I finally made my comeback in powerlifting this year. I got through a meet up at Bill
Crawford’s. Admittedly, my squat that passed was a gift, but man, I feel I deserved a freaking break after the last couple of years. So, I took it and went on and totaled a relatively respectable 2100 lbs. I won the masters 275-lb class and the open 275-lb class and got best lifter to boot.

I decided to do another meet about a month later in New Jersey while I was still strong. I trained for this meet with Teddy Forbes (1008-lb squat) and Matt Rhodes (of elite fame). We felt if I could just correct some glitches in my squat form, I could hit a fairly large number. Things went very well in training. I was hitting depth, and I wasn’t lying over in the hole. Everything went well. On meet day, everything I learned went out the window, and I reverted back to my old habits. Typically, I bombed. It was a HUGE disappointment because my strength had NEVER been better.

Which was the more beneficial meet—the one where things went my way or the one where everything went wrong? Without a doubt, it’s the latter and here’s why…

I’ve been following Westside Barbell’s methods for close to fifteen years. Box squatting took me to new levels of strength development and made me successful in the sport. It not only helped me squat but helped my deadlift as well. Without Westside, I would have been a competitor on the state level for my entire career. However, it has run its course.

Because of injuries, box squatting has become extremely painful. I now can’t translate my form on the box to a regular squat. I can’t judge my depth, and I lay over in the hole. It’s become a real mess. So, I decided to train with Teddy and free squat. We don’t do progressive overload, but we wave the weights and intensity up and down while only free squatting. Everything was going great, but what happened on meet day?

The first thing that went wrong was something that I never even considered. When I train in the gym, I’m very relaxed. I don’t get all psyched up, and it actually looks like I’m bored and using very little intensity. I do this because I’ve found that when I get super psyched or stressed out, I tend to tense all the wrong muscles and inevitably tear something. So, I train in a very relaxed, laid back manner, rarely speaking and just going about my business.

However, while this works great in the gym and keeps me healthy, in a meet atmosphere, I’m unable to mimic this feeling. Because of nerves and stress, I start getting very tense. I start using all the wrong muscles, and I can no longer listen to verbal cues. Even if I could, I can’t get my body to follow what my brain is telling it to do. Even though I was able to squat better in the gym, at the meet my body just followed the path that it was accustomed to. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t translate my new form onto the platform.

The solution to this is time. I need to train much longer and much heavier for longer periods so that my new form is natural and not something I have to think about. This is easily corrected. A good lesson learned.

Another problem is my training itself and my rep schemes. Because of years of injuries, I have to train in squat briefs from set one. Even if I take the bar, I need to wear briefs. So my sets look like this: 135 X 3, 225 X 3, 315 X 3, 405 X 3, 495 X 3, 600 X 1, and 700 X 1. This is all performed in briefs. Then, I’ll put on my suit and hit 775 X 1 and finish with whatever I’m supposed to do that day. For example, I may have to do 835 X 1.

Here’s the problem. Because I’m wearing briefs, EVERY squat that I do is high from 135 lbs right through to 600-700 lbs. For the latter weight, I might get it in, but I might not. Then, I put the suit on and 775 lbs is three inches high and 835 lbs might be in or it might not. Think about that. When am I hitting legal depth? Perhaps on two reps? Maybe? That isn’t acceptable.

I need to get many more sets in at legal depth. I need to know what hitting depth feels like every time I’m in meet mode numbers. No longer can I say, “It was an inch high so if I add 40 lbs I will be in.” I need to get to a weight and get depth over and over and over again to see how it feels. I need to know where my body needs to be and how it should feel. No more guess work. No more hoping and praying. No more gifts or hopes of a gift from a friendly judge. I need to learn how to get my stiff ass to depth without thinking about it. Without hearing fifteen verbal commands. Without wondering where my hips are. I need to know it and know it well.

I wish I would have figured this out years ago. What good is getting VERY strong if you’re unable to demonstrate it at a meet because you can’t hit depth? Who cares if I can handle 750 lbs in a good morning when I’m three inches high in the squat at the meet? All the strength in the world is useless when you bomb because of depth. There aren’t any awards for the strongest high squatter or the best built “one inch above parallel” squatter or even the “fastest out of the hole but that’s two inches high” squatter. No one cares if you handle weights easily or can sit in the hole (the hole being two inches high) for twenty seconds if you can’t drop that last two inches. No, powerlifting is about strength, but you need to be strong and get in. Lesson learned. At this point, I’d rather be weaker and get in than be super strong and bomb and only have training partners know that I’m strong. I need to be able to demonstrate my strength on the platform, not just in a gym.

Another thing I learned is that you need to wear the briefs that you’re wearing at the gym in the meet. I used the same size briefs, but the ones I put on at the meet were tighter. This caused the problem with my knees coming in. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Typical.

I will look at this year as a learning experience. I’m still learning after 25 years of competing,
and I’m still as dumb as I was in my first meet. Although I did get a total at one meet, I learned more from the meet where I bombed. A frustrating and expensive lesson. On the one hand, I need time to work out my form and depth issues. But on the other hand, there are times when I feel like I’m running out of time. It’s hard getting old.
So, you won’t be seeing me in a full meet in a while. In fact, I’m probably going to spend the next year and a half in bodybuilding. I want to give that “sport” a chance before it’s too late. I’ve never really just done bodybuilding in 18 years, and I really want to see what I can do if I just concentrate on it for awhile. However, rest assured, I will be squatting and learning. Hopefully, I’ll be back on the platform without worrying about depth. Lesson learned!