Finding strength is common in Paleo. When you dive into the lifestyle you begin to feel energized, lighter, yet stronger. I’ve seen a wonderful trend of Paleo enthusiasts finding their hunger for physical strength really take off as the weight loss and health improvements increase. And I am all for this. Though we can define strength many ways, our muscles represent a critical part of the health equation. Building muscle does more than change your body composition. It conditions your hormones, reverses the aging process, supports healthy digestion, improves your sleep quality, reduces the negative impacts of stress on your body, improves your poster, boosts the immune system, provides energy, increases your metabolism, and overall it ends wars and provides world peace. No seriously.
So let me present to you a man who has literally changed the industry of power lifting and body building. Someone all professionals and novices alike should study. All old school meat heads, young and seasoned, know who this man is. Even modern day athletes continue to worship him alongside Arnold and some other Golden Age figures in Physical Culture. But if you’re new to strength training, let me introduce you to Fred Hatfield:
Dr. Hatfield, in a nutshell, can squat an elephant. He has written over 60 books and training manuals, a former Olympic powerlifting and bodybuilding coach, and is the current President of I.S.S.A (International Sports Science Association). He is a a voice to be heard, and I think anyone new to strength training should consider lending him an ear. Women, men, kids: all ages. New to strength training, or at it for a while. His practice of combining physical and mental strength makes him the Yoda of body building. His message is clear: Building strength is not just about physical gains, it’s building character, mind-body connectedness, passion, and spiritual growth.
1- As a college athlete you competed in gymnastics. Tell us how you went from gymnastics to Dr. Squat. How did you transition from a competitive gymnast to training Olympic Powerlifting in the Soviet Union?
Wow! The story of my LIFE! OKI, here goes. I was an Olympic lifter and bodybuilder in high school, winning the Teenage Mr. Connecticut totle, and breaking a few stte records in lifting. My true love was gymnastics, though, and zas soon as I was discharged from the Marine Corps, I entered Southern Connecticut State University and competed as a gymnast under the coaching of Abe Grossfeld, himself a famous Olympic competitor. As a gymnast, I still competed in Olympic weightlifting and bodybuilding. Years went by, and I dropped from gymnastics and competed in OL and BB on the national level. I was ranked in the top 3 OL in the country (181 lb. class), and qualified to compete in the Mr. America competition. Instead, I opted to switch to powerlifting, being tired of not making the Olympic team (this was in 1976). I experienced instant success in powerlifting, and went on to break over 30 world records in 5 different weight divisions over the years. I was tagged with the nickname “Dr. Squat” by some of my students at the University of Wisconsin where I taught. The name, of course, was from 1) being a Ph.D., and 2) being the best squatter in the world.
2- Sprinting through a cliff notes version of your athletic and fitness history, you’ve been a Marine, a competitive NCAA gymnast, olympic powerlifting and weight lifting coach, written several books and training manuals, conducted research and created high-level sports and athletic products, started two fitness magazines -correct me if I’m wrong- one being the now named Men’s Fitness, have over 60 published books in 8+ languages, and are now President of ISSA continuing research and writing in sports & fitness. Tell me some of the ways in which all of the above have individually shaped your approach to training.
In retrospect, it was my unflagging PASSION for what I did. It’s hard to tell someone to get passionate, as that’s an inward commitment one makes. Nonetheless, I found that I was pretty good at instilling this quality into my students, athletes and my kids. When one acquires passion, winning becomes a foregone conclusion.
3- Have you learned any hard or difficult-to-swallow lessons in your years as a coach?
The hardest lesson I’ve had to learn was, and remains to be, to keep my focus on the important things in life. These things are spiritual in nature. It wasn’t until near the end of my career as a competitive athlete that I finally got it through my thick head.
4- In the last 50 years of your career there have countless trends in exercise. What are some of the memorable ones you saw coming and leaving?
The old Arthur Jones system of HIT (high intensity training) was a monstrous joke that doggedly hung on for too long. It featured one set to failure, and once a week training. Thankfully, it’s near death. But truthfully, all of the so-called silver bullet training methods shared one thing in common, that being their inability to live up to all of the laws of training. So, they continue to come and go. The latest to fail to live up to these laws are p90x and crossfit. There are many others. That’s not to say they’re bad. But they’re only “good” (on a scale of good, better, best).
5- You never followed or set trends, why?
Because I had the insight to see the flaws. My lifetime commitment (passion) has been to develop BEST practice!
6- What has helped you remain consistent in how you balance your firm moral standards and philosophy while transitioning through several monumental eras in which trend workouts constantly came/went?
I have abandoned many practices when I finally learned that there was a better way. If I’ve been consistent, it was in how frequently I abandoned training practices as I discovered better ones. One recent example of this is having to abandon my beliefs in the area of sports/fitness nutrition. Scientific discoveries of a monumentally important nature just keep coming these days, owing in large part to new methods of research opening up as a result of the newly established genomics field of research.
6- What is your advice for finding your passion in life, in the gym, in spirituality, in relationships, in work, etc?
“PASSION …and Peak Performance!
NOT commitment to excellence… Rather, utter disdain for anything less!
NOT endless hours of practice… Instead, PERFECT practice!
NOT ability to cope… Rather, total domination of EVERY situation in life!
NOT setting goals… Goals too often prescribe performance limits!
NOT doing what it takes to win… Instead, a burning commitment to do what no one has ever done, or will ever do again!!
NOT need to achieve… Instead, doing what it takes to EXCEED the bounds of mere convention
NOT force of skill or muscle… Rather, it’s the explosive, sometimes calamitous force of WILL!
If you believe in and practice these things, then for you, winning is neither everything nor the only thing as the great Vince Lombardi once said. If you believe in and practice these things, then, for you, winning has become a FOREGONE CONCLUSION!
But if, along the way, you somehow stumble, PROFIT from the experience! Then, vow, by the power of Almighty God, it’ll NEVER happen again!”
Check out issaonline.edu for more information on education, training, and resources.
Interview with Dr. Fred Hatfield, aka “Dr. Squat” By Sara Eye