Powerlifting Coach on Don Jr.'s Terrible Form and the Dark Trap of Ego: 'It Gives Powerlifting a Bad Name'


On Sunday, Donald Trump Jr. announced that he had reached a new personal record in the amount of weight that he could put on his back and squat. “Let’s go, Don!” shouts his spotter before looking away, toward what is probably a mirror, in the Instagram video. “Come on, big boy,” he says. After completing what seems to be a wobbly move, letting out an animalistic grunt, and slamming the barbell back onto its holder, the big boy looks into the camera, eyes squinting and face proud.

It’s not the first time Don Jr. has publicly documented his #crossfit #squats #lifting #lift #strength journey. In November, he posted a video of him deadlifting with such blatant and offensive disregard for proper form that it made waves across lifting communities of the ’net. All these months later, DTJ—despite being one of the most unfortunately visible figures in the country, like a large power plant, or your nude neighbor who “lost” his curtains—continues to have shitty form. (Can’t you pay to be good at skills?)

Jezebel spoke with a lifting expert—Paulie Steinman, founder and owner of the South Brooklyn Weightlifting Club, a USA Powerlifting Senior International Coach, and USA Powerlifting Referee—for his take on what is going wrong, and what might be motivating Don Jr. to periodically embarrass himself on the internet while also risking personal injury.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

JEZEBEL: What sort of lift is he doing?

PAULIE STEINMAN: He’s squatting.

What is this lift good for?

In general terms, we call the squat the king of all lifts because it’s good for the entire body, and uses the entire body. It crosses the most joints in the body and has the highest range of motion. It’s good for just general strength.

How do you perform this lift, ideally?

Ideally, the bar can go more or less anywhere on the upper part of your back, [though] there is a specific range if you’re competing in a sport. What it looks like Donald Trump Jr. is doing is a low-bar back squat and then a high-bar back squat. The way that I coach the back squat is: I use the rules of competition where you have to do what is called “hit depth.” Depth means that the top of your leg, where it meets the hip crease, goes lower than the top of your kneecap. Also, just from a health point of view, it’s better on your joints, it’s better on your muscles when you do hit depth. In this video, he’s definitely not hitting depth; he’s nowhere near it.

Tell me more about his form—what’s right, what’s wrong?

I mean, hey, he’s got a bar on his back. And by that I mean he actually is attempting to do some kind of squat. That’s always positive, because we like to see as many people out there in the world lifting as possible. After that, I’m looking through the video right now—it seems that he takes his time to set up properly, he starts with his good gaze, but then it all goes to hell after that.

it all goes to hell after that.

He’s out of his league in lifting this just because it’s way too heavy. We can tell when somebody cuts depth, when they’re squatting too high. On top of that, his knees are caving in as well—we call that valgus knees, which means he doesn’t have control of his adductors, also known as your groin muscles. He holds his breath, then he kind of throws his neck back—I usually don’t like people to throw their neck back too hard when they’re squatting because that puts too much strain on the cervical spine and you can end up with a wicked tension headache later on. Also, it does always make me nervous when people are spotting but not really spotting, or people are cheering someone on and the lift is not legit. That’s not the way that I would coach.

And it’s really not that heavy for someone of his size, and somebody who says that he’s been training. The thing that kills me is at the end where he says, “PR, baby.” I don’t know what this is a PR in. That’s my observation.

How does this video compare to the deadlift video from November?

It’s not as scary, just because he’s cutting his depth. But it’s still that kind of sloppy, beginner thing. Here’s the thing—and I haven’t seen that deadlift video in awhile, but I just remember cringing like crazy when I saw that deadlift.

Oh god, I’m reading the comments in here too and he’s thanking everybody. It’s funny. One of the things that I coach—I’ve been the coach of the Masters National Team for USA Powerlifting and we coach people who are 40 up to their 80s at world competitions. So he says, “Not bad for a 40-year-old dad who sits at desks all week.” Well, you know, it’s kind of lame. I just got back from a world competition where I’m watching people who are 20 years older than him squat more than he does…

In your experience, why do men try to lift above their abilities even though it might result in a horrible injury?

Ego. Ego’s the biggest. Honestly, for me, coaching in a gym— I own a powerlifting gym in Brooklyn— [and] we’ve got type A personalities. Equally gendered as well, I have to keep everyone in check, but testosterone obviously has a way of affecting ego. Ego has a way of affecting ego. People around you who are supporting you and cheering you on when you’re doing crap lifting has a way of affecting your ego. That’s a big part of it. Ego’s always gonna make you reach further than you’re currently capable of, and ego’s a lot of what gets you injured.

When you’re coaching people do you have a way of encouraging humility?

Absolutely. It’s baked in to the way that we coach. We set a standard, right from the start we set a standard. We say if it doesn’t hit this standard, and it’s an objective standard which is outside of the lifter, it doesn’t count. And we also keep ego in check. Clearly, somebody like this is using this thing, this fake milestone to define themselves, and it’s not real. To me, if he came up to me and said, hey, I hit 300 in a squat, I’d say well you need to hit depth, that doesn’t count. Otherwise, you can keep squatting higher and higher. We need to have some kind of standard by which we judge things. I’m also an international referee for powerlifting, so I’ve seen it all as far as that goes. It’s not anything, at the same time, you can kind of head it off at the pass by saying, “Haters gonna hate,” but it’s not about haters. How about we keep it real?

if he came up to me and said, ‘hey, I hit 300 in a squat,’ I’d say well you need to hit depth, that doesn’t count.

It sounds like he’s used to being able to say, here’s a PR, I did this, and nobody will tell him he’s wrong.

But what exactly did somebody do? That’s like saying everybody gets a participation award. Just because he showed up and he did it, that’s fine, but I guess it depends on what standard we’re holding it to. So it goes back to what I was saying before—kudos for putting a bar on your back, and kudos for moving, but don’t call it what it’s not. I don’t know, honestly, if humility is one of the character traits here.

I’m not seeing that either.

That’s part of it. I can show you a hundred videos of people hitting depth, of people squatting 700, 800, 900 pounds, and being extremely humble. As far as his lifting goes, I guess that’s what irks me too, because it gives powerlifting a bad name. And this is my life.

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