I've been a competitive athlete all my life. I played a variety of sports as a child and started lifting sixteen years ago in preparation for high school football and baseball. I continued lifting while playing varsity baseball in college and club rugby as a working adult. My current work and family commitments make it hard to play a team sport, and about six months ago I decided to find a new competitive outlet.
So I trained for and competed in the Carolina Championships on June 7. It was the first full powerlifting meet of my athletic career, and I walked away excited, humbled and proud.
I woke up at 4:45 a.m., drove two hours to Hickory, NC in several layers of clothing hoping to sweat off a couple pounds and make the 198-pound weight class. I reached the convention center early, weighed in at 194.6 and immediately began eating and hydrating.
Squatting began at nine. I opened light and hit 345 without a problem. Hitting my first attempt was key, because while I knew how to squat I'd never performed in front of judges. My depth and form confirmed. I jumped thirty pounds and handled 375 just as easily. I set my third attempt at 405. I was tempted to do more because the first two attempts had gone so well, but it was early in the day and my goals coming in were bench 300, squat 400 and deadlift 500. The third attempt felt just like the first two, and I was 3-for-3 heading into the bench press.
It was over three hours before we began benching. I partnered up with someone during warm ups and we agreed to spot each other during our competition lifts so we'd be familiar with each other's lift off. I opened with an easy 275, handled 292, but failed with 308. I'd handled more than 308 in training, but on that particular rep I didn't have the tension I needed through my back and shoulders during the liftoff. I lowered the bar, paused and waited for the press command, drove the bar off my chest but stalled halfway through the press.
It was 4:00 by the time deadlifting began, and the day was beginning to feel long. I'd dealt with lower back issues in the weeks leading up to the meet and had greatly reduced my deadlift training in hopes of keeping it healthy enough for three heavy pulls. If it felt good, I believed I could set a PR. If not, even my opener could bomb.
My warm-up felt good enough, and my first attempt of 445 went up smoothly. The meet organizers brought in fantastic equipment for the competition, and if you've never pulled heavy with a deadlift bar, you should try it. The increased flex makes a huge difference and feels great. My second attempt with 475 was a bit slow, but I locked it out and set my third attempt at 501. As I watched the other competitors in my flight grind out their final attempts, set PRs and walk off the platform to cheers from the audience it provided a much needed boost at the end of the long day.
When it was my turn to keep the momentum going I took my place behind the platform and waited for the command. The deadlift is unique because there's nothing between you and the audience except the bar. When I got the "bar's loaded" command I stepped onto the platform, set my feet, measured my grip, pulled my shoulder blades toward my hip pockets and let it rip. The rep took what felt like an hour to move from my shins to lockout, but as I heard the drop command from the judge I saw three white lights. I stumbled off the platform, caught my breath and pulled for the other guys in my flight.
Even though I fell short of my goal, I was proud to take part in the meet. The older I get, the more difficult it becomes to find meaningful opportunities to compete. At thirty years old, with a wife, kids, full-time job outside the fitness industry and recent injury history that includes shoulder surgery and a venomous snake bite, competing felt like an accomlishment in and of itself. I tell my athletes that if you want to be the strongest players on the field, bench 1.5-times your bodyweight, squat double and deadlift 2.5. While my numbers are average at best in the powerlifting world, at least I'm still on the right side of that rule.
My performance also taught me some valuable lessons about my training. Having the meet on the calendar kept my training much more focused. Paying to compete on a specific day kept me motivated and accountable. In addition, I now know to include heaver squats, more paused benching and less pulling in my next phase of training based on my training leading up to the meet and what I did with my attempts. I can also see the benefit of competing with a coach or training partner who can help you choose weights, watch and record attempts, and provide good company during the long stretches of time between events.
Overall, it was a great day. I learned a lot, met a lot of great people and saw some really impressive lifts by men and women of all sizes and ages. Hats off to Steve Maxon and the USPA for running an awesome meet. I look forward to competing again.