As powerlifters, we are almost always pushing ourselves to the edge of our physical capacity on a regular and ongoing basis with training.  We strain our muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons and our Central Nervous System. For the most part we lift heavy, and we lift often. We get so wrapped up with trying to lift heavy so much that sometimes we forget that we need to rest and deload to recharge our batteries to progress and lift more.

A lot of lifters I know are almost always dealing with some type of injury to varying degrees. Sprains, strains, muscle tears, joint issues, elbow issues, hamstrings — the list goes on and on. Over the past year I have had back issues that have been hampering my training and until recently I’ve been too stubborn to take some time off and heal my wounds. My biggest mistake over the last few years was competing too often. I would finish a meet and almost immediately start training for my next meet three or four months down the road. I never really took any significant time off or did any type of planned deload to give my body a reprieve from the stress of training with heavy weight. Over the last year my deadlift training was almost non-existent because my back was always too fried and anything over 400 pounds crippled me.

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I thought getting some chiropractic treatments and stretching was good enough and at one point I thought my competitive powerlifting days were coming to an end.

There were a lot of training sessions that I wasn’t able to complete because putting weight on my back was unbearable. I should have been able to figure out that I needed to take some time off but the stubborn old man syndrome figured we could just march through the training and soldier on. To be honest, my ridiculous thought process was that I was getting older and wanted to get as many competitions under my belt as possible before I expired or I was too beat up to compete anymore.

ken whetham XPC

I tried to do my best and see my chiropractor on a regular basis. Dr. Ken Kinakin is an amazing Doc who improved my lifting tremendously. Dr. Kinakin uses “muscle testing” to ascertain if your muscles are engaging or “firing properly” and he always has the treatment solution to fix the problem whether it's acupuncture, adjustments or treating the muscle itself.

One of the biggest difficulties that I have with my training and working on the Fire Department is that my work schedule changes from week to week. I can’t follow a program that demands you perform x training on x day or y training on y day. We’ve recently changed over to working 24 hours straight on every shift and there’s been numerous times at work we’ve been very busy. After working 24 hours straight, sometimes you are exhausted and it’s difficult to train effectively.

My training and meet prep is more intuitive on how I feel on a daily basis and the only way it works for me is if I have the ability to be as flexible as possible. I’m always in contact with my coach, Todd Brock, and we try to work through his training program together as best we can. It’s not perfect, but we seem to make it work.

I recently competed this year at the XPC Finals at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus. I had one of the best meets I’ve had for a while. I went 7/9 lifts and didn’t take my last deadlift because my back was completely fried. I did one warm-up pull with 225 and didn’t think I would be able to continue. Todd wrapped a knee wrap around my mid-section to try and get at least one pull in and I was able to pull 620 and 670 but there wasn’t anyway I could pull my third deadlift. Despite the back issues I was still able to finish second in the 308 open class, which was a huge accomplishment for me at 51 years old.

For me, the greatest thing about being on Team Elitefts is having the ability to talk with some of the greatest lifters and knowledgeable people in the strength industry. We went to the S4 compound on Sunday to visit everyone prior to returning home. I was fortunate enough to speak with Dave Tate while there. Dave showed me some videos of my lifts from the meet and gave me advice on improving some technical issues. Dave is so cool in a way that he seems to be really busy with other stuff going on, and then somehow he manages to show up in stealth mode with videos on his phone and makes sure you know what you need to do to improve your lifting. It’s amazing that he will take the time to ensure you know what changes to make to progress.

During our conversation, the topic of my back issues arose and Dave was very adamant about getting his message across to fix my back.

ken whetham meet

“Don’t be a dumbass. Take eight weeks off of lifting! And I mean NO LIFTING. Let everything heal up. If I was smart enough to take time off when I was injured, I could have extended my competitive lifting for another three to four years. Be smart!"

I knew Dave was right and I told him it was going to be really difficult for me to not lift at all (something to do with my OCD or ADHD or my “upstairs mix-up”).  As difficult as it was, I managed to not lift anything for five weeks. It was probably one of the most difficult things that I had to do that involved my training.  The next few weeks consisted of super light, high volume training that was definitely more focused on rehabilitation and conditioning.

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So…did the time off work?

I started my meet prep last week for a meet in August that I’m planning on using as a “tune-up meet” before the WPC Worlds in November. I was excited but a little apprehensive getting under the bar for the first time in two months.  Prior to the mandatory deload I would plan to do dynamic effort squats for eight to ten sets of doubles. Usually I would make it to three or four sets before the “twinge” in my back started and became progressively worse until I couldn’t squat. I was usually able to make five or six sets at the most and I could never deadlift after squatting.

First training session back: dynamic squats (8x2) with 510 pounds. For the first time in over a year I was able to complete the entire squat sets without any back pain whatsoever! For the first time in over a year I was able to deadlift after the squat session without any pain whatsoever! I’ve had a few squat sessions and deadlift sessions and I’m amazed that my back feels 100% better. I’ve continued to see Dr. Kinakin for “tune-ups” and I’m still a little skeptical that I won’t feel any twinges or pain when I start to get back into lifting in the 800 to 900 pound range but the difference so far is unbelievable.

Moving forward in our training we’ve decided to add one week of deload training after each three week wave of progressive lifting to actively rest and repair. I can’t thank Dave Tate, Ken Kinakin and Todd Brock enough for the great advice and guidance and I’m glad I was able to apply the advice without being my regular, stubborn, stupid ass self. So far it’s been nothing short of a miracle.

If you have any chronic or nagging injuries, please do yourself a favor: put your ego on the shelf and take some well deserved time off to heal your body and repair. It’s well worth the time off to come pain-free. I’ve never been accused of being smart, but this was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Take a mandatory deload!