Lou Costa, age 31, currently 280 lbs. (competitive weight 330 lbs.), resides in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, home of Ironmill – visit https://www.facebook.com/Ironmill and see also www.ussstrengthco.com – and has a degree in Sports Administration with a minor in business. Let’s learn more about this gym proprietor, husband, father, dog owner, and strongman!
Q: First question, most important question: Which is tougher, being a Strongman or being a new father?
A: To be 100% honest, our son Vinny ("Bins") has been so much easier to handle than I expected and he's ACTUALLY been far less challenging than navigating the political battle field of strongman or even the test of strength training for that matter. That is not the answer people want to hear, I know. Amanda (my fiancée) and myself feel extremely blessed to be able to say that strongman has been much more taxing on my body and stress levels than being a father. Lil' Vinny comes along to our business meetings. Sits in and watches over training in the gym. He's sitting here right now sucking his hands and shitting his pants. That being said, Vin still has many years to go before we can officially call him a delightful child AND I'm almost positive he has at least some of my genes in him, so that basically scares the crap out of me.
Q: How did you discover Strongman events?
A: I was dieting for NPC Pittsburgh in 2007 after doing a few natural bodybuilding shows for OCB. My energy was dragging at about mid diet and saw a flier for the Strongman show that day instead at the exact same venue. Instantly, I dumped a bag of home fries in the skillet and said I was a "strongman" now. It was an amazing moment of clarity brought on by the allure of strongman and the goodbye to dieting forever!
Q: Did anyone influence you or serve as a mentor?
A: My mentor growing up in the sport was a guy named Joe Snavely and the IRONHORSE crew out of Chambersburg, PA. Joe is a straight blue collar worker and he filed me off accordingly. He taught me the work ethic, the correct form and really the overall craft of strongman. You have to remember this was in 2007 before social media and the fact every 175lb. guy on the planet had a voice after 6 months of training and the bombardment of 30 different training principles and opinions in one conversation that goes with that. Back then, he taught that the basics and hard work were always the answer and I can't stress enough those strength principles are STILL the answer today. He's a great guy that knows more than a lot of the so called experts that pollute the landscape these days.
Q: What motivates you?
A: That could be a scary answer. The old J-Lo / Vince Vaughn movie "The Cell" comes to the front of my mind if someone were to peek into my deep recesses of motivation and Tex/Mex infatuation buried within my psyche. Instead of serial killers, elegant spiders and torture mechanisms, my mind is a battlefield of baby books, training journals and Venn diagrams explaining burrito consumption's correlation to strength gains. It's a warped perspective. But beyond that nonsense, Failure motivates me. The idea of failing is engulfing to me and time is ticking! Tick... Tock...Tick...Tock... Mmm....Tacos!
Q: What activities do you do outside of Strongman?
A: Before we opened IRONMILL (our clean hardcore strength paradise) and started promoting along with taking on the strength world I think I used to have a life? I wrote about my previous adventures in many RX Articles! Now basically I try daily to be a good father, a good partner to Amanda, an above average dog owner and not lose my mind in the process. Much easier said than done. I know that sounds semi-boring, but I'm sitting next to my baby and best gal doing work as we speak while the rest of the world is creating faster widgets and less self-absorbed ways to take selfies, so I could have a worse lifestyle I'm sure.
Q: How do you train now?
A: My training now is sporadic and unmotivated. I own a gym I find myself lifting in my basement a lot with a set of old ass 40lb dumbbells staring at the wall enjoying the time by myself. So there is that odd introspective look. I DID just talk with the owner of the USA boxing gym inside of IRONMILL and have been playing with the idea of signing up for my first amateur fight! Maybe the strength community should rejoice on that note. I'm dropping weight like a bandit now and start pad work tonight.
Q: What kind of advice would you give to beginners who are looking to get bigger and stronger?
A: Strength and size are not found on a keyboard or inside of the "IRONMILL" way or cube method, or 5/3/1 or Westside or any magazine. Though they all are great resources, the age old sentiment of dedication, consistency and intensity will always trump a sound lifting plan and the popular training method of the time. That being said, form and a sound plan will go a long way and a strength athlete that has the intangible mix of dedication, consistency and intensity will undoubtedly find his/her way to the plan that works best for them.
I love that the community is getting more exposure. If you haven't competed in a FEW OPEN shows, please allow the people with actual experience to guide you in your way. I saw Josh Thigpen, a 3 or 4 time WSM competitor's advice being dismissed and passed over for the more "popular" opinion of internet rabble. "What a shame." I thought.
Q: What about nutrition? How much do you eat, grams of protein per day? Do you count grams, macros, etc.?
A: The day I quit bodybuilding is the day I quit counting everything. When I was competing in strongman for the span of 7 years and 60 shows, I ate more when I wanted to get strong and ate less when I saw diminishing returns when my sleep apnea would get progressively worse. Is that the right way to do things?
I bet Trevor Kashey is cringing at that thought and my base of nutrition knowledge also shudders at the thought someone may take my advice and blow up to those proportions with my shoddy reasoning. I was strong as an Ox without ever touching a PED in my career. I am most proud of the fact I hanged and banged with best more than a few times and to me during that period, Calories = Strength and the so the dude had to abide.
Q: Do you use supplements or do you favor solid food?
A: Solid food. People always ask, "What do you take?" Referring to supplements I suppose. The first thing I say is, “Go ahead and take that $40 dollars you were going to go blow on pre-workout and buy 20 lbs. of chicken." Eat it every meal until you puke. Then worry about grabbing up your Jacked 3d. In my long experience of blown supplement sponsorships, choking down the very first chalky MET-Rx protein shakes and being very lucky to see the industry streamline the taste and quality of some of these supplements, I DO have a list of supplements that people should take. À la Eminem "Till I collapse", I got a list of supplements you should be taking and here’s the order of the list that it's in. Listen up. This is scraping away the hyped up bodybuilding infatuation with supplementation and muscle shmoe lifestyle that completely detracts from the actual message of making gains.
These are the things you SHOULD be taking.
1. Multivitamin: I have no recommendations. When I see them cheaply I buy them. Usually the For Men over age of 50. Added prostate benefits. :)
2. Protein: If you’re buying Body Fortress you’re also probably explosively shitting directly afterward meaning you’re doing it wrong and good luck with that. I love Cellucor to my own thick core and MHP Dark Matter post workout training for competitions is the only thing I take. Mmm, thick grape weird-tasting muscle gains.
3. BCAA's: I'm not gonna get into the why (because my baby is crying and I practically forget after all these years). Cellucor Watermelon is the best.
4. Fish Oils: I'm absolutely sure there are experts that can point you in the right direction but when I take them, my joints feel great and I hope the added heart benefits are going to keep me alive past 40.
5. Creatine / Glutamine: Good luck if you coach football convincing parents these aren't steroids. As asinine as that seems, the stigma attached to creatine specifically blows my mind. TAKE IT! DRINK WATER. PERIOD.
Q: How much sleep do you get each day?
A: I sleep like a giant bald angel. 8 hours a night. Our baby (and I hate to jinx it) sleeps 10 hours a night. Every once in a while I like to stay up all night or go on mini benders with the family and friends just to make sure I feel like I’m still alive and not so regimented. But sleep / rest have always been a huge factor of why I made the gains I have. I don't burn both ends of the candle – you picking up what I'm putting down?!
Q: Do you do anything specific for injury prevention or rehab?
A: My good friend Eric Price let me borrow "The Supple Leopard" because I have about the worst shoulder flexibility known to man. So that sits on my desk at the gym half read. Other than that, I do a lot of air squats, straight leg deadlifts and a very basic general warm up before I lift something heavy. I hate over-complicating things. I WILL NOT LIFT ANYTHING HEAVY until I feel my body is ready to do so. If something is tweaked, tight or feels strange at all, I have no qualms with shutting it down.
Q: What are your favorite events?
A: My favorite event is probably the tire flip or any deadlift, although I've become this sadist for my weaknesses recently. So I enjoy recognizing something I completely stink at and then improving upon that initial suck.
Q: What is your overall training philosophy?
A: Fail. Adapt. Succeed. Repeat. It’s our gyms philosophy. I've seen reincarnations of it everywhere recently. So go ahead. Steal it. Put it in your gym. I care not. Also: Overcome Everything. It's simple... but it works. And when you’re wearing a shirt that says OVERCOME EVERYTHING... it’s very hard to give up during training or get mad at traffic.
Q: How long have you been training seriously?
A: Sixteen years, I would say. I had a goal as a 14-year-old to become the captain of my hometown Bradford High football team when I was a 3rd string nobody at the time. Training was the only way I could figure out how to make that happen, so I started reading and took a stance no one was going to train harder. I still get that deep pride in my training from time to time. I'll look around and say who is working harder? Then push myself into Lou mode, turn up the music, pull the hoody over my head and go to work.
Q: What are some of the lifts you are most proud of?
A: I chased an 800lb. deadlift for years. Last year training for the Arnold I knew I was strong enough. I had missed this lift probably 6 or 7 times in the previous 4 years. On the day I finally accomplished it my back would not stop spasming, I felt like shit but our whole crew had showed up to cheer me on. I missed the sweet spot and still hit it. Almost more relieved than proud. But I think that's how most athletes feel. Relieved.
Q: What are the contests you are most proud of?
A: Arnold Amateur in 2013, placing 4th in the world after being written off as washed up and unable to perform at that level and the second day of NAS Nationals in 2013 because I had every reason to quit after a subpar first day and being in 50th place or something. I came back, asked my body to compete the way I know it could and came within 1 missed car deadlift of finally winning. The win didn't come but I was proud I still had the fire to compete at that level.
Q: What are the three most important movements for people trying to build strength?
A: Strength in General? The basic 3 (Squat, Deadlift, Bench) will always rule with overhead added in. The most underutilized Strongman movement is hands down the high pull. Put them in! Get stronger and enjoy the giant traps.
Q: What is the worst competitive experience you’ve had (injury, etc.)?
A: Never injured. Plenty of bad experiences as well. I will refrain from breeding negativity and say that all of my negative experience has been channeled into the UNITED STATES STRENGTH COALITION. [See: www.USStrengthCo.com ] We created a federation for Highland, strongman and powerlifting that the athletes (barring bad weather) will NEVER walk away from saying it was a bad experience. That was my overall goal.
Q: Any shout-outs?
A: Too many to write here. If we text message, talk through Facebook, if you've given me a ride or I let you borrow something, if I ask you about training or Like something on your page, if I've seen you at a show, yelled for your boyfriend during stones, when I ask your advice or I offer words of encouragement, you all are the ones that deserve the shoutouts. I'm a lover of humanity and this community has literally changed my life, my family’s life, and my son's trajectory. I don't wanna say "cherish" because it sounds lame… but I cherish every positive interaction I have with every soul who's been involved with Ironmill, USSC, Amanda and myself to this point.
No one can ever understand how profound the impact has been on us. It's been my religion. My salvation. My motivation. I would like to say thank you to Rx Muscle for giving myself and everything we do a genuine platform. Dave Palumbo, Mike Johnston, Curt James. Very appreciative to all of you. Love the community and I love Johnny Styles sexy voice selling me cake batter protein bars during all of the radio shows. He's a handsome man with a voice for supplement sales.
Q: How can people contact you (email, social media, etc.)?
A: If you want info about competing in the USSC - Please visit our site USStrengthCo.com or email [email protected] If you’re local to Lancaster and want info about joining IRONMILL, please check us out at www.ironmillstrong.com or email at [email protected] If you would like to get hold me personally as well or get the newest Lou "Belfie" at 2 in the morning - [email protected] or my direct line - 717-919-0841. And, of course, Facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/Ironmill
Thank you for sharing some words with Rx Muscle, Lou. Wishing you continued success with your family, Ironmill and all your projects.
Join the conversation on Rx Muscle Forums @ http://forums.rxmuscle.com/showthread.php?126286-The-Strength-Series-Interview-2-Lou-Costa