Interview With Greg Nuckols
Right now there are as many fitness-related websites and social media profiles as there are stars in the universe.
With some much competition, it can be tough to stand out from the crowd.
But, occasionally, amongst all the clickbait, product-peddling and gratuitous dick measuring, we’ll see something that genuinely surprises us, which brings something new to the table.
This usually goes one of two ways: either it’s some arsewrench who’s stooped to new lows of self-promotion, or it’s someone whose content is so fantastic it makes your own fitness website feel like a one-legged tortoise lining up in the Men’s 100m final.
Greg Nuckols, the ‘Colossus of Carolina’, is very much in the latter category.
Greg runs a website called Strengtheory which is easily one of the best resources for lifters we’ve yet come across.
Boasting massively in-depth articles which blend scientific analysis with years of under-the-bar experience at the highest level, Strengtheory is a site which deserves your attention, whether you’re an elite powerlifter or someone who’s just picked up a barbell for the very first time.
After giving Greg a brief mention in our recent Long and Steady Gains article, we wanted to give him some more exposure on GymTalk, and he kindly accepted our offer of an interview.
For anyone not familiar with your website, could you briefly introduce yourself.
Hey, I’m Greg!
I’m a powerlifter, strength coach, and writer based in Raleigh, NC.
I’ve been training for 12 years now, coaching for seven, and writing for four.
My best lifts in competition include a 750 squat, 425 bench, and 710 deadlift drug-free at 242lbs.
What does a typical week look like for Greg Nuckols?
How often do you train and what do you do to relax/have fun?
I train almost every day.
I generally take one day off of training to relax and decompress, but do some sort of training at least five and generally six days per week.
Most days I’ll work (coach, respond to emails, read research, write, etc) 10-12 hours, train for 1.5-2 hours, and sleep about nine hours.
That doesn’t leave too much time for hobbies, but I cook/grill, play Smash Bros, and dive into some craft beer to decompress when I have time.
What do you love about the sport?
I’m a numbers guy, so there’s something inherently appealing to me about a sport where everything can be measured and quantified.
Beyond that, I’ve always been borderline obsessed with strength (one of my hobbies when I was a little kid, before I knew any sort of strength sports existed, was just seeing what the heaviest things were that I could lift), and I have a higher aptitude for powerlifting than weightlifting, so it’s a natural fit.
A beginner walks into a gym, having never even seen a barbell.
They want to get strong.
What would you have them doing the next day and for the next year?
First things first would be a general assessment to make sure they were ready to start lifting, getting an idea of how well they moved and how kinesthetically aware they were, and of course getting an idea of their short-term and long-term goals.
For the next year, it’ll just be a steady diet of progressive resistance training tailored to their needs and preferences.
Ultimately, there’s no short-cut for hard work.
What are the biggest mistakes you made as a rookie that you would take back if possible?
Two different ways to look at this: I’ve made too many mistakes to count, and if I could undo all of them, I’m sure I’d be able to lift more now than I currently can.
On the other hand, I’m fairly level-headed and introspective, so I’m constantly analysing my training and learning from my mistakes, so I think all of the mistakes I’ve made with my own training have ultimately helped me understand the training process better and be a better coach, so I don’t think I’d take anything back.
Two mistakes I’ve made multiple times, though, that I see a lot of other people make pretty frequently:
1) If you bulk too fast, you’re mostly just going to get fat.
Your clothes may not be fitting differently for a while, and your strength may be climbing rapidly, but don’t fool yourself (even though you’re the easiest person to fool) – the majority of the weight you’re gaining is NOT muscle.
2) If it hurts, stop.
Some injuries are just freak accidents that would be hard to predict in advance, but you can see most of them coming.
Little aches and pains can turn into major headaches if you don’t take the necessary steps to correct them (rest, technique changes, being more conscientious about your mobility work and warmups, etc).
It’s better to take a little time off, or to dial back your training load for a bit to rectify a small problem than to push through and risk needing to take 3-6 months off with a serious injury.
What more “obscure” lifts do you feel people would really benefit from?
I guess this one isn’t so obscure anymore since Bret Contreras has done such a good job popularising it, but I really like the barbell hip thrust.
It took me years to initially try it because it looks objectively ridiculous, but I’ve seen it work wonders helping people with weak deadlift lockouts, and it helps out a fair number of people who get knee pain squatting as well (the stronger your glutes get, the easier the lift gets for your quads and hamstrings, which can take a bit of stress off the knees).
Another I really like is single leg RDLs.
These are particularly useful for people who squat with a fairly wide stance, or who sumo deadlift.
Single leg RDLs help build strength and improve range of motion in the hip abductors and external rotators, which can sometimes get tight and achy (which can then lead to other issues) for a lot of lifters.
Finally, I really like kettlebell windmills for warmups on lower body training sessions.
They help loosen and strengthen the obliques and quadratus lumborum, and help clue you into shoulder instability and side-to-side differences in hip mobility (while also helping to loosen up and warm up the muscles surrounding the hips).
Is there any “accepted wisdom” out there regarding strength training/bodybuilding that you would, through experience, research or otherwise, debunk?
1) Sets of 8-12 are meaningfully better than lower reps (down to about 5) or higher reps (up to about 20-30) for building muscle.
2) You need to eat every three hours to build muscle and “boost your metabolism”.
3) A lot of stuff surrounding supplements.
Creatine definitely works, caffeine definitely works, citrulline definitely works, protein definitely works if you’re not getting enough in your diet, sodium bicarbonate definitely works if you can stomach the taste (and don’t get GI issues from it), and plain old vitamins and minerals work if you have an actual deficiency (verified by your doctor via blood work).
MOST other supplements/ingredients in supplements either don’t work or have such a small effect it’s really not worth taking them.
What is your general approach to nutrition?
1) Eat enough protein (about .8g/lb or 1.8g/kg of bodyweight is plenty under most circumstances, with potential benefits up to about 1.3g/lb or 2.8g/kg if you’re in a really aggressive calorie deficit).
2) Split up the rest of your calories from fat and carbs (and alcohol) based on your personal preferences.
3) Track total calorie intake to make sure your overall energy intake is in line with your bulking/cutting goals.
4) Eat some veggies or fruit at least 2-3x per day.
5) Try to not get more than about 15-20% of your overall calorie intake from alcohol and heavily processed junk (though you really don’t need to cut it out entirely).
Who/what are some of your biggest inspirations in lifting?
Everyone who’s stronger than me.
I’m naturally a competitive person.
If you’re in my weight class and you outlift me, I know about it.
I say this in the spirt of healthy competition and not in an adversarial way: I want to beat you.
If you could train alongside anyone, living or dead, real or fictional, who would it be and why?
It’s hard to name just one!
I’d LOVE to train with Ed Coan (my favorite powerlifter of all-time).
Of powerlifters who are currently competing, Sarychev would probably be at the top of my list.
If we’re including dead or fictional people, I’d love to train with Arthur Saxon (below), Paul Anderson, and Hermann Görner to see if the stories about them were true, and lifting some bulls with Milo of Croton or rolling a boulder with Sisyphus sounds like fun.
Aside from your own channels, what other resources on the web would you recommend our readers check out?
There are plenty of good sources of information, but those are the ones I use the most frequently.
Judging from your Twitter feed, you’re a big beer drinker.
What are your top 3 beers?
Lost Abbey Angel’s Share
Thank you very much for your time Greg – are there any final pearls of wisdom that you could offer our readers?
The three things that determine how good of results you get (in anything) are whether you picked your parents well (genetics), your environment, and the effort you put into improvement.
Two of those things are in your control.
Surround yourself with good people who push you in a positive direction (and return the favour), work your ass off, and good stuff will generally happen.
More from Greg
As well as checking out strengtheory.com, you can follow Greg on: