This is a an interview with my friend, strength training madman Max Shank from Strong as Hell. Besides having a very cool name, Max is also one of the strongest people I know. He is constantly raising the bar for himself (and for the rest of us). He is also a martial artist. I’ve watched clips of a couple of his local fights and he is not someone I would want kicking me. Max was nice enough to let me pester him with questions today. We talked about fitness, strength, competition, and the glorious Highland Games.
Let’s start out with this highlight reel of some of Max’s strength training. Warning–you’re not going to feel very strong after watching this!
Josh: Max, you are one of the strongest people I know. You make a lot of very strong people look wimpy, and my hand is raised there. How did you get into strength training?
Max: Josh, with that talk you are bound to make me blush. I started actually strength training when I was 17 and I got a membership to LA Fitness to play racquetball mostly. At the time I could bench a pair of 35lb dumbbells for a few ugly half reps but that was about it. I did the standard chest day, shoulder day, arm day, repeat until dead. After that I went through a stint of Crossfit where I improved my conditioning and my kipping pullups, but didn’t really get much stronger. I read a ton of books, did some Olympic lifting, and starting using my common sense instead of jumping on any bandwagon. Things started to improve when I did that.
J: Making men blush is what I do best. I’m actually really excited to learn that you were interested in racquetball. Not many people know this, but it is my favorite sport to play. But let’s talk about another sport. You’re a fighter. Why? I understand the need to compete very well, but there are lots of ways that don’t involve getting punched and kicked. Or are you good enough that nobody ever touches you?
M: What good is being strong if you can’t rub it in your opponent’s face? Seriously though, 1 on 1 combat is arguably the most intense competition you can get into. It’s also completely individual, and after playing only team sports most of my life, I don’t want to have to rely on anybody but myself. Getting kicked and punched isn’t fun, but you know that it’s not a tickling contest going into it. It sort of comes with the territory and I think that on an amateur level, the pros outweigh the cons. I still practice jiu jitsu and muay thai multiple times a week and I love it.
J: Talk about your experience in the Highland Games, and tell us what the Games are.
M: The highland games involves a bunch of huge men in kilts throwing heavy stuff (rocks, hammers, kettlebells, block weights attached with a chain, telephone poles, haybales with a pitchfork). Seriously that’s pretty much what it is. I competed in the lightweight division which I was still 20lbs lighter (under 200 class–most guys were 300+) and it was awesome. My only saving grace was athleticism and raw strength. I took a sledgehammer and a couple of kettlebells to the park and practiced throwing them a couple times but other than that I was pretty much unprepared. I did manage to win a few events, get second place overall and came close to the lightweight record for weight over bar at 15’6″. Most people couldn’t believe it was my first time. I look forward to competing again next year, any chance to compete is always a good thing.
J: What’s the biggest problem in the fitness industry today?
I don’t even know where to start with this one. I suppose it has to do with the nature of the industry itself. People have these false idols that they follow blindly who don’t know anything about how the human body works. I’ll say it right now, making a fat person jump, is one of the dumbest things you can do (thank you Biggest Loser for being the worst thing ever). It should be simple; eat real food, not too much, mostly plants (M. Pollan). Move well, then move strongly. Lift heavy stuff, put it over your head too, push and pull things, finish with some tough conditioning and call it a day.
I also hate that anyone with abs is a fitness expert. Idiots.
J: What is the funniest thing you have ever seen in a gym?
M: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I used to see this constantly. One funny thing was a trainer who used to tell his clients to “engage your transverse!” during sit ups and planks. No one ever questioned it or asked where their transverse was, they just flexed their rectus abdominis harder. I’d love to meet the man someday who can actively engage his transverse.
Worst thing I ever saw many times in a gym, was a trainer telling his client “it’s supposed to hurt a little.” That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I do some stupid things in the gym for the sake of shock value, but I don’t cause myself or my clients physical harm. That’s just stupid.
J: Max, thanks again, this was a lot of fun. I challenge you to a Muay Thai fight in the park at midnight.
Max did not respond to that last question, so I’m assuming he forfeited out of either terror or an unwillingness to drive out to Salt Lake just to beat me up.
Please visit Max at Strong as Hell, or swing by his gym Ambition Athletics if you have the urge to experience a rear naked choke from someone powerful,