Pro Strongman, Louis Costa, Interviews Sean Katterle of Hardcore

/ Posted 12.31.2012

Louis Costa is a professional strongman and the owner of The Iron Mill in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Louis Costa: What is the most impressive lift you’ve seen at your shows?

Sean Katterle:We’ve been fortunate in that every show we’ve put together has included a line-up of killers who could match or out lift anyone on the planet under legitimate and respectable conditions. We’ve had a bencher hit 400 @ 175 to earn LAST place! From all the 800+ pound pulls to the collection of 600+ pound benches and, more recently, to a string of 400+ pound overhead push presses our numbers have left every audience screaming and cheering like the throng at Circus Maximus. And, though we’ve only ran four productions that included the classic barbell squat, we’ve already seen 175ers go 600+ and a super break passed the nine hundred pound barrier. But, if I had to pick one lift that stood above the others, it would be Benedikt Magusson’s 1,015 pound deadlift. Benni flew all the way from Iceland to perform this miraculous feat for our audience and it was nothing short of spectacular. We’ve got the video posted in HD on our YouTube page for those who haven’t yet witnessed this awesome display of power. Magnusson’s deadlift had steel jawed cowboys testifying and praising Jesus while tears of joy ran down their faces! I was so moved that, after the crowd had dispersed and the equipment was loaded back into the trucks, I went back to my hotel room, laid in the bathtub with the shower on and cried for what must have been almost an hour straight. I was completely overcome by the experience and I walked away feeling like I’d gotten to be a part of one of the greatest moments in the history of sport. I will always feel gratitude towards Benedikt for making that journey and to Brian Dobson for facilitating his doing so.

Louis Costa:Why do you propose powerlifting has become so fractured as far as federation / world records ect.?

Sean Katterle: The sport of powerlifting hasn’t so much become fractured as it’s become inundated by pretenders, frauds and imposters. For years, the print and online press has allowed false versions of the sport to usurp the headlines and the record books. The powerlifting squat is supposed to be devoid of any artificial lifting suits and a contest squat is one that’s walked out and taken to depth. So, any lifter wearing a squat suit, using a monolift or being allowed to blatantly cut their squats high isn’t squatting in a powerlifting competition. And the same can be said for the use of bench shirts on the bench and in regards to deadlifting suits in the deadlift. These weight moving pursuits can be classified as Suit Squatting or Shirt Benching or Techno Lifting or what have you, but none of the above can be accurately labeled as powerlifting by definition. When all of those divisions and federations are removed from the picture, you’re left with just a handful of organizations. By eliminating all of the circus stunt lifting from the big tent you’ve also erased thousands of “powerlifting records” from the powerlifting record books, and rightfully so. In America, you can edit your lists to include The USAPL / IPF, the AAU, the NASA and The 100% RAW federation for the drug tested version of the sport and then you can look at the USPF’s raw division, the USPA’s raw division, our Hardcore Powerlifting Federation and a few additional pro shows if you want to follow the variation of the sport that does not include testing for performance enhancing drugs. The rest, though there may be lots of well meaning and athletically talented people involved at some level, is just a menagerie of circus strongman style exhibitions, rife with smoke and mirrors and plagued by corner cutting on the part of the athletes and low standards of performance loosely upheld by unreliable and even unethical officials and administrators. I’m sure there’s shows in every federation that are well ran and up to snuff, but when mixed in with all the rebound garments and the judging gifts, the waters are still murky. When you take a crap in a bucket, there’s water in the bucket along with the turds, but I wouldn’t advise drinking it.

(Sean Katterle continued) On the topic of records, they can only be set in the federation in which you’re lifting. So each federation has its own set of record books and these “All time” record lists are anything but official. You can’t accurately compare a record in one federation to another unless both federations have the same exact rules in place and unless they both enforce those rules to the same degree. One athlete may have to travel to a large venue, outside their own state or country and they might be asked to perform each lift to the highest of judging standards while only being armed with a lifting belt and a pair of knee wraps. Another may be lifting at a meet held inside his own gym and with his friends judging his performance. He may be allowed to wear three or more layers of rebounding suit or shirt fabric and he could be cleared to follow the most liberal interpretations of the guidelines of performance. On top of that, the standard same day weigh-in could be extended to 24 or even 48 hours prior to competition, giving him the chance to lift while weighing twenty or more pounds than what was recorded in the books. And many federations have drug tested divisions that hardly ever drug test the winners and record breakers. There’s a big difference between drug testing using the honor code and drug testing to WADA standards! When the gym public refuses to recognize these “All time” record lists and claims as being official or legit, then that will be another major leap forward and in the right direction for the sport. All a person can set is a federation record and that federation record only counts within that particular federation, period.

Louis Costa: Who is the most respected person/competitor in powerlifting right now?

Sean Katterle: There’s a few traits that are universally recognized, admired and respected in our sport. Guys who walk out their squats and who convincingly break parallel are always given props when they put up the big numbers. Benchers who refuse to buy a super shirt get the respect that comes from keeping it real. And competitors who go out of their way to compete against the best in their division get more credit than the hometown heroes and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. A lot of us don’t have the personal funds to travel all over the country or the world just to powerlift, but anyone looking to cement their name in the history books needs to accept and embrace the notion that a nationals is one that includes the majority of the states’ best lifters and that a worlds had a good percentage of lifters from a wide array of countries. The guys who only participate in gym meets and second tier promotions can’t expect the strength universe to acknowledge that they’re on par with the guys who travel overseas and across the U.S. to meet up with the other top competitors. A show that has 75% of its line-up from one or two states isn’t really qualified to classify itself as a nationals or North Americans or what have you and the competitors who acknowledge that publically get respect for having done so.

Louis Costa: Can you go into a little detail on why your federation does not test for PED’s?

Sean Katterle: We don’t test for performance enhancing drugs for three reasons. First off, I’m an intellectual conservative and I don’t believe our government should be concerned with adults using pharmaceutical products that don’t impair their ability to operate vehicles and heavy machinery, which doesn’t hinder them from caring for their households and which doesn’t inspire them to commit crimes. The only crime associated with the use non-prescribed anabolics is the buying of selling of said anabolics. Steroids don’t cause car wrecks, injuries at work and you don’t see people mugging and robbing for steroid money. Making steroids an underground market only causes more problems as it supplies criminals with sources of income and it forces the buyer to do business with questionable sources which can damage their health by way of contaminated or phony products. If the public can’t be assured of product quality and purity, then they become at risk. The people should be informed and guided by medical professionals and this would greatly reduce the number of health hazards that are associated with the use of PEDs.

(Sean Katterle continued) Our second reason is that, as experts like Victor Conte has pointed out, the current steroid tests in place can be beaten. And the ones that are tougher to beat, i.e. hair follicle and blood tests, are more expensive tests to conduct and are out of the realm of financial possibility for most federations. Furthermore, new drugs are being invented every year and sports scientists are experimenting with genetic alterations to make better athletes. By the time the get the tests perfected for one set of drugs the professional competitors will have moved on to newer and undetectable ones. Drug testing is great for the recreational, amateur lifter who wants to see how they stack up against other lifters who also train without pharmaceutical recovery aides. But drug testing in professional sports is practically futile and all you’re really testing is who knows how to circumvent the test and who doesn’t.

Finally, in order for pro powerlifting to make it to the next level of commercial success, our sport’s strongest athletes have to be on par with or better than the strongest athletes in every other sport. The top powerlifters have to be as physically powerful as the strongest in football and Highland Games and Olympic lifting and track n’ field throwing and they have to positively match up against the very best pro strongmen. Some of these sports might work to give the public the impression that they’re pursuing and banning drug users, but the reality is that their champions are using prescription strength recovery aides and they’re often doing so under doctor supervision and guidance. In order for powerlifting to reign as “The World’s Strongest Sport” there has to exist a pro league that doesn’t drug test and that requires the athletes to perform the lifts properly and without the giant artificial boost that comes from the bench shirts and powerlifting suits. That’s the format for success at this point in time.

Louis Costa: Love the idea of bringing the overhead press back. Why do you think it’s taken so long to come back and neglected for many years?

Sean Katterle: What inspired me to bring the overhead push press back was some of the reading I’ve done over the past few years. Some of the books that implanted this desire in me are Bruce Wilhelm’s biography about Ken Patera’s career, Tom Thurston’s “Strongman: The Doug Hepburn Story” and John D. Fair’s Muscletown USA. I’m a fan of Olympic lifting and of competitive strongman, but my favorite test of shoulder strength is still the overhead push press starting with the bar just under chin height so it’s as much brute strength as it is technique. We will continue to offer this particular lifting event and my hope is to see someone OHPP 600 pounds to full lockout over the next few years.

Louis Costa: Seeing the obvious love and dedication you have for the sport of powerlifting, what would you like your footprint on the sport to be?

Sean Katterle: I don’t have a specific, life long timeline and I don’t plan on retiring until the Valkyries fly down to take me to Valhalla. As I move into my forties I find myself trying to be more Taoist in the sense that I want to live in and enjoy the moment. My short term goals are to facilitate the first ever 1,000 pound squat, the first ever 2,400 pound total, a 500 pound overhead push press and I’d like to see athletes in our ranks hit more 881+ deadlifts and 650+ pound benches. We’re also working very hard to build a six show annual circuit and we’re halfway to meeting that goal. Beyond that, I’d love to get more opportunities to travel via either getting to announce for big events in other continents or by way of getting to run them ourselves. I think it would be fantastic to get the opportunity to put on classic powerlifting promotions in some of the exotic locations where they’ve held The World’s Strongest Man TV shows. As far as getting recognized and credited, it would make me happy to know that my reputation as a promoter and producer was a very positive one and I’d like to be seen as one of the people who were instrumental with the doing away of the powerlifting suits and shirts. I truly believe that those artificial lifting aides are one of the biggest barriers to success for the sport as a whole and getting rid of them once and for all will be a significant step towards bringing powerlifting into the lucrative world of professional sporting endeavors. The people who elected to only lift weights with the huge boost that comes from the lifting apparel will soon be forgotten and people getting into the sport in the future will be thankful that they didn’t have to buy those unnecessary (and uncool) outfits in order to participate and to make headlines.

Louis Costa: Advice for beginning powerlifters? Pitfalls to watch out for? Advice? Guidance?

Sean Katterle: The advice that I’ve been giving out lately is as follows. Focus on conditioning, flexibility and dexterity as much as you focus on building your maximal lifting capability. You should have the fuel tank to go hard for three or four minutes at a time. You should be able to run a few miles without collapsing. And you should be able to really move in the body you’ve built. If you can’t get under a squat bar or break parallel in the squat without breaking form, then you need to work on becoming more limber. If you can’t run up a few flights up stairs without huffing and puffing and getting pitted out, then you need to get your lungs and circulatory system in shape. And no elite athlete should be suffering from high blood pressure, a high resting heart rate or morbid obesity. Except for the ladies who are pleasantly pear shaped, your chest circumference should be as big or bigger than your waistline. I’ve been encouraging the lifters around me to go on hikes wearing weighted vests, to workout with the Battling Ropes, Prowlers and sleds and I’ve got them carrying giant sandbags and throwing super heavy medicine balls and grappling dummies. You can increase your intensity by training longer, by training heavier and by shortening your rest periods and so we’ve turned to shorter rest periods and to longer periods of increased heart rates via high intensity cardio with weighted resistance.

(Sean Katterle continued): Additional words of wisdom is to make raw and organic food as big a part of your diet as possible. Cut out the unhealthy snack foods, the deserts, the fast food and the recreational drugs and alcohol. If everyone would eat cleaner, greatly limit their intake of booze and avoid all harsh underground stimulants, pain suppressants and muscle relaxers then they’d find that their quality and quantity of life would noticeably improve. On the steroid note, I can’t legally advise anyone to take anything that’s not currently legal in America but I will encourage people to abstain from even considering using anabolics until they’ve logged in three or four years of consistent, scientific training and recovery. Prove to yourself that you’re serious about becoming a prospect by going 48 months without missing workout sessions and while getting full night’s sleep and while sticking to a disciplined diet plan. And, if you do decide to take the plunge, realize that there’s a big difference between drug use and drug abuse. These competitors “stacking” four or five products and ingesting 2 or more grams of product per week are poisoning themselves as much as they’re creating an environment for muscle growth. And, finally, make training legs, core and conditioning a priority over biceps and benchpress reps. As Dr. Squat once said “You can’t fire a cannon out of a canoe.” Your main power sources are your legs, hips, abs and lower back so make those your top priorities when you design your lifting schedule. I’d like to see all novice strength athletes really focus in on squats, deadlifts and overhead presses.