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World-record holding powerlifter Donnie “Super D” Thompson has found the secret to pain-free lifting. It just may hurt at first. “Body tempering” soft tissue under a 130 pound cylinder of metal is the new way to improve physical performance.
Foam rolling has aided thousands of gym goers worldwide. Whether swanky yoga studio or grimy powerlifting dungeon, fitness enthusiasts from all walks of life have prospered from the therapeutic benefits of self-myofascial release. But, is there a better way to enhance mobility, relieve pain, and keep fitness fun? Super D seems to think so. “These rollers we have, they are just props.” Big words from an even bigger man; but when you have competitively squatted over 1,200 pounds and remain the only person to ever total over 3,000 in powerlifting, your words carry as much weight as the iron that you move. If Mr. 3,000 has his way then body tempering will have fitness fans forgetting the foam and getting real with the steel.
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World class performance has the ability to transcend discipline and inspire millions. Hoop heads would sell their last pair of Jordan’s to get shooting tips from Steph Curry; a hundred meter jaunt with Usain Bolt would whip a sprinting fan into a leg churning frenzy. Likewise, lifters from across the globe seek out the methods and advice of Super D at his Columbia, South Carolina training facility known as “The Compound.”
The tools of world class strength building dot the landscape of his facility. Donnie has outfitted the compound with Monolifts, weight releasers, chains, bands, and more plates than a buffet at a Gamecocks tailgate. All critical building blocks that can make the human frame robust enough to withstand the bone and tendon snapping forces of hundreds of pounds.
But, what separates Thompson’s facility from other iron palaces is the increased presence of rehabilitative and restorative equipment and methods. In addition to his varied tool box of strength toys, Donnie has training tables for resetting hips and spines, stim units to promote blood flow and activate weak tissue, and his most devious brainchild of all- the foam roller to end all rollers- the 130 pound tube of steel so cold and mean Thompson fittingly dubbed it “The X-Wife.”
Self-experimentation is often the mother of invention and Super D came across the X-Wife in a unique way. “When you are going after world-records and you get a hernia, your career is over. You can bounce back from a broken bone, but you cannot bounce back from a hernia. That’s why this was of such importance to us.” In order to keep the tissue in the abdomen strong and pliable, Thompson and his training partners would use kettlebells on their trunks to meet that end. It worked well, but Donnie’s creative genius craved more.
That more was a reinforced steel log collecting dust in the corner of the compound. Donnie recalls, “I’d had it for about 18 years. I got it from an old gym that shut down that I really liked. So one day I asked my training partner Levi, ‘Why don’t you put it on my stomach and roll it back and forth?’ He said, ‘Are you sure?’ I confidently answered, ‘I think so!’ And we tried it and it worked crazy good. And the next day we were like, ‘Let’s try the backs of our legs.’ So, we tried our hamstrings with it. Then we tried our glutes with it. Then someone decided to try their back with it. Every day and every week we tried a different section of the body with it, and the last thing to do was the calves. We were screaming like little bitches, but man it felt good and the flexion you had in your ankles afterward was unbelievable. You felt taller and more complete. You didn’t feel like there were kinks in the armor. It just ended up being a full body thing. We were like, ‘We need to get another one of these.’ And by October we had one shipped to the Bears and one shipped to the Lions and they were tempering their players.”
Long time NFL veterans were moving and playing better than they had in years and adding longevity to their careers. In a league where the average tenure lasts 3.3 years, this was a major revelation. Super D notes, “Lately I’ve met a bunch of NFL centers that have been gravitating my way to learn about body tempering, along with my ankle, low back, and shoulder protocols, and we are changing their careers for the better.”
The college ranks are taking notice as well. Clemson strength coach Adam Smotherman has used it on his charges. He exclaims “our guys love body tempering, we have noticed a huge difference with some of the kids in terms of mobility since we implemented the X-Wife into the warmup and recovery protocol.”
Depending on one’s own individual tightness, the tempering can have different effects, ranging from uncomfortable to downright agonizing. Usually the more restricted a person is in their movements, the harder it is to handle. And restriction is a horrible athletic stumbling block. Thompson states, “You can’t be athletic if you are restricted in your movements. If you can’t squat a few inches above parallel with just your bodyweight then you have some very bad restrictions. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. So obviously you have mobility issues. However, we know that with body tempering that is going to be a thing of the past. It will totally steamroll through that stuff.”
One of the main differences between tempering and other soft tissue modalities is with tempering the areas being worked are passive when getting treatment. When you foam roll the muscles getting worked are active and the body doesn’t really get a chance to relax and let go. Not with tempering. Be it quads or low back the X-Wife is placed on top of the area while fully relaxed allowing the muscle to totally release under tension.
The amazing thing is how well the body responds to frequent sessions with the X-Wife. “Not only does it loosen that tissue up, but if you do it enough your body will expect it and it won’t go into those tonic states. Once the body knows it’s going to be taken care of, you’ll find that you can stroll into the gym and just start training.”
At 50 years young, Thompson still practices what he preaches at the gym. He says, “I still hit it pretty heavy even though I’m not a competitor anymore, I still do body tempering. After that, I do my lower back protocol and my shoulder protocol and I’m ready to go. I have never had any problems, and I speak for all of my training partners too because all my training partners do it just like I do. We don’t have any soft tissue problems. No concerns of them tearing or ripping. Physically nothing happens to us anymore.”
Super D is also an accomplished fitness inventor with his shoulder saving “Fat Pad” bench press replacement, and his recently released kettlebell variation called “Fat Bells”. Both can be found at thompsonbarbell.com. Getting physically better is truly in Thompson’s wheelhouse. The X-Wife has helped world class athletes in multiple disciplines, and if you know the right steel worker it can help you too.