NICK VARBANOV – 9 Time Canadian Champion!

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Lisa: (00:02)
Welcome everybody to another episode of the human optimization podcast and I am so super stoked today to have Nick Varbanov off with us. He is not only an Ontario Junior and Senior record holder with snatch, clean and jerk and total in the 73 and 69 kilo weight classes. He’s also won 9 National Championships and is the son of Aleksander Varbanov who is a multi-time European and World Champion, as well as an Olympic bronze medalist, which he achieved at the 1988 Seoul, Korea Olympics. He runs and coaches with his dad, the Varbanov School of weightlifting, which you can find right now at the Academy of Lions in Toronto. And you can find them on Instagram @varbanov216 and also at www.varbanovschool.com. Welcome Nick. I’m so happy you decided to join us today.

Nick Varbanov: (01:03)
I’m glad to be here.

Lisa: (01:04)
Okay, so we are going to talk all about performance today with regards to your lifting because that’s pretty incredible. You have so many records, you’ve won so many National Championships, you have so many accomplishments to be proud of, and I know that my listeners just want to know how did you get started into lifting? What was your motivation?

Nick Varbanov: (01:28)
So, it goes way back to 10 years ago when I was just a little kid, actually it goes back way further than that when my dad was still coaching back home in Bulgaria. We had a local club there, they trained out of our basement because in our house back home he decided to build a weightlifting gym and carry on his legacy. So I was just about two years old when I first stepped into weightlifting gym and tried to, of course, throw some bars around. Unfortunately back then it didn’t go my way, but things have changed now. So ever since then I’ve just been really intrigued with the sport and just seeing people succeed and talk so highly about it, and just the amount that you can learn from the sport is incredible. I love doing it. I fell in love with it as soon as I started.

Lisa: (02:21)
That’s amazing. So wow, a gym in the basement and that’s where, you know, your dad was coaching and where you kind of found it and what was the first lift you learned?

Nick Varbanov: (02:34)
The first lift I learned was actually clean and jerk, which is obviously his personal favorite. So he carried it onto me and I started cleaning and jerking the wooden dowel. It maybe weighed about four pounds or something. But yeah, I was just learning technique way back then and goofing around and it was a very fun experience.

Lisa: (02:55)
Wow, that’s incredible. I love it. So tell me, I mean, obviously your father, Aleksander having had so many different championships under his belt, including the Europeans and the World and obviously an Olympic bronze medalist. What type of pressure was that for you? You know, was there ever any pressure of him wanting you to do or follow in his footsteps?

Nick Varbanov: (03:21)
So there was never really any pressure on his side for me to be involved in weightlifting. When I was young, he had me doing swimming classes, playing soccer and just being around being around sports and being involved. In team sports, individual sports, and just learning the discipline sort of at a younger age, so there was never any pressure on his side telling me, I was this great lifter and now you’ve got to follow in my footsteps. It was nothing like that. He was very supportive when I decided to start weightlifting professionally and he’s been guiding me through it pretty much my whole career. But there was never any pushing done on his side or pressuring me to do it. He always just said, as long as you’re active and you’re doing something that you love and enjoy and you’re learning from it, then you just stick to that.

Lisa: (04:29)
Excellent. Well that’s nice to hear because I know a lot of times the struggle is real, right? When you’ve got a mentor like that.

Nick Varbanov: (04:40)
It was an easy choice to make.

Lisa: (04:41)
That’s excellent. So tell us about your training regime. I mean, what do you, obviously you’ve got to put in hours at the gym, you’re doing coaching as well, but let’s talk about your personal training regime, what does that entail for you from week to week?

Nick Varbanov: (04:59)
So pretty much what I try to do is stick to six to seven sessions a week, while I’m in school and while I’m working. Obviously throughout the summer we try to push it a little bit more. Sometimes we have two sessions. Then sometimes the training hours are a little bit longer, but typically we follow three days a week, 3 hours at the gym. So it would be Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we would start training around 5:30pm until about 830pm or so, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays when the team is not training (and this is the Varbanov team, I’m talking about, out of Academy of lions) sometimes I’m in there with my dad. I’m just doing the extra Tuesday, Thursday and sometimes Saturday sessions as well. So throughout the week it’s pretty much all fully booked, because I do work and I’m actually switching programs at school right now it is a little bit harder to manage the time, but there are always gaps in the day where I have two to three hours and I can go to the gym and I put the work in. So you find time for it.

Lisa: (06:07)
You know what you do when you love something and you want to Excel at it, you definitely tend to be able to find that time even when your schedule is as packed as yours is.

Nick Varbanov: (06:17)
Definitely.

Lisa: (06:17)
And so tell us a little bit, break it down a bit, because I know that there’s lots of Olympic lifters, power lifters and kettlebell lifters that are going to be watching and listening to this podcast. So for you, that three hour session, how would you break that down? What would that look like on any given day,

Nick Varbanov: (06:35)
So we would obviously get into the gym, we would start with a little one-on-one lecture with my dad since we haven’t really seen each other throughout the day too much. He catches up with me on what I’ve done, how I’m feeling both mentally and physically, how my last night’s sleep was and what my diet’s been like throughout the day. So we kind of have a little chat about 20 minutes long, just to see how everything is going overall. Then I get into some active warm up myself for about half an hour and 530pm on the dot, we start typically with snatches or snatch assistance exercises. So we try to keep this session similar to what a competition would look like. In a competition, you start off with your snatch, you do your warm up, your three lifts, you take a break, you start clean and jerk, warm up, three lifts, you’re done. So we try to stick to that same sort of pattern. So we would start with snatch assistance exercise, then we’d move into either clean and jerk, clean assistance exercise, and then we would finish off pretty much every session with a squat variation; so either front squat or back squat. Sometimes we go heavy, sometimes we take it easy; it all depends on what we’re supposed to be doing that day, what the programming is and obviously how I’m feeling physically and mentally as well.

Lisa: (07:54)
Absolutely. And so we’ll get back to the physical and mental part of that in a minute. But what’s it like having, having your dad as a coach, tell us about that.

Nick Varbanov: (08:06)
So this might not be expected, but it’s honestly a lot of fun, reason being is he doesn’t set any sort of expectations for me, so it’s a very welcoming environment that he creates for me personally when I train. He doesn’t push me to do anything. He doesn’t force me to do anything. So his mentality is a nothing good comes out of making someone do something. They have to be willing to put the work in. And there are days where I am lazy and I don’t want to be there. I don’t want to be training. I just want to be at home on my laptop or watching a movie, whatever the case may be. He always finds a way to get my head back on track and kind of get me back into the mentality of, “Hey, listen, you’re in the gym right now everything that happened outside of outside of the gym doesn’t matter”. You’re here to put the work in and you’re hear to let all that go and have these three hours for yourself. So he sets a very good environment for me to excel in and I’m really happy having him as my coach. I don’t think that I would work this well with anyone else. So I’m very happy with where we are.

Lisa: (09:21)
Sounds excellent and pretty incredible. Plus it sounds like he knows you very well.

Nick Varbanov: (09:27)
I think he knows me.

Lisa: (09:28)
Yeah, for sure because that’s coaching and as a coach yourself, you know that you really have to dial in because all of your students are so different, and they all have different needs and everything is a little bit different physically and mentally for each person. So that’s pretty awesome, so let’s talk a little bit about the physical. So nutrition, I mean obviously when you’re a high performance athlete, when you’re a high performer of any kind, dialing in nutrition and supplementation is super important. So let’s talk about that for you. I mean, what does that mean for you, with the nutrition that you follow?

Nick Varbanov: (10:07)
So just like you said, it’s very important, especially at an elite level where you’re trying to be in the best physical shape you can be, not only for competitions but for training sessions as well. So diet wise, I eat mostly homemade food. My mom and my dad cook every single night. We make meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner; it’s very rare that we go out and eat outside food unless it’s someone’s birthday or it’s something that you know, deserves to go out and just let off a little bit. But typically my breakfast would be would be light these days, I haven’t had such a strong appetite waking up so I would stick to bacon and eggs, a little bit of toast and throw some veggies mixed in there as well. For lunch we get into a little bit of a heavier carb load. So, I would typically have rice or potatoes in almost every single one of my meals and same thing with dinner as well. And protein wise, I do a little bit of, I guess a different scheme from what everyone else does, as I like to get my protein in as soon as I can before I go to bed, I don’t like to carry it around with me throughout the whole day. I know that your body needs time to break it down, process it and absorb it, but I’ve just always felt very good physically when I have my proteins near the end of the day. I think it’s just how I am, but it works the best for me and I feel very good the next day, I feel recovered. I feel rested and I feel ready to go. So for the most part it’s a clean diet. I do go out every once in awhile. I have my cravings as well.

Lisa: (12:04)
Don’t we all.

Nick Varbanov: (12:07)
Exactly. But I try to stick to a clean diet for the most part.

Lisa: (12:13)
Excellent. Well, I think most, most of us who are training for something, we definitely are in the same boat as you and trying to be very disciplined.

Nick Varbanov: (12:22)
It’s a hassle. Sometimes it’s a hassle.

Lisa: (12:24)
It can be, I think, people find it tough and you know, especially if you’re going to be going out or if you’ve got a special event, as you said, an occasion, something like that. A lot of times you may say, “Oh I’m sorry, I can’t go”, or “I have competition coming up in a couple of weeks”. And that’s something where you kind of have to make that choice and that’s a choice you make for a reason obviously.

Nick Varbanov: (12:51)
For sure. Yeah.

Lisa: (12:53)
So let’s talk, because I know a lot of people are probably interested and wondering, and maybe you don’t do it yourself, but maybe you have some students that do it and you have kind of a tried and tested way about cutting weight. I know in weightlifting it’s a little bit different because a lot of the kettlebell competitions that we have, we either weigh-in the day before, or even at the world championships, we weigh-in the day we get there and then we may compete a day or two later. So, you know, cutting weight, rehydrating and refeeding isn’t quite as rushed because weightlifting you’re literally weighing in like an hour before your lift, right?

Nick Varbanov: (13:32)
Yeah. You’re weighing in two hours before you compete.

Lisa: (13:35)
Okay. So, so tell us about that. Like if someone’s trying to cut weight, what are the best, some of the best ways you either tried or seen or helped people with and then how you refeed and refuel after that?

Nick Varbanov: (13:47)
So personally, I have never had to cut too much weight. I’ve cut the standard of about two to three kilos, which for lightweights, like myself, is normal, but it’s never a hassle for me. What I liked doing personally, and I know it’s completely different from mixed martial arts and from a lot of other sports mainly because we do weigh in two hours before we’re ready to go on the platform and you have to be ready to go within those two hours. There isn’t any sort of leeway where you can say, okay, I have a day to recover. So what I like to do is actually leave it for the last minute, believe it or not, I like to do it one or two days before the competition. I set myself to a specific diet, sometimes I do intermittent fasting for about four to five days. But I try to take as little time as possible to cut the weight because, it’s not a significant amount that I’m cutting. But I do that because I don’t want to be thinking about it for such a long period of time. I want to be as focused as I can be on every single session and not have to worry about, “Hey, where’s my weight at? What am I doing? Um, today what should my diet be like the following day?” So I like to leave it to a couple of days before the competition when the training has tapered off and it’s just very easy weights, easy stuff. Then, I have the time to actually focus on my diet and mentally prep for what I’m not going to eat for about nine hours of the day. After that I’ll have a meal then, just so that I can cut the weight. Luckily, I’ve never had to do a water cut either. So waterwise I stay hydrated throughout the day. I’ve never felt like I’m dehydrated or I’ve never fell down from a weight cut that I’ve had to do, given they’re not significant. So personally, I like to leave it closer to the day of the competition and then after that once I’ve weighed in and I have those two hours to kind of gain back whatever I can. I like to eat a lot of soup and liquids, my body absorbs that the fastest. I mean typically the human body would absorb liquids the fastest. So I figure why not have like a chicken noodle soup where you have your proteins, you have your carbs, and you also have a pretty much a liquid solution for your body to absorb fast.

Lisa: (16:26)
Yeah.

Nick Varbanov: (16:26)
So that’s what I like to do and that’s what a lot of our athletes do even though most of them don’t have the issue with weight cutting. We did have a close call this last competition, we had a couple of weekends ago, one of our athletes had to cut about five kilos; so about 10 pounds before he competed. And he’s the type of guy that is just very relaxed, he doesn’t really care about anything really. He is a great athlete, he has great work ethic and he puts in a lot of time and effort; but diet wise he’s very, very bad and we’re working on it. We were working on creating a nutrition plan for him and you know, following specific times in the day that you eat a specific meal, but he had a very close call. This last competition he almost weighed-in over because he did leave the weight cut for the last minute. I guess he took a bad example for me because I have to cut about two kilos and two kilos for me is very easy, but to cut two kilos for other people, might not be as easy. And he had five kilos to cut, which is significant, since we compete in the same weight class. So he had a bit of a tough time with that, he decided to eat whatever he wanted throughout the week. So you only really had about two days to cut five pounds but not to cut five kilos. He was pretty exhausted. But I mean, you can’t really help someone if they don’t want to help themselves. He’s just very in his head. And I think he was also nervous for this one because he knew he had to hit specific numbers, so we’re working on it on how he approaches his next weight cut and what he does differently. So that’s where it is right now.

Lisa: (18:19)
And you’re very right, you know, because I’m kind of in the same boat as you. I run about two kilos over, so it’s pretty easy just to cut back some water and some food and it comes off. But when you’re talking about five kilos, that five to seven kilos, I feel like that’s pretty significant amount.

Nick Varbanov: (18:35)
Yeah, for sure.

Lisa: (18:36)
You kind of need a little bit more planning for that. Yeah.

Nick Varbanov: (18:40)
For sure, especially if you’re in the lighter categories.

Lisa: (18:43)
Because it gets so hard to lose. Yeah, exactly. It gets harder to lose when you’re lighter and you have to start thinking about that. That’s, that’s a tough challenge for sure.

Nick Varbanov: (18:52)
Yeah. You have no where to cut it from at one point. Exactly. Oh, if you have a low fat percentage and, and you’re, you’ve already done your water cut, I mean there isn’t much leeway.

Lisa: (19:05)
Exactly. There’s not much left. Just pulling from muscle.

Nick Varbanov: (19:09)
Exactly. It gets hard at that point. Yes.

Lisa: (19:12)
Yeah. And so tell us what is your favorite pre-comp meal? I’m curious.

Nick Varbanov: (19:18)
The day of or?

Lisa: (19:18)
Yeah the day.

Nick Varbanov: (19:21)
Well it would be homemade chicken noodle soup.

Lisa: (19:24)
Okay, good. I did get your hydration. You get your protein, you get your carbs. That’s an excellent, I have no idea how my mom makes it.

Nick Varbanov: (19:32)
I have never watched her make it, but it is the most delicious meal that I’ve ever had. And I look forward to competition sometimes just so that I could have that soup because she never makes it the same way. It’s either me being very hungry.

Lisa: (19:48)
Yeah.

Nick Varbanov: (19:48)
The day of the comp or she just does something differently? I don’t know which one it is, but it’s, it’s my go to. It’s amazing. And I wouldn’t switch it for anything.

Lisa: (19:58)
Nice. Oh, that’s great.

Nick Varbanov: (19:59)
I love it.

Lisa: (19:59)
That’s good and let’s talk about; well so now we’ve talked about pre, let’s talk about post. So you know, whether it’s post comp or post training, recovery is so important, right? We don’t make gains at the gym. We make gains with our nutrition and recovery.

Nick Varbanov: (20:14)
Sure.

Lisa: (20:14)
So tell us a little bit about how you make sure you recover the best possible way.

Nick Varbanov: (20:21)
So obviously having a clean diet plays a massive role in recovery. I’ve always been an athlete where I’m able to recover pretty fast from my training sessions and from competitions as well. So in the recovery aspect, I’ve never had too much trouble myself. I maybe do some things wrong sometimes, but it works for me and it might not work for other people, but typically what I like to do is just have a clean diet, get my eight to nine hours of sleep every night. Sometimes though on school nights it’s hard because you stay up late to finish up assignments or whatever it may be, so sometimes you need to compromise. But typically for me it’s sleep and diet. I feel like those are the two major things to physically recover.

Lisa: (21:14)
Yeah.

Nick Varbanov: (21:14)
From the workouts that I do and from competitions as well. Here and there, I do take some Epsom salt baths as well just to let off on the, under the muscle exhaustion that I may have. But it’s very basic. It’s very basic. It’s just diet and sleep.

Lisa: (21:33)
Yeah. And what about, so I mean, I know a lot of people put a lot of focus on supplementation and I mean you mentioned Epsom salts. Obviously, magnesium is really great for muscle repair, recovery and relaxation. So that’s definitely something that Epsom salts can help with. But what about everything else? Is there anything else that you use kind of in your training regimen for supplementation?

Nick Varbanov: (21:56)
So I take pretty much the wellness essentials, that’s what I like to call them. So multivitamin, fish oil, probiotics and protein powder.

Lisa: (22:09)
Okay.

Nick Varbanov: (22:09)
So I stick to those and I’ve been doing that for a couple of years and it’s been working. It’s been working amazing. I’ve had great results with it and I would recommend it to anybody really because if you think about it a multivitamin, fish oils and probiotic, they’re all essential to the human body. Fish oils, you never eat enough of through your daily intake.

Lisa: (22:35)
Right.

Nick Varbanov: (22:35)
The multivitamin will help you obviously to stay up throughout the day and just feel more recovered. And then my probiotic, I take, because I want to make sure that my digestive system is all in order and intact and it’s working the way it should be because I’ve had some issues in the past with a GI tract problems. I’ve learned to take the right supplements at the right time to avoid that. So, yeah, in regards to vitamins, it’s pretty much very basic. I mean, I take my BCAAs during my workout as well, but that’s about the extent to which I go with supplements.

Lisa: (23:16)
Okay. Good. So, you know, we talked about physical , we’ve talked about nutrition. Obviously all those things are so important with regards to performance. And then I think the one part that I like to focus on first is mental mindset.

Nick Varbanov: (23:32)
My favourite.

Lisa: (23:32)
Right? I feel like so many coaches miss out on this, we exercise the body, we think about what we’re putting into it, but we don’t exercise our mind. I feel like the mind is the difference between just competing and being on the podium at the end of the competition. So, talk to me about mindset. Obviously, you have a very strong mindset, being a National champion nine times. Tell us how you work on strengthening your mindset so that you can be on the top of that podium.

Nick Varbanov: (24:09)
So during my training cycles, when I find it difficult to kind of stay in the right zone and go into sessions positive every time and what not. I like to do a lot of breathing techniques. And I learned that through Brazilian Jujitsu. I started rolling about four years ago, nothing crazy. Nothing about belts or tournaments or any of that stuff. It was mostly to learn a different sport. And I also know that it helps a lot with with mental toughness because they do incorporate a lot of breathing exercises and a lot of yoga and a lot of active thinking, in a way that it helps you. It helps you to be able to put your body in a state where it’s not stressed while you are actually performing a strenuous activity such as weightlifting. So I like to incorporate a lot of breathing techniques during my workout. Just to kind of stress the heart out a little bit. Fast paced breathing, slow paced breathing, it will alter the way that your heart, obviously contracts. I find that to be very helpful for my mind to focus on the heartbeat so that it’s not focusing on anything else. It’s not thinking about what am I going to eat for dinner tonight? Or Oh, well this happened today. How could it have been avoided? Or, I wonder how this person feels. It’s breathe and focus on hearing what’s happening within your body. So it’s kind of like I try to link my mind to the rest of my body and communicate with myself essentially. That’s regarding training and recovery and whatnot. And even sometimes I would do it in class when I find myself drifting away and I’m not paying attention to my lecture or not being efficient with my studying, I like to of take 15 to 20 minutes for myself just to do a couple of breathing exercises, get back into the zone, get into my own head, talk with myself a little bit, and then get back out there and perform.

Lisa: (26:33)
Good. Well, I think it’s definitely one of those things where, again, you kind of have to go back to basics to be able to refocus. When people lose focus, that’s when performance goes down, obviously. Because when you’re not focused, you’re not focused on the goal either. And that makes it really difficult. So tell us about your most prized accomplishment so far.

Nick Varbanov: (27:07)
Honestly, I have a bunch of trophies sitting behind me and a bunch of metals on a metal tree behind me. And when I look at the grand scheme of things, those are materialistic possessions. They’re not something that necessarily makes me proud. There is something that makes me happy knowing that I’ve achieved that, but what really makes me proud is being in the sport for as long as I have, it’s been nine years, it’s going to be 10 years actually in November. And being 10 years in a sport like weightlifting is really, really hard to do. Obviously you’re physically very, very exhausted all the time, it’s mentally challenging and mentally draining. Having to prep for a comp and going with the right mindset and even mentally working through training sessions when your body just doesn’t really want to do it and your body’s not cooperating with you. So I would say that I’m most proud of just being involved in this sport for as long as I have and performing at the level I have for 10 years. I’m just proud of myself for being able to overcome the adversity for those 10 years and go through what I have. So that’s what I’m most proud of.

Lisa: (28:28)
Well, that’s amazing. And tell us, as an athlete everybody has struggles that they have to work through and usually, or sometimes there’s a turning point that is significant that brings about a big change. Did you go through anything like that?

Nick Varbanov: (28:57)
Not that I can think of. Off the top of my head, there hasn’t been any sort of major setbacks in my career. There haven’t been times where I have had to sit down and be like, okay, I need to drastically change this about what I’m doing. There hasn’t been anything like that yet. I’m sure everybody encounters a big setback in their career, any athlete in any sport and I’m trying to prepare myself for that time. So I’m trying to physically and mentally become stronger and become the best that I can. So when that time comes and when I do have to go through a major setback, I’m able to do it just as well as I go through my training sessions.

Lisa: (29:45)
Yeah.

Nick Varbanov: (29:46)
So I try to go in with a mindset of this is a training session you live and you learn, you might not do well and you might do well. Those are the only two things that can really happen. It’s going to go your way and it’s not going to go your way. That’s, that’s how simply I like to look at it, because at the end of the day there is really no need to, there is no need to dive so deep into it and overthink everything about the sport. A lot of people do and that’s why a lot of people can’t reach that level that I have, or maybe my dad has. But I find that it’s more mental than it is physical. And in regards to physical injuries, those are just minor things that will push you back maybe a couple of months or a year, but you will be able to come back from it. The sport isn’t dangerous, it’s not a sport that you can get seriously hurt from, unless you’re doing it by yourself, and you have nobody telling you what the right way to do it is.

Lisa: (30:57)
Right.

Nick Varbanov: (30:58)
But that’s, that’s how it is in any sport that I’ve been involved in personally. You need to be taught how to do it properly so that you don’t have to encounter those major setbacks and those injuries and what not later on. So I feel like I’ve been given a good foundation and a good basic knowledge on the sport to be able to avoid that at least for as long as I have been. So, nothing major that I can really think of.

Lisa: (31:26)
Well, and you know, something that you just mentioned that’s very important and that is when you really want to accel at something, having a coach that understands what it takes to get to a certain level, which is the level maybe that you want to get to right at some point, regardless of what that level is, whether it’s a beginner trying to get to a competition or what have you. It’s very important to have someone who understands that duress, both mentally and physically so that they can share their experience and their knowledge so that you don’t get injured. I find that it happens so often where maybe they have a coach that isn’t quite right for them or maybe isn’t quite at that level, and then they do get injured in whatever sport it is. And then all of a sudden they have a bigger problem and they’ve got to start over. And that’s not a great place to be for anybody. So very important to have the right guidance.

Nick Varbanov: (32:21)
And then you have the cases with these major lifters that go to an international meet and they dislocate an elbow. They go through something that you shouldn’t have to and that you shouldn’t be put in a situation where you have to injure yourself to do something major in the sport. That’s another thing that I really appreciate my dad doing for me is he’s never pushed me past a point that he thinks is reasonable. Sometimes our mentalities differ, and I’m an overachiever and I’m a perfectionist. I want to be the best I can be in whatever I’m doing, but sometimes you need to, you need to lay back. And how can you define winning if you don’t lose, you know.

Lisa: (33:15)
How do you appreciate it.

Nick Varbanov: (33:16)
Exactly. How do you learn to love what you do if you haven’t went through the struggle? So for me personally, I mean, I haven’t been a winner my whole life. I know what it’s like to be at a big stage and come in second or third or whatever the case may be. And that’s when you really learn that if I had pushed myself those extra two kilos to win, what could have happened? Was I physically prepared to do it? Was I mentally prepared to do it? And at the end of the day, you look back on it and it happened. You can’t change now. You can’t go back in time and redo it and I wouldn’t want it to because I’ve made a lot of mistakes from which I’ve learned. I’ve made mistakes from which I haven’t learned, and I keep repeating and I know that I’m doing it. I just need to consciously tell myself and remind myself, listen, this is what’s happened in the past and this is what you need to change. So actively work on it. I don’t think that there’s a need to, to go to an extent where it’s a do or die situation. Like a lot of athletes on the world stage do is they go for some ridiculous numbers to just try and win. And you know, some of them are at the end of their careers, but there’s nothing better than going out of the sport happy, and knowing that you did everything that you could. You don’t want to go to the sport with an injury, you don’t want to go out of the sport with a major setback. So I don’t understand it, why people go out there and they do these ridiculous things, but it happens and you just have to be smart. You have to be a smart athlete.

Lisa: (34:59)
Yeah.

Nick Varbanov: (35:00)
That’s what it really boils down to.

Lisa: (35:02)
Yeah, I agree. So tell us what’s next for you. What’s like, what’s your big goal? What do you, what do you eventually want to accomplish in the sport?

Nick Varbanov: (35:13)
So ever since may when senior Nationals was here, I have been very involved in coaching, I have been shadowing my dad. I’ve been going to different gyms and I even am leading my own weightlifting team right now at Apex Training Center. It’s by Yorkdale Mall here in Toronto, I have seven people I’m coaching right now; they are all beginners. They’re all still learning and I’m very, very happy with where I am right now. I have a lot of people asking me, and maybe this is a perfect time to address it, if I’m done competing and if I’m retired as an athlete? No, I’m not because there is a lot of things I need to do. There’s a lot of milestones I have yet to reach.

Lisa: (36:04)
Yeah.

Nick Varbanov: (36:05)
There’s a lot of, there’s a lot of curves that I still want to go through and experience. It’s just a time for me to do a little bit of self reflection, to see what mistakes I have made in the past and what I can do to become the best I can be in what I do. So I’m taking a little bit of time for myself and to also see the other side of weightlifting because I never really know how my dad feels when he’s at a comp. I know how I feel when I’m going for a National record, but what’s going through his head? It’s always been a question that I’ve asked myself after competitions and I’ve asked him to, and he’s never given me a clear cut answer. So I think, if I do this firsthand, then there’s no better way to gain experience than to do it. So I’m a lot more involved in coaching right now and this season is going to be free of competing for me just to focus on that aspect of the sport and get a little bit more experience in that area. But next season I will be back. And there’s some good things to come because I have a lot planned for myself and my dad has a lot planned for me this coming season and we’re working on launching some new programs!! And testing them out on me. I’ve been the Guinea pig for nine years.

Lisa: (37:29)
So why stop now?

Nick Varbanov: (37:32)
So exactly why stop now. We’re so deep into it. Might as well just keep going and see what happens. I will be back on the platform. I’m still training. I haven’t stopped, but I am coaching right now and I do want to see that, that side more in depth than I have. So.

Lisa: (37:52)
Amazing.

Nick Varbanov: (37:53)
Well that’s what’s coming up.

Lisa: (37:54)
I feel like when you’re talking and you’re talking about your break, obviously just from the season I think you’re going to be coming back with a vengeance. I feel like that’s what’s coming.

Nick Varbanov: (38:10)
I hold no grudges towards anybody in the sport, but there have been some things that have happened that have hit me and they’ve hurt me, both mentally and physically. And it’s not so much a vengeance towards a specific person or an organization, it’s more so I’m taking the time right now to become better and to become better than what I was, because I’m not competing with anyone. I’m not trying to be better than anyone. I’m trying to be better than myself.

Lisa: (38:52)
Yeah.

Nick Varbanov: (38:52)
And there’s no other way to be the best if you don’t believe that you’re the best and you don’t show yourself that, “Hey, I’m beating myself every single time I step foot on that platform”. And there’s a lot of things I’m sure you’ve probably seen on social media going around with me and my little feud with Quebec and their weightlifting organization. But there are things that, you know, I’ll get it back, I’ll get it back. Some things that have happened in the past that shouldn’t have and I’ll be back and be back on their turf.

Lisa: (39:32)
I feel like every different sport always has a little bit of organizational things that happen. I feel like that’s kind of across the board on a lot of different sports. So I’m assuming that, uh, that we lifting is no different.

Nick Varbanov: (39:53)
it’s been new for me I’m not blaming anybody, I’m actually praising the Canadian Weightlifting Federation for doing what they have with our athletes because this past World Championships is probably one of the best overall performances that Canada has had in weightlifting. And, you know, Canadian weightlifting has changed some things, they’ve improved some things and I feel like they’re doing an overall amazing job with their athletes. There’s a lot of things to fix, but all of that comes with time. It comes with them learning from their mistakes and it comes from them seeing what they miss out on. There are athletes that deserve to be in the spot that they are in and there’s athletes that are not ready to be in the spot that they’re put in. So I feel like with time, the Canadian Weightlifting Federation will come around and they’re gonna be able to distinguish between the different athletes there are in the sport and how they should accommodate them. But it’s not so much a vengeance I’m coming back with, it’s more of I’m coming back and, and I willl show you what an athlete that is World class does.

Lisa: (41:19)
Yeah.

Nick Varbanov: (41:19)
It’s more that because I have all the resources. I have an Olympian, I have an Olympic medalist, I have a person that’s set a world record in 1985 that hasn’t been touched. Nobody’s come close to that record in the weight classes above and below.

Lisa: (41:35)
Yeah.

Nick Varbanov: (41:35)
So I have a lot of resources that I can use to become the best that I can. And I’m also 19, so I have a long, long career ahead of me. Pyrros Dimas competed at four Olympics. Why can’t I do it?

Lisa: (41:52)
Yeah.

Nick Varbanov: (41:52)
Right. So I have a lot to do and achieve in the sports still.

Lisa: (41:59)
Yeah. Well that’s awesome. Well, I think, uh, I think that’s excellent and I think you’re taking a very, a very educated and mature approach about it. And really thinking it through with exactly what your goals are and making sure that you’re going to be able to accomplish them the best way possible. So you’re obviously located in Toronto. You mentioned Apex Gym, as well as the Academy of Lions, and the Varbanov School of Weightlifting. So if somebody wants to get involved with lifting, if they’re a beginner or they want to learn, they want to get better, how do they find you?

Nick Varbanov: (46:09)
So the easiest way to reach out to us, um, would be either through my Instagram with a direct message or even email varbanovweightlifting@gmail.com and by a social media would be the easiest way to reach out to us @varbanov216. Or even people just come and drop in, come into the gym, ask for us we’re there Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. You can talk with us in person, over email, over the phone, whatever works best for anyone.

Lisa: (46:42)
Excellent. So Monday, Wednesday, Friday and you’re at Academy of Lions on those three days, is that right?

Nick Varbanov: (46:47)
So Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays we are at Academy of Lions from 5:30pm until about 8:30pm.

Lisa: (46:55)
Okay.

Nick Varbanov: (46:55)
I myself coach at Apex Mondays and Wednesdays from 630 to 9:00pm and on Saturdays from 10:30am to noon. Me, I am at Apex Monday, Wednesday, Saturdays and my parents, that lead the Varbanov Team are there Monday, Wednesday, Friday at Academy of Lions.

Lisa: (47:17)
Excellent. So lots of opportunity and really no excuses for anyone who wants to really learn the technical lifts of weightlifting and be able to accel at those. There’s lots of opportunities to be able to do that with you guys.

Nick Varbanov: (47:35)
There’s also a lot of coaches and organizations and clubs that specialize in Olympic lifting. And I just want people to know that we do things a little bit differently. We will never go after the athlete and try to show them off on their first day or try to break them down and tell them, no, you’ve been taught completely wrong. You need to do this, this and this. We like to keep a fun atmosphere in which you feel welcomed. We like to create a community for people to feel like they’re at home and to feel like, “Hey, listen, nobody’s better than anybody here”. We’re all here to learn. We’re all here to be the best that we can be. And if you are better than yourself, every single session, be it a little, a little thing you realize to do differently mentally, or a little thing you realize to do different on your technique. We encourage you to be better for yourself, because at the end of the day, people that get involved with the sport, you’re either going to want to compete and be a winner or you’re going to do it because you want to live a healthy lifestyle. So I feel like we bring different things to the table such as giving you that fun environment and giving you the welcoming environment to train and to be better. A lot of gyms don’t know how to do that. A lot of gyms like you to come in and you know, you’re here because you have to win medals or you’re here, you have to compete for the club, you have to win these competitions. We take a different approach. We want you to have fun and enjoy it. So if you’re looking for two and a half hours of fun and feeling tired the next day, we are here!

Lisa: (49:25)
But at least you have the next day to recover. We talked about how important recovery is. Well, that’s amazing, Nick, thanks so much for joining us. So for those of you watching, thank you so much for tuning into the YouTube channel, make sure you give us a thumbs up if you liked this podcast and subscribe so you know when all the brand new episodes come out. And if you’re listening, thank you so much and make sure you’re subscribing on your favorite podcast channel,so you know exactly when the next brand new episode of the Human Optimization podcast comes out.

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LPK Health and Performance HTMA Hair Mineral Analysis Experts

Lisa Pitel-Killah is a Hair Mineral Analysis Expert and Educator, with a background in Functional Medicine.  She is a Kettlebell World Champion, Coach and Entrepreneur; and has a passion for guiding people to maximize health, reverse debilitating symptoms and gain energy to truly recognize their full potential. Her goal is to share HTMA testing and kettlebells with the world.