C.T. Fletcher burst onto the YouTube fitness scene in 2013, already in his early fifties yet a breath of fresh air in a world of lookalike and soundalike fitness influencers. The massive, deep-voiced veteran powerlifter, who had endured open-heart surgery eight years earlier, quickly found a niche as a beacon of positive energy and a model for even more personality-focused YouTube fitness celebrities to come.
But Fletcher, star of the documentary My Magnificent Obsession, had more trials to come. He would endure another round of heart problems, culminating in a heart transplant in 2018 that saw him flatlining on the operating table twice more, bringing him to a total of five times. Life, it seems, wasn’t done with Fletcher yet. He’s still resisting the urge to procrastinate, working with online trainees, training as much as his 62-year-old body lets him, and selling a variety of his branded supplements through the Ambrosia Collective.
We caught up with C.T. to ask him about his decades-long strength odyssey and what advice he had for trainees of all skill levels.
Let’s start with the question many people have probably asked you: how do you motivate yourself to get into the gym?
I have a simple saying—“fuck procrastination.” Procrastination is the absolute worst thing. Everything seems like it will be easier five minutes from now, five days from now, whenever. That’s what your mind is trying to trick you into believing. But the truth is that it won’t be any better than it is right now. Get up and do something. Walk down and get the laundry. Go play hopscotch. Throw darts. Fart into the wind. Whatever you’ve got to do, do it. Otherwise, you’ll just keep coming up with excuses not to get moving. Eventually, those excuses will pile up, and after they run out—excuses run out for people who keep making them—you’ll find yourself sitting there, depressed because you haven’t moved for a long time.
What drew you to powerlifting? Why did you want to become strong?
Man, I’ve been strong since kindergarten. My brother and I—he passed away after dealing with heart problems too—were always the strongest kids. Kids just know who is strong and who isn’t. You know right from the start. We were known in elementary school for our head locks. Those head locks got us sent to the principal’s office. And in my family, I heard all these old stories. They used to say one of my grandfathers was stronger than a pack of mules. They’d talk about my dad pulling a tree stump out of the ground by himself. And since I’m from Compton, when I was growing up, one of the main guys in the Crips was huge, and I watched how people admired him for that.
How did you become a top powerlifter? What was your favorite lift?
I was trained by a guy named Jim Britt. Britt took an interest in me because he saw me coming into the gym and doing nothing but curls. Curls all day long. He said, “C.T., you have to do something besides curls” and got me started on the powerlifts. I competed in drug-tested events, and was at my strongest during my early- to mid-thirties. The bench press was my best lift by far, though I was strong all over. I pressed 650 pounds in competition. I wanted to press 705 pounds in competition, which was at or near the world record at the time. I got that lift in the gym, but never in competition.
What was your mindset like in those days?
My mindset was really simple: I wanted to be stronger than the guys competing against me. I wanted to be the strongest person, period. I weighed around 300 pounds and ate like a horse. I ate four Big Macs a day for lunch for twenty years in a row. I wasn’t into walking. If you said you were going to a park or something where there was going to be a lot of walking, I wanted no part of that. Now that I’m 62, after a few decades of heart problems, the attitude I had back then seems crazy to me.
How did your diet and training regimen change as you aged?
I started having heart troubles in the early 2000s and had open-heart surgery in 2005. People in my family, like my mother and brother, had a history of heart problems. My diet and approach to training up until that point hadn’t helped things. So after 2005, my training regimen was very different. I went from extremely heavy weights to extremely high reps. My body weight dropped down to 220 pounds. You’re going to have to evolve as you get older, as far as this sort of thing goes. I’m just glad I put in that strength work when I was younger, because let me tell you, at 62 it’s better to have people saying “that guy looks like he used to be a weightlifter” than “man, that guy looks like somebody who never looks good.”
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Were you as fun to train with as you appeared to be on YouTube?
I ended up working in personal training after long-term health issues led to me having to leave my job with the US Postal Service. I needed a way to make a living, and lifting was something I knew well after years of doing it. But as much as YouTube helped me get over with people, I don’t think I was a great personal trainer. In person, I was way too intense. The trainees who stuck with me were very hardcore. My intensity level worked better on YouTube, not so much one on one. And I’m still doing virtual training.
What exercises would you recommend to new trainees of any age? Anything specific for older trainees?
Once upon a time, I might have told them to eat a lot and bench press. Or I might not have bothered to answer because I was so busy eating and getting stronger myself. But especially after my heart transplant in 2018, when I flatlined for the fifth time, my ideas about all this have changed. I would tell trainees of any age to start with push-ups and sit-ups. Use good form and improve that form as you go. And as you get older, you need to incorporate as much walking and general movement into your training as you can handle. I used to hate walking and would go out of my way to avoid it.
I wanted to save all my energy for getting under the barbell. But that’s not the right attitude, not the sort of attitude that will lead you to a long and healthy life. After you’ve flatlined a couple times and are alive thanks to a transplant procedure that didn’t even exist when you were a kid, well, you definitely come to appreciate quality of life. You want to keep going as long as you can.
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