by Robert Maxwell
As everyone seriously into strength training knows, a big part of getting stronger is seeking out people further along the journey to learn and take inspiration from. For me, Malcolm Noland is one of those guys. He and I went to high school together, and while I went on to start my own business while training as a hobby, he became an accomplished powerlifter. Recently I had the chance to interview Malcolm about his life and training. I appreciated his frank, insightful responses. Malcolm's a guy who tells it like it is, and everyone who wants to get stronger could learn something from him. Here's my full list of questions and Malcolm's answers.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your lifting career. When and why did you first pick up a barbell? How long have you been lifting?
My name is Malcolm Noland. I live in Gore Bay, Ontario on Manitoulin Island. I am 31, 5 foot 8, 300 pounds. I started lifting weights when I was 13 after seeing an episode of World's Strongest Man on TV. My dad had one of those cast iron bars and a few concrete filled plastic plates. I started doing overhead presses and biceps curls everyday with 35 pounds.
I didn’t start lifting a bit more seriously until I was 16, when I found out about powerlifting on the internet at school. I learned about these competitions where they only train 3 lifts, the squat the bench press and the deadlift in that order. I started doing those lifts weekly and was bitten by the iron bug. I’ve been lifting on and off (due to injuries and life stuff), focussed on powerlifting for 12 years now.
What competitions have you done, and what are your current PR’s (gym or competition)?
I haven’t done a lot of competing which I regret. When I was younger I spent all my extra money on food. I couldn’t afford to compete. My first meet was in 2011 at the CPF Nationals. I now compete in the OPA (Ontario Powerlifting Association) which is a part of the IPF (International Powerlifting Federation) I try to do 2 meets a year and slowly build my total. A spring meet and a fall meet. My last meet was the North Bay Open in September where I squatted 478, benched 320, and deadlifted 617 at 288 pounds bodyweight.
From ages 18 to 24 I trained as an equipped lifter where you get to use "gear": squat suits, bench shirts, deadlift suits, and knee wraps to help assist you in the lifts. My best equipped lifts were a 700 pound squat, a 525 pound bench, and a 735 pound deadlift at 290 bodyweight. In 2011 I made the switch over to raw powerlifting which only allows a belt and knee sleeves to be worn as supports. My best raw lifts were in 2014 where I squatted 515x3, benched 360, and deadlifted 660 at 264 pounds. I’m slowly but surely creeping back to those numbers and hopefully this year will manage to pass them.
What’s your current training program like (Warmups, exercises, volume, frequency, etc)?
My training is pretty basic. We have 2 yearly cycles. One which is 2 days on, 1 day off. Lower body, upper body, off. Lots of bodybuilding type movements with a rep range of 15–30. The other cycle which I spend most of the year doing is training the big 3 every time I step into the gym. Every other day. Further away from meets we will use hybrid movements like the front squat, incline bench, and stiff legged deads. We never wear a belt during this time and the rep goal is pretty much always 5's. I like to practice the lifts as often as possible so my technique stays strong and my overall fitness ability doesn’t fade. I base my training off of competitive lifts so we train anywhere from 50-85 percent (of our one rep max) with sets anywhere from 1 to 5 depending on the intent of that day.
What are you favourite and least favourite exercises, and why?
My favourite exercises are of course the 3 competitive lifts. They give you the chance to display hard work and dedication. Other favourites would be the reverse hyperextension which I love because it has kept my back very strong and healthy. Anything that I feel keeps my joints healthy I am a big fan of. I don’t know if I dislike any particular movements. Maybe some machines that are built anatomically incorrect and move you poorly. Yeah, I don’t like those.
What nutrition approach do you use to build and maintain strength?
I used to be a lot more careful about what I ate and tried to stay in certain weight classes but now I just eat whatever I feel I need to recover. Lots of everything really.
What are three pieces of advice you’d offer new lifters?
When you say new lifters, I am going to insinuate that you also mean younger, as in under 20. I would tell them to LISTEN and I would tell them 3 times. If they can learn to listen to what someone with long term success and years of experience and knowledge tells them, then they will learn everything they need to. But more often than not they go in too gung-ho, get injured, and never return to the gym.
Really though, 3 pieces of advice for a new lifter. 1) Buy and read “Starting Strength” by Mark Rippetoe. This book should be in everyone’s library. It gives you lots of illustrations of technical mastery, equipment recommendations from your gym to your shoes. Just an all-around gem of a book for beginners new and old. Written by the manliest man out there. 2) Work out with like-minded people. I was blessed throughout my career being able to train with crews of lifters of all age groups and all strength abilities. Network yourself with others who are like-minded. Travel to their gyms and put in sessions with them. The friendships you will make, the knowledge and experience you will gain will be mind blowing. Always go for food after. 3) Lastly I would say learn to leave your ego at the door. If you let your ego do the lifting your journey will be very short-lived. If you can just train within the parameters your program or coach or trainer has given you then probably you will have a much more positive outcome.
Lots of my readers are 40 to 60 years old and considering strength training for the first time. Would you advise trainees in this age range differently?
Personally I think age is just a number. There are a few things that change as we get older like our ability to sleep well, our decreased nutrient absorption, and our bodies’ recovery processes slowing down. With all that in mind our training really shouldn’t change. Just how we feed and treat ourselves. Take naps and eat more vegetables, maybe get a hot tub.
In terms of actual training. I like to see older lifters spend more time on keeping or enhancing their mobility. Their programming should be simple and focus on big compound movements like squats, pulls, overhead pressing. Keeping them mobile and strong is the key. They should continue making progress no matter what.
Just a quick side note. At the 2017 IPF World Powerlifting Championships David Ricks won the best over all lifter in his weight class and also set 2 world records at the age of 58. It’s becoming more and more common to see lifters peaking later on in life.
How long do you plan to keep lifting heavy? Do you anticipate you’ll need to change your training style much as you get older?
I plan on lifting until I am no longer able to. I love this sport and plan on doing it for as long as I can. Heavy is a relative term. You don’t have to train heavy to be strong. You just have to lift more than you did last week or last month or last year. Strive to make progress however possible. Display it however you feel you have to. For me it’s at meets hitting one rep maxes. For an 85 year old woman it’s independence walking up sets of stairs. We all need to have personal bests.
I don’t see my training changing much. I have trained with lots of older lifters who train very similarly to how I do. As long as I don’t do anything foolish and stay healthy, I plan on having a lengthy powerlifting career.