If you have been around USA Powerliting in Massachusetts at all in the past decade you will have experienced the Joe Cappellino phenomenon. Big Joe, aka the Girth God aka the Sultan of Squat (C. Respect) aka the Italian Stallion, is as strong as he is controversial. Raw with wraps and suit or just plain raw he tends to out-squat everyone in the room, and makes sure that we all know it. From founding a powerhouse Collegiate team to earning medals at the World Level, Joe has a lot under his belt, and he’s still taking names. Mass-Lift is proud to present February’s featured lifter of the month, Joe Cappellino.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from, how you ended up in MA, what you do for a living, etc.
I’m 28 years old and currently work as a Civil Engineer. I specialize in privately funded site developments from large to small. In 2017 I start at a new position where I will be still focusing on very large scale private development projects and get involved in some civil infrastructure projects as well. Who cares about that though.
I am originally from New York, more specifically Strong Island. Big Mike thinks the water there breeds powerlifting savages. Take one look at Larry Wheels and you’ll know what I’m talking about. I originally came to Boston for school at Northeastern University. I was attracted by the engineering program, and a shot to walk on to the track and field team to throw the shot put. Also, my sister Allie was already at BU for undergrad and I knew I liked what Boston had to offer.
Through the co-op program I began to make some connections here in civil engineering and I never considered leaving the boston area after I graduated. I also happened to meet a sweet lady named Danielle and that pretty much sealed the deal on Boston as my home for me.
You are the Godfather of the Northeastern Powerlifting team. Tell us how you got into the sport of powerlifting? Did this drastically change your life?
I ended up trying out for the track and field team when I arrived on campus in 2006 and made the team. A few days later I met Big Mike… at the time he was the Strength & Conditioning coach for the entire track and field team. He had a special affinity for the throwers since we liked moving weight around. Big Mike also hired me as a work study to sweep the floors and wipe the baseball players asses in the Varsity Weight Room.
I lasted a year on the Track and Field team before I was cut. The team was leaning down due to Title IX and costs and I just wasn’t very good. I have no problem with that, I threw the shot in high school for one year and just wanted to continue being an athlete in some form or fashion. Before I got cut, I was probably the second strongest lifter on the throws team (Behind at the time a top 3 collegiate thrower), I just had terrible speed, footwork and coordination, basically all the things real athletes need. Once I was cut, but still working for Big Mike, we had the idea to start the team in Fall 2007. Eli Laipson Williams also was working for Mike and was leading the charge with me at getting recognized by the school and getting funding.
It really took of full speed from there. I cant remember a moment since Fall of 2007 that my mind wasn’t thinking about the team or powerlifting. I famously majored in PL and minored in engineering during my undergrad at NU. It definitely changed my life. My best friends, Luis, Tony, Ronc, Billy P are all people that were on the team, and that’s only a few. Also, the president of Penn State powerlifting ended up introducing me to Danielle, so I see starting the team as a pretty life changing thing. Although I’m not involved with the team much anymore I hope the team keeps growing as it is sort of Eli and mine’s legacy at the school.
What weight class do you compete in? Where you always “Big Joe”?
I used to just be Joe, and Big Mike was the only “Big”. Somewhere along the line I got the honor as well. I was always big for my size. Probably 6-2, 200 lbs as a freshman in high school. Now 6-2, 365 lbs.
My first meet I weighed in at 310, so yea the supers has always been my only option. To be honest I think anyone over 6 feet tall is doomed to be a super. Shorter people succeed in PL and taller people need to gain weight to keep up.
What is your favorite lift? What are your best lift?
My favorite lift is the squat. Squatting in competition still makes my hands shake and gives me the feeling like I am going to puke everywhere from nervousness and fear. I love that… If I ever lose that feeling I know it is time to hang it up.
My best lifts in competition are a 1014 squat, 749 bench, 799 deadlift along with a 2529 total.
You’ve done more USAPL local, National, and World meets than I can count. Which one sticks out as your favorite and why?
My favorite meet ever has to be 2013 Open Worlds in Stavanger, Norway. First off, Norway is awesome. If you like smoked salmon you need to go.
This was my first Open Worlds. I felt I was in over my head a bit because my only other IPF meet was a bomb out at Junior Worlds in 2011. It felt good to get out there and go 8/9 and exceed expectations. To date the meet production was the best I have ever seen and made you feel like a real international caliber athlete.
Tell us what it is like to train at Bay State Athletic Club. Whats your training routine like?
Baystate is awesome and is a huge part of my success. Without that gym I don’t know where I would be total wise. It is a great place where you can count on having the best equipment and a team of people to help you. We all help each other throughout the year, especially with equipped lifting.
As far as training I am always mixing it up. I prefer high volume, high frequency lifting at moderate percentages for most of the year. When I am getting ready for equipped competitions I do a lot of doubles in the competition lifts, progressing weekly to higher percentages. When the percentages get high near the end of the cycle I will only go “heavy” every other week and then rest for the meet. I train 4x a week currently although I do sometimes add in a 5th day. I also swim 2-3 times per week.
I’ve seen you doing some Strongman stuff with Liane Blyn. Any higher goals there?
Liane was on worlds strongest woman in the early 2000s so obviously, I called her when I decided to do the Massachusetts State Strongman Competition. She helped me a ton and I did pretty well. I was outmatched by a few more experienced strongman but had good individual performances in the deadlift for reps, farmer carry and giant DB. I was terrible at the stone events. I hope to do more of that in the future. I cant really speak to how much of a commitment I can make because I only trained for that competition 3 times and really still don’t know what it will take to succeed in the sport. I hope to transition to more and more strongman as time goes on.
You’re a National Champion, having squatted over 1,000 lbs at the World level. What current goals are you trying to accomplish now? Focus on World Games?
Its been a good ride. My only goal left is to become a world champion. Competing at world games will be fun and winning would be incredible and would be on the same level as being a world champion. At this point I realize I am 28 and still have a bit to go to become a world champion. I would have loved to win multiple world championships but I would be extremely content with one. I need to be honest with myself about how long I can be healthy at 360+ lbs bodyweight, so the sooner I can achieve my goals in powerlifting, the better!
I’ve seen you do a lot of great things on the Platform, but tell us about what you consider is your greatest moment in powerlifting?
That’s a tough one. I cant really narrow it down to one. 2016 had two great moments… the first at Open Nationals where three SHWs were trying to squat over 1000lbs. I grinded out 1014 on my third and knew that I would be the only one that day the go over a grand. I famously hollered “I’M THE ONE”. Famously to me anyway. Second… winning silver overall and qualifying for world games at IPF Open Worlds 2016 is one of my favorites.
Who are your mentors? Is Big Mike (Michael Zawilinski) the man behind your success? Who would you say you look up to as far as a coach, opponent, or fellow USAPL lifter.
Big Mike is not the man behind my success… he was kind of the match that lit the fire. He has always been a mentor to me in some way and I still call him for advice when I really need it. I don’t even know where he lives or trains anymore so its not like it used to be. Ive always looked up to the lifters of the past, like Brian Siders, Brad G, and Wade Hooper to name a few. There is just something about the train or shut-up mentality they lifted with. I am not the quietest guy but I still look up to those qualities. These guys were always on the grind and never had to post their training lifts online to feel good about themselves. World Championships were what they were after. As far as current lifters, I look up to Charlie Conner a lot because he is the most consistent person I have never known as far as training and diet. He also has what I want… a good bench. I also love watching Ian Bell, Knute Douglas, Priscilla Ribic, Liane, and Bonica Lough. They are all big time lifters that I can identify with because I know how hard they work. Obviously I favor the equipped lifters because that’s what makes powerlifting exciting!
Is there anything else you would like to add? Is Big Mike really mad?
Big Mike has been mad since I out-benched him for the first time in 2007 and beat him to a 700 lb bench in 2011.
Know a lifter in New England that has done some amazing things both on and off the platform? Let me know!! Email firstname.lastname@example.org