EDITOR’S NOTE: Ever wonder how a world-class coach actually trains? Wonder what it’s like to train as a “mature athlete?” Welcome to the athlete journal of Charles Staley. A big believer in practicing what he preaches, Charles trains and competes just like his clients. Now, every Friday read what Charles has done this week in his workout sessions, and how he feels about it.
Athlete Journal Entry 19: Report From World Championships
Powerlifting is a new venture for me — in 2010, I deadlifted in a local meet (one nice thing about powerlifting for newbies is that, if you choose, you can bench only, deadlift only “push/pull,” which is bench and dead, or you call choose to do a full power meet), and then in April of this year, I did my first full meet in Prescott Arizona, totaling 1157 pounds in the 220-pound category with a 401 squat, a 253 bench press, and a 501 deadlift at age 52.
Soon afterward I learned that my total in this meet qualified for World Championships, which was to be held the following October in Las Vegas, Nevada. Since Vegas is close to home, and also because my training partner Gene Lawrence was scheduled to compete, I made the commitment to do this meet.
Overall, my training went well, save for the squat, which was not as reliable as it was for my first meet. Nonetheless, I had squatted 485, benched 260, and deadlifted 480 in my final few weeks of preparation, so I felt reasonably prepared in the days leading up to the contest. My goal was to equal my earlier performance in April, or perhaps to better it if possible. I knew if I could post a reasonably good total, I’d have a very good chance of winning.
Here’s how the day went:
Warming up backstage, things felt okay, but not stellar. One thing that’s challenging about powerlifting (at least for novices) is that it’s very difficult to time your warmups. Ideally you’d like to finish warming up about 15 minutes before your first lift, but in my case, I tend to warm up a bit too early, which I consider preferable to the alternative.
My last warm-up was a 315 single, and my first attempt was slated to be 340. This felt a bit heavier than I’d hoped for, but I received 3 white lights (meaning, all 3 judges scored my squat attempt as legal) for my effort. I walked over to the official’s table and requested 370 for my second squat attempt. Here’s the video of my 370 squat:
This squat felt very heavy, although it doesn’t look too difficult on the video. If you noticed, the announcer initially began to praise me for a good squat, and then corrected himself when he saw that I received (I’m not certain if it was 2 or 3) red lights.
As I was exiting the squat stands, the official on my right side approached me and said, “that was for depth.” In powerlifting, the squat must descend to a point where the hip joint is lower than the tops of the knee — many lifters often fail to reach this depth because the deeper you go, the harder it is to recover back to a standing position. In my case however, I happen to have restricted flexion in my right knee due to surgery — I can squat deep enough for powerlifting standards (as evidenced by my first attempt), but there is a definite “stopping point” at the bottom of my squat. So unlike most lifters, who must simply estimate when they’ve reached legal depth, I know when I’ve hit proper position because I can feel my knee come to a stop.
In any event, there is an unfortunate element of subjectivity in judging this sport, and for whatever reason, my second squat didn’t pass muster. This left me in a quandary, because at this point, I’ve only been credited with my first attempt of 340, and I was expecting to hit 400. On the other hand 370 was a tough lift (I think I probably had 380-385 in me though), and if the judges didn’t like my depth, I knew I couldn’t go any deeper with a third attempt. Ultimately, I decided to pass on my last squat in an effort to save myself additional disappointment, and also to save energy for the rest of the meet
The Bench Press
This lift had been going well in training and I felt confident about it. My last warmup lift was 205, and my opener was scheduled to be 220, which went up easily. I called for 242 as my second attempt, which also went up solidly. I pondered a bit about what I should take for my final effort, and ultimately decided on 259, which I also succeeded with.
I only have one video of my benching, and I believe it was my 242 attempt:
This is my favorite event, probably because I’m good at it. My current 501 PR is only 33 pounds shy of a World record for my age and weight. Warmups went well, and I finished up backstage with 365. My opening pull would be 430. This went well, so I asked for a second attempt of 462. Here’s the video of that lift:
This one felt heavier than I expected, casting doubt on my anticipated 501 final attempt. I was in an emotional quandary: I wasn’t confident that I could succeed with 501, but at the same time, I know it’d feel like a letdown to take anything less.
Ultimately I decided on 491. After about 15 minutes I heard (or at least I thoughtI heard) “Charles Staley is the lifter…” so I jumped up, tightened my belt, and prepared for what I knew would be a difficult pull. I took a few breaths, set up behind the bar, reached down, assumed by start position, and pulled for my life. “Wow, that went up much easier than I expected” I thought. I immediately chided myself for not taking something along the lines of 515. Then I discovered why it was so easy — I had taken someone else’s attempt, which happened to be 450 — 11 pounds less than my second attempt. Ugh. Long story short, I was given a fourth attempt which I took, but by that point I was physically end emotionally spent, and I only got the 491 to about knee level.
In the end, I won the contest, but with lifts that I was disappointed in. Although powerlifting is usually thought of as a test of maximum strength, it is equally a test of managing time, energy, emotions, and expectations. My current objective is to spend some time working on body composition, and I’m planning to do my next meet as a 198-pound lifter in April.