Monday, October 2, 2017

Kirk Karwoski Interview - Tim Henriques (2014)

Note: This is a very small excerpt from "All About Powerlifting" by Tim Henriques.
Great Book! Well Worth the Purchase.

Here's over an hour of Mark Rippetoe interviewing Kirk Karwoski:

If Norb Schemansky came back a little later down the timeline and chose Powerlifting I think he'd be Kirk Karwoski. Meat and Potatoes. Straight ahead, hard work, no buts about it and no whining. 
Cut the crap and LIFT that WEIGHT . . .

Kirk Karwoski has won multiple National and World Powerlifting titles. He is the first man in the IPF to squat more than 1,000 pounds, and he is likely most famous for his video of him squatting 1,000 for 2 reps in training for that competition. 


This interview was conducted in person with Kirk. I asked him questions and wrote down his answers. This is what he had to say:

Tim Henriques: Provide us with a brief history of yourself.

Kirk Karwoski: I was born in 1966 in Penn State University, the result of too much alcohol and a missing condom. Currently, I am a mechanic working on hydraulic machines, and I live in Maryland.

TH: What are your best lifts?

KK: In 1995 I hit a 1,003 pound squat in competition; it was with the USPF, which at the time was part of the IPF. That was the first 1,000 pound squat done officially in the IPF to their standards and tested. I was in the 275 pound weight class. That was with an old school single ply squat suit and knee wraps. My best bench ever was 578 in a meet, in an old single ply bench shirt. I deadlifted 777; both of those lifts were also at 257.

In the gym I hit a 1,005 for 1, and I am probably most famous for my 1,000 x 2 squat that I did in prep for the 1,003 one in competition. I also hit 645 x 8 raw, no belt, smoked it, and I did 800 x 5 raw with just a belt. After I retired I came back and hit a competition squat with the AAU. I was 242, and I squatted 826, which was an All-Time best lift. I am very proud of that 826 raw squat because I felt it helped give raw lifting a push to prominence. I wish I had hit a max raw squat in my prime; there is no doubt in my mind I would have hit 903 to depth, raw, with just a belt.

826 Raw Squat with no wraps, just a belt, and walked out:

I deadlifted 800 a few times in the gym but never did it in a meet.

826 raw deadlift in training:

I also did a curl competition, it was a standing strict curl (not against the wall) with an EZ Bar, and I got 220 which I believe was a National Record at the time.

EH: List some of the titles that you have won.

KK: I won Teenage Nationals 3 times and Open Nationals 7 times. I won Junior Worlds in '89, I believe, and then lost Open Worlds the next year by 5 pounds; then I won IPF Worlds. I was 6 time IPF World Champion. This was back when there was pretty much just one National and one World Championships for everybody, not one per federation like there is today. I retired in 1995.

EH: When did you start training; when did you first compete; what were your first competition lifts?

KK: At age 8 I saw the Incredible Hulk on TV and instantly realized that was the answer to all my problems. I fell in love with muscles and lifting, but I didn't get a barbell set until I was 12. I did a little bench press competition when I was very young; it was your bodyweight for reps. I think I got like 148 pounds for 10-11 reps or something. My first real competition I was 14-15 years old, I was a light 165er, and I hit a 420 Squat, 300 Bench, and 400 Deadlift. I did a 450 deadlift but didn't wait for the down command; then I tried to pull 47 5 to go for the win and I missed it.

TH: How much weight did you lift the first times you tried the squat?

KK: Pretty much the first time I really tried to squat I hit 300 pounds. It was in high school and I had to squat that to get my name on the wall. I trained at home - it is tougher to practice the squat with minimal equipment - the coaches didn't think I could do it but I did. I weighed about 150 at that point.

At my house I used to take my Dad's bad-weather tires, tie them together, lay a board on them, and that was my bench press. Of course, you didn't use collars; you just went until you failed, tilted the weight until one side unloaded, then it flipped over, you got up, rested a bit, and did it all over again.

I did a lot of track in high school and I really think that helped me as an athlete. I did the shot up and discus but I sucked at them, I was better at rug. I could do a sub 11 second 100 M sprint, sub 23 second 200 M, and sub 55 second 400 M. I ran a 4.6 in the 40 yard dash after practice wearing everything but shoulder pads.

When I graduated high school I was about 200 pounds, I could squat and deadlift 600 pounds and bench 400. I could also do a 325 clean and jerk, a 245 snatch, and a 245 clean and press.

EH: What was your first training program like?

KK: I just did the workout the coaches gave us in high school; the main things to do were the powerlifts and the Olympic lifts. I think I still have copies of those handouts lying around somewhere.

EH: How much were you squatting when you first hit a plateau in the exercise? How long did you plateau there? What did you do to get past that plateau?

KK: I hit a big plateau trying to get an 800 pound squat in a meet; that took me like 2 years. I finally hit like 8 - it was weird, there was a power failure, the lights were out, I still did my squat, it took me like 10 seconds to complete the lift, and then I just blacked out. This was at Nationals. I had bombed out before trying to get that squat; initially I wasn't a super consistent lifter.

For me the plateau forced me to examine myself. I refined my technique and started to train smarter. I may be a big shaved ape I am not stupid and this isn't rocket science. It forced me to become a better lifter. I also gained some weight and that weight gain helped me to feel more stable in the bottom of the squat.

TH: Give a history of the progress you have made in the squat.

KK: Around 1985 when I was a teen I was squatting 625ish raw. In the late '80s I was stuck with that 800 plateau. In 1990 I hit the 1,003.

TH: What do you feel is key to being successful in the squat?

KK: In every rep, you must duplicate your form. It must become automatic and the form must be perfect. For me it is actually painful to squat 245 with perfect for because it is so light, but you have to make every rep the same. Don't be sloppy with something and then think "I'll tighten up my form once the weight gets heavy." Every rep is a chance to practice perfect form.

EH: What do you feel the best way to train for the squat is for a normal powerlifter (routine, days per week, exercises, sets, reps, rest, etc.)?

KK: I think the periodization plan of working something hard once a week works really well. I think the newer ideas incorporating Prilepin's chart and stuff can be good too, but I had a lot of success with basic linear periodization and overload every week.

In the ideal world my training would look like this:
Monday: Squat
Tuesday: Close-grip Bench and Arms
Thursday: Deads and Back
Saturday: Chest and Shoulders.

I would train hard as shit for about 90 minutes or so. I would be sore as hell. If there was a meet 15 weeks away, I would be sore all the time for those 15 weeks. I really think if you go and beat yourself up hard once a week in each area, I don't think you need more than that. Even the arm day above was a bonus, but when I did it I felt I was more muscular, I was stronger, I got so psychologically hard that I could handle that extra weight and the close-grip bench really helped out. I always believed that pain and strength were the same thing. The more hurt I was, the stronger I was.

For a while I had pretty good results just training twice a week when that was all that I had time to do. It would go like this:

Day 1: Squat and Bench
Day 2: Squat light (usually warm-up sets to get loose), Bench, and Deadlift.

My specific plan would go something like this. I would work up to a heavy set of 8 reps, raw no belt, over 4 weeks. Then I put on the belt, dropped to 5 reps and worked up to a heavy set of 5. Going up about 10-20 pounds a week, again for 4 weeks. The you go suit on, wraps on, straps down for the triples, and then suit on all the way, each one of those for 3-4 weeks. When you add some gear (like the belt, suit, etc.) you make bigger jumps. For me for example, if I worked up to 645 x 8 then I would go 705 x 5 with a belt as an easy first week and then progress from there.

EH: What do you think of training with a high frequency (3+ times per week in the squat? Have you done this, what were your results, and do you believe in it or not?

KK: I never tried this. I have a hard time imagining it working. I could barely climb a flight of stairs the next day - how was I going to squat 800 pounds again? I always had very physically demanding jobs. I don't think that would have worked well with those jobs and the extra labor I had to do.

EH: What do you think of training with a medium frequency (2 times per week) in the squat? Have you done this, what were your results, and do you believe in it or not?

KK: I did a second squat a week for a while with just warm-ups; it was okay but in the ideal world I preferred just training it hard once a week.

EH: What do you think of training with a low frequency (1 time per week or less) in the squat?

KK: This is what always worked the best for me and this was the most popular method of training when I was competing; it was what most of the top guys were doing.

EH: What are your favorite assistance exercises for the squat?

KK: Honestly, squats are the best thing. I liked front squats and would do those in high school; I would also do step-ups then. I remember loading up 4 plates, putting it in front squat position and performing a step-up on a bench or whatever. But as I got bigger front squats just choked me out.

Leg presses are okay but I don't think they are worth the effort. We had only so many plates in our gym; lugging them from the squat rack to the leg press, loading them up - it was more cardio than anything. Same thing for hacks. I don't think boxes or bands and chains are necessary; that shit just overcomplicates it. It is a squat; move the bar in a straight line in the right way - that is what you need to learn how to do. It isn't that hard.

EH: What are your thoughts on training until failure on the competition lifts?

KK: Every week I had a plan. I would post up on the fridge what I was supposed to lift that week. Let's say it is 800 x 5. That is my mission, that is what I am doing. When I do that, I come home, circle it, and then the next date and rep goal goes on the sheet. Once I had that goal, I would do everything I could to meet it - if I failed going for 800 x 5 so be it, although there was hell to pay for myself and anyone around me if I didn't hit that goal. I was not afraid of failure, but if I hit that goal rep I could stop; I wouldn't go for extra reps just because I was successful with the set of 5. But once that weight and reps were on the plan, you just do it, no question.

EH: What injuries have you faced and how have you overcome them?

KK: When I was competing I had lots of minor injuries - strains, tears, etc. You just deal with them, work around them, etc. I never had any surgery. Since retiring I have gotten a bit banged up from stupid shit; my bicep pulled off the bone flipping a tire, I had surgery on my knee because it got infected, and now I am just trying to put it together so I can still play and throw around some weights when I want to.

EH: How important do you feel that nutrition is to powerlifting performance?

KK: After 1993 I learned how important nutrition was. Before that I would eat anything just to put on weight. I would drink 4 gallons of milk a day. I would spread peanut butter on cheese and wrap it up like a burrito, anything to get the calories in. Then I had a bodybuilder friend of mine asked if he could tighten me up so I did it. I felt a lot better, so much stronger because I had so much more muscle after a year or so. I thought about doing a bodybuilding show but the one I was interested in was to close to National and I am not into beauty pageants anyway. I wanted to go set some World Records.

Initially I think he had me on 1.2 gr of protein per pound, 2 gr of carbs per pound and .25 gr of fat per pound, each day. Gradually we moved up to 2 gr of protein per pound. There was a period when I was pretty ripped for being 250-275 pounds.

EH: What do you usually do with your body weight and nutrition to prepare for a powerlifting competition (drip 10 pounds, stay the same, consume high carbs, etc.)?

KK: I would usually walk around 10-15 pounds heavier than I competed (290 for the 275 pound weight class). Then I would take out a few meals each day for a week and a half before the meet and that was all I had to do to make weight.

Once I was 256 the day before I was trying to make 242 and that was tougher. I had to flush all that out with tons and tons of water, but I made it just barely.

EH: How important do you feel that supplementation is to powerlifting performance? 

KK: I am not a supplement guy really. I think the vitamin packs are good. I used some Met-Rx stuff. The supps are tough to trust; you don't know what you're getting - at least if you use the same thing all the time then you have a standard. Honestly I think if you just eat 2 cans of tuna a day you will be fine. 

EH: What are your thoughts on powerlifting (gear) equipment in powerlifting? How do you incorporate gear into your training? Are you sponsored by any equipment manufacturers and if so, who are they? 

KK: I was sponsored by Titan back in the day and they treated me well, but I am not a fan of the gear. Get rid of it and go raw - keep the belt and wrist wraps, knee wraps maybe but I don't care about that. I could go either way with those. 

EH: How do you feel about the effectiveness of drug tests for catching those who use steroids? 

KK: I think drug testing is a good thing; it helps create a level playing field. If all of the athletes have to meet a certain standard and they know what that standard is, it helps keep everything the same, as long as those standards are being applied to everyone. I knew all the protocols when it came to drug testing. I could teach a class on that. It is important that testers follow those standards. I also think it helps build credibility and it is necessary if we want to get powerlifting into the Olympics.

EH: What do you think the key to unification of powerlifting is? 

KK: Unification won't happen, unfortunately. There are to many petty, meathead, test-laden, ego-trippin' people running things to allow that to happen.

Powerlifting really isn't a good spectator sport. The squat racks and the bench press are very intrusive; they get in the way of the viewer. You have all these spotters around; the audience is wondering what is happening. If we could fix all of that and go raw then I think it could possibly get into the Olympic, which it should be. It deserves that recognition. One of my biggest regrets is that I don't have and Olympic Gold Medal to show off - plus then I could do an underwear commercial saying, "I squatted 1,000 pounds in Hanes briefs" and I wouldn't have to work and I could hang out and drink beer all the time and that would be pretty cool, too. 

EH: What is your thought about the importance of having workout partners or teammates in helping you train for powerlifting? 

KK: Training partners are very important; being around the right group of people means everything. Back in the early '90s at the MAC (Maryland Athletic Club), man, we had an awesome environment. You get those guys together - I don't want to get all sappy, but most will say that was the best time of their lives. 

EH: What is your thought about keeping a training journal while powerlifting? 

KK: I had a journal. I also had a sheet of paper on the fridge. I do think it is important to write stuff down and to make sure you know what you are lifting that week.

EH: What books, websites, or coaches do you suggest or follow in your lifting, and what would you suggest other lifters do to learn more about lifting?

KK: There weren't any books that I really followed; the Internet wasn't around back then. My coach was Marty Gallagher (author of the Purposeful Primitive). 

Everybody knows Marty; he helped turn me into an athlete who studied the lifts, he helped me refine by technique, he was AWESOME. 
 Three Part Interview with Marty Gallagher:

Marty's Classic 1996 "Ban All Equipment" Article: 

EH: What do you attribute your personal success in powerlifting to?

KK: Being too stupid to know when to quit, but seriously being determined. I just knew, I mean I knew in my core, powerlifting was my thing. I love it. 

EH: What do you feel is crucial to being successful in powerlifting both in and out of the gym? 

KK: Consistency. Powerlifting is demanding both mentally and physically. After Worlds I would usually take a full month off just so I didn't have to think about it. It was exhausting getting ready for Nationals, and then Worlds a few months later. 

And sometimes having bigger balls than brains helps, too.

EH: What advice would you give to someone who was just beginning to take up powerlifting? 

KK: Get strong; you don't need any gear or equipment at this stage. I think that really helped me in the long run. I think a 3 x bodyweight squat and deadlift and a 2 x bodyweight bench is a good standard before you use anything. I did all of that with a $10 belt and that was it. 

EH: What advice would you give to an intermediate-level powerlifter looking to improve his/her total? 

KK: Videotape and watch your lifts, work on consistency - that is the key. Stick with the basics, don't overcomplicate it.

EH: What advice would you give to an advanced-level powerlifter looking to improve his/her total? 

KK: Basic tweaks are still very helpful at this stage. Find a coach; you may have to pay them for their knowledge, but if they up your squat by 70 pounds I would say that is worth something. 

EH: Are there any changes that you would make to powerlifting if you had the power to do so? 

KK: Gear is wrecking the sport but on the other hand it is also the only thing bringing monetary value to the sport . . .  I am not sure what I would really do. Really, it is the sloppy judging and bullshit lifts that bother me the most. I see all these 3/4 squats posted, hundreds of people congratulating the lifter. I can barely get on Facebook anymore without getting super pissed. Last time I checked a squat was when your hip had to be below your knee. What is so hard about that? Walking the bar out is crucial and now that is gone with the monolift. I could teach a full-day seminar on just how to walk it out; with the big weights that is super important. If you can set it up, you ride. 

I don't really know the answer. I do know that powerlifting should be in the Olympics and I would support whatever will make that happen.

EH: Do you have anything else that you would like to say to powerlifters and people interested in powerlifting? 

KK: If you embrace it and love it, powerlifting will beat the shit out of you, but it will treat you well. My favorite quote which I think helps put the sport in perspective is this: 

"Just don't fuck it up for 20 seconds." 

Can you do that? If you can do that, you can be successful in powerlifting. 

Okay . . . great interview from an excellent book on Powerlifting. 

Here's the Table of Contents: 

1) What is Powerlifting
2) The History of Powerlifting
3) The Squat, and
 - Interview with Kirk Karwoski
4) Increasing the Squat, and 
 - Interview with Wade Hooper
5) The Bench Press, and 
 - Interview with Jennifer Thompson
6) Increasing the Bench Press, and 
 - Interview with Paul Bossi
7) The Deadlift, and 
 - Interview with Vince Anello
8) Increasing the Deadlift, and 
 - Interview with Sioux-z Hartwig Gary
9) Powerlifting Program Design
10) Powerlifting for Other Athletes
11) Conditioning and Supplemental Training for Powerlifters
12) General Nutrition Information
13) Changing Your Bodyweight
14) Powerlifting Competition
15) How to Warmu-up for a Maximal Attempt
16) Weight Selection
17) Powerlifting Gear
18) Powerlifting Federations, and
 - Interview with a Meet Director
19) The Strict Curl

Frequently Asked Questions About Powerlifting
Newbie Mistake Checklist
Recommended Reading for Powerlifting
Powerlifting Related Websites
Raw Powerlifting - Female Classification Standards
Raw Powerlifting - Male Classification Standards
Lifter Classification Information
Tim Henriques' Powerlifting Career Summary
You Know You're a Powerlifter When
The Future . . . 








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