I have spent the last six weeks in the novice phases of learning to powerlift. That may seem odd, given that my last post declared (self-righteously and with no real grounds for doing so) that powerlifting isn’t a great test of strength because the ability to perform those movements doesn’t necessarily imply any other meaningful kind of strength…
However, I also concluded that powerlifting is an excellent way to develop strength. Despite the fact that the movements themselves require years of practise to perform WITH VIGOUR, they are also responsible for more gains in sheer strength than any other gym work.
Sure you can do a dozen variations of each lift and add countless muscle-isolating bonus sets, if you like. But why bother? If you’ve only got an hour in the gym and you want to get as strong as possible, nothing is more effective than lifting heavy (five reps at most) in those three big lifts.
Note: perhaps Olympic style weight lifting is equally or more effective. I’m not sure. All I know is that I currently lack the mobility to find out. I’m working on it.
Three Big Lifts
I’ve been doing one exercise per day: squat on Monday, bench on Tuesday and deadlift of Wednesday. Thursday and Friday I squat and bench again, but lighter – to improve my technique, which will help me lift heavier and get stronger.
That’s it. No other weight training. I’ve usually got to wrestle in the evening or perform in the morning, so why burn my body out doing 100% more work to make 10% more progress? Especially when adding extra sets and exercises just sucks away the energy I rely on for the rest of my activities.
So. Just powerlifting. Big. Heavy. One lift per day. Simple. Basic. Effective. Boring? Actually, no…
Here’s the funny thing: I’m really enjoying it! Sure, those powerlifting movements still seem kinda pointless compared to my ‘functional’ training exercises, but focusing on improving just one movement per session is very intense. Progress is clear.
When I set out for the gym, I have one simple goal: lift a certain weight a certain number of times (5 sets of 5) then leave. If I complete it, I make it harder next time. If I’m in the gym for more than an hour, it’s because I’m working on my mobility – not bashing out more sets. That means I’m always full of energy and capable of performing at my best, whatever comes my way.
I’ve always believed that booking competitions, events or tests is the best way to guarantee progress. It focuses the mind and gives a short term goal. Something to focus upon and something to CRUSH. But competing in powerlifting is a fairly intimidating prospect, so I decide to look before leaping.
Sure enough, it’s not as simple as “turn up and heft”. You need a certain membership. You need certain approved gear: singlets, belts and shoes. There are rules – obviously there are rules! There are regions and divisions and qualifying rounds and so on, all of which is entirely necessary for a sport and absolutely none of which I am at all prepared for.
I’m notoriously bad at being prepared. No. Wait. I’m notoriously good at being unprepared.
On the plus side, I also whimsically looked into powerlifting benchmarks and past competition results to get a feel for roughly how I was getting on. I was surprised to see that, although my bench press remains infuriatingly low, my overall total (bolstered by my deadlift) is actually quite good! In fact, I’m just above the qualifying standards for the British Powerlifting Championship!
Don’t get me wrong: I’d be crushed at the British championship. I wouldn’t even place last: I’d be smashed into non-existence by the sheer scale of my inability. But when it comes to regional events, with a bit of training and experience, I might actually be able to hold my own.
Weight Classes: 74kg vs 83kg
Powerlifting classes are divided by gender, age and weight. Two of those things are out of my control (thanks, mum and dad) so that leaves me with one choice: which weight category should I compete in?
People seem to think I’m massive. I have no idea why. Perhaps I should start standing next to something for scale. Like…um…a shrub?? A dog standing on its back legs? A Chevrolet? Anyway, my average weight is around 76-78kg, which is slap bang between the 75kg and 82.5kg weight classes (or 74kg and 83kg in International Powerlifting Federation competitions).
Although my body fat sometimes drops to about 6% when I’m at war with the cosmos, it usually fluctuates around 11-13%. If I drop it to around 8% (as should be expected of an athlete), I should fit nicely into the 74kg weight class – where I could be competitive if I can increase my lifts by 10% or so without getting any heavier.
My only other option is to pile on a bunch of muscle and try to compete at 83kg, which would involve being consistently bigger and heavier than I’ve ever been. I’d also have to invest a lot more attention and disciple into to my nutrition, in order to put muscle on and keep off fat – because I’d still want to be competing at 8% body fat, to maximise my amount of functional muscle.
In short, competing at 83kg would probably involve totally changing my natural body size, whereas competing at 74kg would just involve being lean. The tricky bit will be getting strong enough to be competitive at my current weight without putting weight on. A CHALLENGE!
For now, I’ll just keep having fun and training to get stronger. I’d rather have a good time and be a weak competitor in a higher weight category than kill myself to drop weight. I’d like to stay smaller and nimble but, on the other hand, being relatively massive sounds cool as well.
So there you have it. The man who declared that he “didn’t get” powerlifting and didn’t really think it was a decent test of strength is now planning to compete in 2017. Because, fuck it, it IS a test of strength. Right??
Also, for the record, I just want to be known as a Liftmaster. Master of Lifts. Ed Gamester, MLi.