elitefts™ Sunday Edition

This was my fourth year competing at the XPC finals at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio. Each of the four times I’ve competed in this event (twice were before it was recognized by the festival) has been a landmark day in my career. In 2011, I hit my first 800-pound squat. In 2012, I had my first 600-pound bench. Last year, I made my first 2000-pound total at the first multiply meet to be recognized by the Arnold in years.

This year was even better.

Like most meets, my process started two weeks before the day of the meet when I began preparing for my weight cut. Unlike previous years, I did a pretty good job of keeping my weight under control throughout the cycle. This meant I only needed to lose about 14 pounds to make the 198-pound weight class. I put Brian Carroll’s ebook to use, which helped streamline the process even further. On Wednesday, I started the drive to Ohio with my wife and six month old son James. It took us quite a bit longer than usual due to the constant stops for bathroom breaks (for me, not James. I had just stopped water-loading when we left). I tacked an additional 45 minutes onto the trip when I locked us out of the car with the baby still in his car seat at the rest stop. This required a visit from a local locksmith just to get the poor kid out. Trooper that he is, James didn’t even cry. He just looked at me sadly while contemplating his future under my supervision.

We finally made it to the hotel around 10 p.m. We put the baby to sleep and I stared at the ceiling for nine hours waiting to weigh in the next morning. I made weight down to the ounce and started the process of bloating back up with Pedialyte and waxy maize. I continued to hang around the hotel room and get fat for the rest of the day. I took the wife out for a steakhouse dinner (my first real food of the day) and got to bed nice and early. I woke up in the morning feeling rested and full, with my weight back up to 214 pounds. I hit up Bob Evans with Liz and my handler Anthony, and we made our way to Veteran’s Memorial.

As a 198-pound lifter, I was in the third flight. This meant I spent the first hour of the meet hanging out, catching up with old friends, and meeting new ones. I spent a little time with Adam Driggers and Steve Colescott while Steve interviewed us. Bob Youngs and Dave Tate were also on hand to support the team. I can understand Bob being there, but Dave’s involvement took me by surprise, since I read on the Internet a few weeks ago that he isn’t a powerlifting coach. Maybe he was there to learn, just in case the whole CEO thing doesn’t work out.

Warm-ups for the squat felt great. My gear fit well and I got as deep as I needed to on each progressive set. The only issue that got into my head was that the weights felt a little heavy on my back. This was likely due to a longer than usual deload, in an attempt to let my lower back heal as much as possible.

My goal throughout the day was to stay conservative. I knew that my main competition in my class would be JJ Thomas from Detroit Barbell. JJ qualified by totaling about 20 pounds more than my 198-pound weight class PR. I knew that it would come down to which one of us made the most lifts.


I opened with 750. Good lift. It felt heavy out of the rack but moved well. I put in 790 as my second attempt. I would have gone a little higher if 750 had felt lighter, but I knew that 790 would put me on track for a PR total and I was keeping my strategy for the day in mind. 790 moved like 750 for another good lift. I felt like I almost lost it at the top, so I took a small jump to 805 for my third squat. This would be a five-pound PR in the 198-pound weight class and would match my best lift from my 220-pound meet in September. Good lift. I was really locked in this time and it felt better than 790. This is the first time I have gone three for three in squats since 2011 and it boosted my confidence. JJ had a great showing in the squats and put some pressure on me by hitting 830 pounds. My bench had been looking good this cycle, though, and I planned to make up some ground.

Photo Courtesy of Kenneth Richardson


Warm-ups for bench went off without a hitch, unless you count Adam Driggers misloading one of my warm-ups when he accidentally left a 25-pound plate off one side. Instead of screwing me up, it actually had a positive effect, because I knew that if I could keep my technique through a misloaded bar, I was in good shape going into the bench. I opened with 610 pounds for a good first attempt. On my second, I took 640. The weight did not feel heavy, but my back started to tighten up. I didn’t hit it with quite as good of a groove as I usually do, but was still able to lock it out. Good lift and a 12-pound weight class PR. I originally called for 665 pounds on my third, but Dave Tate talked me into taking 655 instead. Knowing that JJ can pull big and I cannot, I needed every pound I could get on the bench. I decided to go with something safe for a third attempt. Good lift.

I was now 6/6 for the day and on track for a big total PR. JJ had some difficulties in the bench, and I was now ahead by 90 pounds — but there was a problem. My back was shot from arching in the bench press. I could barely stand up straight and didn’t even want to think about pulling heavy weights off the floor. I had about 90 minutes to figure something out before my flight started.


I started by mixing some Voltaren and DMSO and having Anthony cover my back with it. I downed a handful of ibuprofen and kept moving around, since lying or sitting still could cause it to stiffen up even worse. The liniments started to kick in when it was time to warm up. Honestly, everything felt like crap. I had planned to take 575 as my opener, but missed 515 during my warm-ups. I didn’t miss because I was out of the groove or because I hitched; the weight would not budge from the floor. I don’t think I even bent the bar. Anthony, who is usually one of the most helpful lifters I know, had nothing to say. This said even more than the miss.

Photo Courtesy of Kenneth Richardson

A lot of lifters don’t like when their training partners yell or bitch them out during training or at a meet, but it is actually a good thing. If your training partners are ripping you, it means they think that you are worth fixing. When they are silent, you’re fucked. I told Anthony to lower my opener to 500 pounds and his response was, “are you sure that will be light enough?” I said I was sure, but the truth is that I was not. I was betting on the adrenaline from being on stage to help me meek it up for a total on the day. 500 certainly wouldn’t give me a PR total, but it would at least let me end the day with a pro total. My first attempt was good. I won’t lie, it really hurt, but it also came up pretty easily. I figured that if I could handle the pain of 500, then I could handle a few more pounds. On my second, I took 565 for a nice PR total of 2025. My second attempt was good, but hurt just as much as the first. I settled on 615 pounds for my final attempt. This wouldn’t be quite a PR, but I thought that it would be a relatively safe attempt that would force JJ to pull a PR of 710 to beat me. I knew he was capable of it, but it wouldn’t be easy. 615 was good. I made my last pull and JJ missed his near the top, nearly giving me a heart attack in the process.

I have to say, in this era of “everyone wins” powerlifting, it’s great to be able to really compete for a change. I’m convinced that this is why, win or lose, I tend to have better showings at big meets.

I finished the day with a PR 2075 total and the win for the 198-pound weight class. I also went 9/9, which I don’t think I’ve ever done in my fifteen years in the sport.

This way by far my best meet performance to date, but I still see some glaring weaknesses I need to address. Back health is the most notable issue. Because I am automatically qualified for next year’s Arnold, I will probably take a year off from full meets. It seems that the bench press is what aggravates my back the most, so I’m going to start by experimenting with a flat-footed style to see if reducing the arch will address the pain.

My performance also qualifies me for the XPC bench meet next year, which I may enter for a change of pace. For now, I will address my back issues and see where it takes me. Thanks to everyone who made this weekend possible.