Posted on 04 Dec 2013
8 min read
I recently got the chance to chat with Joel Snape, associate editor of Men’s Fitness magazine and all round good egg, who, when not writing about all things fitness related, is an amateur strongman and Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt.
We discussed everything from battling it out in the ring, dirty squats and Andrew WK to Sunday roasts, Brazilian house parties and trading places with Batman.
Hi Joel, thanks for talking with us today.
To kick things off, can you tell us a little bit more about how you got started in sport and fitness?
I’ve always, always been interested in fighting, ever since I watched Jackie Chan films and was obsessed with Street Fighter 2 as a kid.
Ever since uni I’ve dabbled with different styles of fighting, but getting into MMA (and having some amateur fights) was enough to make me take strength and conditioning seriously.
I’m a bit more scientific about things now.
Growing up, who were your sporting idols?
He’s not really a sportsman, but I’m going to say Jackie Chan again.
And Bruce Lee, obviously.
Also I didn’t really like Prince Naseem Hamed’s attitude at the time, but I always wanted to be able to fight like him.
So, being primarily a fighter/strength athlete, can you tell us a little bit more about your training regime?
What type of workouts do you favour? Any tips that you would pass on?
I’ve messed around with a lot of training regimes, but the one I keep coming back to is Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1.
It’s basic, focuses on the big moves, and allows you to progress almost indefinitely.
My best ever results came from doing it over three days.
Squat/push-press on one day, deadlift/bench on another, and then a strongman-based conditioning day.
I think fight cardio has to come from fighting, so I just train a lot of BJJ/wrestling and try not to skip any rounds when the sparring starts.
Who would be your dream training partner?
Do you mean long-term, or for a one-off?
Either way the answer’s probably Ronda Rousey.
I’ve done a couple of years of judo and I love it.
I’m also a big fan of Ronda’s force-the-armbar style of jits and I think I could learn a lot from her.
Also, she trains like a maniac, and she seems like she’d be fun to hang out with.
If you could only do one exercise for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I always think this is a weird question, but I’d say farmer’s walk.
My favourite move is actually the deadlift but the farmer’s has a bit more carryover to fat-loss, conditioning, and having awesome abs.
What do you think about when you’re digging deep to get out that last squat?
Usually I’m pretty hyped by the time I get to that point.
I’m one of those guys who stomps around in front of the squat rack and squeezes the shit out of the bar before they even unrack it.
My best results have always come from listening to Andrew WK’s seminal first album, I Get Wet.
Also, I usually can’t tell because I’ve got headphones on, but I’ve been told that what seems like a grunt to me is actually often more of a full-bore yell.
What’s on your playlist before a fight/strongman competition?
For strongman: if it isn’t Andrew WK, it’s Metallica or Iron Maiden.
Number Of The Beast will easily add a couple of reps to your car deadlift.
For fighting, I actually go the other way.
Usually I want to be chilled out and calm, so I listen to a post-rock band called Explosions In The Sky (you might have heard them on the Friday Night Lights soundtrack).
I don’t really get angry in fights, I just think about getting the job done.
What is your approach to nutrition?
And what does your diet look like in the run up to a competition?
My plan for eating is pretty close to what Samurai Diet author Nate Miyaki recommends.
Protein and veg at every meal, more carbs on training days (and around training sessions), don’t worry about eating rice and potatoes, eat your biggest meal in the evenings, and have one or two cheat meals a week.
It’s the most sustainable approach, which is what matters, really.
Having said that, I booze far more than Miyaki would recommend.
On your blog, you mention you have trained with Shaolin monks, Thaix boxers, Japanese breakdancers and BJJ black belts.
Who trains hardest and who are the most fun to drink with?
The Shaolin and Thai guys probably train equally hard, because they start young and it’s a potential route out of poverty.
The difference, I think, is that the monks burn out pretty young.
They’re past their performance peak at 26, and a lot of the older guys seem to not enjoy training, which is pretty understandable.
Thai-style training is interesting because they’ll kill it on the pads and bag, but take it relatively easy in sparring.
They fight so frequently (sometimes once a week) that they can’t afford injuries, and also they learn a lot in the ring.
Drinking, hands-down, is the BJJ guys.
When I was in Brazil a bunch of the guys invited me to a house party and a couple of clubs.
It’s safe to say I have never got so drunk or danced with so many ladies.
Who is the most inspiring person you’ve met as Features Editor at Men’s Fitness?
Too many to mention, but the one that springs most readily to mind is Mark Twight, who founded Gym Jones and trained Henry Cavill for Superman.
He was an immensely well-respected alpine-style climber back in the day.
Plus, at the age of 51 (I think), he absolutely destroyed me in one of GJ’s signature deadlift-and-box-jump workouts.
He’s also a very nice guy.
If you could choose one athlete, living or dead, to go for a pint and a steak meal with, who would it be and why?
Weird answer, but probably Brad Alan Lewis, who won the rowing double sculls in the 1984 Olympics.
His books are full of fascinating, insightful stuff about life as well as rowing.
I’ve re-read his annotated workout journals (Lido For Time, 14:39) about three times.
Also apparently he makes amazing waffles.
I see you are a keen chef.
If the GymTalk team came round your house for dinner, what would you rustle up?
And what would the after dinner entertainment be?
Well, my forte’s probably the Sunday roast.
So a nice lemon-and-rosemary chicken with a ton of veg and some goose-fat roast potatoes.
The usual accompaniment is the previous night’s UFC – with a bunch of pullups between fights, depending on how energetic I’m feeling.
Where do you stand on the use of steroids in bodybuilding?
I don’t know enough about bodybuilding to comment on that specifically, but my stand on steroids is basically:
1) Most people aren’t anywhere near enough to reaching their genetic potential that steroids should even be an option.
Taking steroids to nudge your bench press up to 120kg (or whatever) is just laziness, and half the point of training is to breed good habits – like not being lazy – that will transfer to other areas of your life.
2) If you aren’t a professional athlete, the goal of your training should be to live as well as possible, for as long as possible, so taking something that might kill you before you see your grandkids seems counter-productive.
If you could go back in time and give your 16 year old self three pieces of advice, what would they be?
They would be:
1) Start Brazilian jiu-jitsu right now.
2) Stop doing curls and do more pullups.
3) Buy shares in Apple.
If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional, who would it be and why?
That is an insane question on so many levels.
Probably Batman, though.
The Grant Morrison Batman, not one of the broody ones.
If you’re a friend of Joel Snape instead of being Joel Snape, what would you say the most annoying thing about Joel Snape?
He yells a lot.
During almost any activity.
Name one thing when you did as a kid that you’ll be furious if you find out your own kids do?
I honestly can’t think of a single thing.
There was one kid at my school that I’m pretty sure I should have punched and never did, if that counts.
What are you most proud of?
Professionally, that I do a job that actually improves people’s lives.
I hope, anyway.
If you came to the Feb issue of Men’s Fitness (probably out as you read this) without knowing anything about training or nutrition, you could get enough out of it to improve your body composition, nutrition, health and life to the point where I genuinely think you’d be ahead of 95% of the population.
That’s a pretty big claim, but I think it’s true.
Personally, that I treat the people the way I’d want to be treated.
Would you rather be remembered as a writer or an athlete?
Well, I’m not a very good athlete, but I think I’m a pretty good writer.
It’s the thing I’ve spent the most time on in my life, and it doesn’t really get any easier.
I still read things I’ve written from time to time (like my stupid book, Zombie Titanic) and think, ‘Wow, that’s actually quite decent.’
So that makes me happy.
And stay tuned for more Gymtalk interviews coming soon!