Record-breaking powerlifter. Pro bodybuilder. Olympian. Amit Sapir might just be the world's best barbell sport athlete. Check out this exclusive interview.
It's rare when a pro bodybuilder is also a world record holding powerlifter and a highly skilled Olympic weightlifter. But that's Amit Sapir. Sapir is an IFBB pro, he's also qualified for the Olympics in weightlifting, and he's broken (we-lost-track-of-how-many) squat records in powerlifting.
Most recently, he's been working to become the first lifter to hold the raw squat world record in four different weight classes at the same time. He currently holds three of them. A year ago, he squatted 821 pounds in the 220-pound class. In April 2016, he hit 804 in the 198-pound class, and three months later he squatted 828 pounds in the 242 class. And remember these are raw records, no wraps or special suits allowed.
T Nation: What's your biggest goal right now?
Sapir: When I retire I want every powerlifter who wants to squat heavy to look at my name in the record books and say, "This asshole made it very hard for us to get here." Ever since I started lifting, all I ever wanted was to be the best in the world.
I thought I'd be content when I got my first world record, but it just made me hungrier. So I looked for what I could do to create a legacy. I want to be the first man in history to hold the squat record simultaneously in four different weight classes. Ed Coan did it for the deadlift, Mike McDonald did it for the bench, but no one ever did it for the squat. I'll be the first one.
T Nation: Is your training completely squat-focused now?
Sapir: Squatting is the main focus of the program I'm doing, but I'm giving everything else the attention it needs. I'm training the other lifts as well, and I always do the best I can with dieting to look like I lift.
T Nation: What does your training week look like?
Sapir: A few weeks out from a contest it's very, very specific and I'm trying to peak as much as possible. I'm not doing a weekly cycle, it's more like a nine to ten day cycle. So in those ten days, I have three days that are actually powerlifting-specific: one day for the squat, one day for the deadlift, and one day for the bench. Then I have another three days that are bodybuilding/accessory days. It's very moderate, basically just to keep blood flowing and keep the mass I have. Those days are much lighter.
T Nation: How do you deal with injury?
Sapir: I've learned with professional sports there's no such thing as "completely healthy." There's always something. Right now I'm fighting a nerve injury that's taking over eight months to heal. I tore my axillary nerve racking a squat. It changed my whole positioning for the bar with my squat and it took my bench down.
It's a pretty serious injury, but what I'm doing right now is trying to get more squat world records, so I said screw it and I'm competing with it. Soon I'll get the 181 record and then I can take a few good months to just rehab.
I'm working around the nerve injury. I'm doing what I can with what I have right now, which is far from ideal, but it should be enough to get the last world record I want. I have a team of therapists working to keep me in one piece. I see a massage therapist once or twice a week, a chiropractor who does ART work on me, and there are exercises that I'll do before a session or after a session.
T Nation: Do they ever tell you to reel things back in?
Sapir: It's more like me jumping on the table and telling them, "This hurts. That hurts. Do what you need to do to get me to the next session." After the last record falls, we'll talk about the proper rehab plan. I've basically said, "I want to get this last record. Make me get there in one piece."
T Nation: Right now, you hold the records in the 198, 220, and 242-pound classes. You also had the 181 at one point, but it was beaten and now that's the only one left to get back.
Sapir: Yeah, I got the 242 record and they red-lighted me, but some judges proved that it wasn't a bad lift. Two weeks later, some Russian dude took my 181 record. So in my next meet, I took the 242 record that I had lost. So now I need to get the 181 back. It's a hard record to get, not because of the squat, but because my bodyweight is high for this category. I'm walking around 210 and about 8% body fat, so every time I need to make 181 I have to cut over 30 pounds of just water.
T Nation: What goes through your head when you're on the platform with 800-something pounds on the bar?
Sapir: When I lift, it's coming from a very angry place. I'm lifting from emotions – frustrating things that I went through in my life, sad stuff, very strong negative emotions. When I hype myself up I'm usually just trying to link to those emotions. The minute my head is there I think, "Attack the bar!" From that point on, in those few seconds before I'm going under, it's just like, "This bar is going down then it's going up, no matter what happens."
A lot of it comes from when people tell me I can't. That's the best thing they can do for me because I'll prove them wrong. "You don't have the genetics to turn pro." "No one ever gets to the Olympia." "You won't get that squat." Every criticism – whether it was from an internet troll or people I considered friends – is still in my head. It's motivation.
No matter how good you are, there will always be some 17-year old kid who squats one plate that will have something snide to say. So I'll keep breaking records, they'll keep talking on the internet. That's fine. You can feel like a winner on the computer while I win in real life.
T Nation: Are you done with bodybuilding?
Sapir: In bodybuilding, the biggest stage you can get on is the Mr. Olympia. I made it, I placed decently. I was 12 out of 24. That means 12th best in the world. In powerlifting, I'm the best in the world and I'm trying to be the best that ever squatted. In bodybuilding, I'm a good bodybuilder, but I'm by no means the best.
So to put my body through hell just to compete and be in the top ten, as opposed to putting my body through hell to be the best ever, there's no question which one's a better choice.
Plus with bodybuilding, I can think I'm the best and judges can think I should be last because it's subjective. In powerlifting there's a little bit of politics, but it's a lot more black and white. But when my body won't let me compete anymore, I'll probably enter a bodybuilding show just for fun. I'll step on stage at least one more time, but not any time soon.
T Nation: How did you get into Olympic lifting back in the day?
Sapir: When I was 15 I told my track and field coach that I wanted to make it into the Olympics. He said, "Amit, I love you, but you're 5'4" and if you're not going to be at least 5'8" or 5'9", you need to try a different sport."
He told me to go try Olympic weightlifting. I was 15 or 16 when I started. That was the first time I touched a barbell, first time I squatted, first time I did a snatch. I liked that the progression was very fast and my body was suited for it.
I started winning local meets, then Nationals. It gave me a goal. I came from Israel, so the training and sports always kept me out of trouble. It was either I do this or I end up in a very bad place, so I trained twice a day and built my whole day around that. As I got better, I qualified and it just went from there. If not for an injury, I'd probably keep doing it today, but life has a funny way of turning the right direction.
But my whole base as a lifter comes from Olympic lifting. I know how to squat because of Olympic lifting. I have good coordination because of Olympic lifting. I know what full range of motion is because of Olympic lifting. I'm always going to be grateful for that. If not for Olympic lifting, I probably wouldn't be as good a squatter as I am today.
When a client or an athlete asks if he should do Olympic lifting, I say at least do the power variations. If you know how to snatch then you know how to squat and pull. It'll help you with flexibility and mobility. It's a win-win-win situation. If you actually take the time to learn the movements then only good things will come out of that.
It's not easy to learn, like a bench press, but if you give yourself a good month and practice daily, and I'm talking with a broomstick or an empty bar, you can learn it. It's totally possible, but it takes time.
T Nation: You're getting a great reputation not just as a lifter but as a coach, including work with some of members of the T Nation forums.
Sapir: I love to work with athletes, like my client Dustin from the forum. He's 23 and I look at him and see the fire that I had at his age. He works construction all day. He'll wake up at 4 AM to go do a lifting session if it's the only time in the day he has. He'll make chicken shakes to drink because he doesn't have time to eat.
I remember one of my bodybuilding preps when I first started. It was basically 16 weeks with no cheat meals, just the old-school broccoli and fish low-carb diet. At two weeks out I was drained mentally and physically – flat and weak. I remember looking to the sky and thinking, "God, universe, whatever is out there, bring it on because I'm not breaking. I'm going to take it from day one until show day and I'm going to do everything perfect."
This is where you're working from. This is the most pure place to get results. No matter how bad it gets, you get it done. You're gonna get up, you're gonna do your training, you're gonna eat your meals, no matter what happens.
And it's interesting because I attract clients who are the same. They're very hard workers. In order to be a high level athlete, you need to have something screwed up in your head, something that's not normal. That's the people I attract and that's why I enjoy working with them. It reminds me how hard you can work if you put your head into it.
T Nation: What's the biggest difference between your athletes and the average lifter?
Sapir: Most regular people don't really know what hard training is. I'll get an email like this: "Hey bro, I want to lose X amount of weight, and get a big back, and build a lot of muscle." And I'll say, "Send me your current training program and diet and let's see what the problem is." Most of the time, the problem comes from not working hard enough. They're not doing enough basic compound movements. Their volume isn't high enough.
There's a lot of technique issues because people think they're squatting, but they're doing a half-movement and it's not a squat. Or they pull three plates and they'll think they're great because no one else in their gym has. I have female clients who are doing that weight for ten reps and they weigh half as much as you.
So it's the concept of working hard. I see it a lot in North America, by the way. I trained a lot in Europe. When you're going to a training camp in Bulgaria, you see these 16-year olds work hard for three hours non-stop. They'll say about ten words in those three hours. And then you go to a North American Gold's Gym and you see about ten people doing sets of biceps curls for an hour and talking and yelling nonstop. And that's "beast mode."
The other thing, they don't really know what to eat. People still think carbs are the devil, but I don't think there's a better way to eat than good carbs with good carb timing. They're the best energy source you can have for performance, period.
So if you make them eat six times a day with the right foods and calorie intake, their body changes because all of a sudden they follow an actual plan that has some logic behind it. I've seen it from every client. Working hard in the gym is probably the most important part because if you train hard you can eat after that to feed the hard work. I still haven't seen a case where this didn't happen.
T Nation: What's your take on workout nutrition?
Sapir: There's not one client of mine who doesn't use Plazma™. It's not comparable to anything else on the market. Somehow you can train for three hours straight and you keep going. I had this conversation with two training partners and we talked about how we used to be able to train an hour and a half and we were done – that was before Plazma™.
I use 4 to 6 scoops per workout, but my sessions are no less than three hours. I'm going to the gym at 4:30 PM and I don't usually leave until 8. Powerlifting sessions take a lot of time between sets, so it could be just two hours on squats alone and then the accessory movements after. I also sometimes train twice a day. I might train in the morning for two hours and then train in the evening for an hour or two. It wouldn't be sustainable without Plazma™.
If you can take only one supplement, that's the one to take. I'm the biggest believer in intra-workout nutrition. I've been using it now for over two years and I can't imagine training without it.
T Nation: Any other bits of wisdom lifters need to know?
Sapir: Just train your ass off. You need to be honest with yourself. You need to be able to go to sleep at night and ask yourself, "Did I do everything today that I could to get where I want to be?"
I don't think there's a better feeling to anyone than knowing that you worked for something – it wasn't handed to you. It's not going to come overnight. It took me 15 years to get my actual Biotest sponsorship. It's out there. Work your ass off, be smart, be creative, and good things will happen.