Deciding and preparing to compete in powerlifting

Soon after I started training with Bull Stewart in the group class, in March, I found that I was still pretty strong despite inconsistent, non-methodical workouts during the past couple of years. The gym business had taken up more and more of my personal time. I saw myself creating structure for our clients so that they could gradually, methodically increase their strength, while I learned that my own training was so sporadic that when I had the time and energy, I didn’t really know my high end any more. I only did one or two individual heavy lifts a week. Should I squat to 185 or 205 for sets of five? I was never quite sure.

I would have been satisfied to maintain rather than gain strength, but that’s a tricky thing to do if you don’t lift every week. To be safe, I made up my mind at some point to always squat to a maximum of 185 lbs for five reps, deadlift to a max of 205, press whatever I could for five (usually 75 or 80), and bench press to about 85 for 8-10 reps — keeping that one light for safety reasons as I often had nobody around to spot me. (I had spotter bars, but I didn’t like to actually fail and have to use them.)

It was so much fun to start training with Bull, Hikeem, Asuba, and our group after I closed the gym.  I quickly realized I was still inspired by strength and fitness, suddenly unburdened by the need to keep a business going, and ready to participate with enthusiasm in Bull’s new program that he developed for us at Cha’s request.

The program turned out to involve a little bit of heavy lifting, a lot of dumbbell lifts and abs, and a lot of intense bursts of cardio. A lot of fun, though not strictly a strength program. But it was okay. I was now working out three days a week, like clockwork, and walking an hour on off days, so I regained some general fitness/conditioning. And while we did some heavy lifting, I supplemented that with occasional lifting at home, and I kept careful track of what I lifted each workout. Within just a few weeks I noticed I had methodically added a little weight to the bar each time and was close to the strength levels of five years ago.

This was so gratifying. While I had lost a little bit of “barbell strength,” I had not lost enough to be starting over nor enough to make me unsafe when pushing myself.

When Bull offered me the chance to compete in this meet on his team, I was ready to sign up. I saw no reason not to. Why had I never done this before? I didn’t know. (Now that it’s over, I have some ideas why.) As the meet got closer, I started to practice the pause in the bench press with the help of either Bull or with Tom at home. I tested my 3-rep max and 1-rep max deadlift. I tested my 5-rep max squat and set a personal record. Then it was time to rest during the last six days before the meet.

I’ll write about the meet in my next post. When Tom and I were hanging out by the pool on Friday after checking in, it hit me why I’d never competed before. Sitting there relaxing, I felt such a clear sense of mental clarity and capacity. We sat and watched a few CrossFit Regionals videos, read, and watched kids playing. I thought, wow, just for today I’m an athlete waiting to compete — this is a nice life — I have no responsibilities until tomorrow morning.

When I had the gym, I never had the sensation of no responsibilities. If I had decided to go to a meet, my mind would have been racing with the endless gym-admin mental checklist the entire time I wasn’t actually about to lift or lifting. While sitting by the pool, I would have been making lists, returning emails, brainstorming ideas to solve problems. I would have been talking with Tom about that, not about visualizing my lifts for the next day.

My mind was always on the gym, always searching for solutions to problems or for tasks I may have forgotten to do. I had to train myself not to be so mentally vigilant all the time. It was exhausting. I had to remind myself not to feel bad that I didn’t work out as much as I had in the past.

After closing the gym, I started working out elsewhere on the very first Monday, and I quickly realized that post-gym-closure could turn out to be a really fun period of my life. This has been correct so far. I’m glad my mind “straightened out” so quickly so that I could rediscover my love of working out AND even try a new sport with a new coach.