1. Model (copy) the exact strategy of an extraordinary achiever who has achieved or surpassed what your goal is. I found this in the hipster mad professor of Powerlifting, Hench Gym Belfast’s own Rory Girvan. Think the terminator, but softly spoken with a beard. Rory, an elite level international powerlifter, designed a programme for me and helped at every stage of the journey, including being very tough and honest with me.
I have always kept myself active, GAA, rugby, kickboxing, running, climbing and going to the gym. But the transition from being a strong guy in your local gym to stepping on an international powerlifting platform can be likened to thinking that you are handy at the 5 a side soccer game on Thursday night and suddenly finding yourself standing on the field in Wembley being chased down by Ronaldinho. You realise that you know next to nothing, are very weak and only a stupendous amount of hard work is going to be able to bring you inch by inch to your goal. Furthermore the bench press (the requisite lifts are bench press, squat and deadlift) is a paused bench and the squats are completely “ass to grass” so the weights you thought you could lift in the gym just don’t relate. The training sessions are 90 minutes to 2 hours long and are draining. Your central nervous system is permanently like the national electricity grid at 10:30am on a Christmas morning and sleep, diet, stretching, epsom salt baths, cryotherapy and sports massage become as important as training as your body tries to recover from the constant overload you are exposing it to. I personally think the sacrifices that are required to peak and compete in international powerlifting are something that I’m very glad I experienced but I wouldn’t want to repeat the process too many times in my life. Powerlifting itself is an excellent rewarding pastime but it needs to be moderated at the top end with plenty of interval training and steady state cardio for health and body compositional reasons.
Powerlifting is the unsexy swotty brother of bodybuilding and the body beautifuls. I was intrigued to see several audience members quietly reading the Financial Times during my warm up competition as opposed to the sea of loud “Tap Out” t shirt wearers that can be found at the bodybuilding shows. It requires discipline, real confidence (try walking out a 500lb+ squat), plenty of reading, being able to take constructive negative feedback well and an analytical approach to preparation, think spreadsheets and lots of eXcel. The other thing that impressed me was the integrity of the lifters. Not one person I knew on my powerlifting journey took any type of steroids. The IPF federations in Ireland are shining examples of sporting organisations where drugs would make a huge difference to performance yet are almost non-existent due to zero tolerance drug testing and more importantly the disdain that the body of athletes feel for drug assisted cheats. Drugs (which people forget are illegal) are endemic in bodybuilding competition and used more commonly every year by regular gym goers. You have to wonder if that is the real difference in the type of person attracted to the different sports. There are of course some excellent genetically gifted bodybuilders, although rare.
Training for a high level competition is a monk like existence. Everything (some people I know would say “everyone”) else comes second. Yes, it is very selfish. Yes, “enjoying” oneself has to be put on hold for months on end. Yes, I did question what a 40+ year old was doing on a Saturday night in shorts covered in chalk and sweat in a 24 hour gym in Belfast with bedraggled revellers of a similar vintage banging on the gym window making the type of gestures that can be best found looking through the peephole of a cell in Strangeways prison. (Go anyway.)