This is a multi-part series on perspectives for the beginner and intermediate powerlifter to consider as they make their initial step in this journey we call powerlifting.
One’s perspective grows as their breadth of experiences deepens. In part one, we discussed at length the rationale behind perspective. Based upon that rationale, through articles two and three we have now shared the first fourteen, of many, perspectives for the beginner and intermediate powerlifter to consider. The first fourteen perspectives are:
- There are no secrets.
- Sometimes the loudest guy at your gym is only that: the loudest guy.
- "All you can eat" is a fallacy.
- There is only one best way.
- Great lifters are not always great teachers.
- Meet day should be the easy day.
- The longer you are in the gym, the better. Right?
- Do what the biggest guy in the gym does. Right?
- If you didn’t do it in training, don’t try it during the meet.
- If you are not going for all-out numbers, why compete. Yes or no?
- Will wearing gear help or hurt my lifts?
- Don't make the “heights” of your meet a guessing game.
- Put the phone down!
- Develop meet sophistication.
Read their full descriptions in parts one, two, and three. Let's move on to part four and discuss five more things you should know as a new powerlifter.
15. Is it the gear or the technique that needs to change?
Over the years, as with the prior 14 items, perspective shows us that this is a trap that the seasoned lifters watch the newer to intermediate powerlifter fall into over and again, generation after generation. The newer lifters see the truly seasoned veterans wearing and using their gear and being successful doing so. As with other aspects of the game, the newer lifters try to emulate what they see these battle-tested vets do.
But also as with other aspects of the game, they are watching the finished product and do not see what these, “been there, done that,” lifters did to get to the point of wearing the super-refined gear. The new lifters see the geared lifters and they “see” that the gear is often really tight. But what they don’t see is that the gear is tailored toward that specific lifter, that lifter’s body-type and technique, and that there are a dozen or so years that have gone into making things that way. The wide stance squatter will have their briefs and suit dialed in very differently than a lifter who has a close stance, or who is thicker in the thigh area.
So every year, the veteran lifters see the gear worn by the new lifters dictate the form and technique of the newbies, instead of the gear being honed in a way to best serve that lifter’s form and technique. Think of it this way: if you are a Larry Bird kind of player, don’t try to play like Jordan. Both were great players, both were arguably the best at what they did, but both were incredibly different, and one trying to emulate the other would spell disaster.
PART 1: The Gift of Perspective: Things to Know as a New Powerlifter
So, know that you want your form, body type, and leverages to dictate the style and fit of your gear, and not the other way around. The process of wearing gear 99% of the time begins with the more novice lifter borrowing someone’s hand-me-down gear. My two cents on the matter is, rather than trying to work around ill-fitting gear, invest the money into this sport you want to become better at and buy some gear that properly fits. Do this so that you spend the next year training in your gear and not fighting your gear. Also, there is a big difference between a seasoned lifter searching for depth in a new set of briefs or trying to hit their chest in a bench shirt, and an inexperienced lifter risking injury trying to touch their chest or reach depth as they're just learning the gear. Bottom line: after you get a taste of gear by borrowing some, take the time to get properly fitted and drop some coin. You will be glad you did.
16. There IS something to being humble.
There is something to be said for being humble. Walter Payton used to say, “When you are good at something, you’ll tell everyone. When you’re great at something, they’ll tell you.” Perspective over the years has demonstrated that there is this time frame, about two to three years into the sport, during which the newer lifter starts teaching other lifters. This is a good thing, as nothing helps reinforce what one knows like teaching. Having said that, being in possession of a nice chunk of foundational information does not mean that someone is an expert, as there is so much more to learn. How much more? A lifetime more.
In other words, the learning never stops. Show me a lifter who says they know it all, and unless their name is Ed Coan, Ernie Frantz or Dave Tate, they are selling you snake oil. Lifters who have been around a few decades see this over and over again. What I can tell you is that the more I am around the sport, the more I rediscover that there is so much to learn. The pitfall to avoid is thinking you have learned it all, when in reality, we never stop being the student. The information is endless.
Helping out a newer lifter if you have a little bit of experience is great, but coming across like an expert or casting aspersions for those who have yet to find there way in the sport is a problem. Bottom line: As a newer lifter, helping out an even greener lifter is a great thing, but keep your eyes and ears open to the successful lifters who have been around for many, many years, as there is always, always more to learn. Lastly, be leery of the new guy wanting to help who tells you how great he is. Again, “When you are good at something, you’ll tell everyone. When you’re great at something, they’ll tell you.”
17. Cashing it in at a meet after missing a lift is short-term thinking.
Why is it that the successful powerlifter can keep their poise after blowing a lift in a meet, whereas the newer lifter’s whole day goes flying off the rails when this happens? Perspective after so many meets teaches you that anything can and often does go wrong in a meet, as the variables are so different from the training atmosphere. Perspective after so many meets teaches you that you might have blown your second and third squat, but your competition might just bomb in the bench and you can still pull off that big win. Just like a fighter in the UFC won’t cash it in after getting knocked down, if you are really in the meet to fight it out, you know that there is really no winner until the totals are tallied.
Over time we are witness to this again and again. The newer lifter gets far too wrapped up in their own head and pre-meet InstaTwitterFacebook hype that when they miss a lift, mentally they are game-over. Powerlifting is about perseverance, indomitable spirit, and a never-quit mentality. If you blow a lift as a newer lifter, keep yourself mentally and physically in the game because you have other lifts and a meet to finish. You might not get the total you wanted, but you will have learned something, and the more you learn, the fewer lifts you will miss in the future.
I won’t go so far as to say, “If a lifter can’t stay in the fight after missing a lift, then they might not be cut out for the sport,” but I sure am thinking that. Be in it to win it, and know that sometimes “winning it” means growing from the experience and working to do better the next meet. All that said, avoid putting all your emotional and ego needs in one basket. Take the meet as it comes, one lift at a time, and you are more likely to avoid this rookie mistake.
18. There is subtlety within the brutality.
I think it is safe to say that one of the things we all love about the sport of powerlifting is the sheer brutality of it all — that feeling of going as heavy as we can, and all the ceremony that accompanies those days. Something to keep in mind is that within the brutality of the sport are degrees of subtlety. Those who have lived through being a beginner and have not only aspired to but achieved success over a long duration of time know the benefits of subtlety within the parameters of an all-out sport. Slapping on one big 45-pound plate after another is great, and jumps of 45-pound and 25-pound plates are commonplace.
PART 2: The Gift of Perspective: Five More Things to Know as a New Powerlifter
But as much as we loathe the other plates, there is an important role the two-pound, five-pound, and 10-pound plates for all successful powerlifters, especially those newer to the sport. When you are building your foundation (which is critical in order to move forward in this sport), the function of a two-and-a-half pound plate on each side of the barbell is of great value — more than one might think. It is the subtlety in the role of these less-than-impressive plates that, over the course of many reps and over the course of many training cycles, set the stage for those big, showy piles of 45-pound plates stacked on each side of the barbell.
Sometimes less is more. Or in powerlifting terms, sometimes less gets us to more. Through the lens of perspective, we see the newer lifter neglect the little weights, as they sometimes see them as a symbol of going less than all-out, when the reality is that the little plates are to the big plates like the mortar is to the bricks. Don’t neglect the little plates. This leads me to number 19.
19. Leave your ego at the door.
For the newer lifter, I say the following to be educational and honest, not to be demeaning: you are not impressing anyone. Here is what I mean by that.
If you are a 250-pound squatter, but you keep putting 315 pounds on the bar, and you keep missing 315 pounds, you do not impress anyone by putting on that third big plate, especially the elite lifters at your gym. In fact, in many cases, even if you successfully squatted the 315 pounds, and that was the most you ever squatted, that might not be impressive. The reality is, as a beginning lifter (really any level of lifter), the focus should be on getting strong(er), and the focus should not be on trying to impress the other lifters. This is a dangerous trap that new lifters fall into over and over again. What I am trying to illustrate is that there will always be someone strong(er), as you are a newer lifter. So keep the tendency to try to impress out of your plan for personal strength gains.
I say all that to make this point: Missing weight because you put too much on the bar in an attempt to impress other lifters is something that the perspective of age and longevity in this sport has shown us is unimpressive. To the contrary, what is impressive is watching the newbie lifter work hard and make tremendous progress month after month after month, as they are unconcerned what others think, but rather focused on how much their strength and power are progressing.
Wishing you all the best in your training and competition. Ever onward.