If you’ve never heard of Bud Jeffries, you need to hear about Bud Jeffries.
In his prime, Bud Jeffries has squatted 1000lbs, raw, from the bottom. Bud Jeffries walked a mile in a 300lb weight vest. Bud Jeffries swung a 24kg kettlebell 2,350 times in one hour.
These days, Bud Jeffries backlifts a 40ft long, 15000lb semi trailer and casually squats 775lbs. He relaxes with full side splits on a paddle board, and bends a nail in half while doing somersaults. He does all of this in his Florida backyard and puts it on Instagram for all to see.
These ridiculous feats are a result of 40+ years of physical, mental, and spiritual training. Though he no longer competes, Bud now uses his strength and knowledge as part of his motivational speaking circuit and ongoing anti-bullying campaigns.
This bald, forty two year old, 300lb man from Podunk, Florida is my spirit animal. I couldn’t wait to talk to him about his life and philosophy, and we talked for so long that I decided to split the interview into two parts. It’s worth every word.
Your backyard is as much as a part of your workouts as the weights themselves. Where in the world are you?
Lakeland, Florida. If you threw a dart at Florida and hit it in the middle, that’s exactly where I’m at. I live on a family farm. It’s been in my family for 150 years. It’s a small citrus farm that my grandfather started, and we grow some of our own vegetables just for fun because it’s helpful and better.
Speaking of family, do you have any relation to Jim Jeffries the boxer?
Yeah! Jim Jeffries is my cousin, like my great great uncle’s brother. He’s literally a blood relative, but I can’t tell you exactly how. If you look at different members of the family, in pictures, there’s one point in life where his hair was cut like mine. You can see a physical and even facial resemblance.
There’s a story that Jim Jeffries carried a 200lb deer 9 miles through the woods. I also had a cousin who knocked out a dairy cow one day because it kicked him, and another cousin who carried a V8 engine out of a junkyard on a bet.
Clearly, there’s a genetic disposition towards athleticism in the blood. What lead you to getting into strength sports?
I really think a couple of things happened. I don’t know so much about genetics, but I think situational stress can turn genetics on, if that makes sense. My mom and dad tried to have kids for 12 years, and when my mom finally did get pregnant, doctors told her she and I would never survive.
I was born in an absolute emergency birth, like my heart rate stopped and I was “born” like 19 minutes later. I actually think there is some research about this — stressful situations from early life can create mental changes in the way you attack things.
So I’m going along and everything is cool, and at 4 years old I walked in front of a van and crushed my hip and fractured my skull. I spent a month in the hospital, and months and months in a body cast. This was 1978 and rehab was the sort of thing like “here’s a bottle of lotion. Good luck!” It wasn’t like today where if you break a pinky finger you’re in six weeks of rehab. I couldn’t walk. I literally could not stand up. I had to completely start over again.
The physical survival aspect of that, and the recover and rehab, changed my way of thinking about how I go about things. Having to overcome something at a young age, gave me the idea that if I can do this, I can do other things.
What was so different after the accident?
Before the accident, I started off kind of as a wiry little kid, but with the drugs they were giving me to heal combined with the inability to move for six months, I literally woke up as a fat kid.
Once I was completely back to normal, my mom put me in martial arts, which for the backwoods area of the country we lived in, was a super progressive thing to do. That had an extreme flexibility and speed base to it, which sort of opened the idea of all of this to me, so I became an athletic little fat kid.
I got picked on and bullied and whatever until I was about 14, because at 14 I suddenly became the strongest fat kid in the world. It got really difficult to bully me, not so much because I physically did anything to anybody, but it’s because I began to carry myself and think in a different way.
How did you become so strong at 14?
I started playing football and that lead directly to lifting. The school didn’t have a gym, so they sent me to a powerlifting gym a mile from my house — a little hole in the wall. I went there and was fooling around, and a few guys said, “We’re competing in a powerlifting competition in a few weeks, why don’t you come work out with us?” I said okay, and two weeks later I was working out with them all the time. For six months we did a classic squat/deadlift/bench cycle, and then I competed. I did my first competition at 14 and for 16 years after that, I competed up to world level, set a couple of world RAW records, some teenage national records. It just kind of went all over from there.
Nowadays, it seems like less powerlifting and more odd objects and brute feats of strength. How did you transition into strongman style lifting?
I played a year of football at University of Florida, but I broke my shoulder joint while I was there. It was a million dollar injury. I thought I’d play football no matter what, lift weights no matter what. It’s just the way I think about things. That injury, though, literally took football away from me like that.
After that happened, I was at a little church in Gainesville and they asked me to do a promo with Anthony Clark. Anthony Clark was the first teenager to bench 600 pounds, the first man to bench 800 pounds. I was 18 years old, in college, and Anthony was in his late 20s and dominating powerlifting. He was touring with a prison ministry who got together all these amazing athletes and they’d do these sort of crusade things and visit prisons.
They asked me to do the promo with him, because they had a local cable show coming and they knew I did some of the same things he did, so that was the first time I did any sort of public, old time strongman stuff. I realized I had a gift for it and that it could help people.
What sort of strongman exercises were you doing when you started?
It was very primitive at the time, because there wasn’t any internet so you’re finding stuff in magazines and historical collections about what the real old time guys did for stage shows. [Strongman] was huge 100 years ago, dominant in Vaudeville, but nobody knew much about it. It’s kind of like what’s happening today. All the things that people think is a brand new thing — you see guys lifting rocks and carrying barrels around at CrossFit — that wasn’t invented two years ago. It was invented 500 years ago, and people were doing it 100 years ago on a regular basis, just no one knew about it!
Even the stuff in modern competitive strongman is a historical reference from old time strongman. For all the crap I take for doing what I do, dude, people have been doing for a 100 years at least, and probably more like 1000 years…especially the stone lifting. People are like, “this is the craziest thing ever!!” but you know, people were doing this in temples thousands of years ago. The stone was the first barbell of mankind, period.
Your Instagram is mostly filled with shenanigans, but what else are you doing on a day to day basis? Do you plan ahead of time or stick to a cycle, or is all just spur of the moment?
Shenanigans! I love that word. [My training] is half and half, meaning I always go to training with a plan, but I always leave freedom to do whatever may happen at the spur of the moment. I only use short clips of the fun stuff on social media, because who’s going to watch a full hour workout on social media? I film the stuff that looks fun. I’m not always catching the basic work.
I do a very similar warm up every time, but I rarely do classic cycling, meaning that classic periodization starts you at 55% and then 70% and 80% and 82% in a 16 week period. [I don’t do cycling] because I’m not training to get on a platform anymore. I’m training to be as useful, as capable as possible for anything and any possible scenario of life.
It doesn’t make sense to me, in life, to say “well, I would handle this situation, but it’s only my 50% week so I’m really not very strong this week. You’ll have to wait six weeks for me to get to my peak. So don’t rob my house now, come back in six weeks when I’m really ready for you.”
You need to be able to use things in the real world, on a regular basis. To do that, you need to stay in touch. You don’t have to be at a peak all the time. You need to stay in touch with all the areas of athleticism at one time, which is why if you look at the whole of my schedule you see I do a similar set of very heavy lifts, in a moderately small volume, on a 7-10 day basis on a regular basis.
What else in that 7-10 day rotation?
In that 7 to 10 day rotation you’d also see some sort of short, intense cardio — 5 to 15 minutes of as hard as I can possibly go. It might be kettlebell or dumbbell snatches or sled sprints, but it’s that “hope I don’t die at the end of 15 minutes” cardio. Then you’d see a longer, more moderate cardio. Once every other week or so you’d see a long one that’s very hard, the hope-I-don’t-die cardio feeling carried out for an hour.
Most people don’t do their intense cardio for more than short bursts. Again, that doesn’t fit with me in the idea of being ready for anything all the time. How do you predict what the time limit is on your endurance? After 25 minutes the zombies can have everything.
Then I’ll do my basic 7-10 day schedule of strength and cardio and strongman and stuff, and then I’m also experimenting with isometrics. That might last three weeks, or a month or whatever. Then I’m experimenting with sled stuff, and then I’m experimenting with running or different agility movements, or different yoga movements. That’s the planning part, my base format.
Then I have my next level experimental format. What’s possible? What can we do? What can I come up with? I leave that hole in there for just purely going out to play. I see if I can pull a truck with no hands and no feet, or I do cartwheels! That’s just play, but it’s play with a point. Is it silly? Absolutely, but so what? Let’s see if can be physically done.
What motivates you to put all of this out in the open, especially when you’re having to constantly fight off haters who aren’t on board with your unconventional style of training?
I’m putting myself out there because I’m right! It doesn’t matter how many basement living 15 year olds, or 35 year olds, are sitting behind their computer hiding away and chirping away at people who are doing something. Their opinions mean nothing compared to people who are actually doing things in the real world.
When I go outside in my backyard, I find out the truth of what I’m doing because it will work or it won’t work. Some idiot who read somebody’s book and thinks that’s the only way to do it is just not seeing the greater landscape of strength. I’ve spent a ton of time over the past 20 years studying the modern aspect of strength and the ancient aspect of strength. A lot of the stuff I do is a throwback to the really really ancient stuff. Just because some knucklehead in a university somewhere couldn’t prove it with some 18 year old college freshmen on some study, doesn’t mean it’s not a completely valid thing to do.
The internet climate at this time produces people that say they don’t do anything unless there’s a scientific study to back it up. The problem is, all scientific studies in physical strength are 5-10 years behind what’s actually being done right now in gyms. Cancer funding and studies might be ahead of what’s happening in hospitals, but nobody is funding gym studies to see what builds the biggest biceps.
The people who are actually doing [research] are in the trenches — people like Louie Simmons or Chris Duffin. They’re producing champions all the time. These guys are very scientific and they study. What they do is as much art and feel and intuition as what’s been proven and written down on a piece of paper.
As much as we’re all the same in a human body perspective, two arms to legs and that sort of thing, we’re all actually radically different in our reactions to individual exercise. No matter what you prove from an exercise perspective, you can’t truly prove it across a broad section of humanity. I guarantee whatever you prove will 1) be a historical creation of something someone was doing 25 years ago in a gym, and 2) I can prove the opposite.
What do you mean when you say you can prove the opposite?
The Westside guys, as an example, use a very specific set of volume training, because they believe that this specific volume training produces this particular level of strength. But, if you look at classic periodization guys, their volume is much less. If you look at the best guys across weightlifting of any kind and you equalize for time period and changes that may have taken place for drugs or equipment, the best guys are getting the best results on totally varied levels of training. Mark Chaillet squatted 1000 pounds doing nothing but single reps multiple times a week. Louie Simmons’ guys squat 1000lbs doing hundreds of reps a week. For every proof of one way, there’s a whole other way to do it.
How do you respond to people who think what you’re doing is stupid and reckless?
I’m open minded in that if you can experientially or physically prove that what you’re doing is better than what I’m doing, then I’ll play in your court. I want whatever is the best physical ability that can be done within the range of what I want to develop. But just because you read a Men’s Fitness one time and stayed at Holiday Inn overnight for a seminar doesn’t make you an expert.
I’ve sold books in 130 countries, to people who have way more advanced degrees in exercise science than me, because what I’m doing is all physical, real world, nuts and bolts stuff. It’s not let’s-reason-it-out science. I’m doing the lets-see-what-works stuff. Let’s actually physically try it, which is why I post all those videos all the time! It keeps me motivated in training and gives me new challenges, so it’s a mentally and physically fresh thing.
I’ve hit a place, and this is not arrogance, where I will accept your criticism if I respect your opinion, but you have to do something for me to respect your opinion. I will respect you as a human being no matter what, but your opinion on the thing thing that I consider the work and art of my life…you better have some competent credentials to have a reason why.
And I don’t mean that you went to school. If you’re a 195lb dude and you have credentials behind your name and you power clean 135 and you criticize my form on picking up a 500lb rock, you have no credentials in my opinion.
After all these years and so many accomplishments, what keeps you going?
I believe that there is so much to explore in the human body that we haven’t even touched, or so much that we haven’t even come back to yet. We think of the demigods, the heroes, and the legends of strength and martial arts of the past — maybe that’s actually re-creatable if we just do the right stuff.
I’m 42 years old, about to turn 43. I want people to see that the the 42 year old version of me is better than the 20 year old version of me. It’s stronger, faster, more enduring. It’s not made of glass. You can do amazing things if you just do the right training.
For all the people who hate me because I do way out of mainstream and way out of normal stuff, there’s other people out there who are emailing me and saying “oh man, that’s the coolest thing I ever saw. I’m so glad you inspire me to do something. I’m so glad you inspire me to have fun with training.”
I realize that most people think a 300lb guy doing cartwheels and somersaults and rolling or running with different agility and balance drills looks silly. Okay, so beat me. Use your 21 year old, 150lb body and outdo me in some way, and then we’ll talk about whether I look silly or not. All the thousands of other people who write to me and tell me that what I do is helping their training and that they can really see why…that’s why I do this.
In Part 2 of our interview with Bud, we chat about his anti-bullying speaking circuit, getting the spiritual/emotional mindset in line with physical goals, and whether or not it’s possible to light barbells on fire.
Featured Image: Bud Jeffries (@budjeffries)