Incline strongman breaks state records
As Alex Zuong grips the bar at his feet, he begins visualizing deadlifting the 202.5 kilograms of weight.
Feet properly spaced, posture aligned, his muscles flex, and the weight rises off the floor for a United States Powerlifting Association Nevada State Open Championships state record. The lift would be part of four state records set by Zuong during the state championships in Las Vegas on March 11.
“If I don’t get my setup right, then the pull off the floor is not going to happen,” said Zuong of his deadlift approach. “I have to be very calm and start going through the motion in my mind, tense those muscles even, and just imagine myself going through the pull before I even do it.”
The Incline High School senior would go on to set state records in the 82.5kg weight class in each of the three powerlifting disciplines with a bench press of 125kg and a squat of 172.5kg, finishing with a state record total weight of 485kg or nearly 1,100 pounds.
Since the contest, Zuong said he’s spent little time on those traditional powerlifts, instead opting to work on building functional strength and improving areas of weakness.
In order to achieve this, he often employs unconventional exercises, which he says usually generate odd looks from other members of his gym.
“A lot of the training styles I do, I get weird looks for,” Zuong said. “I’m training my neck like a wrestler. I put a plate on my forehead and start curling it. It looks really weird.”
Zuong said his workouts also include hanging upside down from a pull-up bar to do sit-ups, and walking around the gym pinching together three, 10-pound plates in order to build grip and forearm strength.
“A lot of people in the gym are afraid to do different or weird exercises, but there’s a lot of weird exercises that can really help benefit you overall with developing a physique or getting stronger.”
Growing up in Dallas, Texas, Zuong has been involved in athletics since childhood, but like his methods in the gym, that career has been anything but conventional. From competing in track and field, soccer, wrestling and football, he’s tried his hands at a multitude of sports, but it was on the mats as a martial artist where he found the most success.
During his middle-school years in Oklahoma and Texas, Zuong was a three-time state champion in taekwondo and peaked in the sport with a fifth-place finish at the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Junior Olympics.
Once he hit high school, he began pursuing other interests outside martial arts, and then fellow students began encouraging him to join the football team.
“I got suckered in by my friends to play football, because I was already pretty big at the time for a freshman, at least for my height, I was a lot more dense than most people,” Zuong said.
“Then they did weight training over the summer, and that’s where I really learned how to start doing it. Once I started training with the team, I found such a competitive mindset of just lifting heavy that my strength just blew up.”
After stops in Texas and Nebraska during his time in high school, Zuong and his family moved to Incline Village last December, where he finished out his senior year.
“We used to come here on vacations during the summertime, and my mom practically grew up here,” said Zuong. “We just decided to take a risk and move out here.”
With half the school year remaining, Zuong decided to forego his usual athletic load of wrestling during the winter and competing in track during the spring, instead he set his focus on weightlifting.
After winning the state powerlifting title in March, Zuong said he’s plans on taking a step back from competing until he can increase his overall strength.
“I was hoping to compete at nationals, but I’m thinking about waiting another year, because nationals is a whole other level,” he said. “I’m going to take this time right now to get a lot stronger before I get back into the sport. I feel like if I continue doing powerlifting to the extent I’ve been doing it, that I could potentially get injured. I don’t feel my muscular balance is quite there yet. I want to address all of my other muscular imbalances before I continue.”
Part of that process is training intelligently and giving his body time to recover. Zuong said he limits his workouts to a few sessions per week.
“I’ve always done about three-day a week training, sometimes even two-day a week training, and that keeps it so I can physically recover enough and also mentally get psyched up for the next time in the gym.”
Diet-wise, Zuong said he doesn’t place many restrictions on what he eats, as long as he hits certain intake requirements.
“I’m trying to be more conscious of what I’m eating. I’m trying to just mainly meet that right amount of protein intake and fat intake I have to have per day. After that, anything goes, I can eat whatever I want,” he said.
“For my drinks, I stick to water. And I have a whole rotisserie chicken for lunch every single day.”
Going forward, Zuong, 18 years old, said he plans on competing not only in more powerlifting contests, but also in other tests of strength like arm wrestling tournaments. He also said his goal is to compete in strongman competitions, because of the numerous events and different kinds of lifts, rather than the three core lifts performed in powerlifting.
“If you’ve seen those guys on TV picking up boulders and lifting them around, I like to do a lot of functional training like that, so doing lots of pulling motions and doing lots of overhead presses and just picking up heavy stuff up off the ground,” said Zuong.
“I like strongman because there’s lots of different events. It’s not always the same exact thing. You could be lifting stones one day or pressing logs over your head. It’s a lot more well-rounded in strength.”