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An Interview with Deadlift Specialist - Brent Howard
Brent Howard (a.k.a. “Sgt. Rock”) is a celebrity of sorts in the powerlifting world. Due to his high online profile and his crowd-thrilling antics when competing or guest lifting Brent has carved a niche for himself in powerlifting.
Brent is known as a deadlift specialist. This interview will give us a little insight into Brent himself and then we will go in-depth into how he trains for deadlift mastery.
Wannabebig: Let’s start with you telling us a bit about yourself.
Brent Howard: I’m 35, but probably still act like a teen from time to time. I was born in Farmington, Maine and lived there until I joined the USMC in 1995. Joining the Marine Corps was one of the best moves I ever made.
I was originally chosen to go to a ceremonial unit located in Washington, DC called the 8th and I. After that assignment I was chosen to work at the Pentagon to finish out my time. I have a lot of good and interesting memories from those early years in the military.
People often wonder where the nickname “Sgt. Rock” came from. It all started in boot camp. Swim qualification was the hardest part for me. As a quick aside, I will never forget one of the poolside drill instructors at Parris Island. He was JACKED, and he had a near life-size tattoo of a fifth of Jack Daniels on his arm. Anyway, after 20 plus jumps into the pool in full uniform and off of a 30 foot platform it was “discovered” that I couldn’t float.
Of course, they didn’t just decide this, I spent countless hours of one-on-one practice with drill instructors and I still wouldn’t float so they hauled me out of the pool and informed me I was a “freak of nature” and the only recruit ever that couldn’t float. They then went on to say, “You are a ROCK, you are built like one, or at least you think you are, so you will now be known as ROCK. When you’re PFC you will be PFC Rock. In fact, we will call ALL your future duty stations to inform them that you are a ROCK.” As things go the name stuck and it just followed me wherever I went: PFC Rock, LCpl Rock, Cpl Rock, and then Sgt Rock.
When it comes to powerlifting I am all about showmanship. You can get the crowd involved without showing-up other lifters and that is what I try to do. I love to get the crowd rocking. I thrive on it.
I have been blessed to have most of the greatest lifters in the world on speed dial or email. Men like: Eddy Coan, Andy Bolton, Sam Byrd, Steve Goggins, Brent Mikesell, John Inzer, Marc Bartley and the list goes on and on. In the same spirit as these men who have been so generous with their time and knowledge with me I too strive to share my knowledge with others and will always answer my emails from lifters and any questions posed to me by other lifters.
As a man, I am a Christian and believe all good things come from God himself.
Wannabebig: What got you started in power lifting?
Brent Howard: When I was in high school we had a strength coach named Gary Viles. I begged him to let me be in the Powerlifting Club. Fortunately, he let me in due to my heart and desire. I owe a lot to Gary.
Wannabebig: You are a deadlift specialist, how did this come about?
Brent Howard: I was never a great bencher. My best was a shirted (Inzer double-ply) 425 lbs x 2.
A couple of years ago I was in heavy training for a 500 bench (not a big bench by powerlifting standards). I had easily doubled 835 in the squat so I knew I could hit a big total. On April 6, 2004 I tore my right pec in half and a part of my biceps while benching raw. I had surgery on April 14 followed by 4 weeks in a sling. I then turned around and pulled 705@228 at Riverfest June 6 2004! This was a great accomplishment for me because it is incredibly hard to regain your DL stroke after a pec injury.
Having learned a lesson I decided to forgo heavy benching. Unfortunately, bad luck again reared its ugly head in November of 2005. I had just finished visiting the gravesite of a dear friend by the name of Jason Meader. He had died that very day (November 29th) one year earlier. I went directly from the gravesite to Damian Osgoods’ “dungeon” gym and proceeded to tear my left pec while warming-up on the bench press. It was horrific, just totally violent! The pain was incredibly intense (as it was with my first tear). My doctors advised me not to surgically repair this tear as the tendon had remained partially attached. Needless to say, I can take a hint and stay away from benching now. How many people do you know that have torn BOTH pecs and are still competing in any way?
God has blessed me with the ability to deadlift and to bring a smile to a crowd. I am a deadlift specialist and I will continue to be until God tells me it’s time to hang up my belt.
Wannabebig: What do you think is the number one mistake trainees make when attempting to increase their deadlift?
Brent Howard: Over training! I have done it, and did it for years. When you’re young you can pull every week, year round, but you must train smarter as you age.
Wannabebig: OK, tell us a bit more about that. How do you train smarter, what does that mean?
Brent Howard: I used to do heavy DL, then heavy stiffs, heavy racks, then 15 sets of upper back almost every week. I kept this up until one day when I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Kaz on the subject. He related how he used to beat the heck out of himself with high bar squats of 615 x 25 reps followed by heavy DL’s and rack pulls. The bottom line was that was too much even for a superman like him.
After our conversation I decided to focus on one major pulling movement per workout and to usually limit myself to only one top set. I will now take a week off when stale from pulling without feeling guilty. I do much more core and ab work now as well. I push harder than ever, I just do it with less overall volume.
Wannabebig: Give us an outline of your current training regimen.
Brent Howard: A big thanks to Marc Bartley for his help! I also want to thank The Scorpion for an occasional kick in the rear.
I have 22 weeks ‘til WABDL Worlds and that is my only focus. I do the following rotation:
- One week of SLDL’s off a block for 5 reps
- One week of heavy rack pulls
- One week of regular DL’s
- One week of no pulling, or some cleans.
I am the Personal Training Director for the Bally’s in Portland, Maine which provides me the luxury to work at a gym. I train 5 days a week. My heavy day is done at Austin’s Gym in Rumford, Maine.
Wannabebig: Can you give us a bit more detail on what you do on those 5 days?
Brent Howard: OK, here is the routine I normally use:
Note: The sets listed below are “working sets”. These are defined as sets performed after a warm-up. I normally perform 1 set of 15 reps as a warm-up per movement. On the heavy power lifting movements I will pyramid the weight throughout my working sets until I reach my top set.
With the other movements which might be characterized as “bodybuilding” movements I will use a constant load on my working sets.
Monday is chest day. It consists of mostly machines with close grip bench at the end.
- Hammer Strength chest press 3 x 12-25 reps (I use 2 different machines so that is 6 sets total)
- Close-grip bench press 3 x 12 reps
Tuesday is leg day. I will vary the movements doing either box or high-bar squats combined with various leg machines. I also do core and ab work. If I perform high-bar squats I do 3 sets of 5 reps. For box squats I train for speed and do 10 sets of 2 reps.
My core and ab work consists of the following:
- Sit-ups on the slant board using resistance for 4 sets x 12 reps
- Stability ball work to include hip-ups and leg extensions with the ball between my legs.
- Standing ab crunches using the cable pull-down machine.
I perform a giant set (each exercise back to back with no rest) with the stability ball and standing crunch exercises using 20 reps each for the hip-ups and extensions and then 12 reps for the crunches. I do this for 3 cycles.
Wednesday is upper back day. I will use a variety of machines for a total of 15 sets. A sample day might look like the following;
- Cable rows 3-4 sets x 10 reps
- Chins 3-4 sets x 10 reps
- Hammer strength machine 3-4 sets x 10 reps
- Dumbbell rows 3-4 sets x 10 reps
Thursday is delt and arm day. Nothing fancy here, just your basic arm and shoulder movements.
- Dumbbell shoulder press 3 x 10 reps
- Cable upright rows 3 x 10 reps
- Lateral raises 3 x 10 reps
- Front raises 3 x 10 reps
- Alternate dumbbell curls 3 x 10 reps
- Scott curls 3 x 10 reps
- Skull crushers 3 x 10 reps
- Pulley pushdowns 3 x 10 reps
Friday is an off day.
Saturday is off to Dick Austin’s gym for some heavy pulling. Here is a typical day of heavy deadlifts at Austin’s:
- 245 x 5 reps
- 335 x 3 reps
- 425 x 1 rep
- Add a belt
- 515 x 1 rep
- 625 x 5 reps (top set)
If I were choosing heavy rack pulls that day it would follow the same warm-up scheme as above followed by:
- 605 x 1 rep
- 695 x 1 rep
- 785 x 3 reps
- 825 x 1 rep
Wannabebig: What, if any, new training ideas are you going to give a whirl in the near future?
Brent Howard: Thanks to guys like Marc Bartely I am trying new things. For instance, the heavy rack pulls I mentioned above were recently added to my rotation after a long time of not doing them. Focusing on NOT overtraining is also something new for me. It may sound goofy to have a world class lifter say that but I had never really paid attention to it previously.
Wannabebig: Do you follow a specific dietary regimen?
Brent Howard: I have pretty low body fat to begin with thus diet is not an overriding concern for me. I have always had good abs and use that as the guide for my diet. If I start getting “fat” I lay off the deserts. I generally eat clean: steak, chicken, eggs, whole wheat bread, skim milk, potatoes, and grits.
I am going to try and drop a few pounds of body fat between mid June and the end of August then bulk-up to around 250. I will then come down to 242 for Vegas and be in my best-ever shape for that show!
Wannabebig: What sort of supplements (if any) do you use?
Brent Howard: I have used Animal Pak for years as my multi vitamin staple. I recently have added AtLarge Nutrition products to my regimen. I love the Nitrean and use Vanilla Opticen every day for breakfast. I love the stuff! I use ETS (Extreme Training Support) and have noticed a big difference in recovery. The placebo effect doesn’t work on me so I know it really works! I’m not the only one, my friend Phil Harrington uses and loves it. Other than that I use Universal and Diesel Test products. If I endorse it that means I use it and believe in it. My reputation and trust is everything to me.
Wannabebig: You must have a ton of interesting lifting stories. Why don’t you relate one of your favorites to us?
Brent Howard: OK, I actually have one which occurred very recently while I was in training for the NERB (New England Record Breakers). I was talking to Eddy Coan one evening and he informed me I would be the only dead lift-only lifter. He thought with that being the case I should do something special. He came up with the idea/challenge of me dead lifting 600 for ten reps. As usual, without thinking, I immediately said I would do it!
I began training in earnest for this tremendous feat (for me) and during my first session I got 600 for 5 tough reps. The following week I was feeling really strong! I did 3 reps with 605 like it was nothing! I was sure I was good for 8-9 reps. That was when it happened! On the 4th rep my right foot slipped out (wide sumo) and when I set the weight down it went right on top of my foot! I broke 2 bones one of which was a compound fracture. Yes, it hurt like heck! After cussing for a few minutes I took my wrestling shoe off and found my sock soaked in blood. I took the sock off and blood just gushed all over the Austin’s Gym rug (that portion was later pulled up and new rug was installed).
I begrudgingly called the ER and told them to expect me. I put my shoe and sock back on, packed up my bag and started to leave. It was then that I caught a glimpse of the 605 and a maniacal thought entered my mind! I would prefer to call myself dedicated but others might characterize me as ultra-intense or just plain batty! I proceeded to put my belt back on and did 2 more sets with the 605! The blood was literally coming out of my shoe at this point so I thought it best to go ahead and go to the ER…
After my foot healed I only had the time for 1 more pull before the NERB. I was able to muster a hard 605 x 5 as I was just so stale from not training. I was still confident that I would rise to the occasion so I formulated my plan to make the lift exciting for the crowd. My plan was to find 10 hot women at the show (there was a hot body contest so it would not be hard) and have them each hold up a number card with the count of the rep I had just completed.
The day of the show came and I was ready! I put on my Manny Ramirez jersey and Fatheads sunglasses. I had the MC crank up the Kid Rock and stepped onto the platform. The crowd responded and I was rolling! Between the crowd, Terry and Jan Todd, Eddy Coan (judging), my boy and fellow US Marine Sam Byrd yelling at me, and the Kaz on the mike I was going out of my mind! I was fired up! The first 6 reps were easy! I was out of breath, but hey, it was only 600, right? I took a slight pause and pumped out 3 more and was TOTALLY spent. At that point I was mentally done! The 9 reps were more than I had realistically expected. Brian Schoonfeld interceded and called me over. He leaned over and yelled in my ear that I had one more in me and that I should go out and do it! Kaz echoed those same words and that was all I needed. I went out and pulled one more for 10! I had achieved my goal and done it in front of some of the greatest powerlifting luminaries in the world! It was definitely one of my greatest powerlifting moments ever!
Wannabebig: Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share with our readers?
Brent Howard: God has blessed me by allowing me to carve my own little niche in power lifting. This, in turn, has given me the opportunity to be able to help others. It has also given me the chance to embellish my “showman” side. None of what I do is scripted. I just let my emotions go when I am out there! It is one of the best feelings in the world when I combine a monster pull with the ability to fire up a crowd and get them smiling. You just can’t beat that!
I also want to give a big thanks to PL USA and AtLarge Nutrition, both Mike and Chris do a whole lot for powerlifting and we should all be thankful. I want to further thank Brand 33 Sports, Inzer, my longtime loyal gear sponsor, Animal and Diesel, Headblade (they rock!), and of course my friends and family and the good Lord himself.
Written by Chris Mason
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