Tag Archives: powerlifting

Training Tuesday: Magic City Showdown powerlifting meet

(For basics on how meets work, see my two previous meet reports here and here.)

The last time I was on the platform at a meet was in June 2016. Since then, I’ve run a few marathons, done various other athletic stuff, and generally spent very little time lifting weights… and I missed it. So earlier this year, I told my coach that I wanted to do a meet in April or May, before triathlon season really kicked in. Coincidentally, there was a USPA meet scheduled for 20 April in Birmingham, so as soon as registration opened up, I signed up. What I didn’t tell my coach: I really wanted to nail my 1000lb (454kg) total for all 3 lifts, a total I narrowly missed in my 2016 competition.

Training and meet prep

Prep couldn’t have been simpler: I just did what my coach told me. I was lifting 3 days a week: one day of chest and shoulders (mostly bench, with some accessory work of shoulder presses, some tricep work, etc), one leg day (squats and deadlifts), and one full body day (squats and deadlifts plus some upper-body accessory work). This is in addition to running 30-40 miles a week. During the training phase, I improved my 13.1 PR time by more than 5 minutes and my 10K PR time by just under 3 minutes, so the lifting certainly didn’t hurt my running, but I wasn’t entirely sure the reverse was true until the first time I pulled a 405lb deadlift in my garage, a few weeks before the meet. There were a few changes from my prior powerlifting training regimen for this time. At the start of this training block, I was doing all double-overhand grip for deadlifts, but I just don’t have the grip strength to make that work for heavier weights, so over about 300lb I switched back to mixed grip. I also found that I started having problems benching after I got a Texas Power Bar.  I’m still not sure why, but my wrists developed a worrisome tendency to roll when lifting above about 80% of my one-rep maximum (1RM). This culminated in me dropping a 205lb barbell on my chest a couple of weeks ago. Thankfully it didn’t do any major damage; the safety rails on the rack caught most of the impact, but I’ve had a painfully sore spot on my intercostal muscle ever since (which my chiropractor suggested treating with swimming, as if. Has he even met me before?)

Another change to this training block: I’ve been traveling a ton. I’ve squeezed lifting workouts in at ratty hotel gyms in London, skipped them altogether in Seattle and Spain, and used really fancy facilities in Zürich. That’s a polite way of saying my training consistency has been worse than usual.

The final change was that, because of my travel and general laziness, I decided I wasn’t going to try to cut weight to make the 90kg (198lb) weight class this time. I did that successfully with my last meet, but I would’ve needed to start a week in advance, whilst traveling, and that just didn’t seem like a great idea.

The meet

As is typical, the meet director (Charlie Lyons, who exemplifies exactly what’s good about competitive strength sports) had planned two weigh-ins, both on the day before the meet. At the weigh-in, you record your official weight, pick your opening attempts, and have your gear checked. Unfortunately this required me to drive down to Birmingham in the pouring rain, then drive home again Friday night, then drive down again for the meet. Oh well. I got to bed at a reasonable time, woke up at 515a, pounded down some coffee, and headed back to Birmingham, easily making the lifter meeting. Here’s Charlie going over the meet rules with an attentive crowd.

One very interesting thing about this meet: out of the 60 lifters, maybe 20 were women. This is an unusually high number and percentage. In part that’s because there’s a great team of female lifters here in Huntsville at Core Strength and Performance, and in part because Charlie recruited pretty heavily to get women on the platform. Many of the women lifting at this meet set state records, and there were a couple of national records too– and the crowd ate it up. But I digress. Anyway: the room pictured above is the lifting part of the Diamond K facility, which is where the lifters could hang out and warm up; the meet itself was on the other side, where CrossFit classes are normally held.  Charlie gave demos of the commands that the judges would give and explained the criteria for a lift to be judged as successful. I appreciate that he started the lifter meeting on time, finished it on time, and started the meet on time: just like the dentist’s office, a little delay early in the day can build into a long delay as the day goes on.

The meet was organized into 4 flights with a single platform. I was midway through the B flight for all lifts.

The squat

I’d been feeling OK with my squats lately, so I decided to open at 145kg, which I got easily. My second attempt at 157.5kg was just as easy, so I reached a little and attempted 170kg for my third attempt– and got it. That left me with a solid 25lb PR on the first left, which felt great. Later in flight D, “The Tank” squatted 385kg, or 849lbs, which sort of put my lift into perspective. (However, I would bet money that The Tank couldn’t run a marathon, so I have that going for me, which is nice.) 3/3 with a 25lb PR was a great way to start though, so I rewarded myself with a diet Coke and some snacks.

The bench

This is where I expected a little trouble. In my last meet, I went 100kg, 105kg, and 110kg for my attempts, failing the third one. This time I wanted to start a little easier, so I opened with 95kg… and blew it by putting the bar back into the rack maybe 0.2sec before the judge gave the “rack” command. On one hand, this was a stupid mistake. On the other hand, it wasn’t a technique or strength problem, so I shrugged it off and gave the expediter 100kg as my second attempt… then nailed it. This led me to get a little cocky, just like I did in 2016. I attempted 110kg and couldn’t push it to full lockout. I was philosophical about it; the total of my two lifts so far was 275kg, and I needed 454kg to hit my goal, so I figured I could make that up on the deadlift.

The deadlift

With the squat and the bench, each time a new lifter takes the platform, the spotters have to adjust the height of the equipment and load the correct amount of weight. In the deadlift, they only have to load the weight, so it moves faster than the other events. Because I was in the B flight for bench, I had plenty of time to chit chat with other lifters and take my time warming up. The only other lifter in my age/weight class was Jeff Ray, whose openers were all higher than my final lifts– really nice guy who also happens to be strong as hell. Since we’re of a similar age, we warmed up at the same time, then before I knew it, I was on deck to lift.

First attempt was at 170kg, or 385lb. This is close to the normal top end of my training lifts but I was confident I could get it, and I did. Here’s where the math got tough. I needed 179kg on the deadlift to hit my 1000lb-goal. I picked 180kg for my second. Why so conservative? I wanted to make absolutely sure that I’d have another shot at the weight if for some reason I screwed up the lift. It turns out that my caution was unnecessary, as I blasted 180kg off the floor and locked it out with a quickness. Three white lights and bang! I’d hit my goal.

For my finishing attempt, with my goal in the bag, I selected 192.5kg, or 424lb. This was a roughly 19lb PR over my previous best garage lift. It was a little tougher than 180kg, but it came off the floor nicely. I maybe could’ve put another 5kg or so on there without a problem, but I remembered what happened when I got greedy on the bench.

The summary

At this point, I confess: I was d-o-n-e and ready to go home. At my other meets, I’ve stuck around to watch the big guys lift; it can be very competitive and the crowd gets loud when people are starting to pull 700lb or more off the ground. I figured that, on balance, I’d rather just head home given that I didn’t know any of the lifters well and didn’t have any friends or family with me. So I did, stopping en route for a well-earned Chick-Fil-A key lime shake and some fries. I was pretty wiped out when I got home, so I took a brief recliner catnap and enjoyed a quiet evening of reading.

 

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Powerlifting meet report: Empire of Renegades, 3 June 2017, Huntsville

I just competed in my third powerlifting meet, Empire of Renegades. It was a blast!

Originally I had planned to lift at Europa Orlando two weeks ago, and had trained for that, but the airplane nose landing gear broke and Matt and I got temporarily stuck in Adel, Georgia. Luckily while I was sulking in my hotel room, I found this meet, which was only about 10min from my house, so I signed up and got ready to kick it. I have long had the goal of getting to 1000# total and I thought that maaaaybe this might be the day, if everything broke perfectly well for me.

Training and meet prep

Most athletes who are preparing for a meet will follow elaborate training programs with a goal of peaking their strength right at meet time. Because I’m coached by the team at Complete Human Performance, I just do what my coach (a pro triathlete) tells me to do. Typically I lift 3x/week (upper one day, squats/deads one day, one day of combo), usually with a LISS run or bike afterwards. The other days are higher intensity cardio. This is liberating since I don’t have to worry about my programming, but undoubtedly means I’m leaving pounds on the rack since I am not trying to optimize my lifts. I lift in my garage, with no spotter or live coaching. My technique probably has lots of room for improvement. So I didn’t do anything super special for the meet other than tell Jon, my coach, three months ago that I had a meet planned.

All powerlifting federations separate lifters into different weight classes. In general, you want to be as heavy as possible within your weight class, but as light as possible overall (because your overall score is computed using your total bodyweight). Like wrestlers and UFC fighters, then, powerlifters have a whole science around trying to drop weight without losing muscle. I usually walk around about 205 lbs, and that would put me in the 220lb weight class against much stronger lifters. I decided to try to get down to 198 or below using a water cut. The idea behind these cuts is simple: by manipulating your fluid and salt intake, you trick your body into dehydrating itself. A typical plan might look like this for a Friday morning weigh-in:

  • Monday: drink a gallon of water, cut down dietary salt, lower the amount of carbs you eat
  • Tuesday: drink 2 gallons of water, with minimal salt and low carbs
  • Wednesday: drink a gallon of water and don’t eat anything
  • Thursday: drink half a gallon of water, no carbs, and nothing after 5:30pm. Spend a little time in the sauna in the afternoon
  • Friday: wake up, go get weighed in, and then start dehydrating and refeeding

I roughly followed this plan, but I didn’t start until Tuesday (Monday I had the Cotton Row 10K race in hot, humid conditions so I ate and drank like a pig until I got up Tuesday morning). That worked fine; I weighed in at 88.1kg. after having 2 gallons of liquid Tuesday with a mostly normal diet, nothing except eggs, cheese, and hot sauce (and a handful of peanuts, I’m weak) with 1 gallon Wednesday, 1/2 gallon and protein only Thursday, then weigh-in Friday morning.

Mid-week I stumbled across Bigger, Smaller, Bigger and will probably use it next time. It makes for a fun read even if you aren’t a powerlifter.

The meet

Crossfit Xiphos hosted the meet; we had 45 lifters arranged into 3 flights. I want to start off by saying that the meet was very well organized and run. Everything was smooth despite the fact that more than half of the lifters were doing their first meet!

A digression about how meets are organized. Each lifter gets 3 attempts for each event. In a full power meet (meaning the lifters will squat, bench press, and deadlift), you thus have 9 tries to lift. Saying that you went “9 for 9” or “2 for 9” thus indicates how successful you were overall. You tell the meet officials what your opening attempt weights will be for each of the 3 lifts, then, if you lift that weight, you can go up (by as much or as little as you want) for each subsequent attempt. There is a lot of strategy behind choosing weights; more on that later.

Once everyone’s checked in, the officials break all the lifters into groups called flights, based on their body weight and the amount of weight they said they’d lift in their opening attempt. The lightest lifter is the first lifter in the A flight, and (in general) the person lifting the most weight will be the last lifter in the last flight. For each lift, the first lifter in the A flight does her thing, then the second person in A flight, and so on. After the last A lifter has lifted, the first A lifter takes a second attempt, and so on. This is harder to explain than it is to do.

I was either #1 or #2 in the B flight for each of the 3 lifts. Based on my lifts, the only reason I wasn’t in A is because more than half of A were novice female lifters (several of whom set Alabama state records, which was extremely cool to see!)

During each lift, there are 3 judges watching you: the head judge is in the center, with one judge on either side. They each have a little switch that illuminates either a red or white light. You need 2 or 3 white lights for a lift to count– get 2 or 3 reds and your attempt is considered a “no lift” and doesn’t count. The head judge gives the lifter commands. You have to wait for these commands before you do anything. For example, in the squat, here’s what happens:

  1. The head judge says “The platform is ready” and you get on the platform and address the bar.
  2. At your own pace, you unrack the bar and walk it out to your preferred position.
  3. The judge says “SQUAT” and you can start the squat, at your own pace. You come up at your own pace.
  4. When you’ve stood all the way up, and have the weight under control and not moving, the judge will say “RACK” and you put it back into the rack.

There are different commands for the other lifts, of course. These commands are what burned me at my last meet– I missed my first squat attempt and was thereafter so frazzled that I blew a couple of attempts just by missing commands. It’s easy to get so focused on your body that you lose awareness of what the judge is telling you to do.

Squat

I warmed up light: 10 reps bar only, then worked up to 125kg x1. I’d planned for an opener at 140kg, with my other attempts bracketed per David Dellanave’s excellent advice about attempt selection. Summary: pick an opener that’s   “a weight you can lift 10 times out of 10 with a cold and a headache,” then decide ahead of time what your second and third attempts will be based on how easy or hard the opener is… and then stick to the plan.

My opener was a headache-and-cold winner: 140kg, 3 whites. Sadly I had a camera problem, so no video of that.

Second attempt I chose 150kg, at the top end of my bracket. Three more whites.

Third attempt I had 155kg at the top of my bracket. I took 157.5kg instead, smoked it, and ended up with a new 12lb PR… sadly, I was too conservative here and could probably have gone 162.5kg. That choice turned out to be important later.

(Side note: we had two dudes go over 700#. One attempted 777# and damn near got it. This was super motivating to watch.)

Bench

I have poverty bench. At 6’3″ with giant albatross arms, my leverage sucks, and my form is, shall we say, unique. I opened at 100kg, well within my cold-and-a-headache range, and got it.

For round two, I had bracketed 105 at my top end and got it, but it was a bit of a fight– probably RPE 7.

Discarding good judgement, and David’s advice, I went for 110kg on attempt #3 and couldn’t lock it out. That was the only lift I missed but I was bummed. Learning for the future: don’t get greedy.

Deadlift

I love the deadlift. I especially love it at meets, when the crowd gets more and more excited as people work up to their third attempts and we see some crazy numbers on the bar. My opener was 165kg, which flew up. However, I got one red light because I lowered the weight before the command– too much excitement, I guess.

I had bracketed 172.5 through 177.5 for my second attempt but had forgotten to look at my bracket before I went on the platform. Sadly I told the scorer that I wanted 172.5 for my second attempt– that proved to be too light, as it flew up. You can see the bar flex as I lift the weight. It’s not that I was lifting a lot (although 380lb is respectable), but that a deadlift barbell has more “whip” in it than a bar that you’d use for squats or bench press. The whip makes a big difference. On my shopping list for my home gym: a deadlift bar. Maybe someday…

For attempt 3 I decided to try for a PR at 182.5. I smoked it too. David talks about the importance of choosing a big third deadlift attempt when you’re competing against other people and trying to win, but I wasn’t, so I didn’t get as aggressive as I could have here.

The aftermath

Only after I sat down did I realize that I totaled at 445kg, just 10kg short of my goal. This goes back to a key point David makes in his attempt selection guide. In retrospect, I could have made up that 10kg by not missing my 3rd bench (putting another 2.5kg on the total) and then getting a measly 7.5kg total across squat and deadlift– both of which I could’ve done.

Despite that I was well satisfied. With two PRs on the day, and 8/9 total, it was a day well spent. My neighbors Ashley, Erica, and Michael came by at various times to watch; Dana was there cheering me on and making sure I had food, and it was a great positive and fun atmosphere. I feel like my hard work in the gym paid off and I look forward to what’s next!

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