Sean Culnan Interview

interview by Paul Leonard

Please tell the readers your age, location, and occupation. 

Age – 51
Live in West Sand Lake, NY
Owner of Culnan Insurance Agency, LLC 

How long have you been lifting weights? 

Graduated from Colonie Central High School in 1985. Joined Colonie Athletic Club in fall of 1985. Colonie Athletic Club was a great environment filled with local powerlifters and bodybuilders. I latched on to a great group of powerlifters and entered my first powerlifting meet in 1986 

How long have you been competing in strength athletics? 

33 years – My first meet was October 1986 at the ADFPA Dubois Open in Pennsylvania. I just recently competed at the 2019 USAPL Arnold Pro Deadlift Event held at the Arnold Classic in Ohio . 

What are your best lifts in Powerlifting? 

Competition Lifts
Squat – 821 lbs
Bench Press 573 lbs (equipped) – 523 lbs (raw)

Deadlift – 835 lbs 

Any best lifts in Strongman style of events or training? 

I was invited to the 2005 Atlantis Strongman Competition, which Josh Bryant won, but tore bicep training for trap bar event. No strongman ideas since then. 

Have you ever done any other type of lifting events such as strict curl, Olympic lifting, odd lift meets? 


What gyms do you currently train at? 

I currently train at ABC Sports and Fitness Gym in Latham, NY. A great gym with a great group of powerlifters and management that is very accommodating to all members. 

Who are your training partners? 

I have trained with a number of great training partners over the years. Currently at ABC Sports and Fitness my training partners are Wil McFee, Matt Doheny, Jarrad Gundlach and Emilia Sainato. Some great renovations are in store and I will be back with Evan Mensing and Mark Swatling also. EC Stumpf has trained with me since 1995 and our schedules conflict, but we always try to connect when we can. 

Can you describe your current training system? 

I have trained a number of different ways over the years and they all had success in their own ways. I did Westside, 5X5s, sets of 10s, etc…
Currently as I trained for the 2019 Arnold Pro Deadlift event, I trained sets of 10 in squats 2x a week. I find sets of 10 in squats can really do a great job in your deadlift. The strain on your entire body during that brutal set develops strength everywhere. 

  • Saturday – Worked up to set of 10s in squat with Kabuki Duffalo Bar – 450×10 – belt and knee sleeves 
  • Tuesday – Alternated Speed Singles and Wagon Wheels each week leading up to event. Followed with 

SSB Squats up to set of 10 – 460×10 

o Speed Singles – 6 singles with 30 seconds rest and not going above 560lbs. Focus was on speed off of floor. 

o Wagon Wheels – max single
o Vert Pulls – set of 10..similar to box deadlifts and Romanian Deadlifts….a great movement 

• Thursday – Bench Press – work up to set of 10 

How did you develop your training system 

I have done so many different training systems over the years. I feel at my age 5x5s is just too much on me for recovery. I have young lifters that do 5x5s with great success. I did the 5×5 bench program in the early 1990s and worked up to 460x5x5 raw and it developed a great base for the lift. In the early 2000s, Brad Gillingham shared his 5×5 squat program with me and I loved it. I have had some young lifters do also over the years with great success. The deadlift was developed thru some discussion with Louie Simmons in the mid 1990s. I instituted speed singles and heavy good mornings. 

How would you train a 13 year old Sean? 

I think that varies for each 13 year old. If it is weightlifting, is it something they want or is it something others want them to want? If it is something they want, I think focusing on form for the 3 major lifts is the key. Do not focus on weight increases, because at that age they come easy with consistency. The form, to me, is the key. 

Any serious injuries you have overcome? What was your rehab like for those injuries? 

I have had a number of tears (pec, quad and bicep). The recovery was as expected. Rested and my body healed itself. I never had surgery. When I tore my quad the orthopedic wanted to do surgery and I decided against it. I think our body does a better job of healing on its own then getting under the knife. I now struggle with lack of shoulder mobility. It makes bench pressing painful and getting under a squat bar really difficult at times. I had stem cell injections on both shoulders but they have not done much. 

What is your diet like? Please describe a day of eating as well as a training week of eating. 

My diet is pretty boring…It is the same every day, really no variance. 

Breakfast #1 – Shake – Liquid Egg Whites and Oats. 1 Greek Yogurt 

Breakfast #2 – 4 eggs over easy with potatoes and sausage
Lunch – Steak and Potatoes 

Dinner – Steak and Potatoes
Late Night – Haagen Dazs Vanilla Bean Ice Cream or Ben and Jerrys Americone Dream 

I think it has been a few years since I have not had a steak twice in one day 

What is a normal week like in taking care of your family, work, and training? 

I am a small business owner so I have flexibility. I am usually at office very early in morning and get my day laid out. Fortunately , business has been good so I do not have a cloud of stress over me thru the day. That helps with training. My family has been very supportive since I started and know how important all of my interests are. 

New York has a long tradition of strong motherfuckers and bad motherfuckers. Who are some of the baddest mofos you have trained with?

You are not kidding. I remember being at the 1986 Adirondack Open held in Glens Falls , NY and I was 19 years old and not even that long in the sport. The back room was filled with a bunch of jacked dudes. My mentor and the man who kick started my powerlifting career , Jeff Kristel, squatted 800lbs that day weighing 286 lbs and drug free. The energy I felt when on that lift was made and the hug he gave his Dad after the lift still gives me chills. I knew that day I wanted powerlifting in my life. 

I have seen so many strong men and women over my time in the sport. New York has its great lifters. The ones who stick in my memory are memorable lifts I saw them do in person in competition … 

Evan Mensing – 855lb Deadlift
Bill Crawford – 750 lb with shirt – at that time it was the highest ever Mark Swatling – 800lb Deadlift
EC Stumpf – 600 lb Bench Press – USAPL w/ shirt
Bobby Hickey – 650 lb Bench Press raw – weighing 277lbs
Paul Sheedy – just overall huge and strong
John Bernor – 600×10 in squat with belt only – training

Are you sponsored by any products or company? What can you tell the reader about those products? 

Pete Alaniz at Titan Support Systems has been very supportive over the years with his great products. 

What are your plans to support and grow the sport in the future? 

I currently train a number of great young local lifters who have a bright future in the sport. I also run the Culnans King of the Deadlift event which can be seen at this link. I really suggest you watch and it will tell the story 

YouTube Search – Zachary Culnan Memorial Family Fund 

What are you going to do to win another Arnold or IPF title? 

I would like to compete again at the 2020 USAPL Arnold Pro Deadlift, because this years was such a great experience. 

Also, if I can get my shoulders feeling somewhat healthy I would like to pursue another IPF Masters World Championship. In 2007, I won in Czech Republic and also was the Champion of Champions(Best Lifter) which was another great experience. 

What do you do to recover from a deadlift session? 

I wish I could say I slept well, but I do not. I think eating as well as I do helps in my recovery. I have no “recovery plan” as I focus on “training preparation” more. I am very focused once we start our training session. 

Who are some of your friends in the Powerlifting world? 

Too many to mention. I have them varying from the G.O.A.T Ed Coan, who was a teammate of mine on the 1996 IPF World Team to a referee I met 15 years ago at a local meet. This sport has a great fraternity and one of the things I am so grateful for. 

Any hobbies of interest? What do you drive? 

I drive a 2018 BMW 740 

I am an avid reader. I read about 60-80 books a year. I encourage everyone to do more reading. I think once you discover a great book it will impact you in so many special ways. 

I also play quite a bit of sport board games. I have done this since my early teen years and continue to this day. Brings back some great nostalgic feels. 

Tell the Strength World something that they do not know about you Sean. 

I lost my 21 year old son Zachary in February 2015 to a heroin overdose. 

Paul – this may be easier to discuss on phone as my feelings are hard to express typing. He is my favorite subject and I am not uncomfortable talking about. I will say powerlifting has helped tremendously in my grief. I will share a paragraph from another article I did expressing this…

February 2015 I endured a very difficult family tragedy. Based on everything I was going thru, I felt I most likely would never compete in powerlifting again. I was comfortable with the decision as I had experienced so many great moments in the sport. My last competition prior to that had been the 2014 USAPL Great Lakes Invitational Deadlift event and I had pulled 744 lbs. For most of 2015 I trained very light on machines, etc..and also dropped significant bodyweight. In December 2015 I received a inquiry to see if I would be interested in competing at the 2016 USAPL Arnold Classic Pro Deadlift event . I accepted the invitation for the March 2016 event. As training progressed I set a goal of 744 lbs in the Deadlift to be done on my second attempt. This would show me that although I was dealing with tragedy and grief, I was still alive. I shared this goal with my long time training partner, EC Stumpf, as he recognized its significance. 744 lbs was what I lifted prior to my loss and if I did 744 lbs after it would show I was still capable of being the same person I was before, just a different one. On my second attempt at the 2016 USAPL Arnold Classic, I pulled 744 lbs. The support I received from my family and friends was amazing (the attached post meet picture shows). Powerlifting was my vehicle in expressing myself and what I can be capable of. It shows us all what we are capable of. I am so grateful I crossed paths with this wonderful sport. This sport can be so much more than what it is on the surface, embrace it and you will see its power.

Who would you like to thank for their support, fellowship, or inspiration. 

ABC Sports and Fitness in Latham , NY has had a big impact on my life the last few years. Walking back in there rejuvenated my love for powerlifting after losing my son, Zachary. Matt Doheny had created a great supportive atmosphere for all the members. The gym has a great crop of young lifters who inspire me every day as I see them reach for all their life goals. 

I have two children, my son Zachary and daughter Mikayla. My daughter Mikayla is probably my biggest inspiration. Mikayla was a junior in high school when she lost her brother . She had ran track very successfully up to that point. Now Spring 2015 was around the corner and she was a sprinter approaching her junior outdoor trackseason. 

That spring is hard to describe in words. I would watch her line up at each 100 meter heat and final and her determination was so evident. The energy she brought into our family at that rough time was magical. She ran thru everyone. She won the sectionals and came in 4th in New York State in the 100 meters. I cheered, I cried, I hugged and I was so proud of her. She brought competitiveness and love of sport back to me. She showed us all that we were still alive and the magic she brought still inspires me every day.