A young Zachary Oldaker did not get sand kicked in his face at the beach by bullies. They did not take his lunch money or beat him up after school.
Oldaker’s inspiration to begin weight training is much more sinister.
At age 12 he lost an arm wrestling challenge to his 11-year-old cousin … a girl.
“I just wanted to get stronger,” Oldaker said. “I got whipped. She was already into working out and was very athletic. I was a very, very skinny kid. Maybe 120 pounds.”
Two weeks ago, that initial humiliation (followed by seven years of training), resulted in seven state records and one American record at the 2014 USAPL (United States of America Power Lifting Association) Alaska State Powerlifting Championships at Anchorage’s Southside Strength & Fitness.
The state records were in the T3 Division (ages 18-19, 165-pound open) and included the squat (402 pounds), deadlift (540) and combined weights of the squat, bench and deadlift (1,224).
The American record was the 540-pound deadlift at 162-pound body weight
Oldaker also set a bench record (282 pounds) for his age and weight class but not for the Open Division. He received a first place medal for the 165-pound Open weight class (any age), a first-place medal for the 165-pound T3 class and received the Best Male Teen Lifter trophy.
“Yep, yep, that was very cool,” Oldaker said.
Oldaker says “Yep” a lot.
“I try to stay pretty positive,” Oldaker said. “Yep.”
At just under 5-foot-9 and 162 pounds, his achievements are astonishing.
Even more remarkable is that the championships were just his second meet. The first was in the same venue last December, the Winter Classic, and he broke three state records competing in the 181 pound division — even though he weighed just 170 pounds.
“It is such a cool environment to be around so many people that are like minded all-natural athletes,” Oldaker said. “This is my sport. It is powerlifting all the way, and we will see where it goes from there.”
Born and raised in Tok, Oldaker began lifting his father John’s old and rusty Olympic weights after the arm wrestling defeat. John used to be a miner at Greens Creek, now he and wife Tina market natural soap under their Nature’s Intent Of Alaska business.
Zach is the oldest of their nine children, the youngest is 4 months.
Tok, a one grocery store, one post office town of 600 people, had no gym.
The high school had basketball and hockey.
“I was more the football kind of kid,” Oldaker said. “I wanted to get into sports but I was homeschooled as a kid. I am totally all right with that because if I had of gone into other sports I would not be into lifting. It worked out. I just wanted to improve myself and get better. I noticed the results came pretty quick for me and that fueled the desire.”
Those initial lifts involved bench pressing off a cooler, and throwing weights over his head to his shoulders because he had no squat rack.
“It was very old school,” Oldaker said. “Yep, yep, improvised.”
Oldaker learned through doing and made mistakes: His love of weight training went seven days a week with no days off. That made him ill, depressed and unmotivated.
“My parents freaked out when that happened because they knew how much I loved it,” Oldaker said. “I got to experience it and learn from my mistakes. I learned to take time off. I bought workout books. I tracked my progress. I trained three days a week and my results took off. If you are not going up in lifted weight, you are either not getting enough sleep, doing something wrong, not eating enough or something like that.”
Oldaker competes as a RAW lifter. No gear or equipped lifting is allowed. No knee braces or wraps, no squat suit or bench suit. No headphones with musical beats.
“Just chalk, a belt, knee sleeves to keep my knees warm and that is it,” Oldaker said. “And the main reason I compete with USAPL is that they are drug-free. They drug test you. Right after I broke that American record they flagged me down, yep, pee in a cup. Once you start getting up in weights they also randomly drug test you.”
Oldaker does take a multi-vitamin, a whey protein, creatine and a pre-workout blend called SSP (Strength Speed Performance). All are banned-substance free, meaning they are all allowed for consumption and contain no banned stimulants.
“Basically I have a lot of electrolytes and carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals,” Oldaker said. “Different things to help you get ready for your workout and also recovery things so your body can get straight to work helping your muscles.”
Oldaker is training for the USAPL Raw Nationals from July 17 to 20 in Denver and is seeking sponsorship for the trip. The plane ticket, hotel and meals add up, much like the cast-iron plates that slip on the end of his bar.
“I really want to go to Nationals, but depending on the funds it is kind of iffy,” Oldaker said. “If I go, I will fly in a couple days in advance to get used to the climate and elevation.”
Oldaker is looking to break the world record of 598 pounds for his age and weight class. He has already deadlifted 545 at the Alaska Club.
“If I do good at Nationals, that would qualify me to go to world championship in Finland,” Oldaker said. “If I end up doing that, that is where I could set a world record.”
Before the recent state championships, he trained by himself.
At the state meet, Oldaker was approached by trainer Rob Schmidt, the state chairman for U.S.A. Powerlifiting, which has representatives in 44 state. He now has a designed training program.
U.S.A Powerlifting is the biggest powerlifting association in the United States and has the most stringent drug testing. It is also the only powerlifting association on a path to the international level.
Oldaker deadlifts, squats and benches three times a week in various weight percentages and grips.
On Wednesday, he was at the Alaska Club where he works as a trainer, which allows him to save money on a gym.
“Yep,” Oldaker said. “Let’s get this one out of the way.”
He approaches the bar.
He positions his feet shoulder width apart, bends his knees, places his hands on the bar just slightly wider and, back locked, raises what looks like the amount a small Volkswagen should weigh.
The car is set gently back done. The pressure relaxed.
Then the lift goes up again … and done.
Oldaker takes a knee, catches his breath, writes a notation in a training log and finds another round iron plate.
“Yep, yep,” Oldaker says. “Let’s get this done. One rep of this and then another 25 on each side.”
The poundage is already 290, plus the 45-pound bar, plus the weighted glares and stares from the men and women training nearby.
His training has become a science. Wednesday started at 70 percent of his maximum deadlift weight (380 pounds), and is lifted in three sets of six reps.
Soon it is 405 pounds for one set of two, then 85 percent of his one-rep max for two sets of two.
The poundage approaches numbers that seemingly dent the floor.
Well over 1,000 pounds will be squatted in total, and over 2,000 in the deadlift.
“I just started this new program Monday,” Oldaker said. “Yep, that killed me. Each week I go up 2.5 percent, gets me used to heavier weight and helps reach new maxes.”
The body needs to be fueled for this sport.
“Powerlifting is not like body building,” Oldaker said. “You don’t have to watch your diet that much. Don’t get me wrong, if I start going up to 175 pounds, 180, I start cutting back on calories.”
Oldaker trains at around 172 pounds body weight. As the competition nears, he will eat less. The gradual weight loss allows him to keep his strength.
“I lost too much too fast before the state championships,” Oldaker said. “It affected my squat. I have hit 445 at the club here but only managed 402.”
Oldaker eats roughly a gram of protein per pound of body weight to allow for recovery from a workout.
“Today however I started with cereal,” Oldaker said. “Replenishing my glucose levels. I also had a magnum ice cream bar. Straight energy. After the workout I will have some recovery proteins.”
Oldaker is not a big screamer when he lifts. He doesn’t shout the weight up.
“Don’t get me wrong, I psyche myself up,” Oldaker said. “I chalk up, look at the bar, and talk to myself. Your brain is like a breaker box. You look at that weight and think you could potentially hurt yourself and flip that switch. With powerlifting, you have to learn to turn that off.”
Three other teens, all from Soldotna, broke American records at the state championships.
Soldotna High School junior Zach Hallford set the back squat record, competing in the 16-17 age/under 181 pounds division, by putting up 475 pounds; Kenai sophomore Robin Johnson set the back squat record in her division (14-15, 165-pound) with 259 pounds; and Kenai freshman Cipriana Castellano (16-17 under 165) deadlifted 319 for a record, squatted 308 for a record, missed the bench record by roughly 6 pounds with a 137.5 and established a three-lift total of 766.326 pounds for another record.
Oldaker has a YouTube channel called Big Z Fitness. Subscribers can follow his progress, learn about exercise and help him out by liking his videos.
His goal is too obtain a 600-plus pound deadlift in a year or so, two pounds over the world record for his age and weight.
“The worlds are the end of next year,” Oldaker said. “I am thinking I should be able to put on that poundage. Yep, if this were easy everyone would be doing it, but if you power through, you will reap what you sow. I just wanted to prove to myself, and others, that you don’t need those performance-enhancing drugs to get stronger. My goal is not to get big. I am not training for that. I am training to get stronger, which is different. Yep.”