Clarence Kennedy is a bit of an enigma in the weightlifting world: strong as an ox, quiet as a mouse, he’s a weightlifter with no interest in competing, and he’s the creator of one of the most talked-about YouTube channels on weightlifting — but he shies away from publicity and doesn’t even have an official website.
The 94 kg athlete has training lifts on par with many Olympians, with a snatch of 185kg (407.8lb) with straps and a clean & jerk of 220kg (485lb). He can also pause back squat 300kg (661.4lb), pause bench 200kg (440.9lb), and deadlift 340kg (749.5lb) with straps.
That’s why he’s announcing that he’s making a move to compete in powerlifting. We caught up with Clarence to learn more about his take on powerlifting, anime, squatting every day, his Reddit fanbase, the ethics of veganism, and a lot more. Get ready for a deep dive.
Image courtesy of Cassidy Du Berry.
BarBend: Hey Clarence, thanks for taking the time to chat. My first question is my most important: what’s your favorite video game?
Clarence Kennedy: My favorite video game of all time? Probably Final Fantasy X.
Right, I noticed you were a fan of Japanese culture. Do you have a favorite anime?
Dragonball Super, right now.
Nice. OK, settle a debate in our office: Are you a tricker who lifts or a lifter who tricks?
I’m a definitely a weightlifter. Did you see that video I released recently?
That was my first time tricking in seven months.
Have you found that tricking helped you develop things like flexibility and spatial awareness in a way that benefits your lifts?
I found it did, but it doesn’t really help anymore. I definitely got better flexibility from tricking, it carried over, but now I just do it for fun.
Do you have a background in gymnastics or martial arts?
No. I started tricking when I was 13 or 14 years old, it was just a self-taught thing.
One of the most common questions we hear, given your strength levels, is “Why doesn’t Clarence compete anymore?”
That’s a very, very complicated question to answer. Like, I’d have to make a very long video to explain, and I plan on doing that eventually.
You had surgery on both knees, right? Does it have anything to do with that?
No, it has nothing to do with that. I see the comments all the time on my YouTube videos, and no one has guessed the reason why.
It’s a really controversial opinion about sports. I’ll tell everyone in a YouTube video soon.
You said in an old interview that you’ll compete eventually, is that a goal?
I’m pretty sure I’ll never compete, but I have some plans to compete in powerlifting.
Wow, really? How did that come about?
I’ve discovered I’m pretty good at the squat, bench, and deadlift, so I figured why not! (laughs) To the average person I can’t really tell them, “Oh, I can deadlift 340kg (749.5lb).” They don’t know what it really means. They know that’s a lot of weight, but they don’t get it. So, I want to compete.
I’m actually adding in more powerlifting into my training, and even doing that is improving my Olympic lifts because there’s so much carryover.
Do you know your current maxes in the big three?
200kg (440.9lb) pause bench, 300kg (661.4lb) pause squat, and 340kg (749.5lb) deadlift with straps.
Are there local competitions you’re thinking of competing in?
Yeah, it’d be a local competition. I don’t know when just yet.
Well, let us know! Who are your favorite Olympians right now?
I don’t really keep track of the performances, but at the moment I’m definitely looking forward to Liao Hui in the 69kg class, he’s probably my favorite weightlifter at the moment. He said he was retiring before the Olympics but now he’s back.
Let’s talk injuries: you had knee tendinopathy in both knees and needed surgery, right? I read in an All Things Gym article that you spent some time training in Poland to help fix issues that led to the injury. What problems did they point out and how did they cue you to fix them?
Yeah, I went back and forth to Poland over about a year and a half between 2012 and 2013. They didn’t really have me do accessory exercises like block snatches or anything like that, they kept everything basic and kept giving me tips on what to do along the way.
One of the biggest problems I had was my hips rising too fast in the snatch pull. But to be honest, I fixed that problem myself doing deficit snatch pulls.
So what did they help you with?
My speed. I used to glue my feet on the floor when doing cleans and snatches. They told me to start with a short snatch and jump out as quick as possible. My technique before was self-taught, I didn’t really know anything about weightlifting technique, so they taught me the basics. They weren’t really heavy on technique, though, it was just about doing a lot of volume in the Olympic lifts. Especially in the front squat, that was a big weakness.
Yeah, you seem to have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the front squat. Do you do one type of squat more than the other these days?
(laughs) Oh, I definitely do more back squats, and I only do pause back squats. When I’m going for a clean & jerk PR I’ll start doing more front squats, maybe four times a week. But there are some periods of training where I just don’t do them for months.
Do you still squat every day?
Pretty much, I’d say eighty percent of my training is squats.
What does that look like as far as intensity and volume?
I actually plan on making a video series similar to Gabriel Sincraian on YouTube, a weightlifter who went to the Rio Olympics and came in third in the 85kg class, which is very competitive. (Editor’s note: Sincraian was disqualified from Rio and his results wiped due to a positive doping test.) He’s made a series on squatting every day. I plan on making a video like that to show exactly how I do it. At the moment I’m really doing a lot of squats, like 5×5 heavy pretty much every day for 4 days, then one rest day and repeat. It’s really that simple.
For example, in the leadup to when I did 260kg (573.2lb) for 5×5, I did 255kg (562.2lb) for 5×5, then the next day I did 255kg for 5×5, the day after that it was 260kg (573.2lb) for 3×5, then 260kg for 5×5.
So, four out of every five days you’re doing back squats?
Yeah I’m not doing any front squats now, although I do them in the clean & jerk, which gets me some practice.
What are some of the accessory exercises you’ve learned you need to do to avoid injury?
I’m doing a lot more accessory exercises: back extensions, glute ham raises, and especially rear delt flies because I’ve been benching a lot. I’ve been doing a lot of bicep curls too, but it’s getting harder to get in the rack position because my arms are too big.
Do you have any nagging injuries now?
My left knee. I’m pretty sure I’ve injured that again. It’s better at the moment, but down the road I think I ‘ll need to get surgery again. But not right now.
It’s patelloformal tendonitis?
It’s not diagnosed as that, I haven’t gone to the doctor for that, but it similar to my previous knee injury.
What are some of your tips for training around knee injuries?
Well, doing a lot of jerks and a lot of Olympic lifts in general doesn’t actually seem to improve my Olympic lifts that much, so I just did the bare minimum of Olympic lifts. They’re the hardest on my knees, especially cleans. So when I was trying to rehab my injuries, I focused a lot more on back squats, which don’t really affect my knees so much and they ultimately wound up helping my Olympic lifts.
So, what did your most recent workout look like?
A lot of my workouts are on YouTube. My last one was 3 sets of 5 squats at 250kg (551.1lb), I worked up to light clean and jerks at 140kg (308.6lb), and I was tricking afterwards. But usually I do 5×5 squats. Maybe tomorrow I might do 5×5 squats at 255kg (562.2lb). And after that I’ll bench, I’m doing the Smolov Jr. at the moment, I’m on Day 2, so that’s 150kg (330.7lb) for 7 sets of 5.
I honestly don’t do that much Olympic lifting at the moment, but those lifts are still going up in weight.
What are your favorite shoes for Olympic lifting, by the way?
I’ve only used like, three pairs of shoes, honestly. I think people worry too much about their shoes. It’s like it’s a fashion show or something. I just wear whatever. I used to wear the PowerPerfect 2 Adidas shoe, right now I wear the 2008 Adistars. I got them off my friend because I didn’t want to buy a new pair.
Clarence Kennedy lifts in second hand shoes!?
(laughs) Eventually, I should buy a pair of new shoes, because these ones are falling apart.
How about mobility exercises, what are your go-tos?
Honestly, I don’t do that much. When I first walked into the gym I was able to get into all the positions. I just do some stretches for five minutes. You can see some of the stretches in my YouTube video about my diet. It’s literally three minutes.
Just basic stretches, no secret sauce? Foam rolling, lacrosse balls, things like that?
No I don’t do any of that.
What about advanced stretches, like tying a resistance band around a bar and using it to stretch your shoulder, that kind of thing.
No, I don’t do any of that. I don’t think it’s bad or anything, it can be useful for some people. I just started weightlifting when I was pretty young, and I had a tricking background, so I was pretty flexible. Some people need to stretch a lot, I’m just not one of them.
So how do you warm up?
Normally, I just start with a weight. For squats it’d be with the bar for 3 sets for high reps, like 5 or 8, then I throw on 70kg for 2 sets of 5, 110 for 2 sets of 5, 150 for 2 sets of 3, 190 for 1 set of 3, 210 1 set of 2, 230 1 set of 2, and then 250 5 x 5.
That’s a serious warm-up.
Is that a lot? (laughs)
Most people I see do closer to four warm-up sets.
I spend a lot more time warming up for the activity I’m actually doing rather than doing stretches.
I wanted to dig a little more into your vegan diet. You used to drink two liters of milk a day, right?
I still do have that habit, but I just drink soy milk instead. It’s a hard habit to break. A lot of people switch to vegan diets to give up certain foods, but there’s always a vegan alternative. I still eat plenty of processed foods, like replacement meat products from Quorn and Linda McCartney.
Was there a specific event that prompted the switch to the vegan diet?
It had nothing to do with weightlifting or performance, I just came across a video from The Vegan Atheist on YouTube and he was criticizing another YouTuber’s defense for eating meat, and I watched a bunch of his videos. Then I came across a channel called Think About This and I came to realize there’s just no good argument against veganism. I just felt like I needed to change my diet. It was for moral and environmental reasons. It wasn’t for performance or anything.
Did you notice any difference at all, before and after the change?
No, it was exactly the same. People like to exaggerate the benefits of the vegan diet but it’s nothing special. (laughs) I haven’t really noticed anything. Maybe my blood pressure has dropped a bit, but nothing major. Before I was vegan, my cholesterol was perfect, and it’s fine now, too.
So you’ve been doing a lot of blood tests during the transition?
Yeah, I think that’s important after turning vegan to make sure you’re not deficient or anything. Something like 75 percent of new vegans quit after three months and that’s because of the bad health advice that’s out there online, like Freelee the Banana Girl and channels like that.
Yeah, a friend gave it a shot and dropped it after a couple of months because his iron was low. He didn’t know he had to combine Vitamin C with vegan sources of iron to help it absorb better.
That’s right. I have huge respect for Jack Norris at VeganHealth.org. He has an unbiased opinion on vegan diets and writes what to actually look out for on the vegan diet. Rather than just saying, “Veganism cures cancer!”
Though there is some truth to that; processed meat is a carcinogen and eating a lot of saturated fat is definitely bad.
So you’re not in the camp of people who say that saturated fat increases testosterone?
Oh, of course not. Vegans have higher testosterone levels if anything. (Editor’s note: Clarence made this statement based on this study, which he later sent over.)
Did you get a lot of hate from people online after you changed your diet?
Surprisingly not. I was actually kind of scared of uploading that video. The first time I mentioned it I just said it off the cuff, because a lot of people are turned off by the word “vegan.”
It’s why a lot of people say “plant-based.”
Yeah, I try to avoid using the word as much as possible. People get defensive about the word vegan. They start thinking about why you should eat meat.
Image courtesy of Cassidy Du Berry.
It’s funny. Not everyone does, but I think when people get that defensive that quickly, there are probably some aspects of their diet that they’re not totally at peace with, you know? It shouldn’t make you angry to just talk about it.
A lot of people act the same way when their favorite political candidate gets caught in a lie, they get super defensive and do everything they can to justify it because they’ve made this emotional attachment to the choice they’ve made.
Yeah. It’s like, we’ve all just been conditioned to believe it’s normal to eat meat. I’ve watched a lot of videos from Melanie Joy, she wrote this book, “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows,” and my mind was just blown reading it. It explains the psychology behind eating meat. It’s very interesting. It explains cognitive dissonance and psychotic numbing.
Over the past few months, I’ve been really obsessed with veganism. (laughs) it’s just a really interesting subject, and there are some grey areas like pet ownership and animal experimentation. It’s interesting how people work through that.
Have you been throwing out your leather shoes?
Oh I never really wore leather shoes. But I’ve been conscious of everything I buy. Not just meat.
What do you mean? Making sure your toothpaste isn’t tested on animals?
I don’t really go that far. Like, sugar is processed with bone char so technically you can say it’s not vegan. But it’d be really inconvenient and very difficult to follow a lifestyle like that. I just focus on the big things like meat, dairy and eggs. And there are some really questionable products like palm oil, which I really try to minimize.
Yeah, sometimes I hear people say, “Oh, animals get ground up in cotton harvesters, so cotton’s not vegan.” Which is sort of true. In a globalized world, almost everything we do has such far reaching consequences you can never say that you don’t contribute to animal suffering.
But so long as you don’t act like you’re 100 percent perfect, it’s OK to be a little inconsistent in that way. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing choice.
Exactly. Like, I’m drinking coffee right now. I have pretty much no idea where it came from, it could have involved human exploitation and stuff, I don’t know. It’s difficult to focus on everything. At least with veganism, you can eliminate meat, dairy and eggs and know you’re making some impact that way.
You’ve got a quite a following on Reddit — I must have seen a dozen people ask you to marry them by now. Do you spend much time reading that?
Yeah I check out the Reddit threads about me sometimes. I kinda like reading comments from outside my YouTube channel and Facebook, because there are usually a lot more hate comments. It keeps you balanced. (laughs)
Someone sent me a link to a powerlifting thread about me on Reddit, that was a long, long read. There were like a hundred and thirty comments.
What’s that like? Having a hundred and thirty people talking about you who you’ve never met before?
It’s really weird. In my everyday life I’m not famous or anything, but when I go online, I am. It’s a weird experience. (laughs) When I go to the shops, no one has ever stopped me and said, “You’re Clarence Kennedy!” But when I go to my YouTube channel there’s like 100,000 new views.
Do you ever think of capitalizing on that? Starting a website, maybe selling some t-shirts?
I had a website a while ago but I stopped, it was a ton of work and I didn’t have the time. For now, I’ll just focus on my YouTube channel.
Cool. Well, thanks so much for your time, Clarence!
Featured image courtesy of Cassidy Du Berry.