What made you get into powerlifting?
My original intent was to get better at football; after not playing football at all freshmen year, I was extremely disappointed and said with myself. Sports were never my thing, I was usually either really bad at them, or I quit them. I just wanted to get better for next year, so I thought lifting weights would help, and they seemed to do more then that. Slowly but surely I found myself falling more in love with getting stronger then football. I later realized my real passion is powerlifting, I love getting stronger, its a fair sport and its simple. I just continued adding weight to the bar and kept on gaining weight. I also began to find that I always want to do better then the time before. After a big lift, I always tell myself: “Well next time I’m doing 5lbs more, so this doesn’t really mean anything.” I kept on with this attitude and it lead me to where I am today.
Have you competed yet?
I have not, but it is on my 2012 to do list. I just sent in an entry form for a meet on April 14th, so I’m currently getting ready for that. I don’t have any exact plans or goals, but I do plan on doing my absolute best.
What are some goals you would like to achieve in this sport?
I rarely set myself short term goals of how much weight I want to be lifting by “X” time. If I do, I don’t do a good job keep track of it. I just always try my best, pursue excellence in my passion, and I let the rest fall into place. I feel like setting goals isn’t allowing you to be your best. Why do I need to set goals If I’m just going to try and be my absolute best at all times? There is no way to tell where I’ll be, or how to set an accurate goal. For example, my original goal was to squat 315 before 2012, I squatted 300×7 (which is equivalent to well over 315) in April of 2011. I’m just always going to be at my best, doing my best, and let that take me where I need to be.
What does your training schedule look like?
I’m currently running a modified version of madcows 5×5, it looks like this.
Tuesday: Medium day (work up to 3RM for bench, squat, then assistance work)
Friday: Heavy day (work up to 5RM for bench, squat, then assistance work)
Sunday: Light day (light squats, work up to 5RM for Deadlift and OHP, then assistance work)
Can you give us a layout of your current routine?
Tuesday: Medium day
Bench press: 5×5 ramping up to new 3 rep PR
Squat: 5×5 ramping up to new 3 rep PR
Pull Ups: 3-5 sets
Chin Ups: 3-5 sets
Bi/Tri work: 3×8
Friday: Heavy day
Squat: 5×5 ramping up to 5 rep PR
Bench press: 5×5 ramping up to 5 rep PR
Pull Ups: 3-5 sets
Chin Ups: 3-5 sets
Bi/Tri work: 3×8
Abs: 3-5 sets
Sunday: Light day
Squats: Work up to 80% of the top set on Friday
OHP: 5×5 ramping up to 5 rep PR
Deadlift: 5×5 ramping up to 5 rep PR
Horizontal pull: 4×8
Abs: 3-5 sets
how often do you deload?
I don’t have a set time to deload, I went 18 straight weeks bench/squatting/deadlifting relatively heavy, then I finally decided to deload + reset. This last month however I have deloaded twice already due to Christmas break getting in the ways of things. However next week I’ll be back in business setting PRs again.
What is your opinion on training until failure?
Training to failure every once in awhile never hurt anyone. Going to failure on every set seems a bit excessive. However, I do not think its necessary to reach most peoples goals. There are 2 variables it will take to properly answer this question.
1. What is the lifters primary goal?
2. What is trying to be achieved by going to failure?
For myself, I rarely go to failure, primarily times because I don’t need to. If my program calls to Squat 425 for 5 reps, I’ll just do the 5 reps, and nine times out of ten I won’t need to go to failure, I just get my 5 reps and rack it, and save the left over energy in the tank for next session. Who would ever want to go to failure with 400lbs+ plus on your back? Doesn’t sound fun. But that is because my main goal is strength. In powerlifting, I don’t see it being necessary to go to failure, if so, it would be very seldom. But I notice that more people that train for size would go to failure more often. The only scenario where I see going to failure wouldn’t hurt; would be if your main goal is size, you are bulking, and you go to failure maybe on 1 set each of your work out sessions. But in general, I don’t think going to failiure is necessary to reach your goals.
Do you ever switch up deadlift stances or do you always pull sumo?
When I first started Deadlifting, I pulled conventional, but a few months later I got a lower back injury. I took about 4 months off of Deadlifting, and when I came back I started pulling sumo, this was probably around July 2011. From that point on, I always pulled sumo, haven’t pulled conventional since, sumo just feels a lot more natural and easier for me.
Have you ever had any trouble with your grip strength? Do you do any sort of grip work?
I don’t think I have ever done forearm or grip strength work. The closest thing I can think of is doing hammer curls for a few months. Other then that, I just deadlift heavy.
Do you switch up between high bar and low bar squats?
This is a similar story to the Deadlift story. I used to Squat high bar, all the time. Lower back injury, started squatting low bar and I have no lower back pain, and I only took about a month off of Squatting. But since then, I’ve always squatted low bar, but not crazy low like some big name PLers do. Again, low bar just feels more natural and easier for me.
Ever do partials just to get used to heavier weight?
Never, if I want to get used to heavier weight, I just lift heavier weight through a full ROM.
Do you incorporate any bands or chains in your training?
Not at all. My training is based around madcows 5×5, and its pretty straight up – do the compound lifts frequently and add weight to the bar.
How often do you do box jumps?
I haven’t done them in a few weeks due to awful weather, but I’ll be back at them next week most likely. I usually do them 2-3x a week, I don’t see it being any different then Squatting 3x a week, and I love the moment and being able to get high.
Louie says they’re a great way to measure leg strength/power progress, would you agree with that?
Yes, I do. Box jumps are also an awesome explosive movement, you can never do a box jump slow.
Do you try to stick to any particular diet?
Not at all, I eat as much as I can, and as often as I can. I try to keep foods a little healthy and clean, but for the most part I aim for lots of protein and carbs and just some fat here and there. Most of my days turn out to be pretty good diet wise.
What is your “go to” food when bulking? we all have one.
It looks a lot like this:
1-2 scoops of whey
1-2 cups of shredded oatmeal
1-2 tbsp of PB
Maybe some ice cream depending on how I’m feeling, or what I need.
If I’m really in a rush, I’ll just down a tuna can and follow it up with some gum to kill the smell.
Any advice for any teen powerlifters out there?
Yes – take advantage of your time now. Most teens don’t work a job, don’t pay bills, and don’t buy their own groceries. Its basically free food, and a lot of free time on your hands. Take advantage of it, because it won’t be around forever. Eat a lot, and add weight to the bar frequently, practice the movements, and keep things simple. Pursue excellence and appreciate the privilege of being able to train, never give up, and never doubt yourself. Lift with 110% confidence, and stay dedicated. Its important to be fully aware you don’t make gains over night, you need to work hard at it for a good bit of time, if you truly want to succeed in the sport, you’ll be training for awhile. With that being said, if you’re going to be training for a long time, learn to have fun while doing it. Bring your friends to the gym and lift with them, maintain your social life, continue hanging out with friends and such, balance is the key. Skipping the gym, partying and getting wasted every weekend is not being balanced. Once you truly fall in love with this sport, it’ll be engraved into your life style, from there on, all you have to do is apply yourself.
I would also like to take this time to thank all the people who support me; special thanks to my good friends Clayton, Matt, Stefan, Connor, Anthony, Hanif, Clifford, and Joe.
You can view more of James Pak’s videos here.