Edmonds resident Chris Knauer is a big guy.
From the moment he enters the room, the whole place feels just a little smaller – but it only takes a minute for his infectious smile and easy laugh to put you at ease.
One thing you need to know about Chris: He lifts heavy things – in fact, very heavy things.
Over the past two years he’s racked up a collection of more than eight world powerlifting titles in both Masters (ages 50-54) and Open (all ages) competitions. And don’t let his age fool you. At 52, Chris is at the top of his game.
“I love competing in both classes, but Open is my favorite,” he confesses with a laugh. “I love the feeling of beating up on the younger guys who don’t see the old man coming, and many don’t like it when daddy comes in and wins! What’s the old phrase? Never underestimate old man strength!”
Chris explains that while many sports favor younger competitors and a person in their 40s is seen as past prime, strength sports like powerlifting are different with athletes peaking in their early- to mid-40s.
“Guys in their 20s and early 30s still have a long way to go in muscle maturity, strength, etc.,” he points out.
Chris grew up in a military family and spent his early years in Europe, where his Air Force father was stationed. He attended schools in Germany and Holland from second grade through high school. After high school, he moved to the States to pursue an undergrad degree in business at Washington State University.
A lifelong athlete, Chris has been an all-around sports guy ever since he can remember.
“I loved sports of all kinds in school,” he relates. “While in Europe I really excelled – I was like a big fish in a small pond. But the States is a much bigger lake, and at the time I was just too small for the collegiate sports I wanted to play, primarily football. I weighed about 210 at the time, and the WSU coaches were looking for guys in the 270 range for linebackers.”
While in college, he worked as an attendant in the WSU varsity equipment room, which gave him ready access to the gym. “The equipment was there, so I just started lifting for something to do,” he says.
He graduated in 1991 and, degree in hand, set out in earnest to find a real job.
“A friend in Seattle owned the Power Body Gym in Northgate and I frequently worked out there during my college summer breaks,” Chris relates. “When I graduated, he knew I was looking for a job and hired me as the gym manager. It was my first job out of college.”
Three years later, he landed a “real job” as a financial advisor in the Seattle offices of a large, East Coast-based investment firm, but a big piece of his heart remained in the gym, where he continued as manager, balancing both jobs.
In 2000, his friend put the gym up for sale, and Chris saw his opportunity. He and seven other like-minded friends pitched in to purchase it. By 2013 six of them had sold out, but Chris hung on, sharing ownership with one other partner – all while continuing his main career as a financial advisor.
Shortly after buying into the gym, Chris began to get more serious about powerlifting. He competed in several events, but quickly found that competitive lifting involves much more than just working out.
“It’s not just the gym work,” he explained. “Getting ready for competition means you need to manage your weight to qualify for your weight class. For me that meant eating about every four hours, and keeping track of proteins, macros, etc. It’s not fun to have to eat like that — it’s lots of work. You get strong, but I just got so tired of eating — my jaw actually hurt!”
He went on to explain that there’s traditionally two weigh-ins before a competition, so if you miss your target the first time, you get another chance later in the day. This is especially tough if you’re even a fraction of a pound over.
“If you miss in the morning (weigh too heavy) you can come back in afternoon to do it again,” he explains. “But it’s miserable – you gotta sweat it out, exercise, don’t eat or drink, sit in sauna and the hot tub. It’s all perspiration and metabolism.”
Realizing his heart wasn’t enough into competitive power lifting to justify the pain, he decided to take a break. This began what would be a 20-year hiatus from competitive powerlifting.
“I still worked out a lot,” he said. “But I was in my 20’s and busy with other aspects of my life.”
But then in 2011 a regular medical checkup brought some shocking news – follicular lymphoma. This began more than two years of chemo and other therapies, which thankfully were successful, and in 2014 his medical team gave him the good news that he was officially in remission. The cancer has not returned since.
All through this he continued to work out, but beating cancer changed his attitude about a lot of things – including competitive lifting.
“In the back of my mind there was this nagging need to prove something to myself – post cancer – that I could come back and be even better and stronger than before,” he recalled. “So finally in 2016 I signed up for a competition – the USA Powerlifting League Washington State Championships. My original goal was just not to embarrass myself. It was my first competition in 20 years, and I set two state records.”
This led to a series of competitions, launching Chris on a meteoric rise in the powerlifting world.
In April 2017 he set three American records at the American Powerlifting Federation (APF) California State Championships, followed three months later by four world records at the APF World Cup. Since then, he’s racked up five World Championship titles, seven world records and eight American records, competing in three different age groups (45-49, 50-54, and Open).
His biggest titles came in 2020 and 2021, when he achieved numerous national and world powerlifting honors. These included becoming the World Champion in both the Open (all ages) and Masters (ages 50-54) divisions of the International Powerlifting League competition held in Coventry, England in November.
While the honors were great, Chris freely admits that keeping up this busy competition schedule can be tough on the body.
“At one point I did four contests in five weeks,” he said. “I won all of them, but it really beat me up. These days I’m trying to separate my competitions by several months. Taking more time between events makes it easier to train, be ready, and limit the risk of injury.”
While he’s been competing in the 270-pound weight class, Chris’s goal now is to compete at the next lower level – 242 pounds.
“I know I’m not as young as I once was,” he laughs. “Carrying around 270 pounds puts more strain on my heart and frame, and doesn’t promote longevity. By the time I hit my 70s I’d like to be around 210 or 220.
“Next year might be my last in the 270 weight class,” he adds. “Besides, at 270 I’m mostly competing against myself because I have most of the records already! I may retire in a couple of years, but heck, I’ve been saying that since I was 45!”
It can be really challenging to keep up this pace, but past experience has taught Chris the value of regular R and R.
“My partner Alonzo and I have a place in Puerto Vallarta,” he says. “We try to get down there at least once a month. Right now I’m spending the holidays in Edmonds with my family, but afterward he and I are flying south to celebrate the New Year with a much-needed sun break .”
But as soon as Chris gets back, he’ll jump right into prepping for his next competition, the USA National Championships to be held in Fort Lauderdale in June 2022.
“Powerlifting is a challenge that allows me to test myself, keep myself sharper, be aware of where and what I am in terms of health and strength levels,” he explains. “Plus I just like to lift weights!”
— By Larry Vogel