In this new series, I will be interviewing different types of lifters and people in the Strength and Conditioning Industry. From coaches, olympic lifters, bodybuilders, and powerlifters, I will do my best to highlight individuals who I respect and feel can contribute their knowledge to my blog and to all of you. Hope you enjoy!
The first person I wanted to do an interview with was Brady Popkin. I’ve known Brady since we were kids and have been able to watch him progress with his work in the gym. We grew up together in a small town and played multiple sports together. He is by far one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. I say this with complete honesty…I wish I had 1/10th of this guy’s talents. Brady has his degree in Biology, is a music composer and a warlock on the guitar to just name a few. You can check his YouTube channel (linked below) out if you want to listen to his music or watch him shred on the guitar. He has an internal engine that doesn’t quit and a drive to better himself every time he steps foot inside a weight room. I find his hard work and dedication to his craft admirable and it’s far beyond a normal mortals capacity.
Squat: 585 (wraps)
Squat: 550 (no wraps)
Deadlift: 600 x 2
CT: Let’s start with the basics. Tell us when you began lifting and what motivated you to start.
BP: I started lifting when I was 21. I remember being amazed at how jacked my lab partner was in college, he was jacked and tan! My initial motivations were surely based solely in vanity. I always felt like a small guy, and I had a lot of insecurities to compensate for.
CT: I remember you a little bit differently at that age because you were always one of the bigger guys in our class growing up. I think a lot of that came from your swimming career and the fact that it helped you develop a frame of having broad shoulders and a slim torso. Would you agree with that assumption?
BP: I would definitely agree. I feel like my physique still looks like a swimmers physique, except that I’ve packed more muscle onto it. Back muscles are paramount in swimming, so I find no coincidence that my back is one of my best and strongest features. Additionally, that muscular endurance has stayed with me after all these years. I think that in the absence of all those grueling years in the pool my frame would look, as well as perform much differently. That’s why I still believe that swimming is the greatest workout.
CT: Fantastic! I completely agree that swimming is an amazing workout. As far as the muscular endurance, I can definitely attest to your capacity. I remember coming back to our home town and working out with you and just being completely astonished at your work capacity. We were doing back that day (coincidence) and we were doing Lat Pull-Downs paired with Chin-Ups and you just kept crushing set after set while I was gassed and could barely pull anything at that point. After how long of lifting did you start packing on the muscle? Did you start out on any particular workout program?
BP: I remember that day too! Great times….I began noticing size gains exactly one year after I started lifting I remember putting on about ten pounds of lean mass in roughly 3 – 4 months, naturally. I think I started making gains because I was discovering what worked for my body. I’m not a big believer in doing 10 reps for building muscle, 15 for definition, 1 – 6 for strength and power etc. Everyone’s body responds differently to the stressors placed upon it. Most of the local guys I looked up to at the time were just going heavy and moving weight, and commanding respect! Haha! As amateur as this seems to me now, I was shrugging weight up to 585 to start my back days. I just started focusing on lifting heavier, while still keeping my volume high with additional sets in between the heavy ones. This took me from 190 to about 200lbs pretty quickly. I’ve never been a big fan of using machines either. Everything was heavy and using free weights…. Best way to grow in my experience. As far as programs, I’ve always been an instinctual lifter. I listen to my body and lift accordingly.
CT: Great point about not conforming to a specific program. There are so many out there and from my experience, any of them will get you gains as long as you commit too it. I believe that many times in this industry people generally try to label what they do as the “go to” in progressive gains for things such as athletic performance, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, etc. and that just isn’t the case. I think that you hit the nail on the head by what you said because it seems that as you progressed, you educated yourself by listening to your body and finding what works for you. There is no specific roadmap to success when it comes to an individuals body. However, most times an individual will stick to what they first do because in the first 4 months you are going to see your largest jumps in strength, power, endurance and body type…much like you did. In reality that is just your bodies initial response to an external stimulus and neural motor programming. It’s the journey and grueling hours that educate you on what works later on.
I know you were still in college at this time so what did your diet look like during that first year from food to supplements? Also, I know you kind of bounced around from wanting to possibly do bodybuilding competitions (as you can tell from your current physique) to powerlifting. What was your mentality during this time and do you classify yourself as one or the other now?
BP: Just to add a little more specific information to that last conversation point, I’m a big believer in “evolution”… psychology, biology, everything. Put your body in a position where it has to change to survive and you will always grow and progress. It’s similar to the diathesis-stress model in clinical psychology. You apply stress to your body, and your specific genetic code will make your body change according to the stressors it’s exposed to.
In this period I had no idea what I was doing in terms of diet. I remember a guy at the gym (Westwood Gym in Sterling, IL) recommended me to try the age old body weight in grams of protein plan. Other than that I just ate very healthy, lots of fruits and vegetables etc. Because I’ve always had more physical jobs I’ve taken in additional calories from shitty foods too, Oreos, cheesecake, anything sugary and calorie dense. Upping my protein made a noticeable difference though, it was great advice to a dedicated beginner.
At this point I would say that I’m a vain powerlifter, haha. There has really been a changing movement in powerlifting in the last 10ish years, with more of the great lifters being aesthetic. When we were young, I thought of powerlifters as fat, hairy dudes in bench shirts. Today, you have greats like Pete Rubish, Stan Efferding, Chris Hickson, Dan Green, etc, killing huge numbers raw and looking good doing it. It’s refreshing and encouraging. I’d like to think that I use a hybrid style to achieve the most I can in both realms. At this point in my life I’m the strongest I’ve ever been, and my physique is the best it has ever been. I don’t plan on changing my lifting style any time soon.
CT: Great response! I completely agree with your ideas on your bodies response to stress. To me I like to utilize and explain it with the “Fight or Flight” response, which refers to a “physiological reaction that occurs in the presence of something that is terrifying, either mentally or physically.” Very similar to what you explained. I was hoping you would make a reference to the stereotypical powerlifter of the past. I also thought and visualized them as fat and hairy haha. The raw power and explosiveness that can be gained from powerlifting is undeniable. What are your thoughts on powerlifting and athletics? Are there elements of powerlifting that could benefit a young athlete or an elite level athlete? Also, Is there a certain type of individual that it takes to be a powerlifter (physically or mentally)?
BP: I think that the core power lifts are great training tools for any sport that requires quick bursts of speed…a running back sprinting down field, a baseball player running to first base after hitting the ball, a track athlete running the 100m. Squats and deadlifts develop a terrific explosiveness that can’t be achieved with other training tools. As an example, if my 240lb frame could sprint against my 180lb frame, the 240 would win every time. Power lifts have also been shown to elevate testosterone levels as well. These lifts are critical to novice and elite level athletes.
To answer your second question, anyone can perform these power lifts. I do think that certain characteristics of an individual will make them more likely to succeed in a sport like powerlifting. You have to be somewhat of a masochist, a risk taker, an adrenaline junkie. However, all athletes can benefit from these movements in their respective sports. Physically it seems that certain body types are oriented toward specific movements. Individuals with a smaller waste and lanky torso may be better at squatting and deadlifting, compared to someone shorter and barrel chested who may be better at pressing movements. I don’t like to think like that though.
CT: Building off your last point about certain body types possibly being more suitable to excel at certain lifts, many people watching powerlifting will see the thick lifting shirts and trunks and yet many of these lifters barely even touch parallel on squats. After watching your videos on YouTube and your pictures, it seems that you make it a point to emphasize that you get below parallel on your squats. Why is this? What is your opinion or thoughts on the advantages or of squatting below parallel?
BP: I’m so glad that you brought this up, Casey. I think powerlifting today is somewhat plagued by guys testing the limits of legal lifts to try and break world records. I love Mark Bell and his gym, super training, but it seems like their meets let almost any form go at times. I look at this from two different perspectives. First, squatting above parallel and calling it a good lift is like saying you climbed Mt. Everest but only trekking a fraction of the mountain.
A more important way to look at this is from a physiological stand point. What happens when you squat at or below parallel? Explosion from the hole, intense leg drive, a powerful hip drive, large amounts of core activation, use of important stabilizer muscles, using the lower and upper back muscles to keep the body upright… all of these benefits are significantly reduced when squatting above parallel. The body just doesn’t benefit. I see a lot of aspiring body builders today avoiding squats and deadlifts…and it doesn’t surprise me that their core muscles are underdeveloped. The deeper the squat, the more the body benefits.
CT: I absolutely agree and very well said. I think we’ll wrap up there Brady. Thank you so much for spending your time on this and you definitely have a firm grasp on your training and great knowledge that anyone will benefit from. Any last comments or thoughts?
BP: Figure out what works for your body, instead of falling victim to programs or diets that are usually misleading. Listen to your body, work hard, eat right, and your genetics will do the rest. If anyone is interested, my Instagram is “Mooosecake” and I also have a YouTube channel where I post progress videos. Thanks for allowing me to be a part of your blog, Casey! This was fun!
Check out some of Brady’s videos here!