Re-Building Joe Atef – Part 1

Re-Building Joe Atef – Part 1

Aug 3, 2016


In December of 2014, Joe Atef had his left rotator cuff surgically repaired.  Joe is a multi-time AWPC World Champion, and has competition-best lifts of 940# squat, 680# bench and 650# deadlift at 275.  He has competed in the USAPL, AAPF, AWPC, APF, USPA and XPC, and holds numerous State, National, and World records in various organizations.  This multi-part series will detail his recovery and rehab, as he now prepares for the 2016 WPC World Championships in November in Baton Rouge, LA.

Let’s first rewind back to June of 2013.  Joe Atef was on the top of his game.  At the invite-only USPA North American Championships, Joe posted lifts of at 914# squat, 677# bench, and 644# deadlift in the 275# class multi-ply.  He won the Best Lifter award for his category for the meet, and qualified for the 2014 XPC Finals at the Arnold Classic.  Coming off a victory at the 2012 AAPF Nationals in Burr Ridge, IL, Joe decided to venture outside of his normal competition in the AAPF and AWPC, and wanted to qualify for the XPC’s.  After tossing his first squat over his head, Joe came back, successfully completed it on his 2nd attempt, and able to complete the meet and put up very good numbers for the day.


Following his victory at the USPA invite meet, Joe had set his sites on competing with the best of the best in multi-ply at the XPC Finals in March of 2014.  Unfortunately, that is where we suspect the trouble with his left shoulder begin.  Joe felt a “pop” in his shoulder durring one of his 600+ lb bench press attempts.  He was still able to finish the meet with lifts of 940/680/600 for a respectable 4th place in a very competitive 275# class.  His left shoulder was quite sore for many days after the meet, but eventually went away for the most part.

Joe continued his training in an “off-season” mode throughout the summer and fall of 2014.  He, Howard Penrose and myself were in the process of opening 2XL Powerlifting, our own powerlifting and strength training gym after a number of years of housing Team Stone out of a couple of my works’ facilities.  All of our training took a bit of a backseat to building out and building up the new gym.  Nonetheless, we all continued training.  Late in the fall of 2014, Joe felt another “pop,” when just doing a raw bench of around 225#.  This time, the pain didn’t go away after a couple of days.  An MRI revealed a tear in subscapularis muscle of the rotator cuff that would require surgical repair, and some “fraying” of the bicep tendon that would need to be “cleaned up.”  In order to continue the build-out of 2XL and so as to be able to help Howard at the 2014 WPC Worlds, Joe put off his surgery until December of 2014.

Joe-tomAfter a mandatory period of just resing the shoulder/arm, Joe begin his physical therapy with a fellow powerlifter Tom Krawiec.  Tom had successfully rehabbed himself from a very difficult double-knee injury, and was just the right physical therapist that understood both powerlifting and rehab.  He knew that Joe would want eventually to be back benching 600-700+ lbs in bench shirt, and generally back competing at the high level he was before.  In addition to bench pressing, a shoulder injury of this type certainly was going to affect Joe’s ability to get under a straight bar for squatting, and get his shoulders/arms into position to deadlift.  Regaining mobility in the shoulders was a key component of what Tom worked on with Joe, in addition to working to regaining strength and stability through the rotator cuff and shoulder girdle as a whole.

Joe and I began work back into his lifting/training in early February 2015.  At the time, he was still under the care of his orthopedic surgeon, and was attending physical therapy sessions with Tom 3x/week.  We, nonetheless, began a 3-day lifting program with the following goals:

  1. Get back in shape.  Joe’s weight had gone up to ~340 lbs from where it usually was around 280ish area.  It’s tough to be physically active when your shoulder is immobilized, and you are to eating like a powerlifter that trains heavy 4 days/week.  Conditioning and endurance drills were tops of our list to bring his general work capacity back up to par.
  2. Back back to squatting.  It certainly was still not even possible to get under a squat bar, even 3 months post-surgery.  We used the rackable “spider” bar, a type of safety-squat bar, as our main bar for squats and assistance exercises to get a bar on his back, but keep stress of the shoulders.
  3. Finish up physical therapy and focus on upper back strength.  Joe continued physical therapy for another 6-8 weeks following his start of getting back into training on his own.

Throughout February we followed a plan that looked something like this:

  • Squat Day
    • SSB Squats 5×5 with moderate weight
    • Leg Press 5×10 lighter weight for endurance
    • Conditioning Circuits for 2-3 rounds:
      • Prowler Marches
      • Planks
      • Goblet Squats
      • Walking Lunges
      • Lateral Band Walks

Goal of the squat day was to build back up leg strength and conditioning while keeping stress off the shoulders.

  • Upper Circuit Day  (done 1-2x/week at this point)
    • Pulldowns 3×20-30
    • Seated Rows 3×20-30
    • Face Pulls 3×30-40
    • Circuit x 2-3 rounds:
      • Battling Ropes
      • Pull-Aparts
      • AirDyne Bike
      • DB Curls (very light)
      • Band Tricep Pressdowns

On this day, we were just trying to get some blood floow and movement back into the upper body without doing any type of pressing or shoulder work yet.  We also usually ended with a shoulder stretch laying vertically on a foam roller to work on regaining ROM and flexibility, especially in the pec’s.

  • “Deadlift” Day
    • SSB Good Morning 5×6-8
    • GHR Back Extensions 3×12-15
    • Circuit x 2-3 rounds
      • Sled Drags x2-3 trips each
      • Seated Core Hold
      • Single-Arm KB Swings (with the non-surgical arm)
      • Suitcase Carries (again, only non-surgical arm at this point)

We really wanted to focus on posterior chain strength here, and work some “pulling” motions without putting anything in his left hand yet.


We ran with this type of set-up for the 4 weeks or so of February while Joe continued physical therapy.  The focus of PT was continuing to work on regaining full ROM in the left shoulder, and working on getting all the small stabilizing muscles of the rotator cuff and surrounding muscles of the shoulder back firing.  PT also included some therapeutic-type modalities like ice, electric stim, and some soft tissue work.

Stay tuned for part 2 and beyond as we continue to detail Joe’s recovery and rehab process.



Eric Stone is the co-owner of 2XL Powerlifting gym in Lombard, IL, where he is the Director of Training.  He trains a cross-section of clients from powerlifters and high school athletes, to adults, and individuals with special needs.  He holds a BA from Elmhurst College in Exercise Science and Physical Education, and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).  Additionally, Eric has been a competitive powerlifter for the past 15 years, and is the Illinois State Chairman for the American Powerlifting Federation.  He boasts top competitive lifts of 672/418/540 at 165#, and 727/451/551 at 181#, and has promoted over 30 powerlifting meets over the past 10 years.  He can be reached at



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