The alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. It doesn’t matter, because I’ve been tossing and turning all night. A restless night on the account because it’s hot; today will be the hottest day out of the mini heat wave sweeping through the coast, and also because I have weights on the mind. In 12 hours I start my first powerlifting competition and honestly, I’m a little nervous.
Powerlifting is a simple weight lifting competition where individuals perform three different lifts: the back squat, the bench press, and the deadlift. Each individual has three chances in each lift to perform the maximum amount of weight that he/she can perform safely. Each lift is judged by three judges on a yes/no system, if the judge believes the individual has completed the lift, a green light is given; if the judge thinks the individual did not complete the lift, a red light is given. Two or more green lights indicate a completed lift. Should an individual not complete their lift, they can retry that same amount or increase the weight, but they only have a total of three attempts. One cannot go down in weight. To find a winner, all you do is add up the highest amount in each lift together; so if one does a 300lb squat, 300lb bench and 300lb deadlift, their total number is 900. The classes’ breakdown by weight, age and gender, it really is a simple sport. Lift the most amount of weight in your division and win; that simple. Did I mention you have to wear a singlet?
Rolling out of bed, I realize today will be a long day. I need to get my equipment checked and I need to weigh in for my class. That starts at 6:30 a.m. which means I need to be on the road by 6. Lucky for me there are less people on the 405 Freeway at 6 a.m., driving to Long Beach, where Metroflex Gym is located was no problem. I get to the gym and I am the first person to check in, the only problem is the referees that check your equipment and weigh you in are not here. That’s not a problem because Metroflex is a sight itself to be seen and I need to drink this in. No, this is not your fancy, valet parking, spic and span big box resort gym. This is a GYM! Graffiti on the walls shouting inspiration at you, murals on the wall of characters lifting insane amounts of weight, lifting chains! They have chains you can put on the bar and press! Tractor tires are outside for your flipping or hitting (with a sledge hammer of course) huge concrete balls, yes concrete balls like you see in the World’s Strongest Man competition are also outside for your use. Inside they have ropes and rings from the ceilings and a mini parkour area. On the other side of the gym is a small octagon and punching bags for those days you just need to hit something. Yes you have your traditional gym equipment; dumbbells and machines do make up most of the square footage, but along just one wall I think I counted six (6!) squat racks and a designated area just for deadlifts with platforms! Only two treadmills existed, they were off in the corner like a misbehaved child. This is not a gym to take a yoga class and do your “cardio”, this is a gym to lift and put in work! All this gym is, is a big, dirty warehouse where people can yell, lift heavy, stay inspired, get results and I like it! The gym has a local celebrity by the name of CT Fletcher, he’s not for the easily offended, but to get a better understanding of this gym check him out here or the gym itself here.
At about 6:40 a.m. the referees show up and they check me in and weigh me. Weighing in at 176.8 lbs I am signed up for the men’s open 181 lb raw class. There are different levels of powerlifting, raw being only allowed your singlet, high knee socks, a lifting belt and wrist wraps. Other classes designate where an individual can wear lifting shirts, suits and sleeves. Some say this may aid in lifting of more weight, but that’s not important because I’m not into that. As I begin to leave the gym, I can’t wait to see how the gym will fill up. My expectations are high and I leave still nervous but excited. The next six hours of anticipation nearly got the best me, I was a nervous wreck. Stepping outside of your comfort zone and zeroing in on a goal you have never attempted is nerve racking, but I’m up for the challenge.
My meet is supposed to start at 4:15 p.m. My wife and I make a day out of going up to Long Beach, leaving early to deal with traffic and stopping for a bite to eat; we arrive at Metroflex around 1:30 p.m. That empty gym of this morning is no more, the gym is packed! There are people waiting outside. Inside all the chairs for the front sitting area are taken. A rambunctious roar of the crowd is reverberating throughout that tiny sitting area indicating what lies from inside of that gym door. People are everywhere! They are lifting weights warming up, tapping themselves, foam rolling, stretching and cheering on their teammates and competitors. There’s a BBQ going on selling the usual, hamburgers, hot dogs, drinks and chips. There were also tacos, sweets, protein powder and branch chain aminos all for sale. They only space to sit really, was on the equipment that wasn’t being used.
After settling in and finding a spot, it was time to check out how an actual powerlifting meet is held. The weight classes before me were the men’s and women’s 165lbs and below. If you think powerlifting is only a male sport, think again. I want to say there were as many women competing as there were men and some of these women were extremely powerful. One actually set, I believe, a state record on deadlift. She was in the 181lb class and deadlifted 562lbs. Yes 562lbs. That’s 200lbs more than what I plan on deadlifting, my ego was checked at the door. In short, there were some incredibly strong athletes that performed before me and my hat is off to them for their dedication and hard work.
Unfortunately, the meet before mine went long; my new start time was now closer to 6 p.m. That’s not a problem because, I was still a little nervous, but as time grew closer, I became more anxious and ready to start this new sport. The squat is up first and when I checked in earlier that day, you must enter your beginning weight you want to lift in each exercise. I was to start at 105kg or 231.5 lbs. I’ve done this many times before and know I can complete this lift. Luckily I was the first one to go in our group and by the numbers I was going to start with the least amount of weight, not a great confidence booster. The way a lift takes place is quite simple, the referee will state when the platform is ready. You can then take your place under the bar, or on the bench. Once you lift the weight and stabilize yourself, the referee will command you to perform your lift. After you complete the lift, again you must stabilize and wait for the referee to signal for you to rack. My name was called and I go to take my position under the bar. The only thing I kept thinking to myself was, “don’t screw up.” I take the bar onto my back then stabilizing myself, the referee gives me the command to squat. I squat, stabilize and wait to rack. The squat felt good in my mind and as I look at the board indicating whether or not it was a successful lift, I see three red lights. I failed my very first attempt. The judges where nice enough to let me know I didn’t squat low enough for it to be a successful lift. Immediately afterwards I need to put my number in for my second attempt. “I got this,” I think to myself. “Give me 115 kg please,” I say to the referee. 115kg equals 253.5lbs. Let’s make round two better.
Now that I’m actually competing, time is now going by fast. Before I know it, it’s round two and I have a date to squat 115kg. The platform was ready; I get under the bar and commanded to squat. I made sure that I went low enough this time and it paid off because as I finished my second attempt, I was awarded three green lights. I have now made my first successful powerlift and boy was it sweet! Feeling confident and getting into my stride, I was tempted to go with a weight I had originally planned, 145kg or 319.7 lbs. I played it safe and went with a lower weight of 130kg or 286.6lbs for my third attempt. As my name was called and I was commanded to squat then rack, three more green lights came on after my third attempt. That nervous man before is now gone, bring this meet on!
It’s good to note, I didn’t perform any of these lifts cold; I was well warmed up and ready before each lift. As the squat session began to close, I was warming up for the second lift; the bench press. My first attempt on bench was going to be 105kg or 231.5lbs. As I look up at the score board, I see a few others at 105kg’s and one even lower than that, another confidence booster. As my name was called and I take my place under the bar, I know I have this lift in my back pocket. You can have help on the initial lift off then stabilize yourself. The referee commanded down, indicating it was time to lower the weight towards my chest. With bench you actually have to hold the weight on your chest for a second before the referee commands to press up. After the press up you must stabilize again and wait for the command to rack. After I racked I knew I had this lift down, the three green lights indicated that as well. Time for my second attempt of 115kg’s or 253.5 lbs. I have benched 250lbs for two reps before earlier that week; round two shouldn’t be a problem. Just like before I was commanded to attempt my lift, after I racked I saw three red lights. I failed my second attempt on bench and it was a bummer. You cannot double bounce the bar off your chest; that is an act of an unsuccessful lift. Not to be discouraged, I up the weight to 120 kg’s or 264.6lbs. I planned on 125kg’s or 275.6lbs, but again I went with the safe route with a lower weight. That safe route paid off because after my third lift, three green lights came on and I couldn’t be happier. Then bench session was coming to a close and it was time to warm up for the deadlift.
I never knew how to deadlift properly until seven years ago. I had a real good teacher and friend teach me how to deadlift. I initially was just going to compete in the deadlift only, but at the last minute I decided to compete in the whole meet. I mean I’m there already right? My first attempt on deadlift is 150kg’s or 330.7lbs. As the platform was open and ready I take my place with my feet at the bar, this should be an easy lift. I’ve done this lift many times before, I got this. Round one was a success; I had three green lights shining onto my face. Round two would be the real test as it was going to be my heaviest I have ever done in deadlift. 165kg’s equals 363.8lbs; this will be new territory for me. My name is called and I take my position, I am free to lift. I don’t know if it was something in the water, or just my adrenaline from the meet, but by God, my second attempt seemed super light! I completed my second lift and look at the score board; three green lights. I just broke my personal best for deadlift! I feel like Superman! No wait, I feel like Ironman….no no I feel like the Hulk…. I feel like all three combined; freaking invincible! As I go tell the referee my third attempt of 170kg’s or 374.8lbs I am so proud of myself and a sudden new burst of energy is overcoming me. I CAN really do this! I am called for my last attempt. Even more new territory is waiting for me as I look at that bar at my feet. I am clear to lift. As I kept my back straight, my pillar tight, and contracted my glutes to raise the bar, I realize something, this bar is too light! As I put my weight down I wait for the board to light up indicating whether or not it was successful, as the three green lights shine upon my face again I am happy yet dissatisfied because I knew I could have lifted more weight. I’m stoked I did 374.8lbs, but I had plenty left in the tank for more. I guess I will know better for next time!
The best thing about a powerlifting meet is the camaraderie of the other participants. I met some extremely wonderful people. I met at least three others in my weight class who said it was also their first meet. Cheering them on and having them cheer for you while you broke some personal records was well worth the wait and nervousness of day. Nobody had a big head. Nobody cared if you failed. What they did care about was you being there and trying your best. I may have not medaled or broke any state records, but I broke some personal records and that’s all that matters. I failed, I learned and I moved on. I gave myself a goal, stepped out of my comfort zone and did something different, and you know what? I loved it! Oh my final score was a total of 926, not bad for a first meet.
CT Fletcher immortalized on the wall.
My favorite mural
The ceiling and crowd
This is right above the only mirror in the whole place
My 374.8lb deadlift
The bottom of my squat at 286.6lbs