Interview With Powerlifting Behemoth Jonathan Byrd
JB, for those that aren’t familiar with you, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what some of your current lift totals are?
My name is Jonathan Byrd. I am a special education teacher at White Oak High School in Jacksonville, NC. Before that I attended Methodist University, and spent nearly 4 years bouncing around arena football teams until a major knee injury. I am married to a beautiful woman (Amanda) with no kids, and have one pit bull named Hercules.
My best current totals are in multiply: 1003-700-677, for a total of 2380 (my only multiply meet). My single ply best is 815-670-685 for a total of 2170. At the time of the totals, both were top 12 in the country in those classes. I am preparing for a meet right now with the best lifts of this training cycle being 1025×2 squat, 765 bench, and 725 deadlift.
When did you first get serious about strength training: during or after your football years?
I would say I became focused on it at because of football, but took it to a whole new level when I was done playing. I had a great high school football and strength coach by the name of Bob Blick. He really helped me develop and grow as a lifter and athlete.
I was a 250lb, 14 year old fat kid who couldn’t bench 150 lbs when I started. By the time of graduation I did a handful of push-pull meets and benched over 400 lbs. This was at the age of 17. Coach Blick and I later became training partners and he introduced me to the group of powerlifters I still lift with today. It was there that I learned what it took to be successful.
Even in college my coaches would let me come home on Fridays to squat with them because of the gains I was making. I think it was there, in a garage with no heat or air that I really started to focus on strength gains. When I suffered the major knee injury, they were there to help me rehab it.
It was then that I knew I wanted to be one of the best in the world. Being strong became not only a goal, but a lifestyle for me.
Tell us what happened after your knee injury…
Well I had done two full power meets while I was in college. At one point I held the NASA Jr. American record in the squat with 677. It stayed that way for a few years, but has been broke a few times since then.
Even then though, powerlifting was an after thought. It was something I did with my training partners to get me ready for football. It’s funny, but I can tell you the exact point when I knew I wanted to lift against the best.
I was rehabbing my knee, doing squats on the wall with a medicine ball. All my training partners were squatting on the platform in the gym. Chalk flying, a few words that can’t be mentioned are being screamed, and I knew. I was going to come back stronger than ever, and get on the platform and prove it.
At that point, when you knew you wanted to compete against the best, what did your training look like?
Pretty much over the last 6 years it as been some form of progressive overload. In the beginning I just trained like a wild man, and almost always raw. I took the long way into lifting gear, which I actually feel is the best way to get the best results from it.
My training cycles would consist of 10 weeks. Two weeks of 3×6, two weeks of 2×4, two weeks of 3×3, two weeks of 3×2 and a week of 1×4, then a heavy single. Typically that would be my opener. I would take the next week off in rest for the meet, and then truly find out where I was.
I would follow this for the bench, and squat. I would work RDL in after benching, and would typically only pull off the floor a few times during that 10 week cycle. With no meet in sight my workouts typically consisted of 4 sets of 6-8 reps. I actually always felt I made solid progress on those rep ranges, even though increasing my one rep max wasnt really the goal.
As I started to wear Titan single ply gear, I couldn’t really follow that workout in a bench shirt. This is when I started to work up to a set of raw work near max effort. Most of the time it was a set of 3 about 85% before jumping into a shirt.
Back then I would do tons of board work. My gear was always a size or two too big, and I never had any real trouble touching. I would typically go off both the two and one board for a set, then take a set from my chest. Typically I would do doubles off the board, and singles from the chest.
Over the last 2 months I have actually changed up my programming slightly and had some very good success. I break everything down into 4 week mini-cycles. I will do my best to explain.
- Monday – Low pin deadlifts, no gear traditional stance. 4 sets of 6 increasing weight each set.
- Tuesday – Equipped bench: I work up to around 455-500 using the titan ram, then put on my shirt. This week I start off with the 2 board. I do 3×2 off the 2 board working at or above what I feel will be my full range number. As long as things are feeling good, I will try to take one rep to the chest. This was advice from a friend Roger Ryan, who I feel is one of the best bench pressers in the US.
- Wednesday – I typically hit a few biceps movements. Mostly double arm hammers in the 10 rep range. I do pretty much everything seated as not to tax the back. I really feel a lot of people neglect their arms. I really feel this helps me control the weight on the bench press. I typically follow this up with a series of rear delt movements, face pulls, band pull aparts, and so on.
- Thursday – This is an off day. I try to up my water intake because I know what is ahead tomorrow.
- Friday – Squat day – I do 3×2 increasing weight each set. Working around 90% of what I felt my current max would be.
- Monday – High Pin pulls: I like to wear briefs and a belt on these. I use a sumo stance (what I pull with in the meet) and really try to push the limits here. I normally do sets of 3 all the way up until I can only pull it for one rep. I start with the pin at the top of the knee once I am in my stance.
- Tuesday – Equipped bench – Again I work up around 500 using the Titan Ram, then put on my shirt. This week I do 1 set from the 2board, 1 from the 1 board, then do two sets from the chest. Everything still for 2 reps.
- Wednesday – Typical arm day.
- Thursday – Rest.
- Friday – Squat day – I do 3×2 increasing weight each set. Finishing around 95% of what I felt my current max would be.
- Monday – I like to do glute ham raises, sometimes while holding a curl bar adding weight as needed. I also like to do a close stance leg press focusing on the quads. I try to leave most of this stuff light. Just getting good blood flow.
- Tuesday – Same as previous week Equipped bench- Again I work up around 500 using the Titan Ram, then put on my shirt. This week I do 1 set from the 2board, 1 from the 1 board, then do two sets from the chest. Everything still for 2 reps.
- Wednesday – Typical arm day.
- Thursday – Rest.
- Friday – Equipped deads: On these I like to pull off the floor for 3’s untill about 85%. At that point I switch to singles and attempt to get 3 sets of 1 in progressing weight.
- Monday – Rest (you will see why).
- Tuesday – Equipped bench – Again I work up around 500 using the Titan Ram, then put on my shirt. This week I do one set from the 2 board, one from the one board, then do two sets from the chest. Everything is now for singles.
- Wednesday – Rest – I dont like to train my arms four weeks in a row, just because my elbows don’t like me if I do.
- Thursday – Rest.
- Friday – LOAD THE BAR: Full gear squat, and I found out where I am at. I follow the typical warm ups for the week before. Rather than double everything, I just start with the singles with my working sets. I use this week to find out where I am in the squat. Normally its about 40- 50lbs more than my heaviest double of the cycle.
After 4 weeks I evaluate what was weak, where I need to improve and adjust it accordingly. If I feel beat up at the end of 4 weeks I will take a deload, and jump back into another 4 week cycle. I have made steady gains on this since my last meet.
So no box squats, bands, chains or speed work?
I am sure Louie Simmons is throwing up right now, but NO BOX SQUATS! Just not been something I have enjoyed. I did a few in college, because that was part of our football program, but that’s it.
I thought moving over to multiply lifting I would have to use a box to learn the gear. Well that wasn’t the case at all. Really was an easy transition for me in the squat gear (bench shirt has been another world). I know box squats have their place, I just like doing the lift that I am going to have to do at the meet.
As far as bands and chains go, I have played with both, but not a staple of my program at all. I will use the reverse bands sometimes on rack pulls, and If I had a set up where I could, I would hit a reverse band squat from time to time, but my set up now will not work. I could see using the chains for some off cycle lifting, but really what it comes down to is that I like to see the weight on the bar, not figure out band tension or how much chain needs to be hanging.
I do try to fit in some speed work, but not what most people would call it. I typically do this on my warm ups, I vary my grip some, and really try to force myself to be explosive. I saw an interview with Ed Coan where he said he did something similar, and it has seemed to work for me.
I have had the issue for years that anytime I train my chest two times a week, I end up with a pec strain. Best way for me to avoid it is to work my speed bench into my normal bench day.
When push comes to shove, I honestly feel we over-think this whole lifting thing. Load the weight on the bar, focus on the big 3. Hit the auxiliary lifts that fit your weak points, and you will get stronger!
You ever get the itch over the years to jump over and try Westside? Or has it always been a case of…this is working for me, why change?
Jumping into a full Westside routine just has never interested me. Don’t get me wrong, if I could train at WSBB, I would do as I am told haha! It is just I don’t have a set up to run Westside, and I have always made steady gains doing what I have done.
When the day comes that I am not making gains, I will give Westside a run, but until then if it isn’t broke, why fix it?
What does it feel like to have 1000 pounds on your back?
It is a major rush that is for sure. It has taken awhile, but my body is starting to get used to it. I don’t know how to describe it in a word. When you’re getting ready to approach a bar loaded down like that, I just block out everything. You have to be mentally prepared for that kind of weight, because even if your strong enough, the littlest mistake can get you seriously hurt.
It seems like you’ve always been a naturally good squatter. How about the other 2 lifts? Did they always progress pretty evenly for you?
I was a good bencher at a young age, but after a few shoulder injuries in college it stalled pretty bad. My body took a real beating during that time frame, and it was hard to make good bench gains. Through all that I ended up with some pec issues of which now I don’t really push my raw max too much.
Working in the bench shirt and Ram have really helped me over the last 2 years. The deadlift has been my worse nightmare. I have tried lots of different ways to make it move. I have tried both traditional and sumo, raw I use a traditional, in my gear I use a sumo stance. I have had my best gains working on rack pulls from different heights. I feel like I will hit a solid meet PR at my next meet.
I assume you train the deadlift like the other lifts, with the same frequency and programming?
I train my back with the same frequency, but not the deadlift so to speak. I only pull off the floor ever 2/3 weeks. I normally work out of the rack from different heights. I also do a lot of glute ham raises and good mornings.
I try to make sure I have trained my back, even though I don’t pull off the floor as often as most.
Tell us a bit more about some of the gear you used over the years…
When I started I was using a hand me down z-suit, and blast shirt. I didn’t start using gear that really added weight to my lifts untill I was benching well into the 400’s raw, and squatting over 750 in just a z-suit bottom. That is when I made the switch into Titan gear, and it became a whole new world.
I stayed single ply untill I reached a top 5 national total in my class. At that point I was looking for a new challenge and tried out multiply gear. I am still learning it, and hopefully can put up some impressive numbers soon.
I want to ask you about squats. I’ve seen you make some nice progression over the last year. Where was your squat max back in 2010, where is it now, and why do you feel you are still able to see such quality progress each year?
In 2010 I had just fully rehabbed my knee after surgery. I did not do a full power meet that year, but my gym squat was in the mid 700’s. In 2011 I hit 825 in my first full power meet back. By the start of 2012 I had done 900 in the same suit I had been using since 2010 in the gym.
At that point I decided I would try multiply lifting. I used my single ply total to get into the 2012 APF Nationals. I lifted in a Titan Boss squat suit that I had only had 5 workouts in prior. I was able to get a solid 1003 for my first 1k squat in a meet.
I have made some good progress since the meet as I have learned the suit. My best squat in the gym was 935×2 followed by 1025×2. Right now I am looking for something in the 1075 range at the XPC Semi finals.
As far as how I have continued to make progress it’s really pretty simple. My training partners help push me to the limit any time I am in full gear squatting. On down days we take off the gear, wear a loose brief and really force well below parallel depth. I think training without the gear is extremely important to getting stronger in the gear.
In the end though, I still work the same way I did when I started. I like to train above 85% of my max, and go after PRs in some form every chance I get.
You mentioned your lifetime goals recently. Can you tell us about them and how far off you realistically think you might be from achieving them?
Well I am a dreamer, so my lifetime goals are big. 1210 squat, 850 bench, 800 deadlift. I would love to say that I am not far off, but realistically I am sure it’s light years. To reach that level it’s not only about getting stronger, but staying healthy, taking in good advice, and a lot of luck!
I would like to think within the next few years I would be in reach of those goals, but who knows. At the end of the day, if I never reach any of them it will be ok. I enjoy powerlifting, and all the things that come with it.
I’ve seen you battered and bruised, mashing fingers, knotted biceps, problems with your pec…what have you learned about dealing with injuries and training around them?
I have learned that injuries are part of the sport. If you lift long enough and hard enough, you will get hurt. My training partners taught me a long time ago, no matter the injury, there is a way to train.
Sometimes it takes some out of the box thinking, but eventually you will find something to work the other muscles. If the upper half is hurt, train the lower and vise versa. If you want to make it happen, you will find a way!
What does dedication mean to you? Are there any things in life that you have to shy away from or give up to stay dedicated to powerlifting?
Dedication is everything when it comes to powerlifting. On training days everything gets adjusted. From amount of sleep, good food intake, water, even the amount of time I spend on my feet. Even my family makes sacrifices to help me reach my goals. It’s great to have people around you who care about you reaching your goals.
Right now I am going through a pretty ugly injury, but I was in the gym loading plates and coaching my training partners. That is what we do as powerlifters. I sacrifice all kinds of things to be productive in the gym.
When I decided I wanted to make a push at being a top-level lifter, I gave up coaching football. It was something that had been a real passion of mine for a long time, but I knew I could not be good at both.
Best 3 tips for a young lifter who wants to build strength as rapidly as possible?
- Compound movements must be the staple of your program
- Listen to the guys who have been there.
If you hit the big movements, eat like crazy, and learn, you will be on the right track!
What’s the most impressive thing you’ve ever seen at a meet?
Donnie Thompson wins this one hands down. I was lifting at the meet in which he hit 1260 (the all time world record at the time), then gave 1300 a run. The 1300 got called for depth, but was still an insane attempt!
Which powerlifters do you look up to the most and why?
When I started I enjoyed reading about the older guys, Kaz, and Don Reinhoudt. As time went on I really liked Donnie Thompson and Chuck Vogelpohl.
Guys I really follow today are Henry Thompson, one of the best squatters on the planet, and Dave Hoff. The only person alive who can beat Dave Hoff is Dave Hoff. All of those guys bust their butts to be the best in the world, you have to respect that.
Parting shots…give a shout out to your sponsors. I know Anderson helps you a lot, correct?
Yes, Ken Anderson from Andersonpowerlifting.com has really helped me reach my goals. Best customer service and gear out there.
Muscleandbrawn.com has been great to me as well. I have never been to a site with as much useful information on all types of strength and muscle gains.
Of course I have to thank my training partners Matt Honeycutt, Dave Bell, and Jr Flud. No way I could ever reach this level without them. Doesn’t matter how good you think you are, you got to have people to keep your ego in check!
I have to think my family as well, they change plans all the time to help me keep my lifting schedule. A lot of times it goes unmentioned, but it means a lot. Last, the most important one my wife! Amanda has been there through it all, its great to have your wife support what you love to do!