Doing the Impossible in Powerlifting (With Taylor Atwood)

Today we’re talking to Taylor Atwood, a 6-time United States Champion and 2-time IPF World Champion in powerlifting. Most recently, Taylor totaled an astonishing 812kg at 74 kilograms bodyweight, becoming the first lifter in his category to hit that mark in drug-tested competition. In the process, Taylor set new American Records on all three lifts (squat, bench press, and deadlift). Taylor joins us today to talk about making powerlifting history, how to avoid burnout in strength sports, and the mental approach to training that gives him an edge in the sport and life.

We want to take a second to give a special shoutout to our episode sponsor, Transparent Labs. If you want clean, clearly labeled supplements with ingredients backed by science, Transparent Labs has you covered. (Seriously, no hidden ingredients, no proprietary blends, and nothing artificial.) That includes their uber-popular BULK pre-workout, with ingredients we love to see for focus and energy PLUS vitamin D3, boron, and zinc. All the good stuff, absolutely no fillers. Use code “BARBEND” at checkout for an extra 10% off your order.

Taylor Atwood BarBend Podcast

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

  • Getting back to competition after a pandemic-related break (2:12)
  • Falling in love with powerlifting again (4:30)
  • The future of elite powerlifting (9:32)
  • Uncharted territory in powerlifting and the mental approach to world records (14:40)
  • “How much can I put on my plate without breaking?” (17:28)
  • Longevity in powerlifting and strength sports (19:40)
  • The ecosystem of performance and recovery (23:00)

Learn more about our sponsor Transparent Labs and get 10% off your order with code “BARBEND.” (We may receive commissions on items purchased through links on this page.)

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Transparent Labs BULK is a well-dosed pre-workout supplement for endurance, power, and focus. It is offered in six flavors and provides doses of Vitamin D3, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, zinc, potassium, and more. Use code BARBEND10 to save 10%.

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Transcription

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

I set my sight on let’s just get healthy. Let’s have fun with this again. Meaning, I don’t have to prep for anything. There’s no pressure. I was just living this nonchalant lifestyle with powerlifting, just lifting to lift again instead of lifting for a competition.

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 Taylor Atwood, a six-time United States Champion and two-time IPF World Champion in powerlifting. Most recently, Taylor totaled an astonishing 812 kilograms at 74 kilograms body weight, becoming the first lifter in his category to hit that mark in drug-tested competition. In the process, Taylor set new American records on all three lifts.

 

Taylor joins us today to talk about making powerlifting history, how to avoid burnout in strength sports, and the mental approach to training that gives him an edge in the sport and in life.

 

I do want to take a second to give a special shout out to our episode sponsor, Transparent Labs. If you want clean, clearly-labeled supplements with ingredients backed by science, Transparent Labs has you covered.

 

Seriously, no hidden ingredients, no proprietary blends, and nothing artificial. That includes their uber-popular BULK pre-workout, with ingredients we love to see for focus and energy, plus vitamin D3, boron, and zinc. All the good stuff, absolutely no fillers. Use code BARBEND at checkout for an extra 10 percent off.

 

Taylor, you’re coming off one of the more impressive and newsworthy powerlifting feats definitely of the year, it might be of the last few years. Tell us what it was like to get back on the platform after a break and obviously, still during the COVID pandemic.

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

Yeah, David, thank you for having me on. It’s a pleasure to always be reached out to by someone credible in the fitness world with BarBend, so thank you.

David TaoDavid Tao

I don’t know who you’re talking about that case but…

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

It felt absolutely amazing to get back into the platform competitive scene as well. I lifted in February I want to say, right before everything was shut down. I lifted at a local meet in Brooklyn. I am headquartered here in New York. I went to Brooklyn, I competed. I was coming off an injury.

 

I just wanted to dabble again because I was getting ready for the Sheffield. For the people listening, if you didn’t know what the Sheffield was, it was the SBD Invitational in the UK. They were doing this huge meet for some of the IPF lifters. For the people that don’t know what the IPF is, that’s the International Powerlifting Federation, which is a drug-tested international federation.

 

I won World’s in 2019, so I was automatically selected to go to this meet in March. However, COVID happened, so they canceled everything. I was already peaking for the meet itself. It was about three weeks before the actual peak was supposed to happen.

 

I didn’t go into that meet in February my strongest. I was also coming off an injury. It was a tune-up meet and let’s see what we can put together, so I did that. Put up a respectable total but nothing that I did last week.

 

Let’s rewind and then we’ll fast forward to this prior meet. That was February. Given that now I didn’t know what was in sight in terms of competitions, I set my sight on let’s just get healthy. Let’s have fun with this again. Meaning, I don’t have to prep for anything. There’s no pressure.

 

I was just living this nonchalant lifestyle with powerlifting, just lifting to lift again instead of lifting for a competition. I almost fell back in love with it. At times, powerlifting can become this…It’s a double-edged sword with when it comes to competition.

 

I fell back in love in terms of the process, being able to rehab, feeling healthy again. I was leading into this meet feeling absolutely amazing. That was a blessing. I was very prepared in terms of leading into the meet with nutrition, sleep.

 

The schedule got a little wacky because of COVID, but I was able to work from home. That cut down on commute time. In terms of almost the perfect storm leading into the meet itself, it was. I was feeling phenomenal, rested, and everything came together how it was supposed to.

 

I don’t know what else I can say in terms of how I felt. From a prepared standpoint and aspect, I was fully prepared. We peaked at the perfect time, and we put up a phenomenal total as well.

David TaoDavid Tao

I have to ask that meet in February, the local meet. That was the Murder of Crows Meet, correct?

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

No, Squats and Science.

David TaoDavid Tao

I went to the Murder of Crows one and you were coaching there, that’s what I’m thinking.

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

You were there?

David TaoDavid Tao

I was there, yeah.

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

Why didn’t you come say hello?

David TaoDavid Tao

You were coaching. I just dropped by. I just dropped by to see a few attempts, to say, hi to some old weightlifting friends who were there. It was a drive by.

 

That’s right. You were coaching there. I look back at that it seems eons ago. That was the last large gathering of people that I experienced before things went into lockdown, let’s put it that way.

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

Yes, it was, at least here in New York. The meet that I did was in Florida. It was open. The atmosphere was absolutely phenomenal. I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but there were probably 150 people there, at least.

David TaoDavid Tao

The one where you set the total record [indecipherable 7:19] ?

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

Yes, we were all wearing masks. Nonetheless, the crowd shouldn’t have been that large, but nonetheless it was absolutely great.

David TaoDavid Tao

Training in a mask, it’s something that I’ve…During COVID, when the gym shut down, I didn’t have access to the same equipment. I started running again for the first time in years. Wouldn’t recommend that to anyone by the way. I wouldn’t wish that upon my worst enemy. I started running in a mask. It took some getting used to, but I was able to adapt.

 

For you, was it a hurdle to overcome or did it come pretty naturally? Just put the mask on, do the lifts, you’re fine.

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

Initially, yes. It was quite a change. Why would we train in a mask? [laughs] Like everything you said, you adapt. It was actually pretty seamless. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.

David TaoDavid Tao

We’ll get back to that in just a moment. First, another quick word from our sponsor, Transparent Labs. You know Hafþór Björnsson, 2018 World’s Strongest Man and one of the strongest human beings in history? Yup, he uses Transparent Labs to fuel his performance.

 

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Now let’s get back to it.

 

It’s also the sort of thing where if you’re in a controlled environment, you have rest between sets. You’re familiar with your positions. Powerlifting is not a sport. You’re not running a marathon. You should be able to get your breath between reps. I don’t know, I’m probably going to get some hate for the powerlifting community here.

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

[laughs] No, not at all. I was doing sets of five with seven reps with a mask. If anyone can complain, it’s me. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

I don’t want to get a lot of angry strength athletes mad at me and saying, “Hey, it’s more challenging than you think.” I know guys. I’m in this too, I get it.

 

I want to rewind a little bit talk about the Sheffield meet because it didn’t happen. The Sheffield was something that the whole powerlifting world, and I’d actually say even people in the strength community outside of powerlifting were looking at it because it was supposed to be the next big thing in competition.

 

It was an invitational meet. There was a lot of money on the line. It was the crème de la crème. It was the best powerlifters in the IPF coming together for a meet where there was going to be a lot of media coverage. We were planning media coverage on BarBend months out. We were like, “This is going to be a big thing.”

 

This was also in a year where we had the Olympics and the CrossFit games. For us, this was in many ways going to be bigger than Worlds for powerlifting. We thought there’d be more interest in it. It gets cancelled. It’s something that we hope to see again another meet like that where there’s big money on the line.

 

Heading into that meet as one of the athletes who was invited in — you’ll have to remind me how many athletes total were invited; it was a pretty small pool — did you feel like it was something different?

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

Yeah. I believe, from my memory, there were 12 men and 12 women selected. Like you mentioned, very small pool. It truly felt like we were getting something from at least the USAPL or IPF standpoint. This is very selective. It made you feel good.

 

Like you have a chip on your shoulder. You’re doing this for a reason. You’re finally getting some credibility and some recognition for all the hard work that you’re putting into this.

 

As many know, powerlifting is not very lucrative. [laughs] Having the money pool, the pool that was in line, I think it was around £250,000. This was a huge prize pool, a lot of money. It did; it had a different feel to it in terms of, “All right, we’re not just lifting to see who the best lifter is. We have some actual cash on a line. Let’s see who can put their best foot forward.”

David TaoDavid Tao

Powerlifting, like many strength sports, it’s been one of those, “You do it for the love of the game” sports, which is why when you talked about falling back in love with powerlifting, you need that every few years because, I could be wrong, but no one’s ever become a billionaire from loading up a barbell and back squatting yet. You know what I mean?

 

There’s a lot of time to go, and it’s growing, but it’s been very much for the love of the game. The stereotype is gritting it out, training by yourself or with a small group, not necessarily getting the press and everything that you deserve. That’s a big reason BarBend exists. We think more of a light needs to be shone upon this.

 

To have something that seemed like it was going to be a powerlifting all-star weekend was like a pretty a cool thing. Is that something that you think could be replicated or something you might like to see happen at the national level as well?

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

In terms of what exactly?

David TaoDavid Tao

The Sheffield was an international meet. On the national level, do you think USAPL, Powerlifting United States, is ready for that kind of big-name meet here at just the national?

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

OK, yes. Got it. I think, personally, the USAPL could do a way better job in terms of marketing, making the lifters feel like, “You just won. You’re the best in America.” I’m not bragging, just giving my stats. I’m a six-time national champion. That’s the USA. I will say at this local meet, I felt more love there at the local level than the national level.

 

Meaning, I had this big-ass trophy that said I was the champion of champions. Meaning, I was the best lifter there. I had the people on the mic that were giving me a lot of love and attention, the crowd.

 

Not saying that national’s crowd isn’t great, but in terms of what the USAPL can do for the national champion, there’s only a select few of us. I feel they could do a better job of giving us a bigger medal or a trophy. We get a medal but no trophy. It’s just bragging rights at that point and, obviously, a seat or a bid for your world nomination.

David TaoDavid Tao

Let’s talk a little bit about the total at the competition in Florida recently. You’re in unchartered territory in your body weight category. It’s something that I’m excited to see you do it on the international stage. It could be a world record, which is interesting.

 

Every time we publish something about this and a national record is higher than a world record or a national lift is higher than a world record lift, we always have to explain in the comments or specifically in the article like you have to do an international competition for it to be a world record.

 

That’s so true across the strength sports. That’s not specific to powerlifting, same with weightlifting.

 

Let’s talk a little bit about that total because it’s the all-time record. It’s heavier than anyone your body weight category has ever lifted on the combined lifts. How does that impact your mental state going into training?

 

When I’m training, I can always look at people who are stronger than me, and I can say, “Oh, I’m aiming toward that.” In many sports, you have that, “I’m aiming toward this.” At this point, you just competing against yourself and the marks that you’ve already set. How do you stay motivated for training that way?

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

That’s a great question. I will say I am the strongest current ever in the IPF and USAPL, drug-tested. There’s others outside that are still ahead of me, and they may have some help.

David TaoDavid Tao

Some help, yeah.

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

The one thing that’s continuing to motivate me — this isn’t a single motivator — Jesse Norris is totaled. Jesse Norris totaled in 2015, I think some ungodly amount. At the time, it was just unheard of, what he did. He’s number one still in the USAPL in terms of the new IPF points system and Wilks.

 

That’s what I’m aiming for, [laughs] is to be the number one. I’m currently number one in the IPF, but Jesse is number one still in the USAPL. That’s one factor. Now that’s out of the way.

 

What continues to truly motivate me is — this is for all aspects of my life — I try not to let any barriers truly set me back, as cliché as that may sound. I like to challenge myself in every single capacity, not just weightlifting or how much weight I can lift in squat, or bench, or deadlift. It’s how much can I put on my plate without breaking?

 

Right now, I have a full-time job. I have powerlifting. I’m going back for my MBA. I have a lot of moving pieces right now. I have a lot of moving pieces but nonetheless, I’m able to handle it, time management. It’s ingrained in me at this point of just wanting to be the best that I truly can be, and again, cliché, but it is.

 

I look at all the successful people in business and sports. They have this tenacity about them, their perseverance. They have this chip on their shoulder. I’ve always been that way as well. Not comparing myself to the greats of any sport because I’d be doing them a disservice, but I like to model myself after them and to see people reach…

 

Honestly — I’m getting philosophical on you here — we have such a short time on this earth that why not try to truly just take on the world, essentially, and do the best that you can. I don’t want to limit myself in that aspect, and I still do. It’s a learning curve. I failed numerous times, but I get back up on my feet and I try again.

 

I continuously fail, try again. It’s a lot of things, but it’s that fear of not failing, it’s just go after it.

David TaoDavid Tao

I will attest to the fact that Taylor is a tenacious and dedicated competitor in all realms of life. I’ve played trivia with him. That’s about as far away from powerlifting as you can get.

 

 I was very glad to have him on my team. I will specify that.

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

[indecipherable 19:35] do that again soon.

David TaoDavid Tao

[laughs] Hopefully, yeah. Bar trivia seems like a little bit of a thing of the past. I hope it circles back around. It’s always a good time.

 

I love that you get philosophical because you do talk about we all have a limited time on Earth, that is a reality. We all have limited times in our chosen careers, hobbies, and passions. In the sporting realm, that’s amplified because we really only have this certain window of prime mobility. Obviously, master supports are great.

 

I will give an addendum. I talked to David Ricks on this podcast a couple of weeks ago. He’s literally twice your age and he’s still internationally competitive in the open category at 61 years old. Limits are also in our mind.

 

Let’s talk about your longevity in the sport. You’re 31. You’re still a young guy, and we’ve seen people in powerlifting excel and get stronger much later in life than their early 30s. Do you have any specific longevity goals or competition duration goals in the sport?

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

Shut up, Dave Ricks.

 

He was actually at the meet that I broke, or I hit the 812 total. We got a picture together, so got a picture with the true goat. My longevity is I just want to make sure that I’m still able to lift [laughs] in my 40s, and 50s, and 60s, and not get out of bed feeling like absolute dog shit with my joints hurting. Right now I feel great, honestly.

 

I’ve met numerous people in their 40s and 50s now that say, “Man, in my 30s, my joints were aching,” and so on and so forth. My coaching team, the strength guys do a great job, Jason Trombley in specific. He has done a great job managing the load capacity. We’re making progress, but not too much progress.

 

That’s a very overlooked piece of programming is it’s just natural for a lifter to want to get as strong as possible as quickly as possible. However, there is again a double-edged sword. If you do that, high risk comes high reward, but your risk is injury. We did that in the beginning in 2015 when I first started, and I got injured.

 

Granted, I don’t think it was truly from overload, but it was from just mismanagement of technique and we weren’t managing some other things. Now we are, so we’re smarter. We’re able to do things, but longevity for sure is just making sure that I can still lift some weight when I am older. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s a good goal for everyone in strength sports. If you’re listening to this and you’re not a powerlifter, this doesn’t just apply to powerlifters.

 

You CrossFitters out there, you weightlifters, you strongman competitors. Take care of yourself. Manage your training volume and intensity because it will come back to bite you. If you don’t take my word for it, you probably shouldn’t take Taylor’s. I’m glad you gave that disclaimer.

 

Let’s talk a little bit about accessories and things you do in recovery. Things you’re doing off the platform and outside of “your normal training” because it all comes together. You have to see it as an ecosystem. Training, nutrition, recovery, sleep. It all adds up to an 812 kilo total.

 

What are some recovery techniques that you like prioritizing? You mentioned sleep. I know it’s very important to you. Are there anything else?

 

I’ve heard a lot of powerlifters who they do contrast showers after every training, etc., not that you necessarily do that, but what are your key recovery technique and priorities?

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

I’m active seven days a week, meaning I have four to five actual working days in the gym, but those two resting days and even one “working day” is due to active recovery. We’re doing a lot of active recovery in the gym, I’m making sure that I’m doing my proper stretches, stability work.

 

Nutrition is another underrated piece of recovery. I make sure that I work with a nutritionist, his name is Kedric Kwan. He’s also with the strength guys, but he has helped me stay on point in terms of making sure I have proper protein, enough energy in the gym if we have to increase carbohydrates, decrease fats.

 

I’m tracking my nutrition, my hydration, tracking my sleep. I have to minimally get seven hours, otherwise I just feel like shit. I’m not saying that I don’t get less than seven hours because sometimes I do, but I certainly make up for that when I can. At least a cumulative week perspective, I try to shoot for over 49 hours of sleep.

 

Then it’s just monitoring my training load. I have to fill out a sheet with my team and let them know how I’m feeling, how the recovery felt. Did I sleep? How much did I sleep? I’m tracking all my nutrition. There’s numerous different factors that we’re truly tracking, and I’m very diligent and good about that.

David TaoDavid Tao

Definitely an analytical approach, which is becoming the new norm. You don’t see many athletes at the top of their game setting all-time drug-tested world records who are like, ”Yeah I just can’t eat anything,” and then I do a water cut. You don’t really hear that these days, which is a bit of a relief because the sport is getting more professionalized.

 

What are the challenges that you face as someone who’s working a full-time job, you’re pursuing a graduate degree…That time management you talked about. How much time are you spending in the gym in each of these sessions, and how are you building your day around your training?

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

Great question. We had to modify…I bring this to my coaches and give them a ton of props because when New York opened back up, we had a limited capacity that we could have in the gym at one time. The gym that I was going to, we had time slots, but the time slots were limited to two hours, so I had to get my SBD days sometimes — squat, bench, deadlifts — done in two hours.

 

I had to be efficient, zero talking. I had to warm-up before I even got to the gym because those two hours I was sprinting to the rack just to get plates loaded on and start the workout. Once New York was a little more lenient, we opened up capacity, we then went away with the two hours time slot. That’s what I had to work with for probably a good two months.

 

Then the last, from August to now, or until last week, I had free reign, but I was still trying to limit myself to around three hours each training session. Again, I’m not training for three hours. I don’t want anyone to get that like, “How are you working out for three hours?” I’m in the gym for three hours, probably resting for two hours, maybe even longer.

 

My actual working, actual work sets, maybe 35 to 45 minutes, but I do need full rest. We’re getting roughly three to five minutes of rest in between each set. Depending on the cumulative workload for that week or that macrocycle, I have to either do five sets, six sets. It’s work intensive, but I try to limit myself to three hours.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s really something to keep in mind that when you get stronger, workouts take longer because you need more rest. Literally loading all the plates on the barbell, if you’re squatting to 225, you throw some plates on, go at it.

 

When you’re loading a lot of calibrated plates on the barbell, it takes time. Your warm ups take time. You’re starting from an empty bar and going from there all the way up to however many hundreds of pounds, 800 pounds on the deadlift. It’s going to take a minute. You’re going to have to do some warm up sets. You can’t go 0, 50 percent, 100.

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

No, not at all. That’s the worst thing about lifting heavy weights.

 

It’s taking the weight on and off. I don’t mind, I will lift it up and down. I’ll pick it up, put it back down as quickly as you want me to, but having to load and unload sucks.

David TaoDavid Tao

Powerlifters love the vertical plane. Moving plates in the horizontal plane, they’re not about that though. That’s the worst part of it.

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

That’s my competitive advantage. I love it.

 

I love it. I’m good at it, so it helps.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s how you get your biceps accessory training. It’s just the plates come on and off. You just really tense up when you do that. That’s the absolute key.

 

Taylor, where’s the best place for people to keep up to date with your training, any future competitions you have coming up, and the best way to follow you?

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

I’m very active on Instagram. You can find me @t_atwood. I post there pretty much daily. You can find me there.

David TaoDavid Tao

I have to say my Twitter account is d_tao, so the first initial, underscore, full last name. It’s the gentleman’s choice, so I do appreciate that. [laughs]

 

Taylor, thank you so much for joining us today. Really, really impressive stuff coming from you.

 

I don’t speak just myself but I speak for everyone when I say we’re really excited to see, as the world hopefully opens back up in 2021, what you’re able to accomplish there. Appreciate you taking the time.

Taylor AtwoodTaylor Atwood

Thank you for having me on.