Brothers Brad, Karl and Wade Gillingham have a system to get strong.
The basis is simple: make gradual weight gains over the years, try not to do too much in order to avoid injury, and motivate each other.
The Gillinghams developed their program over the years and all three have successful careers to show for it. Karl Gillingham, 45, and Wade Gillingham, 39, have shown their muscle on the strongman circuit, with Karl Gillingham having a United States national championship to his name. Brad Gillingham, 44, is one of the top drug-free powerlifters in the history of the sport. He has won five International Powerlifting Association world titles and is in multiple powerlifting halls of fame.
"We're just a group that's learned what it takes to get strong," said Brad Gillingham, who lives in Minneota.
The Gillinghams aren't afraid to share their secrets to success. At Jackal's Gym in Marshall, the three have helped groom some of today's top powerlifters. In June, Brad Gillingham and four other representatives from the gym competed at the USAPL National Championships in Palm Springs, Calif., and they wracked up the hardware.
Each competitor lifted in three events - the squat, the bench press and the deadlift. Tony Schwebach, a native of Dell Rapids, S.D. and student at Southwest Minnesota State University, placed first in the 181-pound Teenage Class. A winner of two Junior titles, Marshall's Jon Krogman won at 242-pounds in his first time competing in the Open division. Nick Tylutki, of Cold Springs, was the champion of the 220-pound Open Class. And Craig Peterson, of Minneota, was second in the 198-pound Junior Class.
With their wins, Brad Gillingham, Krogman and Tylutki will represent their country in the International Powerlifting Federation World Championships in Potchefstroom, South Africa in November. It will be Brad Gillingham's 10th world championship appearance as a super heavyweight, which is more than any other heavyweight in history.
The Gillinghams have already worked to make Jackal's Gym one of the most well-known within the powerlifting scene, and with three of the 10 men's national team members coming from the gym this year, the word will continue to spread about the small gym in southwest Minnesota.
"It just goes to show how much knowledge Brad and his brothers have of strength training," said Tylutki, who travels from his home near St. Cloud six to 10 times a year to train at Jackal's Gym. "It shows their coaching abilities and their ability to motivate younger powerlifters and get them interested in the sport. They're the most competitive guys I've ever met and it's really contagious and a lot of fun to follow their program and become successful."
Schwebach competed in the high school nationals as a junior and senior and had met up a few times with Brad Gillingham for training tips during his high school career. He said the opportunity to train with the Gillinghams at Jackal's Gym was part of the reason he decided to attend SMSU.
Schwebach said the Gillinghams are all eager to share their knowledge with those who are willing to learn.
"It's just an awesome thing to be able to work out with those guys," Schwebach said. "They don't make it intimidating at all. They're really inviting."
Tylutki met Brad Gillingham in 1999 during a chance encounter, two days after hearing a local radio station interview with the powerlifter before his trip to the world championships. During that meeting, Tylutki got an invitation to workout with Brad Gillingham and the two have maintained a strong relationship ever since.
Tylutki, a three-time national champion, didn't know about Brad Gillingham before hearing the radio interview, but quickly became an admirer of the man who helped him get serious about powerlifting.
"I consider myself really lucky to even know the guy," Tylutki said. "Even though I consider him a friend, I'm still a fan of watching him on the platform. It's cool having a guy you look up to texting you and calling you up and helping to coach you."
Brad Gillingham's pupils aren't the only ones benefiting from the relationship. He said training with and competing alongside the younger members of the lifting club have helped him enjoy himself more as he's advanced in age.
"It's getting more fun when I make it to an open championship as I get older," Brad Gillingham said. "We have such a good crew. It's just a great group of guys I'm lifting with in Marshall."
At age 44, Brad Gillingham is one of the older powerlifters still competing in the Super Heavyweight Open division, but his skills aren't necessarily diminishing. The amount of weight he can bench press has dropped off, but his squat is about the same and he's still improving in the deadlift. During the national championship in Palm Springs, he deadlifted 881 pounds, but to his dismay, the attempt was rejected 2-1 by the judges.
Even though he's already one of the most accomplished powerlifters in history, Brad Gillingham said he's still hungry for more and has no desire to put an end to his career.
"If you quit, you quit," he said. "Then your string of accomplishments comes to an end. I still enjoy doing it, so I want to keep at is as long as I can. I still think I can win another world championship and I'm still shooting for the deadlift record."
Brad Gillingham said he and the other two world championship qualifiers have just started to get back into training since their national championship performance in June. The powerlifters will progressively add weight resistance over the next few weeks and enter their heavy training cycle in the 12 weeks leading up to their trip to South Africa in mid-November.