2017 XPC Finals — I’m Not Retired Yet, Motherf*ckers

TAGS: pro meet, chronic back pain, mike stuchiner, xpc finals, meet report, dave kirschen, bench, deadlift, squat

COACH

Before I get into the meet report, I want to thank everyone who continues to support my participation in this sport.

My wife Liz, who constantly supports everything I do, and ensures that the only thing I have to worry about on meet day, is the meet. Danny Dague and Gene & Ame Rychlak for putting on what I believe is the best event in multi-ply powerlifting, year after year. The spotters, loaders and judges, the unsung heroes of the sport. Mike Stuchiner, for giving up his weekend to handle me. I couldn't have done this alone and I couldn't have asked for better help. The whole crew at Eastside Barbell. Anthony, Steve, James and Karen for being there day after day, helping me get ready. Dave, Traci, and the whole crew at elitefts, the best sponsors in the sport, and the single best resource for powerlifting in the world.

A few months ago, my status on elitefts switched from “athlete” to “coach”. There were multiple reasons for this, including lessening my workload a bit, and putting me in a role where readers can better benefit from my two decades of lifting experience.


MORE: 2017 XPC Finals — JP Carroll Secures 1st Place


An unintended consequence of this switch was that several readers, including friends of mine, took this to mean I had retired from powerlifting competition. Maybe the fact that I ended my athlete log with a post entitled “My last log as an elitefts athlete” also had something to do with this. 

Anyway, as the title of this log should suggest I am very much still at it and had the pleasure of competing in one of the biggest meets in the sport over the weekend. At the risk of being melodramatic, a good performance here was important to me, and not just because it was a big meet. Over the last couple of years, I’ve had some serious doubts about my future in the sport. In fact, this was the first time I’ve had the ability to do a pro meet since 2014.

After the 2014 XPC Finals, some chronic back pain forced me to take a year away from full lifting. When I finally did return to full competition, I never really felt like I was 100%, and this was reflected in my numbers. In fact, I hadn’t broken my PR in the deadlift for over five years.

So under the circumstances, maybe the retirement talk got to me just a little.

Anyway, here’s how the whole thing went:

I started my weight cut at about 208, which is lighter than I have been in the past. I kept very close watch over my weight this cycle because I wanted a nice easy cut, which this was. Didn't even need to bother with water pills. After weighing in at 197.6, I had a productive recomp, going to bed Friday night at 214.

My handler for the day was Mike Stuchiner, one of my oldest friends in the sport, and the best meet-day coach I could have asked for. We got to the venue at about 7:15, where we saw I was in the second flight.

Squat

My warm-ups for the squat went very smoothly, so I was confident in my opener of 755.

  • 755 — Good. This felt very light. Usually, my first attempt feels a little off and I settle down (hopefully) on my second. Not this time. This lift felt solid from beginning to end, and I called for 800 on my second.
  • 800 — Good. The lightest 800 has ever felt on my back. Although I knew I had more in me, I called for 825 on my third, because it would put me on track for a big total, and would give me a 15-pound PR.
  • 825 — Good. Felt just as solid as my other attempts.

Bench

I didn't have particularly high expectations for my bench press going into this meet. Since I dropped back down to the 198 class, my shirted bench has never quite been the same. Although I am more muscular than before, shirts don’t fit me quite the same and I have been having trouble adjusting my technique. I also added some new tools to my programming that didn't really pan out. Although I was not planning on going for a big bench this time out, I was confident that I had enough in me to contribute to a pr total.

My opener was set at 600 with the plan to progress based on how it felt.

  • 600 — Miss. I touched this a little high and just didn't have the leverage to carry me through to the top.
  • 600 — Good. I adjusted my grip on the bar a bit and wore the collar higher, which allows me more flexibility to touch where I want. It wasn’t easy, but this lift kept me in the meet.
  • 625 — Miss. Nothing to say here but I just didn't have a big bench in me today. Everything felt heavy, and the tweaks I made to my training (most notably an increased usage of accommodating resistance on shirt days) did not address my top end strength as much as I thought they would.

While I was bummed about the misses, at least I was still in the meet. After all, it took to get my back into shape to squat heavy again, it would have broken my heart to bomb out and wipe my 825 off the books, not to mention eliminate the chance to pull for a PR.

Deadlift

My deadlift warmups felt OK but sluggish. I was tired, and my back was stiff. My last warm-up with 495 felt heavy in my hands, and the idea of pulling over 100 pounds more was starting to seem a little daunting. I knew I was gonna have to dig deep in order to salvage this meet.

My opener was 570, which I figured (hoped) would be a safe attempt, and would set me up for a 5-pound PR on my second if it felt good.

570 — It felt good. Something about being back on the stage, knowing I was in the home stretch gave me a much needed shot of energy. It also didn't hurt that I had been neck and neck with a very young, very strong Travis McKinney all day. He got an early lead on me in the squat with 850, but then had similar issues in the bench, giving me a 40 lead in the subtotal. I knew he was a better puller, but If I could stay close enough, I could hold on to the class win.

I called for 625, which would give me my first deadlift PR in five years. While I wasn't ready to admit it to anyone (including myself), The outcome of this lift would probably also decide my future in competitive powerlifting. I’ve done everything possible to get back into shape to lift, and If I’m past the point that I can progress, then maybe it really is time to hang it up.

As the rest of the flight finished their first attempts, something unexpected happened.

He showed up.

If you’ve ever been to the Arnold Expo, you know exactly what that phrase means.

Surrounded by his security team, he walked straight up through the center isle, planted himself right in front of the stage, and started cheering us on, shaking lifter’s hands after their attempts. Growing up in NYC, I have a more casual attitude than most towards celebrities. I’ve seen and met a lot of them, and it generally isn’t that big of a deal.

But to someone who’s been doing what I do, for as long as I’ve been doing it, Arnold is different.

I’ve been lifting weights for so long it’s impossible to imagine my identity without it. I’ve lifted weights that I never had any business lifting, and I’ve missed lifts that should have been warm-ups (sometimes in the same day). If there’s one thing 25 years of battling the iron has taught me, it’s that there are no sure things in this sport, and you never take a PR for granted.

Every once in a while, though, you just know a lift is yours. I don’t just mean you are very confident you’ll make it. I mean the idea of missing it simply doesn’t exist.

If I had a lot riding on this lift before, everything was riding on it now. Making it would be the highlight of my powerlifting career. Missing it would probably be the beginning of the end.

Yeah, I pulled it.

I went for 655 for my third but it was just a bit too much. I knew it was a big jump, but I had to try it because it would have given me a PR total as well as the win. I know I could have done 635 or 640 but had I made these, I only would have been pissed at myself for not having the balls to go for the win.

I ended up with a 2050 total, just 20 pounds behind Travis and my second highest total to date.

The last time I did this meet in 2014, I totaled higher and won my class, but I finished the meet doubtful of my future in the sport. I was in constant and increasing pain, and as a new father, I knew I couldn't continue down the road I was on.

While this meet wasn't a total success numbers wise, I came away far more optimistic than I have in a long time. I made it through pain-free, and the difficulties I had in the bench were strength related, which I know I can fix. Most importantly, though, I had the time of my life. I seriously don’t remember having this much fun at a meet in a very long time.

This summer I will be 40. And while there seems to be a constant stream of people telling me how 40 isn’t old, few of them have been beating the hell out of themselves with weights for 25 years. I may not be old, but I sure as hell am not young anymore. Experience has taught me there are two ways to leave the sport. The best way is to take a long look at cost-to-benefit ratio of competing and decide that it’s best to quit while you’re ahead, and apply your energy to something more worthwhile.

The other way is to join the countless mashed up meatheads, who all swear they have one more big total in them, if only they can fix whatever bodypart(s) they’ve fucked up beyond repair.

You can probably guess which way I’d rather go out.

You can also probably guess which way I WILL go out.

But for now, that’s a decision I don’t need to make. I feel better than I have in years, and for the first time in a long time, my future in powerlifting looks bright, and I’m already putting a game plan together for next year’s XPC Finals.

I’m not retired yet, motherf*ckers.

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