Kevin Oak: Interview With A Powerlifting Phenom

September 8, 2021

We had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin “Oak” Okolie for this week’s interview installment. Kevin is a record-holding powerlifter in the 220lb class, with his eyes on a world record total in the future.

Kevin, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, you are one of our favorite lifters on the interwebs. How long have you been lifting competitively, and did you do any competitive sports before Powerlifting?

Thanks for choosing me to interview, there’s plenty of successful lifters out there and I take it as a compliment that you guys want to pick my brain. My name is Kevin “OAK” Okolie aka OakStrong. I originally was a runner, sprinter to be more specific.

I was all American in the 100 & 200-meter dashes and ended up going to Villanova University on a 4-year track and field scholarship. In terms of lifting, I started out my junior year in high school to get a little stronger for sprinting.

I was kind of indifferent to it at first until I started my winter track season and realized how much faster I had gotten. I’ve been addicted to the gym ever since. At first, if I remember correctly I used to do bench press, leg extensions, leg curls, lat pulldowns, lateral raises, bicep curls, and tricep extensions.

I think my first gym goal was to bench 185 which I got after a couple of months. I don’t think I was ever an outstanding bencher I’ve just literally been getting stronger little by little since I was 16. 12 years later I’m benching 500+.

It’s basically the same story with the other exercises. I think I started squatting freshman year in college and I actually didn’t start deadlifting until I was 24/25. After I graduated college I was working on Wall Street which was really stressful so at night I would go to the gym and lift just to get rid of stress.

I was primarily doing bodybuilding movements but I was always starting my workouts out with squats or bench press and always trying to get those numbers up. After a while, I realized powerlifting was the sport for me.

So I started training specifically for powerlifting and entered my first competition in July 2013. It didn’t go very well. I made a lot of rookie mistakes and ended up with a 1600lb total. A year later after being fully dedicated in July of this year I hit a 2002lb total at the same Bodyweight.

Low-bar squats are something very prevalent in Powerlifting. What advantages do you think your high-bar squats offer you over low-bar?

Kevin Oak Interview

The reason I’ve squatted high bar is that that’s how I originally learned to squat. However, I’m in the process of switching to low bar. I tried to make the switch during my last cycle but started getting really bad tendinitis and pain through my arms into my shoulders.

The issues seemed to stem from some technical issues and doing them too often. So during my current cycle, I’m alternating weeks where one week I do high bar squats with a little volume, and the next week I do low bar squats working up as heavy as I can get.

This way gives me more time to recover because my arms and shoulders get very beat up from the low bar position. So far I’ve hit PR’s of 752lbs x 3 with knee wraps and a 752lb single no knee wraps.

The word on the street is you added 400lbs to your total in just one year. What major changes in your programming and/or diet took place to help you put on that 400lbs?

It’s really closer to about 250lbs, I just made some rookie mistakes in my first comp. I think my official numbers were 575/450/575 I squat 675 but I was about an inch high and instead of doing it over on my third I went for 750 because I just wanted to feel the weight since it was my only chance in a monolift.

I was quite high on that attempt haha. The bench went well. On deadlift, I locked out 650 but put the weight down too early because I thought I heard the command. In terms of training, I’ve just been extremely focused since I started.

My form on all 3 lifts has improved substantially. In January I started training at Coliseum Gym which is great for powerlifting. The gym has everything you need from a monolift to the Forza competition bench to the deadlift bars.

So just training there with the powerlifting team and being around people who know what they’re doing really aided me in breaking that 2,000lb total barrier.

Do you feel that your form has changed within the last year because your body is still adapting to such a rapid increase, or has your body kept the pace?

My form as I touched on before is way better than when I first started. Maintaining good form in positioning during lifts is very important to me, more so than actually getting the lift. The way I view lifts is there are certain acceptable reasons for missing a lift and certain unacceptable reasons.

For example, with a squat, the only acceptable reason to miss is that your legs weren’t strong enough to push the weight. An unacceptable reason would be bending over too far and not being able to get back into the proper position to finish the lift which actually is similar to something that recently occurred at my last competition.

How much assistance work do you do to maintain such an impressive physique?

Kevin Oak

I used to do a lot of assistance/accessory work and lifted more like a bodybuilder but as time has passed I’ve done less and less and stick primarily to the big three movements. What I will do is variations of the main three lifts to target weaknesses such as Zercher Squats for squat, board presses for bench press, and stiff leg deadlifts to help my deadlift.

There is a very clear racial disparity in strength sports in America, what do you think it will take to get more African-Americans involved in US strength sports?

African Americans are a monitory in Strength sports however I wouldn’t necessarily say there are barriers to entry which is important. I’ve personally never felt awkward competing in powerlifting but at the moment powerlifting isn’t very popular in the African American community.

I do believe it’s becoming more popular it will probably just take some time and just seeing good examples of African American strength athletes.

How do you feel about rounded-upper back deadlifts? This is a fairly rhetorical question.

If you’re pulling real weight it’s basically a necessity. When people say not to round your back when you deadlift they’re being very broad. The key is not to round your lower back. I can’t think of any top dead lifters that don’t round their upper back.

There’s plenty of 3 plate deadlifters pulling with backs straighter than arrows though.

Squat, bench, or deadlift: Which is your favorite, and which would you pick to do forever, if you could only do one?

My favorite of three varies. Right now it’s probably the squat since hitting some good numbers in training right now. With bench press at the moment I’m doing a lot of lockout work trying to build up to a 520 – 530 bench press in November at World Champs.

And for the deadlift at the moment I’m doing a lot of stiff leg and sumo Deadlifts trying to strengthen my lower back and hips (I’m a conventional puller) so squats are the only lift I’m really throwing weight around.

Usually whatever I’m doing best at is my favorite. If I could only do one it would be Deadlifts. It’s the easiest to set up for yet takes the most energy and probably utilizes the most muscle.

Where do you see your lifting career in the next five years?

Right now I’m focused on World Championships in Australia this November. My goal for that meet is a 2,100+ lb total at 220lbs which would be the world record. After that, I have the Raw Unity Meet in February.

I won my division last year so I’m looking to defend my title. Besides, I’m looking to compete at 220lbs through 2015 and probably move up to the 242’s after that.

Do you have any pieces of advice for up-and-coming lifters, or Crossfitters who are looking to transition to Powerlifting?

First off don’t take forever to do your first competition. People always tell me a million reasons why they can’t compete now and have to wait. They seem like legitimate reasons to them but it’s really all BS.

I met Jay Cutler (4 times Mr. Olympia) a couple of years ago and one of the things I told him was I wasn’t sure when I should compete (bodybuilding) and he simply said just pick a local show and compete.

You’re never going to feel 100% ready. Just compete, make your mistakes learn, and keep improving. Another piece of advice is just to make progress. All the little bits of progression build up. And before you know it you’re once mediocre numbers are now elite.

Five things you may not know about me:

1. I’m Nigerian, probably the reason I’m lean and full of fast-twitch muscle from head to toe.

2. I have really bad body awareness. I literally watch every set I do right after to see what I looked like and adjust. And a lot of the time in very surprised by what I see.

3. I was born and raised in Long Island, NY.

4. My favorite color is red.

5. I like taking pictures at 2:30 am.

Instagram: @OakStrong

Facebook: Kevin Oak

YouTube: Kevin Oak Youtube

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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