Featured Coach: Mark Bell, Part 1 – World’s Strongest Coach

Mark Bell, owner of Super Training Gym and star of the popular and controversial documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster, tells us about growing up being bullied and becoming a powerlifter.

For Mark Bell, owner of Super Training Gym and World and American powerlifting record holder, strength is about more than just training in the gym or competing at a meet. Strength is about quality of life.

I tell people that strength is a key element of life and when your strength runs out, you die. My dad was just recently in the hospital for 75 days…in his rehabilitation, his doctors had him doing squats and doing partial deadlifts, toe touches, all kinds of things like that. And I was like see, you always come back to this, that strength is a key element of life. It requires a certain amount of strength, whether you notice it or not, just to get out of your car, to get up and down stairs. When you’re stronger, you’re going to create a larger cup for yourself to pour more stuff into. So you can handle more stuff the stronger you are, whether you’re talking about in life or you’re talking about in the weight room. The stronger you are the more you can deal with, to foresee and deflect things, the better off you’re going be, whether you’re talking about handling heavy weights on your backor just handling heavy situations in life.

For some of you, you may already know the name Mark Bell. Mark’s name became known outside the powerlifting world due to his brother’s popular and controversial documentary, Bigger, Stronger, Faster. Mark was the youngest of three brothers who all fell in love with sports and lifting weights at an early age.

I have two older brothers who love sports, and I just fell in love with football and working out pretty early on. My brother Chris was born with bad knees. He was bow-legged and all kinds of stuff, so he went to a doctor, and the doctor said, “The way that your knees are, you really have no choice but to get some corrective surgery.” So he got the surgery and came out and the doctor said “The only way you’re going to stay this way for your whole life is to strength train.” The guy he went to happened to be a powerlifter, so he started teaching us about squatting, benching, and deadlifting.

But beyond the health needs of his brother, Mark had a personal motivation, one that sounds almost like the Charles Atlas advertisement in the back of a comic book.

I also had a situation that was pretty funny that I got motivated by, something like you would see like an after-school special. There was this asshole, this guy. I was throwing a football with myself because I used to love football, you know, always throwing the football around. I loved to play football so much that everyone else would get tired and want to go home and I would keep playing. So I was out throwing the ball around by myself, and this guy was like “Hey, throw the ball to me.” I didn’t want to throw it to him because he was a jerk, but I was like, “Well, maybe he wants to play with me.” This was like late eighties, early nineties so he had his sleeves rolled up, he’s got the mullet, the whole nine yards. I grew up on the East Coast so you can imagine what this guy looked like. So I throw him the ball and he turns around and punts it into the woods, kicks it as hard as he can. I never found the ball again. The guy was like a town tough guy, he worked out, kind of had big arms and stuff. So from that day on I was like, “I’m going into training. I’m going to kick this guy’s ass.” Then I ran into him a few years later and just intimidated him, didn’t actually fight him but I was like, “Hey, remember you kicked my ball into the woods!”

From the kid who got bullied, Mark eventually grew up into the man with a powerlifting total of 2,628lbs. Before settling into coaching and opening his Super Training Gym, he experienced a variety of sports – something he feels makes him a better coach overall. He spent a few years in the WWE working as a professional wrestler, and he competed in track and field as a 100-meter sprinter, shot-putter, and discus thrower. On top of that, Mark is still competing as a powerlifter. Being a competitive athlete he feels makes a major difference in his ability to coach.

I think what separates me out from some other coaches is that I’m still on the front lines. I’m the strongest coach in the world, I think. I don’t think there’s any other coach out there that’s stronger than me. I put my numbers up against anybody; my best total is 2,628lbs. As far as I know there’s no other coach, that coaches as many people as I am, that puts up the kind of weights I’m lifting. Not to bash the coaches, they may not have the greatest strength level or their time may be up, they may not be in the mix anymore. But I think it’s important I’m still in the mix, I’m still in the middle of it, I’m still getting stronger all the time, and I think that speaks volumes. I think that makes a difference. I think it helps me to connect with athletes.

While the athletes in Mark’s gym are all focused on the singular goal of building strength, there are a wide variety of people that fall under that umbrella. People of all ages and experience levels are welcome to join the gym, as long as they intend to work hard.

Everything about my gym compared to a run-of-the-mill commercial gym is different. We have different barbells, different plates, different benches, different spot racks – everything about it, from top to bottom, is different – and it’s all to accommodate our goals, our strength goals. I think one thing that’s great about our gym and gyms that are similar is that we all have a similar goal.

I like that with CrossFit as well, where everyone in the place, everyone in that building has to pass a similar goal. I think that makes a big difference. If you go to a commercial gym, you have one person who wants to bench that, one person wants to build muscle, and everyone is just all over the place. Some people don’t know what they want or how to get there, some people don’t know how to get there, and that becomes an issue.

But when you have a lot of people constantly talking about how do we get better at this, how do we get stronger, how do we improve our squat, how do we improve our bench press – when you’re thinking about it nonstop, we text each other, we call each other, we see each other and we talk about this stuff – we are completely and one-hundred percent obsessed. It’s all we talk about. Someone doesn’t just miss a lift. If someone misses a lift, it’s like a catastrophic failure, like your mom dropped a bomb in the basement, and we can’t stop talking about it.

To learn more about Mark Bell read part two of our feature interview:

Featured Coach: Mark Bell, Part 2 – Bad Cues and Good Coaching

To follow workouts based on Mark’s methodology follow this link:

Strength & Conditioning Workouts from Mark Bell & Chris Duffin