Blaine Sumner was destined to be a powerlifter—his parents instilled a respect for training and fitness in childhood. His mother worked as a gym teacher, and his father made it a priority to find gyms when they traveled. Once the 6’3”, 400 pound Colorado native took to a powerlifting platform, the rest is history, and he’s made some as well. His most famous feat may be his world 2,587-pound total that he amassed at the 2020 Arnold Classic. That day included a 1,135-pound squat and a 939-pound bench press, both world records. He also pulled 782 pounds on the deadlift that day.
“Getting stronger isn’t all that hard. It just takes consistent effort,” Sumner said. He sat down to talk about his journey into the sport, and offers several pieces of advice for people looking to compete or get stronger for life.
What led you into powerlifting?
I played football my whole life, and I really liked the lifting aspect of it. I played college football at a Division II school, Colorado School of Mines, and tried to pursue the NFL. That didn’t work out, but I needed something to scratch the itch of competing. Since I was already lifting heavy and interested in it, it was easy to transition into powerlifting.
People that enter the sport usually find someone to serve as inspiration or a mentor. Who were some of yours?
The first would be my dad, who taught me about hard work, discipline, and consistency. When we went on vacations, he made it a point to find a gym to train at. That was instilled in me. My mom was a PE teacher for around 30 years. She had me doing lifts like power cleans with a broomstick in our garage when I was young. As for the sport itself, two guys I looked up to were Brad Gillingham and Mike Tuchscherer.
Your first full meet was in 2006 at 19 years old. How were you able to get past the initial nerves when you took to the platform?
I wasn’t all in on powerlifting, but I had done squats and bench for football. I ended up in a gym in Denver called Rocky Mountain Lifting Club. That’s where I got my first taste of the sport, and I always had the itch to compete in something. I just signed up for one and did it for fun. So, there was really no pressure on myself.
What advice can you share for the reader that is preparing for his or her first meet?
Make sure that the lifts you do in training are up to the standards of what you’re expected to do in competition. Make sure each squat is to depth, pausing the bench, and locking out on the deadlift. You can sometimes get delusional in training and lift big numbers. They may feel like you’re doing them, but they’re actually not as clean as they should be if you want to get three white lights. You don’t want to miss your opener because it was too heavy, then have extra pressure on the second attempt because you lifted sloppy in the gym.
What kind of weight goals should be set for a first meet?
I actually don’t think you should set goals for the first one. Build confidence by having successful lifts in an actual meet first. Wait until you get a couple of meets under your belt before you start thinking about numbers. That experience can help you determine how to set goals for future contests.
How do you recover from training and meets?
I’m not a big believer in many of the recovery modalities like ice or compression stuff. I don’t think there is a lot of science to back up what is popularized on social media. The main things for me are the basics – nutrition and sleep. If you’re not maximizing your sleep, that’s the biggest way to hurt your recovery.
It’s the same thing with nutrition. If you don’t eat enough calories, then you’re not going to recover and gain strength. They have to be quality calories too. Sleep and nutrition for me is 95 percent of it. Everything else is adding small stuff. If you’re not taking care of the first two, then you’re wasting your time by doing anything else.
What do you suggest for maximizing sleep?
Make the room as dark and quiet as possible. Any light or sound can bring you out of a deep sleep, even though you may not completely wake up.
You’re famous for your chicken shakes to get your calories in. Why do you choose to have your food that way?
I get asked about my chicken shakes on social media more than I do about training. It’s how I’ve fueled my body for 10 years now. My diet is almost exclusively chicken shakes, and that’s just the easiest way to get the calories in for me. I don’t have the appetite to eat and chew enough to be 400 pounds.
Do you ever add anything in for variety, or are they the same ingredients every time?
It’s the same thing every time. I’ve tried to add variety over the years. When it comes to chicken, the more spices or flavoring you add, the harder it is to drink. I cook the chicken as plain as possible and add spinach, rice or sweet potatoes for the carbs, and almonds for the fats. Of course, I add water to it as well.
How do you suggest other people get their calories in?
Just make sure you’re taking enough protein, carbs, and fat throughout the entire day, especially before and after the workouts. Those may be the most important meals for powerlifting. I look at food as fuel and nothing else. I know others need to enjoy it, and if you have ways to do that, great.
What else do you eat to fuel your workouts?
Yep. I’m a big believer in whey protein. Some people don’t even consider that a supplement, but if I happen to run out of chicken, I definitely use that. I really like creatine, and I think caffeine can be helpful. I personally don’t use it often, but on days I’m really dragging, I’ll use caffeine or a preworkout. I’m not really big into any other supplements.
You’ve competed in both raw and equipped meets. For those that are new to powerlifting, what is the biggest difference in training for a raw meet as opposed to one with squat suits or bench shirts?
I did single ply stuff in my meets. The biggest difference is when you train for a single ply event, you really have to pay attention to technique and getting used to the gear you’re wearing. It can be hard to get to depth in a squat suit or cleanly touch the bar to your chest in a bench shirt. You really have to acclimate your body to the heavier weight in the gear. When you train for a raw meet, you focus solely on strength. Technique matters too, of course, but once that is established, the goal is to peak 100 percent for the day of the meet.
If someone is training for an equipped meet, how far out should they start training in the gear?
Ideally, you should start at about 12 weeks out. I’ve been training more in equipped meets due to injuries over the years, and that is when I start training in the equipment.
Why would training equipped be better for working around injuries if that is what you will do the heavier lifts in?
I can only use me as the example for this. In my last raw meet, I tore both of my hip labrums. Raw squats just destroy my hips. I can throw the suit on, and there is much less pain. The support from the suit helps me keep going. That answer might be on a case by case basis.
How much attention do you give to warming up before training or a meet?
A ton, and that has increased over the years. What I do may be different than what a lot of people consider warming up. I don’t believe in static stretching for a powerlifter. More of what I do for warming up has to do with spine stability work. I do specific core work such as Stuart McGill’s Big Three. I also do slow warm ups with just the bar, more sets.
Why is core work so important for a powerlifter?
Keeping your core engaged will protect your back. The McGill Big Three are the McGill curl-up, the side bridge, and the bird dog. You can find them on YouTube, and I definitely think those are the best choices. Not only is it great for strengthening and engaging the core and protecting the back, but in principle learning how to function with your back and protecting yourself in the long term as well.
Even though powerlifting is about single reps, are there benefits to doing higher rep sets?
There are. I don’t usually go above three on compound lifts, but occasionally I do up to five. In my training, I’ll do two compound movements, then I do “bodybuilding work” with movements that you would see bodybuilders do like lateral raises or pushdowns and things like that for 10-15 reps with weight that gets me close to failure.
The two most popular styles of training in powerlifting are conjugate and linear. Which do you think is better?
That’s a good question, but I think of myself more as a hybrid of both. Singles and max effort work are definitely a staple in my training, and I do quite a bit of band work too, which is what many people associate with conjugate. I use them, but it’s a far cry from what someone would call conjugate. But I’m definitely not doing what would be considered linear, either.
We talked earlier about your first meet, but you’ve gone on to set world records in your career as well. For a lifter in a similar position down the road, should the approach change when a record lift is within reach?
No, nothing should change. No matter what was or is at stake for me, the approach to training has been and would be the same. The only thing that may change is attempt selection of the weights leading up to the record attempt. But the approach, mindset, all of that should remain the same. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
When you miss a lift or some other form of failure occurs, is there anything you do to help move past it?
Having short-term memory helps, and that is in terms of both wins and losses. Believe it or not, even on days I set world records, the high lasts a couple of hours, then the excitement is over and I’m thinking about how to improve again. The sting of losing or failing sticks with me longer than the high of winning, but it’s a matter of not sulking in it, learning from what went wrong, then trying to get better.
Your wife competes in bodybuilding shows as a Figure competitor. How do you transition from athlete mode to spouse mode when it’s time for her to take the stage?
It’s hardest when we’re both preparing for contests at the same time. There’s been a few years that we’ve both done the Arnold Classic. I’m stressing about my numbers, and she’s dieting. However, it’s drastically different on the actual comp day because when I compete, it’s about numbers and a performance. She’s all nervous for me because when I’m squatting 1,100 pounds, something may go wrong. Whereas when she competes, the work is done and it’s in the hands of the judges. The stress isn’t as great watching her onstage.
A lot of people reading this may be contemplating getting into powerlifting or fitness in general for health reasons? What would you tell someone that asked you about getting into a gym or doing a meet?
I will reference something Louie Simmons said. “Strength is never a weakness.” Being stronger never hurts anything in life. You can accomplish any goal you set, whether it’s in powerlifting or not. People can make it complicated, but getting stronger really isn’t that complicated. It’s just about being consistent over time. Powerlifting specifically is a great sport because you can see the progress and results without committing your whole life to it. Beyond that, many people have made lifelong friends in the sport. Having a crew or group of friends that push each other to be better can be one of the most rewarding things ever.
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