If you could piece together the perfect natural strength athlete, combining determination, intelligence, and raw raging strength - this athlete would look something like Tony Gilgamesh. Body By Gamma, as he is known on the Internet, is much more than a lifter. Tony is an inspiration to all that know him, and a man's man; a seasoned warrior who puts asides all excuses, and enters every battle expecting victory.
Muscle & Strength: Tony, tell us a bit about your background. Were you involved with athletics prior to powerlifting and strongman, and what lead to your involvement in these sports?
Tony Gilgamesh: Having asthma as early as I can remember, I wasn't encouraged to play any sports or be too active. For the most part, I stayed at home and played video games and this went on until high school. In high-school I had a girlfriend, lots of buddies, so I just started being more active and getting out of the house.
In Sophomore year I was put into weight training class instead of regular gym and fell in love with it right away. I stared seeing changes, started feeling stronger, and in control. I was always pretty big for my size in comparison to most others. I wasn't too tall but you figure a 16-17 year old over 200lbs at 5'10 isn't too small.
Ever since I always received lots of encouragement to lift weights from everyone around me, friends and family alike, but it wasn't until senior year in high school that I started to get serious about my lifting. I had a very bad temper, a dangerous temper, and would just go berserk. Both my grandparents who I loved dearly and helped take care of died the last two prior summers before this one, and this summer before I started as a senior, me and my girlfriend of almost 3 years decided to break up, so I had a lot of frustration.
I joined a gym for the few months I had off and changed my body during the summer. Then once school started I got myself into weight training class and joined a rec center with weights with some pals and brothers of iron I had made. I used to sneak into the weight room because I was only 17 at the time, but I was big and looked older so I didn't have much trouble. During that time, all I did was eat, sleep and train. I would workout two times a day, two to three times a week, and worked out five days a week. I never worked out for too long, I just chose a body part and obliterated it.
I had no idea what I was doing training or programing wise, but I brought the right amount of intensity and volume to make it work. If I saw something new, I tired it. I tried everything. Every rep scheme, every partial method, made movements up, and just tried to put more and more weight on each week, no excuses. At the end of my senior year I had put on 50lbs, 25lbs in 6 months and another 25lbs the next 6 months. I was hooked.
Once I went to college, I joined a gym and met a valuable training partner with the same goals as me named Jack. We both witnessed a former powerlifter bench press 455lbs raw with a pause, easy peasy, both asked him questions and started training together. This is how I got into powerlifting. I wanted to be big and strong, and bench pressing, squatting and deadlifting where the ways to get there.
We would host mini unsanctioned competitions each month to see who was the strongest, or made the most progress. We were very competitive. The first time I ever properly deadlifted meaning not stiff legged I pulled 475lbs, it was my best lift and my most favorite. I also was a firm believer in overhead pressing, and always had a strong strict and behind the neck press for the average gym rat. We all started pushing heavier and heavier loads of iron and eventually attracted stronger and stronger guys.
One guy who stumbled in to our little gym was an amateur strongman competitor. He was only 200lbs, but he was tall and as strong as an ox. I remember the first time he shook my hand and I felt he was going to crush it. His name was Andrew. We also had found an oval/egg shaped stone that we weighed out to be 280lbs that no one could lift. He picked it up with such ease his first try, I knew powerlifting was not enough.
I wanted to be strong at everything. No weakness, no excuses, no disciplines or favoritisms. I was 19 years old at this time, and started training with him. He mentioned a strongman contest coming up in New Jersey, and I signed on full force, not knowing what I was up against. You can go here to my blog for a write up: http://bodybygamma.blogspot.com/2010/04/my-first-strongman-competition.html.
Shortly after that competition I lifted that manhood stone with such pride, joy and determination; my forearms were ripped to shreds but I would not be denied.
I wanted to be a strongman, and doing some feats that I have seen my heroes on ESPN do; I was hooked and motivated beyond belief. I later joined one of the biggest powerlifting gyms in New York City, Coliseum Gym with my friend Andrew; Together we got strongman equipment which lead the owner to host New York City's First Amateur Strongman Show in over 9 years going last October. It had lots of setbacks but it was a start. I thought it was good for the sport that lots of people could view and even some crazy few participate and see what its all about. Lifting heavy stuff and challenging one's self.
One thing that helped us get the equipment was us meeting Derek Poundstone at the 1st Battle at the Barn competition. I told him how we had a few pieces of strongman equipment, farmers handles and an axle, but that it would be nice to have a full set of strongman events, so he signed an autograph to the gym saying it needed new strongman equipment. A few months later we got it. It was very nice seeing and briefly talking to one of the top guys in the sport today. Seeing him close up put into perspective the dedication and determination one must have to rise in the sport.
What got me into competing in powerlifting, even though I did the powerlifts, was my friend Eric. He convinced me to attend a bench press seminar by Matt Rhodes and Vincent Dizenzo. They were so helpful in not just fixing up my bench press, but teaching me about proper technique and set up, programing and planning, preparation and a whole slew and array of tips and tricks I had lacked prior going into competitions or training which really helped and carried over to all my other lifts.
What stood out the most though was the one principle they followed. The purpose was to Smash F'ing Weights. The most simple, barbaric and true to one's self goal a strongman could ever wish to achieve. What made me compete officially in powerlifting, was going back to my roots.
Muscle & Strength: Can you tell me about your current training philosophies, and how you came to lift like you do now?
Tony Gilgamesh: I used to be an absolute berserker in the gym, very similar to Chaos and Pain style training. Just went in the gym with an idea and a vengeance of a Viking war god ready to let out some rage on an unsuspecting barbell. I was younger, reckless, dumber, and really loved training back then.
Now I am more methodical, more planned, because I can't always be motivated, I can't always lift heavy, or be one hundred and ten percent, but if I have a good head on my shoulders, I can be lifting heavier longer. Now I believe lift smarter not harder.
My lifting philosophy, much like everyone else's, is that it is a lifestyle. What you do is a part of you and it will reflect your every action with a counter action. You are your maker.
If you are always tired and sick, so will be your lifting. You must learn you body and plan around it. Accept that this is in fact a lifestyle and that you must allow your training to adapt and evolve with you.
There will be ups and there will be downs, but at the end of it all you must find the balance. Make a strong foundation and you can always rebuild, and fortify. Make it weak and you will fail fall and crumble under the weight.
I try to plan smart...TRY. Sometimes I do things just to do it and gauge myself. See what my body can handle. Then I let it rest and while I rest I plan. I figure out my strengths and weaknesses. Read books and articles to add to my tactics to be prepared for the next attack. I plan my strategy for the overall war. Battles will be won and lost, but the war wages on.
When my life is hard, I ease up on training. I let myself heal and recover, physically, emotionally and mentally. I don't beat myself up and more - I don't force or push myself to hard. I let things take there course and plan for when I am better.
Once I am in fact feeling better, I SMASH F'ing Weights with the wrath of the almighty Thor himself, with a determination as iron a will as the ores on Crom's mountain. I came to lift the way I lift now through very simple means. Trial and error, gradual progression and evolution.
Muscle & Strength: What are some of the biggest training mistakes you've made?
Tony Gilgamesh: In my youth overtraining was the big one. I simply did not give myself enough time to rest recover and grow. By undermining the damage one does to their body is to underestimate the full effectiveness of one's training. I used to think I needed to go to the gym 4-5 times a week to get stronger, but I didn't squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, etc., as often as I did now, with numbers all within the 70+% of my one rep max.
Now 2-3 times a week is ample, hell sometimes once a week if it's a competition or a heavy max out day. There are so many factors people easily forget: the central nervous system, the joints, tendons, ligaments, fast/slow twitch muscles, immune system and so on. They don't all recover at the same time, so one must be prepared to make due with what can not be undone.
Another big one was not having enough days dedicated to rehab/prehab/general preparedness/flexibility/mobility and longevity work should be done more frequently. Foam rolling, stretching, hell just walking a little bit extra each day all makes a big difference. Contrast hot/cold showers, ice and Epsom salt baths,etc... The list goes on.
I would say all my prior listed mistakes all occurred because of: training without a program, plan or even a damn idea of what I was going to do. Or how I was going to do it. Form, technique, the ability to identify strengths and weaknesses is the most important thing to develop. I neglected in my youth as well. I just wanted to be strong, and muscled everything up until I almost got injured or it just stopped working and I stalled out.
The biggest remedy to all this was quite simple though: Keep a training log to review what works and what doesn't. Read a crap ton of articles, ebooks, books, online advice, etc. Learn from those stronger and more knowledgeable than you, find who's the best at what you want to get better in and see what they do. Lot of it is trial and error, but some of it is just being perceptive. It's hard to explain but the most important thing in life/lifting and Smashing, is to listen to one's body, learn how it functions, and keep it healthy and active.
Muscle & Strength: Why do you believe there are so many false myths about powerlifting. For example, recently on a forum I saw someone ask if they could be a powerlifter without being fat. People also believe that low rep training, and powerlifting, doesn't build muscle. What do you have to say about myths like this?
Tony Gilgamesh: You can blame Muscle and Fitness fads, as well as Hollywood and the media for that stigma-tism of strength and those who have it. The main thing a powerlifter cares about being strong in the 3 disciplines: squat, bench press and deadlift.
Most commonly, and this is more true with raw lifters, is that the heavier guys lift the heaviest weights. HOWEVER, this is not to say that most elite powerlifters are fat; just my perspective on why the average person thinks that way. Look at Ed Coan, Kirk Karwoski, Stan Efferding, Konstantin Konstantinovs, and the list goes on of "non-fat" yet very strong and capable powerlifters. However you have your Lee Morans, Scott Cartwrights, and Brain Siders just the same (to list a few) who are considered fat, but are just MASSIVE.
You see these juiced up bodybuilders who look larger than life in these fad magazines lifting weights a female high school cheerleader could lift, but in either case, no one is looking at the weight lifted. Main reason being because they are dieting and are prepping for/ or just have completed a show where they have depleted most of there body fat to dramatic levels and now they are much weaker than they would be normally, which also leads the average person to believe well then they need to just get fatter to regain there strength. Which has some truths to it, but just as many falsehoods.
To answer the second part of the question, aside from Powerlifters, most Olympic lifters seldom ever do more than 3 reps for most exercises. They utilize fast twitch fibers over slow twitch and also use higher volume training/more sets to make up for it. My argument is show me a non-muscular powerlifter or Olympic lifter.
The muscles are there, they are just not as grossly defined and detailed when compared to their low carb, high cardio, always dieting, "pharmacist" bodybuilder counterparts and MTV models that we see all over television, magazine and Internet advertisements.
It's funny... I can write a whole bunch on this topic but two letters can completely cover how I feel about this myth: BS!
Muscle & Strength: If a you were to train a skinny "hardgainer" beginner who wanted muscle and strength, how would you make him train, and what would you make him eat?
Tony Gilgamesh: First thing I'd tell him/her to do is what my best friend who posts under the forum name BeerWarMaster did to get from a decently fit 135lbs, to a pretty strong 170-180lbs in about 3-4 years. Which is basically eat big and lift bigger.
Everyone's body is different, but I personally went from 200lbs to 250lbs in a year during my senior year of high school because all I did was train 4-5 times a week, sometimes twice a day, sleep as much as I needed, sometimes taking 2-3 hour naps after school before training and an additional 6-9 hours at night, sometimes more. Also I failed to mention I would drink about, or should I say at least 1 gallon of milk, (half of that was chocolate milk) daily, no excuses, 2-6 burgers at Burger King and/or Wendy's, and 2-4 packets of Ramen noodles with about 4-8 eggs just thrown in or on the side, plus my normal 2-3 meals I would eat. I packed on weight fast. If you're a hardgainer, do what easy gainers do best, PACK ON THE SUGARS, CARBS, FATS, CALORIES and everything else.
It's not hard at all. A lot of it is bro science: about 3500 calories adds up to about 1 pound. So add 500 calories to your diet daily, that is about 1 lb a week. Now it's not always that easy, but it's not that hard either. When there is a will there is a way. Lactose intolerant? Get some pills and stop being a biased weakling, or get goat's milk. Soy is for the animals we kill and eat. Sorry vegans/vegetarians need not apply.
Don't want to get fat? All I see is big and small. Take some chances, hire a nutritionist and do it the healthy way. But eat damn you - eat! Eat before you sleep. Wake up and eat and go back to sleep. Do the opposite of what every fitness magazine says not to do in order to lose weight. It's not rocket science. If you still have trouble, find the fattest person you can and follow there diet for a few weeks. Find those with experience, trade off, they help you get bigger, you help them get in decent shape. Just work your butt off so you don't become Jabba the Hutt.
One of my friends was shopping in a whole foods vegan store, my friend was about 210lbs of mostly visible muscle, everyone who ask him WHAT THE HELL DO YOU EAT!? And he would respond MEAT! I just shop here for my wife! True story. They don't call us meat heads because we eat lettuce and carrots by the gallon. Hell the Vikings used to eat blood sausages over anything green, because grass is for animals! Who needs appendixes anyway, right!
All my kidding around aside, gaining weight is just like everything else in life. There are goals and there are obstacles, some common to everyone, some unique to the individual, but when there is a will there is a way.
Muscle & Strength: You are one of the strongest young naturals I know. Why have you decided to avoid the dark side (drugs)?
Tony Gilgamesh: First off thank you, that statement humbles me. I take a bit of pride being as strong as I am young as I am and not taking any drugs, and barely any supplements, but the temptations to see how I would progress are out there. Still there are a few reasons I don't.
The most honest reason right now is the lack of discipline with my diet and lack of care, steady training partners and time frames, etc... I barely take supplements anymore which is hard on my recovery, but doesn't effect my strength much, so I neglect it. If I can't even bring myself to take my fish oil because of the taste, the multivitamins and glutamine in the pills because thanks to Animal Pak, pump and flex all at one time, the thought of taking more than 5 pills makes me nauseous. and etc...
In order to justify taking it to the next level, I need to train like a machine. Not miss any days. 3-4 Days a week heavy lifting, 2 days a week cardio and recovery work, and the rest for rest. I would need to fix my diet to make whatever I took work optimally, which takes time and money I don't have right now. It would be too big a lifestyle change.
There are many things I need to get down pat before I go skipping steps. To me drugs/steriods/anabolics/juice etc. - any way you call it, is the final step to pro card; to elite. To god hood. I don't see it as a means to look bigger or better, that in my mind is stupid and juvenile. I see it as a way to increase the longevity of my reckless and angry lifestyle, so I can do what I love for a longer time, and hold off injury.
I push myself so hard, sacrificed so much, all for a goal that puts me through hell and back for the most minimal of gains. And I feel while the body gets stronger, the mind is getting worn down.
The central nervous system is shutting down, the fatigue settles in, and the motivation is suddenly gone. Morally I view myself as a boy turned man on the verge of becoming a hero, all I need is that magical potion, but I haven't reached that part of my quest yet where I have earned it. Also I am still young and it would be more optimal for my test levels if I took them in my mid 20's. Twenty-four+.
I always think of the bigger picture. I don't want to be a strong gym rat all my life, I want to be a pro someday. I am not saying the world's strongest man, but to be a contender. To have a valid shot. To achieve childhood dreams of grandeur and madness! To be able to flip over cars, and lift huge 400+ stones overhead. To take drugs now means a lot more sacrifices. I just turned 21 and now can legally drink. I have more then 10 older, way older friends who have waited long and hard for that to be possible, I don't want to deny myself the freedoms of fire water. Also, I am a full time college student, finishing up my last year, working on getting my criminology minor and my bachelors in security management. I am so close and don't want any distractions. Between school and training, because I train, I don't workout.
I train hard, squatting and deadlifting the same day, sometimes both to absolute max effort and if I can still walk, finding time for assistance work. Naturally it's tough. You know how I do it. I always have Friday off. So I lift my butt off Thursday force myself to eat a big meal before I sleep for 12 to 14+ hours. So it's like two rest days, waking up like a starving cripple who has to crawl out of bed and into a contrast shower just to function.
It sucks, I don't go out more then once a week for anything social if that much, during school and training season as I call it. I don't talk to most of my friends. I focus on school, sleep and training. If I am low on money I look for ways to make it, but I have no time for a job or distractions. I am good at saving up my money so I survive, but its through so much sacrifice. No time for girls, but I'll tell you when they break your heart, you gain a lot of rage, set lots of new PRs and save a lot of money on supplements.
I feel like drugs/steroids are the easy way out and would be wasted on me right now. I have come so far already naturally, and feel I can push myself to my limits and surpass them for a bit more. Also it would bother and hurt the hell out of my parents, who are old and depending on me to help them out and take care of them as soon as college is done. I don't want them worrying about health risks.
Also, I haven't went to a doctor in over two years and refuse to go, since I am seldom ever sick for more than a day, and don't want to hear about my weight or my blood pressure. Back to finances and lifestyles, I am aiming for a career not a job, and a profession, not a hobby, but it's hard. The economy the way it is, and the way New York City is, it's hard. Everything is so fast paced. A New York Minute is the equivalent to a nano second.
I just am not willing to take the risks right now, legal and physical. I have plenty of time to read up more on it. Let others I know experiment and reap the rewards and side effects and help guide me. I have a lot of strong(er) friends who have helped me get stronger and am grateful for that kind of guidance and motivation and make it a personal goal to pay my knowledge forward so to speak. I am drifting off topic a bit, but for me it's all relevant. This is a life choice for me, so I am not ready to make such a big step just yet.
Muscle & Strength: Tell us about your life away from the iron. What keeps you busy, what are some of your passions, and when you sit down for a big meal, what do you eat?
Tony Gilgamesh: I answered part of this in the last question but allow me to go more in depth. I am a thinker and a doer. The nickname Body By Gamma, is an Incredible Hulk reference, not purely for his strength induced by rage, quite like my own, but that fact this gift/curse happened to a thinking individual. When I am not hulking about I am quite philosophical and am always trying to increase my intellect by obtaining more knowledge, wisdom and experience. I like to read, not conventionally just read, but read things I am interested in. I love watching movies, and documentaries on the history of ancient warriors. I love history and story tales of great warriors, and love comics and cartoons and heros.
Where the body fails the mind must prevail. Part of harnessing my strength and power, is dumbing down for a moment; channeling my demon as I call it, my primal instinct, my rage incarnate spawned from the very blackness of my soul. I try to mimic the berserkers of Viking Legend. Screaming, howling, smashing, fighting tooth and nail and then some to invoke my will and unleash my fury. I spend a lot of time thinking, too much time thinking, and when I have thought to much, I think about thinking to clear my mind.
School keeps me busy. It becomes my absolute focus. When I have a break, I retreat and do things I can't do excessively under normal circumstances. I take the time out to read some of the many strength ebooks I have. Browse online for articles to better me. Search for motivating movies and music. Gather my ideas, put them to action. I like to plan and prepare. Try to outline my trainings, try to give my lifestyle more purpose.
Lifting started out as a hobby and then became an outlet. Now it is a necessity. Now that I am in fact stronger than I ever was, I need to be smarter. Everything is more dangerous, and now goes down to form, and balance. Am I fast enough, will my tendons hold out or will my joints do me in. I am always thinking of ways to better myself. I don't always have the means or desires to follow every thought or desire but I document it, and keep it on the to do list. Time is irrelevant to me now, and all I see is progress.
I have changed in my aging, and no longer just follow a path laid out in front of me, it is a path of burden and hardship I pursued merely by nature and instinct. But what keeps me on that path is not will or determination, it is something greater, it is stepping outside of myself as a human being, crawling out of general consensus and consciousness, and trying to do with few have ever dreamed or dared of doing let alone what they have done. Barry bonds hits a small ball with a baseball bat and breaks a home run record and he is looked at like a gladiator who just chopped off the head of the only last obstacle between him and glory, between him and freedom. But it isn't the same. It's entertainment, for sport, for money, wealth, competition. I have transcended that thought.
I don't compete to compete, I compete to smash and destroy everything that embodies weakness. To keep ancient male tradition alive, to overcome domestication and the death of testosterone. To fail and reach limits I never knew I had, so at the end of the day I know I am still a man, and still have purpose, and still have work to do. I do what I do because it defines and shapes me to who I am. It keeps alive everything I live and breathe for and represent. It exclaims out of the billions plus people in existence, I am special, I am different, I am not the sheep but the wolf.
I howl at the moon and look for my pack, not be lead by a Shepherd to the slaughter. My lifestyle in my own mind is an act of defiance. My own little world where my will and rage and blood, sweat and tears surpasses all. It is for that rush, to drown in one's owns adrenaline and be overcome with all the hate and anguish and disgust and darkness in man's heart and mind, to be consumed, possessed, and in the wake of the moment right before weakness, and failure, and depression and sorrow and woe and loss has its chance to swing death's cold and calloused scythe down and crush and severe all I love into oblivion; that light burns bright like no ordinary fire but a scorching inferno that sears and melts all doubts, and fears to ashes and dust, and like a phoenix reborn, like taking a glimpse of the universe succumbing to gravity before the light at the end of the tunnel is extinguished, with the releasing of a bloodlust roar that shatters the ear drums of mortal men, the mind and body fuse and emerge as one, in tandem, complete, absolute between the eye of the storm, between the rock and the hard place, between the hammer and the anvil, between the immovable object and unstoppable force comes this unexplainable essence, and living embodiment of all the impossibilities of time and space where the human will and instinct fuse together desire and passion and ambition and strength and power, and just when you where on the verge of defeat, with no sign of triumph in sights, the walls closing in, that flight instinct taking over, something deep inside the core of all existence just hollers NO, and with a blink of the eye, you feel all the energy in the universe overcome your very being and SMASH F'ing WEIGHT and matter into oblivion.
There is no ecstasy, no ambrosia, no stimulant, no substance, feeling or substitute for this occurrence. For me failure when I put everything on the line is death. Sure I missed plenty of attempts, but never ever when I was driven so mad I wagered a healthy life for a crippled one, with the freak possibility of death have I ever failed.
I feel like I can run through walls and jump all the way to the clouds, and hold the Earth on my back like Atlas for an eternity without batting an eyelash. I live for that moment, where words, no matter how many are used, and described, no matter the context, will never explain that euphoria, that rush of enlightenment, that feeling of selflessness where life is not dependent on your own survival, but the outcome of your actions. It is the right combination of intensity and insanity that I think about most of the time.
When I sit down to eat, it normally is a hamburger or steak or roast beef or meat of some sort that vegans cringe upon. I also eat a lot of pasta, love it with broccoli, occasionally still feast upon my milk and Ramen. Once and a while I devour a large general Tso's chicken with large french fries, white rice, or a few stack attacks from Wendy's with a frosty or a huge twin burger or double burger dinner deluxe medium rare delight with steak fries!
OR all I can eat Korean BBQ meat buffet, or any all I can eat buffet. I love chicken cutlets, as it is the only form of chicken I enjoy. Fettucini Alfredo is my absolute favorite pasta. Once in a blue moon, I have crazy cravings for blood sausage. Pretty standard meat and potatoes kinda of guy. I like delicacies once and while, but in my mind nothing will ever beat a good burger.
I also used to love writing poetry, not haikus or pansy crap, but free form frustration and rage. I love music and need it to drown out the sounds of the mundane life I live. It is my passion to watch movies and read comics. I love the way thoughts and rendered and ideas are expressed. I love out of the ordinary, hero stuff. I used to play hackey sack a lot, I mean a lot, several hours per day 5 days a week. It kept me balanced and flexible and most of all active.
Once the heat dies down I plan on playing it again at least once a week to gain back mobility and keep active. Of course I love the little things, such as hanging out with friends, telling jokes, being comedians. I love to laugh, to quote the movie Watchmen "Once you realize what a joke everything is, being the comedian is the only thing that makes sense."
Muscle & Strength: What are your ultimate goals? Are there squat, deadlift and bench totals do you dream about putting up?
Tony Gilgamesh: I don't like to cling to numbers so much as I do progress, but I must admit I am guilty of wanting to hit a few bench marks. As a raw and natural/drug free lifter I would like to make it to a 600lbs+ squat, 385-400lbs bench press and a 700lbs+ deadlift.
Much later down the line, ideally as a lifetime goal, I would like to total 2000+ lbs all around raw. I picture it would be something like squat 750lbs, bench press 400lbs, deadlift 850lbs, but any which way I hit it I would be happy.
I also want to lift a traditional stones series in under a minute consisting of 5 stones, 275, 300, 330, 360, 405, as well as overhead press within 50llbs of my bench press and at least get a 350-365lbs overhead press.
I also want to roll a frying pan, break a wooden baseball bat and flip a car over.
Of course I want to lift more than these numbers, but I would be content at the moment with such numbers. I won't say I am limiting myself as much as I am trying to hit milestones one after one not skipping steps up the ladder.
I'm so hungry for a hamburger now...
Your article was inspiring. I'm 63 y/o and hope to lift till I'm 90.