There are precious few humans who can say that they’ve moved over 1,000 pounds in any lift—and fewer who have done so with all that weight on their back for a squat, the discipline considered by some to be the king of all lifts. Ray Williams, a 35-year-old powerlifting champ, is the king of raw squats (which means he accomplished his reps without the aid of a squat suit, knee wraps, or help unracking the weight).
Williams first eclipsed the 1,000 pound line at the 2016 USAPL Raw Nationals with a 1,005-pound lift (he was the first in the world to do so), and has since bested that official mark with a 1,080 pound lift at the Arnold Sports Festival in 2019.
When Williams talks about powerlifting, then, you should probably listen. The Squat King recently spoke to Men’s Health for a wide-ranging interview about his training, best advice for others, and more. The most helpful thing Williams shared for aspiring lifters wasn’t exactly a checklist for how to squat a grand; instead, he made it clear what not to do in the weight room once you get acclimated to the grind.
He wasn’t talking about squatting, either. Unsurprisingly, Williams is a balanced lifter, and his best piece of advice has to do with another important barbell discipline: the deadlift.
“When it comes to people who have been training for a little while, I would say the most dangerous mistakes relate to the deadlift,” he said. “The squat, yeah, you see problems, but you can get those fixed quick, and people who don’t understand the squat usually just don’t do it. But with the deadlift—man, like these kids in Mississippi, they’re all trained to do sumo deadlifts and they’re wearing so much equipment.”
For the uninitiated, the sumo position allows you to lift using a shorter range of motion and a more upright posture, since your stance is much wider than in the conventional deadlift (or squat, since sumo squats are also common) and you can take advantage of your body’s levers. The equipment he’s referring to might be everything from belts and knee sleeves to wrist straps and grips, which can all be helpful for experienced lifters like himself who are looking for every edge to pull as much weight as possible. For a less-experienced trainee’s efforts, however, the accessories might undercut their progress since they should be focused on building a base of strength before going all out on heavy weight.
“They only pull sumo style, not conventional,” continued Williams. “Their backs round in a real unsafe way. And if you say anything to them, they think you’re hating on them. Well, okay, sure, but you can ruin yourself with one bad pull. So make sure you understand how to do the deadlift properly before you start messing around with it and develop bad habits.”
Want to avoid this problem? Learn how to deadlift conventionally, without a belt or grips, before you move on to other disciplines or add equipment to help you pull more weight. There’s absolutely a place for sumo position and accessories in your program—but first, master the basics.
Check out the rest of Williams’ interview to find out how he eats and recovers and exactly how it feels to squat over 1,000 pounds.
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