When you made sports history in 2008 with your Olympic victory, you kissed your winning barbell. What’s your relationship with the barbell like today, now that you are down 100 lbs, Mr. Steiner?
Matthias Steiner: It still plays a role in my life. Not such a major one as it used to do, but after all, this is the trade I learned. I still train with the barbell. Not to do so would be such a shame – and a little stupid as well. Ultimately, when performed correctly, training with a barbell is more effective than traditional training. I can train more effectively in a shorter period of time.
Boosted by trends like CrossFit, the barbell is currently experiencing a renaissance in fitness sports.
Absolutely. More and more studios and types of other sports are incorporating barbell training. Track and field, basketball, swimming – they all benefit from strength training with the barbell. Yet this hype can also be problematic in fitness studios: You can end up doing a lot wrong. When I watch videos online, for example, when they’re trying to teach a squat: There’s a lot that’s not right. And we’re just talking about a basic exercise here, not the snatch or the clean and jerk.
Do we underestimate technique with weightlifting?
Yes. Where strength is concerned, there are biological limits. I can only reach these limits with the proper technique. Just like with a car: What’s the point in having a ton of horsepower if the chassis isn’t right? If it’s not built aerodynamically?
Where are you today compared to the nearly 450 lbs you lifted in the snatch and nearly 570 lbs you lifted in the clean and jerk in Beijing?
Oh man, far! Maybe 265 lbs for the snatch and 330 lbs with the clean and jerk? No way will I go for more than that – I don’t train often enough to do that. But squats are great no matter what. I can still do more than 440 lbs there. All told, I simply have too much fun with other sports, like cycling and hiking, which take up their own place in my life and take time.
How many times a week do you train?
I do classic strength training once a week. Otherwise, I incorporate short sessions when I’m traveling. Ten minutes of sit-ups, push-ups and side planks always works in a hotel room!
You’ve lost nearly 100 lbs. How long did that take?
About a year.
And how does your new weight feel?
Well I was familiar with the feeling from before. I didn’t always weigh as much as I did in Beijing. At the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, I was still in the 330 lbs and under group – I was built like a Greek statue (he laughs). I only entered the super heavyweight class after that. But that hard-won bulk I then gained was all muscle, of course. That was really interesting – to feel how much stronger I was becoming.
So, what do you do with that kind of strength after your career as a weightlifter?
That’s something I realized very quickly: “330 lbs is not something that is sustainable in everyday life.” It’s impossible to find any clothes that fit. It’s harder to get into the car. You have to take a nap to recover from training. You sweat a little bit every time you move. On the other hand, you can do deep squats with 685 lbs with that strength. Now, that just doesn’t work anymore. But I’m done with that.
There are already a number of fitness and lifestyle programs with famous faces – what makes the “Steiner Principle” (“Steiner Prinzip”) different?
It’s not your traditional fitness program; it’s everyday advice. Advice with a lot of utility and knowledge about exercise and nutrition, with a lot of possible applications in everyday life. So there’s no strict plan to follow. Instead you take each person’s individual circumstances into consideration. In addition, I want to sharpen my readers’ perceptions of their bodies’ requirements: What does it really need?
So almost like an educational program for body and health awareness?
Yes, you could put it that way. We also need to shift our focus back to how natural exercise is. Something’s gone wrong there. Just look at how children exercise without even thinking about it – about what our bodies are capable of doing at such a young age. And then once children turn six, they are made to sit at their desks at school day after day and don’t get up again all the way through to their careers. This is so outdated!
If you had to give someone just three tips for healthy, active living, what would they be?
This is precisely the reason I wrote the book, together with my wife. People have seen my own physical transformation and say, “Mr. Steiner, give me some tips!” But tips are not the answer. The answer lies in how everything is interrelated. Because of this, the "Steiner Prinzip" comprises eleven pillars, all of which are linked and really only make sense all together.
1. Burn more calories than you consume!
2. Train endurance and strength!
3. Stay away from diets!
4. Never starve, eat regularly.
5. Be a child again, integrate exercise in your daily life.
6. Know the food that is good for you.
7. Insulin stops fat burning.
8. A constant blood sugar level helps loosing weight.
9. Enjoy eating and drinking!
10. Regular eating helps loosing weight.
11. Fat itself does not make you fat – the combination with sugar does.
For many people, changing their diets means doing without and deprivation. Is this the case for you?
I often hear, “Mr. Steiner, it’s so great how you maintain your weight and stay the course!” This has nothing to do with staying the course. Just like many other people, when I went to the Christmas market I ate crappy food. But I have this fundamental knowledge about how I exercise and what I eat. I don’t have to chasten myself. I get enough to eat. These are fears I absolutely want to relieve people of. I enjoy food! I even eat pizza or a piece of cake sometimes. But I do it in moderation in terms of quantity and frequency, and it has to be the right quality! And independent of the food industry.
What do you mean?
The food industry is constantly enticing us to consume sugar, to eat foods that are available on demand. A lot of what we see in the supermarket has no nutritional value – only caloric value. Specifically, there is a massive difference in how I can cover my daily caloric needs: with industrial, mass-produced goods with no nutritional value or with real food. This is something I break down simply into the basics in my book in a way that everyone can understand.
You suffer from type-1 diabetes: How does this affect your nutrition and daily life?
As a diabetic, I need to calculate, estimate or at least account for every single thing I eat. Even various forms of exercise affect my blood sugar levels, which I am supposed to constantly maintain at a certain level. The same is true of a healthy person. A consistent blood sugar level helps you lose weight, but it also helps you maintain it. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to nutrition. But it’s not something I have to do all day long; instead, I have a basic knowledge that I apply when I need it – that’s the Steiner Prinzip.
What makes a healthy, nutritional meal?
Above all that you prepare it yourself. Preparing my own food means I know and choose each and every ingredient and can be sure it doesn’t contain any flavor enhancers or hidden sugars. Even spaghetti and meat sauce can be a high-quality and healthy dish: With locally-sourced meat and vegetables from an organic shop.
Any suggestions without meat?
Steamed kohlrabi with a bit of coconut oil and fresh herbs and one or two fried eggs. That tastes wonderful. A fantastic meal!
Read more about Matthias Steiner and his active lifestyle at his facebook page.