the spaz of fitness has arrived

Picking Things Up: A Beginner’s Perspective on Her First Powerlifting Meet

In General, Training on November 3, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Despite my depreciating grad student sleep habits, I tried to go to bed at 10:00pm last night, knowing I had to rise early for my powerlifting meet weigh-in. I couldn’t sleep for a small enternity, woke every hour on the hour, and finally just stayed out of bed at 5:30am. As I fried my eggs and bacon, I wondered at the tightness of my throat. Why was I nervous? All I had to do today was pick things up and put them down. The worst thing that could happen today would be me… not picking something up. This I told myself again and again as I stretched a profoundly unflattering skintight singlet over my body, as I padded myself in sweats and stumbled into the pre-dawn darkness to make my way to the competition site.

I’ve always avoided sporting competitions because they screw with my head. It’s actually odd because I loved and thrived in competitive speech and debate throughout high school and parts of college. I enjoyed band competitions and piano competitions… and the competitive environment of academia annoys me more often than stresses me out… but something about sporting events—perhaps my own terrible lack of athleticism—has always steered me away from participating in these things. For me, sports have always been opportunities to disappoint myself… if I did well, it just sort of happened. If I did poorly, then I’ve screwed up… it’s a messy psychology.

But I’ve been reminding myself to just enjoy this—to take it for what it is, a foray into foreign territory, an expansion of my horizons. We started with the weigh-in, which required us to descend into an underground locker room where a lone judge asked us to strip and step on the scale. When I asked her how far down I should strip, she told me (essentially), “It depends on how badly you want to win.” Apparently ties are broken by bodyweight differences—the lighter lifter wins. Well, I didn’t think I was competitive enough for my sports bra to separate me and the runner-up, so I stepped on the scale in my undergarments and came in at a surprising 108.2. I know I’ve lost unexpected weight lately… (I blame the grad student schedule and hope to be significantly more diligent about this in the coming months), but that’s still lighter than I anticipated. Anyway, that put me in the 114 weight class, which is a comfortable place for me.

But I quickly realized, this was a whole world away from my long, leisurely lifts in an empty CrossFit gym on Sunday mornings. When we started warming up, girls crowded the racks in clustered teams, where coaches dictated their warm-ups, helped them with their gear, gave them cues. As my coaches were competing and busy warming up on their own (and besides, I’m not their obligation outside the CrossFit gym), I was a lone Jo left to assert my right to the queue before the bar. My warm-up sets were messy and poorly timed… the weights weren’t my usual sets because I was just trying to squeeze in between other girls who seemed to know more of what was going on. The room was freezing and we were in (did I mention unflatteringly skintight?) singlets.

When I stepped onto the platform, I realized how bright the spotlights were, how strange it was to be flanked by three judges, again how different this was from squatting in an empty gym with friends as my spotters. My first squat was a little high—I felt it, and they noted it. The PSU powerlifting coach—a friend whom I shall now dub Squatsalot for the purposes of this blog—was a lifesaver throughout this whole ordeal and told me I should stay at the same weight and attempt again. Round two, I made the lift, but was so excited I beat the rack command (you have to wait until the judge gives a signal), which means the lift didn’t count. So, I bumped my pathetic opening number (a safe, 85% of my tested max) up by five pounds, determined not to stay at a weight I knew I could (and have) squatted for fifteen+ reps, and went out for one more time. It was ugly. I went lower than I’m used to going and had a hard time getting back out of the hole, but I made it, and put up a number and managed to not bomb out of my first meet.

Next, bench press. This lift has three commands. First, you unrack the bar and wait for the “down” command, then you pause with the weight suspended on your chest for an agonizingly long time until the judge calls “press,” then you push up and pray that the mass of steel ascends and once it does, you wait again for the “rack” command. My first bench felt easy—85lbs. Prior to the meet, I never really practiced paused benches, but I did try it once at 85 just to make sure I could do it. But I was overambitious and jumped to 95… which did not happen. I’m a bit disappointed because I’ve hit 102.5 more than once in the gym (without the pause), but… I also recognize that I’m bad at physically adapting to tasks I have not tried, and I’m not sure I could have expected much better.

Finally, deadlift. My favorite fucking lift. I warmed up early this time, foam rolling, mobilizing, etc. I demanded my right to the bar and moved weight on and off to the warm up sets I wanted, and felt… relatively prepared by the time we were gathered, shivering, for the first attempts. 190lbs went up easy. I went to 210. 210 felt rough. I felt my back give and I thought… well, it’s been a rough meet and I should play it safe… 220 would still be over 2x bodyweight, even if it’s not a PR. But… 220 shot off the ground and felt light. And then I wished I had tried 230…

But! Overall, I’ve decided not to beat myself up over this. In fact, I actually think I want to do this again (why not, after all I’ve purchased a flashy, multipurpose singlet). I probably won’t train for it specifically again… I’ll just CrossFit in my perennial pursuit of that fantastical coaching position someday, but if CrossFit works as it should and if I plan and eat and rest as I should, I intend to be stronger by the time the next meet rolls around anyway.

In other news, Jefe and Zebrapants (our two coaches who also competed) absolutely rocked it. Jefe PR’d his squat and deadlift, and I’d argue his bench as well because he never really practiced a pause bench. I believe Zebrapants also PR’d his deadlift. He’s also enough of a talented athlete that he jumped in on this meet as a last-minute endeavor and came in second place in his weight class. As for Jefe, he’s a strange little phenomenon. Last year, I watched him train for a 50 miler and recover astoundingly fast for someone who’s just dragged his body through the Pennsylvania woods for an entire day. He also dictated his own training for this meet and excelled. Tomorrow, instead of resting like a smart boy, he’s going to run 25k for the hell of it, and will probably recover fine. I wonder if what divides us is discipline, strategy, or natural athleticism… Possibly a little bit of everything.

On a bit of a positive note, when I returned to the competition site to watch the evening session, a few guys recognized me outside the building and congratulated me on my deadlift. Another guy, who was there to watch his son, actually remembered my name and told me how much he admired my technique (someone admires my technique at… anything physical? What?). But… it was a nice ego-booster for a day I felt was a bit of a bust… (but a very worthwhile bust that I’m so grateful I did). I’m glad I’ve ventured outside my comfort zone… and witnessed what happens when I… fail to pick something up. Pretty much nothing except the tiny angry jabberings of my head.

Anyway… many thanks to the friends who came out and supported us today. Despite my morning lecture to myself, I was nervous as hell, and so comforted by familiar, encouraging smiles from people who know how far I’ve come to be able to pick 100lbs off the ground, let alone 220.

I am now… so behind on my work. Grad school and activities outside of grad school do not mix. So… back to work I go. Happy Saturday to you all.

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