I woke up at five in the morning on Saturday. Well, that's not entirely true. My eyes opened to the "summit" alarm tone on my iPhone at five. I'd already been conscious for at least an hour, sinking and spinning scenarios and possible outcomes for each of the twenty-one 5thSet lifters I would coach that day, at the first meet of the weekend.

Sunday, it would be off to the Women's Pro-Am in Cincinnati. But, one task at a time. I was prepared and organized.

People say I am crazy for working with the number of lifters I do. Those people are correct, but I don't take on more than I can handle.

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"I don't know how you do it." They say. And that's also true, they don't know. I will tell you, though, reader. I do it the only way it could possibly be done. The used system, protocols, and formulas I developed over a lifetime of playing the numbers. It bears repeating I would never take on more lifters in one meet than I thought I was able to effectively coach and handle. But, one day, I will hollow out and decompose beneath the dirt, where maggots will have the final say of what becomes of me. So for now, I want to accomplish as much as I can, always testing, trying to find that upper limit where it becomes too much for me.

This weekend would be more of that testing, coaching twenty-one lifters over the course of a single day. Then, a bonus round on Sunday with a handful more. My primary concern is results. Those results would not disappoint. I'll get into more detail as the story goes on.

By the time my feet hit the floor, Britt had a cup of coffee waiting. She handed it over without a word and began to pack up my CPAP machine.

Oh, did I neglect to mention she was in the ranks of the twenty-one lifters I'd be coaching later? Yes, to an already convoluted situation, add another measure of complexity: This was to be my significant other's first meet.

team swede

Team Swede

My travel bag for the weekend was already packed from the night before, so we were out the door and rolling down the highway to breakfast before I was quite beyond the twilight of achy shoulders and hips with which I am greeted every morning. Throughout the ride, I had to intermittently oscillate between reviewing attempt selection plans for the morning on my phone and talking Britt back from the ledge of anxiety.

When we arrived at the venue, after a long walk from the event parking lot, we were met in the warm up area by a small swarm of teammates. A sea of belts, gym bags, snacks and coolers packed with Gatorade, water and ice covered most of the floor. I made my contribution and began about my business.

After they were finished with their bracing protocols, I gave each of my first flight lifters their "last warm up" numbers and made my way around to talk briefly with those in the second flight. Among them was one of my nearest and dearest confidants, Sin Leung. "We have some checks to cash," I whispered to her.

Gene Rychlak got things rolling right on time like he always does and by ten minutes after nine we were well into the first flight of squats and Britt was "in the hole," meaning two lifters out from her first attempt. She was rattled and I could not calm her. Though, I did try. Her opener came and went, leaving her crushed and feeling defeated. I could see her wild eyes on the unrack and knew before she descended it would be a missed attempt.

Once she was scooped up and off the platform I walked her to the side for a minute, realizing what she needed to hear. Britt is very confrontational and the fear on her face was way out of character. I knew I needed to use that. Three sentences changed the trajectory of the day from that point:

"What is this look on your face, is it fear? You wouldn't be scared if this was a fight. This IS a fight."

She nodded and her demeanor began to change immediately. After some technical cues, she went on to go 8/9, finishing the day with a 295 deadlift, which was a sizable PR.

The remainder of first flight squats went off without a hitch and the day was mine from there. Decisions would make themselves now, I was "on."


Crystal Guzniczak 

Sin's opener was a smoke show. The second was a PR and faster than her first. Any issues she had in the past, squatting with a bar too thick to even wrap her tiny hands around and almost twice as long as she is tall- those had given up the ghost and found their final resting place far below the platform, exorcised forever by 5thSet specificity. Lots of practice with a similar bar did its work.

Finally, on her third, the main event:

Panda vs. a 35-pound squat PR.

Flawlessly executed, her adversary was not a worthy opponent. There was more in the tank. That's good, I like that. A close miss on her third deadlift left Sin with a 56-pound PR total, 910 without wraps. A four-digit total in wraps is peeking at us from the horizon, I think.

With each name called, and so each corresponding face, came an onslaught in my mind of the problems solved or mitigated throughout the course of their training, creating a list of issues to scan for as they executed attempts. I'd love to recap the performances of the other 19 lifters I coached on Saturday, but they wouldn't mean nearly as much to you as they did to me. Every single one of them showed up for this meet, and I do mean showed up. They brought their hearts with them, from all over the country and even Canada, shedding blood and fighting like soldiers to the end. I love my team. Seeing them in action made my own heart swell with such pride it nearly burst.

If coaching a lifter in competition is a game of chess, I won twenty-one games in a single meet on Saturday, many of them played simultaneously. As a powerlifting coach, I am lethal. No feigned declarations of modesty here. You were not expecting that, I hope.

Everyone PR'd and almost all of them went 9/9. Jack O'Rourke even kept track and claimed the auspicious honor of 27/27 white lights. I am laughing as I recount. Maybe this will become a thing for people who get bored never missing lifts.

We got out of the meet in time to have dinner with the two birthday girls, Sin and Tiff, as well as some of my lifters who traveled to the meet from afar. By midnight, Britt and I were on the decidedly long road to Cincinnati, with her driving. I tried to sleep, but couldn't remember the trick of it at all. We were parked before dawn and managed a brief nap, in some random lot, roughly ten miles from the venue.


Ellen Stein

There was a Waffle House across the street, so we filled our bellies and then took bird baths in the restrooms.

Around eight o'clock we pulled into the Sweatt Shop parking lot and Britt finished getting ready in the car while I ran inside to get my lifters started. I walked through the warm up room and felt the twinge of a ghost passing through me, but shook it off and centered my focus on the tasks at hand. The first lifter in my line of sight was Crystal, waiting for me with her beautiful wife Sarah, both of them aglow with nervous, excited and welcoming smiles. Ellen Stein came up and hugged me. She and Crystal were in the first flight, so we got right down the business of going over their warm-ups.

I ran the mono while they both warmed up along with a nice group of other familiar faces. Before I knew it I was wrapping Ellen for her first attempt.

I was "on" again, working my system. It's would be another good day. I could feel it. Ellen was nervous like she sometimes is. It didn't help that I moved up her opener once she told me she put in a lower number than I gave her. We go back and forth, it's how we work. As usual, she smoked it and was very pleased with herself. This increased her confidence by an order of magnitude and I knew we were set.

Crystal blew through all of her squats, including a ten-pound PR that looked like it was one of her warm ups. This was her first meet since we've been working together. When we first got together she was unable to deadlift over 300 pounds in training after an injury while pulling 450 pounds on her third attempt, last year at the Arnold/XPC. We broke everything down and started from scratch, integrated my bracing/activation stuff and set up a long-term plan. It including doing the Women's Pro/Am and lifting pain-free. After pulling 450 on her third, we broke off into the back and talked by ourselves for a minute. She told me she felt good, and wasn't in pain, among other things. I'm expecting big numbers in her future, now that we have a solid base to build from. Keep an eye out for her.

Ellen went on to shock as amaze everyone like she does at basically every meet. She went 9/9 and upped her 1000-pound PR total from the Arnold to 1007 at 64 years old and 130 pounds body weight. That is why they call her a living legend. The highlight of her performance, in my opinion, was the 202-pound bench press she didn't want to take, but I put in anyways. Somehow, Ellen is genuinely surprised with herself every time she PR's. She jumped off the bench and ran right over and hopped up on me like a spider monkey. It was an awesome lift.

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My elitefts teammate Steve Goggins could not make it to the meet, so I wrapped and handled his lifter, my dear friend Molly Mullikin. She also knocked it out of the park with her first 1200-pound total, rounded off nicely with a 525-pound deadlift. Britt and Molly are also good friends, so we all went to the zoo the next day before heading home. As I type this I am just finally making it back to Keyhole and I will be sleeping for a week if anyone needs me.