Interview with Donnie Thompson
By Sakari

How did you get started with weight training?

I wanted to be strong and big to play American football in high school.

When did you first get involved with powerlifting?

I did a full meet in high school. I was 17 and travelled to York, PA. Bob Hoffman was there in a wheel chair. I had no gear and a bodybuilding belt. I weighed 97.5kilos. I totalled 590 kilos. It was USPF in 1983.

What other sports have you participated in?

I participated in baseball, soccer, track & field, basketball, and football.

When you first began training, what did you do?

I did the classic progressive overload. It worked well for size and strength starting out. I always did the powerlifting movements even if I wasnít a powerlifter. These are the best movements for size and strength.

Was starting a WSB-style program difficult at first?

Yes. I knew it worked from what I saw with my own eyes. I had to put my ego aside.

Was it hard to adapt?

Not hard but frustrating. I knew it worked but I found it difficult paying my dues in the trenches because I felt I had been doing that over the last 20 years. I wanted to be great right then! But you have to be patient.

What caused your numbers to jump from 2002 to 2004? You made some remarkable progress.

The main reason for this was that I was inspired by my competition. The WPO has so many great lifters and it makes you want to be among them and be respected. My training partner Marc Bartley feels the same way. We have the same goals and are willing to work toward them.

Have you made any big changes to your training?

I began doing Russian kettlebell training. It saved me. My back was always getting hurt. Now it is under control. It also feels good to be mobile again. Conventional methods of training were starting to break me. I also get a lot of training information from fellow competitor Paul Childress. He has helped me tremendously.

What type of gym do you have?

Itís a complete powerlifting facility. No mirrors. Everyone that trains here is a competitive powerlifter. Plus it is equipped with everything you need to train with. I could never go back to a commercial health club again.

How does your gym compare to Westside Barbell?

Westside is bigger and has more people. Plus they are the original. Most training facilities just copied Westside. Westsideís best lifters helped me out. I owe guys like Chuck Vogelpohl, John Stafford, Rob Fusner and Matt Smith a lot. That led to my gym currently having four guys squatting over 455 kilos, all in national and world meets. Marc Bartley, Karl Tillman, Tex Henderson and myself. Westside is the only other gym around that you will find that. That is because of Lou. He is someone that, once you meet him, you will never forget him. I think he means to get lifters to think for themselves. I donít think he wants people up his ass all the time.

How did you get introduced to kettlebells?

I have an older friend who is an ex-athlete. His name is Mr. Haney. He was doing them for about two years and we all laughed at him. When my back went bad, I tried them out of necessity and they worked. I donít laugh anymore. Mr. Haney is my kettlebell comrade still today.

What kind of difference has it made in your training?

My lower back and hips have really developed. My shoulders, which were my weakness, packed on a lot of muscle since I started March 2004. I have to admit that lifting is very fun again because I donít have to do so much barbell work like before.

What types of exercises do you do with the kettlebells?

I do a lot of Olympic type movements. The snatch, the snatch press and bottoms up presses. I usually use two kettlebells at a time and swing from the outside of my legs. I have bottom up pressed, from a snatch position, every kilo kettlebell made. I really like the double swings between the legs for deadlifts. I do a lot of windmills using the two hands anyhow position. All of these transfer to powerlifting, especially the deadlift.

Do you think everyone would benefit from kettlebells?

Yes. I think you can replace the machines in health clubs with kettlebells. This will never happen, but it would be better for people. My father is 66 years old and uses the double kettlebell method. He applies this to the exercises I showed him and is ready for the next larger kilo size.

What are your 3 favorite max effort exercises for the squat, deadlift and bench press?

For the squat, I would say heavy band box squats. I like to do heavy triples with belt and briefs and sets of five on the deadlift. The sets of five get me in shape to deadlift. When I was light I did singles. Now that I am heavy, I need more practice. For the bench, I love to board press off of two and one boards. I like heavy chain presses. This is done by adding chains to each attempt until I fail. I also like to floor press. I use the fat bar for all of these.

What are your best results in the max effort lifts that you just mentioned?

I did a 320kg squat for six repetitions raw. These were done very deep. I have done a triple with 410kg in the squat with belt and briefs. For bench I have done a fat bar bench press with 185kg with eight pairs of logging chain on each side. I also benched 272kg raw in training. I am not that strong in the gym. I lift with zero intensity because it doesnít count. It reminds me of football practice. It is very boring, but necessary. So I do what it takes to be the best.

What do you think of the WPO going to Europe?

The organization is called "World Powerlifting Organization" Not the Atlanta, GA and Columbus, OH Powerlifting Organization. I like the guys in our close knit group but I want to lift with Europeans also. I think one event should be scheduled overseas and one in the United States.

How do you see the future of powerlifting?

The more prize money, the more lifters will come out to lift. When powerlifting gets on ESPN, it will really take off. The only way for that to work is to get film of the lifters personal lives and show it before they broadcast the attempts. Otherwise the audience can't understand what is going on. The general public does not comprehend numbers well.

What are the three most common training mistakes that people make?

Lifters try to skip stages of training. They try to go from a beginner to world champion without paying any dues. A champion must experience all the aspects of becoming a great lifter, which include injuries, bomb outs and getting your ass kicked by better lifters than yourself. Secondly, lifters wear more gear than they need. Save the big time gear for the big time lifters. Small meets should rule out excessive gear. The real big mistake is not to study powerlifting and it's history and all the information available to the lifter on the internet. Lastly, lifters quit much too soon. As soon as they encounter hardships, they "retire"! They have zero intestinal fortitude like the old timers.

What is your advice for a beginner?

Set a reasonable pace to achieve your lifts. Don't go from squatting 300kg one meet and a month later you try 400kg because you bought a new lifting suit. Learn to perservere during the hard times like injury and lack of money. Have no excuses. When everything seems to go wrong, keep trying. Also, be sure to study the game itself. Learn all you can about the physics of powerlifting and it's application. Read, read and read. Don't just follow someone else. You have to learn through trial and error. If a lift that you do in training has no carry over on the platform, don't do it anymore.

What type of gear do you wear?

I used to wear Titan briefs. Now I wear Metal Gear with all my lifts. I do not use gear for the deadlift. The metal briefs are awesome to do the box squat with.

What do you think about gear?

I think it is great. I wish the young lifters would use less but for the professionals and the top IPF guys, I think it is great. The beginner powerlifters today head straight for the big time gear. They donít spend enough time in the trenches and getting muscle built. At most small meets, you canít tell the difference between the powerlifters and the audience. That is terrible. They come out in gear that I havenít even seen before and struggle with light weights. This needs to be recognized. Leave that big time gear for the big time lifters.

What are your thoughts about the state of powerlifting in regards to federations, meets, testing, gear, etc.?

I think it will be a long time before we see any unification. Personally, I wanted to lift with and among the strongest. It happened to be the APF then the WPO. I remember watching Ano Turtanian lift in Florida. He was deadlifting around 395kg at 3:00am in the morning and Garry Frank hoisting huge weights. Along with Paul Childress, Matt Smith, Beau Moore, Andy Bolton and his huge deadlift, Brent Mikesell and Steve Goggins. That was my final decision. I wanted to lift among the best. I couldnít care less what league it was with or who was in charge. All I wanted to do is lift big among the giants of the game. I never want to isolate myself in some league where I am the only competition and the nearest lifter is more than 100kgs behind me. I like to take risks. What is the incentive to go to a meet and you know you are going to win as long as you hit your openers?

What negative things would you remove from powerlifting?

There are too many federations. I think there should be just two amateur and one professional. Also, people need to stop bashing lifters on the internet. Judges who have never totalled USPF elite in their own career need not be in the chair. I would also ban layered gear for beginner lifters. And finally, the bench-only guys donít need to be in the PLUSA top 100 list.

Powerlifting gear has been here forever. But recently the numbers in the squat and bench have gone up. What do you think the reason is for this?

I think material and science have joined together to help with the big numbers you currently see. Also, the bench-only guys have come up with great training techniques that incorporate the gear and help you maximize your numbers. Some guys get up to 140kgs over their raw bench weight. In the squat, the gear has helped with tremendous stopping power. Years ago you could bottom out with the tightest of suits.

Why do you think the deadlift has gone up?

We are learning to not overtrain the deadlift. That was the problem. With all the squat work people were doing, the extra deadlift work led to overtraining. We have learned to save our lower backs. I think the deadlift has gone up recently is because of Andy Bolton. Everyone is more motivated to pull better. That is all it is.

You are a SHW, but do you worry about being too heavy?

I donít worry about my weight but I watch it. I donít want to weigh more than everyone but I want to lift at the weight I maximize my lifts. I think it is around 168kgs.

How important do you think nutrition is for powerlifting?

I wish we could all afford to eat the way we should. Here in America, we have fast food restaurants that are bad for us and our health. But it gets convenient. I think you will see a big trend shifting towards proper nutrition for powerlifting.

Do you use any supplements?

I do use a protein powder, but thatís about it.

What lifters do you admire?

Garry Frank. He is the strongest man on earth. I like him because he pushed the bar concerning totals and inspired powerlifting to make a comeback. Notice that powerlifting was in the dark ages most of the nineties until Garry came on the scene. Then we all got motivated. I like Ed Coan , Steve Goggins and Jesse Kellum. They were champions in the eighties and remain so still today. I like Brian Siders because he just lifts big. I like Ano Turtanian because showed us how strong Europeans are by actually coming over to the USA and beating us at his own expense. He didnít just state he was better on the internet. I also like Paul Childress, Kaz, Don Reinhoudt, Andy Bolton and some of the European dudes whose names I cannot pronounce. I have great respect for Beau Moore.

How do you spend your spare time?

I love to watch John Wayne westerns. I like all the old movies made during WW II. I love most westerns and especially the show Gunsmoke. I think men ought to act a little more like John Wayne and a lot less like ďWill & GraceĒ!

Any final comments?

I would like to thank my parents, Don and Adrienne Thompson for their support. My whole crew from the powerlifting gym I own. My ex-girlfriend Mandy Stafford and her Mom, Jeanne Blume for all the food they fed me and they were great to me. Mark Blackberg, my business partner, Marc Bartley my training partner. Paul Childress for his training advice. Tom Frederick from Glen Rock, PA for getting me started as a teenager. He was brutal but fair and said long ago I would be a champion if I want to. I would also like to thank Mike Lambert from PLUSA for contributing to powerlifting all these years. Kieran Kidder for all he has done to make powerlifting advance. I would also like to thank Travis Mash and Ox Mason as well as my brother, Joshua Thompson, for standing by me all these years. I have to mention Pavel Tsatsouline for helping me with Russian Kettlebells. And finally, Louie Simmons and Dave Tate for getting me started. They still help me when I get a little off course. But if it wasnít for those two, I would have not even have tried to compete. Thanks to Ano and Mina Turtanian for the Metal Gear and the great show they ran in Finland..