Yesterday, I competed in my first powerlifting competition and I had a blast! I love powerlifting and intend to stick with it and see if I can build up my total. I can’t wait to compete again. I competed in the 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation.
I REALLY love the 100% Raw Federation as they allow for the following competition options:
- Full Power (squat, bench, deadlift)
- Iron Man (curl, bench, deadlift)
- Push-pull (bench and deadlift)
- Bench only
- Curl only
- Deadlift only
- Full power and curl only
- Crossover (combination of categories)
With such a broad range of options, most lifters can figure out what suits their desires best. I chose the full power and curl only so I could also perform the curl (the curl is optional and doesn’t factor into your total). The rules for the strict curl are on page 11 of THIS document in case anyone wants to read up on that lift.
In case anyone is curious about the jumps in powerlifting, the bar and clips together weigh 55 pounds. The jumps are 2.5 kgs, which equates to 5.5 pounds. See THIS link which shows kilo to pound conversions for powerlifting. The red plates are 25 kgs or 55 pounds. Smaller jumps can be made if attempting a state, national, or world record.
I went with Diana (my girlfriend) and Rob (my long time friend who I convinced to attend and who I trained over the past two months). Here are our results:
squat 225.7lbs, bench 93.5lbs, deadlift 248lbs, total 567.2lbs, curl 55 lbs
Basically, my girlfriend is a badass. After just 6 months of training, she set the Arizona state record for her weight category (weighs 123 pounds, squatted 225.7 pounds).
I’m extremely proud of her as she didn’t initially want to do this due to preconceived notions of powerlifting “bulking you up and making you look manly.” I convinced her to try it and she stuck with the training and did very well.
She does not do well with the sumo-squat and has very strong quads, so we stuck with a more narrow-stance squat. In training she tends to skimp on depth from time to time and not hit parallel. She also has huge issues with knee valgus and we’ve worked to correct that. These only reared their ugly heads during her max attempt, which can be expected.
She could have curled the 60.5 pounds (she’s done it in training) but they screwed up with the scheduling and had her curling and squatting at the same time. Her max curl was around 60 seconds following her max squat, which is insane!
I know she could have hit the 45 kg (99 pound) bench but she felt strong and wanted to go for it. Unfortunately she failed. She’s actually gotten 105 pounds in training, but the day of the meet what you do in training doesn’t count! Her form really came around – it’s still not the best, but it’s come a long way in just 6 months.
With the deadlift, she went too wide on her second attempt and couldn’t budge the weight. We took in her stance slightly and she smoked it. I was hoping for 120 kgs (264.5 pounds), as she’s gotten 255 pounds in training. But overall she did very well and I’m very excited that she has a state record under her belt.
On a side note, several people in the stands commented on her amazing glute development (I have her doing plenty of hip thrusts too), and her singlet was very popular amongst the ladies.
squat 402.2lbs, bench 319.5lbs, deadlift 523.5lbs, total 1,245.2lbs, curl 137.7lbs
Rob is a long-time friend of mine (known him for 16 years now), and he’s naturally a very strong guy. He’s been featured in a couple of my Youtube videos over the past several years and we’ve trained together off and on over the years. I was very eager to get him to compete with me as I had a hunch that he’d like it.
I thought that Rob would beat me in the curl competition as his biceps are much bigger and he was beating me in training. However, for some reason my curls were crazy-strong yesterday.
Rob is a very upright, quad-dominant squatter. I’ve actually referred to him in the past – as a young trainer I forced him to use a wide stance and flare his toes despite the fact that he always complained that it hurt his hip. Then I stumbled upon Shirley Sahrmann’s work where she talked about hip anatomy. Rob does best with a narrow stance and his feet pointed straight ahead. Rob has trouble hitting depth in his squats, but we hammered this in training. I’m very pleased that he nailed depth on all three lifts. I feel that he’s capable of 20-30 more pounds but we were worried that he’d skimp on the ROM and miss depth.
Rob’s hit a 335 pound bench in training, but this wan’t in the cards yesterday. Neither Rob or I were accustomed to pausing for a second with our bench presses, which required us to move down in weight considerably compared to the touch-and-go style.
Rob has some of the worst hamstring flexibility and this limits his deadlift. During the active straight leg test, he could only reach around 35 degrees, which was horrendous. I had him stretch his hamstrings every single day for 10 weeks, and his hamstring flexiblity (straight leg hip flexion) improved by around 30 degrees. He believes that this was the most critical component to his increased deadlift strength. I also worked with his sumo deadlift form tremendously as he tends to want to line up with the bar away from his shins, allow his shins to jut out, let his knees cave, and squat the weight up. By lining up with the bar on his shins, keeping the knees out, and keeping the hips higher, he set an all-time PR in the deadlift and slaughtered his deadlift from 3 months ago by 140 pounds (he was using 385lbs and ended up hitting 525).
squat 374.7lbs, bench 286.5lbs, deadlift 562lbs, total 1,223.2lbs, curl 143.2lbs
The stars in my mind were definitely Diana and Rob. I was happy with their performance but a bit disappointed with my own, mostly because I didn’t want to let my readers down as I predicted heavier weights.
I started off with the strict curl.For those with no experience with the strict curl, I can usually do 8-10 reps “normally” with what I can do once in the strict curl. So if you can barbell curl 115 pounds for 10 reps, this is probably what you can strict curl. The most I’d done in training was 140 pounds, and I failed twice in training with 145 pounds.
My first lift was 132.2 pounds and it felt like cupcakes. Second lift was 137.7 and it too felt extremely light. Third lift was 143.2 pounds and it was very easy too! I checked out the state record and it was 70kgs (154.2lbs). I decided to try for 71kgs (you can go up by 1kg increments for state records, and you can go for a fourth attempt if you’re trying to beat a state, national, or world record). I almost got it!!! I was so damn close, but my butt came off the pad by around 1/2 an inch. I actually almost fainted on that last attempt which would have been pretty funny. I can see the headlines: “Big dude faints during curl competition and is rushed to the hospital.” I’d have never lived that one down. So I almost got the state record which would have made me very proud. Oh well, there’s always next time!
Next up was the squat. My first attempt felt incredibly easy. I like to perform full squats in training, and I don’t ever want to be called on depth, so I went deep. My second squat didn’t feel that tough – I knew I had room to go heavier – just not 25 pound heavier. On my third attempt I just ran out of gas. Usually I can grind a lift like this out and “good morning” the weight up, but this was just too heavy for me. In the future I’m going to tinker around with sumo-stance squats to just below parallel and see if I can get stronger with this manner of squatting.
My bench press opener was way too light – felt like cupcakes. Second lift was very easy too. But just like the squat – I took too big of a jump and missed my third attempt. My form has improved dramatically in the bench press over the past six months – I’ve benched like a bodybuilder my whole life and benching like a powerlifter took some getting used to. But I’m finally getting the hang of it and it’s feeling more natural to me. I wish I had a better arch – I’m going to keep trying to improve my t-spine extension over time.
Finally – the deadlift. My opener was cupcakes. My second attempt wasn’t too challenging and I felt like I had more in me. But I didn’t have 600 pounds in me – I took too big of a jump. Barely budged it off the floor. I want my 600 pound deadlift though!!! I’m going to keep plugging away at this. My posterior chain strength (hip thrust, back extension, reverse hyper, and glute-ham raise) was at an all-time high, as was my grip strength. However, my form changed from last year. Last year I rounded a bit more which made it easier off the floor (but made the lockout harder). I wonder if training with more upper-back rounding would improve my strength. I also want to experiment with sumo deads as I may be able to get stronger with this style.
There are many things I learned, including:
- Don’t predict anything before-hand – just go in hoping for the best. Predictions caused me to use too heavy of loads for all three lifts. Having much lifting experience, I knew that I probably wouldn’t get the 402.2lb squat, the 297.5lb bench, or the 600.7lb deadlift. But I probably could have gotten a 385.7lb squat, a 292lb bench, and a 584lb deadlift. This would have equated to a 38.5lb increase on my total, had I listened to my body rather than stuck to my predictions.
- Don’t assume you’ll hit crazy PR’s. There are many lifters who excel on the platform. I’m not that guy. I have tons of anxiety, I’m not a good sleeper, I get jittery, and I perform better under more controlled circumstances. I’m sure that some of this will improve in time as I get more accustomed to powerlifting and I’m not as nervous, but I shouldn’t have assumed I’d hit heavier weights just because I was in a competitive environment.
- You really have to be smart about your loads. The openers are critical because you only get 3 lifts (unless going for a state, national, or world record, in which case this federation allows for a fourth attempt). Starting off too light will make you guess for your 3rd attempt and prevent you from really gauging your strength.
- Strength is largely influenced by anthropometry. Body segment lengths, in addition to tendon-insertion points probably account for 50% of one’s natural strength advantages over others. Curling and deadlifting come very easy to me, but not for others. Squatting and benching do not, but they come very easy to certain lifters. Long femurs isn’t good for squatting. Short arms isn’t good for deadlifting but it’s good for benching. Etc. Etc. Etc.
- Everyone has a unique form that’s inherent to their body. While great form is critical, it’s dependent upon the individual. Some stay more upright in the squat, some lean more. Some round their backs more in the deadlift, some stay arched. Some go wide, some go narrow. There are certain rules that apply to everyone, but there are many factors that are dependent on the individual.
- I’m a really good curler. I was surprised to see that I outlifted almost all of the bigger dudes in the curl, many of whom had biceps that dwarfed mine. I must have ideal leverages for curl (shorter radius/ulna combined with long biceps tendon insertion points).
- I really want a 600lb deadlift dammit! Part of the fun of powerlifting is experimenting with your training to see if you can find something that works better for you at that point in time. Some ideas are fruitful while others are dead-ends.
- A good one-year goal for me is to hit the 400/300/600/1,300 squat/bench/deadlift/total. I need to be patient. This was a good first meet as I gained experience and put down some numbers that can be improved upon over time.
- Strength gains for natural lifters requires more patience. If you don’t take anabolics and you have over a decade of progressive-resistance training experience (and especially if you have experience with performing squats, bench, and deads with proper powerlifting form), you’re not going to see these 200 pound strength increases in one year on particular lifts like you typically see with certain elite powerlifters when they first start out.
- I freakin’ love powerlifting, I love the community of brosephs and brosephinas, and I am going to keep competing. One of these decades I might open up a powerlifting gym and have my own team. I think it would be so much fun to go travel around and compete.
Hope I didn’t disappoint any of my readers by failing to reach my goals – I’ll get this over time, but I need to gain more strength and be patient!
Great job bro!
Thank you Rob!
Your surgically repaired bicep didn’t affect your strict curl?
Nope! They say the distal biceps tendon repair surgery results in a stronger tendon once it heals. My right bicep isn’t quite as muscular as it once was, but the strength is still there (maybe the other elbow flexors got stronger to compensate).
Great post, Bret! Your numbers are a dream for most, don’t be so hard on yourself!
Well keep in mind that I weigh 220…but thanks Danny!
Diana’s got a nice vertical tibia bro 😉
Thanks for noticing Jon! 😉
So proud of ALL of u!!! Congrats!!
Thank you Anne! I appreciate it.
That is a good deadlift Bret. Congrats mate 🙂
Congratulations and wow!
I’m sure none of your readers feel let down by your performance.
You competed, and that counts for alot. I’m sure most of your followers read your blog for it’s up to date science and for training ideas, not because of your physical strength.
Still, i was impressed with your pull!
How much do you and the gang weigh? Was there any power to weight ratio lifts done in this competition? How did u taper going into comp? Looks like it was fun, well done.
Diana – 123, Rob – 220, Bret – 220. They gave out award for best coefficients but I’m not sure how those work. I tapered over the last two weeks. Second week out still lifted heavy but with barely any volume (literally one heavy rep after warm-ups), and the week of the comp I just did some light lifts (but I benched heavy on Wed as my bench strength drops if I don’t train it frequently).
Hurray for all three of you! What a great accomplishment. I think you are missing a trophy though. What happened to The Cutest Couple Award? Isn’t that part of the meet?
Awww, thanks Kellie!!!
Great work, Bret! I tip my hat to you (and Diana and Rob) for having the guts to get out there on the platform and compete.
Your first and second attempts – especially on the squat and bench – looked really smooth and fast….seems like you’re one of those guys who smoke attempts close to their 1RM but then just a couple % points can make a crazy difference in bar speed. At least it looked that way? Perhaps those attempts looked easier than they felt, hah.
Thanks for sharing all the lessons you learned – good stuff.
No, you’re spot-on. Submaximal weights are a piece of cake for me, then all of a sudden I add ten pounds and I’m pinned haha. I’ve always been this way, but I’ve gotten a little bit better. Cheers!
Way to go Bret, I think you did great for your first meet, there is nothing quite like that first time (I am still talking about powerlifting :). Strong curl too. Glad you enjoyed it and glad you liked 100% RAW, I hope to see you at one of their meets in the future
Tim, we will meet one day for sure my friend! I appreciate your advice prior to the comp.
Awesome! Congrats to all three of you.
Bret, what is your upper arm size when flexed? Those curls were indeed very strong.
Only 15″ un-flexed, and 16 1/4″ flexed. Just measured them.
Thanks for the quick reply, Bret. In a recent photo I saw you standing somewhat next to Chad Waterbury. The angles were a bit odd, though. Is he bigger than you?
Sorry about my broseph attitude right now, I cannot help it.
Did Squats, Deadlifts and Push-Ups with chains today, so I am feeling super hardcore right now. LOL
Fine job first time in, brau. Hey, I’ll jump on your team for New Jersey/New York region comps…that is if you build out a BCPL Team…ha ha…You always need a Masters to represent. Peace my brother-MJ
Don’t worry about your readers Bret, just go in and kick ass. Great lifts.
What was your body weight?
Disappointed NEVER….First attempt and you had a blast…That’s a success
Diana looked awesome…great Job on her first meet way to go!!! She will be a good advertisement for all those women afraid to go heavy….Strong curves works…Form Function and Female….Hat trick….
Extra badass points for both of you for sporting the best tried and true shoe in PL—-good ‘ol Chuck Taylors.
Great job by the both of you Bret! So few people in this industry actually put themselves out on the line like that and compete! You will reach your goals Bret with patience and perseverance. Maybe one day I can be as strong as your girl friend!
Only watched your girlfriend Diana so far and that was an inspiring video. I watched the fail then success on the deadlift a few times. Make the right adjustments and try again! Nice work.
In this day and age, it’s courageous to put yourself out there for comments, criticism or whatever…bravo.
Hey – one thing you might look at on your deadlift is more pre-loading of the hamstrings. You need to make your levers work for you. On your attempt at 600, your shoulders were too far forward and you had little to no pre-stretch in your hamstrings.
You look strong enough in the prior attempts – I think from here, 600 is just neurological and mental. You will get it.
Mutsanah, last week I filmed a video on this (making the hammies do the work). So we’re on the same page! Normally I do this, but I have a theory as to why I didn’t do this with the 600lbs. I believe that I’m shortening the lever arm on the spine but leaning into it, thereby protecting my spine (which is likely the limiting factor as my hip extensors are strong enough to raise my torso). So I need to get my erectors stronger so I can keep a better arch and sit back into it to allow the hammies to do their thing. Cheers!
Rack pulls, my friend.
Start bar at 2-4″ below the knee – work up to a 1RM training max
(What you can lift with good technique but not have to psych up for).
Then, hit 3-5 sets of clusters with 90% of that 1RM, aim for 3-5 reps per set.
Once a week – watch your DL #’s improve.
Great work, Bret!
(As you can tell, I love the DL)
Great work Bret! Are you doing the Cottonwood meet in June?
I think so! Been working on sumo stance for squats and deads – think I may be able to get stronger with the two. But not sure. If you’re there I look forward to meeting you!
That sounds great! The plan is for that to be my first meet, so I am looking forward to it.
Awesome work Brett, great to see S and C professionals practicing what they preach. Big lifts buddy, great stuff.
Great job!! Hitting 100% + 1rms have a such a small range for error. It’s hard to always nail it just right sometimes. To me, it’s what makes if so fascinating. What kind of singlet are you wearing?