The Riddle of Steel.  The Legend of Chris the Barbender

The Riddle of Steel. The Legend of Chris the Barbender

“They said you would come. A man of great strength. Conqueror.  One who would crush the snakes of the Earth.” –  Conan the Barbarian 1982.

If you don’t respect this film, there’s a high likelihood you’re a man with low T.  As one of my bros says, “No quarter.” (Shout out to Gerold II of House Washington for that two word quote.)

The following interview is jam packed with practical knowledge and science bombs.  Have your pen, paper, and googling machine ready.


The Northern tundras of Minnesota are often unforgiving. As the snow tapers off here in the DC area, hours away in the tundra, the snow becomes increasingly aggressive and relentless. A relentless that is only matched by the iron will of some of its denizens.

In the icy tundra resides a man, whose iron will and determination outmatch the mightiest and most brutal storms of his Jotun homeland.

That man is Christofer Dietz, a man known for many things. Three of which are Family, Coffee, and the Riddle of Steel – notably, Powerlifting. Chris has had an incredible journey from weight loss and fitness to healthier habits which ultimately led him to powerlifting recently competing in a meet on August 4th. After a back injury that would’ve made many quit not only the sport but lifting period, Chris summoned his resolve and forged himself stronger, wiser, and better than before going on to break state records in the Minnesota USPA Masters 40-44 division.

When we’re not trolling the feeble, quarter squatting, neckpad wearing existence of silly flat earthers ( I assume all flat earthers are quarter squatters.  Why would a human who thinks the earth is flat look at you with a straight face and tell you that their quarter squatting isn’t ok?), Chris is kicking it with his family or in his garage lifting heavy things.

I met Chris a few years ago in an online lifting and nutrition group and have watched him make great progress over the years.  I wanted to interview him right after his competition so we can talk about that a bit and what he did to get back on the platform.

1)Chris. Can you tell us about your fitness transformation?  What inspired you, and when did you begin?  How much weight did you lose?

Sure, It was November 2011. Our son was a little over two years old. We had lost our second son during birth in March of that year… talk about hitting rock-bottom… I was smoking a pack to a pack and a half a day and weighed 240-something. I think 248 was the highest I saw. But it was getting harder and harder just to keep up with my kid and I couldnt even barely wrestle on the floor with him without getting winded. I felt pathetic and weak and out of control of myself and my body. One night while I was outside having a smoke- we never smoked in the house – I just realized enough was enough. I crushed the pack and threw it away. I started walking, worked up to jogging eventually doing as much as a 10k. I was losing weight, but not looking how i wanted so i bought a weight set and started doing typical 3 sets of 10 reps of back/bi, chest/tri, legs type workouts. ended up dropping to 195 Then I found powerlifting and realized I needed to get bigger. 

2) How did you get into Powerlifting, and what made you want to compete?

I had been looking up proper form for squats and bench and deadlifts to make sure I was doing them right as I had gotten a few tweaks along the way. I had found some videos of Dave Tate, Jim Wendler, you know… the 5/3/1 and EliteFTS stuff. That was what got me to start seriously training the powerlifts vs. just working out for general health. I started devouring everything I could find… Juggernaut stuff, Dan Green, the Lilliebridges… I couldnt get enough. I was done being smaller, I wanted to be stronger! Somewhere along the way I read a few things that made me consider competing. The articles or posts or whatever they were basically said you can’t truly call yourself a powerlifter until you’ve put yourself on a platform, in front of a crowd and judges, without the comfort of your crew, your music, and your gym, and performed the lifts under those conditions. Something in that message resonated with me so I found a meet and trained my ass for it. That was the Twin Cities Open in 2015. 

3) You overcame a great injury.  Where many would have gave up.  You did not.  Beyond inspiring.

Thank you Bill, I appreciate that. Yes, I had a pars defect fracture on both sides of L4 resulting in a Spondylolisthesis – meaning my vertebra is shifted forward slightly instead of being stacked up evenly, pars defect fracture on one side on L5 and a fracture vertically in S1. This had caused herniations in the discs between L5-S1, L4-L5, and L3-L4. There were days I could barely walk and I was taking Vicodin and 2000 mg Advil plus Aleve just to get through a day. I couldn’t even get through a grocery store trip without pain. I remember telling my wife and some friends that I was just broken and not sure I could come back… I wallowed in my own BS for a bit before finally going to see the doctor. The Ortho suggested no more lifting and fusion. That sounded terribly wrong to me so I started googling and emailing guys who had suffered similar injuries. That led me to Dr. Stuart McGill and his Big 3. I bought his book, The Back Mechanic and got to work on rehabbing myself. I also reached out to a friend of mine who was in school to be a PHD in Physical Therapy who helped me with some diagnosis and drills to get me back on a platform. Thus began the comeback.

4) Post injury,  I saw you doing many back drills, and core exercises. I’m a big believer in a strong core.  Can you tell us why and how they helped you?

The PT friend and the book both explained it like this; mobility is not my problem, stability is. If my back was like a radio tower, the muscles around it were like the guy-wires that hold it straight and upright. We needed to do everything we can to strengthen those areas in an endurance strength aspect. I do McGill’s Big 3 multiple times a day, those are Bird Dogs, Curl ups, and side planks, plus things like the ab wheel, weighted carries, one-legged DB work, anti rotational stuff, etc… anything and everything that makes the muscles around my spine stronger and stiffer. 


5) A year or so ago, I saw you doing an interesting hypertrophy program. You’re a strong brother but the program called for lighter than you normally lifted?  Why is that, as many people who read this may not know about certain forms of hypertrophy and rehab ( To the audience hypertrophy = muscle growth). Were you ever tempted to “throw more weight on the bar?”

Yeah, Basically it goes like this; If you train the same all the time you’ll eventually reach a point where you get diminishing returns. The way I avoid this is to vary my training based on how close to a meet I am. Directly after a meet, like now, I do lighter weights and lifts that are not the competition lifts. So I’m picking things to work through some weaknesses or deficiencies and little nagging injuries I accumulated during the last cycle. This also gives my body a break from the heavy stuff and offers some new stimulus to adapt to. These are things like lunges, direct bicep and tricep work, High bar and front squats, trap bar deads and RDLs – things I don’t normally do. After this block, roughly 12 weeks, I’ll move into a hypertrophy block which is slightly heavier and slightly more specific to the powerlifts. I’ll use more specialty bars like the SSB, Paused reps, Deficit Deads, things like that. This is to help grow muscle. After 10-12 weeks of that I’ll move into an even heavier and more specific block where I bring back the lifts as I perform them in competition and only 1 or two variations for 10-12 weeks. Then, if I have a meet I’ll move into a peaking phase, if not I go back either to the beginning or at least back to the start of the hypertrophy phase depending on how I feel. Basically I start by building new muscle, then shift to training that muscle to be stronger, then back and forth and back and forth, etc… I’m always tempted to go heavy bro… its just not the smartest way to train. The Iron is a long game, play it appropriately. The people we all look up to have been doing it for decades. They didn’t get that strong and fit in 30 or 90 days or by doing detoxes and diets. Eat right and train smart, be consistent and the results will come. 



6) How did the plan help you?  Most important part of the program(s).

Consistency and discipline. I mean… I have two kids and a wife, life happens, so I plan with some flexibility in case things come up. But I rarely outright skip or miss training sessions and my diet is 80% or more on point most of the time, but I also am not going to tell my kids I’m not going to have McDonalds or ice cream with them on occasion. Life’s too short to not enjoy a Big Mac once in a while. As far as discipline goes, if I waited until I was motivated to train, there’d be plenty of days where the training wouldn’t get done. Motivation is like an emotion, it’s fleeting and ethereal and can be destroyed in a heartbeat. But discipline? Discipline is solid and concrete and 100% controllable. Don’t really feel like training today? Do it anyway. Make it a habit. That’s how results happen. 


7) You mean…even with your injury, you still….squat…depth?  Also how important is deep squatting out there for the cowards and curs? Even after coming from an injury, assuming you can move healthy.

Yeah, there are some reasons why not squatting to depth might make sense but they are limited and don’t apply to most people IMO. If you can get full range of motion, which some people can’t so do your best, that’s going to yield the best results in the long term. I don’t know if I’m lucky or just smart about how I rehabbed and continue to build my back, but I haven’t had a problem hitting full depth. One thing I’ll touch on as well is that with powerlifting, I only have to get the crease of the hip below the top of the knee, I dont HAVE to go ass to grass. That said, given what I explained above about my training blocks, unless i”m within a month or two of a meet where i’m training to replicate the lifts AS PERFORMED ON A PLATFORM, I go as deep as I can as often as I can. 


8) What motivated you to return to the platform?  How important was it to you?

I just didn’t feel like that injury was the end for me. I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t done. I could not accept that fate. 

***On the Battlefield!!! Below are Chris’s lifts on the platform***



9) I often see you do your own programming.  When programming for yourself, what do you look for?

I typically look at areas I’m weak or I review my lifts and see where I’m failing and coming up short and try to program to address those areas. 


10)  You have an awesome garage gym.  Why a garage vs somewhere else? Any advice to anyone looking to have their own set up at home?

With my wife and kids I don’t feel like taking an hour or two a day at a gym away from them is my best use of time. I can do it at home and still be there for them. It’s an added bonus that my kids see me doing this and want to try too. Its cool that they see me getting stronger as just a part of life. Hopefully that’ll stick with them as they get older and they’ll understand being stronger is never a negative thing. Advice? Make sure you choose things that allow for safety if you’re training alone. I have safety bars and such on my rack in case of a dropped bar or if I get stuck or an injury happens. 


11) Rep Ranges

Let’s go over rep ranges. I notice people get caught up a lot in such.  What’s your highest rep range during your strength phase, and also the hypertrophy phase and why?

I myself typically mix a strength/hypertrophy phase in favor of strength and hypertrophy follows.  Do you ever mix this?  What is the advantage of prioritizing one phase over the other?

There’s a lot of overlap between these questions so let me try to answer it all at once. First, when we talk about hypertrophy vs. strength, it’s not an either/or, meaning they aren’t mutually exclusive. I look at it as more of a sliding scale where the way you train shifts the stress on your body and therefore the way your body adapts more towards muscle growth or more towards muscle strength. Ina  meet, it’s all about how much weight you can lift one time, so the further I am from a meet, the closer I am to the hypertrophy end of the spectrum. Then it follows that the closer I get to a meet, the more I shift my training towards the strength of the spectrum. Planning my training this way is called periodization. In other words, periodization is setting up my training into smaller focused blocks where I’m focused on a specific stress/adaptation vs.trying to do everything all at once, all the time.

That said, I base my training off of RPE which is Rate of Perceived Exertion, or how hard a specific set feels and not on a specific amount of reps. To translate that to real life, RPE is a rating of 1-10. 10 is a max effort where I could not do a single rep more. a 9 means I could do one more rep, 8 means 2 more reps, etc.. At the start of each block I’m looking for an RPE of 7-8 and increasing it over the 4 weeks to where I end up around each set being a 9 or 10. When I’m training for hypertrophy, that usually works out to being in the 8-12 rep range at the start, but as the weight goes up each week, I end up more in the 6-8 range. When I’m working more on strength, it’ll be 4-8 in the beginning and 2-5 by the end. When I peak right before a meet it’s usually in the 2-4 range week 1 and 2-3 before the pre-meet week deload.
TL;DR – I start by training to prehab/rehab and grow muscle, then as I move through the training cycle that scale slides over and I’m training that new muscle to be stronger eventually culminating in a meet with new 1 rep maxes/PRs hopefully. 


***Below is a stiff leg deficit deadlit** Great exercise for hams (hamstrings) lower back and glutes.***

12) Cardio/Conditioning

Often times we see Cardio mentioned as a joke in the meme community but do you do any traditional cardio?  Do you jog, jumprope, or anything like that? How would it help you and how would it help those looking to get into powerlifting or in your opinion, strong folks period?  In the future, do you have an ideal cardio set up for your home/garage gym of excellence?

Following the outline I explained above, When I’m further out from a meet I’ll do some Crossfit type WODS that are more PL based. What I mean is that I’m not doing WODS with Oly lifts because I dont have bumpers mainly. But I do power cleans, burpees, box jumps, pull ups, things like that. So I’ll do more of the bodyweight only WODS to get conditioning in. I do have a jump rope and I have a treadmill and a bike so I do those more until I get into the month or two before a meet. Then it’s walking or easy biking only. Performing on the platform is priority No. 1, and recovery plays a big role in that so I don’t need to be killing myself with WODS right then. 


13) Pre workout nutrition

We already discussed food, but I notice what seems simple to us may not be so to others.  Do you have any special meals geared towards workout times?  If so, why?

Yeah, I carb-cycle meaning my carbs are higher on days where I train and I try to pack most of my daily macro allotment around my workout. Fats are the opposite of that, lower around my workout times, higher further away. Protein is even all day. For my training I usually have a Intra-workout shake that I sip on which is typically Orange Gatorade, creatine, and vanilla protein. Tastes kind of like an Orange Julius or a dreamsicle. 


14) I notice your family is a huge support system to you.  How does that help? (Shout out to the Mrs).

Training is a big commitment. As I was saying earlier, it takes discipline and consistency over a long period of time to build strength, its not a 30 day shred plan. In terms of priorities, my family comes first so without their support, it probably doesn’t happen. But as it is, the victories are even sweeter with them in my corner. My wife has been amazing through all the training cycles and diets – things were rough as we tried low carb, Paleo, “clean” eating… you know? I do most of the cooking so they kind of go along with whatever I’m doing,  until I found flexible dieting anyways. There were times where I was training at 5AM or during dinner or even at ten or eleven at night because it was the only time I could get it in that day, and she steps up with cooking or whatever needs to happen. My Love… she’s amazing. 



15) I have a hilarious time watching you troll flat earthers.  Besides lifting, you have an interest in Geology, correct?

I’ve always had an interest in science whether it was Astronomy, Biology, Earth Science, Physics, Nutrition, lifting… I took all science classes with my electives in High School and as many as I could in college. 


16)  Anything to say to those recovering from injuries and want to get back into heavy lifting?

Take your time and do it right. Play the long game. Rushing back will likely just lead to re-injury and set you back further. 


17) What’s your diet like?

Flexible. I eat a lot of the same things all the time, especially when I’m close to a meet and trying to stay in a weight class. Lean meats – usually beef or steak, rice, potatoes, oats, whole eggs, lots of veggies – we built a garden so we have fresh veggies this time of year. I leave some room for things like cookies or ice cream though. Life’s too short to not enjoy ice cream with the kids on a hot day. 


18) Any books you recommend that deal with training and programming or just books in general that you like?

Yeah, For training, The Art and Science of Lifting by Greg Nuckols and Omar Isuf, The Renaissance Diet by Dr. Mike Israetel, Scientific Principles of Strength Training by Dr. Israetel, Dr. Hoffman, and Chad Wesley Smith, and The Reactive Training Manual by Mike Tuchscherer. Those books more or less shape my own programming. For just in general, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, there’s so many great books man… 


19) Any personal quotes you live by? 

I first heard these words in high school and they’ve always stuck with me. I hear them in my darkest, most trying times and they help me find that something extra… “If there is no struggle, there is no progress” – Frederick Douglass. If you want something, and have the means to obtain it, fight for it! 


20) Any closing statements?

Lift heavy and squat deep. Eat to support your goals. Train, Rest, Recover. Find good people who support you and you can support back. As Dave Tate always says, Live, Learn, and Pass On. That’s what it’s about. 

If you’d like to follow Chris on IG, you can hit up 00dietz. If you’re a cur, or a coward dont’ request it, as it’s private.


Hope you enjoyed the info, and also rekindled the warrior spirit within you.  It takes a lot to overcome an injury.  Take a look at how the “doctor” wanted to do surgery that would stop what brought him joy, instead of actively trying to help him. See how he went and sought expert advice and with grit and the support of family and friends not only came back, but returned stronger than ever before.  A true warrior.  That’s part of the overall picture I want to give to people. Resiliency.  Not giving up,  even when it’s hard.  When the sky darkens, and the wolves come, what will you do?  When many around you tell you to give up, do your give up, or do you sharpen your axe and fight the monsters to the end?

These interviews I often do with the goal in mind of enhancing your perspective.  I want to share the stories of others to both educate and inspire you. I “put the whole hood on” so to speak. LOL.  To quote one of my favorite literary characters, “The thing can be done, if the desire be coupled with courage.”

Until the next time friends.



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