Hi! Tell us about yourself and your training
My name is Daniel Austin and I am a longtime vegan (14 years now) who got into competitive powerlifting (raw) almost five years ago. I am currently 36 years old, and live in Memphis, Tennessee, although I am originally from Texas.
The thing I love about powerlifting is that most of the workouts are hard on the body, so it makes recovery extra important, and that often equates to more time out of the gym, which means I get to have a life outside of the gym.
Typically, I train three days a week, four days at the most, depending on how much weekly volume I need to achieve, what weaknesses I need to address, and how far out I am from a meet.
I always tell my crossfit and bodybuilder friends, who are often in the gym 5-6 days a week, that they need to come over to the “dark side” of powerlifting so they can have more free time to enjoy their lives.
Describe a typical day of training
I regularly train in the evening. I find this is best for powerlifting, at least for me, since it allows me to pack in calories throughout the day to then expend during my workout.
It seems like cardio people are more morning oriented, especially since running while fasted helps burn fat and stay lean, but doing heavy lifting while fasted is generally a terrible idea, so night time is the right time for me.
I’ve been powerlifting steadily since mid 2014, and to be this many years in without any significant time off from this kind of training means I have (unfortunately) reached the ‘advanced’ lifter stage of progression, in which it generally now takes me months of steady work to make fairly minimal gains.
This also generally means that standard programs no longer work for me. I worked with a coach for a year, and he taught me a lot about fixing my technique and form, but we didn’t achieve much higher numbers together, so now I write my own programming, and I do so pretty intuitively overall, gauging the balance I need between volume and neural adaptation (via intensity) based on how I feel each workout. And fortunately, my numbers are now going up again.
Right now, I am typically training three days a week, and I definitely squat each of those days. I guess you can say I still borrow some philosophy from the Texas Method or even the old 5×5 programs, which generally start with a moderately heavy volume day for squats, then the second training day incorporates low intensity squats for recovery, and the final day of the week will focus on heavier weight with less reps to drive neural adaptation going into the next week.
I generally have one heavy bench day in the middle of the week, and I am finding that as long as I do deload weeks often enough, one heavy bench day is perfectly adequate for me to keep making gains, even as an advanced stage lifter.
I support my bench with overhead shoulder presses on Day 1 of training each week, but focus more on volume and shoulder hypertrophy with those. On the third day of training, I usually do something like close grip bench and tricep accessory work with cables or dumbbells with comparatively light weight to facilitate bloodflow and recovery from my heavy bench workout two days prior.
I used to deadlift progressively heavy once a week, but again, as an advanced stage lifter, this sadly ends up shutting down progress in all my lifts, just from nervous system overload and posterior chain soreness.
Strangely, even though I am a raw powerlifter, I borrowed an approach from Dave Tate (Elite FTS) about running a variation of the Conjugate/West Side Barbell method, in which he talked about making a 10-day week instead of a seven-day week. I do this to factor in more recovery time for heavy deadlifts.
So while I generally keep squat and bench on weekly cycles, I only go heavy on deadlift every nine to 10 days right now, and it is actually working well for me.
The other ways I address low back strength and recovery on the other training days leading up to that heavy deadlift day are by doing deadlift variations with lighter weight and pronounced speed (deficit deadlifts are typically my go to for the increased hamstring stretch and activation), and lately I have been doing more high rep work with reverse hyperextension machine, as well as kettlebell swings.
Overall, a typical day of training for me is very simple though: one heavy competition style lift, followed by moderate hypertrophy work on the opposite portion of the body (ex: if it is a heavy low bar squat day, the moderate hypertrophy work will likely be a bench or pressing variation, or vice versa), followed then by a couple to a few isolated muscle group accessory exercises to address weak points in my chain (arms, lats, traps, low back, or sometimes core). It usually takes me one and a half to two hours, tops.
How do you keep going and push harder?
As a powerlifter, I feel I train so seldomly that I actually can’t wait to get into the gym for each training session.
I have to be really down in the dumps physically or emotionally to procrastinate about going to the gym, and even at times when I have felt that way, the gym always made me feel better during and afterward, so I know that getting the endorphins going by lifting is only going to help me fight off illness or a funky mood.
Also, I think being vegan has been a big motivator since day one for me. I know a lot of vegan lifters are this way, because in some ways what we are doing in the gym is about much more than just our own physical fitness.
If people look at us and see us making no progress, or being weaker than everyone else in the gym, it is going to make a poor case for veganism, and theoretically people who see us are going to continue to feel justified about eating animals. As vegans, we just can’t allow that. So that has always motivated me to keep going, no matter what.
When I hit a plateau, I start reading more about ways to work past the plateau, consulting with other lifters to get their perspectives, or last year, I even hired a coach. I have always been proactive in getting to the next level, even if some efforts were not very productive, and I think that is at least in part because I don’t want to fail the animals.
Likewise, as a vegan I’d rather lead by example than by arguing with people. I’ve learned that by having the best squat form in the gym, or an impressive deadlift or bench, you attract people to you who are curious about what you’re doing and why it’s working for you, and your results speak for themselves.
Leading by example is what often creates the space for authentic conversations in which you can help other people, which in my case can also sometimes help me advocate for animals.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I just got home from the IPL World Powerlifting Championships (Drug Tested division) in Ireland last week, where I put up my best total ever, and won second place in my weight class. I’d say it was an overall successful trip and competition.
Now though, back at home, readjusting to all the time and weather changes, I confess I feel pretty beat up, especially after maxing out last week.
I did my first legitimate squat session since getting home last night, and even though I was working at less than 85% intensity, I felt buried and sluggish.
I need to put in a couple weeks of higher reps and lower intensity to get my form and motor function back in check so I can ease into some progressive programming again.
As for the future, I haven’t given it great thought yet. I tend to plan things out year by year, and that usually involves deciding on a qualifier meet for either a national or world championship competition.
So that means I typically do two meets a year right now, and I haven’t figured out what 2020 will look like for me yet. I will say that I think I am going to go ahead and officially go up a weight class.
Since 2015, I have held weight in the 74-75kg weight classes (163-165 pounds, depending on whether I was competing in the IPF or IPL), but I am struggling to maintain that weight now, so I think I will go ahead and stay in the 82.5-83kg classes going forward.
Since the Wilks scoring system seems to favor heavier guys, I think my total is not only going to massively jump with some fun bodyweight gain, but also my Wilks should go up as well.
How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?
I’m knocking on wood as I tell you: I’ve never had any major injuries.
I do struggle some with slight elbow tendinitis. I used to think it was from pressing, but now I find it is more from deadlifts and curling, perhaps from keeping my grip so tight, so the main way I found I can negate the pain there is by grip variations on deadlifts and curls, avoiding wrapping my thumb around the bar when it is safe enough to get away with open grip.
That pain seems to come and go, but it is very minor anyhow. I think I have mostly been able to avoid injuries by simply listening to my body’s signals when pain starts to develop, and by also programming for myself realistically.
In powerlifting, the progression of your volume and intensity always has to be based on your last workout and where you are at in that specific moment of your training and adaptation.
Like Henry Rollins said, most injuries that occur with The Iron are due to ego. You should never try to trick yourself or amp yourself up to take on more weight than your body can handle, not for pride or competition or anything like that.
As for sleep, I’d say I do well on an average of seven hours a night. My body rarely wants to sleep more than eight. If get between a range of six and eight hours, it is usually more than enough for me to feel alert and healthy.
How is your diet and what supplements do you use?
I follow a high protein, relatively low carb, high fat vegan diet. I have written about it extensively in my book, The Way of The Vegan Meathead: Eating for Strength (available on my site: veganmeathead.com or Amazon).
Generally, I am in the range of eating 35% of my calories from protein per day, which for me is more than 200 grams per day. Even as a vegan I do this very easily, and again, the method is detailed in my book.
My fat calories are usually over 30% also, sometimes also about 35%. My carbs are bit flexible, and are usually between 25-30% of my total calories per day. A lot of my meals look like a dense vegan protein source (like fake meat, tofu, or seitan) and sauteed green vegetables (broccoli is my favorite, kale and collards come next).
I do supplement as well. My mandatory supplements (all vegan, I promise) are Vitamin B12 (Now Foods B12, VegLife B12, Deva B12), VegLife Vitamin D, and Vitamin Shoppe creatine monohydrate. Pretty simple, honestly–nothing that would even be out of the ordinary for omnivores to take.
Lately, I have also been taking more algae-based essential fatty acids (Omega-3s: iWi, Spectrum, Ovega-3), and Vitamin Shoppe L-Glutamine as well–all to attempt to manage inflammation as I lift heavier and heavier.
Over the years, I have also incorporated some other basics like Solgar Zinc (for hormone optimization), Country Life Magnesium (to alleviate muscle twitching or spasms), and Deva Glucosamine (for preventative joint health).
What has inspired and motivated you?
My favorite bands to listen to when lifting are: Crowbar, All Out War, Earth Crisis, 100 Demons, and Behemoth. I love hardcore, metal, and death metal. Bad radio rock negatively affects testosterone levels, if you ask me.
Like I was saying before, though, I think my greatest motivation is to represent for animals and veganism. Lifting for something bigger than yourself helps you develop a warrior mentality.
Instagram, @veganxmeathead - photo by Julie Anderson
Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?
Don’t be ashamed to start at the level that you’re at. It may sound so simple it is stupid, but it’s true: You can only proceed from where you are. To do anything else is just asking for injury.
Also, figure out what your body mechanics are most suited for, because another one of the best motivators out there is to be able to accomplish goals. The better you can get at something will often make you want to keep getting even better at it.
For example, I realized early on, before I knew what powerlifting specifically was, that bodybuilding just wasn’t working for me as a lifestyle, and also aesthetically. I didn’t enjoy that lifestyle or regimen, but I found I really loved compound lifts, and being a relatively short guy gives me some advantages in the sphere of powerlifting (particularly reduced range of motion to complete reps).
Getting better at compound lifts made me want to keep better at compound lifts, and many years later, that’s still the case for me. Some people were made to run more than they were made to lift, and some people were made to lift more than they were made to run, and some people, I guess, are just going to look prettier than us no matter what haha.
Just find out what you’re best at, what you enjoy the most, and go for it. And then, stay consistent! No consistency, no gains.
Are you taking on clients right now?
Only very select clients who I privately choose. I don’t ever aim to coach full time.
Where can we learn more about you?
I have a general website for all my writing and music projects, as well as lifting news: daniel-austin.com
My other website is veganmeathead.com, which focuses on my book, The Way of The Vegan Meathead, and the merchandising enterprise I have built around it.