Monday, February 11, 2013

Lessons Learned At My First Powerlifting Meet

I'll be honest with you-- 2013 has pretty much sucked so far. 

It started, literally on New Year's Eve, with my mother-- my vibrant, health-obsessed, mother-- going into the hospital, coughing up blood.  A few hours later, she was on a ventilator.  She was diagnosed with lung cancer two days later.  Just days after that it was double pneumonia.  They couldn't get a feeding tube in her-- she was too skinny, and her skull structure wouldn't allow it to be inserted nasally.  I was told she wouldn't make it through the weekend.  I dropped everything and flew to New York (where she lives).  I sang her songs.  I rubbed her feet.  I played her favorite music.   I did some energy work on her.  I brought in a much better energy worker (it was all I could think of that they would allow me to do in the hospital).  I did everything I could think of, and saw her oxygen levels get better each day I was there.  They said they were going to try to wean her off the ventilator.  I flew back to Los Angeles.  She got worse again.  She got a tracheotomy.  She had a massive stroke.  I flew back to New York.  She was brain dead.  We buried her a few days later. 

So yeah, you could say this has been a pretty horrible year so far. 

My mom and me in November, just about two months before her death.  She came to visit me for Thanksgiving.  We went hiking.  

My training fell to the wayside due to constant travel and stress.  I was mentally. physically, and emotionally exhausted.  My hormone levels were skewed from stress.  My digestive system was not working right.  I didn't want to eat much, and when I did eat, I felt sick.  I had random, scattered pains from nothing in particular.  I felt like there was an elephant sitting on my chest, and I couldn't get enough oxygen when I breathed. 

And I had this little matter of my very first powerlifting meet that I had signed up for at the beginning of January. 

People told me not to do it-- I wasn't ready, I hadn't trained, I wasn't feeling well, I had too much going on, I should just rest, there would be other meets.  I got why they said that.  But honestly, I needed it.  It was something I had wanted to start doing for quite a while now, and I am not someone who gives up easily.  Lifting and music are my happy places.  And also, I am a little crazy.  So despite everything, I decided to go through with it.  I did not figure I would be hitting any records this time around.  I was going for the experience, to learn more about the sport, to figure out what it would take for me to get really, really good. 

I spent most of the time between my mother's death and the event (a little over a week in total) trying to take care of myself the best I could.  I did a little bit of light lifting to "grease the groove" a bit, but nothing too taxing.  I got some healing work done to try to take the elephant off of my chest (I have been breathing almost normally ever since!).  I tried to get more sleep, although one of my Evil Kitties tried to wake me up every chance he got.  I got inspired watching videos of powerlifters like Ed Coan.  And I just did some visualization work, imagining what my deadlift and bench press would look like and feel like, over and over and over again.  I got to go to one of my happy places two days before the event-- I sat in for the singer of a band I play with sometimes.  I was, at least, in a better frame of mind.  Two days later, I flew to San Francisco, drove to Concord (where the meet was taking place), ate a healthy dinner of beans, rice, veggies, and raw chocolate, and went to bed early.  

I woke up, unfortunately, to some really bad abdominal cramps (lady-part related stuff-- sorry for the too much information moment, but there you have it) that ended up hitting me on and off the whole day.  Definitely did not work in my favor.

At 7AM, I weighed in at 103lbs, which put me squarely in the 48kg Submasters category.  I then proceeded to make friends with the cutest freakin' Staffordshire Terrier puppy EVER while I waited for the event to begin.  I tried to stay warm-- it was absolutely freezing in there.  I was shaking and my muscles were stiff.  I sat in the rental car for a while to warm up, and got some coffee, too.

My new buddy!  Almost put her in my pocket and took her home.  :)

 I honestly had no idea what to expect when I went to the event.   I have never done anything like this before, and outside of the occasional workshop, I have no coaching, or even a spotter.  I've been doing this more or less on my own, and training almost exclusively in a place that is not designed for powerlifting.  That is definitely a disadvantage.  Thing One that I've learned since starting training for this sport:  A good powerlifting coach and the right environment can make all the difference in the world.  It is important enough to me now that if I cannot make something work around Los Angeles, I will consider flying out maybe twice a month to work with the right person. 

I was incredibly inspired by all the strength around me.  There were some amazing people there.  In particular, there was one woman competing in bench press who was a double lung transplant survivor.  In the audience sat a happy-looking woman in her 70's.  I was later informed that she had been in a convalescent home, unable to walk.  She now owns international powerlifting titles for her age group, and deadlifts 270lbs.  You heard me.  270lbs.  As a matter of fact, some of the strongest people there were in their late 40's and above.  It just continues to prove a point I make often-- age is never an excuse.

I decided not to squat in this meet because I have never really had my squat looked at by a powerlifting coach, and I really want to make sure it looks good before I compete with it.   My two events were bench press and deadlift. 

Bench press came first.  I have honestly not trained bench press much except for the last two months.  I've always been a pushups kind of girl, and never felt much need to bench.  But if I am going to compete, I am going to have to bench.   The problem is, in the studio I train out of, I have no spotter, so I never really bench much more than 95lbs on my own.  I once decided to go for a big number and ended up having to roll the bar off of my stomach.  I really don't want to have to repeat that experience.  If you want to train for big numbers, especially in bench or squat, having a training partner or spotter really helps a lot.   

I had the honor of doing a little training with powerlifting champ Dru Patrick at the beginning of January.  He gave the following advice for picking your weights for your three attempts (I may be paraphrasing a bit, but I'm pretty sure it went like this):  "Your first weight should be something you could lift in your sleep while fighting your way through a bag of wet, angry kittens in the dark in a snowstorm."  Or something like that.  In any case, it shouldn't be a weight you have to think about much.  So I picked 85lbs.  I usually press between 95 and 105, and have gone as high as 115, so I figured that would be a safe bet.  I remembered another piece of advice a lot of people have given me-- LISTEN TO EVERY COMMAND.  My muscles were freezing cold despite my warmup attempts, my hands were shaking, my abdomen ached.  I tried to block it all out.  I hopped on the bench when they said the platform was ready.  I lowered the bar when they told me to lower it.  I pressed it back up.  No biggie.  And I missed the rep.  Know why?  I forgot to wait for the "press" command.  So, once again,  LISTEN TO EVERY COMMAND.  Shall I say that one again?  OK, I will.  LISTEN.  TO.  EVERY.  COMMAND.

My next attempt was 93lbs.  It went up easy.  I listened to every command.  I got the lift.

I decided to go for 110lbs for my last attempt, since I had done 115 once before.  I could not get the weight off my chest, so it was a no-go.  Bummer.  Final score for my bench press:  93lbs. 

Deadlift was next.  Keeping what I learned in the bench press event in mind, I double checked what all of the deadlift commands were going to be (fortunately, it was just two commands:  "platform ready," to get on the platform, and "down" to put the barbell back down).  I knew that I can lift 225lbs on a pretty regular basis now, 235 is doable most of the time, and 255 is my current max, but I've only pulled it once.  So I decided my three lifts would be:  175lbs, 225lbs, 244lbs.  My first lift was easy, as was my second.  My final lift did not come off the floor, which was disappointing but not shocking.  Final score for my deadlift:  225lbs.

All in all, I felt great about the event.  I met a lot of very inspiring, strong, good people, I followed through with something I had really been wanting to do despite considerable odds against me.  And I walked away with a medal for both bench and deadlift (OK, so I was the only person in my category for each.  But a medal is a medal, dammit!).  It was hard to not call my mom after the competition like I normally would for something like this.  But I know that she was out there cheering me on, and I think I made her proud. 

I am really excited for my next competition.  I know I will just get better from here.



  1. Very sorry again to hear of your mother's passing. Keep up the good work in competition, Melody!


  2. Prayers to you and your family in the loss of your Mother.
    Congratulations on your first competition! Great accomplishments!

  3. So sorry about your mom girl. I train solo and you can always bench and squat in the rack..this way if you fail the pins will catch the bar. Good job on your first meet!

    1. Thanks, Marisa. Unfortunately, the studio I train out of is not set up for that kind of thing. I'm working with a coach once a week now. :)