Elite raw powerlifter LS McClain, who competes in the 93 kg class, will be the first to admit he does some weird accessory work.
“I toss human beings,” said McClain who has set multiple national records and was a bronze medalist in last year’s International Powerlifting Federation’s (IPF) Worlds. “I have such an extensive cheerleading background, I’ll take two or three girls, toss them up in the air.
For me, in terms of all the training I do, it helps with my explosiveness probably more than anything I could try to throw. It’s as unorthodox as it comes. I spend about an hour, an hour fifteen [minutes] on it. For me, I just try to think of what I can do with what I have.”
McClain, who is a cheer coach at Texas State, has tiny human beings at his disposal.
And the 36-year-old, who can squat 285 kg (628 lb.), bench 227.5 (502 lb.) and deadlift 315.5 (695.5 lb.) isn’t a slave to traditional thinking that all strength gains come in the gym on some regimented schedule.
A couple of years ago, needing to do some explosive strength work, he put on a backpack and had one of his cheerleaders do the same. He put her on his back and started doing some throws and carries, then running. He dubbed it “The Hell Mile.”
“In thirty minutes, your body is blasted,” he said. “It’s cool; it’s fun.”
McClain has never done anything for any other reason.
As a football and track and field player in Texas, he dabbled in lifting to help his athletic career.
He did a handful of weightlifting meets in high school —again, just for fun— and ended up winning them all. He was always known as the short, small strong guy.
When another strong guy, who was into powerlifting, got sick and needed a meet fill-in, McClain stepped in.
He figured it was going to the first and last meet of his career.
A guy at his gym saw things differently.
“This guy had seen me lift and would follow me into the locker room and around trying to convince me that I had to do [powerlifting],” McClain said.
It took two weeks of prodding before he finally gave in- McClain was 32.
“I’m too old to start, or at least I thought I was, until I saw masters,” said McClain, who had already chased pro dreams as a football player.
“You think sports, it’s a young persons thing. But fast forward a year-and-a half from that day [when I started], I’m standing in Russia on stage, staring back at all these people getting back to do my first national meet. For me, I started late. But I’m getting stronger than I’ve ever gotten, the older I get.”
How? By listening to his body.
McClain trains five days a week, two of those days are two-a-days, where he mixes in a lot of accessory work and cardio. He’ll do simple movements like curls and cable rows and now has a guy program circuit training to help his conditioning.
Gone are the days where most powerlifters are just doing the compound movements, McClain has friends who have added in yoga and thinks there’s been a recent shift to merge a lot of forms of functional fitness —such as his airdyne bike workouts— into strength training.
But not all trends are good.
“As the sport of powerlifting grows, you see a lot of people overtrain,” McClain said. “Your body is going to dictate what you’re doing. If I don’t feel well, I take my time going into it. I’ve been fortunate in that I tend to lift with a lot of the master lifters that have been in it longer than I’ve been alive.
A lot of the things they’ve told me, [for example] —rather than focus on the training—you want to focus on the recovery. You aren’t going to make the progress if your body is not able to recover and pretty much start all over. I focus mainly on my recovery process and give my body enough time to recoup so I can get back in the gym.”
McClain is dedicated to spreading his love for powerlifting, often tagging his Instagram posts with #blessed and trying to set an example for those -like him- who are skeptical of starting.
He’s also wary of what the explosion of fitness on social media can do.
“Thank God it’s growing,” McClain said of powerlifting. “One of the biggest things I’ve noticed is sometimes people tend to skip the basics. Everyone wants to go in and everyone wants to move a lot of weight. Whatever weight that is.
‘People are following their favorite lifters [on Instagram] who are puling 500 lb. or whatever. A lot of these world-class lifters are world class for a reason. Some of them are genetic freaks, and some have genetic potential that matches an unmatched work ethic. It’s great for the sport, but what people end up doing is saying, ‘I am the same size as this person, I should be doing this kind of weight. Not realizing that these people [on Instagram] have put in years of time. A lot of people will try to skip the steps.
“Development is what it’s all about. Those key developmental movements. If you don’t do them you are going to hurt yourself. To me it’s scary. I want this sport to grow, but what is it going to grow to? People expect to come in being able to accomplish these things that are just not physically possible and get discouraged. Rather than if you can do the best you can do. That’s enough, man.”