The Bar is Loaded #8: Strategery

The Bar is Loaded (Article Banner)

Some of you may already know this but I am an avid Harley rider – have been for over 20 years. I like the long rides – 500 mile days over 5 to 6 days. I build my vacations around these rides. I love it. I’m a solo rider 99% of the time. There are other types of riders out there: the weekend warrior (self-explanatory) and the 1%er (one-percenter). The “1%er” is a phrase originated by the AMA (American Motorcycle Association) to separate the 99% of law-abiding bikers from the mere 1% outlaws; hence the term – 1%er. It has become somewhat of a term of endearment among bikers.

Well, there are a group of 1%ers in powerlifting as well. These are the ultra-strong, well-seasoned athletes who skirt the edge of sanity to break American and World records. These lifters have bench shirts so well fitted that 1/8 of an inch either way they are out of the groove and miss the press. These folks require the assistance of a coach to call them up on depth – not wanting to give away one inch in a squat. I love watching them. There is a thin line between an all-time American record and total disaster. It makes for great drama. If you are one of these 1%ers this column isn’t for you. Please feel free to enjoy the reading but I do realize this is not applicable to your approach. However, if you like me fall into the remaining 99% of the lifters in NASA – read on.

I’ve been in this game on and off for about 25 years now. I’ve faithfully watched Mr. Peters video series (I first bought them on beta), and my experiences include lifting, loading, spotting, judging (NASA, USPF and IPF) and announcing. I’ve seen great lifters come and great lifters go. Oh, and I literally bombed out of my first five meets.

Today my goal is 9-for-9. My first meet back I went 8-for-9 missing my third attempt bench. I still agonize over that miss. I set up wrong and should have opened lighter.

If you’ve read my columns you know I don’t much care for blogs and logs. I don’t think folks share the whole story. I’m also not big on advice in the gym. I never approach other lifters and will answer with brutal honesty when asked….. “Hey dude, you powerlift – how’s my form?” “Four inches high, your head is down and your hips are locked ‘cause your feet point straight”. “Uh, no, I meant for the gym – how’s my form?”
I don’t even know how to answer that. I’m not in competition with the trainers who teach “air board” benches, partial squats and what looks like a cross between deadlifting and rows. It’s not my bag man. But, for the powerlifter who asks about platform strategy – now that I have a little energy on.

Through trial, error and observation I have learned the old axiom to be true: lifters bomb for one reason – they open too heavy. No doubt about it. But why? There in, my friends, (and with my apologies to ‘W’) lies the strategery!

In my humble opinion there are five primary and two thousand secondary reasons why a lifter opens too heavy.
Reason One: Overtraining. I remember bombing out of my first meet in 1986. I opened on the squat with 661 in my champion squat suit. I missed depth on the first attempt and the second and third buried me. I couldn’t understand it. I hit 735 for a double just one week prior.
Reason Two: Form. All you have to do is watch youtube and listen to training partners exclaim to the lifter how deep their three inch high squat was. You should be able to pull splinters, pause for five seconds and almost powerclean your three openers.
Reason Three: Predetermined lifts. You go to a meet with a number in mind.
Reason Four: The weights in your gym are light.
Reason Five: Cutting weight.
Reason Six through Two-thousand: My wife and I fought the night before. I rode the harley in for the meet. I’m sick. I’m in OKC away from the wife and there’s too much to do (re: drink) the night before, etc., etc., etc.

It didn’t take a lot of thought to narrow down the reasoning. They are almost self-evident. So.. what’s a lifter to do?

I’m not going to spend a whole-lot-of-time on training. My training is very specific to me, my body type, my lifestyle and my approach to the sport. These are all factors you and/or your coach should be using in designing a lifting program. I will say this though: squats and deadlifts are so taxing that you need a good ten days to recuperate prior to a meet. And, a good rule of thumb Mr. Adelmann shared with me about seventeen years ago is to stay at 4 or 5 reps on these last workouts and open with that weight. Works every time. I think I’ve stated it before – I’m not a trainer. I am, however, a platform strategist.

Let’s start with meet day. The first thing you should do is overpack your gym bag. It never fails and you can bet money on someone scrounging for a singlet or deadlift socks right after the rules meeting. Don’t be ‘that’ guy. It doesn’t much bug anyone else. Heck, you’re in NASA. What’s mine is yours. It just distracts you from focusing on your lifts.

Now the first lift – squats. Open with a weight you can sink deeeeeeep. I’ve seen world-class lifters require a ‘call up’ on their openers. You and I shouldn’t need it.

Listen, don’t get all twisted. I know there are some folks who go to a meet specifically to set a record in the squat. It is their intent, their entry-fee and God bless them. I have no problems at all with this. They are the 1%ers I mentioned earlier and I do enjoy watchin’. But for us our strategy should be built upon nailing our openers and building momentum throughout the day. It’s fun. A helluva lot funner than bombing. The bench again should be a lift you can nail with any pause. And, if you are an equipped lifter, you should know your gear. I lift raw and I’m still amazed at the carry-over some of this gear gives folks. Still don’t make them bad people. What does give me pause (pun intended) is guys benching in a new shirt. Never used – never trained in. How do you determine your opener? I could also cover the deadlift but it would be redundant. I can tell you this though – if you weigh in with pre-determined third attempts written down in the gym bag – you’re heading for a rough day.

Lifting is funny sometimes. There are days when you should be at your worst (dog tired, boss yelled, etc.) yet you lift your best. And, the reverse can also be true. That’s just how it goes. So those third attempts usually start in the warm-up area. You get a true feel for how the lift will go. If you’ve set in stone your attempts, it’s difficult to adjust on a sub-par day. But, if you adjust properly and set your sights on what is in you on that day, you have a good chance of hitting all your lifts.

I can tell you this – there is a tremendous sense of mojo that comes from going 9-for-9. There is a renewed energy in the gym. You feel like you got your money’s worth on the platform. You walk away giving a good account of yourself. And most of all, you were honest with the guy in the mirror. There are the 1% who will out-class the field with a 3-for-9 day. But for the rest of us, a perfect day is meeting new friends, walking away injury free, and getting all our lifts in.

Try in next meet. Set your goals and adjust you weights after warm-up to effectively go 9-for-9. How’d that feel? Write me at I’d be very interested in your experience.

See you at the Tom Manno Memorial on May 1st. This meet will soon be the biggest in Arizona!