The Straight Dope: An Interview With Korey Marciniak

Whenever I see someone using a barbell for anything other than bench pressing, it shocks and compels me into action. I talk to them, and sometimes, just sometimes, they speak words back in my general direction. This is one of those moments.

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Rog Law: What’s up, Korey! Could you tell my readers a little bit about yourself and how you first got into lifting weights?

Korey Marciniak: I am a thirty year old man working in the computer industry; when people ask me what I do with computers, I just tell them “I fix the internet.” So, as you might imagine, I am a bit of a nerd. I am 6’3″ and I currently weigh 193lbs. I first got into weightlifting a few years ago, I knew nothing about it, I just knew that I was not happy with how I looked or felt. I was miserable all the time and I felt weak. I started off simple by just working out with dumbbells and a jumprope in my living room. I was picking compound exercises based off of exrx.net and doing the exercises to fatigue. It was a mess. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was losing weight, so I was pleased with the results when I went from 218lbs to 170lbs.

I started doing P90X after that, and although a lot of people may balk at it, it helped me understand how and what I should be eating. I did that for about 4 months, never really getting stronger, but losing weight, and when I hit 161lbs I decided it was time to try something more in line with my goals. I liked the variety, but I wanted to be stronger and more useful as an adult man. I tried CrossFit, and that is honestly what I feel marks the first time I got into lifting weights, because before then the most weight I had lifted was 55lbs. I enjoyed CrossFit, but I realized two things about it: I loved the Olympic lifting, and at month four I was only slightly stronger than when I walked in the door. I don’t regret my choice, because I learned a LOT about weightlifting very quickly, I realized it was time to do this right so I stopped exercising, and started training.

RL: It’s awesome that you aligned your action steps with your goals – that’s one thing that I see most people NOT doing in the gym and in life. Did you have a lot of hands on coaching when you were at the CrossFit facility? Your lifting technique is pretty damn dope.

KM: When I initially signed up for CrossFit, I was required to take an introductory class on how to lift before I could participate in the workout of the day. I stupidly scheduled it for 6am on a weekday when I was on vacation. I remember basically nothing from the class other than that I was very tired and wanted to go back to bed. I don’t fault my instructor for that, and I am giving myself a mulligan, since no one can be expected to learn how to perform dozens of exercises with great form in an hour.

I had assumed that the classes would be group-led and very hands on with an instructor correcting my form, however I was sadly mistaken. I think a lot of it had to do with the CrossFit facility being new, and not a well-oiled machine yet, but that was a big motivator in my move away from CrossFit. I watched a lot of videos and read a lot about lifting after I realized that I was not going to get much coaching. Don’t get me wrong, everyone there was very nice, and I did receive some tips and hints that helped, but the majority of my time there I found myself left to my own devices slogging through a workout without any idea of what I was doing.

The videos online were really what helped me learn how to lift, and I believe strongly in the phrase “Perfect is the enemy of good.”

RL: What was your next step after CrossFit?

KM: I was doing CrossFit for about four months before I wanted to get stronger. I was tired of struggling with a 115lb push press when a random off the street would show up on day one and be able to push press 155lbs, all because he weighed more than me. I realized that having abs was not as important as the ability to lift furniture and push a broken-down car. So with the consent of the owner’s at the CrossFit facility I began Starting Strength. I reset every single one of my lifts a huge amount, and I began doing the most methodical simplest workout ever conceived.

It was all very systematic. I showed up, wrote some numbers down, moved a lot of weights around and left. I was worried at first about my weight, I didn’t want to become fat, but I ate clean and I focused on getting enough of the foods I needed. I didn’t do the oft-recommended ‘gallon of milk a day’ but that was because I was eating so much I was gaining a pound a week without it.

I started to hit PRs very very quickly, and even though I was much weaker than a lot of the people at the gym I had added a lot of weight to the bar in a short amount of time. I had picked up a shoulder injury at the tail end of doing CrossFit and still had it as I began Starting Strength, but my doctor told me what equated to “sometimes these things take time to heal, man up and keep lifting weights,” and after about three weeks into the program all my pain had gone away.

I ended up switching gyms after about six months, when I started to see the shortcomings. I was squatting and benching heavy without a cage or spotter, and although no one ever said anything to me, I felt bad that I was taking up a bar and squat stands for up to an hour and a half at a time, when most workouts were under 20 minutes there. I learned very quickly how hard it is to find a good gym.

RL: Strength training is addictive, isn’t it? The good thing about it is that even if your goals are purely physique related, the stronger you get the more likely you are to look like you actually life weights.

What were your starting numbers at the beginning of Starting Strength and what are they looking like now?
KM: It is very addictive, and it’s nice to know that it’s applicable in every day life. I definitely took a less physique-oriented path, as I perform a lot of low-repetition exercises, but the results are still there, and strength and physique are not mutually exclusive things which is rewarding in it’s own right.

 

My numbers at the beginning of Starting Strength were sort of all over the place. CrossFit is very randomized, and at about four months in I knew it was time to focus on my weaknesses. I had some decent numbers for a 171lb guy who wasn’t lifting heavy. My deadlift was 275lbs for a set of three, my squat was 230lbs for a single rep, but the depth was terrible so I’d guess it was closer to 195lbs if I am being brutally honest. My best snatch was 105lbs for a single set of three, and my power clean matched my bench press at 135lbs. My overhead press was realistically about 95lbs. I had a bit of a rough start to the program initially as I was dealing with a shoulder injury, and I was not familiar with spending that much time under the bar.

Once I ironed things out and focused on being smart about it, I started with a 175lb squat, a 120lb bench press, a 225lb deadlift, a 115lb power clean, and an 85lb press. Pretty sad numbers, but I was used to doing a single set or using only weights below 115 for CrossFit workouts. As they stand right now, my bests are a 275lb squat, a 180lb bench press, a 355lb deadlift, a 175lb power clean, a 125lb power snatch, and a 137.5lb press. I have gone up about 22lbs since starting the program, but my waistline has remained identical. I am not a genetically gifted weightlifter by any means, and my height puts me at a disadvantage or a lot of  the lifts, but I’m pleased with the progress. I hope to beat my deadlift in a few weeks as I pulled 345lbs last week without any issues, and my press and bench press records are new as of the last two weeks.

My program has had to evolve as the weight has gone up, and I’ve switched to a formula called the Texas method. I would have loved to have kept doing Starting Strength, but I noticed toward the end fatigue was beginning to pile up on me and I was not making any forward progress after several resets. I could always have tried this or that and made a bit more progress, but I wanted to being incorporating the Olympic lifts more prominently in my program, since that was what interested me in the first place.

RL: What has been the biggest payoff or benefit (physical/mental or both) that’s come from your training experience?
KM: The biggest payoff has been the gain of an emotional high from training. As my work capacity increased I was adding in more time and more days, which led to a whole lot of overtraining. When I switched to Starting Strength, I thought for sure I’d be fat in a month, and that simply hasn’t been the case. The extra time away from the gym has helped me emotionally, and it’s much easier to psych myself up for a quick set of max lifts than it was for forty minutes of burpees. The rush from things like deadlifting is a wonderful thing.
RL: Do you have any specific goals that you’re getting after now?
KM: My specific goals for right now are close at hand. I am hoping to hit these numbers by this year: 200lb clean, 200lb bench press, 300lb squat, 400lb deadlift, 150lb press, and a 150lb snatch. I have some more abstract long term goals planned, but things rarely go as planned. I’d like to see a 300lb clean, 300lb bench press, 400lb squat, 200lb press, and a 200lb snatch, but I am not sure how long that will take me to achieve.
I’ve veered away a bit from conditioning goals, as I’ve come to realize that there simply isn’t a need to be able to run a five minute mile for someone who doesn’t run marathons or play competitive sports. I’ll likely have to add some level of it back in as I begin to get closer to my genetic max.
RL: What advice would you offer n00bs who are just starting out?
KM: I’m going to try to keep my advice to n00bs simple and concise, because I could go on for hours and hours on this topic. So here goes:

 

Take everything you read, hear, and see with a grain of salt (yes, including this). Male or female, we all need to eat right, lift smart, and focus on goals that matter to us as individuals. You’ll never stop being a novice, it’ll just stop being easy to make gains. Range of motion matters, and no one gets strong over night. Oh, and for god’s sake squat like it matters.

RL: And now that we have all these silly questions out of the way, what’s your favorite video game and favorite food?

KM: Ahh! A change of topic, okay, let’s see. My favorite game of all time is a tough one, I’d have to say right now it’s Half-Life 2. I know there’s a lot of talk lately about how video games may or may not be art, but once I played Half-Life 2 I knew it was. I had felt pangs of guilt and sadness playing games like Final Fantasy VII, but Half-Life 2 put everything in my hands. The character interaction was so subtle due to the silent protagonist that it made me feel like I was truly filling the role of Gordon Freeman.

Favorite food for me is simple. When my diet changed to something more than random garbage I re-heated in the microwave, I had to start eating breakfast. I began to eat oatmeal then, and it’s stuck with me since then. I sometimes can’t stomach another egg, and I’ve been sick of chicken as of late, but oatmeal always works. I eat the instant oatmeal that I am sure the oatmeal purists think is heretical, but I love the hell out of it.

Photo Credit: Incase

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Comments

  1. Joakim says

    I second the emotional high from strength training.

    Super tired and super energetic/happy at the same time.

    A free drug:)

  2. says

    Oh, so this is the Korey who was on Roger’s YouTube channel!

    I’m really impressed with his form in the olympic movements. As I’ve had no teacher and train in my apartment above other families, I’ve had to perform variations of the exercises – the high pull in place of the clean and the hang-snatch instead of the snatch. I hope to one day master the Olympic movements!

    Anyway, I’ve found myself nodding in fervent agreement to his feelings about and the experiences you’ve had with training. Roger, thanks for sharing this interview with us!

    • says

      Thanks for reading as always, Clement.

      Go ahead and practice the Olympic lifts in your apartment, preferably at night, and when they come upstairs knocking let them know that you’re only doing what comes natural – being awesome.

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