I don’t know that much about the technicalities of power-lifting. Could you talk about the technique and what goes into it?
In terms of competitions, there are three main lifts: the squat, the dead-lift and the bench. The squat involves squatting down and up with the weight resting on the top of your back, the dead-lift involves lifting the weight directly off the floor until lock-out and the bench involves pressing the weight off your chest whilst lying down on a bench. Basically, the total weight you lift across these three is added up and is then scored relative to your body weight. This is the way we compete for Varsity for instance.
Talk me through the training routine for power lifting. Do you focus on particular body muscles for different lifts?
The best way to train can be quite a subjective topic. I’ve personally experimented with a number of different programs in the past. Currently, I’m training in some form or another pretty much every day. A lot of the focus is on leg, back and core strength, but the upper body cannot be disregarded because of its importance in the bench press. If you get in the squad for Varsity, I think that the expected level of training is at least 4-5 times a week. But again, the exact training style that will yield the best results really depends on the individual. I have done some pretty intense programmes in the past, which make you work about twelve times a week, so that’s morning and evening, six times a week.
Say I’m a complete beginner and have never done powerlifting before. How do I get started?
First of all, I would come to one our club sessions so that you could receive coaching on how to sort out your form for the three lifts and to learn exactly what’s involved in the training. There are a lot of beginner programs, but perhaps the most popular is the “Starting Strength” course; where you train three times a week, and you basically concentrate just on the power-lifting moves i.e. you squat every time you train, and supplement that with mainly the bench press and dead-lifts. I would probably recommend sticking to a program like this for anywhere between 6 months to a year, until your lifts started to plateau.
How does the Varsity power-lifting competition work?
Each member of the team is given three attempts at each of the three principle lifts that I mentioned earlier. Before the competition starts you have to inform the judge how much you are going to lift for your first attempt. Once you’ve submitted that weight you cannot go down from that; if you fail your first lift, say at 170kg for the dead-lift, you are not allowed to go down from that, you can only stay the same or increase it. As a result, most people start at a conservative weight, and go up for the second and third attempt. Once you’ve had three attempts at each lift, your best lifts across the three events are totalled and then a coefficient is used to score that weight relative to your body weight, so people of different weights and builds can be compared on the basis of strength.
Do you see winning Varsity as the ultimate goal for the team?
I’d say it definitely is; but that’s not to say we don’t have other competitions. For instance, in November we have the University Championships that we have won for the last four years in a row – so we definitely take it very seriously. We want to keep that going.
Given the physical demands of power-lifting, do you see it as something anyone of any size or build can do?
The members of our varsity squad last year were of very varied builds and sizes, so I think more or less anyone can get involved: for instance, the amount of female interest in training is growing, and I think that’s another reflection that power-lifting is quite an open and accessible sport. It’s always great to see people coming through and competing in events, who previously had never done any power-lifting before.
The training sounds very time-consuming. How much does it impact on your academic work and social life?
It impacts a fair deal, not only because of the amount of time training takes up directly, but also because of the fairly strict diet and lifestyle that are required to get the most out of it. But this kind of self-discipline is not something that’s unique to power-lifting; it’s like most sports really. As far as social life within the sport is concerned, there isn’t too much of an issue. When I first joined the club I thought there might not be much of a team mentality, because you are ultimately competing on your own to lift the weight. But it’s really not like that all. Only a very small amount of time is spent actually competing. The majority is spent training, and for safety and motivational purposes, we nearly always train as a squad.
With the process of lifting large weights, is the injury risk quite high?
I think there is unarguably the potential for injury in the sport. That’s why it is so key that you work on your form and your flexibility. Obviously, when you start lifting fairly heavy weights, there is a risk of serious injury, especially to your back: this can happen so easily and you do have to be very careful. But at the same time, if your form is correct and you are keeping fairly flexible, power-lifting has the potential to actually strengthen your back muscles and to increase bone density, thus preventing the risk of injury in the long term. I think it is definitely avoidable. Things can go wrong, but you can’t keep those negative thoughts in your head, especially leading up to a competition.
Finally, is it a hassle to have to go down to Iffley for training?
Yes it can be a hassle sometimes, particularly if you cycle there, because that can affect your training routines and rhythm. But, like most things, it’s all about finding the time to just go and get on with it.