CLEMSON – When Ryan Norton bench pressed 640 pounds a few weeks ago, causing the Clemson weight room to erupt in celebration, teammate D.J. Reader was the least-surprised guy in the room.
“I heard everybody yelling and I was like, ‘What did he do now?’ ” Reader said. “He breaks a new record every week.”
So what does nearly one-third of a ton feel like?
“I had to help him just to get it off the rack and it felt like the earth was in my hands,” said teammate and roommate Eric Mac Lain. “So for him to bench press it was unbelievable.
“(Strength) coach (Joey) Batson came over to him and said, ‘Congratulations – that’s the last time you’ll ever bench press at Clemson.’ So Ryan’s done. He maxed out for life.”
Not so fast, my friend.
Norton, you see, is a veritable weightlifting aficionado.
He’s the type of guy who gets just as pumped up about setting a new standard in the power clean or the squat as he does running down the hill or plowing a defensive tackle into the turf.
One gets the idea that Norton will continue to throw weights around in the future, regardless of whether he’s suiting up or not.
A senior center for the Tigers, Norton has always been a weight-room rat, dating back to his days at Mauldin High School.
“I’ve always loved lifting,” said Norton, who has 24 career starts at Clemson and is a Rimington Award candidate. “And bench press is one of my favorite things to do.
“I never really competed (in competitive weightlifting) in high school, but I spent a lot of time in the weight room. I came to Clemson benching like 365.”
Norton has since increased his bench press to 500 pounds, but is able to do considerably more via what is known as a “two-board” bench press – literally having two boards placed on your chest during the lift.
This method more closely mimics the type of “punch” and hand-to-hand combat necessary for offensive linemen, Norton said, so it’s not without application.
“The difference is you’re not hitting your chest,” Norton said. “On a regular bench press, the bar sinks down into your stomach and you have to pop it out. When you bench with a board, you can sink it into the board a little bit, then pop it out.”
Another difference? While most lifters can press about 80 pounds more using the two-board method than they can the regular method, Norton can go about 140 pounds better.
Norton is a big guy, to be sure, but at 6-foot-3, 285 pounds, he’s far from the most imposing of Clemson’s behemoths.
In fact, his bar-bending achievements have earned him the affectionate nickname “Ant-Man” – a nod to the miniature hero with superhuman strength of recent movie fame.
“It’s so impressive for a guy who might not look like he can bench 600 pounds,” Mac Lain said. “So he’s Ant-Man – at least that’s what we’ve been calling since the movie came out.
“He’s just a strong, explosive athlete, a monster. I don’t how his joints hold the weight, I really don’t.”
Strong joints notwithstanding, much of Norton’s weightlifting success has to do with his mental approach. He attacks the weights like many of his cohorts would an all-you-can-eat food bar.
“I get so jacked up for it,” Norton said. “I’m like a crazy guy. I love to put chalk on my hands and go down and punch the floor.”
And his teammates.
Norton is renowned around the weight room for what is known as “giving heat.”
“It’s when you smack someone on the back or the back of the neck before they lift and pump their adrenaline up,” Norton said. “I love it, and I’m that guy. I may be sitting over there doing an exercise, and if I see someone about to max out I sprint over there and smack ’em on the back.
“Some people don’t like it – and those are the ones you have to give heat.”
So does it work?
“I don’t know the exact science behind it,” Norton said. “I’m just the smacker.”
And the guy who apparently can lift the earth – or at least 640 pounds.
“He’s a tough guy,” Reader said. “I go against him every day in practice and I feel all 640 pounds of it every day, so nothing he does surprises me.”