Moe Westmoreland, an appropriately named Highland Games competitor in Australia, rang me to say that I MUST interview Matt Vincent.
Matt Vincent is arguably the top Highland Games Competitor in the World at this point in time.
In this interview Matt explains his journey through this sport, to where he is now, and where he wants to take it.
Phil Burgess: How did you get started in Highland Games?
Matt Vincent: I first heard about the Highland Games while I was throwing in college at LSU. A coach and team-mates had done them before out on the west coast. I never realized there was such an opportunity to compete in them.
My first steps after college back into the world of strengths sports was with Strongman in 2007. At that point I had taken a couple years off from real lifting. My focus was on working and trying to figure out the adult life thing.
After 2 full years of Strongman where I was extremely mediocre at the sport, I grew tired of the competition environment that was found there. I had won a handful of full platinum level shows but nothing major.
What I did find is that I really enjoyed training again. I also realized how much I missed training heavy.
After Strongman I transitioned into heavy geared Powerlifting. This was the first time that I had trained with a group. I was very fortunate and found myself in a top group in the country here in Baton Rouge. Garry Frank ran the group and there was tons of knowledge to be gained on proper lifting.
Meanwhile during this time I had started travelling alot for work and got the chance to train all over the country with various groups and people that I have looked up to in the Iron game.
I racked up lots of information and listened to what everyone said. This time of travelling and meeting some really accomplished lifters helped shape me and my training.
After a year of Powerlifting with the APF and competing at 275lbs I earned my three best lifts of 875-700-675 for a total of 2250lbs. I had earned an elite total and was very happy with that.
I had started doing more throwing again and had the chance of doing my first Highland games in Nov of 2008.
My next season was a bit more serious and I still played around doing some Highlander contests (half strongman-half highland games).
I found some success winning the 2009 NAHA national championships and taking second the following year.
Also in 2010 I won the AM World Championships for the Highland Games. I also competed in a Raw Powerlifting meet during the offseason just to stay in the competitive mind set. I won best lifter at 275 and lifted 675-425-665 totaling 1765lbs
In 2011 I decided that Highland games would be my main focus and I laid my programming out for the entire season, the same as I had done years before in track. I competed for all of 2011 with the goal of winning the IHGF AM World Championships.
This championships was different due to it providing qualification for a spot to compete at the Pro World Championships. I managed to win and qualify.
After competing in my first Professional Highland Games at the World Championships, I came out 2nd.
That is pretty much the background leading up to this season. This year I have travelled a ton and competed more than I ever have before. This season I have not finished any lower than 2nd and I have won the 2012 US Open Championship in Chicago as well as the 2012 World Championship in Fergus, Ontario.
Phil Burgess: What does holding the Highland Games World Championship mean to you? And what are your goals moving forward over the next couple of years?
Matt Vincent: Winning the WC this year means a ton.
I feel that the field this year is one of the most competitive it has ever been. Also as an Athlete I am happy that I can say the plan I laid out for training to be in the best position possible to win, was successful. This is the game that my sights have been on since Oct. of last year. There has been a lot of work put in from then to now.
Next season I think is going to be just as challenging. I really think the Pro class is going to continue to improve every year. With that said my goal is to win the WC, Celtic, Pleasanton, Claw, as well as the inaugural Highland Games at the Arnold.
I want to be the best. I think I’ll attack training and throwing like I did the last two years and continue to improve.
I am also enjoying meeting people and getting to travel. Getting to travel the world and see new things and meet people is what really drives me in this. Getting to see the world with my wife a couple times a year has made this sport perfect for me. I really want to continue to push my fellow competitors and push the sport.
Phil Burgess: Your brother Andy is also a Strength Athlete, what does he compete in and how has he helped you in your development?
Matt Vincent: Andy has a similar background as me with Strongman. He found much more success in Strongman than I did and he was able to win his Pro-card.
Just being around another high level strength athlete is always great. Andy is my best friend and it really is great to have someone to bounce training and throwing ideas off of.
He has also helped me stay focused. His strength is always something I really strive for. He is by far one of the strongest guys on the Professional circuit. We really have been lucky to be able to occasionally train together and push each other to get stronger and be smarter about training and throwing.
Phil Burgess: Moe “Viking Power” Westmoreland says that he believes you are bringing the Highland Games into the 21st century, as you do not seem so set by the traditional ways?
Matt Vincent: That is interesting. I am not really trying to change the sport. I am just having as much fun as I can.
Lots of guys take strength sports very seriously. And I mean making sure that everyone has the perception of them as a tough, strong guy.
It is as though they are clinging to find something to define themselves so desperately they suck all the fun out of it. I found much more of this in Strongman and Powerlifting than Highland Games. I also fully understand that we are entertainment. I like wearing bright colors and being loud on the field. It is part of putting on a show. Without the crowd we don’t get to do this.
Don’t get me wrong I train my ass off. I also have a lot of passion for throwing and training. However it is a hobby for me. I do love throwing, but it is never going to pay my bills and I am not going to lose sleep over it. I think part of that mentality is another reason I can stay calm and hit big marks when they matter.
I guess one of the things I am doing differently (than most highland guys, but the pro-class all knows how to train) is training for the Highland games just like a thrower should.
With that I mean that you have to look at throwing far as the biggest priority of your training. I would also take a throwing PR over a lifting PR.
Throwing involves more factors that just Powerlifting or Strongman. Technique is the most important thing. If you can’t be in the right position to apply force then you will never throw far. Proper technique makes your strength and speed more efficient.
Phil Burgess: Do you think that HG are getting more popular? And what do you think the sport will need to do to become more mainstream?
Matt Vincent: It is such a weird thing. It feels like it is getting more popular to me, but I do not have a frame of reference. I am so new to the sport and had no idea really about what was happening with it before 2009.
I know just like anything when the economy is hurting everything suffers. Games and festivals have cut budgets, pro classes, etc with less people having expendable income less people attend.
Becoming more mainstream for our sport is tough. It is not something that everyone can do. So the more people you alienate from the get-go the less people will be interested in watching it. Crossfit has proven this. It is something that everyone can participate in with almost no equipment.
Also the fan base is made of people who participate in the sport. Our sport does not have that mass appeal. I am not sure what needs to be done for the sport to become “Mainstream”. The number one thing is the games have to be more appealing to the avg. Joe and also be more entertaining to the masses.
Phil Burgess: What is your favourite and least favourite event?
Matt Vincent: I really love the stones. It is the shot putter in me. My least favorite event right now is probably caber, but I am getting better at it.
The only reason I don’t like it is I’m weak at it!
Phil Burgess: What do you love the most about the HG?
Matt Vincent: For me it is a toss-up of getting to travel and cameradarie with fellow competitors. I am a wanderer and love traveling to new places. I have always been an experience junkie. I want to travel , eat, compete, etc do things other people don’t get to.
Getting to hangout with the professional group has been so much fun this year. I find it much more relaxed than I did with the AM group. No one has anything to try and prove to you. Everyone in the Pro group has had success in previous sports and just knows how to turn the intensity on and off. The non-stop ball busting is one of the things I cherish the most.
Phil Burgess: Can you give us a high level example of a weeks training in season, what you do on what days?
My training varies for different times of the season. I run a modified Block Program. I really try to keep my gym time focused to my six main lifts: squat, bench, push press, deadlift, clean, and snatch.
I think of all my strength training as GPP for my throwing. All my % change week to week and depending on what block I am but a standard day looks like this.
I also spend considerable time now warming up properly and re/prehabing any injuries or trouble spots.
Standard in season Training. 3 days a week – two main lifts and two accessories.
LIFTING: I do these three days between Sunday and Thursday.
- Good mornings
- Push Press
- Heavy Single Arm rows
- Box jumps
- Single leg jumps
THROWS TRAINING- I also throw three days a week in training sometimes. I will do both same day.
- 16 hammer
- 22 Hammer
Phil Burgess: What are your weaknesses and how are you working to improve them?
Matt Vincent: My biggest weakness is inconsistency in the caber. It is a lack of technique. I need the reps this off-season and need better timed pulls. This will also come with the more Pro level sticks I get a chance to turn.
I also think I need to drop some body fat. It is only keeping me from going faster and being more flexible. This off season I again will spend some time getting into better shape. I will play with my diet and get more focused on that side of it. It is a tricky thing because I am not interested in weighing any less than 280lb but just need to continue to change body composition.
Phil Burgess: Finally, who do you believe is the greatest HG athlete ever?
Matt Vincent: Ryan Vierra Is the greatest of all-time in my book.
He was really one of the first to train specifically for the games like a thrower. He also was so dominant for so many years. I get lots of comparisons to him, so I think that is pretty good company.
My favorite competitor is Petur Gudmundsson. Petur was an Olympic level shot putter and has been a great support for me in my progression into the games. I have had the chance to be around him and his family and honestly he is one of my favorite people. We share many ideas about the games and throwing.
Thank-you Matt for your time, I’m sure the readers will appreciate and learn from your open-ness on your HG experience.
One final note…..Matt has written a book, “Training Lab – Strength Training for the Highland Games”, a must read book for anyone who is serious about improving their performance in the Highland Games.