Caine Wilkes will be easy to spot when he lifts for the USA on the Olympic weightlifting team in Tokyo. He'll be the super-heavyweight weighing 320 or so, hair halfway down his back, a burly beard, and plenty of red 55-kg plates on the bar.
But if you see Wilkes backstage, he might be throwing around a whole lot less. Years ago, he even created an only-somewhat-tongue-in-cheek program built around doing a single lift, at a single weight, every single day: a 50-kg (110-lb.) snatch. It may not seem like much for a man who has snatched over 400 pounds and gone over 500 on the clean and jerk in competition, but Wilkes doesn't mind stepping away from the norm. Case in point: that hair. (Note to the US Olympic team officials: Don't bother asking him to cut it.)
One day before heading to his final team prep in Hawaii, Wilkes spoke with Bodybuilding.com about how he has taken his lifting to the next level, and how he is prepping for his first Olympic games.
BBcom: For those of us who've never done what you're about to do and never will: How is peaking for the Olympics different from other events, or just from the process of getting strong?
Wilkes: I'm very much trying to treat it like just another meet, just on a bigger stage. When the team was announced and it was official, my dad—who's my coach—and I started talking about focusing on weaknesses, both technique-wise and strength-wise.
For me, that means working on how I'm breaking off the floor. I tend to let the weight get away from me, so we're making minor changes and trying to build consistency there. When we're a little over three weeks from my competition I'll have a couple heavy sessions, trying to get the most out of it. Then a little bit of a taper, and I'll go compete.
One of your calling cards is snatching 50 kg on a regular basis—even daily. Is that still part of the game plan?
Yeah, that's definitely what I'm warming up with. I wrote that program around the same time that a lot of other "every day" workouts were big fad, like Squat Every Day programs and things like that. I like that for most people, it's a reasonable goal to accomplish.
What do you feel like in your training, nutrition, or recovery has finally allowed you to take this next leap?
My friends and I always talk about how lifting is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes years of grinding and working at it. I've actually been training or competing in the sport for over 20 years now. So, one big thing has been the programming by my dad so that I didn't break down early on and have a short career. Also, as I've gotten older, I've taken things more seriously, like nutrition and recovery. For example, in the last couple of years I've gotten a handle on sleep hygiene and sleep in general.
Nutrition-wise, because I'm a super-heavyweight weightlifter, I don't have to necessarily cut or anything. So my nutrition probably isn't as strict as most people's in a weight class. But I've found that over the last year making little changes has allowed me to continue to enjoy the sport and improve.
What do those changes in your diet look like?
I've never been good at counting macros or anything like that. So it's mostly eyeballing and making sure that I'm eating enough each meal and enough throughout the day. And a major thing is changing the quality of life: less junk food, less processed food, more of those leafy greens.
Now that you're on the Olympic home stretch, how much do you feel like you're in the lab in terms of people monitoring you or telling you to do new things?
Not too much, because we've all been spread out across the nation. But I leave for Hawaii tomorrow, where the team will be very much in an isolated setting training together. However, I am regularly talking to a sports psychologist and our staff dieticians, and just checking in with people to make sure I did the work.
Do you think anyone will try to make you cut your hair?
If they do, they will try in vain.
I've had it for a long time, and I tried to cut it once, early in my career, like 2007-2008. Someone made the joke, "You're gonna lose your strength like Samson!" I laughed it off, but I really felt like my lifting was off for a good two or three months after that.
Who else on the USA weightlifting team are you eyeing to make an impact in Tokyo?
I think some of our biggest threats are on the women's team. I think all four of the women we're sending, Sarah, Mattie, Kate, and Jourdan, have real shots. With the right numbers, they have a chance of winning it all. I think Harrison and CJ on the men's side have realistic shots making it, as well.
In my case, I'm just really happy to be there. I want to make some big lifts and enjoy my moment on the stage.
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Photo/video courtesy of USA Weightlifting/Caine Wilkes.