When it comes to strength sports, very few men have accomplished as much as powerlifter and strongman Nick Best. He has been a world champion in both strongman and powerlifting. He was one of the stars, along with fellow strength sport competitors Brian Shaw, Eddie Hall, and Robert Oberst, of The Strongest Man in History, a History Channel series that saw the group travel the world to learn about historical strength standards—then attempt to break those barriers.
In recent months, Best has been rehabbing from a lat tear that he suffered in April 2021 while attempting to deadlift 821 pounds. Now he’s back to good health and will return to the competition platform in May of 2022.
His goal? Total 2,000 pounds on all three powerlifting disciplines (squat, bench press, and deadlift) for the 26th year in a row. But first, we caught up with the strength sports icon to talk about his career. Here, Best shares advice for people that hope to take their own training ambitions to a higher level, especially as they get older.
If you could go back in time and see your younger self walking into a weight room for the first time, what advice would you give yourself?
Don’t be in a rush. Don’t overtrain. I probably didn’t fulfill my potential as much as I could have because I had to make sure I was outworking everyone else. Train smarter, not necessarily harder. Outworking everyone else isn’t the smart way to go. You can still work hard, but do so with control.
How far along were you when you figured out the difference between training smarter and training harder?
I would say probably eight years in when I figured it out. It was actually Bull Stewart that taught me the difference. We were competing at (USAPL) Nationals in 1994. He had asked me for my training log, and I brought it with me. He looked at what I was doing, and he was pointing things out to me saying “don’t worry about that.” After he looked everything over, he said “you’re working really hard, but you’re overtraining.” He advised that I cut some things from four sets to only two, and he said that I should only do like eight to ten sets per body part. That’s it. He said that I could probably add 100 pounds to my total by doing that, and if I did, I’d be world champion. Two years later, I was world champion.
If someone was going to focus more on making their training sets matter than doing more sets, what do you feel they should do to maximize recovery?
There’s a lot of things you need to do to recover. The main thing is rest. You can still walk, move, things like that. There’s stretching, that’s an option. You can also do massages and other forms of therapy like that. I get massages religiously every other week. Rest is definitely the most important thing. The muscles need to rest because if you keep working them, they won’t have time to grow. The muscles are like velcro. If you put the velcro on all the way, it’s really strong. When you only put it on halfway, it can come off real easy. The muscles are similar. If you train them hard, and then leave it alone, they will have the opportunity to get stronger and grow.
You mentioned massages. What about chiropractic work? Do you feel that makes a positive difference as well.
Yes, but only when it’s really needed. If you get to the point that it can pop back in easily, then that means it can come out easily too.
So, if you have something that comes out, get adjusted, get it put back in, then give yourself four to five days to let it settle so it solidifies. Then, you can go back to training and stretching again. Getting adjusted all the time means they will come out more often, which is obviously not a good thing.
You’ve competed at an elite level in both powerlifting and strongman for a long time now. What are the biggest differences in training for those strength sports?
The biggest difference in training for the two sports is that powerlifting is controlled. You don’t need to really be all over the place, and there are just the three lifts. In strongman, you not only have to lift a lot of heavy weight and objects, but you have to focus on speed as well.
Do you feel that you need to have the pedal to the metal in the gym year round, or do you gauge the training based on where you’re at in your sports?
I gauge it by how I’m feeling that day. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to realize that if I go in with the pedal to the metal every time I go to train, I get injured a lot more, and I don’t heal as well. There are some days I go in, and everything I pick up feels like a feather. So, I’ll get after it. There have been other days where I’m sore, and I’ll get light training in. It will be more like a physical therapy day, even though I’m in a training cycle. Your body will tell you when it needs to rest. It’s your job to figure it out and listen to it.
If someone reading this is considering entering a strongman contest for the first time, what advice would you offer that person?
Have fun. If you’re not having fun doing it, you shouldn’t do it. Don’t go in with expectations. Try to figure out how to lift the implements first. Wherever you place is where you place. Then, take it from there. Don’t expect to become a world champion out of the gate because I don’t know anyone that has ever come right out and won big contests their first time out. You’ve got to take the time to learn how to do the events. You’ll learn more from losing than you will from winning.
Many young and inexperienced powerlifters aren’t sure what weights they should open with going into a meet. How do you gauge your openers?
Whatever you can do for three reps in the gym should be your opening attempt. I learned that from Ed Coan. That applies to squat, bench, and deadlift. For example, during your prep you squatted 600 pounds for three. Make your opener 600 because you will have the most confidence that you can hit that weight. You want at least one good rep so you can advance on to the next lift. If you don’t hit at least one of the three attempts, you’re out. Make sure one of the three is a weight you can do for three. You can never go wrong.
Are there any major differences between the two sports when it comes to nutrition and how a competitor should eat?
There are more weight classes in powerlifting, so making weight is a goal. I compete in the 140 kilogram/308 pound class in powerlifting, and I have to make sure I stay under that weight. So, I train at around 312 pounds and drop water the night before to make weight. For strongman, I can weigh up to 320 when I compete in World’s Strongest Man, so I eat more food. Other than that, the diet isn’t really that different. In strongman prep, I will throw in a few more desserts here and there for the extra caloric intake.
You mentioned cutting weight for powerlifting. Should people that are trying to meet a goal like that even consider methods like cutting drastically, or should they pay more attention to a consistent weight loss strategy?
If you don’t have experience cutting weight on a particular day, doing it for the first time before a major competition or personal event isn’t smart. You’d be much better off losing the weight slowly and consistently throughout your training cycle or program.
Cutting weight that quickly can induce cramping, plus there are issues with rehydrating afterwards. Trying to perform while dehydrated, even a little bit, can cause muscle tears. That’s why I really don’t like doing them at all. I’d rather just get close, then stop drinking water the night before. I don’t have any issues with that.
What supplements do you feel are must-haves for people that are making strength their priority?
Having quality protein is going to make a big difference. It can be a meal replacement if needed. You finish training, you get some carbs in you, then 20 or 30 minutes later you have a protein drink so it can help you repair the muscles. That’s a big deal for me. Creatine is another great one that can help with your recovery. Those two are the biggest ones in my opinion. Then, you have the whole other line of things like pre-workout, if you like those that have caffeine in them, or nootropics for extra focus on what you’re actually doing. For people over 35, a test booster probably wouldn’t be a bad idea, either. I also like CBD.
CBD has become very popular in the last few years, and you’ve been an advocate for it for quite some time. Why do you feel it’s so beneficial?
CBD is a really good anti-inflammatory. You don’t want swelling in your joints. You want to get that fluid out of your joints because it can hurt. Other anti-inflammatory products can be hard on the liver, whereas CBD is not. It can help you sleep better and keep you calm as well. For me, it’s a no-brainer. I take it after training, though, not before.
In recent months, you’ve been on the mend after tearing your lat while attempting a deadlift of 821 pounds, which would’ve broken your world record in your category. For those that have never suffered that kind of injury, what did you feel and did you know what happened?
It felt like a pop, like something exploded. I knew immediately what happened as soon as I felt it. When you tear the muscle itself, it’s going to hurt right away. There will be a lot of pain and swelling. When you tear a tendon, there will be a pop, then only a little bit of pain, not much. That was pretty much what it felt like when I had my injury.
The only question I had was if I tore it off the muscle or the bone. The muscle would be bad, the bone is fixable. The doctors figured out that mine was off the bone. I had surgery in May, and I’ve been slowly rehabbing and getting back into training for the last six months.
Most people get anxious and try to rush the process. You tracked your recovery on your Instagram for followers to see, and you were very patient when it came to training. What advice can you offer should someone reading this ever be in a similar situation?
Unless you’re in high school or college with eligibility requirements, you have your whole life ahead of you. So, unless you like having surgeries, take your time with it. Once you’ve completely healed up, you’re ready to go. It may take six months after you recover to get back to where you were, but you’ll still be able to improve.
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You have to be patient, put trust in the work, and get that work in. You can get there sooner than you think. When I first started benching again back then, I only used 135. Before this interview, I benched 455, and I’m on the road to get to 500. It may take me four or five more months, but that’s okay. It’s a journey. Go on it, and take the time. It will be worth it.
You shared your goals on your posts throughout that time. How important is goal-setting in your eyes, whether it be for training or life in general?
It’s huge in everything you do. If you’re going to open a business, you have goals that you want to reach. “I want to be here in one month, here in six months,” and so on. Some of them may need to be adjusted along the way, but at least you’re on the way. Let’s say if your goal is to squat 800 pounds, and you’re at 600, then 20 to 30 pounds a year is reasonable. That would take you around six years. Some years, you may add 60 pounds. Others may only be 15. Breaking big goals into smaller ones, then tracking the progress as you go will be a big difference in anything you do.
The main reason many people commit to any form of fitness is for overall health. How much importance do you place on getting regular checkups and maintaining visits to your doctor?
If you plan on pursuing becoming a serious lifter, and you’re under 35, then you should probably see your doctor at least once a year. If you’re over 35, then you should see your doctor two to three times a year, and that includes blood work, heart checks, EKG, etc. If you’re over 40, then at least three or four times a year would be best. I get my blood work done four times a year. I also have blood pressure checks, calcium checks, and other tests done. Definitely get it done because nobody wants to be the strongest guy in the cemetery.
You’ve also made great strides in business. You mentioned having a regular job in the past. In recent years, you’ve been on Strongest Man in History, you’ve been marketing products and clothing, and you’ve traveled for various appearances and events. What was the most challenging part of transitioning from a regular career to being in the Nick Best business?
Just having to map everything out and figure out how I was going to get there. It took a while. Some guys before me, like Robert Oberst for example, he got sponsored and traveled going to a lot of expos. He figured it out as he was going along. It took him years to do that.
I didn’t have those years. So, I had to rely on Robert, Brian (Shaw), and Eddie (Hall) to help me learn how to get things going.
What has been the best part of that process?
It doesn’t feel like I’m working to be honest. I’m doing what I love to do, and it’s nice. I don’t have to sit and look at catalogs and order $150,000 worth of products for another promotion or casino. Now I get up and figure out which companies I need to talk to about designs for shirts for myself and work on social media. That time I’m spending is for myself and the brands I choose to be a part of. It’s really neat when you’re working for yourself.
Someone reading this is vowing to make changes and is extra motivated to get going. Motivation can only take them so far, though. What advice can you offer that person so they keep going after that initial motivational flame is extinguished?
What can you do to become a better you? Find something that you like and that you want to be better at, and simply take time every day to find ways to get better. If it’s to be a better friend to someone, be a better friend. If it’s to be a better husband, be a better husband. Find ways every day that you can become better in ways that other people can enjoy.
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