Interview With Strongman Gavin Westenburger As told to CriticalBench.com by Curt Dennis Jr. "The Brute" of Planetrage.com - December 2007
GAVIN WESTENBURGER....This man really knows no quit. When I first enteracted with him, I could tell he was a dedicated strongman at that. Gavin has done some feats of strength that most are doing that are 10 years older than him. He stands at 5-10 at 290 and he's every bit as strong as he looks and loves the challenge of strongman. He's one of my current writers and good friends and has contributed a lot of experience from his sport that has benefited others including myself. He has taught me what it means to "BELIEVE AND BECOME". So take a look inside of who BIG G is...his trek to be the WORLD'S STRONGEST MAN...
Critical Bench: Hey, thanks for doing this interview, Gavin, Please introduce yourself.
Well there isn't much to say. I graduated in May of this year with my Bachelor's degree in Aerospace Engineering. I have been working at NASA Goddard for the last 2 years as a back up, and now full time operations coordinator for the SOHO Spacecraft. Aside from work, all I do is train and hang out with my friends. I am at the gym 5 days a week, and once a week I do strongman event training. For fun, I just like to hang out, nothing special.
Critical Bench: Congrats on your recent strongman competition!
Thanks. It was a good contest with good events. We had almost 60 guys there with 16 in the super-heavy weights. I placed 4th overall in the supers and set an unofficial record in the 600lb car deadlift for reps, with 20 reps in 60 seconds. I placed well in the rest of the events, getting 7 reps in the 240lb log press which was good enough for 2nd. I placed 4th in the farmer's walk with a distance of 101 feet with 280lbs per hand, I was 5th in the 825lb tire flip with 4 flips, and I was 4th in the stones, doing all 5 in 29 seconds. I am looking forward to this coming year, and competing in some Pro-Am's, getting my name out there some more, and who knows, with a little luck and a lot of hard work, I might get my pro card.
Critical Bench: How long have you been into strongman?
I have been into strongman since I was a kid. Probably 11 or 12 when I used to see the older contests on ESPN and seeing guys like Bill Kazmaier, Chief Iron Bear Collins, and Gerrit Badenhorst tossing around hundreds of pounds like there was nothing there. Once I saw that, I was hooked and I thought that one day I would be the World's Strongest Man. I started working out when I was 13, and from that point until now, all I have wanted is to become a pro and go to the big dance and represent the US as one of the best in the world.
Critical Bench: Tell us about your childhood and how you got into lifting?
I was about 13 when I started lifting. My parent's next door neighbor used to be a personal trainer and had a nice gym set up in his basement, with a leg press, rack, lat stack and dumbbells up to 100lbs. He is the one who go me into lifting and being strong. He wasn't the biggest guy, but I remember seeing him bench 315 for a couple of reps and I thought that was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I didn't realize that 10 years later I would be able to overhead press that much weight as easily as my neighbor could bench it.
Critical Bench: Who did you look up to when you were coming up as a strongman?
I don't know that I looked up to any one person when I was coming up in strongman, but I looked up to the sport as a whole. I mean how many guys do you know can say they lifted the back end of a car, let alone doing it 10, 15, or 20 times? Or how many guys can say, yeah that's no big deal, when talking about a 400lb stone? The entire sport can be mind boggling for some people when you see guys flipping tires that are 800, 900, 1000lbs, and doing it with little or no effort sometimes. So I guess you could say I look up to everyone who competes in strongman because we are unique. We are a rare breed that likes to compete, not against everyone else, but against ourselves, to try to best ourselves every time we go into an event.
Critical Bench: What would you say to a novice lifter or to a lifter who's just starting out in strongman?
Don't worry about competing against everyone else. Like I said before, strongman is about competing against yourself, about being as strong as you can be. And if you think you can do it, you can. I had never flipped an 825lb tire before my last contest, and I didn't think it was going to be tough, and I had no problem flipping it 4 times. Not the best overall, but the best for me, and I was happy with that. You just have to have the right attitude toward training and competing and know that it takes time to get strong.
Critical Bench: What is your favorite event thus far?
My favorite event is the deadlift, either for max weight, or for reps, with a straight bar, an 18" deadlift, or a car deadlift. I am just built for it. I am not too tall, my lower back isn't very long, my upper and lower legs are the same length and I have a decent grip. All that put together definitely helps with my deadlift, and right now it is my best event. I am working on my overhead press as well, trying to get my log up to 350lbs+.
Critical Bench: What are the challenges of coming up as a strongman?
The toughest thing is training for the events. Unless you know someone who has the specific equipment you need, like a log, like a yoke, stones, farmer's walk handles, a huge tire laying around, it is really hard to train for the events themselves. And you can buy some of the implements online, but there aren't too many places that sell them, and they usually aren't cheap. The other alternative is making some of the equipment yourself, but that can be difficult too.
In terms of training, the challenges are getting used to the specifics of all the events. You can do well on brute strength alone, but there is a good amount of technique involved in a lot of the events, especially stones, which require you to train with them as much as you can, get used to the movements and then you can start stacking on the weight. It takes time and practice, like anything to get the feel for the events. Once you are confident in your form and how you handle the implement, then you can toss the weight on and see how you do.
Critical Bench: Tell everyone here the difference between someone who wants to look "pretty" and someone who does what we do? The difference between a workout and a training session.
Don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against people who go to the gym to look good, or to be in shape, but the difference between them and us, is like pee-wee and professional football.
Someone who wants to be "pretty" will only put as much weight on the bar as they know they can handle, they are worried about perfect form for every lift, and they take time off. . .haha. Strongmen and powerlifters on the other hand will throw on as much weight as they think they can do, and see what happens. "Oh, I have never benched 600lbs before, what the hell, let's try it." Or, "I have never done a 900lb yoke walk before, what better time then right now to try?" Strongmen and powerlifters will be in the gym day in and day out punishing themselves to the point where it hurts to get out of bed the next day. I wake up in pain every day, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Strongmen and powerlifters will train no matter what. Torn muscles, if it's not that bad, you can lift on it. Ripped skin off of you hand, put some chalk on it, suck it up and keep lifting. Strained muscle, wrap it up and stop wining. That's the difference between someone who wants to look "pretty" and us.
We go to hell and back again every time we go to the gym, every time we train for an event, or a lift. And this is also the difference between a training session and a workout. A workout you can get through and you feel good, you might be happy with what you did, but what did you really accomplish except for going through the motions? A training session will twist and turn your body until it hurts so much that you don't think you can do anymore, and then for some insane reason, you put more weight on, you take one more step, you try to press one more rep, because that is who you are and how you think. You know the saying "No pain, no gain", well with us, it is a way of life.
Critical Bench: What would you tell a strongman if they are trying to get to the next level in the sport?
Push yourself day in and day out. Don't worry about how bad the last workout was, don't worry about how much it hurts to move, how much it hurts to walk, to stand up, and don't worry about anything but what's in front of you.
Critical Bench: Do you believe that strongmen have a lifestyle of their own?
We do. There is no denying the fact that every strongman you meet will be a little different. For the most part, every strongman you meet will think, eat, breathe strongman 24/7. I am sitting at work and I am thinking about the day's workout and what I want to accomplish. I am eating every 2 hours, not because I am hungry, but because I need to stay big. I wake up every morning and think, today will be a good day, not because the sun is out, but because it is another day I can go the gym, another day I can train and get a little close to that goal of being the best. We do have our own lifestyle.
Critical Bench: How driven would people say you are about being a strongman?
Anyone who knows me knows that this is my life, and my ultimate goal is be the strongest man in the world. I don't care if it isn't tomorrow, or next year, but soon, I will be the strongest man in world. All of my friends, my training partners, my family, everyone who knows me, knows that I am strongman.
Critical Bench: How does it affect you outside of the gym?
I am the same way all the time, inside and outside the gym. I am a laid back guy, but I have my on and off switch. My switch is on when I step up to the bar, and you don't want to piss me off. I am focused on one thing, and that is the lift, the walk, the carry. But the rest of the time, in between sets, events, and the rest of the time, I am just goofy, and laid back.
Critical Bench: What kind of mindset do you have to have to compete in strongman competitions?
When you go to a strongman competition, you have to think of it as another day at the gym, another weekend training session. If you don't have the mindset of "I can do this in my sleep", you will get defeated, not by the event, not by the weight, but by yourself. Not to mention it is physically impossible to go out at 100% for 4, 5, or 6 events and expect to survive. So you need to be prepared to the point where each event, or set of events is nothing new, nothing our of the ordinary, and you can say "Yeah I have done this 100 times" and it was just as easy the first time as it was the 100th time.
Critical Bench: What are your workouts like? How are they setup?
My workouts are structured more like a powerlifter's when I am at the gym. I have one "main" heavy exercise for each muscle group that I push to max weights as much as I can and the rest of the exercises are there to build a degree of muscular endurance so I can keep myself in good form through my contests. The best way to show everyone out there is to give you a sample. This is what my back day is like:
Exercise 1: Deadlifts
Set 1: 545x8
Set 2: 635x4-5
Set 3: 725x1-2
Set 4: 750+x1
Exercise 2: Lat pull down
Set 1-3: 300x8-10
Exercise 3: Neutral Grip Pull down
Set 1: 270x10
Set 2: 285x8
Set 3: 300x6-8
Exercise 4: Shrugs
Set 1: 405x20
Set 2: 495x15
Set 3: 585x15
When it comes to my event training, it all depends on how I want to train that day, and what my next contest is like. If the contest has a log press for max weight, I may not do more then 4 or 5 reps a set for the log, and just push for those heavier weights for 1 or 2 reps. If the contest has a log press for reps, then I will push for the medium-heavy weights for 8 reps, sometimes more. The event training can be made to order for my upcoming contests, but my gym work doesn't change all that much. I have my one heavy, main exercise, and then 3 to 4 ancillary exercises which I do to build some extra strength and endurance.
Critical Bench: What would you suggest to someone on how to get strong?
Strength is tough. Everyone is born with a certain ratio of fast to slow twitch muscle fiber, and once you figure out what your body has more of, you need to train for that. I have a good balance of fast and slow twitch fibers, because my body responds well to high intensity, high rep power movements, and low rep heavy weight movements. But if I had one thing to say about how to get strong it would be, Train Hard.
Critical Bench: What does "believe and become" come from?
For those of you who don't know, I have the words "believe" and "become" tattooed on my back. I got those from a saying I heard when I was a kid, one of those things that just sticks with you and you never forget. The quote is: "If you believe it, you can do it. If you can dream it, you can become it." As soon as I heard that, I knew that I could be the best at something. At the time, I wasn't sure what it was, but as the years have gone on, I know now, that I am working towards being the best at my sport, being the strongest man in the world.
Critical Bench: What was your nutrition like prior to your last competition?
The nice thing about being a strongman is you don't have to watch everything you eat all the time. I am not going to lie, I like a big steak, I like beer, ice-cream, pizza. But my diet does have a structure most days, and I do the same thing before every contest, and it seems to work well for me. Before every competition I get a coke, hash browns, and an egg McMuffin from McDonald's.
Normally my meals aren't bad; I eat a lot of oatmeal, unprocessed carbs, like wheat bread, and whole wheat pasta. I eat a lot of protein, egg whites, steak, chicken, pork, shakes, and these days I am staying away from the processed sugars like in sodas, and stuff like that. I also give myself some cheat meals a week. Last night I had pizza for dinner, and few days ago I went out for breakfast, but for the most part, my diet is solid. And I make sure I get all the calories in I need that day, usually 5000-7000 depending on how active I am that day.
Critical Bench: What's next for you as far as goals are concerned? What changes are you going to have to make to get there?
There is always the same goal I have in mind, that is to get stronger. I have been re-structuring my workouts lately to incorporate some more endurance and intensity to build some more muscle density on top of strength, and I am using a step approach to my weight choices, making sure I go up a fixed amount each workout, usually 5% of my 1 rep max. This will help me get used to heavier weights a little quicker then normal and help me to push myself to go for more each time. Instead of arbitrarily picking a weight increase, I know exactly how much I am going up, and exactly how many reps I need to get that set to meet my goal. Like with anything else, I just need to work hard to get to where I want to be, and it is going to take some time, but soon enough, I will be at a level where I can be the best.
Critical Bench: Is there anyone you would like to thank right now?
There are a ton of people I would like to thank. First, my parent's for being supportive and letting keep all of my training equipment in their garage. My training partners, Chris Ebley, Chris Shiffler, Matt B, Barry Perkins and everyone else who has been around for a workout or training session. And all of my friends, The Brute, for getting my name out there and helping me find some sponsors, my sisters for always showing up at my contests and cheering me on, and of course, the groupies, and you know who you are. Thanks for everyone who is there in support of me and of the sport.
Check out this video: Log press for some reps with 275lbs.