Diet and Nutrition

An Interview with Bench Press Specialist – Vincent Dizenzo

Vincent Dizenzo has been crushing big iron for over fifteen years.  Early in his strength career, he was a three-lift powerlifter, but two ruptured discs in his back caused him to reconsider his training focus, and he became a bench press specialist (which was ironically his weakest of the big three lifts originally). 

Vincent has held multiple bench press records, including a recent 605-lb raw bench press as a Masters competitor.  Suffice it to say that he is a brutally strong presser, but that is only a small part of the focus of this interview. 

Vincent’s 605 lbs was done at a body weight of 322 lbs.  For a man standing well under 6’ tall, that is a LOT of human being packed into a relatively small area of space!  This brings us to the real focus of this article: Vincent’s recent transformation…no, let’s make that transfiguration…into a lean and mean strength machine. 

Vincent recently made the decision to lose body weight and compete in the 242-lb weight class.  You read that right–from a superheavyweight to a 242-lb lifter.

Ok, enough of the introduction. Let’s hear it straight from the horse’s, or rather, the thoroughbred’s mouth.

Chris: Vincent, it’s a well-known and accepted mantra in strength training circles that “bigger is better”.  More size, regardless of body composition, equals more strength in the minds of most lifters.  What was it that made you break from this way of thinking and decide to get lean?

Vincent: It wasn’t really a conscious decision on my part, it just kind of happened.  It started with the passing of my brother back in December.  The loss simply took away my appetite.  Maintaining a body weight in excess of 300 lbs is tough for me even in the best of times, so with a reduced appetite, I simply didn’t consume enough calories and began dropping weight.

Emotional trauma is often the catalyst for life changes, and that is exactly what happened in my case.  As my body weight began to drop, I decided it was time for something new in my lifting career.  I had spent over a decade trying to get as big and as strong as possible, but now it was time for something different, a new challenge.  I decided to see what I could do.  At first, my goal of competing in the 242 class wasn’t fully formed, I just wanted to get leaner and stay strong.  As I dropped body fat and the 242 became a possibility, it then became my focus.  Having achieved that goal, my new focus now is on maintaining a lower body fat percentage and becoming as strong as possible.

Chris: Vincent, I totally understand the emotional trauma aspect of what you did.  In fact, I had something very similar happen to me when my wife of fifteen years told me she wanted a divorce and subsequently left me.  I too lost my appetite and then decided I might as well take advantage of my reduced appetite and get as lean as possible.

You accomplished the very elusive goal of losing a tremendous amount of body fat while simultaneously maintaining all, or nearly all, of your lean muscle mass.  Can you give us an overview of how you lost the weight and changed your body composition so dramatically?  

Vincent: Well, as I stated above, in the beginning, it really wasn’t a conscious thing.  My appetite was diminished and I simply ate significantly less.  During that time, I definitely lost some lean muscle tissue.  Once I got a hold of myself and made the decision to achieve my new goal of being strong and lean, I got a bit more organized.  I started by ‘cleaning up’ my diet and reducing overall caloric intake.  While being more calculated than just eating less, my approach was still a bit haphazard. 

I had heard good things about Shelby Starnes (bodybuilder, powerlifter, trainer, and nutritionist) with respect to his ability to help people from all walks of life optimize their body composition.  I decided to reach out to him and enlist his help.  Needless to say, Shelby radically changed my thoughts on diet.  He made me realize that it is definitely a science.

Once I started following Shelby’s advice, the changes were literally amazing.  He taught me what to eat, how to carb cycle, and that cardio is a necessary evil.  I mean, I’m a powerlifter; I didn’t know the meaning of the word cardio!  Shelby had me eliminate dairy, all forms of sugars (including fruit), and wheat products from my diet.  It was a new world, but an incredibly effective one!

Shelby was amazing, but I also want to take a moment and give myself some credit.  Shelby gave me the map, but I had to follow it, and I did so unwaveringly!  I never ever cheated on my diet unless it was planned.  I’m not kidding–I was 100% compliant.  I never even so much as snuck a piece of candy, a cracker, or even an extra scoop of rice.  I embraced the fact that sometimes you will be hungry on a diet. The hunger lets you know it’s working.  I hated getting on that treadmill at 5:15 in the morning, but I DID IT!  Once I set my mind to something, I give it 100%. 

Vincent Dizenzo - 245lbs at 16% bodyfat (it was touch and go here!)

Chris: I don’t think I ever mentioned it to you, but my business partner Daniel Clough has been working with Shelby for some time and raves about him.  I have heard nothing but great things about the man. 

It doesn’t surprise me that you were a machine during the process.  I know what kind of dedication is required to build the superhuman strength you have achieved, and a person with that kind of dedication can accomplish just about anything he sets his mind to.

You touched on several aspects of your diet.  I’m curious…if you had to pick just one thing that you feel contributed the most to your success, what would it be? 

Vincent: The single most important aspect of my dietary regimen had to be limiting carbohydrates. When I was a young athlete, which was a long time ago, there was a great emphasis on carb intake. As a powerlifter, I thought I needed to consume lots of carbs. Now I have learned the proper timing of carbs is very important and that carbs are not necessary with every meal. The other important aspect I learned was to eat protein and carbs or protein and fat together, but to try avoid eating protein, fat, and carbs all at the same time.

Chris: Definitely!  As you know, in my mind, insulin management (and thus carb control) is HUGE when it comes to health and body composition.

How about your training?  Did you do anything differently?

Vincent: Yes, my training changed dramatically. I was always a max effort guy. I just wanted to load weight, bands, and or chains on a bar and smash it. My motto was, “Anything worth lifting is only worth lifting once.”  Well, it wasn’t long into my diet that I found I could not keep up with the personal records I had set at a higher body weight.  My ego was not quite ready to take a back seat, so I knew I had to do something.

Before panic set in, I turned to Brian Holloway, a training partner and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.  Brian had just finished up a block periodization training cycle that I had witnessed firsthand.  We discussed it, and I felt that it was the way for me to go.  I knew the first block started off with lower percentages, which would give my strength a chance to adapt to a lighter bodyweight. I also knew block periodization calls for a lot of volume and that would assist in my transformation.

In the end, it all worked out. I hit 16% body fat, which was beyond my goal.  I know many readers may not be all that impressed with 16%, but that is a real 16%, and let’s not forget I started at 326 lbs and God-only-knows-what body fat. That’s one of the problems with the internet; everyone claims to be 10% body fat or less when the reality is quite different.  Brian is very exacting with his method of using calipers to measure body composition, and I guarantee you that most of those 10% people would be 15%+ if Brian checked them.

I also made the 242-lb weight class.  That is a BIG change from superheavyweight!  Last, but not least, I hit a 730-lb bench, which ranks me in the top ten for that class.  Not too shabby for such a short amount of time.

Vincent’s 730lbs Bench Press @ 242lbs

Chris: Vincent, not too shabby at all! 

We’ve touched on nutrition and training, but how about supplementation?  Of course, as one of our sponsored athletes, I know you use our products, but why don’t you outline what AtLarge Nutrition products you used during your transformation and why you used them.

Vincent: I follow the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) method when it comes to supplementation.  I stick with supplements that are proven to work. I guess that is why I am such a big supporter of AtLarge Nutrition.  Your entire line is made up of no-nonsense supplements that are proven to work.

What I use at any given time is goal dependent.  During my fat loss program I took the following AtLarge products: 1) Multi-Plus tablets for overall health and any deficiencies in my nutritional plan, 2) Fish Oil caps for a healthy heart and to reduce inflammation. 3) Creatine for strength and increased muscle mass, 4) Nitor for its thermogenic effect, and 5) Nitrean for a low calorie source of quality protein to support my training and because I believe it’s the best protein on the market, bar none!

Chris: I know that rapid weight loss always takes a toll on strength, but once one’s weight is stabilized, that lost strength can be regained and often new records can be set.  Actually, I can think of a great example very similar to yours.  Are you familiar with John Kuc?  He competed against big Jim Williams as a superheavyweight in the very early days of powerlifting.  He was amazingly strong, but his health suffered at that body weight, so he cut back down to the 242-lb class!  He went on to compete VERY successfully in the 242s for many years (and pulled in the high 800s at that weight). 

What are your thoughts moving forward?  Do you want to stay in the 242s, or do you have other plans?  Personally, I would love to see you in the 242s or 275s setting some crazy records.

Vincent: I don’t believe I will ever compete above the 275s again.  I plan to do most of my competing in the 242s.  I know it is going to take some time to learn my leverages and begin to optimize my strength at this new body weight, but I am committed.

In my immediate future, I am going to train for a raw bench meet sometime in the fall. However, I plan to train as if I were going to compete in a full meet.  There is definitely a method to my madness.  First, my bench is always at its best when my entire body is strong.  Second, I want to add some lean mass to my frame and compete as a bigger 242 than I did at my last meet.  A solid raw training cycle with plenty of volume for the big three should spur some hypertrophy.  Finally, I just may compete in a full raw meet if my training goes well!

Returning to three-lift competition is a bit of a pipedream for me, but it is something I want to shoot for.  That said, I’ll enter my training cycle with my eyes wide open and will not compromise my health for the sake of competing in a full meet.  I’m going to take my time, and the goal will be to compete (in a full meet) within a year’s time. If my body holds up, that’s great, but if not, I will still focus on benching in the 242s because I feel I have some unfinished business in that department.

Training for a full meet will be a pretty big change for me.  I’ve been squatting and deadlifting the last couple of years, but I’ve been been playing it very safe.  I kept the loads fairly light and used a safety squat bar for squatting and hex bar for deadlifts. 

As mentioned above, I have ruptured two discs in my back, but I’ve also completely ruptured one bicep and partially ruptured the other!  The safety squat and hex bars have helped me to train around these injuries.  The problem, of course, is that neither can be used in a powerlifting meet.  I am going to have to squat and deadlift with a regular bar.  The deadlift in particular will be difficult as I am going to have to learn to use the hook grip in order to protect my biceps.  For a guy with small hands and weak grip, that will definitely be a challenge.

Chris: Vincent, I think it’s awesome that you are going to try for a full meet!  You have tremendous overall strength (I remember a video of you pulling 800 lbs or so), and I would love to see what you can do in a raw full meet. 

I also think you are making a great decision to stay at this lower body weight.  I believe it will prolong your career and potentially even your life.  The new insulin management practices you are employing can do nothing but benefit your health. 

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

Vincent: You’re welcome, and I want to take this opportunity to thank you, Daniel, and AtLarge Nutrition. It is with your help and support that I have been able to accomplish so much in strength athletics.

Chris: Vincent, it has been our pleasure.  You really are a model athlete for our company because you are both a top competitor and someone who frequents our forums on WannaBeBig.com (WBB), contributing to the betterment of the community. 

Sometimes I think back to when I was a young trainee.  I think that if I could have had access to an athlete like you, I would have avoided so many mistakes.  I used to read interviews just like this one, but I didn’t have the opportunity to then pick the brain of the interviewee like our WBB members have with you.  Whoops…Get ready for some questions! 

Thanks again, and the best of luck with your new goals in powerlifting.

Written by Chris Mason

Note: Vincent is a regular contributor and moderator on the Wannabebig Forums and also maintains a regularly updated Training Journal. If you have any questions for Vincent, feel free to post them in the discussion thread for this article (see link below) or as a new thread in the Powerlifting Forums.

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – An Interview with Bench Press Specialist – Vincent Dizenzo discussion thread.

About Chris Mason

 

Chris Mason is an author, trainer, and nutritionist. He has published articles in Iron Man, Athlete, Planet Muscle, and Powerlifting USA magazines as well as several online websites including Crossfit.com.

In addition, he has worked with top flight professional strength athletes on both their nutritional and training regimens. Chris is also the co-founder of AtLarge Nutrition. He is actively involved in all aspects of the business to include product formulation.