Not only is Kurt Angle in the conversation for being the best professional wrestler of his generation, but it would be difficult to dispute the assertion that he’s also the most famous freestyle and folkstyle wrestler in history. That’s because Angle stands alone as the only person amongst the four grand-slam-winning amateur wrestlers — people who’ve been a Junior National Champion, NCAA Champion, World Champion and Olympic Champion — who went on to have a lengthy, remarkable career as a professional wrestler, capturing championships in every major wrestling promotion he performed in.
Along the way, I interviewed him several times about his wrestling career, and also about what his training regimen was like when he was at the height of his powers. But given the lingering effects of his injury history (he famously wrestled with a broken neck and assorted other ailments); his recent retirement from the WWE (he had his last match at Wrestlemania 35 in 2019); and his super busy schedule of late (he’s gotten into the supplement business at PhysicallyFit.com as well as launched a podcast), I wanted to see if his workouts had become those of a mere mortal’s. And more importantly, how he continued to find the motivation to hit the gym when it was no longer a job requirement.
That is, like you and me, does Angle now find it hard to peel himself from the couch after a particularly long day when his body doesn’t exactly feel up to the task?
And so, I called him up and we talked about how the pandemic also brought a fitness malaise to his life, the humility you need when lifting weights after 45 and why even he struggles to hold himself to at-home workouts.
Have there been any times in your life where you mentally struggled with the idea of getting back in the gym or working out?
No. I’ve never had to struggle. I’ve never deserted the gym. It’s always been a major part of my life. I do it almost every single day. The only time I’ve longed to get back in the gym is when I was injured. When you’re dealing with broken bones and surgeries, at that point it gets really frustrating because you want to get back in there. It doesn’t take a lot to motivate me. I’ve always been a motivated person, so I’ve never had a problem with knowing that I need to go work out every single day.
As far as the intensity element goes, has there ever been a period when your intensity in the gym was down and you weren’t able to devote yourself 100 percent to your training even though you were physically there?
I got less motivated when the pandemic occurred. I started working out at home, and my intensity did drop dramatically. Because of that, my body has suffered tremendously. I’ve got knee problems, back problems and neck problems. It has a lot to do with being inactive during the pandemic. We were all stuck inside and sitting down, which is horrible on your neck and back. It was a very trying time for me. It was hard to get motivated at that point in time. I was still doing it, but I just wasn’t doing it with enough intensity. I wasn’t training like I used to train. I did barely enough to get by. So, yes, I didn’t have much intensity during the pandemic.
I’ve been to your house, and at least at the time, you had a very impressive set of weight machines and free weights at your disposal that you could lift with. What was it specifically about the pandemic that contributed to your loss of intensity even though you had all that gear to train with?
I gave that all away! [Laughs] I gave that all away when I moved out of my house and into another house. I gave it to my brother for his wrestling school. Then I bought a small bench and some dumbbells and a treadmill, and that’s all I have right now. That’s why I was very limited during the pandemic.
Was there something about only having the treadmill and the bench that was demotivating to you, or do you only get fully motivated when you’re surrounded by a room filled with training equipment?
I’d definitely say that I’m a little more motivated when I’m in public at a gym than I am by myself at home. When you go somewhere and you’re going to do something, it better be worth your time. If you’re at home and you’re just sitting there, you’ll say to yourself, “I’ll work out in an hour. No… I’ll work out in two hours. You know what? I’ll work out three hours from now.” So you keep putting it off. When you set your sights to go to the gym, you know what you’re going for, and you’re going to get it done at that particular time. You’re not going to waste your time being outside. But when you’re at home relaxing, it’s a lot harder to get motivated.
Have you ever been in the gym and said to yourself, “There are people watching me, and I’m Kurt Angle. I can’t be seen to be lifting weights that are too light, or not giving it my all”?
[Laughs] I used to do that before I turned 45, but after I turned 45, it doesn’t matter what I’m lifting as long as I’m lifting it. I sucked it up and swallowed my pride and started doing what I had to do, and not trying to show off for anybody at the gym. It was more about understanding that I just needed to get my work done and mind my own business, and hopefully nobody would bother me while I was doing it.
I definitely used to do that, though. You’re in the public eye and you want to send a good message about Kurt Angle being a badass and he’s strong as hell and all that stuff. After 45, I decided I just needed to lift. I just needed to do the exercises. I don’t need to show off for anybody now because I’m getting too old for that crap.
In that same vein, how have your workouts changed over time?
Well, I don’t train for strength anymore, and I don’t train for endurance. I train for maintenance. I train to maintain my body the way it looks now. I don’t need to get any better, and I definitely don’t need to get any worse. I just need to maintain my body. So you learn how to stop doing power movements and start doing maintenance movements. That means you’re not doing squats, deadlifts and power cleans; you’re doing the normal lifting routine of chest, back, biceps, triceps, shoulders and legs. You do body parts. You don’t have to go as heavy as you used to. You just train your body.
Do you still feel like you’re adequately strong?
With my neck injuries, I lost a lot of strength in my upper body. I’m not strong by any means. I haven’t been strong for a good 10 years. I’ve suffered from some atrophy in my arms. I lost about four inches in both arms. It’s been difficult after having all those neck injuries and doing what I do… I just have to get it done. I don’t worry about how much I lift anymore.
How difficult has that been to come to terms with — as far as the aging aspect and not being able to do everything you once could?
At first, it’s a big surprise and you get a bit depressed. After a while, you just get used to it. At the point where I am now, where I’m about to turn 53 next month, as long as I’m active, I can’t complain. Like I said, I don’t care how much weight or how little weight I lift. As long as I do it every day, I’m fine.