John Hudson, 40, a powerlifter from Champaign, Ill., won the Open and Masters 40-46 Divisions at the World Association of Bench Pressers and Deadlifters (WABDL) National Championships in Dallas, Texas. Meet RealJock's Ironman727.
How long have you been powerlifting?
I've been powerlifting for 21 years. My first competition was in 1985. I began weight training for high school wrestling in 1980, but before 1985 I only had Universal and Nautilus equipment to train with along with an old set of standard bars and plates at home. I didn't have the opportunity to train with olympic bars and plates, which are used in powerlifting, until 1985.
Why did you get into the sport?
I've admired strength for as long as I can remember, even as a little kid. I watched weightlifting (not powerlifting; weightlifting consists of the snatch and the clean-and-jerk) whenever it was on television (on ABC's "Wide World of Sports" back in the pre-ESPN '70s). Powerlifting was much more rarely shown. Vasily Alexeev, the greatest super heavyweight of all time, was my favorite lifter. Later in the 70s, the Worlds Strongest Man competitions also got my attention. I became a big fan of Bill Kazmaier watching these events. I had the opportunity to meet him at my very first powerlifting meet in 1985. I treasured his autograph even more than the trophy I won that day.
What do you like about it?
Powerlifting is a great sport. It's a sport for life, something I learned early in my career. In my first year of competition, at the age of 21, I was out-deadlifted by a 70-year-old man. Since then, I've seen some tremendous lifts performed by men and women whom our ageist society would have us believe are "too old" to lift. Many open-division world records are held by lifters in their 40s. My own lifting career is an illustration of this: I'm hitting my best lifts of my life at the age of 40.
Powerlifting also presents constant challenge. The main challenge, of course, is getting stronger. But it's more complicated than simply gaining strength. This must be done while overcoming, managing and avoiding injury. It must be done both through training and nutrition. It must be done in spite of work schedules that are often not conducive to good training. Currently, I'm dealing with the challenge of getting stronger while reducing my bodyweight.
In recent years, I've become more involved in coaching, judging and promoting meets, all of which have added new dimensions to my enjoyment of the sport. I'm a judge for the American Powerlifting Federation (APF) and a world-ranked judge for the World Association of Bench Pressers and Deadlifters (WABDL). I also serve as Illinois State Co-Chairman for the WABDL.
Finally, I have to admit that I really enjoy beating the straight boys at such a "butch" sport. Maybe it's because I enjoy breaking stereotypes in general.
How do you train? How many days a week? Cardio vs. strength ratio?
Due to my work schedule and recovery requirements, I currently train twice each week: one bench press day and one deadlift/squat day. My training is very high intensity with heavy weights and low reps, focusing on technique and limit strength. To give you an idea of how I train, you could take a look at my training log for the May 27th WABDL Midwest Regionals where I set a World Record in deadlift and benched 677.7.
Read articles that outline my training principles. "The Old School Deadlift Program" and "The Battered Shoulders Bench Program" would be helpful, too.
One aspect of power training that many people don't know about is the necessity of training the Central Nervous System (CNS) to work at maximum efficiency in executing maximal lifts. This is where heavy weights/low reps with good form become crucial.
I have been doing more cardio of late. I typically use an elliptical machine or a stationary bike. This is important for general health and fitness as well as to help with my weight reduction.
How do you plan to lose weight for your next competition? Why does being lighter help?
My ideal competition weight is probably between 270 and 280 pounds. Over the last year or so, I went up to the 308 and Super Heavyweight classes to see how far I could go with my bench press, and also to try to break all the WABDL Masters 40-46 world record in deadlift over the next few years for several weight classes. I've broke the Super Heavyweight record, so now I'm going after the 308 record. After that, I'll try for the records at 275, 259 and possibly 242.
To lose weight, I'm front-loading my daily calories, which means I'm putting more of them—and especially carbs—into my diet earlier in the day so that I burn more of them before I sleep. At the same time, I'm cutting out more and more junk and high-fat foods, while doing more cardio. So far so good, as my weight is steadily but slowly dropping while my strength is still increasing.
The advantage of lower bodyweight for deadlift has to do with leverage. At a lower bodyweight and with a leaner torso, I can get a lower, more efficient starting position for the deadlift, such that my center of balance is behind the bar. This allows me to drag the bar up the legs, leaning more of my bodyweight back to take advantage of leverage. At a heavier weight with a thicker torso, my center of balance is much more over the bar. Thus, I have to pull the bar straight up and I can't take advantage of leverage by leaning back to drag the bar up the legs. This makes the deadlift much more of a "brute force" lift. I can use much more finesse and better technique at a lower weight.
As for grip, with a lower starting position, it's much easier to set the bar deeply into my hands.
Are you out when you compete? Do you know other gay powerlifters?
I am very out. Having said that, being gay is just one aspect— though a very, very important aspect—of who I am. On my team, Illini Powerlifting (the powerlifting team of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), our lifters are very supportive. There's a lot of joking and good-natured teasing, but I think my being out has opened up a space for out mostly student members to talk about issues of sexual identity much more so than they might be able to or comfortable doing otherwise. I've been very pleased to see that by being out, which foregrounds my sexual orientation, our members have gained an awareness that everyone has a sexual orientation and identity, whereas most heterosexuals never think of themselves as having a sexual orientation/identity.
I'm fairly well-known in the WABDL. It seems that most people know that I'm gay. I've heard a few run-of-the-mill homophobic comments from time to time, but in every case the person making the homophobic remark has made a point to apologize. On a number of occasions, I've had lifters tell me that they appreciate my honesty and openness. One of the most gratifying comments I've heard is when a lifter said "knowing you has made me look at everyone in a different way. I can't assume that everyone is straight anymore."
My boyfriend attends most of my major competitions, and he has always been treated with respect and courtesy by other lifters.
Sadly, I know very few gay powerlifters, only one who is out in the sport. I know there are many of us out there. I'm hopeful that the efforts of those of us who are out will lead to some changes.
Do you participate in any other sports or activities?
In recent years, I've had a fairly heavy teaching schedule. I've also been completing my dissertation. As a result, I haven't had time to do many of the activities I enjoy. I like canoeing, sailing, traveling and playing piano.
Who inspires you? Do you have any role models?
My boyfriend, Dai, is a big inspiration. When I think that my schedule and workload is overwhelming, I look at the incredible schedule he has and it puts mine into perspective. He has a dedication to and commitment to excellence in his work that I really admire.
Chris Morgan, an out lifter from England, is another person I admire. He's been very successful in the World Drug-Free Powerlifting Federation and has been a role model for so many LGBT athletes.
Some of the powerlifters who have influenced my training and my career are Bill Kazmaier, Gus Rethwisch and Roger Estep.
What do you do when you aren’t lifting? For fun? For work?
I'm at Visiting Lecturer at the Intensive English Institute of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I'm head of the Academic Reading and Writing Component. I've been teaching for 16 years. I'm also completing a doctorate in Writing Studies at the University of Illinois. My dissertation's working title is "LGBT Perceptions of LGBT Representation in Composition Readers." I have eight birds: four parakeets, two canaries, a cockatiel and a White-Eyed Conure.
What other powerlifting goals do you have?
I want to improve on my streak of National Championships by winning some World Championships (I've only won one world title). By the time I turn 47 and leave the Masters 40-46 age division, I'd like to have broken the deadlift world records for all the heavy weight classes: Super Heavyweight (done), 308, 275, 259 and maybe 242. I want to deadlift 850 someday and bench press 700. Most importantly, I want to continue shattering stereotypes whenever and wherever I can.
Learn more about John at hudsonpowerteam.org and illinipowerlifting.org.