March 2010: Interview with Matt Smith

by on March 24, 2010

It is my pleasure to interview Matt Smith for our first interview. For those of you who don’t know Matt, he is one of the best powerlifters I have ever met (like best in the world good). I especially like Matt because he is a class guy. He is very humble, always willing to help people, and just one of those gentle guys that you like talking too. Put him in the gym though, and say bye-bye to the good guy. He turns into an animal.

JOHN: Matt, tell us a little bit about where you grew up and about your sports background.

MATT: I am from Somerset, Ohio. I graduated from Sheridan High School. While in school I played football and began lifting weight for football but never competed in weightlifting until years later.

JOHN: What eventually got you into powerlifting? Why that sport?

MATT: Well I have never been one to just go to the gym and do the “Jane Fonda” workout. Every time I worked out I always went with the intent of lifting more weight than the last time I was there. That’s just how I am. One thing leads to another and I found my way to training the right way at Westside to make me as strong as possible.

JOHN: Westside barbell is in my opinion, the best place on the planet to learn powerlifting, and they have the brightest mind ever in powerlifting there coaching, Louie Simmons. What’s it like training with Louie?

MATT: Louis is an innovator. He fixes problems. He can look at anything you are doing, identify the weakness, and figure out a way to fix it. That’s why he is so good. He is intense; I have a ton of respect for Louie. I would give my left arm for him.

JOHN: That’s awesome to hear. I don’t think people fully grasp the tremendous impact Louie has had in regards to strength enhancement. He has a constant wave of strength coaches and elite athletes from all over the world in line to learn from him.

JOHN: Tell me about your best lifts.

MATT: My best lifts are 1160 squat, 749 bench, 850 deadlift, and a 2673 total.

JOHN: How does that compare to the first meet you ever did?

MATT: I started competing in late 1996. My first meet I squatted I think if I remember correctly 455, 405 bench, and 475 deadlift but that was a long time ago.

JOHN: What titles, records and achievements did you accumulate in your powerlifting career?

MATT: I still have a top ten all time highest total and squat, I placed 2nd in 2005 and 3rd in 2006 at the WPO/Arnold Classic Finals, 2nd in 2002 and 1st/Best lifter in 2006 at the APF Senior Nationals. Those are the main things that I can remember.

JOHN: Can you describe your training philosophy for our readers?

MATT: I follow typical Westside training protocol, because it works. Dynamic/Speed workouts on Sunday and Friday and max effort workouts on Monday and Wednesday. I am finding I have better results when I keep my weights lighter on speed days and focus on volume, and leave the heavy lifting for the max effort days.

JOHN: What exercises are your favorites on dynamic speed day? What reps? What are rest periods between sets?

MATT: For bench I rotate straight weight, chains, and bands every 2 weeks for 8 sets of 3 reps with about 15-20 seconds rest between sets on the flat bench using a straight bar.

For squat I rotate straight weight, chains, and bands every 2 weeks for 8 sets of 2 reps with about 30-45 seconds rest between sets. On the dynamic day for squats, I utilize a variety of bars including the buffalo bar, safety squat bar, 14″ cambered bar, and a mastodon straight bar and all squats are done off a box you lower yourself to and relax for a split second on the box before firing back up. This breaks the eccentric/concentric phrases of the lift creating greater explosive strength.

JOHN: Can you describe how you use chains for our readers?

MATT: I use the chains by hanging them from the bar such that they deload on the ground in the eccentric phase of a lift and load in the concentric phase of a lift. This is used for accommodating resistance. Due to changing leverage angles, lifts become easier the closer you get to completion. The chains accommodate for this and force you to strain thru the entire lift, where with straight weight you would begin to coast as you get closer the completion.

JOHN: How about the band work?

MATT: The bands are used in the same way but they are different in that they utilize overspeed eccentrics. The chains are a dead weight whereas bands are a force accelerating the eccentric phase of a lift faster than the force of gravity. This helps to create greater reversal strength.

JOHN: What are the dominant exercises in your routine?

MATT: For bench, the main exercises I choose for the include: reverse band press, floor press, floor press with chains, 2, 3, and 4 board press, board presses with bands. These are among the many max efforts exercises used for the bench. For squat, the main exercises I choose include a variety of different types of good mornings. They account for 60% of all my max effort exercises on this day. A variety of different types of low box squats account for 30% of all my max effort exercises on this day, and some type of deadlift accounts for 10%. On max effort days, it depends on how far out from a meet I am whether I do max set of 3 or singles. The farther out from a meet, I do max sets of 3. As I close in on meet day I do more max singles.

JOHN: How many meets do you compete in a year?

MATT: Usually I do about 3.

JOHN: How do you peak that many times a year? Do you do percent training and work up your percentages, add or decrease volume etc?

MATT: With the Westside method of training you pretty much are ready year round but to be at your very strongest volume decreases and the percentages would increase. For me it’s not so much the bar weight increasing as it is the band tension increasing, as the band tension helps with the last part of the movement (the lockout on bench presses for example).

JOHN: Do you compete equipped or unequipped or both?

MATT: Equipped. I am sponsored by Ken Anderson Powerlifting. I use the Titan gear for all three lifts.

JOHN: Who is the most impressive lifter you competed against?

MATT: I would have to say Andy Bolton. 1108 dead lift just sets you apart from the rest.

JOHN: Wow – 1108 deadlift – that is sick.

JOHN: Like bodybuilding, powerlifters get their share of injuries. Have you had any major injuries?

MATT: I detached my left bicep training for the Powerstation Pro/Am in 2007. Then in 2008 while training for the Powerstation Pro/Am, in a work related accident, I broke my neck and herniated the disk between C7 and T1.

JOHN: Wow, that sounds serious, are you going to be able to come back from it?

MATT: My next meet is in August at the next Powerstation Pro/AM. As for numbers, right now it is up in the air. Since breaking my neck 2 years ago, my lifting has been in the dumpster. Things I am currently working on include flexibility in my hips, strengthening my upper back and left arm, getting my speed/explosiveness back in my squat, and increasing my work capacity. I have found that, for me, when I starting going heavier on my speed squat days, I start, over time, to lose my flexibility in my hips and began to not be able to push my knees out which further led to me rounding over in the bottom of the squat. Going too heavy on speed days also led to me losing my explosiveness. The speed just isn’t there anymore and it is because I am too tight. There has to be a balance. If you’re too flexible it affects strength but likewise if you’re too tight it affects strength. When I broke my neck, the herniated disk pinched the nerve affecting my left shoulder (upper back) and down my left arm. Since, it has been an uphill battle to regain the strength and stability in these areas. For me, I have been using a lot of bands to overload the top of the bench to work the triceps area. Also, I have used kettle bells and chains, which has helped me with stability. I do this by hanging the kettle bells and chains from the bar such that they never touch the floor. Also, I have been working on my work capacity. More work sets, less rest time in between sets, and increasing overall tonnage lifted. This leads to better conditioning. The better conditioned an athlete is the better they are at recovering from workouts.

JOHN: I love your comment about conditioning. Many people assume you have to sit around between heavy sets to get stronger and grow. Not true!

JOHN: You mentioned hip flexibility, what are you doing to help with that?

MATT: Lighter weights on my speed days. Lightening up the weight and working on form and speed/explosiveness has helped me to work on flexibility. They go hand in hand. Lack of flexibility hinders explosiveness.

JOHN: What is your #1 or most prestigious meet you ever competed in your career?

MATT: The Arnold Classic. Nothing else is like it. Sure there have been meets with just as much competition but the excitement of the Arnold was unreal.

JOHN: What are you shooting for moving forward in your powerlifting career?

MATT: At this point I could care less about titles. It is just about bettering yourself in each lift over the last time you competed.

JOHN: Matt, it has been a pleasure. Thank you for the great information you have provided to us. We will see you tearing it up again soon! We will get an update out to our readers after your next meet to let everyone know how you did!

MATT: Thank you John! It has been my pleasure as well! See you soon!