Jimmy The Chin interviews Stephen ‘screamer’ Manuel The IPF World Powerlifting Silver and Bronze Medallist. Personal Trainer, Strength Coach, Technical Meathead and SBD sponsored athlete.
Hi stephen. Thanks for letting me interview you. Could you tell us more about yourself. How long have you been training in powerlifting, what weight class do you compete in and what got you into the sport of powerlifting?
I’ve been training in Powerlifting for around 8/9 years. I had my first competition just before my 18th birthday and I’m now 26.
I’ve just recently moved up to the 105kg class as I feel in the long run I will be far more effective in this weight class and I think with the mass I put on during the off season it’ll be a bit of a tough cut this year and I’ll likely come backwards.
Although I’ve only been competing 8/9 years I’ve been lifting weights almost half of my life. I started at around age 14 when I started playing Rugby for my local team. I was always the shortest and smallest in terms of bulk on the pitch. I was generally the quickest and most agile on the pitch too, but I had no mass on me so I thought “I need to try and get bigger to have a chance of not getting thrown around if I do get caught in a tackle.” So it was my “Little man complex” that started my strength journey off but my Powerlifting came about with a lot of luck and I was instantly hooked.
When I left school I wanted to make money, so I decided I’d study rich people stuff, get a job at a desk and be minted by the time I was 30. Well after 3 months of studying IT, business studies and accountancy I was fed up, hated life and was getting £30 funding per week for college on a Thursday, buying 30 x £1 drinks on student night in Shields and generally hated life. I dropped out of college, but would still regularly go to the gym. At that point I hadn’t even considered fitness as a career and had barely scraped a C at GCSE Science because I was uninterested in Science as a subject. However, I heard of a college around an hour away offering an A-Level equivalent course (BTEC National Diploma) in Sports and Exercise Science so I decided to quit college and enrol there. The only thing I enjoyed was training and drinking and I figured I may as well try and make a career out of something I love and I’ve never heard of a professional pisshead so that got me into Sports College.
Once I was in Gateshead Sports College I suddenly loved Science and was excelling across the board. I got awards for being the best academic student there and was also performing well in Rugby Union, Rugby League for the College and also got offered trials for the North of England Colleges and I was also playing American Football for Gateshead Juniors.
I was training for American Football on a Sunday one afternoon and I got talking to a man in the changing rooms about my training for rugby and football etc. and he said “You should get powerlifting”. I had no idea what he meant and was pretty shy so I just laughed it off, then a few weeks later I was in the gym training with some college lads and then this group of big guys came in and started setting up a squat rack and bars and lifting. I just watched from a corner and was like I HAVE to try that. So a few weeks later, I finally built up the courage to ask if I could join in, I competed about 6 weeks later and broke some British Junior records and I was addicted.
Do you have to cut a lot of weight for competition? What’s your off season weight and height stats?
I typically cut around 7-8kg to make weight. I’ve done bigger cuts (biggest is 107-93) over longer periods of time but I had significantly less muscle mass on me despite being a lot heavier. I made the decision to move up about 2-3 weeks prior to writing this and I’ve been around 102-103kg and still have SOME abs, I don’t see the point in trying a cut. I may as well get stronger and bigger. So right now I’m around 5’6 and 102-103kg – a bit of a chode really.
Can you tell us what some of your best lifts are in competition and the gym?
Well we all know it only counts on the platform so as much as I hate telling you my gym lifts I suppose I’ll have to now! I’ve hit a 300kg squat in the gym 290 on the platform, 200kg bench in the gym and a 197.5kg on the platform, and a 330kg deadlift in the gym and a 315kg in a competition. Just looking for that day I put it all together on the platform, I’m in pretty good shape leading up to the British Classic next weekend so we’ll see what happens.
Some impressive numbers there stephen.
You recently competed in the worlds 2014 IPF at powerlifting and brought home the bronze which you weren’t too happy with due to you have cramping issues. Have you managed to figure out how to prevent this for next year?
I’ve looked into a number of things and I believe was a combination of the weight cut, although I made weight pretty comfortably, and the altitude of Potchefstroom, South Africa where worlds was held. However, I don’t want to make any excuses for myself. The fact is I was unprepared, performed badly and even on my best day, I was still off the pace of the top two. I wasn’t happy with the experience but I’m glad it happened because I’ll know to allow myself more time to acclimate to a strange or a different environment to what I’m accustomed and I’m a smarter lifter because of it.
Highlights of Stephen Manuel from the 2014 IPF Classic World Powerlifting Championships, in Potchefstroom, South Africa.
You have the look of a bodybuilder aswell as a powerlifter. Do you combine a lot of higher reps in your training and isolation exercises?
I don’t have the look of a bodybuilder right now, let me tell you that! Haha, but yes I do combine a lot of higher reps in training and isolation exercises. I think we are seeing a big shift in the way people train and I think to truly get better you have to be open to many different forms of training to constantly be able to give your body something new to adapt from.
Can you let the readers know a typical day in the life of what your diet and training looks like for ?
This has changed a few times due to me not being able to devote as much time to training the way I used to. Right now I typically hit 2 lower body, 2 upper body days and 1 day where I attack any weak muscles/movements. I don’t typically worry too much about carbohydrate intake, a typical lifting session doesn’t eat anywhere as much glycogen as what people think. I don’t really time my food either, I just cook a load of food and try to eat it all within my day. I’ll typically eat around 8 whole eggs, 6-8 chicken thighs, 1-2 eight ounce steaks, 1/2 a kilo of mixed vegetables, some noodles, 2-3 bananas, 1-2 apples and if I’m still hungry I’ll have 1 or 2 protein bars and always have a BCAA supplement following training. I’ll keep a few scoops of protein on me at all times in case I get stuck with no food.
You’ve ran program’s like smolov before. Is this something you’re still following or do you write your own program’s?
Let me start this by saying Smolov is a crazy ass program and you need some big balls to get through it! It will take you to new levels of fatigue and you need a hell of a lot of time on your hands to do it. I also think too many novices are trying it and putting themselves at risk of hurting themselves and also limiting their potential for long term gain. It makes nonsense to go from squatting once per week with moderate volume to suddenly squatting 4 times per week with moderate to extreme volume -ESPECIALLY if you were improving squatting once per week. I felt like I needed something extreme to improve as when you get towards the top end of the strength spectrum you just your ass for 10-15kg extra on the bar in a lift in a year. I was able to get 10kg extra on the bar all 3 times I did smolov. However, those gains were short lived – it is not a long term, sustainable program in my opinion, it’s a peaking program for short term gains and nothing more. I typically used the smolov base cycle to get ready for a competition and that was it. Other than that I write my own program’s and am working on my own little cycle right now.
You compete in a tested federation but you’ve mentioned recently that people comment, suggesting you’re not natural. Do you have any message for the doubters? Or any words of encouragement to someone looking to get big and jacked like yourself?
I think if you look at my progression over the years it speaks for itself. I reverted back to unequipped lifting in 2011 after a fairly successful equipped career. My best totals for the year and the lifts I achieved in those comps are as follows:
2014 – 800kg 292.5/192.5/315
2013 – 772.5kg 280/187.5/305
2012 – 727.5kg 265/180/312.5
2011 – 677.5kg 235/165/277.5
There’s no time point where I suddenly put 100kg onto my total in a year. It’s all steady gains and not getting injured, through training anyway. If I’m on “The Juice” I need a new dealer!
My message for any doubters I have, and I have experienced this myself, is firstly to accept that I am better than you because of one thing and one thing only; work ethic. I wasn’t blessed with genetics, I don’t take anything illegal, I just work my ass off to get better. I used to say that I won’t become World Champion because I can’t train hard enough because I don’t take drugs. Then after my first ever International I placed 9th and was beaten by well over 100kg. My view point changed that day. Was it more likely that the other 8 people that beat me were taking drugs, even the ones who beat me by only 5, 10, 20kg? Or was it more likely that they were just better than me? Then I asked myself “why are they better than me?” I put it down to them training harder than me and from that point on I made a commitment to increase my work in the gym to whatever it took.
Afterwards I partied, had a good time and soaked up that fun because at that moment I vowed to never be beaten by that amount again and to not settle for mediocrity again. My next international i just missed out on 3rd place overall and took home a gold medal in deadlift. I accept that drugs are taken even in tested Feds and I don’t care. I think they make it easier to work harder but they don’t make the work easier.
My attitude that I wasn’t champion because everybody else took drugs was the same bullshit I see to this day on social media. I work harder than most, therefore I am and DESERVE to be better than most.
Squat – love the thought that if I fail I’m screwed. Plus being a half African midget my glutes are primed for big squats!
This will probably draw some heat from people within my federation but I’ve been listening to a lot of the Mark Bell Powercast and some of the guests he has on there are fantastic to hear from. Despite being a lifter from a tested federation I can’t help but be inspired by some of the untested lifters like the Lilliebridge family, Dan Green, Mark Bell, Eric Spotto. I don’t want to speak for those individuals but some of the things they say regarding PEDs makes a lot of sense, it is a choice, you should research the potential benefits and side effects and decide what you want to do with no pressure from your peers etc which is something Mark Bell has clearly stated. So I have no problem looking up to somebody like that, despite them using PEDs to get stronger.
It is my firm belief that whilst there is a segregation between tested and untested federations, and rightly so, that doesn’t mean that there should be animosity towards lifters who take PEDs, as long as they compete where they are meant to compete.
A quote that stuck with me from a documentary “Bigger, Stronger, Faster” comes from Westside Barbell coach, Louie Simmons. He said “your morals are your morals, not mine. Who am I to judge your morals, and who are you to judge my morals? They’re my morals.”
There is a lot of truth to that and I see a lot of tested lifters sitting on their high horse criticising “unnatural” lifters. I don’t see myself as a “natural” lifter. There’s nothing “natural” about the BCAA with elevated leucine content I take after training. There’s nothing “natural” about my ZMA supplement to help my recovery at night. There’s nothing natural about the D-Aspartic acid in my “natural” testosterone booster, yet all my supplements go through stringent testing to ensure that what I put in my body is not illegal and I won’t test positive for anything whether I’m tested in or out of competition. There are people out there who pop hundreds of pills a week and then get butt hurt over people squatting loads of weight who “can’t be natural.” The whole natural/unnatural thing is a load of bullshit really.
Me looking up to these guys shouldn’t be seen as me being inspired by PEDs and lifters who use them. It makes me think that there is another level out there and I firmly believe that I can get there without taking anything illegal within the constraints of the IPF. Another inspiration to me is Layne Norton, he is such a beast being able to compete at the highest level in both Powerlfiting and Natural Bodybuilding and he has a shit ton of respect from me for his dedication to his craft. He’s a super nice guy too.
Agreed. Im also a fan of Layne Norton. What do you do to do unwind or relax on recovery days? I know you like watching ‘bojack horseman’ so I know you have good taste in telly.
I’m usually doing something either working, reading, planning program’s etc, but nothing beats spending time with my girlfriend. We are like passing ships with our schedules right now so it’s always nice to chill with her when we get the chance more than anything. I also love spending my admin days in a coffee shop, fuelling up on my pre-prepared meals with an Americano or 5.
Favourite cheat/dirty meal?
Too many. I really love sweet stuff like donuts, cookies, birthday cake – if you ever see a reduced birthday cake it is a sin to not buy it…FACT!
Do you drink alcohol and if so favourite tipple?
Yep, not always but when I have been hitting training hard I like to have a few ciders particularly Strongbow (reminds me of being 15…18 if you’re reading this mother), Somersby, or Rekorderlig if I’m feeling fancy.
Favourite song to lift heavy to?
Mostly metal or punk rock, like the skater kids.
You should all check out my favourite band right now. Pavilions – awesome band whom I know personally and also have the pleasure of coaching their guitarist – he gets less and less weak every session!
One tip for our readers on losing body-fat?
Don’t go to the extreme. Don’t do things if you don’t like them. The perfect program is the one you can do that has the least negative effect on your life, you enjoy the most and more importantly – progress with.
Those are some vague things but to answer the question takes more than one thing to really get to it. My advice is to make one small, positive change to your lifestyle until you do it without thinking about it and then add another.
I always wonder and ask how long somebody has been unhappy with the way they look/feel for. It might be 3 months, it might be 6, it could be 3 years – whatever. I don’t understand why you’ve put up with this for that long and then expect to be the next top supermodel in 2 weeks by starving yourself and doing cardio. With that in mind…BONUS TIP!
Don’t be scared of lifting and eating – you need to add muscle to increase metabolic rate, which will help contribute towards burning calories (in the form of body fat), which coupled with a reasonably clean – NOT NECESSARILY COMPLETELY CLEAN diet will help you drop a dress size or get back into those jeans you’ve had hanging up for the last 2 years. Get your calories and protein in, muscle cannot be made with no fuel.
One tip for gaining muscle?
Get your calories in first and foremost. Training does not get you bigger, training breaks you down. It’s the fuelling before and mostly after that adds muscle. Eat more animal proteins, particularly red meat to up your cholesterol so your body can actually make the muscle building hormones required to stack on some muscle.
Any Future goals and achievements you have lined up other than being world champion?
That is the main goal, obviously. I’d like to get better at balancing my life to be honest. Someday, I would like to run my own Strength Studio and train a team of strength enthusiasts on top of having a regular job. I am volunteering in a community centre near where I live one or two evenings a week right now and me and my buddy are going to continue to run a weightlifting and powerlifting club there for the kids. These kids come from rough areas and the community centre do a great job getting them off the streets. I see a lot of myself in them and had I made a few bad decisions growing up I wouldn’t be where I am today, so I want to help them improve their lives and hopefully have a future British Champion in the making. They better not take any of my records though!
Thats great stuff Stephen, good for you. Best thing about being lean, jacked and strong as fuck?
The women! Obviously! Haha, no – honestly knowing that barring some freak accident that when I’m getting older and when I’m in my 50s/60s I’m still gonna be moving well, having fun with my kids and grand kids. That’ll be worth the world to me when the time comes, for now I’m happy just having a focus.
Thanks for the interview stephen screamer manuel. I’m sure we’ll be seeing you with the gold soon at the worlds, you’re a very competitive hard working young guy.
Thank you for the opportunity Jimmy, I really appreciate it. I’d like to thank my sponsors SBD for believing in me, my girlfriend for putting up with my shit and my family and mentors of past and present for making me the athlete and person I am today.
Check out the montage of Stephens recent training from SBD apparel
You can reach stephen ‘screamer’ Manuel below and I highly recommend you subscribe to his YouTube channel. He gives out some solid advice for aspiring powerlifters.
Twitter – screamermanuel
Instagram – screamermanuel
Website – wwww.screamerfitness.co.uk
Youtube – screamermanuel
Facebook - screamerfitnessnugget