If you follow powerlifting you probably haven't heard a whole lot about Eric Lilliebridge.
That's no typo. Eric has to be the most non-talked about 2X 2K total raw guy ever. At the ripe old age of 20 he's already gone over the double grand mark twice and has gotten almost zero amount of coverage about it. So, I decided to do something about it and hunt Eric down for some questions. An hour and a half later I had my answers. For those that want to know how Eric trains, eats, peaks for meets, and other stuff well here is part 1 of our 2 part interview....
PC - Thanks for taking time out to do this interview Eric. I want to say first off that we've talked online quite a bit and I always come away impressed by how courteous you are and the way you handle and carry yourself. Most young men I know can be cocky know it alls but even with your natural ability you maintain a lot of humbleness and that's very refreshing. Seems like mom and dad did a real good job, that's a big credit to them.
EL - Yeah I've never really been like that. When people ask me how much I can lift I just say I've done this and done this, and that will be it. I'm not one of those people that like to talk about themsevles a lot. My lifts pretty much speak for themselves I don't need to go around bragging about it. I put my time in the gym and that's that you know?
PC - And you put your lifts up on the platform so you don't need to say anything.
EL - Right, right. I've never tried to be a person that came off as arrogant and you know brag about what I can do. I don't respect people that do that, it doesn't really impress me. If you're going to brag what's the purpose of it? It just makes you look like an asshole in the end.
PC - Exactly. So tell me a little about yourself. What got you into lifting? Your dad he's strong as hell too. So you wanted to lift and your dad helped get you into lifting. What age did you start lifting at?
EL - It was right about 7th grade so I started at about 13. I didn't start out powerlifting, it was just regular lifting. Light leg work, curls for biceps and tricep work that kind of stuff and eventually my dad started to see me lift and was like "why don't you just do powerlifting with me? You're down here three or four times a week why not just lift with me?" I said "yeah I'll try it." So eventually I started it doing it and learned all the form for the lifts and I started competing at the end of 8th grade. It was a good full year of straight powerlifting before I even did my first competition. So at the end of 8th grade when I was around 14 I did my first competition. I weighed in at, I believe, 165. I didn't even wear wraps at the time, just belt only. It was just a high school meet and ever since then I've been interested. I just couldn't stop lifting after that. It's just in me to compete.
PC - Tell me a little about how you progressed through your weight classes and meets.
EL - After that meet I only did two meets at 165. After that I started putting on more weight, I was doing a lot of heavy raw training and started putting on more muscle mass. I did my next meet in the winter of 04 and I was a 181. After 181 I was at 198 for almost two years. I did not gain any weight but kept gaining strength.
PC - You still hit some good lifts at 198.
EL - Yeah my 198 deadlift was 600. I did that at the AMPC worlds, it's still a world record for that class. That was my really good lift at that age. My deadlift really stood out, a lot more than my squat or my bench. That was my best lift.
PC - Yeah you've always been a really good deadlifter.
EL - It's honestly all about your form and the way you train. A lot of people think if you do a bunch of reps on the deadlift that it will make it go up like other lifts, and it might to a certain extent. But whenever I did that it just tweaks my back. I always felt like I couldn't recover fast enough from it. So what my dad taught me was, when I'm cycling up for a meet 6 to 8 weeks out, I'll pick a number that I want to hit at the meet and I'll pretty much just back track from there. So each week I'll add 10,15,20 pounds on my deadlift. But only for the last few sets. Those are singles. I don't do doubles or triples there. So when you get to the meet you're ready to pull that big single. It's not a rep contest.
PC - Right. So you stayed at 198 for two years. Did you actually do any 220 class stuff?
EL - Yeah I think I did a couple at 220. I don't remember what I did at my first meet at 220, I remember at my last meet at 220 was the UPA, the same meet I just did, it was three years before that. Bill Carpenter had a meet in Iowa, I think it was in the same place in 2007. That was actually my first meet where I wore a squat suit. Just to try it out. I squatted 742, but my raw squat was 550. So I really didn't get a whole lot out of the briefs and suit. Not compared to what I know some people get out of it. I think I benched upper 300's and I pulled 650 for the first time. The bench and the dealift were raw. After that I was at 242 for about a year. I did the state meet, which was my senior year of high school and I did my first 600 plus raw squat, my first 400 plus bench in competition, and I pulled 672 at that competition also. All raw, so I totaled like 1708. And that was when I was 18.
PC - And you've been in the 275's for the last couple of years.
EL - Yeah I've been in the 275's for over a year now. I honestly don't see me going above that for a long time. My weight keeps fluctuating between 255 and 270. I gain so much weight, then it will start to fall off. But my strength will remain. It seems like I'm filling out more. So I hoenstly think I'll be at 275 for a really long time. Even if I go past 275, like 280 or 285 a few years from now, I'll still cut down to 275. It wouldn't make sense to go to 308.
PC - Let's get right into the meat and potatoes of things. Let's talk about training and how you prep for your meets. What does a normal week for you look like in terms of training? Lay out the days of the week on what you do on those days. We'll just start with your squat and deadlift day. Go ahead and just lay the week out for me.
EL - Well like before I even start training I'll write everything on paper. I'll get like a date, and if I want to do a 6 week cycle or an 8 week cycle my last week before the meet I don't really count it. That's like an off week.
PC - Right, a rest week.
EL - Right. So I'll back track from there like 6 to 8 weeks, and I'll just start writing out numbers. Like what do I want to do for my top sets on each day. If I get stronger than what I originally thought I was going to do, I'll tweak numbers here and there. I usually have my base numbers already set out for where I want to be. So for my week I always squat and deadlift like on a Sunday. But my accessory work switches. Like for example if I'm doing my heavy squat day, after squats instead of doing bent rows, I'll do lat pulldowns. Just to hit a different area of my back. and since I did heavy squat, I won't do heavy leg presses. I do leg presses on my heavy deadlift day, just to hit my quads. One thing I've found to help tremendously for me is just leg curls. Those are really my golden accessory work for helping my deadlift. Those have helped me so much. I know I've gotten injured from heavy deadlifts, but they really helped a lot with my strength off the floor.
PC - You mean just regular old leg curls?
EL - Yeah, where you lay down on the bench with the cable. Just regular leg curls have helped me tremendously.
PC - It's funny that your split is like this because I used this split for a long time and on deadlift day I did leg press as well to hit my quads since I wasn't squatting. And on squat day I would do stiff legs and I hit some PR's at the time with it. But you don't do any stiff legs right?
EL - Actually I'm going to start doing light stiff legged deadlifts. I spoke with Ed Coan a few weeks ago and he checked to see how my hamstring was doing and he told me when he tore his hamstring before he used light stiff legged deadlifts to get that stretch and that it will help breakdown the scar tissue that builds up back there. And that will help when I go to pull heavy again. That should decrease the percentage of me getting an injury again.
PC - Sounds like a plan. So let's go through a workout. Let's say it's a deadlift day. You always pull your three progressively heavier singles.
EL - Well actually I start off with light squats. Kind of like I'm in a competition. But I go light. Like 5 warm up sets. The bar, then a plate, two plates, three plates, then I'll do like 5 plates for a single. Just to warm up my hips and get everything firing So when I go to pull, I'll just start out with a plate and then do my warm up and go from there. After my deadlift I will do bent rows. Those have helped a lot too, with my lock out. I won't do a lot of sets, like maybe 3 heavy sets of like 12 to 15 reps. I don't do that swing form. I keep it real strict. Guys who are just swinging the weight, they aren't really doing anthing, you're just kidding yourself you know?
PC - Right, I agree.
EL - So get a good weight that you know you can do for a decent amount of reps, that you're not cheating yourself.
PC - Yeah, the right weight is a weight where you feel like you're being worked, but it feels good at the same time.
EL - Right, right. And those help a lot with my back work. After that I don't do my lat pulldowns, I do those on my squat day. I do leg presses after my bent rows. And that's pretty much my assistance work. I'll do a few sets of abs after that. We have a little decline sit-up bench and I'll do like 3 sets of 15.
PC - Your workout sounds a lot like mine.
EL - (laughs) Yeah a lot of people think you need to do more than that but you really don't. They think you need so many exercises and sets and you really don't. You just end up overworking everything.
PC - Absolutely. And I think the thing you are finding out early is that recovery ends up being the most important thing.
EL - Oh yes, absolutely. You really need to recover. You can have your good workouts, but if you're not eating good and not resting good the next time you go into the gym you'll probably feel like shit. Then you sit around a wonder why you're having a bad workout and you should already know you need rest and you need to eat to have strong workouts.
PC - Spot on. So deadlift day is basically some light squats, you pull your heavy singles, then some bent rows, leg press and abs.
EL - Right, that's it.
PC - So then on Monday what do you do?
EL - No, Monday is an off day. I might stretch. On Tuesday I do my upright rows.
(we both laugh, as I've teased Eric about having days dedicated to upright rows)
EL - You know I do my upright rows, I've seen people that have big traps and I just wanted big traps.
PC - No doubt. Big traps are the shit.
EL - Yeah it's just something that I like to have on me. Plus, when I squat, I keep the bar high on my back and it feels better now that my traps have grown a little bit. It feels natural for me to have the bar high on my back when I squat so having more traps has been better for me in that regard. I don't know if it helps my lift but it just makes me feel better.
PC - Bigger traps make every man feel better. So upright rows on Tuesday, and then pretty much whatever you want to. Kind of a playing around day right?
EL - Right. I'll just hit some stuff here and there to stay loose. Like a light, hour workout to keep some blood flowing.
PC - And sometimes if Tuesday comes around and you're tired you just say screw it and don't do anything right?
EL - Yeah honestly, if something hurts or my joints are hurting I'll rest. It's not going to hurt me to miss it, it's just an accessory day.
PC - Ok so now on Wednesday.
EL - Wednesday is my bench day.
PC - And what on Thursday? Do you take Thursday off?
EL - If I workout on Tuesday and go heavy with my upright rows, I'll go like light on the upright rows on Thursday. I'll do, kinda like the same thing just lighter overall. Those days are really identical but one day is lighter with more sets and reps and the other day is heavier.
PC - Gotcha. So basically the truth is, you're just training twice a week. And the other two days are just auxillary/whatever days.
EL - Pretty much.
PC - So when you cycle in prep for a meet, how many squat and deadlift workouts do you like to plan for? Because since you alternate your heavy squat and deadlift workouts week to week, obviously if you wanted to get in 5 or 6 squat workouts you're talking 10-12 weeks. So how many weeks is typical for meet prep?
EL - Well I still squat and deadlift even before I start my cycle, just not heavy all of the time. I really just try to maintain my base level of strength, so that I don't fall below a certain line. Like we were talking about yesterday, I know that any day of the week I can lift X amount.
PC - Right, your foundation level of strength.
EL - Right. I usually like to get in 3 heavy squat and deadlift workouts in before a competition. So we're talking like, 7 to 8 weeks because the week before the meet I don't train heavy. And I'm starting to find out that within 3 to 4 heavy squat workouts I'm really at my peak.
PC - Yeah I'm the same way. I think it's about week 7 into meet prep that I really feel strong. Week 8 I might be pushing it. But I find at about 7 weeks I feel strong.
EL - Yeah you have to know your body. So with your cycles and how your training goes you have to know where you're going to peak out so you can plan your cycle perfectly. If you know where you can peak at you can get it almost perfectly. It's hard but it can be done.
PC - We both felt like you peaked a little early this time.
EL - Honestly it was probably within my 12 days. At least on my bench. My squat still felt pretty strong, but it definitely wasn't as explosive as the 810 I did in the gym.
PC - Yeah you smoked 810 in the gym.
EL - Yeah it also could have been that I did that heavy squat. Maybe if I don't push the squat that heavy I peak for the meet. But I was happy, I got my 804 squat. That was what I wanted to get.
PC - So we talked about your deadlift day. Let's talk about what you do on your heavy squat day. You start with squats obviously.
EL - Right squatting first. I do stretch for a while before I squat. I do the bar for like 15, a plate for 12 reps, two plates for 8 reps, 3 plates for like 6 reps, then 4 plates for a couple, then after that I'm pretty much doing singles. Unless I'm training to do a top set for a triple, then I'll do it a bit differently. It really all depends on how I want to go about approaching my singles for squats. I've made great gains off of doing singles, but I've also made great gains off of doing triples. The thing that I've found when I do triples is that my joints don't hurt as much, the heavy singles tax my joints a lot harder. I really just switch it up to see if I make better gains off of one than the other, but basically it's either going to be heavy singles or triples.
PC - So what do you like to do after that?
EL - Actually after that I do light deadlifts. I'll go up to around 500 or 600 pounds just to see how it feels and keep my form. In the meet you eventually have to pull after you get done squatting. So I just like to do something to see how my joints are feeling and play around with it a little bit. Not super heavy, just 5 or 6 plates to see how it feels. After that I do heavy lat pulldowns. Usually like 3 sets of 12 to 15. And again, I don't swing em, I pick a weight that I don't have to cheat. Where I work the muscle, not to where I use my damn body to move the whole thing.
PC - Do you ever do chins?
EL - No I've honestly never tried em.
PC - Do some pullups bro.
PC - So after pulldowns what do you do?
EL - Since it's my squat day I've already worked my legs, there is no need for leg presses and I did the pulldowns so no bent rows so I usually just do some ab work after that.
PC - So are you going to try and substitute in the stiff legs there instead of pulling semi heavy maybe?
EL - Maybe. Like after I do like the 500 deadlift I might do that. It's probably just going to be a light weight to get that stretch afterwards. I'm definitely going to start doing them. In fact I'll probably start doing them after squatting and deadlifting just to work that stretch. I don't think it's going to do any harm, I'm not going to go heavy. I think if anything it will make everything better. So I think I will incorporate it into my squat and deadlift workout.
PC - Ok. So where did you used to fit in leg curls?
EL - Actually we don't have one at my gym but at the house. So the days when I do my assistance work that would be a day where I would do that.
PC - Ahh I see. So on the days you do your upright rows you would do those along with it.
EL - Exactly. If I don't feel like doing an all around you know, upper back, arms, legs, I'll split it. Like Tuesday upper-body and Thursday lower-body, one heavy and 1 light. I like to switch it up, I don't like doing the same thing everytime I go in on Tuesday and Thursday.
PC - So from this last week did you go back 6 to 8 weeks. Do you remember what you hit for your squats and deads in that time?
EL - Actually for this meet I was lost because I was coming back from my hamstring injury. So I had no idea where I was at. I had no idea I'd be lifting this heavy this soon. I did push it really hard, but not at the point where I was going to peak out too soon, I mean, I did peak out too soon but it could have been sooner if I had pushed it. I did my usual singles for squat, and for deadlifting I barely dealifted at all. The most I did in the gym was 705 in training. Honestly I was scared shitless to pull again.
PC - Right anytime you get injured the trepidation you feel can cause you to be hesitant in certain movements.
EL - Yeah, and especially since it tore off of the floor. Like my lockouts feel incredible now. It used to be the exact opposite. I'd be really fast off the floor and then it would get past my knees and slow down. Now when I pull off the floor it's kind of slow, and now when it gets past my knees I lock it out easily.
PC - Yeah I remember in your old videos your speed off the floor was amazing. But then it would get above the knees and would almost look like a hitch.
EL - Yeah that's true, and at that point I was using the best of leverages that I could get just to lock it out. I always try to keep the bar as close to my body as possibly through the whole lift. And sometimes the bar would stick on my legs, and that's why I used so much baby powder. But since then I've widened my stance a little bit, and that's helped. But I'm really trying to get my floor speed back because once I do that my deadlift is going to be stronger than ever because my lockout is really strong right now.
PC - Yeah your lockout looks really good right now.
EL - Yeah and I'm surprised that I even pulled 760 because I hadn't trained the deadlift very heavy going into that for like 14 weeks.
PC - So for this particular meet you didn't really have set plans because you had a lot of question marks with your injury.
EL - Right yeah. It was honestly like, I'm going to go about it and play it week by week. If it's good this week, I will push a little harder the next week. I didn't really have it written out on paper until about 4 weeks out from the meet. So I thought I could actually squat this much and pull this much so I actually got my 800 in the meet like I wanted to. But for bench I was just playing around in the gym really. I started making gains and I started pushing it harder. It was just kind of this thing between me and my dad. His best bench in the gym is 550, and he kept telling me "you can't beat my bench". So I hit 550 and then I think I peaked too soon, but I was still happy with the bench I got in competition especially after squatting 800. I wasn't expecting to max out like I did in the gym.
PC - Ok so what about good mornings?
EL - No I've honestly never done those but they don't look comfortable.
PC - What about box squats? Have you played with box squats because everyone will tell you they're the bees knees.
EL - Yeah I've tried em before. When I've tried me before they don't work for me. My stance isn't very wide so when I've used em I feel like I'm pitching too far back or too far forward. So when I tried em I did widen my stance a little bit, and I didn't do em for too long. I really just didn't care for em. I figured if I'm going to squat I might as well just squat, and squat all the way down like I normally do.
PC - Right, and I think a lot of information is misguided for raw lifting. Some raw guys will follow equipment based templates or ideas, and it's mostly based around hamstrings and glutes and low back. And the truth is, raw squatting is a lot of quad power.
EL - Oh God yes it is. That's for sure.
PC - Right, and no matter what anyone says the philosophies are backwards. Raw guys need to train to be strong out of the bottom and equipped guys need to train to be strong at the top. So the philosohpies can't be the same.
EL - No they really can't be.
In part 2 Eric and I talk about how he trains his bench, how he coasts to get stronger, his support system, his upcoming meet with Stan Efferding, his diet and lots more.