In part one of this story, I'd explained how I'd finally summoned up the courage to test my strength and, to some extent, knowledge in the 'real world' of competitive raw powerlifting.
I think something that's common amongst those of us who train hard – and, more importantly, take at least some of our identity from what that's 'made us into' – is that it becomes easy to sit on what you're achieving in the gym, and stay in that comfort zone.
Social media makes this even more of any easy option, as nowadays it's easy to post a video of, say, a personal best, great lift or impressive gains in a physique / bodypart – to an audience that can often be bigger than what you'd get at even the highest tier of amateur competition.
But this decision to stay comfortable goes against why you started training... the idea was to push through barriers of pain and weakness and take yourself to the next level. I know lots of 'powerlifters' and 'bodybuilders' who are really nothing of the sort – they never compete, just do the training and use the name of the sport to explain why they do what they do in the gym.
Then there's those who swear that if they competed, they'd do incredible things, but come up with every excuse (to themselves and others) when they don't quite get as far as the competition. Our egos are sometimes just too fragile to stand the test... "what if I lose, all my followers and friends will think I'm a fake"... or, more like, all the compliments, 'likes' and signs of approval will mean nothing any more. We're really that shallow at times.
That's what I was. That's what I had started doing.
Well, that had to stop. I knew already that you don't get better at competing in a sport from training alone. Experience s a massive part of success in almost any discipline... and practice really does mean 'doing it' then consolidating it and repeating it again. And again. And again.
So, with the destination of the Maidenhead Centre and the GPC-GB Southern Qualifier in mind, at 8 weeks out I finally committed.
That meant paying my membership to the GPC-GB, entering the competition and paying the entry fee, booking my flights from Jersey to Gatwick (and back again). When you have a family (and I have 5 children, an awesome wife and a dog that rely on me), financial commitment means commitment. I can't afford to take that away from them and then back out at the last minute, so if I paid to go, I was going come hell or high water.
On that subject, you may have seen my colleague here at Olympus Health refer to me as an 'Olympus Athlete' in this news piece. Well, we're a small company and we receive upwards of 100 requests for 'sponsorship' a day! I can tell you that when you're the boss, you can't really 'sponsor' yourself – but I do use our products exclusively, and I do save a few quid because of that... so there's an advantage. But, there's no way our small company could afford to send me on a jolly as a still largely untested competitor. So bear that in mind if your emailing us/me asking us to help you with your goals!
Anyway, all was booked, and all was good. The next day I figured out that the Maidenhead Travelodge was just 10 minutes walk from the Maidenhead Centre – where the GPC-GB Southern Powerlifting Qualifiers were to be held.
I booked myself a room, with wifi and breakfast, from Friday to Sunday. The idea was to pre-empt any of the very possible delays (Jersey Airport is very often fog bound), give myself loads of time to get to the weigh-ins (which by GPC rules have to happen 24hours before you compete) and just generally not be rushed and stressed.
I was going to get a rare couple of days of peace and avoid distractions ahead of competition. Training wasn't quite on track – I had a hip injury and was struggling to fit into the Olympic-size squat bars (powerlifting squat bars are longer and thicker) – but otherwise I'd gained some confidence from having properly prepared and planned way ahead of time. Awesome.
Except that it wasn't that simple. Less than ten days out from the competition, the GPC-GB Facebook posted the following:
Well, there was two things to weigh up there:
One, was that Maidenhead was nowhere near Genesis Gym, in Wembley, and that's where I had booked to stay. A quick call to Travelodge confirmed that I wasn't able to transfer or get a refund, and although Bulldog had mentioned picking us up for the competition, we still had to make our way down to the weigh-ins 24hours in advance.
BUT, at the same time, I knew Genesis Gym was somewhere that was on my shortlist of places to visit and train one day – my good friend and former Mr. Britain Rai 'El Toro' Garcia Singh literally 'came from' Genesis, and referred to it as 'the Mecca' of training.
Added to that, Brandon Lilly was giving a seminar the day of the weigh-ins.
For those of you not into powerlifting, Brandon ranks as one of the top 20 lifters in the world, in both raw and 'equipped' powerlifting, and he has the 17th largest total of all time, raw with wraps, regardless of weight class!
I'd watched Brandon's youtube channel daily within the last 6 months or so, as he'd also come back from a horrific leg injury that was further complicated by a series of infections and a need for an almost complete reconstruction of his left knee. The way he handled it and came back to lift – recording the whole thing, highs to lows and all between – had actually inspired me to come back to the idea of competing despite being 40 y/o and incurring my own (much less significant) injuries in the last couple of years.
It was like a sign. I had to be there.
With offers of help – financial and otherwise – from some very good friends, I overcame my 'fuck this' moment, and re-booked myself (paying for a second hotel room in Wembley) into a different hotel.
Then came the day! On the 17th, I arrived in Gatwick, picked up an Oyster card and figured out the trains needed to get to Wembley Travelodge.
Despite arriving at the 'wrong' Wembley Travelodge at first – and having my gym bag handle come off on the walk between the two, spilling my stuff all over the pavement – I got to the hotel, had a shower, ordered a taxi for the morning, ate 3 chicken tikka masalas in a row and drank a massive jug of ice water, then got an early night.
The next day, I woke at 6am – I couldn't get breakfast until 8am – so I did some stretches, took some creatine and vitamins, drank more water and began to visualise lifting some good weights at the comp.
After wiping out the scrambled eggs at the hotel buffet, my taxi arrived and took me straight to Genesis gym, where the legend himself Dave 'Bulldog' Beattie weighed me in and took my opening weights to be lifted in the competition. I weighed in at 135.5kgs – some 4kgs lighter than I had been in the two weeks before I got to the competition, but nicely within the 140kgs upper limit of my category.
Then I found myself a seat around the big red monolift, and chatted with some other lads and ladies who'd obviously turned up for Brandon's seminar.
Brandon came in about 20 minutes later (I had been early) and shook hands with everyone before getting straight down to telling us how he'd ended up here in London.
He'd just smashed... and I mean SMASHED his all time bodyweight PRs in bench press and deadlift (despite aforementioned injuries) at tattooed and strong! He was on great form, obviously just as much in love with the sport as he'd ever been, and gave the most honest, down to earth responses to any and every question that was put to him.
I couldn't have been more impressed. Then we broke for lunch... so me and my teammates Dan Reis and Ross 'Cubey' Kenwright went to a nearby Sainsbury's and got a chicken each, some salad bowls, juice, water and even some donuts to celebrate that we'd all made weight!!!
Part 2 of the seminar involved Brandon explaining, demonstrating and coaching his own personal 'cues' for the squat, bench press and deadlift.
He didn't rush anything, in fact he would stop with any lifter as long as needed to explain what advantages there was to what he was showing them. I also genuinely believe that he shared his very best 'secrets' with no hesitation... explaining how he'd come to find the best mechanical and even psychological reasons for where he put his feet, hands, shoulder-blades and even pinky fingers through constant analysis of his and his friends and competitors' lifts.
For example: in a powerlifting competition bench press, you're given three commands: "start" means lower the bar, "press" means push it back up from the paused, stationary position that you press from, and "rack" means put it back in the bench's 'hooks'.
If you've been benching in the gym, it's likely that you throw the heaviest sets back towards the rack inadvertently when you finish a heavy single rep... well that'll get you red-lighted at a competition, but it's easily done.
Brandon's simple suggestion was to imagine pushing towards your feet rather than 'ramping' to up over your eyes when you 'lock out' the weight... which went against my own ideas about how to press as strongly as possible. However, he had us all up to try, and he proved it!
Here's my own 200kg 'opener' from the comp the day after... I followed Brandon's cue, and behold, look how easily I stabilised it and didn't jump commands:
Also, the biggest revelation came in his squat instructions...
I'd been struggling with squatting (which caused me to underestimate myself massively on the day of the comp – more in part. 3) all the way up to the comp.
I'd had loads of elbow issues, and whilst i could bench press just fine, squats were wrecking my elbows – and it was because of a cue that I'd been using for years, it turned out.
I was always under the impression that I should be pulling the bar into myslef whilst squatting... as doing so tightens the lat muscles, traps and maintains tightness.
However, if you've ever seen the monster that is Dmitry Klokov doing his namesake 'Klokov press' – where you press to overhead from behind the neck whilst in a squat position – you'll see that pressing the weight actually tightens the muscles even more... of course it does... they're active this way!
Look at this pic of a Klokov press midway through... does he look 'loose'?
So, whilst I aways knew to 'lead with the back' in a squat, it often doesn't happen that way when the weight is on your back. Yet, so I discovered from Brandon's seminar, when you 'press' the weight away as you squat it, you automatically lead with the upper back, and the elbows find their strongest position so you don't get the pain or discomfort in that area that I had long considered to be 'just a part of squatting properly'... ironic, eh?
Of course, at proper weights you won't be able to push the bar off, and all it'll do is sort your alignment out in one go. You can't help but fall into your strongest position.
That revelation made my squats the next day TOO easy... in fact, I left at least 40kgs and maybe more 'in the tank' – more about that next update.
All in all, I can say that I learned at least twice as much from the weekend compared to what I expected to, and it was not only worth the money to attend Brandon Lilly's seminar, but in all, it was worth the hassle of the venue changing last minute, because there's no way I would have gotten as much out of the weekend as I did had we not found ourselves in Genesis Gym sitting with one of the best powerlifters in the world the day before we got to get under the bar ourselves.
Back to the hotel that evening, I was pumped for the comp, and as I sat down with my meals and massive jug of water, any nerves I would have usually felt were taken away by my thinking over the seminar, the gym, the other lifters I'd met (who'd come down for weigh-in themselves) and just how amazing this sport that I'd decided to get involved with actually is.
Did I get one of these?
In part 3 (coming soon) I'll break down the competition itself, let you know how I got on and share some good news!
Yours in sport,