Two Years of Powerlifting

I had intended to spend some time writing this weekend and putting thoughts to paper (so to speak), but as usual, I got lazy and decided to enjoy the summer sunshine and sleeping on my couch instead. I'm rather hoping to change that trend this week, now that things are a little slower at work. My time spent relaxing did, however, give me a chance to reflect on an important milestone.

Two years ago, I came to the realisation that my life was going nowhere. I had a comfortable job, a very comfortable apartment, and an exceptionally comfortable lifestyle for a single bloke in a large city. However, none of it meant anything to me- and worse, I was not where I wanted to be. Physically, my body was degenerating; spending 50-60 hours a week sitting in the same chair, eating the same sort of food every day, was turning me into a pudgy joke of a man. And this was despite the fact that I never drank on weekdays, ate lots of hearthealthywholegrains, and woke up every morning at 5 to hit the gym. I thought that I was doing everything right, yet I wasn't all that much stronger than I had been when I left college and was at least 10kg heavier. Add to that the fact that I was living in a city and in an apartment that actually should have been outside my means had I not been earning (rather a lot of) overtime, and I eventually realised that it was time to make a change.

I didn't really know where to start, but I knew that I wanted to drop the extra weight that I'd added over the years since I'd left college- seemed as good a place as any to start a program of self-improvement. My "weightlifting", such as it was, consisted of using dumbbells and chin-ups and what I thought were bench-presses- you know, the half-assed kind that 95% of all guys in the gym do where they lower the bar no farther than a 90-degree bend of their elbows, if that. It took me a while to figure out how to get going, but that all changed when I stumbled across this site.

I can still remember exactly how it happened. I had been trying to figure out the proper form for deadlifts, since I'd read somewhere that deadlifts were a great way to add muscle and strength. When I came across Stronglifts, the program just... made sense. Here at last was a simple, practical, results-driven program that promised to build strength- not looks, mind you, but power. And it proposed to do so by starting with a handful of basic exercises and then adding weight with each workout.

I started on that program in mid-June, 2011. It's been over two years and it's frankly amazing to think I've come this far.

Stronglifts 5x5 consists of just 5 exercises, done three per workout for five sets of five reps each. You add 5lbs with each workout, aiming to increase strength by simply increasing the sheer amount of weight that your body is pushing against. You start with:

  • Squats- the core of any strength-building program
  • Bench presses
  • Deadlifts
  • Overhead presses
  • Barbell (or Pendlay) rows
That's it. That's all you have to figure out. It takes maybe 45min per workout when you start and you will rapidly see results if you persist. I sure as hell did.

I started out with a completely empty 45lb bar. I quickly went up to 225lbs 5x5, then 245, then stalled and switched to 3x5 around that weight. I hit a plateau at 275lbs and couldn't progress further, mostly because my form was poor; then I took a couple of weeks off to go home, came back, corrected a few things with my form, and went right back to squatting. I blew through that 275lb plateau and eventually hit 350lbs as my 1RM weight. And I'm looking to break that soon.

Today, at my gym, I'm easily one of the strongest guys there, and I'm a good 10kg, maybe 15kg, lighter than I was before I started. I'm not the most muscular guy at the gym, by the way- actually, if you stood me next to some of the meatheads there you'd quickly see that I'm a bit of a runt compared to them- but by far the strongest. In two years of going to this gym 3 times per week with very few exceptions, I've seen maybe 3 guys who can squat more than me. I've seen only one guy who can bench more than me (and do it properly; of course, he benches 315lbs and I can barely bench 210, so there is a rather large difference in terms of raw strength). I have seen no one who can deadlift more than me, and I'm not even an elite powerlifter for someone in my weight class. I deadlift with nothing more than a belt and chalk, and yet I'm capable of doing things with weights that guys twice my size can't do with lifting straps.

If you'd told me two years ago that I would be benching 1.3x my bodyweight, squatting 350lbs, and deadlifting 435lbs or more, I'd have told you that you were crazy. Back before I knew what the hell I was doing, I tried deadlifting 225lbs for a single set of 10 reps, and ended up with my back hurting so badly that I could barely sit down that day. Today, I'll deadlift 405lbs just for fun.

Lest you think that I'm some kind of genetic freak, let me tell you right now- I'm not. I don't have six-pack abs, and probably never will. My family tends to fat; both parents have had weight problems since their late twenties, my grandmother was morbidly obese for close to thirty years before she died, and my sister is a butterball even though she's the better part of 10 years younger than me. I alone, out of my entire extended family, love lifting weights.

If you are reading this and you want to improve your body, your health, and your self-confidence- and I don't care whether you are male or female here- then pay attention to what I've learned over the last two years:

  1. Consistency is key. You don't get good at something by saying you're going to get good at it. You get good at it by doing it, and doing it a lot. Powerlifting works exactly the same way. Show up to the gym, three times a week, regardless of whether you've got a mild cold, your muscles are sore, you're tired, your woman kicked you to the curb- whatever, just lift.
  2. If you think you're going to turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger, think again. You're not going to get ripped and shredded by following a powerlifting workout schedule. But that's not the point. The point is to build strength, not to pose. Bodybuilders, with very few exceptions, lift weights like pussies. Powerlifters, however, start with a core of strength training; those powerlifters who go on to become bodybuilders actually have an easier time lifting very heavy weights. Case in point: Jay Cutler is about twice my size and about ten times more muscular than I am. He also happens to seriously struggle to deadlift 405lbs, whereas that is my heaviest warmup weight for deadlifts with overhand grip before I move on to my 1RM work set.
  3. Form is everything. If you're struggling to lift a particular weight level, then the first thing to do is to check your form and correct it. Seek the advice of others who are smarter, stronger, and more experienced than you (like the guys on the Stronglifts Inner Circle forums, for instance- I'm one of them). Lower the weights, correct your form, and stick with it.
  4. Deep introverts in particular will benefit massively from powerlifting. Introverts, as I've written several times before, are literally wired differently from extroverts. Exercise for us often becomes about far more than mere fitness. I don't go to the gym because it makes me stronger or fitter; I go to the gym because it is my haven, my sanctuary, my zone of comfort and my realm of mastery. Lifting weights gives me a rush that is impossible to describe to an extrovert. The fitness and strength are, in my opinion, (great) side benefits.
  5. Stop spending your money on supplements. They're a colossal waste of time, and as I'm going to show you in another post shortly, the amount of crap you end up putting in your body to achieve bodybuilder-style results is truly staggering.
  6. Leave the attitude at the door. Guys who expect to come in and see instant results from powerlifting are going to be sorely disappointed. Guys who come in with humility and realise that the road to strength is long and often slow are the ones who will see real gains and will really benefit from it.
  7. Don't be one of THOSE assclowns at the gym. You know the ones I'm talking about. The curl fags who clog up the squat racks doing half-assed bicep curls while you could be squatting serious weight. The morons on the bench press going about a quarter of the way down before pushing back up and thinking that they're the s*** because they can "bench" 225lbs or more when in reality, they can't bench 180lbs. The idiots who deadlift with rounded lower backs and then wonder why it hurts so much. The tools who engage in those stupid "chili workouts" that Bronan (RIP) hated so much. If you're at the gym, you're there to LIFT.
Learn from my example. Start your journey towards true strength of mind, body, and character. Get your butt into a gym, start squatting, and take up the StrongLifts 5x5 program.

Good luck, and Godspeed.

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