Becoming a State Champion Powerlifter, part 3: Lessons and What’s Next

On February 11, 2012, I competed in my first powerlifting meet and became a state champion and current record holder in my division. This is a 3-part series on my adventures in powerlifting from Feb 2009 – Feb 2012. The first post talks about how I got into the sport. The second post covers more details on training and the day of the meet. The third post is on lessons learned and what’s next.

Lesson 8. Find synergies. (Photo: Ryan Chang)

The cool thing about these lessons is that they have carryover into all other parts of life. I’ll keep it short, but each one can probably be a post all by itself.

1. Have fun. 

I made sure to do this, from the start when I was first learning and feeling out the movements, until now, months after the meet is over, with new goals on the horizon. This had three powerful effects. First, despite how discouraging it was to burn out, I would back off, research, reassess, and make a new plan, because it was fun. Second, having fun ensured that no matter what, goals be damned, I was enjoying it. The moment it started to cross over into not-fun territory meant it was time to back off in one way or another. And third, having fun was a natural check on how hard I was pushing, a check that is essential to a long and prosperous life with the bar. Which brings me to the next lesson…

2. I cannot go 100% all the time.

Or even some of the time. In fact, some coaches say you really only have 2 true max efforts in you per year. It would be a shame to use them up  in the gym. Save them for when it counts, on the platform. It also speaks to how one should prioritize and place their efforts in general.

3. Strength/weakness is a false dichotomy.

I’m short. This makes it more difficult to reach certain cabinets without a step stool, or punch someone without getting punched first. And apparently, I have to earn at least $175,000/yr more than a six-footer, to be as attractive as he is…However, being short means I don’t have to reach down quite as far to grab the barbell, providing a mechanical advantage. It also means a shorter distance the barbell must move in the deadlift. This probably explains why my deadlift blows away my embarrassing squat.

Being short also makes it easier to be light. And the lighter weight classes–along with the very old, very young, and very female divisions–are much less contested, if at all. Shortly after I set my sights on the state record, Pavel published an article on how his 70 year old father become a national record-holder in powerlifting, whereas, “Even if he took to running with the same zeal, he would still be finishing in the second wave of a local 5K race.”

The numbers I put up, while decent, are far from what they should be for a state champion or a state record-holder. Yet somehow here I am, as both. Which amazes me, because there has got to be hella other 123 lbs Californians who are stronger. But you know what? They didn’t compete. They didn’t show up. The ones who do lift probably thought they weren’t strong enough, and the ones who don’t probably thought it best to leave powerlifting for the big boys, and went running long distance instead.

4. My goal(s) must be defined, and my actions must be aligned to my goals.

In sports and powerlifting, it would look something like this:

5. I will understand my body.

While I mention this as a benefit of barbell strength training, this time it is a statement of fact. If I want to be as strong as I can be, I will have to understand my body. Not just the muscle anatomy and biomechanics, but what type of training is appropriate for my current goals in my current situation, how well I recover, what best maximizes that recovery, how much sleep I need, what foods I do well on, what foods I don’t do well on, etc. Well, where should you begin with all this?

6. Seek help.

Read books. Read blogs. Consult forums. Ask friends. Find a coach. Then test all that research on yourself as empirically as possible, so that you will understand YOUR body.

7. Follow instructions.

Before you throw up your hands and declare, “Nope! Doesn’t work!” you have to give something a legit try. This means not mixing one training program with half of another, or following one diet during the week and letting loose over the weekend (unless the diet program calls for it).

8. Find synergies.

Another great thing about training for the powerlifting meet is that it required very little extra time, because lifting is something I would be doing anyway. Getting stronger, having more muscle, more aesthetics, and staying insulin-sensitive are reasons above and beyond a state record for lifting. It’s also my best bet against osteoporosis, loss of muscle mass, and the risk of falling, breaking a bone, and dying in old age. Finally, I threw the logo for my company, the Primal Professional, on my competition singlet. So on day of, I was not only representing myself, but for primal professionals worldwide.

9. Work smarter, not harder. Less is more.

The sport of powerlifting necessitates this. You are only given so much work capacity, so you have to make sure every rep is of high quality. This also meant having to temporarily give up on other fun activities such as going out dancing at night, or hiking on the weekend.  I also only had so much wiggle room to play with as far as weight is concerned, so I stopped doing pull-ups leading up to the meet. Big biceps can come later.

So, what’s next?

Big biceps? I’m quite inspired by the antics of the late & great Zyzz (RIP). While I already engage in similar, it looks exponentially funner when you look like a Greek god. I also realize that, at my height, I have to gain weight to be the best lifter I can be. Time for a slow-bulk.

  • movetofit

    Great tips.  Thanks for posting.  How much did you pay for your singlet?  I would be wearing that thing like all the time!
    Watching the Zyzz video in the other tab.  This guy is hilarious!

    • LOL. $30 on Amazon. It’s not that comfortable, especially in the groin area. I take off the shoulder straps and pull it down a bit when I’m not lifting. And it’s hard to go to the bathroom with =/