Interview with a Powerlifter/coach – Brandon Tunquist

This series picks up with a lifter I have personally known since I moved to Ohio in 2010. He has grown from a wrestler using powerlifting to be better at his sport to being one of the best 198 pound raw lifters in this country.

Recently he has taken up coaching other lifters in our area. Judging by their results at their latest meets, he has a good future ahead of him as both a lifter and with coaching them.

Enjoy the Q&A session with Brandon.

1. Introduce yourself and tell us a little more about you personally.

My name is Brandon Tunquist, I am 21 years old, a Raw powerlifter in the 198lb class, and I am a college student studying Criminal Justice. I reside in Mentor, OH which is northeast of Cleveland.

2. Tell us about your athletic background and what moment are you most proud of during it?

I have played sports my entire life. I am very thankful that my parents got me into sports at such a young age. I played football and baseball all my life up until my freshman year of high school. I then decided to strictly pursue wrestling which I had picked up in 8th grade. That sport really made me the person I am today. I learned the true meaning of hard physical work. A lot of that has carried over to my powerlifting training philosophies. I endured so much physical pain and stress, and I loved every minute of it. One on my proudest moments was pinning a state ranked wrestler in under a minute my senior year.

3. What got you into powerlifting and who were the major influences on you during the early years.

My dad had been big and strong my whole life and always lifted, so naturally he got me into lifting at a young age as well. I remember him taking me into our basement gym as early as 6th grade, and teaching me how to properly squat and deadlift. I remember being able to squat 225 in the 6th grade pretty easily, and by the time I was in 8th grade or so, my deadlift had gotten up to around 350lbs when I weighed about 130lbs. I had no real knowledge of how good that really was, and by the time I was a freshman, I was hitting over 405lbs without deadlifting for months prior and all while I was cutting weight for wrestling. Finally some friends had convinced me to look up the state record for the deadlift for my age and weight class, so I did and realized that I had a very good shot at breaking it. So I entered my first powerlifting meet that summer and beat it by over 50lbs. I was hooked from that point on.

4. What gyms have you trained at during your lifting career so far?

I first started at a gym called the “Gorilla Pit” which no longer exists…thankfully. From there I moved to Titans Gym in Mentor, OH. I primarily train there now, but on my squat days I now travel to Old School Iron gym in Brook Park, OH on the west side of Cleveland. That has been the best gym I have trained at so far by a mile.

5. What got you into wanting to coach other lifters and where do you see yourself in this sport 5 years from now?

I first started wanting to help coach other lifters because I felt it was a good way to give back to the sport that I love, and I also don’t like seeing other lifters having to make the same stupid mistakes I did while learning my way a while back. I think in order to be the best you need to have a very good understanding of how to get stronger. It is one thing to get yourself strong, but to teach someone else to become stronger is completely different. 5 years from now I honestly hope that I am the point where everybody in this sport knows who I am because of my lifting accomplishments. I am currently training to beat the All-Time world record squat at 198lbs, so I am hoping that will be a stepping stone towards the ultimate goal.

6. What lifters, past or present, do you look up to in terms of numbers, training and dedication to helping others get better?

In terms of numbers, I really love watching Russian powerlifters. They have flawless form on every single lift, and you never really see them struggle with weights. They make every single lift look 100% perfect and easy, and I try to make my lifts resemble that. Andrey Malanichev and Andrey Belyaev come to mind. In terms of helping others I really admire Mark Bell. He is constantly putting out information for free and helping other lifters, answering questions, etc. And as far as training believe it or not I look up to my competition Jesse Norris. He has that mental attitude that nothing will stop him and he never will miss a workout. The guy lifts every single day and sometimes multiple times a day, and that is why he is the best. He doesn’t buy into the typical powerlifting BS of babying yourself and “taking it easy” because your CNS needs a rest. I try to train hard like he does, because one day I hope to beat him.  

7. Tell us about your training philosophy with regards to preparing for a PL meet from offseason to meet day. What would you focus on in the offseason and how do you approach the last 12 weeks leading up to meet day?

The way I have been setting my own training up as well as my athlete’s is for the off season I keep the mentality “take one step back to take 2 steps forward.” This basically means that I lower the weights, ditch the lifting belt and other things assist me, and I really start myself from scratch and work my way back up. I like doing everything beltless for high reps in the off season to really build your core strength and put muscle size on as well as build tendon strength. As the meet prep draws closer the reps go from 10 to 8, and then down to 6. I change exercises every 3 weeks and only deload as needed in the off season because the weights are much lighter. This is also the time where I try to build my work capacity. As we speak I have not deloaded in about 4 months now. When meet prep comes, I set it up with 3 “mini” cycles. Each one the reps are lowered. I start prep 15 weeks out and start with sets of 5, the next cycle is 3’s, then doubles, and finally singles. In between each mini cycle is a deload to keep fresh the whole time. I really think the game changer for me and my training is my ability to pair exercises to fix a certain weak point on the lifter or myself. I know exactly what exercises will fix each problem and when to use them, and I think is what has gotten me so far. As the meet gets closer the volume decreases and the rest times become longer. 2 weeks out I give a deload week, and then the week of the meet is spent completely resting with no lifting.

8. I know you are not a nutritionist and don’t give people meal plans, but you stay relatively lean year round and cut weight well when getting ready for a meet. What is your basic philosophy on eating as a powerlifter who wants to be strong and stay in decent shape? Some count calories, some eat what they want, how do you approach it?

I will be the first to admit that I am just fortunate to be young and able to eat the way that I do and not put on much fat. What I have been doing is basically eating whatever I want when I am not training for a meet, because I have been trying to grow into my weight class since I was 18. Now that I have successfully put on some muscle over the years I have gotten to the point where I need to cut down to make 198lbs. When I do need to start cutting the ONLY thing I care about and pay attention to is my carbohydrates. I do not count calories or any of that fancy stuff. On the days I am not in the gym I go as low carb as I can, because I will not be needing the energy from them for my training that day, so I let my body use its own fat as an energy source by keeping my protein intake high. On my upper body training days, I allow myself 150-200g of carbs tops. On my squat and deadlift days I know that I will need more energy to complete those training days, so I go up to about 300-350g of carbs tops, no more or no less. This protocol has worked extremely well for me. I can lose about 15-20lbs and not lose much strength at all, and if I do it is because my leverages have changed slightly. I then cut the rest of the weight the last week before the competition with water manipulation.

9. I have witnessed you progress over the years into an excellent lifter, from your point of view how does it feel to be one of the best in your class from 3 years ago when you were fresh to the sport of PL?

It feels very good honestly, but at the same time I cannot settle. I know I have a lot of room to improve still and I still have not reached my main goals yet.

10. Anything else to add we didn’t go over, this one is all yours.

My advice to lifters just starting off is to not believe every single thing you hear and to consider the source. I have learned very quickly that some things might work great for some lifters, but won’t do shit for others. Nobody is the same person, body structure, or have the same muscle imbalances. Nothing will ever trump hard work and giving your 100% into your training. Train with a purpose, and to have a goal of where you want to be with this. The entire time I am training, every single day I am thinking about that 30-60 second moment that I will spend in March when I try to break that world record. Everything I am doing now is for that one moment. So find that within yourself and create that burning desire to reach that goal. 

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