61 Year Old Squats 700 Pounds for 3 (With Powerlifting Legend David Ricks)

Today we’re talking to powerlifting legend David Ricks. David has been in the sport for nearly 40 years, with a competition history dating all the way back to 1981. Throughout that time, he’s won numerous national, world, and invitational championships, earning him the nickname “Superman.” After a brief hiatus in the sport in his mid-50s, David came roaring back to compete at a high level in his late 50s. And in 2017, at 58 years old, he broke an OPEN world record in the squat, sinking 325kg at the Arnold Sports Festival. Now 61 years old, Ricks is still competing — and often winning — against lifters of all ages. We discuss his training mindset and some serious wisdom after an unparalleled career in the sport.

On this episode of The BarBend Podcast, host David Thomas Tao talks to David Ricks about:

  • David Ricks’ 40-year powerlifting career (2:58)
  • David’s supplement regimen and commitment to clean sport (5:30)
  • Taking time off and allowing your body to recover as you age (9:10)
  • Breaking an open squat record at 58 years old (13:30)
  • The game plan for eventually winning the CrossFit Games (17:30)
  • Powerlifting in the pre-internet days (and relying on magazines to determine records) (21:30)
  • The biggest development in powerlifting since 1980 (24:00)

Relevant links and further reading:


David RicksDavid Ricks

If you had told me after coming back, squatting and pulling in the mid-500s and barely benching 300, July of 2015, less than two years later those type of numbers being a raw guy and also being older, I’d have said, “You’re smoking something.”

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast” where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.


Today, I’m talking to powerlifting legend, David Ricks. David has been in the sport for nearly 40 years with a competition history dating all the way back to 1981. Throughout that time, he’s won numerous national, world, and invitational championships, earning him the nickname “Superman.”


After a brief hiatus in the sport in the mid-2010s, David came roaring back to compete at a high level in his late 50s. In 2017, at 58 years old, he broke an open world record in the squat, sinking 325 kilograms at the Arnold Sports Festival.


Now 61 years old, Ricks is still competing and often winning against lifters of all ages. We discuss his training mindset and some serious wisdom after an unparalleled career in the sport of powerlifting. Also, I want to take a second to say, “We’re incredibly thankful that you listen to this podcast.” If you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review of the BarBend Podcast in your app of choice.


Now, let’s get to it.


David Ricks, thank you so much for joining us. I’m really excited about this. I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time, so I might be a little biased and not able to take that journalistic perspective, but I got to ask, “How’s training going these days?” You’re looking really strong. How are you feeling?

David RicksDavid Ricks

I got really spun out trained up for that thing in Colorado, we were lifting for charity, and so now I’m doing a little downtime and let the body rest a little bit, and probably work on some supporting muscles, and some stretching, and flexibility movements. I’m still doing some lifting, but not as heavy as while I was training for a meet.


You have to do that alternate type of maintenance cycle, let your body rest and recover, and then give yourself a new goal and see what happens.

David TaoDavid Tao

Now, for folks who might not be familiar, how long have you been competing in the sport of powerlifting? That’s important to note here and you’re still at the highest level.

David RicksDavid Ricks

Every time I answer that question it scares me. I’ve been doing this almost 40 years. I started training for powerlifting almost 40 years ago at the Naval Academy. The fall of my senior year, it was 1980. I had just finished playing lightweight football and I had some freedom in my schedule. They said, “Hey, why don’t you try the sport of powerlifting?”


They started a powerlifting club, but I knew nothing about the sport. The fall of 1980, that’s when I started and qualified, did a local meet in Maryland. That first meet I weighed 165. I think I squatted somewhere in upper fours and pulled somewhere five. Benched 300.


I qualified for the Collegiate Nationals, which was spring of that year, 1981, in Kutztown, Pennsylvania and took third in the Collegiate Nationals. That’s how I started. To think about it, it’s been 40 years when I started this.


If you had told me that I’d be doing this 40 years past this point, I’d have said, “You’ve been smoking something.” I wouldn’t have dreamed or envisioned that I’d be moving weights 40 years at this point. Especially as a raw lifter. That’s wholly in another conversation. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

What do you think have been the keys to your longevity in the sport?

David RicksDavid Ricks

I think a couple of things. One, is how to train smarter. When I started, the type of training was I had the guy who was our coach, he was a SEAL team officer. His theory was, “Go heavy, go often.” [laughs]


When you’re young, your recovery is high. You don’t know you’re overtraining. That’s how I started. After I graduated from the Naval Academy, I started training by myself. I realized I didn’t have the stamina to do that. I started doing a light day and a heavy day just because of my own limitations.


Then, later on, probably about mid-20s, I found someone in California, a chiropractor, Jerry [inaudible 5:02] . He’s actually in Cincinnati now. He showed me how to do [inaudible 5:07].


How you train over a longer period of time and you back down the percentages, but if you add more weight, you add more repetitions, allowing you to do more volume at a lower weight and the body recovers so that when you get to the heavier weights, you’re able to push past those barriers. That’s another thing.


The other next step was supplements. In terms of training as a natural athlete, I’m a lifetime natural athlete. Regardless, everyone has their own choice in what they do in terms of what they do for training and supplements, but, because I’m [inaudible 5:43] , you basically have to set the standard. I never thought about taking anything else. I say, “They have to be healthy and to have fun.”


Supplements, when they started to really become more prevalent, I started taking them and I realized, for a natural athlete, it really helps me, especially when you’re talking about training, 4 or 5, 6, 8, 6 to 10 weeks. After the fourth or fifth week, as a natural athlete, the way you’re pushing your body, it’s like in NASCAR.


When you push your body like that, and you want to go to NASCAR [inaudible 6:17] , you need to put the right fuel in your body. A balanced diet gets you around the block, but if you really want to be on the high-performance track, then you need supplements to give you that delta, that actual recovery and some other things to keep that high performance.


Every time I get into a performance cycle, I’m into taking supplements, because that’s the only way I can really push myself on a longer training cycle. If I was just training to stay in shape, no big deal, probably no need for supplements, but if you still want to train at a high level and start pushing to be an elite athlete, I’m a high believer in supplements.


I take about 8 to 10 supplements when I train. From whey protein, A complex, B complex, C complex, a bunch of aminos, omega-3, turmeric for your joints, also glucosamine for your joints. There’s a couple more, but I take about 8 to 10 supplements for when I train.

David TaoDavid Tao

Let’s talk about training volume. How has training volume changed over the course of your career for you? What does your training volume look like today when you’re heading into a peaking cycle for a competition?

David RicksDavid Ricks

Well, I still have sets of eights and then sets of fives and sets of threes. When I was younger, in my 20s and early 30s, I would work to a top set of eights. When I’d get into my fives, I’d try to do three sets of five, which was about 85 percent. As I got into my mid, late-30s, those three sets of fives at 85 percent was just really taxing on my body.


Just because of my limitations, I only do a top to the five, 85 percent. I thought, “Well, maybe I won’t get to compete at an elite level because I don’t have the volume,” but what I realized, even not doing that much volume at the 85 percent, you still can make gains into the training. You have to be smart and to know how you choose your numbers on that.


What I didn’t realize is that at the younger age, doing the three sets of fives at 85 percent, when I was in my late 20s, I was probably overtraining a little bit, but it felt good doing it. When you get to the third set of five, you had to grind it out, but when you really get it pumped, you do that.


In reality, in hindsight, I probably did a little bit of overtraining, but because you felt good and you thought that was a great way to do that that’s how I kept going.

David TaoDavid Tao

I know you’re a big proponent of taking some time off, basically, and you can’t go from a performance cycle, to competition, straight back into performance cycle all the time.


I think we were talking a little bit before this recording, about how you take some time off to work on flexibility, mobility, accessories. How long is your downtime post-competition before you might start ramping up these days?

David RicksDavid Ricks

For the younger guys, they like to do probably a competition every three or four months, and because you have a higher recovery, you probably could do that. As you get a little more older, you probably, I try to take, after a major tournament, I really take about a couple weeks off. I barely hit the gym.


I do a little bit, just feel the weight, but I really let the body rest and recover. Then that third week off, that’s when I start getting into just really doing some really light stuff. The whole idea, if you think about it, besides you’re pushing your body, your central nervous system is really pushing the limit.


When you’re younger, you think, “Well, I can keep going to another cycle.” Eventually you’ll hit a point where that going back to a major cycle becomes counterproductive, and you may not make any gains because your body hasn’t had a chance to recover.


I would say a unique case in point was when I took a year off in 2014, 2015. One of them wasn’t planned. This was, 2014 I did the Arnold and it was equipped. I did OK, maybe not great. I had a great training cycle, but I didn’t hit the numbers. It was March, 2014.


After that, I think it was in April, I took some time off, because I just was beat up. Then, by that summer, I had a job change, which really dramatically affected what I wanted to do. Then I left Atlanta and went to Norfolk in December, 2014.


Then got accustomed to the job and by springtime, I said, “Maybe I’ll go to a local commercial gym.” Got back into doing some real light stuff. Also I got the bug again. I thought I was going to retire. This was March, 2014. By April, May time frame, I got the bug again.


I said, “Well, I’m not going to do more gear,” because I didn’t find a good power gym. I said, “I’ll just do the raw stuff,” because raw by then was up and coming, USAPL-Raw, so I needed to find a good local meet.


Matt and Suzie Gary, they’re great folks. They had a gym in Maryland. It just closed down recently. They moved to Montana. They had a local meet for new lifters. I called Matt Gary up and said, “Could I just lift? I don’t take any trophies. I’m just an old guy who wants to qualify.”


He said, “Sure Dave, you can use this as a qualifying meet. However, you need to really push yourself not just do token lifts.” I said, “Wait a second, Matt. You know who I am. I’m just going to do token lifts so I can qualify for the Masters,” and he said, “Yeah, Dave, but they know. When they see your name on the register, they expect you to do something.”


I said, “Well, I’ve only been training for about two or three weeks. I’ll only have about six weeks of training.” He said, “That’s not my problem, Dave. That’s your problem. You want to do this?” It was a joke in context, but it put a bug in my ear to set up to really push myself.


Within five weeks of training, I squatted this raw, 515, I barely benched 300 and I pulled 550. That was July of 2015. Now I qualified for the National. It was going to be in Pennsylvania. Steve Mann was the meet director. He puts on a great meet.


I said “Well, maybe I can get back in the game and compete in the Open.” I looked at the numbers that the guys did in the Open last year and plugged in what training I was going to need to be competitive and said, “No, that ain’t going to work. I need to back it down and see what my body can do.”


I [inaudible 13:06] , and by that meet, October, I was squatting over six, pulled over six. I benched over 400. That was October, 2015. Now you speed up to the World Championships. This time it was in Cleveland, Texas, the Masters World. It was a great opportunity to be in Texas.


That training had gone very well. I was back and really ripped. This was my third or fourth cycle. I was getting back in shape and I had the opportunity and on my third squat, break the Open squat raw record. I couldn’t believe it myself. That was June of 2016.


Now you go to almost 10 months later at the Arnold where I broke the record again on my second squat at the Arnold. Neck-squatted 680. Then I had one more squat left and I put 325 on the bar.


The only reason I pushed myself because at the Arnold, my parents live in Ohio and they love to come see me lift, so I really, from my standpoint, it’s an honor to be lifting for my parents who are still living, so I put something on the bar I never did before. I was fortunate enough to get that. [laughs]


That was March of 2017. Then April, a month later, I had signed up for this, I didn’t realize I was going to figure this out, I had committed myself almost four months prior to do this meet in Australia at their Pacific Invitational and I chipped the world record.


If you had told me after coming back and squatting and pulling in the mid-500s and barely benching 300, July of 2015, less than two years later, those type of numbers, being a raw guy and also being older, I’d have said, “You’re smoking something.”


There’s no way I would have programmed and laid out a plan like that. There’s no way in the world. I would have never done that. I would say that you take every training cycle. I take every training a day at a time. As I get underneath the bar, I consider each rep, just like a brand new rep versus trying to overthink it or over-plan it.

David TaoDavid Tao

Well, I think it’s an interesting perspective. It goes to show that especially in this sport, the sport of powerlifting, building strength, it takes time.


We get approached a lot. We get a lot of questions from folks at BarBend, and we have millions of readers, and we’re very fortunate to have them and a lot of people will reach out and they’ll say, “I’m 30 years old, is it too late to get into strength sports?” “I’m 40 years old, should I start lifting?”


I’ve actually pointed to you as an example before. We’ve written some articles on some of your accomplishments that you just talked about. I’ve said, “Well, this guy’s 58, 59, 60 and he’s setting Open world records. He’s beating guys. He’s beating 20-year-olds.” You tell me, is it too late? It takes some time and you have to be patient.

David RicksDavid Ricks

Yeah. Well, you have to think of it as a marathon and because the nature of social media, people want this instant success, instant gratification, or instant performance effort and it just doesn’t work that way. You have to be humble. You just have to think about it as a step-by-step process.


Just work on simple gains and methods. Be very focused on the mechanics. Be focused on how you train and what exercise you’re going to do. Everyone doesn’t have all the equipment that you want.


It depends on where you work out, LA Fitness, or whatever, or even a power gym, they may have the basic equipment, they may not have all the support there. You have to figure out the best way to enhance your performance and what exercise.


You can’t do all the exercises in the book, if you look at all what we call the body-strengthening exercises. There’s not enough hours in the day to do that. We’re not college students where we can go three or four hours in the gym and just have fun. A lot of us are professionals and we have families.


You may only have 45 minutes to an hour to do what you got to do. You got to be very anal about how you’re going to spend that effort. You can’t spend time sitting on your phone and doing Instagram if you’ve only got 45 minutes, so you have to be very specific on your goals and also make sure you listen to your body.


Sometimes you have to some things with your body that you have to get checked with a chiropractor, or a doctor, whatever, so that you put your body in the right optimal position to work out. Sometimes, if you have an injury you have to back off and listen to the body and let the body recover.


I’ll tell you, “Another person you want to get on here is Tony Harris.” The injuries that he’s had in the sport is truly almost it shocks you. For him to still be an elite athlete after the things…He’s had some back issues, upper-thigh issues into the muscles, like that. He also came back from testicular cancer, which is amazing.


At the meet that I broke the world record at the Arnold, he was the next guy on the platform, and he broke the Open world record in his weight class. You look at it like it’s like another workout, but if you understood his journey, for him to be on the platform, be handling that amount of weight, you’d think, “Shoot, if you think I’m Superman, this guy is amazing.”

David TaoDavid Tao

Well, that is your nickname in certain powerlifting spheres, it’s Superman.


I wasn’t going to lead with this question, but now that I’ve got you trapped for a half-hour here, I’ve got to say, “Who was the first person to be like, “David Ricks, aka Superman,’ on the platform?”

David RicksDavid Ricks

I have to acknowledge, that was Matt Gary. I don’t know why he did that.


 I don’t know. Actually, he did a video that compiled some lifts from when I did the Arnold and some other things. I also worked out at his gym one time and it was a great video. He coined the term and I didn’t think too much about it. Then, after a while it kind of stuck. I said, “What the heck?” [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

Do you play that up? Have you worn the Superman shirt while squatting? Do you walk into the gym with a big S on your chest?

David RicksDavid Ricks

No, I haven’t done all that, no, no, no. I haven’t gotten to that level. I’m very humbled and honored just to be on the platform with all these young guys. That’s what keeps me motivated. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

How is the sport? What are some of the ways the sport has changed over the course of your career? Now, if you look back, 40 years to 1980, everything’s changed since 1980. There’s not a sport on the planet that’s the same as it was in 1980. I can’t name one.


What are some of the milestones that you remember over the course of the career when you thought to yourself, “Oh, the sport is changing”?

David RicksDavid Ricks

Well, in terms of how information is gathered. “Powerlifting USA,” was the magazine. You’d wait for that month to look at the magazine to see the meet results. If you did a meet whether or not your picture got in it, whether or not you was in that, your meet results.


Then you’d look at the “Workout of the Month,” and the top 100 by that weight class. You waited to see if you was in that group. Now, it’s almost very social media in terms of electronic media. The aspect of how people are able to gain knowledge in the sport has almost gone through the roof.


Now, you actually get information in terms of who does what via the social media. Then you can converse with top people in the sport directly. I never did, I never talked to anyone in that sport until I was on a team with somebody.


The first time I met Ed Coan, I was on the national team with him. Then I looked and said, “That’s the guy.” In my first World Championship, it had Ed Coan, it had Gene Bell, [inaudible 22:01] Anderson, oh gosh, Dan Austin. I said to myself, “These are guys that I read about and they’re here.”


The ability to connect with people, that is huge. I think the other aspect is this raw lifting in terms of how that has evolved. Raw used to be, “Well, folks who came [inaudible 22:26] can do raw.” It started in 2011, 2012 with USAPL. There was only a small group that was doing it.


Now, especially USAPL, most of the lifters are raw. You go to a local meet, 90 percent of the lifters are raw. [inaudible 22:44] place, but the explosion of raw lifting is truly amazing. What you have now is athletes from other sports getting into powerlifting and because they already got the mental aspect of how to train, they adapt to raw lifting almost like it’s second nature.


The other aspect of just Masters, which was masters lifters actually being competitive and they want to also compete well beyond when people say they retire. It used to be that once you get to 40, they think, “Well, he ain’t got that much time left. Why’s he still here because he can’t do anything?” I think 40 is the new 30. Then as someone is 50 to still be competitive, “You’re pushing the envelope.”


Then you get guys like me. It’s like, “Wait a second, he’s 60 and he’s competing in the opening group? What’s he doing here?” [laughs] The information age, in terms of the ability to find ways to train. You can have a home gym and you’ve been coached by video link, basically you can get most of your information, your technique, and support from that area.


Whereas, without that, you’d have to go to a power gym to figure that out. I would say, “The information age, in terms of how you can gather information, you can basically develop experience in the sport.” The raw lifting, because it’s so popular now that you can basically do that with very little cost.


You can do some of that at a commercial gym because you can do most of the exercises without the specialized equipment. Now, if you get into the equipped, that’s a whole different story, but the raw lifting and the caliber of athletes in the raw area is just off the planet. It is amazing.


David TaoDavid Tao

I’m calling it now. If 40 is the new 30, 50 is still 50, 60 is the new 20. You go back down a decade after that.

David RicksDavid Ricks

[laughs] Yeah, if you’d have told me that at age 61 that I would fly to Colorado and do three reps of 705, like, “Yeah, right. They can’t be 45s, they can’t be kilos. Those got to be pound plates. There’s no way that at 61 I’d be doing that amount of weight.” [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

You said it yourself, you take every training cycle one by one. You take every session, every rep, one by one. How are you feeling now and do you still think that, at your body-weight category, you’ve got a little bit of strength to build in some of the lifts?

David RicksDavid Ricks

When they canceled the Nationals, because I was going to train for the Nationals like [inaudible 25:34] was, so I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I was doing a mini-cycle and then doing a regular, long cycle for the Nationals. This lift for charity gave me a goal to set. I put that out there when Brian said, “What do you want to do?” I said, “Well, I can do some reps and squat.”


I wasn’t sure how much weight I was going to do. He put a picture up there of me and somebody else doing reps of 700. When he put that out there, I said, “I can’t go out there and do 500. I’ve got to do something.” It gave me a goal to train for. It focused my training to see, “If I’m going to be able to put that on the bar, here are the marks that I need to do four or five weeks out.”


Every week, I set a goal in terms of what I want to do. The week before I did that at the Colorado, I hit 672 for a triple. I had to work it. It was hard. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I got to Colorado. I had to play it by ear. I knew I was somewhere in the neighborhood. I’ll leave it at that. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

Who were some lifters over the course of your career who you’ve either looked up to or you’ve looked to as really good ambassadors for the sport of powerlifting?

David RicksDavid Ricks

Of course, Jen Thompson. She’s truly amazing in terms of what she’s done, just in life. Also, Dan Austin. He’s a strength coach. He was at South Carolina, if he’s still there. His lifts early in his career were just truly amazing. He was the standard in terms of deadlifting. That’s truly remarkable. Oh, shoot, I know some other ones. Good gracious.


A gentleman that he pulls 800 pounds so many times, he’s a super heavyweight. He’s a Masters guy now. Oh, gosh, I’m having a brain fart now.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s OK. Suffice it to say, “There are a lot of great powerlifters you’ve lifted with or lifted around over your career.”

David RicksDavid Ricks

There is, and I don’t want to slight anyone. I guess the fascinating part of the sport is that you meet a whole lot, a cadre of folks and each have their unique specialty or gifts. You look at them like, “That’s amazing.” You just want to sit back and just be in the presence. I’ll leave it at that. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

David Ricks, thank you so much for joining us. Where is the best place for people to follow your training and what you’re up to on social media?

David RicksDavid Ricks

I’m on Instagram as @David.Ricks. That’s probably the best place to find me. Training, I’m here in South Florida at Boynton Barbell Center. It’s a great place to train. They have some great equipment. They’ve got regular pound bars and also pound equipment. They also have kilo plates for whatever you want to do, great deadlift and squat platforms to train at.


I’m pretty fortunate to have a great facility. I mean, without that there’s no way…I’ve been doing this since I’ve been in Florida. When I got down here, I met the owner. I said, “Shoot, this is not too bad.” I said, “Maybe I can continue my training.” That’s what I’ve been doing. I think that’s one key component in terms of people being energized to get into this sport, having good places to train.


Some people have their home gym. Then sometimes people in the [inaudible 29:26] that. The way I like to train, it’s hard for me to train by myself. I need what you call that community spirit where you’re pushing yourself and you see other guys or ladies pushing themselves.


It gets you energized and gets you motivated to step your game up. Especially, when you start training heavy and pushing your body to an elite level.

David TaoDavid Tao

Excellent. Well, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it and excited to see what you’re up to next in the coming years. Thank you for your time.

David RicksDavid Ricks

Oh, thank you. It’s an honor. [laughs]