange juice to spike the insulin up after training. That alone has made a huge difference in my training.
Critical Bench: What changes are you going to have to make to be #1 in the 308s raw division across the board?
The biggest thing for me is staying injury free and healthy. The last meet I had to bench close grip with a torn rotator and a screwed up AC joint. Any significant injury can greatly hurt your total no matter what you try and do. Also I'm going to have to stay focused in and out of the gym. Basically I'm just going to have to up my training to that next level and train harder than I've ever done before, but at the same time I've got to be smart about it.
Critical Bench: Is there anyone you would like to thank right now?
First and foremost I've got thank Jesus Christ just for giving me the chance to do what I love. He's also blessed my wife and I with our first child, who will be here in April. I also want to thank my wife Kyla for being so supportive and helping me accomplish my goals in this sport. I've got to throw a big shout out to Curtis "THE BRUTE" Dennis for keeping me motivated and for bringing my training to that next level. I can't forget Vessel's Fitness Complex where I've trained at for 7 years, without them I wouldn't be where I'm at in my lifting career. And last but not least I wanna thank CriticalBench.com for giving me this opportunity to do this interview, it really means a lot to me.