Powerlifting

Approaching retirement from full-time work, the last thing I would have foreseen doing was to take up powerlifting and get involved in competitions. I had plans to spend more time walking and climbing in the Alps, but increasing knee problems (osteoarthritis) around 2014-2015 put that on hold. I stopped doing Crossfit classes in 2015 and instead started to focus on weight training apart from squats.

I had also been reading various books and research relating to exercise and ageing, and became convinced that to maximise my health and functioning into older age I needed to maintain and improve my strength, and that this was probably more important than the endurance cardiovascular training that I had been doing for many years.

I found that I really enjoyed training with heavy weights and low repetitions (usually in range 3-6) and that my knees felt a lot better after a workout. With some coaching on good technique, I was able to substantially increase the weight and volume I was working with and would often leave the gym with an endorphin high and pain-free knees. Occasional lower back pain (related to an old injury during jujutsu training) also became rarer.

So in 2016 and in my sixties, I got into strength training more seriously and also went to the weekly Strongman training at my gym, where I not only learnt a whole range of fun strength training techniques involving kettlebells, axles, logs, yokes, sleds and other strongman equipment, but I also got excellent coaching on training for the three main powerlifting techniques (squat, bench press, deadlift) from a coach who was a very experienced powerlifter as well as a strongman.

There are three strength athletics sports with a primary focus on strength: Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting and Strongman competition. Olympic weightlifting has two competition lifts: the snatch and the clean and jerk, both of which involve getting the loaded bar completely overhead.  Powerlifting has three competition lifts: the squat below parallel, the benchpress (with a pause of the bar on the chest), and the deadlift. The objective in competition is to maximise the sum of the weight lifted in each of the three lifts, with three attempts allowed for each lift.

Strongman involves a wide range of strength challenges with events such as the log lift, atlas stones, vehicle pull, deadlift, farmer’s walk, and weight throw. Whereas Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting competitions have age and weight classes and athletes choose the weights they will attempt to lift, Strongman events use fixed weights or equipment for all competitors, and aim to achieve maximum distance, time or repetitions as appropriate.

None of the strength sports should be confused with bodybuilding where the focus of training is on muscle hypertrophy and the aesthetics of appearance. While bodybuilders are generally strong, they are not training to maximise strength. Some powerlifters and strongmen may look like bodybuilders, many do not. And in fact some of the strongest lifters in powerlifting competitions do not look particularly muscular, at least in the weight categories below the top open-ended category.

When I started doing strongman class, I added the squat to my training, initially quite lightly loaded (around 50 kg) and worked very hard on achieving good technique.  To my surprise, I found that when the squat was done with good technique to below parallel (hips lower than the position where the top of the thigh is parallel to the floor) I had no knee pain,  even on days when my knees were playing up walking around. My current personal best squat in competition is 107.5 kg (237 lb) which is relatively low compared to my bench press and deadlift, but I am very happy to be able to squat again. I hope to work on lower body mobility and continue to improve my squat.

Opening squat of 95 kg in a powerlifting competition, December 2019

In 2017, I decided to enter the SDFPF Single Lift competition in the bench press and deadlift events, for the fun of it, and to see what was involved in competition.  I also thought it might potentially add to my motivation to train regularly. I was competing in the Masters 5 age category (60-64 years) and the under 100 kg weight class. In the deadlift, my opening lift was a relatively safe 130 kg (in the sense that I was sure that was within my capacity) When I went out for my second attempt at 140 kg, the official told the crowd that this would be a new Swiss record for my age-weight class.  I achieved that and went on to successfully lift 150 kg.  That gave me quite a thrill with the crowd cheering me on, and I was hooked on competing again.

Performing a 100 kg benchpress at the SDFPF Single Lift Championships 2017

Powerlifting competition is very different to most other physical activities in that the goal is to achieve 100% effort in a single lift that typically takes around 5 seconds or less. To achieve that requires the ability to recruit every muscle in your body and maintain maximum tension by “getting tight” through your entire body. This requires training your central nervous system to send signals to your muscles to contract at the limit of their capacities. But beyond this, it requires extreme mental focus and intention. Distraction during the lift, for example starting to think about whether you went low enough in the squat, can result in loss of tension and the failure of the lift, or forgetting to wait for a command to rack the bar (which will disqualify you).

A major appeal of powerlifting training for me is this integration of mind-body training and the intellectual challenge of learning and maximising skill and technique. Somewhat similar to the appeal that the martial arts and alpine climbing have had for me. I have always sought out activities that challenge me mentally and get me to “lean beyond my edge” on a regular basis. Through powerlifting, I am still doing that.

At the 2019 Swiss Drug Free Powerlifting Federation (SDFPF) Championships in  Zuchwil, I set records for my age-weight category (Masters 6, u100 kg, unequipped) for all three lifts and for the total of 390 kg. I was particularly pleased with a personal best of 175 kg for the deadlift, and 100 kg for the bench press, though my squat was a less satisfying 85 as I failed to achieve acceptable depth in the following two attempts.  A month later, at the SDFPF Single Lift Championships (Unequipped) I set two more Swiss records for the squat (100 kg) and the deadlift (180 kg).

Performing a 175 kg deadlift at the SDFPF Powerlifting Championship 2019

More recently in December 2019, I set a new personal best for the deadlift at 190 kg, at a Geneva powerlifting competition, the “Coupe de l’Escalade”. There were no age-weight categories in this competition, with the powerlifting total being adjusted for body weight and age using Wilk/McCulloch coefficients. The McCulloch age coefficient was 1.51 for my age, which was more than 25 years older than the next oldest competitor. Based on these weighted scores, I came 2nd overall in the men’s competition. The following video shows my 190 kg deadlift, equivalent to a lift of 287 kg ( 633 lbs) by a man aged less than 40.

 

Is ASMR an altered state of consciousness?

A few days ago, I was watching Would I Lie to You (WILTY), a BBC panel show in which contestants have to bluff about their deepest secrets…and the opposing team have to find out which ones are true. One of the best things on TV.  On this particular episode, a mystery guest Charlotte came onto the show, and each member of one team had to explain how they knew Charlotte.  Joe Lycett claimed that “In the evenings, I like to relax by watching videos of her wrapping gifts on YouTube. “

It turned out to be true. Afterwards, I looked up Charlotte on YouTube and found a video of her wrapping presents.

Continue reading

The 10 greatest athletic feats of the 21st century – transcending perceived limits of mind and body

I have been following Eliud Kichoge’s bid to be the first human to run a marathon in less than 2 hours. He succeeded on Saturday with a time of 1 hour 59 mins and 40 seconds. This is an absolutely extraordinary achievement. It was not an official world record, because of the use of rotating pacemakers and because Kipchoge was handed his drinks from a bike, but it is still the fastest marathon ever run. After he finished, Kipchoge said that he had wanted to send a message to the world that no human is limited.

This made me think about a number of extraordinary feats that I’ve seen achieved in recent years and I decided to make a list of my top 10 most extraordinary human achievements in the realm of extreme feats that broke barriers and went beyond perceived limits of mind and body. Quite a few of these feats involve non-ordinary states of consciousness that need total engagement in the here-now, unity of mind and body, and transcendence of distracting thoughts and emotions. States known as “being in the zone” or “flow” to athletes, as “immovable mind” to the samurai and as samadhi to Zen practitioners.

I also decided arbitrarily to restrict my list to feats achieved in the last 20 years, or in other words, in the 21st century (counting the year 2000 as part of this century). This is an idiosyncratic list that reflects my interests and the level of amazement and awe that watching (or in one case reading an account of) the event inspired in me. You may well have a very different list, though I think at least the ones towards the top should be on most lists.

Continue reading

Free Solo – inspiring and disturbing

Last week I took my boys to see Free Solo. In case you haven’t heard of it, it is a documentary about Alex Honnold’s attempt to become the first person to climb the 3000 foot cliff of El Capitan without any ropes or other protective equipment. One slip or missed hold and he would die. The documentary not only looks at Honnold the climber, his mindset and attitudes, his preparations and the actual climb itself, but also has two other main threads, the process of filming the feat and the moral dilemmas the filmmakers faced, and the very substantial stresses his loved ones have to deal with.

Alex Honnold free soloing El Capitan. Photo credit: National Geographic documentary Free Solo.

I had actually put the DVD in my shopping trolley at Amazon because it did not seem to be screening anywhere in Geneva, when a friend let me know there was a one night showing at Pathe Balexert. So I deleted my draft purchase and took the boys to see it. If you have a chance to see it, I highly recommend it. It is a gripping account of one of the greatest athletic feats of all time, but is also very thought-provoking. It won an Oscar this year for Best Documentary, and has a critics rating of 99% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Continue reading

Rare footage of 1989 jujutsu training

I came across a video recently posted on youtube of my former jujutsu teacher, John Bear Shihan demonstrating futari kata in 1989.  Was surprised to see that I was the main receiver, joined partway through the video by Neil Phillips.

At that time, I was a shodan (1st Dan black belt) and Neil was probably 3rd kyu brown belt. This kata was a training exercise for 5th kyu purple belt level.

 

Sit with me among the white clouds

                         Who can leap the world’s ties
                         And sit with me among the white clouds.

                                                           –    Han-shan
Cold Mountain Poems
Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems, 1990, p.46
Translated by Gary Snyder

190-9089_IMG

Continue reading

Boodie and theosophy in Australia

My great-aunt Boodie (Florence Teasdale Smith) was born around 1892 in Melbourne and was descended from Irish quakers and an Indian Maharajah (see ancestral-tales-a-theosophist-a-thief-and-an-indian-princess).

Boodie and her mother were theosophists, and Boodie was a vegetarian who never ate meat. She was involved in funding the construction of an amphitheatre at Balmoral to watch for the coming of Krishnamurti. Another family recollection was that “her money bought a house in Balmoral for the theosophists”. This note gives a brief overview of theosophy in Australia and sheds some light on the “house” and amphitheatre in Mosman.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Florence Teasdale Smith (Boodie)

Continue reading