Strength Coach Sebastian Oreb on Powerlifting | Wolf’s Den Ep 5

This guy is strong! In fact he’s the strength coach of the Worlds Strongest Man – Thor Bjornsson and crowned Australia’s strongest 110kg man!

This interview is a riot. So much great information about the world of strength and conditioning packed into this one. Enjoy.

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The transcription below has been preppared by Rev

Mark Ottobre:                     Welcome to the show that entertains and educates. Welcome to Wolf’s Den, my name is Mark Ottobre and today’s guest is possibly the strongest man in Australia. Well, at least he’s the strongest 110 kilo-er, lifting a total of 940 kilos. Please welcome to the show Australian Strength Coach, Sebastian Oreb.

Mark Ottobre:                     Pleasure to have you on.

Sebastian Oreb:                 Thank you so much, pleasure to be here.

Mark Ottobre:                     So, Sebastian, I probably want to start with this, you said something that was very key. You said you don’t like lifting heavy weights, you like making heavy weights feel light. Can you please explain this face?

Sebastian Oreb:                 That is a horrible face, but I’m sure all of you are familiar with it as much as I am. But yeah, I like it, thanks for getting that.

Mark Ottobre:                     You’re welcome.

Sebastian Oreb:                 Okay, so this is competition day and what I do to prepare for this day is very different from this.

Sebastian Oreb:                 Oh, they’ve all got the faces! This is amazing. This is amazing. We’re going to get a group shot, we know that.

Mark Ottobre:                     Absolutely, absolutely.

Sebastian Oreb:                 Very nice. I don’t need to hold that face.

Mark Ottobre:                     No, we don’t need to but we’ll put it up when we need it.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So, it’s an interesting thing, I mean the way that I train today is very different to how I started off, I won’t even say in the industry, I wasn’t in the industry when I started training. I was a 63 kilo guy trying to impress my girlfriend, who’s now my wife.

Sebastian Oreb:                 To be honest with you, you know that our first date was on the beach and I was embarrassed to take my tee shirt off. And she kind of said to me in a really nice way, “You know, I’d probably prefer it if you trained, I reckon you should try it” I thought, okay, I know what you’re saying.

Sebastian Oreb:                 And I actually became a fanatic from then, and I did all the hard work and the “no pain, no gain” approach, and I was a fanatic and I built a lot of muscle mass in a very short time. And I got to a great result, fulfilled my goal of keeping her as a girlfriend, needless to say.

Sebastian Oreb:                 But then from then, everything has changed and I don’t actually-don’t misinterpret what I’m saying-I don’t train for aesthetics, I don’t train for health, I don’t train for function, I train for a sport now and as a result I get a lot of those benefits. And that’s what I try and teach right now. To be the best in my sport it’s actually counter-productive to grind out every session, you know, to make that face every time you get under the bar, and go to fail, and do a lot of these things that are just too strenuous.

Sebastian Oreb:                 A lot of the things I like to compare myself to-Tiger Woods, why is he a great golfer? Does he smash the shit out of the ball every single time he touches that ball? Floyd Mayweather, best boxer in the world, love him or hate him, he has a game plan when he trains. He doesn’t just go for a big overhand right knock-out punch every single time he throws a punch. Yet, people come into the gym and that’s how they feel they should be training. No pain, no gain, go to fail every set, grind out otherwise you’re just not working hard enough. Well, it’s taken me many-actually, probably about ten years of making mistakes in the gym to realize that’s not the best way of doing it.

Mark Ottobre:                     So, let’s go into that metamorphosis right, so you were 63 kilos, how old were you when you were 63 kilos?

Sebastian Oreb:                 I met my wife 17 years ago, I was 20 years old.

Mark Ottobre:                     Okay.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So I’m 37 now. So it’s getting old now, you can round me up to 40 now so I’m going to own that one. But, yeah, 63 kilos, I’m now a hundred and-I compete in the 110 kilo class, and I’m the same height as I was back then. So I was quite skinny.

Mark Ottobre:                     So, how much would you weigh, say today? Are you eating up or eating down?

Sebastian Oreb:                 Right now I’m about 103 kilograms, to be honest with you, the weight that you guys have seen, the face there, that’s a 110 kilogram head, that’s me-I eat up to my competition because actually I’m not hugely comfortable working out at that body weight all year round. So right now if I stepped on the scales I’d be about 103-104 kilograms, and I’m kind of comfortable there.

Mark Ottobre:                     Because it’s quite a profound statement, that’s why I kind of wanted to start and launch into this first up, because I know for me myself and plenty of people watching this on YouTube or listening to it on iTunes and everyone in the audience, they’ve certainly been there. Most people would be like “I’ve got to grind it out, I’ve got to lift it, I’ve got to get this and if it’s not hard I’m not really working” And it’s been more recently I’ve been working with, I’m not sure if you know Gus Cooke, he’s watching this from Lifters League and a lot of the stuff has been really easy but then a lot of my lifts, it’s coming up better, my techniques better, the weights that used to be hard are now flying up, I feel a lot better.

Mark Ottobre:                     And when you said that, there was a thing of “Oh shit, this is actually why”, So how did you … What was the pivotal moment where you realized? Was it a mentor, was it a power lifter who said “Hey man, you’ve got to stop going to to broke”.

Sebastian Oreb:                 It was … A lot of the things I do come from experience, so I spent a lot of time under the barbell and I’m lucky enough to have been in a position where I have people working at my company, working at my business. So, my day will usually entail working up at the gym, having my breakfast brought to me, eat my food, go train at my leisure, and the only reason I stop training is because I’m hungry at that point. And at that time, I have someone bring out my next meal, and then if I haven’t finished my first session I’ll do my next session after that.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So, a lot of the things that I’ve learned in my life absolutely come from education but mainly come from experience. So, I guess the experience that I had was injuries that stopped me from being able to progress, and the only way that I was absolutely able to train was to not train as hard. Because if I tried to train hard, everything would hurt. So, using that approach I started realizing I was actually rehabilitating my injuries and I was starting to move better and I was stronger than I ever was before and as a result of lifting heavy weights I was building more muscle, as a result of having more muscle mass I had a better metabolic rate and I was actually getting leaner.

Mark Ottobre:                     What year was this?

Sebastian Oreb:                 This was probably when my daughter was born, so she’s eight years old. That’s when I kind of snapped out of it and I realized that I kind of wanted to be good at something. For those of you who have heard me speak before, this is my interim job. I was told that there’s no money in the fitness injury, so a best friend of mine while I was trying to find my real job and I’m still trying to find my real job, he told me come and do your courses and be a PT with me up until you get your dream job. And I thought “Okay, I’ve got nothing else better to do, so why not just do that”

Sebastian Oreb:                 So anyhow, I realized after about-I’ve been in the industry for 15 years so the last 8 years of that is when I started muckling down. But before that I was realizing-and you guys probably know the same-that the hourly rate is probably a lot higher than what a lot of people come out of university degrees with, in the offices, the important jobs and the important people and I’ve got to wear tee shirts and sneakers, you know, exactly what I’m wearing now. And I thought “Maybe this is a pretty cool job” and what’s going to happen to me if I get really good at this job, I don’t know, let’s just see.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So when I had my daughter, I got married and my wife comes from-and so do I as well, my mom raised us and my wife’s parents, very successful families that have work ethic in the blood. And so for my in-laws to look at me, I wanted respect and I had to earn that respect by showing that I was fit to marry their daughter. Okay, so I wanted to be good at what I did. So that was the point-when I had that child, when I got married-that was the point where I kind of took everything really really seriously and that’s how I guess I became a fanatic with everything I’m doing.

Sebastian Oreb:                 But going back to the original question, how did you figure out the grinding away? You prefer to lift light weights, so make heavy weights feel light. Yeah, it’s just your injuries and not being able to lift the heavy weights. And as a consequence, I’m lifting heavy weights.

Mark Ottobre:                     So was there a significant injury that prompted you to go “Alright, this way doesn’t work”?

Sebastian Oreb:                 It’s a small injury, but it was enough to be debilitating enough to not allow me to train the way I wanted to train. So, basically, I don’t know how good you guys are with anatomy, it was called a greater trochanter bursitis, bilaterally. So, basically you’ve got your femur, this bone that sits on the side of your femur that’s your greater trochanter, over the top of that sits a soft sac, it’s called a bursa. When that gets inflamed it’s very painful. So it’s the only time I’ve ever had any type of MRI or assessment from a doctor. I don’t go to doctors because I don’t want to know what’s wrong with me, but this time it was actually debilitatingly painful, it hurt me to walk up stairs. That was the quadriceps pain that I was experiencing, and if it hurts to walk up stairs you definitely can’t squat and that was my problem, I couldn’t squat and I wanted to be good at squatting because I quite value that exercise.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So that took me off squatting for a year, and every time I came back to try and train I’d always try and train heavy again because if it wasn’t heavy it wasn’t training. And the only way that I was able to train was when I just went through the motions and just did the movements and didn’t lift the heavy weight and then I was actually able to move without pain for the first time.

Mark Ottobre:                     So that’s your experience, and then how did you go “Alright, that’s the idea, I’m going to train easier” I mean and then you, okay walk me through the process. Did you stumble across it and go “Alright, I’m going to train at a 60 RN or at 60%” and then going from that or your personal experience to “Hey, wait a minute, I’m gonna try it with my client” because that’s also a leap too. To go, “Okay this is working for me” now I’m going to apply it to my client who’s, say average, and then the leap to “I’m going to apply this exact methodology to a world-class athlete” so can you walk me through that?

Sebastian Oreb:                 So, I’ve been lucky enough to … I just posted it this morning actually, Ernie Lilliebridge Sr., four years ago I met him, four years ago today, I met him, he’s the father of Eric Lilliebridge, arguably the strongest power lifting family in the world. And it was fitting that I saw that photo, he posted it just as a reminder on Facebook, you know those ones, how they pop up?

Sebastian Oreb:                 And I thought, wow this is really fitting because this is a huge part of my progress as a coach and as an athlete was the day that I met these guys. What they changed for me, they had such a huge emphasis, these are the best guys in the world, and I saw how they trained. And the father was such a caring coach, I took so much from that guy, so many valuable lessons. Not just academically …

Mark Ottobre:                     Could I just backtrack, so did they come out to Australia? Did you go to private internship with them? How did you cross paths?

Sebastian Oreb:                 Yeah, they came to Australia. There was a world championship, I was the president-sorry, not the president, the state representative for a power lifting federation, it was called CAPO and I was new the New South Wales representative and I was close to the Australian president. And he asked me if I could sponsor one of the athletes, and I could do seminars with them and I had to host them and look after them and various other coaches around Sidney would do the same to go get all the other various athletes.

Sebastian Oreb:                 And he recommended that I paired up with Eric Lilliebridge, so it was kind of by accident that we formed such a great relationship, because his dad wasn’t meant to come with him either, but that’s who I kind of sat in the front seat of the car with whenever we drove around and that’s who I was speaking to mainly, was actually his dad. Eric was in the back seat with his girlfriend, kind of smooching in the back the whole time.

Sebastian Oreb:                 But that’s how I met them, I brought them out so that he could compete in the world championships in Sidney, in 2014, and since then I’ve had such a great relationship. We’ve had a business relationship as well, we help each other, he’s coached me at power lifting competitions. He’s helped me tremendously in so many ways, but one thing that I saw about him was his emphasis on lifting technique and never going to failure. He had his son performing amazing lifts for an audience like this. So a lot of the time I-I used to-I’ve been an educator for a while as well, and I used to have a lot of my fantastic lifters kind of as a side show performing a max squat.

Sebastian Oreb:                 I don’t know if you guys are familiar with my wife and her sister, she’s got a sister called Dinny Jay, 50 kilo girl who can squat 140 kilograms. So whenever we’re demonstrating the squat it’s like, “Okay this is a little girl half your size squatting more than you, pay attention please.”

Sebastian Oreb:                 And it really stood out to a lot of people and it was very successful and it was a great way of getting a message across. And Ernie, when he brought Eric out, did the same thing but except with a guy that was lifting 480 kilograms on a squat. So, completely different level, literally the best in the world. And one day, for example, we did a deadlift seminar and he was scheduled to deadlift 400 kilograms for the crowd because … I’ll just do a round of hands, how many people have seen anyone live pick up 400 kilograms from the ground? Hand right up.

Sebastian Oreb:                 We’ve got one hand, usually I’ll get zero hands. Who was that?

Speaker 3:                              [inaudible 00:12:47]

Sebastian Oreb:                 Right.

Mark Ottobre:                     It was at your seminar.

Sebastian Oreb:                 Right.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So it’s something that doesn’t quite happen quite often, right? And Eric was looking phenomenal, he’s the best lifter in the world and I’m sure he would have smoked it, but he got to his last warm up at 360 kilograms and he threw it up, like I don’t know how fast you’d expect to see 360 kilograms move, but it moved fast. And for his dad, he wasn’t satisfied, he said we’re going to stop it right here, he’s not going to move 400 kilograms safely, there’s a risk because he’s not performing.

Sebastian Oreb:                 I was like “Hey, he’s performing alright” but not at the level, he wants everything to be-the analogy we use is a swish in basketball. No grind. That’s not how you get stronger, that’s how we increase the risk of injury. And I saw that level of care that he, it wasn’t just that he stopped him at 400 kilograms, it was the whole process of how he warmed him up, the attention to detail, so much care that he had for his athlete which was his son, that just-it stood out so clearly to me … Wow, this is why these guys are the best. Academics, yeah, he’s great, he’s got a lot of experience and he’s a really intelligent guy, but that’s not where it was at. That’s not why Eric is the best in the world. It was the care and the attention to detail that made him as good as what he is today.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So, you know, it’s kind of like hanging out with guys that are the best in the world. And it’s not just Eric and Ernie Lilliebridge. Something that I know after I got in with the cool crew, so these are the strongest guys in the world, started speaking to other guys in the cool crew. So, other world record holders in different countries in different disciplines and started realizing that every single person at that level trains the same. No one trains to fail, no one grinds out in their sessions. If you see someone missing a lift, it’s just wrong.

Sebastian Oreb:                 You know, you guys had Andrew Lock in here not too long ago, he told me a funny story. At his gym he trains with one of the best bench pressers Australia has ever seen.

Mark Ottobre:                     [Ange Colatti 00:14:42].

Sebastian Oreb:                 Ange Colatti.

Mark Ottobre:                     Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Sebastian Oreb:                 And Andrew was telling me, he said “last week, someone missed a lift”, Ange walks out, he said “You’re a dickhead” and just walked off.

Sebastian Oreb:                 And I just thought “That is just brilliant”

Mark Ottobre:                     Yeah.

Sebastian Oreb:                 And it’s a hard thing to say to people, especially novice lifters because to be completely honest with you, we’ve bent the rules a little bit with novice lifters. A lot of people don’t know their potential at that point. So you have to kind of push them, within reason, but it takes time to be able to see that.

Mark Ottobre:                     So, let’s just say, you know, there’s a lot of coaches here in the room, okay? They want to get to that level, they want to be like Sebastian, they want to be like the Lilliebridge family, right?

Mark Ottobre:                     What are you looking for at that level of breakdown? What things, what cues, are there some takeaways that you could give?

Sebastian Oreb:                 It’s a lot of attention to detail with how the body moves. When you know how the body moves, you’ll see the breakdown. A lot of the times it comes from bar speed, it’s like when you see a basket ball hit a swish, you hear it just go … And that’s the sound that it makes when it hits nothing but net. And it’s the same thing with how the body moves. It’s a sweet spot.

Sebastian Oreb:                 The analogy I use is a basketball. If I’m walking down the street bouncing a basketball, you don’t know how many meters per second that basketball is moving. But you’d be able to tell very quickly if there’s not enough air in that ball by the way it’s bouncing. That’s how the body moves and that’s how it should move under all of these loads. Controlled, tight, bang. It should hit a sweet spot and, kind of, the body will bounce as close to a basketball analogy I can find. But that’s how the body moves. And at that level, you start to recognize those things. Every lifter moves at a different speed as well, so it’s a matter of knowing your lifter. Some people hit a sweet spot and it’s still a slow move, but you learn these things very quickly.

Mark Ottobre:                     Do you have any lifters where, cause I know sometimes this happens a lot with my training, is my first set won’t look that great, my second set won’t look that great, my third set, boom. Do you take any of that into consideration, of lifters, I suppose, neurally waking up in terms of their sets?

Sebastian Oreb:                 Absolutely, and this is, I guess this is part of, I know you’re going to ask me because everyone does, what is your strength system?

Sebastian Oreb:                 That is part of my strength system. If I saw an athlete like that, I would teach them to be a little bit different to that. So I guess this is another take home point that I got from the Lilliebridge method. They talk about, in a session of Eric Lilliebridge or his dad or any of their athletes, they’ll work you up to one rep max. And that’s it, and then they’ll do it.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So if it’s a squat session you’ll work up to a heavy single squat and then you’ll do back down work on dead lifts and light stuff and body building stuff, stuff that makes you feel good. But it’s teaching the body the skill of lifting the heaviest weight possible for one rep. Not doing set after set. So, his theory, which is absolutely completely valid and he’s validated that many times, is that, you know, if you’re doing five sets of something, you’re teaching yourself to hold back so that you have enough energy for five sets. And that’s something that I’ve seen with a lot of fantastic athletes, and great lifters in the gym. They’re performing things like five sets of something, and then they’ll move on to the next exercise and they’ll do another five sets.

Sebastian Oreb:                 And they’ve conditioned their body to be able to not spend everything at once and to be able to last until the end of the session. In a sport like power lifting, that’s useless. You need to teach yourself how to give everything right now. So if you’re an athlete of mine, in my opinion there’s a few different things that I could do to make you have your first set as your best set of the day, and that’s what I’ll be working towards if I was to train you.

Mark Ottobre:                     So, with say there the Lilliebridge method, that’s not your method though in terms of, you don’t prescribe to the …

Sebastian Oreb:                 No, absolutely not, their method is very different. So, for example, their base method is training three times per week and actually leading up to the biggest power lifting competition in the world I saw Eric say that he only trained two times per week for this. So they’re all about, you know, these guys are lifting heavy weights, heavier than I can imagine, heavier than I can touch, and therefore it needs more recovery. So, for these guys, if you-general population followed, you know, two times a week of training, you’re going to get a very minimal result if any at all.

Sebastian Oreb:                 The reason why they’re able to progress with that methodology is that they are so strong and they need that much recovery. So, people talk about total tonnage of a set. A lot of people … Everyone has different types of loading parameters and how they like to progress with their programming from week to week and that is a term that I see thrown around a lot, is total tonnage. These guys’ total tonnage in one rep is more than most people do in a whole set or in a whole work out, you know? So, it’s like they need the exact same amount of recover from that one single as people do from a whole week of training. Because they’re able to work to that level and push their nervous systems as high as it goes, to maximum.

Mark Ottobre:                     So I know the Lilliebridge family really helped you improve your squat, you were saying by a hundred kilos, and that really helped you …

Sebastian Oreb:                 Yes, 172 and a half.

Mark Ottobre:                     Yeah, amazing. And they really helped you out in a lot of ways with your power lifting, but I’m really curious as to why, do your personal training not, say your clients, as to why, what was the deciding factor for you not to model all of your training the way they train.

Sebastian Oreb:                 Exactly that, I’m not as strong as Eric.

Mark Ottobre:                     Okay.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So if he does a set and, you know, depending on your level of strength, a lot of people- the common question that’s asked is how much rest do you need after various lifts.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So I was saying, Charles Poliquin for example, he wrote an article of the idea of frequency for each lift based on how demanding it is and how much recovery is required. So he wrote somewhere in there that the deadlift for a good deadlift session you need about, I think it was roughly around 10 days of recovery from deadlift session to deadlift session, if it was a good enough deadlift session.

Sebastian Oreb:                 Not saying that he is completely wrong, but I find that not everyone is lifting at that level where they deserve to have 10 days of recovery, and some people are even stronger. So for example, I train a guy that’s stronger than Eric now, and that’s the guy who is currently number one in the world, his name’s Hafpór Júlíus Björnsson, he’s the World’s Strongest Man, and for his deadlift session he need 14 days of recovery. His whole programming is a D-load every second week, so he does heavy week, light week, heavy week, light week, because he’s too strong to work at that level week after week. His body just won’t handle it.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So, I forget what was the question, I get sidetracked.

Mark Ottobre:                     So, you … That’s okay, it’s good. The Lilliebridge family have had a massive impact on you, and their philosophy, I suppose, is not, I suppose, antithesis to yours, but it is very different in the sense that they’re building up guys to a one rep max and then saying go home. Now, obviously not everyone’s at that level, but I figured you’re at that level, you’re at least approaching that level, so is their philosophy on training something that you are going to implement in the future when you get strong enough? Or is it …

Sebastian Oreb:                 Absolutely. Definitely, I think it’s a brilliant method and it’s something that if I was strong enough I would benefit from it greatly, but I just don’t believe that I’m strong enough to need a 14 day recovery from one of my lifts.

Mark Ottobre:                     What’s strong enough?

Sebastian Oreb:                 Well, these guys are 480 kilo squatters, I’m a 370 kilogram squatter. So, for me it took me-I won’t even compare myself to them-so you guys would know the difference, that’s close to 500 kilograms. There’s not many people-there’s 6 men on the planet that have ever squatted 480 kilograms and plus.

Mark Ottobre:                     So, say someone like Eric, right, in the average session with Eric, would he be going to, say, 450 every session in terms of squats …

Sebastian Oreb:                 No, no, interestingly, a lot of people think, I see the term warm up with your max and all the loose things. It’s fair to say for a lot of people, yeah, but I don’t coach Eric so I won’t use him for an example, but Thor, for example, he’ll lift heavier than Eric, actually. His deadlift sessions, he’s over 400 kilograms, he reps out 400 kilograms.

Sebastian Oreb:                 And he … What was the question again?

Mark Ottobre:                     It’s okay.

Sebastian Oreb:                 I’ve just got so many things that are happening at once.

Mark Ottobre:                     Yeah, it’s alright. No, we’re bouncing around a bit and in this interview and we’re going to come back to a lot of things and that’s completely fine. So, where we can go to now, because obviously you are the strength coach of the Worlds Strongest Man, for those who don’t know, which is Thor Björnsson, and with training someone like that, what does that do for your psychology?

Sebastian Oreb:                 Now I remember what the original question was, and I will go back to it.

Mark Ottobre:                     Okay.

Sebastian Oreb:                 It teaches me a lot about human potential and it teaches me a lot about something that I say when I get a class of people and we’re learning how to lift, I qualify the class and I say “Alright, right now, I’ve seen someone lift 500 kilograms, 520 kilograms off the ground. Trust me your shit’s not going to impress me. My shit doesn’t impress me. Okay, so don’t try and do that”

Sebastian Oreb:                 And that’s the approach that I used to take, you see a new crew of people, you’ve got to try and impress them and lift as heavy as you can and all those things. And I use that to teach people to back off. You’re not Thor Björnsson, and you’re never going to be. The guy is twice the size of you, stop trying to push yourself to these levels. And after seeing what is humanly possible and how he reaches those goals, it allows me to realize how many people are doing it wrong.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So this was the original question, warming up with your max, Thor Björnsson, majority of the year, lifts weights lighter than what I lift, okay? It’s only when he peaks. So that was the question that you asked, was Eric Lilliebridge, does he try and get to 400 kilograms every session? No he doesn’t, the body doesn’t like that. You’re beating yourself up a lot and you’re loading your spine a lot, and you’re beating your nervous system up a lot. The body needs rest.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So that’s what I said, I don’t train Eric, I don’t know his program exactly. I know Thor Björnsson program exactly and a lot of the times when he starts with his deadlift programming he’ll be on 240 kilograms for his first deadlift session. Today he’s got a deadlift of 420 kilograms, so to get to 420 kilograms he doesn’t deadlift 400 kilograms every session. It’s a linear progression. It takes time, you’ve got to build the base and if he beats himself up like that every week, every year, there will be a shelf life and it will be expired very shortly.

Mark Ottobre:                     So, onto Thor for example, how did you come up with these training methodologies, or how did you formulate your philosophies in the sense that you discovered something new for yourself, it’s okay, the heavyweight thing is not working for me, it’s busting me up. You go lighter, you realize okay, there’s progress in this, this is feeling good. I mean, at that point where things are feeling good, I know personally a lot of people inclination is to go alright, let’s go, start going heavy now.

Mark Ottobre:                     So you fought through that, you start lifting heavy and you know it’s onto something, and then it almost seems that you’ve developed some-I’m not going to say unique, but it kind of is unique-principals in the sense that, let’s be real, you train 1% of the world or even less, 0.1% of the strongest guys in the world. So at that level, you’re creating systems and then the unique thing about you, and this is what I see, the unique thing about you is you look back from, this is legitimately the best in the world and this is 0.01% of people and most people just aren’t born the way Thor was born and they’ll never be at that level no matter how hard they try and that’s just not-you can say it’s not fair but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, right? He’s just a genetic superior in every single way.

Mark Ottobre:                     So you’ve gone to that level, you’ve looked back, and you go but there was a point where you weren’t at that level, so how did you formulate these ideas and then you get to the point where you’re training Thor, and now looking back going “Alright, here are the philosophies that we should follow to get strong”.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So, I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a position where I’ve met some pretty cool people around the world. And I’ll introduce a new name that you may have heard of, his name is Alex Simon and his nickname is “The God”. I met him when I was at Fitness First, so this is well before I opened my own gym, I used to work at Fitness First for the first 10 years of my career. And my brother, I was working with him, he said “Dude, you’ve got to see this guy, he’s an 18 year old kid and he weighs 130 kilograms, he’s a freak” and I thought “I’ve got to see this guy, that’s bullshit. 130 kilograms, that’s a freak show” And so I met Alex and yeah, he was a freak. He wasn’t muscular in any way, he was just a big dude. He didn’t train, he just had thick ankles, his feet-people described his feet, you know how you say “His foot’s this big” they’d say “His foot’s this big”. And he’s a really unique guy, he is huge.

Sebastian Oreb:                 And it’s like, I don’t know what it but I’ve got to help this guy in some way. Whatever he’s doing, I want to be there and watch it because he’s a freak. So I worked with him from when he was squatting-you know this is a silly thing, but the first time he stepped in the gym he was able to squat over 200 kilograms, he was able to bench press 50 kilo dumbbells the first time he touched weights, for 20 reps. It’s ridiculous, that is a genetic freak also.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So he dead lifted 300 kilograms in my gym he dead lift. Actually, I took him from a 220 kilogram deadlift, he couldn’t pick it up off the ground and that’s why he liked me, because he had his coach that was telling him “Okay, do this, do that” and he’d try and do it and he wouldn’t get 220 kilograms off the ground. And then he came to me and he said “What am I doing wrong?” And I just-not the approach that I take now, but I told him he’s being a little fucking bitch. I said “Look at the size of you. Dude, I can fucking smoke that weight, are you serious. Go and pick it up man”and he did 10 reps of it.

Mark Ottobre:                     That was the first?

Sebastian Oreb:                 That was the first, before he had ever trained before. He was just … You know, to pick up 220 kilograms deadlift for 10 reps, never trained, he’s a freak. I took him from there to number one in Australia. Through all of the people that I’ve met, through all my education, through training myself, through beating myself up, we did all of the mistakes with him as well, but he knew no better. And at that point he was almost my guinea pig and he was lucky that I was my guinea pig before him, but he was my guinea pig for the big guys. Different principles apply when you’re lifting heavier weights.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So it’s like the Lilliebridge method, I can’t follow that completely because I’m not strong enough to deserve to only train two times per week. So, I was able to use guys like Alex Simon and my experience working with Eric Lilliebridge to come to Thor and say “I know what to do with you, man” especially-this is getting a little bit sidetracked- but the story of how I met Thor, I was able to bench press the same amount as him, which is a huge reason for my success as a coach as well, is because I lift so well, a lot of the big guys they look at me and they listen to me because they know I know what I’m talking about.

Mark Ottobre:                     So on that, I would assume and I think it’s a correct assumption that you put everything into your training, right?

Sebastian Oreb:                 Yes.

Mark Ottobre:                     So how does being around someone like Thor, meeting Alex Simon, how does it not demoralize you at the same time? It’s like, “Dude, I’ve worked my whole life to get as strong as you and this is-you’re picking up the weight that I’ve trained my ass off, and you’re just picking it up like that and making fun of it with 10 reps, and this is my max” so how does it psychologically sit?

Sebastian Oreb:                 So, I want to be the best, let’s get this clear. I love, I am so competitive, but at the same time I have coached so many of my competitors and given them the exact same everything, training models, everything and helped them with more care than I’ve given myself. I want to be the best against the best, I don’t want to just be the best and hide things from people and say “I’ve got this secret and I’m going to beat you because of that”. If I’m the best, I want to genuinely know I’m the best.

Sebastian Oreb:                 And I’ve coached so many people to-I was here, they were here, and I’ve coached them to be here many times. And actually the feeling that I get from doing that is actually better than me just taking myself there. To know-that’s my career-and to know, I get such an amazing feeling to know that I’ve succeeded with other people, it makes me think that I’m good at my job. Which is of really high importance to me. And so, yeah, I had to detach myself from all of that a long, long, long time ago and now I tell all of these guys “You know how many guys I’ve gotten to be stronger than me? There’s your goal”

Sebastian Oreb:                 And they look at that and they realize that there’s no competition between us, we’re all working together and yeah, I’m probably, like I said, for once, I’m the big guy in the room, you know? Like I’d tip your table and I’m going to take that, man, you know? But everyone I hang out with, as I said, he was 130 kilograms the first time I met him, he got to 180 kilograms. These guys are freaks, you know, Thor Björnsson …

Mark Ottobre:                     Who got to a hundred … Alex?

Sebastian Oreb:                 The God, Simon. Yeah, when he became, you know, so this was five years after I met him. We took him to number one in Australia, of all time.

Mark Ottobre:                     Just to quantify for the podcast and the interview, number one in Australia in what, exactly?

Sebastian Oreb:                 In power lifting competition, so he totaled the number one, who reclaimed his title, so it’s a guy called Odell Manuel, he’s an absolute legend, he’s a technician, he’s a strong guy, he’s a nice guy, everything you want from a champion, that’s Odell Manuel.

Sebastian Oreb:                 And Alex Simon, in his second power lifting competition ever, he got 1077, and a half kilograms to be number one in Australia, all time, no one in Australia has ever done that. He did that in his second competition. He then moved on, he retired from power lifting after that, he didn’t like it. Which is crazy because it’s like damn, you know, if I was good at something I’d want to keep doing it, you know, he could have been the best in the world within 12 months after that. And a lot of people will hear me say that and go “Oh”. He could have been the best in the world if he continued for 12 months after that, the guy is a freak. That guy has the same gift that Thor does, but just on a different level.

Mark Ottobre:                     So could I just get into the psychology of that, right? You’ve got a guy who, I mean, you’re obviously passionate about lifting, you’re passionate about power lifting and you’re also passionate about seeing people succeed. I think that’s part of the measure of why you’re such a successful coach. So you have a guy who you know, geeze, you can be number one in the world in 12 months and he says to you “Nah, bro, I don’t want to do this” how do you-are you going “Look man, you’ve got to do this, you can be great, you can go down in history” or are you going, “Look, I respect your opinion” or how does that work?

Sebastian Oreb:                 It’s a lot of both and the thing is, there’s a lot of reasons that you have to understand that comes with being the best in the world. So 180 kilograms is, for me, remember what I said, I don’t like being 110 kilograms because it’s uncomfortable. Alex Simon, leading up to his competition wouldn’t sleep a single minute because he was too big. If anyone knows anyone that’s huge, they have a cpap device, they cannot sleep, okay? They suffer from sleep apnea, alright? And they don’t have to be 180 kilos to do that. He was petrified to doze off because he’d close off his air supply and choke and not wake up. He would sleep sitting up in his chair, that’s the only place that he would be able to get some type of comfort. And that’s not a life that he wanted.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So, for me, I was pushing him up until-that’s the argument that I was having with him. To become number one in Australia, like “You’re there man, keep on going” kind of thing, and then once he achieved it, it’s just like “I’m just not doing it anymore” and there’s a few things about trying to tell a 180 kilo dude what to do, especially with an MMA background. You know, he’s got a fighting record of five professional MMA fights, he won them all by knockout in the first 30 seconds of the fight. He touches them and they go to sleep, literally.

Mark Ottobre:                     How much does he weigh now?

Sebastian Oreb:                 He’s about, between 150-160 kilograms.

Mark Ottobre:                     So still monster.

Sebastian Oreb:                 He’s trying to cut weight. He’s just, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but the guy is just naturally massive. It’s ridiculous, he stopped touching weights as well, he had to stop doing weights because he wanted his muscles to shrink, he needed to shrink, his goal was to be in the UFC, the heaviest weight class in the UFC is 120 kilograms. So he had 180 to 120, he had 60 kilos to lose. So, yeah, that’s what he did, he quit weights all together and dieted and struggled, got to 150 kilograms. With a big, big, big struggle.

Mark Ottobre:                     That’s amazing insight into the life of a big man. Absolutely amazing. So here’s a different question but I find it fascinating, in terms of what have you learned about strength from going from Thor … So, from Thor’s perspective, looking back on the general pop, I won’t even say general pop, let’s say a lifter like myself, you know. Fairly good, but not at an elite level. So what lessons have you learned from that and what lessons have you learned from someone who you’re say coaching a general athlete up to say Thor’s lessons. Are there inverse principals? Are there things that still apply? Are they just totally two different beasts and you’ve got to treat them as such?

Sebastian Oreb:                 Yeah, so, no, everyone is the same and that is we just go in and we work til the body can move perfectly and if it stops moving perfectly, that’s when we stop. Something that I’ve loved about working with guys so strong is I don’t care about the number anymore. You’re speaking a different language, I do not understand when you put 400 kilograms on a bar how a human being can do that, but they just can. So now, the plates on the side, a lot of people get intimidated by it, for me, I don’t look at that anymore, I don’t care what number it is. You could say 240, you could say 340, it would make no difference with how I approached you.

Sebastian Oreb:                 We work until your move … So, if, the number is irrelevant, how we get there is what matters. So, I’ve got a principal and that is you need to earn the right to add weight to the bar. So let’s just say your deadlift was 400 kilograms, if you’re not moving 200 kilograms well you’re not allowed to put the next plate on. You’ve got to do that right before you can put more weight on the bar.

Sebastian Oreb:                 And I’ve had people, you know, I’ve coached other people, not just power lifters and strongman, I’ve trained a lot of the high level rugby players as well, NRL. In particular, I’ll tell you a story about one of the guys who is considered the strongest NRL player in the country, his name is Marty Taupau, if anyone’s ever heard of him. He came to me the first time I saw him, he was like, he had the same quality that Alex “The God” Simon had, his feet are this big, his ankles are like that and his knees are like that. And it’s not like cankles, it’s dense bone with muscles on top of them. And it’s just like “You’re a god, dude”

Sebastian Oreb:                 And I said to him, he also walks in his knuckles are touching the ground, he’s just huge. And I said to him “You know, so we’re dead lifting, great lift, what’s your deadlift?” And he said 220. And I said “That’s wrong, that’s just wrong, 220 for a guy your size, that’s just bullshit.”

Sebastian Oreb:                 First session, this is on YouTube if you guys want to validate it, I document everything that I do, you know. First session, he did doubles on 260 kilograms. So, I don’t give a shit about his number, that number was wrong. A lot of times when people say their numbers, as well it’s like “Okay, that’s the number that you did with your rules and your warmup and your technique and all that stuff.” It’s good to know in the back of my head, but now we’re doing something completely different. That could be too high, that number could be way too much for you, you know? But in most cases I find the opposite, so you’re better than that, just trust me.

Sebastian Oreb:                 And that’s what it has allowed me to see, is let’s stop thinking about the number, let’s warm the body up properly, let’s use perfect technique from the very, very beginning and now let’s see where it gets you. If you start grinding, I stop you. I don’t care what that number is. And if you’re to see me for the first session it is an assessment, every time I see someone for the first time, it is an assessment. That’s how I would assess you. I work you to the point where I see, I don’t even want you to break down, I know it’s about to break down. And then I’ll take a percentage off, I shouldn’t even say a percentage, maybe a plate or 20 kilos or whatever it is. And then that’s where we work, that’s where the magic happens, sub-maximum, you know?

Sebastian Oreb:                 We use the terms now “RPE” and “RIR” so reps in reserve. The idea behind all of that, you could stick an RIR or a RPE to translate what I’m doing …

Mark Ottobre:                     Just so this is a complete podcast, could you just define RPE as well?

Sebastian Oreb:                 So RPE means rate of perceived exertion. Many people use this, some people use it more successfully than others. But the main purpose of using an RPE is basically, what you won’t see when people are using programs with RPE is the number 10. Up here, 10 means you cannot physically do any more. That’s what you’re hoping to achieve on competition day. But anyone who successfully uses RPE will be using hardly even nine RPE, usually eights and sevens throughout the entire training program to get someone strong enough to do a great RPE of ten on comp day. So that’s what RPE means, one being so easy, you’re just like lying down, there’s an RPE one. Ten, you’re physically not possible to lift any more than an RPE of ten.

Sebastian Oreb:                 Another great way that people use their programming principals without getting a load is RIR, reps in reserve. So with one RIR, that means keep going until you know you have one rep in the tank. Two RIR, that’s two reps in reserve. So you could translate everything I’m doing with an RIR and RPE but I don’t actually use those. Okay, what I do is I work people to, it’s called mechanical fail, and less.

Mark Ottobre:                     If we could just go into mechanical failure, on the say squat bench press, dead lift, just I suppose an overview so the folks really, kind of get what we’re looking for. You mentioned bar speed before, obviously with a deadlift there’s the whole thing about neutral spine, and you have the elites lifting with more of a rounded back. What are you looking for, let’s start with the deadlift. But when you look at mechanical failure, are you looking at the bar needs to always be close to the shins, or they’re just doing-you see what they lift in their warmups and if it looks different than their warmups you’re quitting the rep? Are there some key things in each lift that it’s …

Mark Ottobre:                     So, say for example I’m squatting, alright? And I’m at, say, 150, alright? I’m doing five reps, and on the last rep my knee comes in a little bit, are we calling the workout that, or are you telling me to stop being a little bitch?

Sebastian Oreb:                 No, I don’t ever tell anyone to stop being a little bitch, unless you’re like Simon and you’re just fucking 10 times bigger than everyone else and lifting half what they’re lifting. So, bitch. And then we’ll see that very very-and he did, he’ll see that really, really well and then it’s like I’m-I don’t do the no pain no gain thing. We don’t do that. So I kind of tell everyone to kind of be a little bitch. If something hurts, you tell me immediately and we stop, it means we’re doing something incorrectly.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So, when you understand the way the body works … I work with arguably one of the best rehabilitation specialists in Australia and you could even say the world, that’s Andrew Lock.

Mark Ottobre:                     Andrew Lock, yeah, we had him on episode 2.

Sebastian Oreb:                 Yeah, he’s a really unique guy, really intelligent guy as well. And I work very closely with him. So we’ve got-and I have been for a while now, before that I had a great understanding of rehabilitation. So I do have a great understanding of these things, I’m just not winging it or guessing it, I kind of know where it’s okay to kind of break form a little bit once or twice, not repetitively. And not to go to those points.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So if you did your whole workout, set of five, and the fifth rep your knee came in a little bit, I could probably just tell you that’s what happened, fix it. And you’d most likely be able to fix it. Okay? So, sometimes people are overthinking things, this is where it’s breaking down because it’s a weakness in the-I don’t know. Just tell the lifter. This is what happened, or my favorite tool is the video. Show the lifter, see this, you’ve got to not do that on the next set and let’s see how we go. And if you continue to do that, that’s when it’s too heavy.

Mark Ottobre:                     Okay.

Mark Ottobre:                     So switching gears just, I suppose a tiny bit but still on track, let’s talk about Thor. What’s happening with Game of Thrones?

Sebastian Oreb:                 You know, the funny thing is, is now I’m such a bad friend, I’ve not seen a single episode.

Mark Ottobre:                     Oh, wow. So, for those who know, Thor is “The Mountain” in Game of Thrones. Hands up if you watch Game of Thrones.

Speaker 4:                              [inaudible 00:43:20]

Mark Ottobre:                     Almost everyone. Amazing TV show, fantastic and he just plays such a great role, amazing role.

Sebastian Oreb:                 Yeah.

Mark Ottobre:                     So how did you guys meet?

Sebastian Oreb:                 So I was training in my gym, we’ve got a gym in north Sidney, base gym, I run it with my wife and her sister. They’ve got a women’s only business and they work alongside with my business and they’re called the Base Body Babes. And when I train, they look after me and they leave me alone and they let me be and they’ll come and interrupt me if it’s something worth interrupting.

Sebastian Oreb:                 And one day I was bench pressing and Dinny, that’s my little sister-in-law, she walked over to me and she said “Guess what, you just got a phone call from … ” whatever company it was, SodaStream was the company, “and they want to do an event and they’re bringing Hafpór Björnsson to come and train and they want us to train with him” and I said “Get me in that room” Right? Not because I wanted to be his coach, that was well beyond what I thought was possible. I just wanted to hang out with this guy. That’s the strongest-well he wasn’t the strongest guy in the world at that point but he was the biggest strongman, he was a freak, you don’t have to know who he is and you see him and it’s like “I want to see what this guy’s about”.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So it’s “Get me in this room, Dinny” she said “Okay, done. Let me speak to them” so the way that SodaStream worked was they got industry influencers around Australia. So the Base Body Babes have a social media account where they’ve got over six hundred thousand followers. So they’ve got multiple people with big followings, and they wanted to get them all in a room and have a work out with Hafpór Björnsson, so they all take photos and they all re-share on their Instagram and that’s how they market their product.

Sebastian Oreb:                 So, Base Body Babes get me in the room with him, great. They said …

Mark Ottobre:                     Sorry,