Weight Lifting, Weight Training, Bench Press & Bodybuilding
June 4, 2023
Interview With Powerlifter Gregg Damminga
by Ben Tatar of CriticalBench.com

1) Critical Bench: Gregg, introduce your self to Critical Bench.

Hi, my name is Gregg Damminga. I am 44 years old, have been married for 22 years to my wonderful wife Debbie. I have two children, one boy and one girl, both are in college now. I got through college myself on a football scholarship at Northwestern University, we didn't win much back then but it paid for two engineering degrees. I have been a life long heavy lifter, and most recently got into powerlifting after 4 years playing semi-pro football. One of my seasons I played for the Everett Hawks, and started at right tackle in the NFA semi-pro football national championship game (yes there is such a thing). I live in Vancouver , Washington, which is a suburb across the Columbia River from Portland, OR. In WA and OR, there is some excellent powerlifting with meets sponsored by IPA, APF, APA, and WABDL. Ryan Kennelly and Brent Mikesell live in Washington, so there are a large number of people to train with and learn from.

2) Critical Bench: Have you ever trained with Kennelly or Mikesell before? What was that like?

I trained with Kennelly's group once, he was there but it was his "off" day. Despite this, he spotted and helped out everyone. When he's in the room there is a lot of intensity, no one wants to have a bad day when the "Benchmonster" is watching. I have not trained with Brent personally, but have trained with a lot of his group. I am officially a part of Brent's IronGladiators lifting team pictured below.

3) Critical Bench: It must be intense training with the best! What is your height& weight?

I am 6'3" and I wander around 280-285. I need to keep less than 10lbs away from the 275 class. I don't like to diet much to make weight, it affects my lifts. I dropped 14 lbs once to make 242, and I will never do that again.

4) Critical Bench: You're a big man! What are your best lifts?

My best lifts: I have done lat pull downs with 345x12. I have deadlifted 405x15, and 495x9. I have squatted 821 at my last meet and I think that's pretty good, given my height 6'3. My calves are strong. I have done a set of 12 with 800 on a donkey machine.

5) Critical Bench: Gregg, how do you train? Do you train more along the lines of Westside? What about your bench press routine is it more geared towards Westside or Metal Militia?

For squat and DL, I train Westside style, and for Bench I train Metal Militia style. I have one heavy bench day per week, a heavy squat day, a triceps/assistance day, and a back day. Every 4th week I take off the triceps and back day to keep fresher.

6) Critical Bench: The thing with Metal Militia and Westside both is that these advanced systems include boards, bands, chains, weight releasers and all these other training techniques and training devices that most lifters don't have access to in order to get stronger. That is why many lifters don't take advantage of many of the techniques that we are discussing. What do you think about that?

Gregg Damminga 765 Squat

If lifters say they don't know where to get training implements, I think that is a cop-out. If you want to get better, you have to find and study people that are better than you and do what they do. If you are motivated you will find out what you need no matter where it is.

7) Critical Bench: Well said! Do you think if your RAW bench goes up does your shirt bench go up and when your shirt bench goes up does your RAW bench go up?

I have found that when my raw improves, so does my shirt, and when my shirt improves, so does my raw. You have to use a different bar path for raw, you can't touch as low or you will hurt a shoulder or rotator cuff.

8) Critical Bench: Let's move onto raw training. What are some of your tips?

FOR RAW TRAINING- The training mechanism is the same: break the lift down into its component parts. 1. Off the chest, 2. Midrange sticking point, 3. lockout.

1 off the chest there is no shirt, so "pause reps" are an excellent way to train.

2. midrange boards are still the best. Find where you stick on your max reps, and use a board setup that is just LOWER this point. This will train you through the point.

3. Lockout is usually not a big of a problem for raw guys; rarely do people miss a lift right at the top raw. But, if you do, the rack presses are still a great exercise.

9) Critical Bench: When you train RAW, do you use less volume than you do when you use a bench press shirt?

In my case yes, as I am going raw between meet preparations. Surely the shirt provides some injury support, so with the shirt you run out of gas with volume because your Central Nervous System (CNS) gives out. Raw, you just run into muscle fatigue.

10) Critical Bench: Okay, so let's move onto squat and deadlift. Explain your Westside squat and deadlifting routine?

I am much more classically Westside, and use what I call "rotating periodization"

Say I have a meet 12 weeks out on heavy squat day I will pick an exercise and do 4-5 work sets each week for 4 weeks, always trying to go up. You will plateau, so then change exercise for the next 4 weeks, always ending the last 4 weeks in full competition gear. The sample main exercises are: bands, chains, box squat this current cycle leading up to Senior's. I did 3 weeks of box squatting, 4 weeks of chains, and am in the last weeks of full gear gradually working down to singles for assistance exercises. I do 3-4 sets of 8-10 of things like glute ham raise, reverse hyperextensions, banded pull through, and of course heavy oblique and ab work, that keeps you stable throughout the lift

On DL/back day the philosophy is the same, but with different exercises is rotation I did banded DL with 25lb plates (works the explosion and speed off the floor), stiff leg dead lifts with chains (works the lockout) and then regular DL with full gear assistance exercise are things like shrugs, various kinds of late pulls. Fortunately I have never had a grip problem up to 750lb rack lockouts, so I never directly train it. I do use a slightly thicker bar sometimes on DL day that gives good grip training I always start my workouts with 4-5 minutes of treadmill or rowing machine. I always do a little cardio at the beginning and then do a stretching routine for 10min. I like to think this is why I have never been injured in 2 years of PL.

If you count that 20 min of warm-up, my workouts are about 2 1/2 hours or so

Lift heavy squat Monday 6pm, triceps/assistance Wed 6pm, heavy back Thurs 6pm, heavy bench Sat 10am rest between sets varies.

On all assistance exercises, no more than a minute or so have to have the longest interval after heavy squat before heavy bench (5 days), otherwise my bench goes down due to arm/shoulder fatigue…..rest between sets on heavy main exercise is probably about 3-4 min for bench, 5-6 up to 10 min for heavy squat and DL takes a while to wrap and strap for squat singles, and they take a LOT out of you

11) Critical Bench: Give me 5 tips for the beginner and 5 tips for the advanced lifter?

For the beginner:

1. don't constantly search for a magic routine, you will make gains on most any program if you work hard

2. always find someone better than you to train with, that's how you learn and get better

3. . sleep is very underrated, the better I sleep, the better I lift

4. 4. Protein, creatine, and glutamine are the only supplements I have found that work, don't waste your money on all the other hyped-up crap

5. drink lots of water, if you aren't pissing clear, it's not enough

Or the more advanced lifter (I am probably still an "intermediate", so these might not be so helpful..

1. attend a seminar, the interchange of information person to person is much richer than anything you can get by email or phone

2. Assuming you have the funding, try out lots of different equipment, many things work better with certain body types, you may be held back by equipment mismatch.. Equipment here means shirts, suits, etc.

3. don't train with inferior bars, that is the single most dangerous thing when you are getting up in weight

4. spotters save life's, us them, even when your are confident

5. always compete at the highest levels

I have much more respect for the 2200lb total that finished 4th at a national meet than a 2200lb total that was obtained in a "backyard" meet And won by 400 lbs

12) Thanks Gregg, those are tips that one could remember and use for a life time! So, all of your knowledge is one factor to why you succeed in powerlifting so let's talk a little bit about your powerlifting career. Next for you are the APF Senior Nationals. Tell us how you will prepare and your mental game?

APF Senior Nationals, although not a "world" meets, has the deepest collection of the best lifters in the world short of the WPO. Theoretically the WPC worlds is the next step above the APF seniors and the WPO, but the WPC worlds is often overseas, and the traveling expenses make it hard for the best American lifters to get there. I expect this year at seniors there will be 15+ guys with > 1000 lb squats. This will be my first year to qualify to go, so I just want to have the experience, and hopefully the adrenaline rush of that many good lifters will help to get me some PRs. There will be 10-12 of us from Brent's IronGladiators team. That will be nice to have that much help and support. Many of these guys will finish top 5 in their divisions, we have some shot at doing well in the team points. For my mental game, I think I am pretty good at it from football....play, huddle, play, huddle, etc. lift, rest, lift, rest, etc. Visualization is very important . By the time the contest comes, I have done my squat, bench, DL 100's of times my head, all perfect and all 3 white lights When the meet comes it is almost self fulfilling prophecy . You also have to make your preparation automatic. In the gym when doing singles, do the same prep routine in the same order over and over and over! Than meet time, the whole thing is just execution, no thinking too much.

13) Critical Bench: How do you think the Camaraderie is in the sport of powerlifting thus far?

Gregg Damminga 506 Bench

The best thing about the sport is the people. Nowhere can you find a better bunch of people that will go out of their way to help you do better. Nowhere can you find a better bunch of people that will go out of their way to help you do better. I have communicated with Kennelly, Mikesell, Siders, Kara Bohigian, etc. and everyone has shared tips, pointers and been amazingly helpful and nice. We all share some common bond of knowing that only a few people understand what it is like to lift REALLY heavy weight. I think it is because the sport is very quantitative when it comes to the competition. You attempted X and either got it or not. Sure you can gripe about some judging inconsistencies, but they are all self correcting though the vehicle of video and the internet. I don't see/sense this kind of "togetherness" in the BB community. My wife did 3 BB competitions (full BB, not figure or fitness), and the hill to climb is probably more difficult due to the dieting, but it is a very isolating sport and very subjective. The PL people are just the best, no matter what level you lift.

14) Critical Bench: Let's talk about you personally now. Being a football player, tell us your favorite football highlight! Then tell us your favorite powerlifting highlight so far?

Football: playing in front of 105,000 people at the "Big House" in Ann Arbor making academic all-big10 and honorable mention academic all-american my senior year starting in the semi-pro championship game for the Everett Hawks at the age of 41.

Powerlifting---Getting my first 2000lb total at Brent Mikesells IronGladiator meet this April . Winning my division at the APF Masters Nationals two weeks ago. Qualifying and getting to lift at the APF seniors nationals in June

Helping my wife obtain two WABDL Washington state records in the bench press

15) Critical Bench: Where did you meet your wife? Give us some history about how you met, got involved, and shared this powerlifting& bodybuilding bond together. (GET READY FOR A CRITICAL BENCHE FIRST EVER ROMANTIC STORY!)

In high school, Cincinnati OH, 1978 September 3 I was a football player and wrestler, she had just moved from Ft. Lauderdale FL. I remember she had on some jeans with a little yellow start on the butt; I followed them around all day until I introduced myself . Our first date was at a Cincinnati Bearcats football recruiting dinner. Of course I lifted in HS for football and wrestling. We went to different colleges . She went to SMU in Dallas, me to Northwestern in Chicago .

She graduated in 2 1/2 years (lots of advanced credit) And moved to Chicago where we got married in 1983.

She started lifting with me some then. And used the lifting to help her get back shape after each of our 2 kids.

She always has been pretty lean, so when she decided to do it, she got hooked up with a local experienced BB who helped her with posing, diet, etc at first she was a little leary getting in front of 1000 people with almost nothing on, but she was an absolute ham on stage.

She did everything absolutely textbook: diet, training, tanning, coloring, posing routine choreographed to "Brick House", etc. Finished 2nd in her first show. She's 5'10", weighed 136 at the show Ungodly shoulder and chest striations

Her legs were her weak point. She has scoliosis, and has a stainless rod in her back Makes heavy squatting hard.

She did two more shows after that But each one was less fun than the first inconsistent judging Catty-ness of the other contestants at the second show, one of the contestants from the first show saw her and said "oooh, looks like you didn't get much done on our legs since the last show, huh?" that bullshit you don't find in PL one day after the 3rd show she saw some people benching in the power rack there was one other woman, very small, 105lbs, etc. doing reps with 115 or so. She asked to join, and that's how she got into PL actually a few months before me as I was still playing semi-pro FB her first contest was WABDL Nationals in Portland in August 2004, she benched 167 and DL 260-somthing at 148 40-46 class er current bench is 205 contest (215 gym), DL 305 (325 gym), and she just did her first 3 lift meet last month and got a 265 squat. She did 315 last night. The first contest was enough to qualify her for APF Senior Nationals by 3 lbs....so she is going. Looking for 335 squat, 220 bench, 345 DL. 900 total if everything works

16) Critical Bench: Cool, thanks for sharing her success with us! What do your son and daughter feel about your powerlifting career?

My son understands very well. He is a varsity rower at Yale, and the training pain he endures is beyond comprehension, he knows what the deal is when you have a nose blowout coming out of the hole on a squat. My daughter, although she ran track and cross country in HS, and plays rugby at Cornell, is not so hard core. She is a little put off by the long hours in the gym, doesn't see the reward. She doesn't understand that the common training bond is part of the reward.

Rowing doesn't have a lot of weight training. Some basic exercises in the off season. Most everything is aerobic - long and hard biking, rowing ergo meter, boat time, etc. My daughter works out occasionally in the gym, she does like to jog to keep in shape, long 10-12 mile runs

17) Critical Bench: Glad you raised good athletes! What are your future goals?

My goals are to get 2100 total at Seniors (and probably finish about 10th, haha), place in the WPC Masters World meet in November, and help my wife get a Washington WABDL deadlift record to go with her bench record.

18) Critical Bench: How do you see your weight lifting future after you achieve your future goals?

I want to continue to squat until I die. It's the hardest lift as you get older. I want to be squatting in contests when I am 70!

Critical Bench: It's been great talking to you. In closing is there anything else that you would like to say?

I would like to thank my wife for loving lifting like I do, it is part of how we stay connected and a general thanks to the powerlifting community, truly the best sports envrionment on the planet.


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