Andrew Herbert Talks All Things Powerlifting

He discusses his past, present, and future in the sport.

Going into 2020, Andrew Herbert was one of the top ranked competitors in the sport of powerlifting. In the 242 pound (110 kg) class, he ranked 2nd in sleeves (2,066.8 pounds/ 937.5 kg total) and 3rd in wraps (2,210.1 pounds/1,002.5 kg) in 2019.

To be ranked among the elite in the sport is no accident. Herbert has definitely earned his position as one of the elite in the sport. Unfortunately for him, injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted his 2020 plans. He had surgery to resolve several issues and is now working his way back.

BarBend spoke with him to see how he’s progressing and learn more about his background. We also discuss a few other topics including business and his advice for younger lifters interested in competing.

BarBend: Thanks for taking the time for this interview, Andrew. Before we get into your background, I believe a few months ago you had surgery on your right arm. How has the recovery been from that?

Herbert: In early May, I had surgery that was basically three operations in one. I had carpal tunnel surgery on both hands/wrists and I had my right elbow scoped to remove stuff that was causing problems in the joint. The elbow part was very straightforward as the doc just had to go in and cut out some bone spurs and “loose bodies”. After I came to, he said he found a lot of junk in there so it’s good I did it. The hands were more complex in that it involved drilling from the base of my palms into the wrists space and cutting ligaments in order to free up the nerve that was obstructed.

So that has a much longer recovery window as it takes a long time for ligaments to hopefully reattach and all the tissues to grow back. I’ve recovered to the point where I can use my hands for all normal tasks but my grip and overall hand strength is still far behind what it used to be, so that’s a slow process unfortunately. But on the bright side, my hands are going numb and tingly at random times throughout the day and night anymore.

What got you into training and when did you decide powerlifting was your sport?

From a young age, like 7ish, I knew I wanted to be big and strong. I started doing calisthenics very young and got into lifting as soon as I had access to weights. Unfortunately it didn’t dawn on me to compete in strength sports until much later, around age 30. It was friends at the gym that convinced me to try it. I really enjoyed my first meet and that got me into training for it and competing more and it just grew organically from there. I also did two strongman competitions, which I enjoyed, and I had trained in Olympic lifting somewhat but never competed (and I wasn’t that good at it in all honesty).

Who were some of your biggest influences in the sport when you started?

My original influence was Arnold (Schwarzenegger). I learned about Bill Kazmaier from a young age and admired him. When I saw Mariusz Pudzianowski competing and winning against much larger men, I drew inspiration from that. Along those lines, the people that inspired me the most were the ones who were extremely strong and had great physiques. Franco Columbo, Ronnie Coleman, Stan Efferding, Derek Poundstone were all examples of this. The aforementioned were all influences before I ever thought about powerlifting. Once I got into the sport, Dan Green became an influence as well as many others.

Far too many people to mention, but Ed Coan, Josh Bryant, Mark Bell, Kristy Hawkins, and Stefi Cohen are consistently profound positive influences on me.

Which lift did you find the easiest to improve?

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Out of the Big Three, squat was the easiest for me to improve. It’s worth noting, though, that it’s the one lift where I didn’t have an underlying injury hampering it (at least that I know of!) Bench had been going great, from 365 in my first meet February, 2014 to 501 at BOB2 in August, 2015 but that’s when my left tricep tendon started falling apart and eventually ruptured in April 2017. Deadlift went from 635 in my first meet February, 2014 to 860 at Slingshot Record Breakers in November 2018 but that’s around the time that the nerve issues in my hands started becoming apparent. But I also think squat involves the most technique, plus it was my weakest lift initially so there was more room for improvement in both aspects.

What have you been able to do to help with your bench?

With the tricep issues starting in 2015, I had to reduce and eventually eliminate many tricep movements such as dips, extensions, and close-grip work. However, it can be like a game of whack-a-mole in the sense that as I cut back on movements that put strain on the triceps, of course I’d increase movements that put strain on the other prime movers of the bench press, and that’s where I partially tore my pec in 2016.

After my tricep was repaired and all that, it was a matter of building it back up and also trying to get the nerves firing as well because they were all damaged from the injury in addition to the muscle and tendon. For that, I’ve tried deep tissue massage, electrical stimulation, acupuncture, etc. I haven’t gotten it back to 500+, but I had some people tell me I’d never get it back to even 450 and I’ve gone past that, so I’m trying to defy expectations here. Time will tell.

How much of powerlifting do you think is mental and is there anything you do leading up a meet that helps you focus?

The mental component in powerlifting is huge, like I’d bet it is in any endeavor. In powerlifting, the mental aspect has several different manifestations. There’s the obvious one surrounding a maximal lift, in which it’s a combination of intense focus and drive, but other mental components are the consistent discipline of training and the focus on technique as well as effort in all of these training sessions. Dieting and weight-cutting have major mental aspects as well. For me, a big part of it is having faith in the process; knowing that staying disciplined and consistent will result in positive change.

As far as approaching a big lift, it is something that I channel a sense of rage into but I also focus on the fact that the best possible outcome will ONLY happen with true maximal effort. In other words, there are no guarantees that the weight will go up or that you won’t get hurt, but the only way to maximize the chances of success are to push with everything you have.

I’ve seen your 2019 totals in both sleeves and wraps in the 242 class. Which do you prefer or are you equally a fan of both?

I prefer competing in sleeves for several reasons. First, it’s as raw as it gets. There’s nothing providing any mechanical advantage. Heck, if there was a federation for beltless, shoeless, wrist-wrap less, sleeveless, etc. I’d be down for that. I also like being self-sufficient and I can be much more so in sleeves than in wraps.

I believe now more than ever, there is a business side to strength sports. I know you work with a few different sponsors. How much time you spend focusing on that aspect of the sport?

I definitely do not spend as much time on the business aspect of the sport as many others. I have a full-time job that is totally separate from the sport, so that’s where I focus as far as work and income are concerned. Fortunately, I am a fan of and believe in the companies that sponsor me, so I genuinely want to support them. So when I do promote them whether it’s through word of mouth or through social media or through fitness events, it’s honest and I don’t see it as a business thing for me.

I won’t represent a company I don’t believe in and whose products I don’t actually use. I’ve been approached many times about coaching and other things like that. My mentality in most things is that if I’m going to do it, I’m all in and I want to do it as well as I possibly can. I see coaching and/or programming as a huge responsibility and right now I simply don’t have enough time to give it what it deserves. I’ve got too much love for the sport to do a half-assed job.

Any advice for younger readers or anyone that may be looking to get into the sport?

My recommendation for anyone looking to get into the sport is to first find a gym, hopefully with at least all the basics needed for the power lifts. Focus on the basics and stick with that for a long time before even considering any kind of specialized program. Go check out a meet to see what it’s like and to get a sense for the environment and the timing of the lifts and commands. Do a meet. Don’t cut weight. Just do the meet. Choose conservative openers. Seek incremental improvement and have a long-term perspective.

Outside of powerlifting, are there any other sports that you follow?

My sports interests fall into two arenas: strength sports and combat sports. Strength-wise it’s obviously powerlifting, but also bodybuilding, strongman, and Olympic lifting. Combat-wise it’s wrestling, boxing, BJJ/submission grappling, and MMA. I’ve never really understood being a fan of a sport I wasn’t somehow involved in or connected to, but that’s just me.

Any idea what the competitive plans are for the rest of the year?

COVID was a real bummer as far as my competitive plans for 2020. I was going to do an SBD event in the Animal Cage at the Arnold and then I was signed up to do a sleeved meet two weeks later, but those of course got cancelled. Now it’s August and it’s still very unclear if/when things will open back up. Plus, I’m learning that the road to getting my strength back after surgery is going to be longer than I had anticipated. So realistically, I doubt I will be back on a platform this year. That being said, I still have goals in the 242lb weight class for both sleeves and wraps, so i plan to continue pursuing those. Outside of that, I want to try my hand at bodybuilding and potentially move up to 275 for powerlifting.

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