Two and a half years ago the gates of hell opened up and unleashed a force on the sport of powerlifting. A new breed of warrior arrived with blood in his eyes. He is not just a battle-scarred veteran but also a general in this war. He is raging a one-man attack on the sport, leaving a wake of destruction in his path using only his own keen instincts to guide him through.

Meet Brian, AKA Spartandeadlifter950 on Instagram. Brian’s elite instincts have led him to a 475-pound deadlift and a 410-pound squat in these two years. Not too bad, especially considering he’s already had three or four pretty bad injuries and tendonitis is creeping up pretty quickly. Brian’s very different than anyone else who has ever powerlifted: he’s beyond listening to bullshit coaching advice and is the master of his own destiny. He can get himself to the top of this sport, right?

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Well, probably not. I give Brian another year or two until he hangs up his specially designed singlet with "Alpha AF" stitched on the front. See, Brian is fucking up. Brian is relying on his own instincts. This is the biggest problem I see with lifters today.

I know you’re thinking about that next training day, that next competition, that next PR, or whatever is next in the direct future. This is hardwired directly into our most primitive impulses. Cavemen probably weren’t thinking much beyond their next meal. But, it was our ability to plant, cultivate, and store food that allowed us to keep going this long. We need to think long-term and about continually progressing as a lifter. Small increments of progress over a long time equals a shit ton of progress.


I’ve been doing this for about 20 years now, which is more than half of my life. I’ve broken multiple state, national, and all-time world records, competed in every kind of powerlifting there is, under almost every major American coach, and I couldn’t tell you what happened when or where. Most of it is a blur of powerlifting banners, monolifts, hairy neck rolls, bloody back zits, bloody hands, and motels. Each step of your powerlifting career is just another step up a giant hill. Make it to the top of the hill or none of it matters.

I’m going to use my boy Brian to illustrate my next point. Brian is a bad motherfucker — we’ve already established that. He has Japanese symbols tattooed on his neck like he’s a Yakuza enforcer. Brian has a bad day, he maxes out.


"I’m so mad right now, I need to crush some weight! #AlphaAF #TheRoadTo950. @mfswede @underthebar."


That makes a lot of sense, bro. Beat the fuck out of yourself at random points in training with no plan while in a fatigued state. What could go wrong? Well, guess what? The chance of injury doesn’t go down because you “felt good and decided to go off plan and take a max.” On top of that, no real information about how strong you are can be obtained besides what you can lift at whatever state of masochistic fatigue your body is in. If we peak correctly, followed by a short rest period, we can measure actual true maxes in things called competitions. Those used to be the most important thing to lifters before Instagram.

Brian’s got this guy he’s really into. (Not like that, asshole. If Brian heard you say that, he would beat the shit out of you.) He trained to be a Navy SEAL. Okay, okay, he didn’t exactly train for it. He read a book about it. Well, okay, he watched Lone Survivor and did eight pull-ups. Anyway, Brian has a lifter he really admires. This lifter is the same age as Brian and roughly the same weight. This guy has broken multiple world records, so it would make sense to do exactly what he does, right? Wrong. Genetics are the biggest component of making a great lifter. I know, I know, it’s all about the grind. Unfortunately, we can’t all grind the same.

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My mentor, Swede Burns, points to recoverability, adaptability, and work ethic as the three most important factors when creating a champion — and those are all genetic qualities. The guys at the top are usually great in spite of what they are doing, not because of it. The sport has absolutely exploded with people, bringing more and more genetic freaks into the sport. Not to mention that lifters are starting younger, so their technique and training methods are constantly evolving. Instinctively, it makes sense to follow the best, but in reality, it will hurt you physically and emotionally. Follow their attitudes, not their workouts.

So, how do we help Brian? Well, there is a very simple solution. Brian needs a coach. I’m not talking about some geek that has never set foot on a platform but somehow coaches lifters, or equally as bad some coach who lost touch with powerlifting in 1990 and is coaching raw lifters like old school geared lifters. I’m talking about a real coach who understands the sport and can help Brian understand that he is a beginner and needs to focus on technique, building muscle, mobility, and how to perform on a platform.

This sport has changed a lot. I’ve seen so many lifters come and go. They're internet warriors from January to July, then out of the sport because they weren’t great in seven months. If I can leave you with one thought, it’s that this sport doesn’t owe you a fucking thing. If you’re injured or underperforming, that’s on you. There is an endless number of great coaches and gyms everywhere. Get the fuck off Instagram and go find one.

Greg Panora resides in Portland, Maine. He is a powerlifting coach out of CrossFit CacoBay, provides online coaching, and lectures around the country. His best totals include 2630 multi-ply, 2335 single-ply,  2102 raw (no wraps), and a 580-pound (bench only) bench press.