The acrid stench of sweaty bodies clung to the air. The steady, thumping bass resonated from the speaker system, interrupted only by the dull thud of my own heartbeat. As I squinted through the mist of chalk dust, I could make out the soothing faces of my family and friends.
The crowd swelled, and cheered as my name was announced. The bar is loaded, boomed a voice from above. I approached the platform, every pair of beady eyes tansfixed upon me. Twelve weeks, 100 hours, of training – all down to this moment. I took the bar on my back, a deep breath in, and took the plunge.
Ladies and Gentlemen, a few months ago I competed in my first powerlifting competition. Tonight, we will find out what it is and why I love it.
Powerlifting is a contest of strength, tested over three basic lifts. The first is the squat, where a barbell is placed on your back. You are required to squat down and stand back up again. The second is the bench press, where a weight is pushed off your chest as you lie flat. Finally, is the deadlift, where you pick the weight up off the floor, and take it to the level of the hips.
You get three attempts at each. Your best attempts are added. The person with the biggest number is declared the winner.
It’s a simple sport, and I am a simple man.
Why do I love it? For me, it’s an investment.
When I’m an old man I have but three goals –
One – to able to stand up from a chair
Two – to push myself up from the floor should I take a tumble
And three, pick my grandchildren up off the ground.
Squat, bench, deadlift.
In my work, I see the consequences of weakness. People become frail. People become dependent. People become depressed.
To quote Mark Rippetoe, a guru of strength training, “strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general.”
What else keeps me coming back? Three things. Patience, progression and perfection.
Patience. Strength training is a marathon. One doesn’t pick up 300 kilograms without years and years of training – I don’t care how naturally big and athletic you are.
Progression. Add-on just 1 kilogram every week for a year. 52 kilograms later, you’ll be stronger than most of the population.
Perfection. Forever tweaking technique. You start to think of your body in terms of the magnificent machine that it is. Could I get more torque here? How do I decrease that moment arm? Tweaking, tinkering, tampering in the pursuit of perfection.
Now I understand that it might not be a sport for everyone. I don’t expect to see you all at the club tomorrow night – although you’re more than welcome. But what I would like you to take home is that movement is a gift, be it squatting up and down or walking around the park. Movement is medicine. So, find a movement you love, and take the plunge.
I took the bar on my back, a deep breath in. In the controlled chaos of the descent, the crowd evaporated, and it was just myself and the barbell. Lower, lower, lower. I hit the bottom. The hamstrings, quads and calves fired in an explosive, orchestrated symphony. The barbell propelled skywards, defying that great oppressor that is gravity. The squat was finished, and I left the platform. That was the day I took the plunge.