Interview With Dennis Cieri
Fresh off his victories in the 198 pound weight class at the USAPL Bench Press Nationals (with a 568 pound bench and a near miss at 601 pounds) and the 100% Raw Nationals (with a 525 pound bench), Dennis Cieri sits down with Powerlifting Watch.
Could you give Powerlifting Watch readers a bit of background about yourself, like your age, height, weight, the weight class you compete in, and where you're from?
I'm 37 years old, 5'9 tall and weigh 205 pounds and compete in the 198's. I'm from Rutherford, New Jersey.
Any thoughts about ever going above the 198 class?
I did 220 for two years but felt too heavy and not as healthy as at my present weight.
What are your best competition and gym bench presses?
629 at 217 at Bench America; 591 at 198 at 2006 USAPL nationals and 525lbs at 198 at 2006 100% Raw Nationals; Don't max in the gym.
What gym do you train at?
Fitness Factory Health Club; Rockaway, NJ.
When did you begin lifting and how were you first introduced to powerlifting?
14 years old. A friend of mine who was into the sport in NJ.
What appealed to you about it?
I was good at it. I won my first contest at age 18, the NJ State open ADFPA.
Were you strong the first time you ever got under a bar?
Yes. I did 315lbs when I was 15 years old at 160 lbs.
Which federations do you compete in or have you competed in? Why those?
USAPL, NASA for a couple of meets, 100% Raw, Bench America II and III. They are drug free.
How did you come about becoming a bench only competitor? What about the bench press do you particularly like?
I never tried squat and deadlift, I do not have the time to train and I want to keep my knees and back healthy for my old age. I am concerned that I can have an injury that can affect my quality of life so I stay away from those lifts. I have squatted over 500lbs at 181 about 10 years ago at the gym but never went further with it. My knee started to hurt.
People often comment that you have long arms for a successful bencher. Any thoughts on how you've made that work?
Consistent smart training which includes a lot of rest, no overtraining and laying off a bodypart the moment I have the slightest injury. I only compete a couple of times a year so I can stay injury free.
You compete both equipped and raw. Do you have a preference for one over the other? Can you describe how you see the differences between the two?
Although Titan sponsors me and I wear their shirts, I have to say Raw. I think equipped lifts do not accurately measure an athlete's strength. The equipment has evolved to the point where it is dangerous. I really like the new benches with the H-bars saving a bencher's head if there is a mishap.
Want to offer your thoughts on why there's so much tension over equipment?
I can only speak for myself that if I was not a good raw bencher and relied on equipment, I would be pushing equipment. Also, there are companies with a lot of money on the line so they have motivation to twist facts as to why equipment like bench shirts are necessary. When I hear that bench shirts are safer I am baffled that an intelligent person can make such a statement. Yes, they take strain off shoulders, etc. but they significantly increase amount of weight someone can handle and cause an un-natural groove at times driving the bar into the face or ribs. I already had the pleasure of dropping 601 directly into my sternum so I am more than qualified to make the above statement.
What shirts do you use, or have you used? Why does your current shirt work for you?
I used all the shirts in the past and have settled on the Titan Fury, now I use the Katana which is their latest evolution. The shirt works for me simply because it is a beast. It takes 600 lbs just to touch my chest and holds tight.
Have you ever used more than a single ply shirt? Why or why not?
No, it is not allowed in any federation I lift in. Also, I would be benching like 700 pounds and increasing the risk of injury.
You're very strong in your drug free beliefs. Where does that come from?
My strength comes from my good genetics and 24 years of consistent intense training. My drug free beliefs come from my opinion on what is right and healthy for me. My opinion is that if you are into drugs then you are not maximizing your health. It effects all aspects of your lift. I like to live clean and eat well. There is no room for any types of drugs in my life. It's a shame that we even have to have a conversation about drug use. They have become so prevalent in so many sports that people just think it is ok to take them and are easily able to justify it ethically. Where are the priorities of athletes today? Are they into drug use to enhance performance or are they looking to be healthy? It is naive to think you can have both for any long term time frame. I just found out this weekend that the entire Russian and Ukranian teams in the IPF have been banned. THE ENTIRE TEAMS!!!!. They think it is ok to take drugs as long as your levels are below the threshold the day of the drug test. They actually outwardly think that this is an important and necessary element of their training. How many young people coming into the sport think the same way? It's hard to convince people otherwise when professional baseball and football players take in the millions after enhancing their performance through drugs. If someone want's to do drugs, fine with me but I feel strongly that it is a disgrace to the sport and yourself to do drugs and attempt to compete in a drug free organization and/or place yourself in a position where you influence others like young boys and men to follow in your footsteps.
Who do you train with?
Troy "the strongest Jew in the world" Lehrer and Glen "the animal from North Bergen NJ" Haley.
Which powerlifters/people have helped you get where you are today?
Everyone I encountered in the sport has been inspirational to me. I never really had anyone to chase but the people who tell me that I inspire give me the most encouragement. I also admire the long time people in the sport who dedicate their time just for the benefit of the lifters.
Which powerlifters of today or yesterday do you admire?
No one specific. I admire all powerlifters who are drug free and dedicated to getting better in the sport. I will spend time and energy with these people to assist in their progress if I can.
What do you think is the best ever bench press?
You may find this strange, but I really don't follow the sport too much. I just compete and focus on my training. If I have to answer I would say the best pound for pound drug free raw bench and the best drug free and Raw highest Wilkes bench.
Who do you think is the best bencher ever & who's the best today?
I have no idea but can I vote for myself to be on the shortlist?
What has been the highlight of your benching career?
Dropping 601 on my sternum and fracturing my ribs for my first attempt, scratching my second and coming back to the platform to lock it out on my third attempt...then a quick trip to the emergency room.
How large a bench do you think you'll eventually hit? What are your long term goals?
Don't really think about goals like that. Just want to keep on doing better. I want to compete in the Olympics before my competitiveness declines.
As a submaster, how many years do you see yourself getting stronger?
20 more years.
What does your training look like?
Intense, focused, ever improving, cutting edge and a lot of fun.
Is it any different when training for a raw versus an equipped contest?
No, I train the same but for the last two weeks when I put a shirt on for equipped contests.
How do you train your lower body?
Deep squats once a week. 225 lbs 3x10. Just to get the blood flowing down there and to trigger some muscle growth.
What popular accessory lifts have you found don't translate well to the bench? Which translate the best for you?
Shoulders or incline bench....don't do either. Triceps work best for me....the lift is 50% triceps in my opinion.
What is your diet like?
Lots of protein and quality carbs. I like to eat and don't really worry about that extra bite of cake. Lots of water, 8 hours of sleep. No stress helps, I don't worry about things.
When is your next competition?
IPF World Bench in May 2007 in Denmark.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in powerlifting?
Get a good program and diet and stay the course. You will get stronger over the long term. Focus on fundamental lifts like bench, db press, tricep lockouts and pushdowns, etc. Don't get into anything fancy like boards, chains, bands, etc. I never use any of that stuff.
What does powerlifting need to do to reach a wider audience?
Unified rules, raw lifting, no drugs and corporate sponsors.
Is it essential for powerlifting to unify? Can this occur in today's climate?
I don't think the federations have to unify, just a consensus on equipment and rules.
Thanks for sitting down with Powerlifting Watch and letting people know a bit more about yourself. Who are your sponsors and anyone you would like to thank?
MHP products and Titan have been very supportive of me. They have excellent products which I endorse only because I use and prefer them. MHP Trac brought me to another level. Titan's shirts also give me the ability to maximize my equipped lifts.