Max Misch is one of the most physically and mentally tough individuals you will ever meet. He trains hard, is a nationally ranked deadlifter, and has mastered the art of ignoring idiotic Internet chatter. Known on the web as the "Diesel Weasel", Max has a reputation for being a student of the powerlifting game. If a routine or training practice exists, Max either knows about it, or has tried it first hand.
Muscle & Strength: Max, tell me when you started lifting, what drew you to powerlifting, and when you first started posting videos online?
Max Misch: I started lifting in high school to gain weight because I was always very skinny as a teenager. My pediatrician thought that I possibly had anemia, an iron deficiency. Also, I was in an Army program called DEP (Delayed Enlistment Program) for high school students, and was going into the Army after I graduated, so I wanted to become more fit overall. During that time as a junior and senior in high school, I did a combination of weight training, push ups, sit ups, pull ups, and running.
I wasn't lifting consistently while in the Army (September 2001 - November 2003), mainly due to field exercises, tank qualifications, and a combat deployment to Iraq. However, even when I was able to go to the gym, not having clear goals set at that time caused me to slack and miss workouts. After finishing my two-year enlistment, which became two years and a few months as a result of stop-loss, I received an honorable discharge and went back to NYC after being in mostly Texas and Iraq while in the Army.
The following year, in 2004, I started going to college and met a guy there who was about 15 years my senior, José Saavedras. He was doing deadlifts in a corner of the gym, "sweating bullets" as he would say, because it was hot as hell in there, especially when doing squats or deadlifts. José noticed that I was a naturally strong deadlifter, even as a scrawny kid, executing five reps with 315 at a bodyweight of approximately 130 pounds. He asked me if I also did squats. I replied that I haven't done squats for a while, mostly leg press. He said that if I started consistently doing squats again, it would greatly improve my ability to pull more weight from the floor. He was a strong guy who let me use his chalk, so I listened to his advice.
Before powerlifting, I was originally drawn to strongman after failing to make much progress during my pseudo-bodybuilding phase as a lifter. The problem with strongman was that I was always too light for the 175 and 200 weight classes because I was still struggling to gain weight, and usually competing around 155 pounds. Along with that, having a short stature (between 5'5" and 5'6") made certain events more difficult, like the Atlas stones. I competed in a few strongman shows in 2005 and 2006, enjoying the challenge of competing against bigger athletes, but was never too successful.
I started posting videos toward the end of 2004 and became infamous during 2005 and 2006 (around the same time as my foray into strongman) for my horrible deadlift technique of extreme hitching and ramping the barbell. I rationalized to myself and others that this type of lifting wasn't bad because I was a competitive strongman and not a powerlifter, so the spasmodic lifting is fine because you only need to finish the lift in strongman, regardless of any hitching/ramping. During this time, the late Jesse Marunde (2nd place @ World's Strongest Man 2005) approached me online. We met in person on two occasions and he gave me some sound advice regarding strongman and strength training in general.
After going through a period of 2-3 years of lifting weights with atrocious form and being the laughing stock of the online fitness/strength community, I finally decided to prove everyone wrong by drastically improving my lifting form enough to be able to compete in a sanctioned powerlifting meet. I entered an APF meet in May 2008 and I've been competing in various federations ever since that one, gradually improving each individual lift, along with my three-lift total.
Muscle & Strength: You were taking heat from some pretty big names in the industry, including Jim Wendler. Even to this day, guys are posting your old videos on lifting forums and making fun of the "old" Max Misch. But now you are a top-ranked deadlifter.
Max, what I want to know is, where does your motivation and drive come from? I mean heck, you could have easily taken down your old videos and created a new Internet persona. Yet you stand up, man up, and refuse to run and hide.
What drives you and motivates you? What makes you train on in the face of adversity instead of running and hiding like lesser men would have done?
Max Misch: I think that I have always had a "prove them wrong" mentality, similar to an underdog who intends to shock everyone who doubted him. I was able to harness the negativity of the trolls and haters, channel it into my efforts under the bar, and reap the benefits: personal records in the gym and on the platform, along with national records and national rankings in powerlifting.
Another factor in my lifting success was that the Army instilled plenty of the "never quit" attitude which allowed me to persevere through the adversity of brutal workouts, tough competitions, painful injuries, and of course, the onslaught from the aforementioned trolls/haters.
Roger Ling (1983-2004), one of my best friends in grade school, who enlisted in the Army with me and later died in Iraq, has been with me since the earliest Diesel Weasel days. He was my first training partner in the gym, while we were in high school. God bless him.
More recently, my girlfriend, Susan, has been very brave and strong while fighting cancer, and she has been a huge source of motivation. I'm looking forward to when she can be at another meet with me, after she is victorious in her battle.
Muscle & Strength: I want to ask you about natural strength training. Much is said about how a natural bodybuilder should train differently from a steroid using bodybuilder. Yet the topic of natural powerlifting is rarely addressed.
What have you learned about natural powerlifting? Are there any ways a natural should train that are different from how a steroid using powerlifter should train? And are there any powerlifting training approaches (Sheiko, Westside, whatever) that you believe are better suited for steroid users?
Max Misch: I have never used anabolic steroids, so I don't have the experience from the "dark side", only natural powerlifting. However, after reading plenty on the subject and talking to a bunch of my fellow lifters, it seems that the main benefit one gets from 'roiding is that the body (i.e. muscle, connective tissue, and central nervous system) recuperates more quickly, which allows for more frequent training at higher intensities (percentage of one rep max).
For example, during the past few years, I mostly trained 3-4 days per week, usually not venturing past 90% of my 1RM unless I was competing in a meet or testing my 1RM in the gym, neither occurring often. If I was on AAS, it would probably be more like 5-6 days per week, using the same or higher intensity (greater than 90%) in each gym session, while not feeling overtrained or burned out.
Consequently, in order to be successful, a natural powerlifter needs to choose a training program/routine that gives them enough time to recover between workouts and not cause them to work with percentages that are too high for too long. The optimal training frequency/intensity depends on the individual, so experimentation is required. This does not change regardless of the source of the programming, whether a lifter chooses something that he gets from the Internet, Powerlifting USA, a friend, or a custom routine which he created.
Muscle & Strength: I want to ask you about your competition history. Can you tell me when you started competing, what some of your big accomplishments have been, and what your long term goals are?
Max Misch: My first powerlifting meet was in the APF, May 2008. I was in the 181 class and totaled 1005, making a novice mistake during the bench press which cost me 40 pounds.
In my third meet, March 2009, again in the SSA, but this time in the 165 class (along with every meet after this one), I achieved my first 500 deadlift and 1100 total as a 165 lifter with exactly 1100.
A few months later (June), in another SSA meet, I pulled a huge 25 pound meet PR of 525 and got an 1140 total in the 165s, along with Male Best Lifter award. That deadlift would've put me on the raw lifter rankings at PowerliftingWatch.com, but the SSA didn't have a raw division when I competed in that meet. However, it was enough to secure a #76 deadlift (165 class) on the annual Top 100 list of Powerlifting USA magazine which doesn't differentiate between raw and equipped lifters.
I didn't do well in my August SSA meet. I thought that there wasn't enough time after the June meet, but my training partner was competing, so I decided to do just the deadlift. I was successful only with my deadlift opener of 495, failing 535 twice, tearing a callous in the process, which left blood on the bar. I believe part of went wrong was that the meet was held outside and I could feel too much heat from the sun when doing my deadlift warm-up sets.
After that, I did my first meet in the WNPF, December 2009. I was coming back from a lumbar (lower back) strain that occurred approximately one month prior to the meet, as a result of doing deadlifts and atlas stones on consecutive days. My total (1130) was 10 pounds less than my PR in June, but I managed to successfully pull 530. That deadlift put me on the PowerliftingWatch.com raw lifter rankings for the first time. I was tied with one other lifter for #18 in 2009, when the year ended.
My most recent meet was at the end of March 2010 in the WNPF. It was my best overall performance since I began competing, two years ago. I got my first 400 squat in the 165s, a PR deadlift of 535, and a PR total of 1160. I currently have the #19 PLWatch raw deadlift (165 class) for 2010 and the #20 spot in the rankings that include both 2009 and 2010 together.
I entered all of those meets either in raw divisions or wearing just a belt, knee sleeves, and singlet in a fed that didn't have a raw division.
My long-term goal is to achieve an elite raw classification in the 165 class. I need to get at least a 1298 total to accomplish that. Also, I want to be in the Top 10 for the raw deadlift in the 165s on PowerliftingWatch. The current range is 650 to 570.
Max Misch WNPF American Cup - 3.27.2010
Muscle & Strength: Can you tell me about some of the training approaches and systems you've employed during the last several years. What has worked well for you, and which of the systems/approaches have you run the longest, and which were the most ineffective for you?
Max Misch: I've tried a wide variety of different training methodologies over the past few years – Coan/Phillipi deadlift routine, Brad Gillingham deadlift program, German Volume Training for the squat, 5x5 for the squat, 20-rep squats, Boris Sheiko system, 5/3/1 from Jim Wendler, and a bunch of others.
I ran the Boris Sheiko system the longest and it was also the most effective at improving my powerlifting total. I used Sheiko immediately after my first meet in May 2008 until my June 2009 meet, so it was slightly over one full year of continuous Sheiko. My total improved from 1005 to 1140 while going down from the 181 to 165 weight class. The only two criticisms I have are that the duration of training sessions last longer than most other routines and they tend to become tedious because it's very repetitive, week after week. If patience is a virtue that you possess, give it a try.
Along with Sheiko, I highly recommend the Brad Gillingham deadlift program because that was also instrumental in improving my strength, specifically in regards to the deadlift. I used it various times throughout the past 3-4 years. BGDL works very well because it has you alternating between the deadlift and rack pull, week after week. The benefit of this is that your lower back and nervous system can fully recover after the weeks when you're pulling from the floor until the next deadlift week, two week later, while also working the lockout which helps those (like me) who struggle with finishing the deadlift.
I hesitate to have a negative opinion of any particular method of training, mainly for two reasons:
- My lifting form and technique could've still been developing.
- Maybe I didn't use the routine long enough to get results.
The only two popular types of programming that I haven't tried are Westside and Smolov. My apprehension regarding Westside is that it seems like it's intended mainly for equipped powerlifters. I've steered clear of Smolov because it's supposed to significantly boost your squat at the expense of the other two lifts which, for some people, get reduced.
Muscle & Strength: I want to explore several popular statements and get your opinion on them:
- Low reps build strength but not muscle.
- Powerlifters must overeat to gain strength.
- The more volume you perform, the bigger and stronger you get.
Max Misch: If you eat enough food and have a high caloric surplus, even a training protocol with very low reps will be hypertrophic (i.e. increase muscle size), as long as the intensity (i.e. weight on the bar) is sufficient to consistently tax your nervous system and muscles, week after week. Don't believe me? Look at many of the elite-level powerlifters. The overwhelming majority of them have physiques packed with slabs of thick, dense muscle.
Overeating is not required to induce strength gains in powerlifters. However, they still need to eat a healthy amount of all three macronutrients – protein, carbohydrate, and fat. If he/she consumes too much protein and not enough carbs/fats, protein will be utilized as an inefficient energy source instead of its primary job of repairing tissue (e.g. muscle, skin, tendons) and will hamper the ability of the body to recover between training sessions, along with gaining strength.
Volume is more crucial for size gains, not as much in regards to strength. Granted, many powerlifting programs, particularly those from the Soviets, have the lifter performing various sets of a given number of reps per set, such as 6-8 sets of 2-4 reps with 75-85%, in the case of Sheiko. This is usually based on Prilepin's Table/Chart.
Conversely, there are other training systems that just have one or two max-effort sets. Two examples of this type are Wendler's 5/3/1 and Gillingham's deadlift routine. The caveat here is that there tends to be higher volume done with the accessory exercises, such as good mornings, shrugs, rows, etc.
As you can clearly see, there is more than one way to get stronger.
Max Misch Deadlifting Highlights - Meet Compilation
Muscle & Strength: Any advice for a young lifter who wants to train for powerlifting out the gate? There aren't too many "beginner powerlifting workouts" floating around. How would you recommend that a young trainee eat and train for the first year if strength is the goal?
Max Misch: Focus on the basic lifts, primarily the squat, bench press, deadlift, standing press, parallel-bar dip, pull-up, barbell/dumbbell row, and good morning. These movements, and variations of each one, should comprise the nucleus of your training program, regardless of the set/rep scheme or training system.
Use a basic routine with progressive resistance, such as 5x5 (five sets of five reps), that has you striving toward a given amount of reps and sets with any particular weight. Once you complete the prescribed number of reps/sets, you gradually add weight to the bar, usually 5-10 pounds depending on the lift.
Don't be afraid to experiment with different variations of squat/deadlift stance (space between your feet), direction/angle that your toes are pointing, hand placement on the bar, trying both conventional and sumo for the deadlift, and other ways of tweaking your technique.
Don't worry about bench shirts or squat/deadlift suits. In the beginning, just consistently go to the gym 3-5 times per week, don't miss training sessions, and execute the lifts properly.
In terms of nutrition, eat lots of dead animals. Then eat more dead animals. People make this more complicated than it should be.
Muscle & Strength: What are some of the best things about powerlifting, and what are some of the worst or most challenging?
Max Misch: The best things about powerliting? The satisfaction gained from personal records, both in training and competition. Getting recognition online and in print after a good performance. Proving the e-haters wrong and far surpassing them. Viewing the progression of my lifts from my first meet, and even earlier than that, to the present. Also, meeting cool people such as yourself, Steve.
The worst or most challenging things? Sustaining injuries, especially those that occur shortly before an upcoming meet. Occasional poor performances in the gym and on the platform. Lack of popularity in the U.S. for strength sports such as powerlifting, especially compared to Europe. Competing can be expensive, when combining the cost of traveling, possibly a hotel, membership to the fed, and entry fee.