Rio 2016: Damon Kelly | Men's Health Magazine Australia

Rio 2016: Damon Kelly

NAME Damon Kelly


AGE 32


SPORT Weightlifting


CLASS Super heavyweight (105kg+)


LIVES Brisbane


HEIGHT 182.5cm


WEIGHT 145kg







“The more efficient you are, the more weight you’ll lift”

Even when you’re arguably Australia’s strongest man, you still have to bow to your flesh-and-blood frailties. That means making choices that reduce your chances of getting hurt. A typical workout sees Damon Kelly hoisting colossal loads above his melon. So when’s the ideal time to train? Simple. Late afternoon. “My body has warmed up during the day,” he explains. “And I’m fully alert.”

But for Men’s Health, Kelly is making an exception. It’s not even 9am when he pulls into the car park of the Brisbane Barbell Club in what could be the world’s messiest station wagon.

Kelly steps out into the sunshine, recognisable at a glance as Australia’s two-time Olympic super heavyweight weightlifter. A father-of-two these days and tipping the scales at 145kg, he sports a shaved head and bushy beard. While you’re not likely to confuse him for a professor of English lit, he is a professor of sorts: a professor of the iron. No matter how long you’ve been training, watch Kelly at work and you’re going to learn something about the science of shifting weight.

But let’s get this out the way: Kelly’s not your guy if you’re looking to striate your delts or shred your core. If strength and aesthetics represent opposing armies in the field of weight training, then Kelly is a highly decorated general in the former. Maybe once he’s retired he’ll consider trying to shed body fat and unveil the 100-plus kilos of muscle on his bear-like frame. But until then it’s all about strength and power – which means saying phooey to cardio-based exercise and fat-targeting diets.

“Take on the sort of training we do as weightlifters and you’re going to get stronger,” promises Kelly. “You’re also going to be more flexible, with better coordination.”

That’ll make you a force in the gym. But there’s more. Kelly speaks of a sense of robustness, bordering on indestructibility, that he carries through life. “Whenever someone I know is moving house, I’m always the first to be asked to lend a hand.” (Is that supposed to be an incentive?)

Want to stack on pants-splitting muscle? Here’s how to lift like a pro.

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Big Man On Campus

Kelly’s always been large. He started high school at 100kg. By 14 he was 123kg. His size seems to be just one of those things, since none of his five siblings and neither of his parents is particularly hefty. Does his diet explain anything? Not really. While he eats more than your average accountant, there would be plenty of rugby players (and teenage boys for that matter) who’d put away just as much grub and not get near Kelly’s size.

Little wonder he excelled at weight training in Year 10 PE classes at Brisbane’s St Laurence’s College. Inspired, he joined the school’s weightlifting club run by the aptly named lifter Mike Power, and within six months was chalking his hands in local comps.

“Every boy wants to get stronger,” says Kelly. “You’re getting your technique right, setting personal bests all the time. And then there’s the thrill of competing. It’s addictive.”

In 1999, seeing Kelly’s potential, Power steered him to the Cougars Weightlifting Club in Brisbane’s southeast, where Kelly linked with Miles Wydall, his coach to this day. Right now, Kelly has his sights set on a third consecutive Olympics. To make it to Rio he reckons he’ll need to produce near-PB lifts at the Oceania Championships in Fiji in May.

According to Wydall, Kelly’s a “great competition lifter” – someone who can find his best when it matters. “And he can do that because he grinds away at training when the rewards – in terms of improvement – come slowly,” says Wydall. “Weightlifting’s a marathon and it’s hard work. Damon told me once that the only part of his body that wasn’t hurting was his nose.”

“Take on the sort of training we do as weightlifters and you’re going to get stronger,” promises Kelly. “You’re also going to be more flexible, with better coordination.”

That’ll make you a force in the gym. But there’s more. Kelly speaks of a sense of robustness, bordering on indestructibility, that he carries through life. “Whenever someone I know is moving house, I’m always the first to be asked to lend a hand.” (Is that supposed to be an incentive?)

Want to stack on pants-splitting muscle? Here’s how to lift like a pro.

Oil The Machine

You want to move iron the instant you walk into the Brisbane Barbell Club. It’s an uncluttered, assembly hall-size space with old-school equipment and black walls adorned with animalistic murals. There’s a gorilla in repose beside the words “Strength Courage Humility”, and a regal big cat alongside this faintly troubling aphorism: “A lion doesn’t concern himself with the opinion of sheep”.

But if Kelly feels the urge to get cracking, he resists it with the patience of John McEnroe’s anger-management therapist. Rule No.1: you must prepare your body for the onslaught of heavy lifting. In nearly 20 years as a slave to the iron Kelly has suffered no injury more serious than a quadriceps tear – and it’s soon apparent how he’s managed to stay in one piece.

First, he pedals on an exercise bike “to get the blood flowing”. He then hits the floor to squirm about on a foam roller, ironing out kinks in his trunk-like legs. After that there’s a series of stretches and body-weight squats.

Once he’s taped his fingers and secured a weights belt around his middle (“Look, there have been world champions who’ve lifted more than I do who don’t use one, but for me a belt helps activate my core by giving it something to push against”), he performs a medley of squats, presses and good mornings with an unloaded barbell. Then and only then – 40 minutes after clocking on – does he start sliding plates onto the bar.

Firm Foundation

There are two body parts that have to be phenomenally strong to do what Kelly does. First are the legs. Then comes daylight. More daylight. Then there’s the back. Kelly doesn’t need to be particularly strong up top. He admits he would struggle to punch out more than a couple of dips. Chin-ups? No thank-you.

“Legs pretty much do all the lifting,” says Kelly between warm-up sets of 120kg squats. “Arms are for hanging onto the bar, guiding it and keeping it above your head.”

It follows that the squat rules. You need to do them. More than that, you need to do them correctly. A passable technique won’t cut it. It’ll need to be flawless if you’re going to build towards the gargantuan loads that excite Kelly, whose PBs are 315kg for the squat and 270kg for the front squat.

“Prioritise form over weight,” says the strongman. “There’s plenty of time to get stronger down the track. The more efficient you are, the more weight you’ll lift. And the more comfortable you are, the lower your risk of injury.”

Kelly un-racks the bar – now at 150kg – and settles into his stance, elevating his heels by standing on two small weight plates. “This’ll get you into the right position, stretch whatever’s tight and make it more likely that you’ll get into that position again,” he says.

Kelly sucks in a chest full of air and starts giving at the knees. He’s warned me to watch how upright he keeps his torso on descent. It’s the key to getting your legs – rather than your lower back – to do the bulk of the lifting. “You want to be like a piston,” he urges. “You don’t want to be wobbling around; you want to be really strong.”

As promised, Kelly’s upper body is still as a rock as his legs power him through a rhythmical set, each rep performed with his knees tracking directly over his toes.

Bar restored to the rack, Kelly tells me he coaches these days and finds watching beginners helps him polish his own technique on various lifts. Take the deadlift – the king of back builders. Keeping the bar close to your body throughout the move is a basic, yet it never hurts to get a reminder.

“A lot of the time people bang the bar out with their hips. That means it has to travel further, which is inefficient. And again – use your legs! A lot of people when they start out think about trying to muscle up the weight with the arms. But I’ll say it again: weightlifting is pretty much all about the legs.”

Session complete, Kelly hits up a chicken shop for an early lunch. He tucks into a schnitzel roll (white bread, mayo, tokenistic slaw) and chases it with a ginger beer. Ah, the simple compensations for being a super heavyweight.

Building Blocks

To excel in Olympic lifting you need big, powerful legs that don’t merely fill out a pair of jeans but bust the seams. This Kelly-crafted workout is designed to build them, along with a back sturdy enough to carry the weight of the world. “It’s for your prime movers,” says Kelly. “Strong back, strong core and extremely powerful legs.” Unstoppable.

Do four working sets of each exercise, preceded by three or four warm-up sets. As the loads grow, expand your rest periods between sets to 3-5 minutes. If the session is taking too long, split it over two days. Do the squats, push presses and shrugs on Day 1, and the remaining three exercises on Day 2. Your rep count for the working sets should be 4-6, with the last two reps requiring medal-winning effort.







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