Talking With A Powerlifter, Or Three

Part III: Conclusion

Animal: Can you tell me about some of your great moments in lifting?
Ernie Lilliebridge Sr (SR): In my very, very long career, I have experienced many personal victories – like the first time I benched two plates, three plates etc. I still remember squatting/deadlifting 700+ lb in competition after a second knee surgery. My surgeon told me I’d be lucky to walk normally again. I also remember bench pressing 500+ lb at a meet after a tricep re-attachment surgery. This time, the surgeon told me that the only way I’d see myself benching that much weight again would be in a video. Once again, I proved them all wrong. Telling people who told me my lifting days were over – talk about very sweet victories indeed!

Eric Lilliebirdge (EL): One of the best moments I ever had was three years ago on my twentieth birthday. Do you remember, dad? You and I had a squat challenge to see who could squat more just for fun. Both of us hadn’t tried a new max single in a while, and it just so happened that my birthday that year fell on the day we had to squat. We took pretty much the exact same warm up attempts all the way up to our last single. It was the first time we both attempted and were successful with squatting 800+ lb raw with wraps. I ended up doing 810 lb on my last single and you finished with 800 lb. It was a close battle all the way up to the end, but it was all just for fun and we both surprised ourselves that day with what we ended with and hitting big PRs.

Ernie Lilliebridge Jr (JR): For me, it was this past March and lifting for Animal in The Cage. It was my first time and the energy inside The Cage was just unreal – so much energy to feed off of. By far the single best experience ever. I walked away that day with a big PR – a 750 raw squat @235 lb.

EL: You’re right Ernie. That was great too. The Cage was definitely one of the best lifting experiences I’ve ever had too. When we got to the Arnold, we literally walked straight to The Cage as soon as we got in there on Friday before we were scheduled to. We just stood by and watched. We got a good feel for the crowd and I actually got to step inside for a minute to check it out. When it was our turn to lift on Saturday, my energy level went through the roof. I had so much energy to lift it was insane. Before we started lifting the crowd around The Cage was already huge, so that got me fired up. I wanted to show everyone what I had been training for and for everyone to see me at my best. Normally when I’m warming up in the gym, the weights start to feel a little heavier as I’m warming up. But in The Cage, even approaching near my last attempt, the weights felt so light on my back. It was from all the energy and adrenaline I had going through me when I was up to lift. This is something I have never, ever experienced before. When I had everyone cheering for me on my last attempt with 906 lb, I was so confident that when I stood up with it and took it down, I knew I was coming back up with it. And I did. Lifting in The Cage was just insane. There's really no other way to describe it. It's just insane. The energy you get when you're in there lifting in it is nothing you'll ever experience in the gym or probably even at competitions. I can't wait to have that feeling again lifting for Animal in 2014.

Animal: What kind of music do you listen to when you train?
EL: I like listening to heavy metal or rock when I lift.

JR: Like Eric said, heavy metal and rock are both good. I’ve also trained to gospel. One day, I walked into the gym and gospel music was playing. I’m not sure who turned it on but I still did my work out and was able to do my thing. I later found some “gospel rap” and started playing that over the gym radio. But some people did not like it.

SR: Metal is good. So is rap. Once I’m under the bar though, I don’t hear a thing. Total concentration brings total silence. All of my senses shut down, and I push until the lift is done. After the lift, when you come back to earth and your senses return, I have no memory of anything other than that lift. That sound of silence – nothing sounds better.

EL: That’s a good point, dad. I can lift to silence if I had to. But since I’m usually the one who plays the music when we lift at the gym, I’m the one who chooses the songs. Most of my playlist include songs that I’ve had and listened to for years. I’ve hit some of my best lifts and PRs with these songs. Certain songs just bring me back to a mental mindset that I’ve had before when I succeeded, so I rely on them a lot. I really like having the ability to work the music and put whatever I like on when we’re lifting in the gym. The gym is great that way.

Animal: What is the single most important idea when it comes to nutrition?
SR: Hey, I’m a powerlifter. Maybe I’m the last person you should ask about nutrition, lol. Not only do we eat garbage, but we tip the can over and eat what’s under it too. Just kidding! Joking aside, nutrition is far more important than even training. Training tears muscle down; the body can rebuild itself stronger BUT ONLY IF YOU ARE EATING PROPERLY. Without it, training is not only worthless, it’s counter-productive! In other words, your net results will be LESS than when you started. I have seen this happen to too many lifters over the years. Some will say eating right is too expensive. I say BULLSHIT!

JR: Once again, dad’s right. Diet and nutrition are the biggest parts of making gains when it comes to training. Without good nutrition, you are really just wasting your time. Have you ever noticed that guy in the gym busting his ass but never getting any stronger? Don’t be that person. Eat right and supplement wisely.

EL: Staying on that subject, if you eat good for one, two or even three days out of the week, don’t expect to see the gains you’re looking for and the numbers. You have to stay consistent with whatever you’re eating, meal after meal, on a daily basis. I’m one of those people that usually stay fairly consistent with body weight as long as I get in the same kind of meals on a daily basis. But if I don’t eat well for one or two days, I can notice a big difference. I’ll drop a few pounds, feel weaker, and not have as much energy.

SR: That’s right. You can’t drive a Ferrari on an econo-box budget, just like you can’t make optimal gains with a sub-par diet! Take it from me – feed your body right and it will grow.

Animal: What are your goals in powerlifting?
SR: My short term goal is to take the #1 spot in the men’s 308 Open. Long term? To retain that title and then move on and dominate in other weight classes.

JR: I’m currently the #4 ranked 242 pounder but I want to be #1. I want to hit a 2000+ raw total in this weight class, and then hold that number #1 spot for as long as possible.

EL: I want to be the first 275 pounder to ever squat over 900 lb raw in competition (just a belt and knee wraps) and also break 2,300 lb on the total. There have only been eight people in history to ever break 2,300 raw on the total, and only one at 275 in my weight class, Stan Efferding. The rest are in the 308 and super heavy weight class. I don’t really have any long term goals other than wanting to be the strongest full power raw lifter at some point in my life and having the highest raw total ever. Right now the highest raw total in history is 2,391lb.

Part II: Training

I'm here with the Lilliebridge family, arguably the strongest family in powerlifting today. The Lilliebridge clan includes the father, Ernie Sr., Ernie Jr., and Eric who is the youngest. Individually, each is a champion powerlifter in his own right. They each own numerous records and are working even harder to accomplish greater things. But the Lilliebridges resist pigeonholing. They are much more than just powerlifters and competitors. They are also men of character and worthy ambassadors for the sport of powerlifting. They are sons and they are fathers - they are a family, just our family. We know they will fit right in with Animal as they know our values and our mission. This is the first part of a three part interview.

Animal: What is your single most important training philosophy?
SR: Perseverance pays off. Rome wasn't built in a day, and you won't be a world champion overnight either. It takes time. How long? Well, that's really up to you.

JR: Go big or go home but always with your ego in your back pocket.

EL: Don't be afraid to combine powerlifting and bodybuilding. I didn't really notice much size gains from doing powerlifting by itself, but when I started to incorporate more bodybuilding exercises, I noticed a change in my size and physique. If you're a bodybuilder, powerlifting will help with your strength. If you're a powerlifter, doing bodybuilding exercises will help you with your shape and size. I've been training this way for about 5 years now.

Animal: How many weeks does it take you to prepare for a competition?
SR: Depending on the meet, I can peak in as little as 4 weeks. I usually do a 6-week peaking cycle though. As I'm always going heavy, I'm never really that far off from my best.

JR: In the past, I have done 12, 8 and even 2 week cycles. Typically though, I do an 8-week cycle. I believe you should always be prepared to compete no matter when, no matter where.

EL: I usually do an 8-week training cycle leading up to a meet. I've found that to be a good amount of time to peak perfectly for competition and avoid getting burned out or peaking too soon.

Animal: How do you mentally prepare for a big lift in the gym or at a meet?
SR: Gym lifts are completely different than competition lifts. Although performed with the same style, technique, pause, etc., a gym lift is done at your leisure and not at the command of a judge. The timing/rest periods are different, as are the rotations of lifters, spotters, and so on. Mentally, the mindset and goals are different. The one thing that remains constant though is intensity. I attack the weight with everything that I have, each and every time. Respect the weight, but never fear it.

EL: I just zone everything else out and put all of my focus into the lift. When I'm in the gym, I know how important it is that I hit that specific number in order to peak and keep getting stronger for the meet. And when I'm in a meet, I know how important it is to hit the number I'm going for because it's going towards my total at the end.

JR: I usually have Eric slap the shit out of me on the back. I also sniff some smelling salts. I've even sniffed a shoe before I attempted a big lift in the past - I did this a few times because we did not have any smelling salts on hand. I wanted to show everyone that though you may not have salts, you can still psych yourself up before the lift. It worked and it made a heck of a lot of people laugh, even Pete Rubish thought it was funny. Now I got him hooked to shoe sniffing too.

Animal: How do you get past sticking points?
SR: Once a plateau is reached, you must question everything from your training methods, cycle duration, injuries, diet, rest, etc. You must determine why it happened so that you can correct it. More times than not, I find the culprit to be either a less than satisfactory diet or over-training. Too much isn't always a good thing.

EL: From dad, I learned the same thing. Try to figure out what could be causing you to have a sticking point on a certain lift. I ask myself questions like, Am I going too heavy in my training right now? Not heavy enough? Am I eating well? Should I be getting more rest? Should I change or incorporate more accessory work? A lot of factors can lead to sticking points. You just have to look at everything to figure out what could be holding you back.

JR: That's right. If I'm sticking on something, then I tell myself that it's time to try something new - more accessory work, more work sets or whatever.

Animal: What type/how much accessory work do you do?
EL: I also do accessory work every day I train. I train three times per week and have been for over a year now. I used to train four times per week but I cut one day out because I didn't feel like it was helping me and I switched it to a resting day. On bench days, I'll include cable pec flyes, tricep pushdowns/extensions, wide grip upright rows, side lateral raises and bb work. On my squat and deadlift days, I'll do bent rows, seated rows, leg extensions, leg curls, calf raises and ab work. Finally, I have an accessory work day all to itself. On this day, I just do upright rows, hammer curls, preacher curls, reverse grip curls, wrist curls, side lateral raises and ab work.

JR: Like you, Eric, I am very big believer of accessory work. On my bench days for example, I will usually do over an hour of accessory work. My approach might include cable pec flyes, dumbbell pec flyes, incline bench, lat pull downs, tricep pushdowns, upright cable rows, dumbbell lateral raises, dumbbell curls and ab work. On my squat or deadlift days, I might do bent rows with deadlift bar double over hand, upright cable rows, leg extensions, hamstring leg curls, ab work, decline sit-ups, and dumbbell curls.

SR: I only do accessory work as needed and with light weights/high reps. Powerlifting is comprised of heavy movements that work multiple muscle groups. Accessory work, on the other hand, is light and targets specific muscles to help in the recovery by flushing/pumping them with blood. That's why I do accessory work immediately after the heavy movements. There are times when accessory work is all that is needed - such as in injury rehab, or on days where you're not at 100%. You never want to risk injury. So it's always better to err on the side of safety and go light rather than going heavy and getting hurt.

Animal: What is the most effective overlooked exercise that more lifters should perform regularly?
SR: Raw squats, done heavy with proper form and ass to the grass. Don't get me wrong, concentration curls are cute and all, lol, but NOTHING builds strength like squatting.

JR: Dad's 100% right. Squats. Like he said, really deep squats and not that mile high crap.

EL: Squats for sure. But another exercise is the upright row. They're great at building size and strength in your traps - at least that's what I noticed. Since I squat high bar, having bigger traps helps keep me tighter and gives the bar something to sit on. For the bench, I feel like having bigger traps also helps keep me tighter and helps me have bigger and more powerful arch.

Animal: Do you incorporate any bodybuilding methods into your training or dieting?
SR: Not really, with the exception of accessory movements that I talked about earlier. Dieting? Come on, I'm a powerlifter, lol. There's no such thing as a “bad “calorie!

JR: I do some bodybuilding exercises but mainly in my accessory work. For the most part I do my own thing and it works for me very well. I eat what I want, when I want. Like dad said, we're powerlifters. I could never go on a bodybuilding diet.

EL: Same here. I've actually never done a diet before ever in my life. I've always had a very fast metabolism so I try to eat as much as I can every day on a daily basis. I do use a lot of “bodybuilding” type exercises because they work for me.

Animal: What do you think of raw vs. equipped lifting debate?
SR: I really don't think it can intelligently be debated; they are entirely different and must be addressed separately. There are more differences then similarities in my opinion, and the only thing they share in common are the three movements. In raw powerlifting, the strongest lifter wins, end of story. In geared lifting, technique can overcome strength. By being able to manipulate gear and get the most out of it, the weaker natural lifter can beat the superior lifter. The bench shirt is by far the best example of this. Many lifters increase their bench press by 90% or more. I personally know several lifters that can raw bench in the low 500 lb. range, but shirted, can bench above 900. I also know guys that raw bench 600 lb, yet struggle to bench more than 700 in a shirt. Clearly the better technician has a clear advantage. In my humble opinion, raw powerlifters rely more on strength and geared powerlifters rely more on technique. I mean no disrespect. I'm just stating my opinion.

JR: While I will always lift raw, I have nothing but respect for equipped powerlifters. I know what it's like to lift in gear, because I tried it once a few years ago. Again it takes just as much hard work to learn how to use gear as it does to lift raw. In the end, it's really about personal preference.

EL: I'm a raw lifter and always will be. But I've also tried out gear before like my brother. I was 17 years old and I used just briefs and a squat suit. I didn't like it at all to be honest. Everything felt weird and I had to completely change up my form from what I had been used to for the years prior to trying out the gear. I actually got weaker raw when I trained in the squat suit. But when I completely stopped training in the squat suit and went back to raw, my numbers started to shoot up again. Like my brother said, it's all about personal preference. Me, I prefer a belt and a pair of knee wraps. Not all federations allow for lifters to wear knee wraps in their raw divisions, but there are a lot of federations out there that do and there are separate records for both with and without wraps. I've always used them for safety. And I think there are probably a lot of people out there that use the gear for safety too and don't have worries about getting injured or tearing a muscle. I know it's still possible and can happen, but the raw lifter has a much higher chance of risking an injury than someone lifting in gear does. The multi ply gear seems to have gotten way out of hand now with the crazy layers of material, but it really doesn't matter to me if a lifter chooses to lift raw or in gear. We're all brothers in this sport and all love to lift, so I treat and respect everyone equally.

Part I: Outlook

Animal: Why do you lift?
Ernie Lilliebridge, Sr (SR): To get stronger. That has always been the primary goal. Lifting more weight and increasing your total is the result. Lifting is a lifelong, unobtainable quest - no matter how strong you become, or how much you can lift, it is never enough. You just continue to train and get stronger.

Ernie Lillibridge, Jr (JR): As my dad is a powerlifter, you could say I was born to lift. It's in my blood. One of the best things about lifting is being able to train with him and my brother. We have a great bond and I wouldn't change it for the world.

Eric Lilliebridge (EL): We definitely have a great bond. Lifting has been a passion of mine since I was 13 years old. That's when I really started to get into training seriously and consistently with my brother and my dad. The more I trained, the more I wanted to keep going. At that point, I knew I was never going to stop. Like my brother Ernie said, powerlifting is in our blood.

Animal: When did you first start powerlifting and how did you get into it?
SR: I started lifting at 10 and powerlifting competitively at 14. This was way back in 1986. I was doing martial arts and I needed to get stronger to help increase my fighting abilities. I saw bodybuilding mostly for looks so that didn't interest me. Once I started powerlifting, I was hooked. Today, I'm 41 and still going strong.

JR: At twelve, I got into powerlifting with dad. I had been lifting for two years before that. At that time I was also into wrestling. So for me, just like for my dad, lifting was about getting bigger and stronger for another sport. I have been training for over 13 years and competing for 9 of them. I'm only 25 so I've got plenty more good years ahead of me.

EL: Before I got into powerlifting, I was training on my own in our basement doing basic lifting exercises like different kinds of curls, overhead presses, bench press and sit ups. It wasn't until I started training seriously with my dad and brother that I started to notice good gains in my strength and size. I did my first meet when I was 14. I'm 23 now so I've been competing for 9 years now.

SR: Though I've been at it for a long time, I feel I'm still getting better at it! It's been a wonderful journey and the end is nowhere in sight... Yet!

Animal: What types of obstacles have you had to overcome in life?
SR: I don't know where to begin. I was always in trouble as a youth. I grew up in a rough neighborhood in Chicago, one that I knew would lead me down two possible paths: jail or death. I was very fortunate to get into martial arts. It taught me discipline and respect, and provided me with an outlet for my anger. I high school, I met the love of my life as freshman. We had our first son, Ernie Jr., shortly after. I was only fifteen at the time, and let me tell you life got very real, very fast. I dropped out of school, worked BS jobs to pay the rent (yes, we were on our own). A year later I enrolled in a trade school to learn auto/diesel repair. I was good at it and graduated at the head of class. So I got a good job and moved the hell out of the ghetto. Three years later, I opened my own business and have been self-employed ever since. I believe obstacles in life build character. I believe there is nothing as satisfying as something you have earned for yourself. I've never gotten anything for free in life - not even a hard time. I have had the pleasure of being shot and stabbed (twice), beat up with a bat, a golf club, a shovel - you name it. I've been thrown out a second floor window and down concrete stairs. I always got back up. I never quit, and believe me when I tell you, I WON'T EVER.

EL: Dad, you're a fighter. Unlike my dad though, I had a pretty easy childhood growing up. I stayed out of trouble and never hung around with the wrong crowd. So I didn't really have any problems in my life growing up. Like my dad though, I became a father pretty early in life - at 18. But being a father myself never stopped me from training. The only real problem that I've had to deal with is injuries.

JR: Injuries? I know about injuries. I suffered a severe one while squatting in a powerlifting meet. I herniated two discs and had one bulged disc in my back. As you might imagine, this impacted my raw lifting. I couldn't touch the weights for two months, had to take six months off from squatting, and went through two full years of therapy. Doctor after doctor told me to quit powerlifting forever. I had to give into getting three cortisone shots in my back, even though I was totally against it. Today, I still have pain when I squat. I can't arch my back as well and I've lost grip strength in my hands. I also sustained another significant injury - a torn labrum and supraspinatus tear. This was another setback, another year in pain and going backwards in the weight room. It was a pretty hard time for me, but I somehow managed to stay focused and positive. But I've had a great support system - my family. They really helped me get through it. Also, like my brother Eric and my dad, I became a father early in life (17 years old). This must run in our family. All these things have made me stronger today.

EL: Hey, I've had some injuries too. I've had three different hamstring tears - two on my left leg and one on my right. I've torn my pec (right side) and I've strained my other pec (left side) which all resulted in taking months and months to recover and come back from. But I was patient and rehabbed everything all on my own and came back better and stronger, every time.

SR: My injury list is as long as the national deficit, lol. But you have to keep going if you want to succeed.

Animal: What do you feel are the key factors to your success with powerlifting?
JR: Success, whether in powerlifting or life, is all about having a positive attitude. Following the right diet, training hard all the time - it can really get repetitive. So you need a positive attitude to keep going and stay consistent.

EL: That's right. Consistency is really important. My success has been possible because I train hard, eat right and stay consistent with everything I do, all the time. There really is no secret or shortcut. Having good training partners has also helped me out a lot too. If it weren't for my dad and brother being there to train with me since I started powerlifting, I don't think I'd be anywhere near where I am right now.

JR: I feel the same way, Eric. We grew up together and you know all of my strengths and weaknesses. You know how to get me motivated. If I did not have the two of you to train with, I do not think I would be where I am at today. Dad, you too. Not only have you coached me and taught me everything you know, you've always been a huge fan of mine. You always encourage me to be my best and to set and achieve new PRs.

SR: I taught both of you to never quit. No matter what, you never give up! Injuries suck and halt progress, but if you want something bad enough you will come back and come back stronger. I apply this thinking to everything in my life, not just lifting. YOU and ONLY you can decide your fate. So you have to ask yourself, when times are tough, how bad do you want it?

Animal: What motivates you to succeed in powerlifting?
SR: I'm just competitive. I've been on a very hard and long road. My story isn't an overnight success story. Through many years of failures and unfavorable situations, I just kept going harder and stronger - I kept moving up the ranks. Like I said earlier, quit is something I will NEVER do.

JR: I want to be the best. I want the #1 spot in the raw 242-weight class. With each meet, I get closer. This desire motivates me like nothing else. It's hard to explain, my desire to raise the bar as high as possible. It's always there, pushing me.

EL: Once I hit the age of 18, that's when my numbers really started to skyrocket. It wasn't before long that I was ranked top 5 in the world in the 275lb weight class at just 19 years old with a 2,065lb raw total. I realized that I had a good chance and making a name for myself in this sport and going up against some of the best in the world, which really motivated me to keep pushing myself hard with my training and continue to get better and stronger.

Animal: What powerlifter has influenced you the most?
SR: As a beginner, I idolized Ed Coan, Ted Arcidi, Kirk Kowalski and other big name superstars. In my later years, I looked more to greats like Mr. Ernie Frantz, not only for his tremendous lifting abilities but also for his contributions to the sport itself. I also greatly admire Dick Zenzen. I have had both the honor and pleasure to have been trained by and with the BEST and STRONGEST this sport has ever seen. I humbly take these lessons and try to pass them on to others.

EL: You've influenced me the most, dad. You've trained and taught me the right way from day one. You've been my coach ever since the beginning and you still are. Although I've been training myself now for years and choosing my own numbers to hit in training, you still help me out and give me advice when I ask for it or when I need it.

JR: I agree, Eric. Dad, you have experienced so many injuries and surgeries (blown out knees, detached tricep, pec and hamstring tears) and each time found a way to come back stronger. You are a true warrior.

EL: That's for sure. When I was kid, I always wanted to be big and strong like dad, but I didn't think it was possible for me because of how small and skinny I was. It wasn't until a couple years into my training that I realized how much hard work and dedication it was going to take to keep making consistent gains.

Animal: Do you see yourselves as role models in the sport?
SR: People have called us ambassadors to the sport of powerlifting. I strive to conduct myself as a gentleman at all times, both on and off the platform. I taught both of my sons the same thing. I am honored to be considered a role model and always do my best to uphold this title with dignity.

JR: I'd be honored if someone considered me a role model. If I can influence just one person in a positive manner, then that would make me happy. This sport needs good role models and ambassadors, for without them powerlifting would lose its power.

EL: Even though I'm still young, I know a lot of people look up to me for what I've accomplished in powerlifting. So I always try to stay on top of my game and respect everyone equally.

We hope you enjoyed the interview. If you have a question for the Lilliebridges, drop them a line on their Q/A thread, "Lifting With The E's". In the addition, some extra content available exclusively for registered FORVM members, "14 Extra Questions With Eric Lilliebridge".




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