Hypertrophy Strength

Paul Carter: My Life In Lifts

Paul Carter is a strength and hypertrophy coach, life enthusiast and founder of Lift-Run-Bang. Here’s what he’s learned from powerlifting, bodybuilding and being a proud dad.

Apart from authoring some of the most in-your-face, insightful blog posts (and books) on the pursuit of strength and muscle, Paul Carter’s a coach with years of experience and a wealth of programming available, gratis, online. Here, he tells us why he wishes he’d started focusing on bodybuilding movements earlier, why he doesn’t do mobility – and why he’s full of joy, not rage, when he lifts big.

What’s been your proudest ever moment in the gym – or on a platform?
That’s easy. The time my oldest daughter Hannah, competed with me in a meet, and all the times her and my middle daughter Emily trained with me.

What do you wish you’d started doing earlier?
I’d never have pushed the weight gaining envelope in order to lift more weight. I look back at old videos or pics of myself and it looks like someone shoved a hose up my butt and filled me full of chocolate milk and gravy. When I think back now at all the crap I ate it’s a wonder I didn’t keel over from a heart attack before I retired from powerlifting. The mentality that you take on at that time, is to do whatever it takes in order to lift more weight. And the truth is, gaining a bunch of fat weight is really the easiest way to do that. It’s also the lazy man’s way of accomplishing that. Stuffing yourself full of pizza and burgers and chocolate cake (mmmmm, cake) will certainly boost your numbers. But the whole “get your weight up” mantra has come back to eventually bite everyone I’ve seen adhere to it. By that I mean, they suffer from something health related that forces them to reevaluate things, and often requires drastic changes. And those changes usually takes years to make happen.

It’s true that gaining fat improves your leverages, but you know what else does that? More muscle. In retrospect I wished I had spent more time devoted to blocks of pure bodybuilding that transferred over into my powerlifting than just power-shovelling food and focusing on the big three all year long. But when you buy into that whole “anything more than 5 reps is cardio” mentality you remove a huge piece of the strength training paradigm. More muscle means the potential for a higher strength ceiling. Guys in strength sports should spend part of the year focusing on getting into shape, reducing bodyfat, improving body composition, and building muscle. All of those things make you a better strength athlete without having to take drastic measures later.

I’m not saying don’t have periods where you don’t pound some food to gain muscle, but be honest with yourself about how fat you are. If you have to ask if you’re fat…start your diet yesterday.

What do you do that you don’t think enough people are doing?
Use Google and try stuff myself. No, seriously. I spend a ton of time reading research and articles and almost zero time online arguing with people. It’s pointless. A while back there was this thread where people were arguing over a study about German Volume Training. And there was a debate about whether the study was valid because of this factor or that factor, and it made my head hurt. Finally I did chime in and said that maybe the people arguing should just go try it for themselves. I know that’s an alien concept in this day and age, where I think people value their own input more than self discovery, but it seems to be the norm.

When I was cutting my teeth in the gym basically what you went by was what gym bros told you to do, and what you read out of books and magazines. And you didn’t have the ability to ask a million questions or question how valid everything was, because you were forced to go try it. I’m very thankful that I learned about training in that time because you had to figure out what worked for you, and what didn’t, instead of spending hours online debating about it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of these twerps I see arguing online till kingdom come aren’t in possession of a great deal of muscle. If they put half the amount of effort into their training as they did debating and trolling it’s possible they wouldn’t look like a prepubescent boy on estrogen treatments.

What does (almost) everybody else do that you don’t bother with?
Probably mobility work. People have gone nuts with that. Although I will say it’s not as prevalent as it seemed to be in years past. For three decades I’ve simply used all the movements through a complete range of motion. I wonder if it dawns on people that doing that in itself creates mobility? Well, that and using a myriad of movements. People have to end up doing mobility work most often because some supportive muscle has become short, tight, or weak and the cascade effect from that is pain or not being mobile enough to perform basic movements. Mobility is something that should be used to fix a problem, but there should be corrective actions taken through examination of your training so that you don’t have to keep doing it. If your pre-training ritual consists of stretching, foam rolling, and mobility work for half an hour before you ever slap a 45 on a bar, then maybe you should just take up underwater basket weaving or something less manly. After 30 years of training when I walk into the gym I go right to my first movement, and do a warm up set. I don’t stretch or roll on a ball or do any of that stuff. Can you imagine if strength training existed back when our ancestors had to fight off sabertooth tigers? So many of these strong guys that can’t run a mile without having a heart attack or can’t do a full squat without half an hour of mobility work would be dead instantly.

If you could have one workout with anyone, past or present, who would you choose?
Probably my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I know Christianity is at the forefront of a lot of ridicule these days but the last few years rediscovering my walk in Christ has made my life feel far more complete. I’m not sure what exercise we’d do but in all those pics mocking him they make him super jacked, so probably a bro workout of bench and curl.

What do you focus on during a really big effort – a last heavy set, or massive single, or whatever else demands the most focus from you?
My kids. During the years I needed to tap into something to get me amped, I didn’t do that thing that a lot of lifters do where I summoned anger and fury and rage. I would think about my kids and how much I love them. I know that probably sounds counter-intuitive to most but what I figured out was, getting mentally up for a big lift is about evoking strong emotions. I’ve literally had tears running down my face before a big deadlift by tapping into that. For me I found that channeling the feeling of joy I have for them produced more of that focus and energy I needed before a big set or big weight than getting all ticked off about something did.

Different strokes for different folks.

What has lifting given you that you don’t get anywhere else in life?
Honestly, the ability to reach out and connect with people on things outside of lifting.  Connection is one of the strongest human conditions that we have, and lifting is often just a vehicle for that.  We’re all part meathead, but lost in that is that we all suffer from the same things in life in regards to brokenness and at some point, life experiences.  And I’ve made more mistakes than most.  So being able to connect with so many people on things that are far more important than picking stuff up and putting it down has really been a huge blessing in my life.

My Life In Lifts is a regular interview where we talk to some of the most elite athletes in strength training and bodybuilding history. To see every interview, click here