My 2018 powerlifting season is done. It wrapped up on October 14th when I received my 4th place medal in the Women’s M1 84 kg division at the USAPL Raw Nationals competition. This event capped off a year where I re-learned to squat, started to look more seriously at my nutrition, didn’t overly stress about “making weight,” and tried to have a more balanced approach to training and life.
While I didn’t hit every powerlifting goal I set this year I do have some key takeaways:
- I squatted 145 kg (a little over 319 pounds)
- My total at USAPL Raw Nationals 2018 (377.5 kg) was 12.5 kg higher than 2017 (365 kg) and 25 kg higher than 2016 (352.5 kg)
- I made it to the podium at USAPL Raw Nationals this year with more competition than in 2017
Looking back over the four years since I began lifting there have been vast improvements, not only in form but also in mindset. I kind of did my first meet on a whim, fell in love with the sport and continued full speed ahead without thought of where I was going. I loved everything about the sport – training with purpose, getting stronger, competing. And at first it was about being “better than” other people. It was heady stuff, breaking 5 MN state records in my first meet (Squat, Bench, Bench Single Lift, Deadlift, Total). I’ve learned so much since then.
First, it’s not about being better than other people. Really, it isn’t. It’s about showing up and doing the work even when training sucks and you forget how to do anything and feel like giving up. There have been many, many times over the past four years I wanted to quit. And maybe at first I did. But lately I’ve learned that one training session (or one week or one month) doesn’t make or break you. It’s what you do over the long term that determines who you will become. And I’ve taken to listening to my body (mostly) and not shooting for numbers when I’m not feeling it. There’s always next week, next month, next training cycle to get that lift.
Second, don’t stress over the little things. This is much like the first point but expands to include weight classes and meet day weigh ins. My first few meets I didn’t know anything so I didn’t care, I just wanted experience (BEST way to start your lifting career). But then I got greedy and saw I could be competitive in the 84 kg (around 185 pounds) division rather than the 84+ kg division and my focus shifted to cutting weight to make that goal. And my training suffered. I was too focused on what I was eating and not enough on what I was trying to accomplish. Once I settled into a more healthy view of food (I really love food) and didn’t base my worth on whether I hit goal weight my training cycles were better. Again, it’s a “take the long view” approach that works for me. It really is a lifestyle and I need to take it slow and steady or I crash and burn.
Third, don’t beat yourself up over your performance at one particular meet. Sure, feel all the feels and work through your emotions but don’t dwell in that space. When I dwell in that space everything goes out the window – training, nutrition, you name it. I learned this lesson through shooting archery: you can’t re-shoot an arrow that has gone astray so analyze the issue, take a deep breath, reset, and focus on the current shot. Same goes for lifting: you can’t dwell in the missed bench press or deadlift. You have to push through the feelings and hit the next one.
Fourth, always keep learning. Nothing beats this one. Take classes, sign up for seminars, read blogs, talk with trainers, ask questions. The more you know the more you grow. Have you ever gone back and watched video of your first meet or training cycle and then compared it to now? See a difference? Yea? That shows what you’ve learned. Now look at video of the best of the best. See a difference? Keep growing and learning to get there. That’s my plan – keep learning.
Fifth, powerlifting is a marathon, not a sprint. For most people it is impossible to keep the “newbie” gains going after the first few meets. Eventually you find out how strong you really are and learn (there’s that word again) your weaknesses. You get stronger pound by pound, day by day, month by month and year by year. Sometimes you exceed expectations and sometimes you don’t (hello USAPL Raw Nats 2016) but no matter what as long as you are training you are getting better.
Now you may be thinking this seems like a bunch of malarkey (I love that word) but as I look back on my last training cycle and meet I can see all of these points. As I was training I was looking back at my old training records and was astonished at the weight differences and what I was moving compared to my last cycle. And while I was working on my nutrition and making sure I made weight I wasn’t stressing over it. I actually continued to have “normal” meals and allowed myself to have fun with friends and never beat myself up over it. That made all the difference – I went into weigh ins with a laissez-faire attitude and was nearly spot-on. And on the point of beating myself up: I allowed myself to wallow in my missed deadlift attempt but it never derailed me. I worked through my disappointment in the performance and made a plan for meeting my goals next year.
The fourth and fifth points? Yea, I have examples for them, too. Squats have secretly always been my favorite lift. They are technical and scary and what happens if I can’t stand up or hit depth? And for about a year I was having that depth problem. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what was happening. But then all the cues from my coaches kicked in and whoa – have you seen my depth? It is truly a thing of beauty. Because I kept learning. And those “newbie” gains? I had them in all my lifts in the beginning but eventually each lift posed its own problems to me that I had to overcome. I didn’t get weaker between meets but I hit my maxes and needed to learn how to work through them – gain muscle, improve technique, rest, whatever. And I know this will continue as long as I am lifting – whether I am competitive or not.
So what does this have to do with you? Nothing. Everything. I don’t know. This has been my journey so far. I’m still new to the sport – I mean I’ve only done about a dozen meets – so I have a long way to go before I cross the finish line. And I’m looking forward to every learning something new every day.
And just because I can, I’d really like to thank my coach, Jennifer Vogelgesang Blake (Coach JVB). She has been with me since the beginning and has helped me with this growth. It has been wonderful having such a role model and cheerleader in this sport. Thank you! And to all the coaches at The Movement Minneapolis – thanks for letting me get all my workouts in and helping me when I asked all the questions. David and Jen – thanks for asking the questions “who wants to do a powerlifting meet?” and “has anyone ever called you Donna the Destroyer?” Without those I wouldn’t be here.