This last weekend Justin and I had the privilege of attending the Lifters Corner & Iron Radio Skills Refinement Camp in Topeka, KS. These are my (fairly lengthy) reflections of the weekend and my very first powerlifting meet. Enjoy!
What was it?
Iron Radio and Lifters Corner podcasts join forces for a weekend of intense learning with coaches Jerell Barber, Phil Stevens, Neal Rose, Sarah Stevens, Iron Radio Sponsored Athlete JP Price, and Dr. Lonnie Lowery.
Meet, Greet, and EAT!
We competed in a full meet for the coaches! The coaches took what they sawduring the meet to help each lifter refine their technique. As an added bonus, the meet was sanctioned by the USSF, and our total was high enough, we could qualify for nationals in April!
Discussed how to fix our technique on lifts based on what coaches saw during the meet. Talked about assistance work tailored towards those individual weaknesses.
We recorded a Q&A to be featured on episode of Iron Radio! Phil, Lonnie, and Jerrell answered our questions about life and lifting while sipping on Bourbon.
Dr. Lonnie Lowery showed us his presentation on caffeine/energy drinks and its effect on performance.
Training Day! We worked on skills, asked questions, hung out, and made sure that we would be sore for the rest of the week. ;0)
Friday Night and the Mock Meet
Going into the weekend, I couldn’t help but think that I was in way over my head. I was scared, nervous, and worried the other attendees (men) would be annoyed that the wife had to come and reign on their man parade! Sure, I’ve lifted for almost 3 years now, and, in general, am pretty confident in my strength and training acumen. I’ve also been a spectator at a few powerlifting meets so I’m not completely unfamiliar with the process, and I’ve been one of Phil’s clients for nearly 20 weeks. But this was different. This was up close and personal. This meant lifting in front of someone other than my husband and kids, lifting in front of other lifters and being watched by professionals and coaches who have been in the business for years. So, yeah, running on repeat in my head for the entire 4-hour drive was “what the hell were you thinking?!?”
Friday’s low key meet and greet was just what I needed. I was a ball of nerves, and really hoping I would be able to hide it well.Justin and I were among the first to arrive at the gym. Attendees trickled in one by one throughout the evening, and with each arrival I felt more and more at ease. There were business men, firemen, dad’s, students…people who just loved to lift, and even a few that were interested in the physique side of things like Justin and I. Some had met before at previous events, or through the Strength Guild and Iron Radio Facebook pages. Several drove or flew in from different states, and some were young while other were…less young. Despite our diversity, there was an instant comradery, and for that I was extraordinarily grateful.
We played around with the equipment for a bit, got acclimated with each other and the new surroundings. We all watched eagerly as Phil gave another lifter a crash course in how to do a snatch. Eventually the whole group was taking turns trying to figure out how move the bar and our bodies in such a foreign manner. I was really surprised at how different Olympic lifts were from power lifts. My interest was piqued, and I was really loving that I could use my flexibility to my advantage.
At dinner Justin and I watched everyone enjoy heaping baskets-full of barbecue, fried things, mac n cheese, rolls, and ice cream as we slowly ate our chicken, turkey, and green beans. It was our first dose of reality, and it took only seconds after standing in the ordering line to realize that dieting among aspiring powerlifters sucks ass! I’m used to it, 20 weeks of dieting for a show will do that to a girl; but Justin’s diet just began a couple weeks ago, so I’m sure he was having a much harder time than me! After the carnage, we briefly discussed our plans for Saturday, and headed in for the night to rest up for the meet in the morning. Start time was 10AM!
Sleep. There was no sleeping—for either of us. Just tossing and turning, checking the time, changing the thermostat, and staring into the dark hotel room just begging for a moment of deep, restful sleep. For me, it was the excitement. I couldn’t wait to get in the gym and see how many PRs I could hit. I didn’t care that I was depleted from dieting, I’ve been killing it in the gym for weeks now, so I really wasn’t worried about my ability to perform well. We left the hotel with a couple of our new friends, had our customary Topeka breakfast at Hanover’s, and made it to the gym a little after 9. We milled around for a bit, talked some more with the rest of the group, and as soon as Phil said we’d get started in 20 minutes things started to move at lightning speed.
It’s all somewhat of a blur for me. One minute I’m cool, calm and collected, and the next I’m downing my pre-workout and warming up for squats. I suddenly remember that I have no idea how to warm-up for a meet, so I’m trying to see what everyone else is doing. They all seemed so confident in the ritual! Now I’m flustered and wondering if I can even remember how to squat at this point! I quickly pair up with one of the other women in the group and sort of follow her lead. We start with the bar, do a few reps, add some weight, and then do a few more, etc., etc. All the while the coaches are on hand to tweak little technique flaws, and provide some motivation. By the time I had warmed my way up to 205 lbs on back, it was time to start the meet. I knew beforehand that I didn’t want to be responsible for choosing my openers, so Phil took care of it for me. We decided on 220 lbs., a weight I was easily lifting the previous week for triples (3 reps for 5 sets).
So that didn’t go as planned. There might as well be 400 lbs. on that bar. It wasn’t coming back up. My legs felt like Jell-O, my heart was about to jump out of my chest, my hands were shaking…like really shaking. The mono-lift was still foreign to me and then there were the judges, three of them, watching my every move intently from the front and sides. It was all just too much for me, clearly. All I remember when I got situated under the bar is oh shit, I’m not tall enough to see over JP’s head. Do I stare at his face or the big ass gorilla face on his shirt??I can’t look down, that’s bad technique. Ahhhh!
After that attempt I was completely and hopelessly IN MY HEAD. I missed my second attempt as well, so we lowered the weight to 205 lbs. just so I could get a number on the board.
I was miserably disappointed, embarrassed, andreally mad at myself for letting my nerves get the best of me. Did I learn anything from this epic fail? Absolutely. 1. Calm the fu*k down! 2. Do not run off to go pee before you lift. You don’t need to pee, you’re just pumped up and nervous. Use the pee to your advantage, and if all else fails, pee on the platform! 3. Take your time, find your focal point, and get the set up RIGHT. 4. Damn, my arms look good when I squat!
We quickly moved on to warming up for the bench press portion of the meet after the last squat. I immediately ran to my bag and got some food. I didn’t even care about the next lift, I was eating! I downed a protein muffin and banana, then made my way to a bench for a quick warm up. We started the meet again, and I’m not even sure I knew what my opener was at that point. Again, it’s all burry! Phil called out 80 lbs for me. I was surprised he called such a low weight, but I got under the bar and lifted it with no problem anyways. Maybe it was his intention all along, but the easy lift helped me calm down. My confidence began to come back rather quickly after that. Thank you Phil!
I haven’t a clue what my next two lifts were. All I can remember is that they were just as easy as the first. So easy in fact, he had me bench an extra two times so I could experience a little bit of a challenge. I remember Justin asking me what my 1 rep max was, I said 155, so he yelled out 165. My performance improved but I wasn’t about to get greedy, so I went with Phil’s suggestion at 135. It stuck a little, but went up fairly easy.
Finally, my favorite. Deadlifts. By this point in the day, I was no longer flustered, I felt at ease, comfortable, and actually had the wherewithal to ask for help! Imagine that. I made sure I warmed up properly for this lift. I asked Phil how to work up to my opener. His suggestion was to warm-up until I reached my opening weight, then maybe do 1 rep with that weight before I stopped. Done. I followed directions to a ‘T’. I was ready! I opened with 235 lbs. and lifted it with no problem. Phil must have picked up on the ease of the lift because his next weight for me was 275.
JP, sitting in the head judge position again, said my grip was a little uneven, and if I got that right on my next lift, it would help. I can’t tell you how great it is to get immediate feedback on your lifts. I never would have known about my grip had he not told me. An un-centered grip could be the difference between getting that next PR and missing it. My final attempt of the day was a whopping 285 lbs. I got it off the floor, but I was spent, and already completely elated with my new PR of 270 lbs. ON A 20 WEEK LONG DIET no less.
So I had a rocky start (understatement!), but overall, the experience was incredible, and I can’t wait to do it again. I learned so much about myself, my lifting, my strengths, and my weaknesses. The immediate feedback from coaches was great, and the excitement and cheers from the other lifters was exhilarating. And the day was only half over!
Immediately following the meet, we gathered around the mono-lift and listened intently to Jerrell, JP, and Phil’s assessment of our performance and technique. Justin and I ate, again, and DC Fill took notes (with a pen and paper!) as each coach explained the techniques and intricacies of thethree lifts. Surely this is common among most newbies like myself, I thought that the one’s success in powerlifting was dependent largely on brute strength, but I quickly learned that it’s the little things that make you great. Every move, every step, every placement of a hand, your head, or your feet is, and should always be, intentional.
The squat for example. Success begins the moment you step under the bar, not once you back away from the rack. This was a common flaw among the group, and as the coaches explained it, you could see that “ah ha” moment happening collectively. The evening progressed in the same fashion as we moved on to learning how to bench and deadlift properly. It was apparent to us all that these men had a passion for lifting and teaching, and wanted nothing more than to pass that knowledge on to us. They know what they’re talking about, and I am very grateful that I was given the opportunity to learn from them.
Following the discussion on technique we headed over to the other side of the gym Phil refers to as the ER (Short for Exercise Racing) where Jerrell would take us through a proper warm-up. I think we all felt a tiny bit guilty when Jerrell said he noticed that none of us had warmed up prior to the meet that morning. Oops! It felt good to get moving again. I was surprised at how stiff and sore I was feeling already. I blame my recovery, or lack thereof, on my 20 week long diet! I didn’t fully understand what I always heard about competition diets making you feel depleted and weak. I felt fine the last few weeks! Then I did the mock meet and my opinion quickly changed. Now I know exactly what depleted and weak feels like.
I digress. This little warm-up session was easily one of my most memorable moments of the weekend. We were told at one point to match up with someone with a similar height as you. I’m 5’2” so I knew pretty quickly that I would have a difficult time finding a partner. And I was right, for a brief moment I stood alone looking around at all the pairs that had formed. I took one last look behind me to find JP standing there watching us. At this point we had no idea what we needed a partner for, so I said what the hell, and pulled him over. Jerrell instructed us to face our partner, then squat down. Not squat down like you have a barbell on your back, squat down like your about to take a shit kind of squat. Ass to grass! There was a definite moment of awkwardness, but it was quickly replaced by an “oh shit, are you f*ing kidding me” kind of moment when I hear Jerrell say, “now try and knock you partner over.” There I was facing the big gorilla again! JP was great though. I have a sneaking suspicion the man who can squat over 900 lbs. went easy on me. He never went down of course, but he somehow managed to make me feel like a beast!
After the wrastlin’ we were all pretty warm and ready to move to some Olympic lifting drills. Jerrell went over, in great detail, how to do a snatch. I was glad Phil worked with a few us on this movement the day before, because, it is so very different than anything related to powerlifting. Keep your arms loose, your back straight, go slow, go fast, thrust your hips up not forward, make noise with your feet, keep your balance, don’t pull with your arms….There are so many little things you have to do in order to perform it correctly. One by one, we all demonstrated this new movement with a broomstick. I think we all had trouble getting our bodies to move as one cohesive unit. It’s definitely something that takes a lot of practice. I’ve never put any thought into the sport, but I left that session with a new found respect for anyone who is able to move like that with weight on a bar, for sure.
Everybody ate steaks, potatoes, bottomless basket of rolls and cinnamon butter, and I didn’t. I had the privilege of sitting next to Phil and his GIANT steak, and Jerrell with his plate-sized slab of prime rib. They ate so many rolls, the whole table did. A tear may have fallen from eye, and I’m sure Justin was struggling as well. Luckily, we both had quite a bit of catching up to do on our macros, so at least we had that going for us! I ordered a grilled chicken breast, with no sauce, two sides of steamed veggies and a shrimp skewer. The little stick figure of a waiter had the audacity to NOT bring me my shrimp skewer because “[they] don’t make a chicken and shrimp combo plate.” I am positive you could visibly see the steam coming out of my ears and the daggers flying out of my eyes when he explained that to me. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was along the lines of “I ordered shrimp, bring me shrimp, get creative, I don’t care how you ring it up!” I wanted to fly across the table and strangle this poor kid who clearly did not know how hungry I was. The waiter survived the evening, as did I, but it was a close one!
We took our full bellies back to the gym for a bourbon fueled Q&A session that was recorded for an upcoming Iron Radio episode. Phil, Lonnie, and Jerrell fielded questions from the group and sipped on one of the very large bottles of bourbon brought by Colorado Mike and Indiana Joe. Whether the subject was technique or just life in general, it was very apparent that these guys truly love what they do. They love lifting, they love the science behind it, and they want nothing more than to pass along good, reliable information and their experiences to other lifters. I learned more about the coaches as individuals in that hour than I ever imagined. I already respected them immensely for their knowledge, but I respected them even more as men because they allowed us to take a glimpse into what make them tick, and why they do what they do, day in and day out. They were no longer just the professionals I listen to on the podcasts or someone to teach me proper technique, they were real people. I don’t know how else to put it. But the Q&A was an important part of the weekend for me. I felt more at ease around the coaches, and l understood why they call it (get ready for some cheesy shit) a brotherhood.
We left the gym around 8:30 or so to head back to the hotel where Lonnie opened up his room to go over his presentation on caffeine and its effect on performance. I was tired, and wanted nothing more than to shower and go to sleep, but I love caffeine and I wasn’t missing this for anything! I was just praying his findings would encourage the use of caffeine instead of deter it. Lonnie’s excitement about the subject was infectious. It actually made me miss being in school. He even had a laser pointer for his PowerPoint presentation and hand drawn graphics (courtesy of his very talented son) to go along with it. His research on the subject is ongoing, but his finding so far are fascinating and made this caffeine lover very happy. I went to the store and purchased 4 boxes of Starbucks Via as soon as we returned home on Sunday!
We all met for breakfast at Hanover’s Sunday morning before heading to the gym. I was excited because it was a high fat day for me. That meant egg yolks and cheese and fatty meats. Yum. I was happy with what I ordered; poached eggs, corned beef, and veggies. Everyone at the table received their food before Justin and me. A cruel joke I’m sure. As we surveyed the table and everyone else’s food, we couldn’t help but be crushed by the site of Dal and Joe’s massive pancake wrapped Denver omelet. Suddenly my poached eggs and corned beef didn’t seem so exciting.
We were still unsure how long we planned to stay and play at the gym. The weather was awful all weekend, and we were worried about the roads. I’m so glad I was able to talk Justin into staying for a bit because we made some serious progress as I am sure all the other lifters did as well. Phil, Neal, Lonnie and Jerrell made their way around the gym answering questions, correcting form, supplying copius amounts of Starbucks Via, etc. as we all worked hard to perfect our craft. It was an indescribable atmosphere, a lifters dream really. Everyone helping each other, offering encouragement and motivation all the while learning from some of the best in the industry. These few hours in the gym were by far, my most memorable.
During this time, the other lifters worked on their squats, bench, and/or deadlifts, but Justin and I both worked on our Olympic lifts, something we never do. Justin has played around with his clean and jerk on random occasions in our garage gym, but has never been able to clean any significant amount of weight. By the end of the hours-long training session, he was able to clean and jerk his bodyweight (205 lbs). A new PR, and a goal he’s had for months. All it took was a little direction from the coaches to get his form on point, and countless reps of course. (Justin also hit a 430lb squat, which was 20lb PR, during the meet. I’d be a bad wife if I didn’t show that off too!)
For me, Olympic lifts were brand spankin’ new. Phil encouraged me to work on my snatch, so I did, and gladly. He said I was genetically built for the sport. I had no idea what he was talking about at the time, but I didn’t care. I trust him, and I loved the challenge of learning something completely foreign to me. I did rep after rep with just the bar, trying desperately to get my form right. I had to concentrate really hard each time I held the bar, it was exhausting! I messed up a lot, even fell down a couple times, but Phil, Neal and Jerrell were all there to encouraging me, help me, and explain how to fix it, all the while. By the end of the session I was snatching 63 lbs., something I’m told isn’t typical of someone who just learned the lift. I still have a long way to go, and yes, that was only one of the three oly lifts, but I can’t wait to learn more. I’m hooked!
Time flew by and before we knew it, it was 1130. Justin and I agreed it would be best to leave by noon so we would have daylight the entire drive home. I really wasn’t ready to stop working, and I certainly wasn’t ready to leave the atmosphere. Sure, I was sore as hell, tired, hungry, and my hands were ripped to shreds, but this was an experience like no other, and leaving just sounded lame! We opted instead for another cruel meal out with the non-dieters. Phil suggested a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint “just down the road” where we would stare longingly at the baskets of tortilla chips and white queso (definitely top 3 on my list of foods I LOVE). We ate slowly and stalled as long as we could, but we needed to get home to the kids, and I still had food to prep for the week. Back to reality! We gathered outside the tattered building to take the mandatory group photo and say our final goodbyes.
Well I went into this weekend feeling like a tag-along, like I didn’t belong because I was just and wanna-be bikini competitor, and like I would just get in the way. From the moment we met Mike, a firefighter from Colorado, and the one lifter who beat us into town, I felt at ease and those thoughts began to dissipate. I feel silly for ever having felt that way. I am so glad I went, I learned more far more than I could ever have anticipated, and I am excited to have finally found a group of people who love lifting as much as Justin and I do.
I’m grateful for the coaches who took time out of their busy lives to spend teaching us how to be better lifters, try new things, and just hang out with us. They are all inspiring in their own way, passionate about what they do, and I feel lucky to have been given the chance to get to know them and learn from them face to face. Because of them, and everything I learned over the weekend, I have a whole new set of goals that I am eager to get started on. I’ve decided I want to do it all! Physique, Power Lifting, and Olympic lifting, hell I would even venture into some exercise racing if I can convince Justin to get a few more items for our little garage gym! I don’t care if I break any records, or win, or even fail miserably at times, I want to learn the ins and outs of them all. One thing that really stuck with me from this weekend is the more I know, the more I learn, the better off I will be as a lifter.