Interview With Powerlifting Champion Clay Brandenburg | Critical Bench

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Interview With Powerlifting Champion Clay Brandenburg

By Ben Tatar

Big Clay is one of the biggest iron monsters whom the powerlifting world has ever seen. He was one of the first men in the planet to bench press 800lbs. Big Clay would later go on to bench press 932lbs. Let’s learn about this living iron powerlifting legend and see who he is as a monster and as a man.

CRITICAL BENCH: Clay, welcome to CRITICAL BENCH. How did you get started in powerlifting?

Big Clay: Bill Bushey and Tom Pearson got me into powerlifting back when I was 16. They were local powerlifters and they were the strongest guys in the gym. After six months of training, they signed me up for my first bench contest in Lima, Ohio.

I had planned on lifting in the 275lbs weight division of the meet, but I weighed 332 lololololol. Obviously, the gym scale was very wrong. I was extremely nervous that day. I threw up two times that morning. I would have bombed if it wasn’t for the coaching of Bill Bushey and Tom Pearson. Thanks, gentlemen.

CRITICAL BENCH: Clay, do you consider yourself to have good genetics? How strong were you in high school?

Big Clay: Yes, I would consider myself to have good genetics. I was benching 200 for reps in 8th grade. I benched 405×5 as a senior. My high school football coach, Scott Galeski was the first person to truly believe in me and my abilities. Thanks coach.

CRITICAL BENCH: I remember back in 1999, everyone was talking about Jamie Harris and Anthony Clark. (The two most dominant bench presser’s of the 90’s.) These men were talked about, and they were racing for the first ever 800lbs bench press mark.

Out of the blue, there was a man behind the scenes named BIG CLAY (one of the biggest lifters ever,) who almost locked out 800 plus, many times! All of a sudden, you became a household name!!! Before you were a household name, did you ever realize that you could have been the first man to bench press 800lbs plus?

Big Clay: In 1992, I competed at the ADFPA Teenage national championships in Cleveland Ohio. Anthony Clark was the guest lifter. He benched 500 for 10 that day and he became my hero! I wanted to lift like Anthony, and the journey began seven years later.

I was at the Arnold Classic as a spectator when a great friend Jim Adams looked at me and said I should be on that stage. One year later, I beat Anthony Clark at the 2000 WPC Worlds in Vegas. He became a great friend and mentor. Anthony introduced me to my first sponsor, John Inzer.

We did several guest lifts together. At that point, I realized I could compete with and beat the best in the world. My only true battle was with the iron. The battle was knowing 800lbs would be mine, and I eventually hit a 932lb bench in October of 2007.

CRITICAL BENCH: Tell the world how much you lift with dumbbells!

Big Clay: My best feat with dumbbells is 215lb dumbbells for 12 reps on incline. I have also done rows with 330 pound dumbbells for 10 reps and 215 pound dumbbells shoulder press for 8 reps. Dumbbells are a great tool for base training.

CRITICAL BENCH: Big Clay how did you get so huge and strong?

Big Clay: Well, I was a big kid. Although I have great genes for getting strong, I have the same genes for being fat. I started training early, like eighth grade. I have been surrounded by great training partners and mentors over the years. We do not miss workouts. The gym I trained at as a teenager, TNT gym was full of beast. We lived and breathed in beast mode.

CRITICAL BENCH: Big Clay, so far in your powerlifting journey what has been your FAVORITE MOMENT, CRAZIEST MOMENT and A MOMENT THAT CHANGED YOU THE MOST?

Big Clay: My favorite moment is a tossup between two. One was my first Arnold. What an amazing experience, that feeling on the big stage was incredible. I am so fortunate to have experienced it seven years in a row. The other was when I guest lifted with my hero Anthony Clark and Jamie Harris at the 2000 Mountaineer Cup!

Craziest moment was in 2004 at the WPO bench for cash in Orlando, Florida. We were lifting during Hurricane Gene. We only got two attempts because they were evacuating the city. Our room was flooding, signs and trees were flying everywhere. It was very crazy, and yes, I did win with a 815 bench :).

The moment that changed me the most was the opening of Detroit Barbell. After years of selfish training, I realized how awesome it was to create monsters.

CRITICAL BENCH: Speaking of Detroit Barbell, tell us about it! Does your gym have a creed, or do you have a message for lifters before they step into your gym?

Big Clay: Detroit barbell is FAMILY…Most people are afraid to come to the gym. They are afraid they aren’t strong enough or big enough. I will make this statement; if your passion is lifting, if you strive to be the very best you can be, then you belong at the Barbell. We have lifters at all levels. Our creed, You might be bigger, you might have more talent, BUT YOU WILL NEVER OUT WORK US…..HEART IS WHAT WE ARE..We Believe it…We live it.

CRITICAL BENCH: Everyone, check out Detroit Barbell http://www.detroitbarbell.net/ If you’re in the area and want to be hardcore, give it a try! Clay, tell us about your family!

Big Clay: Family life is awesome!! I married Shelly Pier. She is a lifter as well and very supportive of everything I do. I opened up a private training facility called, the Fitt Factory. So, between both gyms, I work a great deal of hours..Shelly is behind me 100%.

Shelly is super wife and super mom. It’s unbelievable what that woman can do, and she still maintains her own training and looks amazing…I am a very lucky man. On November 18th 2007, we had Mya Starlan Brandenburg. Mya is my world. She has influenced and changed my life in every way. Being a dad is the greatest thing in the world :) Watching her doing tire flips or pull ups at age four is way more rewarding than anything that I’ve done!!!

Schick-Brandenburg

CRITICAL BENCH: Clay, congratulations to you for your lifting and family life as well. Clay, what do you think are the 10 most important factors when it comes to upping one’s bench?

Big Clay: #1 consistent training,#2 proper tech,#3 strong upper back, heavy rows and weighted pull ups,#4 strong triceps, floor press, heavy dumbbells skull crushers,#5 strong chest, incline dumbbell press, heavy log press,#6 strong shoulders, strict overhead pressing, shoulder pin press,#7 heavy CNS training! Heavy board work partials.

#8 touching in training, you have to touch in training to excel in a meet. Boards are only a tool; they should not be used all the time. #9 great training partner with a good eye for technique! #10 a great coach…nothing like an outside voice to guide you

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to greatness :)

CRITICAL BENCH: Everyone, mark these tips down! What does Big Clay enjoy doing away from powerlifting?

Big Clay: I love spending time with my family. I love traveling, water parks, concerts, Michigan football games, Lions games, Tiger games or watching Beauty and the Beast 1000 times with my daughter. If I’m with my girls, I’m happy!!!

CRITICAL BENCH: What is your message for the Powerlifting world?

Big Clay: Hold yourself and your own lifts to a higher standard, and don’t worry about what everybody else is doing. Try to have balance in life. And last but not least, have fun! If you’re not enjoying it, then do something else.

CRITICAL BENCH: What is your advice for a young kid who would one day like to be a world champion bench presser?

Big Clay: Don’t listen to the doubters!!!! Hold to your dream, and BELIEVE !!!! Enjoy the process and believe anything is possible. The training is the best part.

CRITICAL BENCH: What makes your gym unique?

Big Clay: The family atmosphere, we all truly support and care about each other. The only thing better then believing in yourself is having 50 other people believing in you as well. Detroit Barbell is family

CRITICAL BENCH: Tell us about your diet. What are your favorite supplements?

Big Clay: I have tried everything over the last 20 years. What worked for me was a high protein mid carb diet with most the carbs before and after training and a big cheat meal once a week. When my daughter was born, I decided I needed to live a little longer, and at that point, the weight flew off.

I lost 120 pounds in six months and have kept it off for four years now. As for supplements, I drink two protein shakes a day with glutamine creatine mono before and after training, I drink bcaa’s all day in my water jug… super multivitamin pack and super enzymes before big meals. As for food, I eat two health meals a day and the rest is bars and shakes…Might not be the best plan, but it works for me and my life style.

CRITICAL BENCH: What motivates you to be the best lifter?

Big Clay: That inner fat kid still lives within. Beast Mode is only a few thoughts away. Business wise, just providing for my family and trying to help as many people as I can. I truly believe I have been given a gift. My passion is helping people achieve their dreams. It just happens to be my job. I am truly blessed.

CRITICAL BENCH: How has powerlifting changed you as a man?

Big Clay: Well, it taught me discipline. I partied a lot as a kid so I planned my biggest training days on the weekend so drinking wasn’t an option. My training was way too important to me to be ruined by alcohol. This method has helped me and hundreds of kids I have trained over the years.

Choosing between personal records and a hangover is a easy decision. The injuries really teach you a lot about yourself. It’s tough to go from benching 200 pound dumbbells to not being able to button your pants. Injuries build a lot of mental toughness that help you fight through life’s obstacles.

CRITICAL BENCH: How are you going to remember your powerlifting journey?

Big Clay: A fat kid who became a strong kid, who became the world champ, who became a husband, a father, a mentor, a friend, who lived it ,who tried it, who gave everything he had to everyone and everything in his life…Who not only taught himself to believe, but showed others how to believe in themselves. A person who truly believes in the work and the heart of an individual is all that matters.

CRITICAL BENCH: Tell us about being a coach and inspiring the lifters you lift.

Big Clay: Coaching is my passion!!! It is way more rewarding to teach then to do!!! It can be frustrating, but in the end, when they hit a personal record or break a world, or national record…that look on their face and that feeling inside your heart, is PRICELESS…You can’t buy those memories or moments.

I have coached talent and I have coached heart. Heart might not win in the beginning, but it always wins in the end. Usually talent drops off after a injury. In this sport, it doesn’t matter if you’re going to get injured. It’s a matter of when. Heart never gives up and never gives in.

Here’s a few lifters I have trained that have hearts ten times stronger than anybody: JJ Thomas, Tim Hensley, Shelly Brandenburg, Tom Westhoff, Eric Decaires, Jake Whately, RJ Yage, Rob Johnson, and Drew Stomberg.

CRITICAL BENCH: You were once over 415lbs of mass and you’re down to being a 310lbs powerlifter. What was it like being one of the biggest powerlifting freaks in the world? How does it feel to be over 100lbs lighter? How did you cut the weight?

Big Clay: I wouldn’t change anything. I lived my life over 400 pounds for 12 years. I have done things in training and on the platform that most people only dream about. I have had the pedal to the metal most my life. The only goal was to get bigger and stronger and win at all cost. I left no stone unturned.

During this process, I have suffered several injuries, six rotator tears and broke my heel in half. I have no cartilage in my back or knees and my stomach lining looks like Swiss cheese. I lived and loved every minute of it. My daughter saved my life when she was born, and the weight just fell off.

At 310, I can breathe and move. My strength is not what it used to be, but my brain is more powerful than ever!! I have made every mistake known to man in training. My mistakes and injuries have turned into knowledge and wisdom for hundreds of lifters that will not repeat that same path.

CRITICAL BENCH: Well, Big Clay what a powerlifting journey it has been! What a life you are living!! As we wrap up this interview, is there anything else that you would like to say?

Big Clay: First I would like to thank God for all the gifts He has given me!! Then I would like to thank my mom and dad. Without their love, support and their superior genes, none of this would be possible. I love you mom and dad. Thank you, coach Galeski for believing in me and my ability.Thank you coach, Bill Bushey and coach, Tom Pearson for taking the time to teach a kid how to be a good man and for getting me involved into competitive powerlifting.

Thank you, Steve Miller for beating me at everything. You are like the big brother I never had. Thank you, Jim Adams for believing in me more then I believed in myself. Your motivation and encouragement and all those long hours in the gym are very appreciated. Thank you, Bob McLaughlin for always being my best friend and keeping it real. You have always been a true friend. You have always been there for me, and your friendship means the world to me, thank you.

Anthony Clark, your inspiration motivated me to do things I only dreamed about. You will forever be my hero and live in my heart. Thank you, John Inzer. Your support over the years has been tremendous. You have never given up on me. I did everything I could to put Inzer advanced designs in positive light.

Thank you, John Zemmin for being the ultimate beast and pushing me to do things in training and on the platform that I never thought possible. Our competitive spirit and love for lifting has formed a brotherhood for the future of Detroit Barbell. You are my iron brother.

Thank you to all the men and women over the years that I have trained. All your effort, all your sweat and tears have been greatly appreciated. I am very proud of every one of you. Last but not least, thanks to my beautiful wife for supporting me on and off the platform.

I appreciate every moment that you have been in my life. Thank you, Mya Starlan Brandenburg for inspiring me to be a better man. There are so many to thank but these ones are near and dear to me.










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