Julie and I competed in the US Strength Federation’s (USSF) 2018 Fall Classic strength competition in Oakland, CA at the end of October. We didn’t have firm plans of doing any competitions, but a group of people from our climbing gym encouraged us to do it with them. There’s been a small core of people at the gym doing more serious weight training for a while and more climbers have been drawn to it lately to improve their climbing.
So, with about 2 weeks to go and the last night to sign up for the competition, we couldn’t turn down the offer to join the group. Now, we had just a couple of weeks to calibrate our training sessions towards doing well for the upcoming meet. The first week would be to start moving up to some moderately heavy singles to get the body ready to pull and press higher weights. And, the final week would be to just stay in practice by keeping the movement patterns sharp, but not stress the body with any large amount of work.
The training sessions leading up to the meet went well and we were excited and nervous about competing. This particular competition is known to be more on the friendly and fun-loving side of things, so we weren’t expecting a super aggressive environment. There are various powerlifting federations and the USSF is somewhat unique. What you are typically competing in for most powerlifting competitions is the classic three lifts; a back squat, deadlift, and the bench press. The USSF does away with the bench press in favor of the overhead press. There are different philosophies in the strength world, as there are in every human endeavor, and the USSF sees the overhead press as the more pure expression of upper body strength.
It’s also useful to take a step back for a moment and explain some terms for those unfamiliar with all of this strength stuff. Weightlifting, like you see in the Olympics, is typically called Olympic weightlifting by us or “Oly” for short. Oly consists of lifts known as the Clean and Jerk and the Snatch. A C&J is taking a weighted barbell off the ground, getting it into a racked position in front of your shoulders, and then finally getting it overhead. A Snatch is where you take the barbell off the ground and immediately into an overhead position.
Powerlifting is different, in that you just have the simple 3 main lifts of the backsquat, deadlift, and bench press. So, while Olympic weightlifting has more dynamics and movement happening, powerlifting is just the pure strength movements. Contrast all of that with bodybuilding, which is about the aesthetics of how you look versus how strong you actually are. Bodybuilders have unique training programs that are focused on putting the right type of stress on their bodies to get the best results of gaining muscle size and sculpting muscle shape. My tongue-in-cheek quick characterization of these activities is that bodybuilding is for looks, oly is for style, and powerlifting is for strength.
Showing up on Sunday morning for the competition and checking in, one of the first things you do is confirm all of your opening weights for your 3 lifts in kilograms. This helps to run a smoother competition by adding weights to the bar and sequencing the athletes appropriately. I provide my opening weights to the lady and she tells me to make sure that I have them in kilograms and not pounds. I get this response from her because each kilogram is 2.2
pounds and I have fairly large opening weights on my deadlift & squat. Knowing that I don’t look like a particularly strong person, I’m not surprised by this and immediately have some fun with her. I say “Uh, yes, they’re in kilograms. Yeah, I know, I don’t really look strong, do I?” and “…thanks, that’s a great confidence booster first thing in the morning!”. She apologizes and tries to back peddle and I laugh and say I’m just messing with her. The day is off to a good start with a little laughter to cut the nerves a bit.
Our crew from the gym all arrive and gather round as we wait for the event to start with a rules briefing. Once we’re all set, Julie actually starts off the whole event with her first lift, which is the squat.
Our coach, Natasha Barnes, orchestrated the entire meet for us. We started training with Natasha and getting serious about our strength training in the Summer of 2017. She’s also a competitive powerlifter and knows the drill. She guided us through the whole event and helped with how to get ready, when to warm up, what to eat, and strategizing on weights for each lift attempt. She’s been an excellent motivating force behind all of our training the past 15 months and keeping us on course as we navigated through various challenges that undoubtedly come up when you have demanding work and personal lives, are (way) above age 40, and don’t have the luxury of being a full-time athlete but still want to perform at a high level.
Julie had a very successful day with hitting all 9 of her lift attempts and achieved some new personal records (PRs). I had a very good first meet, too, going 7 for 9 with my attempts and also getting a new deadlift PR. My squat 3rd attempt and new PR didn’t happen as I didn’t focus properly and got buried with the weight. My press 3rd attempt and new PR got disqualified as I took a balance step to steady myself. I actually didn’t know that taking a step was an issue, but I heard the disappointed groans from the audience and the 3 red lights from the judges confirmed that the lift wasn’t good — learned the hard way! I was focused to make sure that the final deadlift attempt at least went through and had a very successful and relatively easily pull at 490 lbs that was a new PR. Woohoo! I’m really excited about getting into the 500s in upcoming training blocks.
Here’s a video of all 9 of my lifts along with the weights involved:
All in all, we had a super fun day with a great supportive crew of friends from our gym and our awesome coach, Natasha. I think everyone was pretty happy with how they did and it ended up that our friend Bryce Wat actually won the whole event with his final scores! That was a great way to end things as he’s competed in this competition multiple times and has come in 2nd, but never won. It turned out that Julie and I also got some distinctions for our age and weight groups, as well.
Here’s a picture of our crew from the gym that were competing, volunteering, or otherwise at the event with us along with meet director Tom Campitelli at bottom in the blue meet shirt.