Thursday, August 4, 2016

Entering Your First Meet - Gregory Hanes (1986)

First off, you might want to know the Tommy Kono documentary, "Arnold Knows Me: The Tommy Kono Story" is currently available in its entirety for viewing (FREE!) here: 

"Forsythe Battles Trepidations About Competing"
by Gregory Hanes

How many of us know powerlifters who have worked hard for years, making gains, however small, however slowly, however lowly. Perhaps describing gains in such a manner is defeatist, as powerlifting is a personal sport where one largely trains with and against oneself. So why compare?

Well, let's take the plight of the powerlifter who, realizing he doesn't know it all and, yearning to improve, turns to current muscle building periodicals like Flex, Muscle and Fitness, MuscleMag, and even Powerlifting USA.

It is in these popular magazines that the voracious reader encounters spellbinding glossies of world champion bodybuilders with muscles, striations, veins and cuts unlike any he has ever witnessed in the gym, and photos of powerlifters so massive and dense that his own width and depth pale greatly by comparison.

Engrossed by their size, he reads on and finds that the bodybuilders are doing isolation exercises with weights far in excess of his meager accomplishments, and the powerlifters are doing competitions squats with just under what he totals. Okay, he says, the bodybuilders are stacking oral and injectible anabolic steroids, and he isn't, and the powerlifters, along with that, have a range of motion a foot less than he does in the squat and deadlift, and six inches in the bench. A beginner can further note that the champions are tens of years his senior and seasoned veterans of the sport as well.

Now the New York Philharmonic Orchestra's violin section is playing away, and psychologists within earshot are smiling a clinician's grin at you, me . . . us. This is obviously a clear case of rationalizing and sour grapes. Whether the musicians are right to play or the doctors to label, to be sure, many of us have been intimidated by the lifting totals and the sheer size of the champions. I have a case I will relate momentarily of a fellow powerlifter who was beset with the very same feelings of inadequacy, and, in turn, felt competing was out of the question. This is not the story of those who foolishly, halfheartedly and unrealistically compete in powerlifting without the requisite knowledge of the three current competitive lifts. Furthermore, it is not the story of those who compete with no awareness of how to cycle for a meet, or without even a modicum of knowledge considering the basic rules of our sport. Rather, this is the story of Will, a drug free powerlifter.

Will's physical and hereditary profile goes as follows. He is in his early twenties, six feet two inches tall on a lanky 190 lb. frame. He has been training or around six years, and is medium boned, with 7.5 inch wrists. Will's limbs are long, he wears 36 inch pants, and his torso is reasonably short. As a high school junior, Will was a raw boned ectomorph. There is a preponderance of evidence which indicates Will is not anatomically suited for the sport.

Will need look no further than his familial ties to place blame, or to find an excuse if he so desired. Both Will's parents are tall and slender, as were their parents, and theirs before them. Will realized he didn't have the genes of Ed Coan, or even far less gifted men. While Will's lineage was a limiting factor, he placed enormous emphasis on nurture.

A talk with Marlon Darton, a top rated amateur bodybuilder, helped strengthen Will's notion about the significance of nurture. Marlon is also six feet two inches tall, and he stressed the importance of working the large muscle groups, the chest, shoulders, legs and back with basic movements like bench presses incline presses, overhead presses, bent row and squats.

For each movement Marlon recommended Will perform from 5 to 8 reps. He also indicated that Will should train every day. Will would realize in time that to train every day is not the way to build optimal size and strength as a powerlifter. Marlon stressed the importance of the right mental perspective and noted that the long muscle bellies of tall bodybuilders take years to reach optimal development. He pointed out that Will must be both patient and diligent.

Armed with this advice, Will attacked his first year of training with the fervor of a hungry lion, and gains started to appear in his chest, back, and legs. There was a price for this, however, as soreness in the lumbar region appeared along with an acute swelling in the cervical region of the neck. What Will feared most, however, was not the risk of injury, but the haunting vision of a 145 pound ectomorph with broom handle rams and fluorescent tube legs.

Will's second year of training took a dive as he made only modest gains. His bench, barely 150 lbs. at the beginning of the year, was only 165 at the end. His squat was hovering around 225 and going nowhere. His deadlift was around 275, and the most frightening form of slow death that any of us in the gym had ever seen. I had never tried a deadlift as of 1982, and no one in the University of Arizona weight room did them, but there was Will, strawberry arms, blueberry neck, raspberry visage, shaking like a dying lizard, pulling 275 lbs. off the floor with everything he could muster. I didn't know Will then, except by sight, but I must concede that I admired his macabre courage.

Will's third year of training went much like his second, except he seemed to be habitually sore in the lower back. The correlation between injury and overtraining was, as yet, a mystery to him.

In the years that followed, Will and I became friends, and my own interest in the squat, bench, and deadlift would lead me to the powerlifting dais, where I would feel the electricity of competitive lifting. I shared my sense of exaltation and suggested that he compete in the upcoming Tucson Powerlifting Championships, a meet open to everyone within the city limits. Will expressed his reservations. As a 198 pounder, he thought even his third attempt poundages in each lift would be pitifully light. He saw this meet only as an opportunity to personally humiliate and embarrass himself in front of his lifting peers and the viewing public. He wanted an 800 lb. total for the three lifts in the gym before he would even consider competing. I left it at that.

Both of us trained diligently at the U of A weight room, and watching Will lift through the summer I realized that while his lifts were not far below an 800 total, maybe a 190 bench, 250 squat, and a 330 deadlift (yes, in pounds, smart-ass), they were not going up. In fact, for the past year he had made little, if any progress in the three lifts, and at times, he showed signs of actually getting weaker. Finally, in the winter of that year, his lifting started to show signs of improvement. High bar squats were building quad strength, close grip benches and 45 degree inclines were building triceps and deltoid power. Top deadlifts were toughening Will's traps and lats, to insure a strong lockout.

In January of 1984, Will became caught up in the excitement of those powerlifters in the gym who were training for the meet. Not even sure why, he started to do low bar squats, bench presses, and deadlifts, with only a modicum of auxiliary work. In essence, Will was cycling on a 5,3,2,1 repetition basis, and interestingly enough, his injuries started to go away. When confronted with the questions, "Why are you cycling?" and "What about the meet?" Will would reply that things looked doubtful.

Privately, Will admitted his fears about being too weak, not being ready psychologically, and the need for more time. In some ways I agreed with him, yet I encouraged him to enter for all the positive reasons I could muster: the thrill of competition, the chance to put it all together, the opportunity to improve. Surely, the pressure of competition would almost force Will to blow away all his previous bests, or would it cause him to knuckle under and bomb out, leaving him shaken and humiliated for who knows how long? These questions left me in a quandary, and it wasn't until two weeks before the meet, when I talked to my brother Jimmy

that I finally developed the conviction to increase Will's resolve about entering the meet. Jimmy, a fellow powerlifter whose opinion I respect greatly, 'convinced' me of the importance of competition as a tool to enhance Will's outlook and performance in the sport of powerlifting. 'Armed' with Jimmy's sound advice and an increased sense of earnestness, as the meet was only nine days away I 'convinced' Will to compete in the Tucson Powerlifting Championships.

The day of the meet brought forth sunny and robust skies. Will was surprisingly calm and composed. He weighed in at 189 lbs., warmed up and casually proceeded to blow away his first two competitive attempts in the squat of 220 and 255. A forthcoming successful lift of 280, fully 20 pounds over his personal best, would exemplify Will's tenacity and mettle on this day. He took if fully three inches below parallel and came up with relative ease. Not a bad start. 

Will, now fully psyched for his weakest lift, the bench press, opened with an easy 175, then and easy 190. However, on his third attempt, 205, he stalled out through the upper half of the lift and was redlighted. On this day, Will's triceps were not what they needed to be; he knew, accepted it, and then forgot it.

It was now time for Will to marshal all his forces for his best event, the deadlift. He blasted up 325, then 350, and then he ripped through 375 pounds with all the power of a demolition team.  Having set another personal best by 20 pounds, Will concluded his eight-for-nine day. His 850 lb. total was 50 better than he had hoped for.

Why was this day so special to Will? Was it because of the increased exposure he would receive in the Tucson powerlifting community? Hardly. Will's total doesn't even qualify him for a class IV rating. was it because of the special recognition he would receive from his fellow lifters in the U of A weight room? No, since most of Will's lifting peers, even those in the lighter divisions, performed at or above Will's total.

This day was special for Will because he had performed at a level higher than any he had ever achieved before. There was a unique irony born of this meet. Though Will's lifting peers were stronger, of the eight U of A powerlifters that competed, only Will managed to exceed his gym lifts by 40 pounds. In fact, the majority of the eight lifters performed at a level significantly beneath their gym lifts.

Many lifters talk a big story, and plan to set all kinds of personal bests at their first meet, yet end up falling short of even their workout lifts. Will's day was not like this and the following factors undoubtedly contributed to his success: an effective cycle, not overtraining, a positive mental attitude the day of the meet, a good night's rest before the meet, and a high level of intensity and concentration during his performance.

Aside from all this, how did Will feel about bettering his total by 40 pounds under the stressful conditions of the meet? He felt an enormous sense of accomplishment which he had never felt in the gym. He felt the utter sense validation successful competition seems to foster. All the self doubt, all the questions about why he was enduring constant knee and back pain, all the criticism against heavy lifting, all of it meant nothing after the meet. Call it cause and effect, means to an end, closure, or whatever you want; Will had beaten his loudest detractors and overcome his own worst fears to excel on the lifting platform.

His exaltation saw its birth in a situation where it was now or never. Many times in the gym it had been now or - well, maybe tomorrow, or the next day. For Will, there had been many unfulfilled tomorrows. After five years of battling, he had finally closed in and captured the elusive prey, a maximum contest single. It's one thing to come into the gym and perform at the same level every day. I would call this recreational lifting. For a long time, Will was this type of lifter, but for one day, March 27th, 1984, he showed himself to be a real powerlifter; one who intrepidly performs at a level heretofore never attained, under the careful scrutiny of judges, in an emotion laden atmosphere that crackles like lightning . . .

the powerlifting meet.  




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