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Crohn’s Disease: Ali Jawad Interview

British Paralympic powerlifting world champion Ali Jawad talks to BetheFittest about living with Crohn’s disease, symptoms, training, diet, Paralympics, bench press world record and Rio 2016.

Being able to bench press 190kg under 59kg weight class is beyond belief, near enough impossible right? Now imagine bench pressing that weight without any legs. Ali Jawad is that man, British powerlifting world champion who has set a 190kg world record and winning gold at the world championships in Dubai 2014, Ali Jawad is nothing but inspirational. Suffering from Crohn’s disease Ali’s life has been against all odds, facing death in 2010 he managed to pull through and compete at The Paralympics 2012 in London and now becoming world champion and world record holder. Ali Jawad Speaks to BetheFittest about his journey and what’s to come in the future, one of our biggest inspirations we have interviewed we wish Ali the best of luck and will be following his moves closely and also rooting for him in Rio 2016!

What inspired you to get into powerlifting?
In 1996, I watched the Atlanta Olympic games and I saw Michael Johnson win the 200m, 400m double. As he stood on top of the podium, with his national anthem playing, I knew I wanted to represent my country at the Paralympics and win gold. In 2005, a friend forced me to go to the gym with him, which was across the road from my school. I had never touched a weight in my life, but at just 16, I lifted 100kg at 66kg bodyweight. I got spotted by the owner of the gym and things progressed from there.

You competed in the London 2012 Paralympic games, unfortunately you just missed out on a medal, how was the experience for you and what did you learn/take away from the experience?
London 2012 will forever haunt me, and I feel the only way I’ll ever get over it is by winning a Paralympic gold medal in Rio 2016. To be denied a medal at my home Paralympics with such controversay is still hard to take. However, the experience has made a stronger person mentally and physically. I promised myself I will never let myself feel like that ever again. Since London 2012, I have put everything that I can into place, in order to improve my performance. London 2012 taught me a big lesson, no matter how hard you’ve worked or sacrificed, nothing is guaranteed. I had to really look within myself and ask myself some serious questions as to whether I deserved something from that night. But it taught me that I needed to be even stricter with my life in order to warrant a medal. I looked at my diet, lifestyle, the quality of sleep, my environment, training and my health problems, and made sure things were at their optimal 100% of the time. I left no stone unturned and I’m finally getting the rewards from it.

Suffering from Crohn’s disease how did this effect your career, and what have you done to try and overcome this physically and mentally?
It has been a very long and hard road suffering with Crohn’s disease. I was diagnosed in 2009, and the consultant said I should retire as he thought it would be impossible for me to compete at world class level with the condition. Plus no crohns sufferer has ever won a World or Paralympic title in a sport at the games. I tried my best to fight it, but I was collapsing in the gym, and I was in a lot of pain. I decided to retire in 2009, and thought my dreams were over. In 2010, I nearly died if it wasn’t for life saving surgery. I knew from that moment I have been given another chance to fight for my dreams, I promised myself, Crohn’s will have to kill me to deny me Paralympic gold. I knew I was in for a fight against all the odds, but I knew if I had the best diet, and trained/ recover smartly, I’ll give myself the best possible chance to beat it. It tested the very limits of my mind and body, how do you even cope with a disease like mine in daily life, let alone pushing yourself 20 hours a week? I knew the pain, the symptoms, the everyday things I had to deal with were going to be struggle, but who said winning gold would be easy? I wanted to push the human Crohn’s boundaries to its limits and see where I ended up.

You recently became the World Champion and a world record holder winning gold in Dubai by lifting 190kg. How was this for you and did you do anything different this time around?
If someone after the heartbreak of London 2012 told me I’d be world champion in 2 years, I would of laughed at them. It was a dream come true, after everything I’ve been through in my career, I’ve finally showed the world that I can come back from adversity and succeed. I’ve always thought of myself as the “nearly man” but to finally be the champion with the GB national anthem playing, was like how I dreamt it in 1996. After 2012, I decided to move back up to Leeds away from my friends and family to be with my coach. I knew in order to have a chance at winning, I had to sacrifice everything and do everything in my power to be optimal everyday at whatever I do. So we put in place a training regime that pushed the boundaries, a very strict diet to put my crohns disease under control, and medication that didn’t cause me any side effects. This combination helped me improve and gave me the best chance of succeeding.

The first time I saw you bench pressing I couldn’t believe your strength, there was a lot of people around watching and I just saw a guy bench pressing 190kg, I thought WOW then I saw you had no legs and this was absolutely mind blowing I literally couldn’t believe it. Most people generate power from there legs when benching but how does someone with no legs generate so much power in the bench press?
This is a very good question, I guess I make up for the lack of legs with a upper torso that doesn’t look like I only weigh 57kg. My upper body is the size as someone weighing 90kg. Not having legs has given me an opportunity to push my upper more often than someone with legs. I’ve come to realise that having legs is actually a disadvantage on the bench press, as your body is disturbed equally. Where mine is mostly disturbed on my upper body, which allows me to gain more muscle and get stronger more efficiently.

What does Ali Jawad’s training consist of eg. exercises, rep/sets and percentages?
So I bench press 4x a week, the rep ranges vary from 8-2 depending on the cycle, I work off between 75-90% of my 1 rep max. I am lucky enough to tolerate high volume to so I do between 4-8 sets which gives me a good capacity to get strong. I use other exercise to aid my bench press, exercise such as close grip bench press, deadstarts (static press from the chest), negatives (slow eccentrics at 110% of 1RM), and board press. These exercises are usually 4-6 sets of about 5 reps of my 1RM of those exercises.

How do you keep progressing in terms of being able to bench more and more without reaching a plateau?
Getting continuously strong is hard to maintain, your bound to plateau eventually. I guess i’m lucky that I have a progressive overload system that aids me into improving. Progressive overload is the key behind why I haven’t plateaued yet. The problem with most people, they try lift 5-10kg more every week, which is not the best way to stimulate change. Its about little gains per week i.e 1-2kg and getting volume at those weights. Getting strong does not finish in the gym, you need to recover outside the gym through nutrition and physio, so you prepare your body for the next training session.

What kind of accessory work do you do and what are your key areas which you think are necessary to work on in order to increase there bench?
A lot of bench pressers make one common mistake…they lack balance. So they focus on pressing rather than focusing on the opposite of that movement. So I feel pulling exercises are as important as pushing exercises. So bench pulls, pull ups, dumbbell pulls, lat pulldowns, are all necessary for balance, and lay down the foundations for great control for the bench press. Remember the Lats are a fixer muscle for bench press, so make sure you make your fixer muscle as strong! Another common mistake within bench press is not doing injury prevention exercises. Your shoulders take a lot of the stress on the bench press, so make sure you look after them through rotator cuff exercises. You can incorporate these through warm up or within the sessions. If you can stay injury free, you can train for longer, which increases gains on the bench.

What’s Ali Jawad’s secret of training in terms of sets and reps which has really worked for you?
I won’t reveal a lot of my secrets yet, I’m launching my SirBenchALot workshops to educate people behind getting a bigger bench press soon. All my secrets will be revealed there. So make sure you look out for them. To pre-warn you, I have some uncommon methods and many will not agree with.

What does Ali Jawad’s diet consist of during strength training and how it differ towards a competition?
Due to my crohn’s disease, my diet is pretty the same throughout as fundamentally I need to stay healthy before about thinking about diet for strength. My diet consists of sweet potato, eggs, veg, fish (tuna and salmon), chicken and beef. These all help to limit my crohn’s disease symptoms but also help me recover in-between training sessions.

How does your training change towards pre competition in order for you to peak at a specific time for the competition and how long does your competition training phase last for?
Peaking for a competition is one of the hardest aspect of performance. But the simple rule is that you increase intensity and decrease volume to an upcoming competition. As I said before I usually do between 4-8 sets/ 8-5 reps of 75-80% of 1RM, 8-10weeks out from a comp, but then the last cycle before comp day it reduces to 3 sets of 3-1 rep(s). All my cycles last 4 weeks, in which I test my 1RM.

What are your recovery days like and what does Ali Jawad like to do in his spare time outside of the gym?
Recovery is a very important part of getting strong, you damage yourself during training, the recovery is down outside the gym. I make sure I eat correctly and I try not to do anything physically demanding, as this reduces recovery. I also do a lot of my physio exercises for up to 2 hours a day before bed, in order to make sure my muscles are in perfect condition to lift heavy. In my spare time I like going out with friends, cinema and maybe some time for raving! I try not to take life to seriously. It’s a hard balance training, and having a social life but its important in order to be happy in general.

Whats Ali Jawad’s favourite cheat meal?
It has to be either a Kebab and chips or chocolate cake

What are your main Goals for the future?
I want to be the first person with Crohn’s disease to win a Gold medal at the Paralympics. As I said I can’t wait to be launching my SirBenchAlot workshops and clothing line. I would like to keep raising awareness of Crohns and Colitis by working with Crohn’s Colitis UK. My charity work is very important to me to try inspire other sufferers to achieve their dreams.

Could you give an example of Ali Jawad’s training split week?
I’m going to try not reveal a lot as I’ll be going through my regime in my workshops. But my training sessions are designed for working at sufficient volume, balance, injury prevention, smart decisions on loading and working on weaknesses. Below is my training schedule. I train 7x a week, up to 20 hours a week with 20 hours of rehab per week. If your going to spend 20 hours breaking your body, why not spend 20 hours repairing it?


Could you give an example of a full strength Ali Jawad training day?


You can keep up to date with me, my workshops, videos and my journey through the following:
Twitter: @alijawad12