2016 Ontario Open and Masters Powerlifting Championships, Classic division report

Almost 1 year ago, I sat down and wrote up my performance at the 2015 Ontario Powerlifting Association Masters and Open Classic Provincials.  While I had performed well in the squat and bench press, my lower back was not cooperative and I had a poor deadlift performance.  Immediately after that competition, I made the decision to lose weight on the premise that walking around at 240-245 lbs was doing my back no favors. As I moved into the M2 age group (50-59), I needed to consider making life easier on all of my joints and internal organs that have to deal with carrying around so much weight.

Coming in 2nd place last year, M1 (40-49) 105 kg wt class

A "walking around weight" of 240-245 lbs meant that I always needed to cut 10-15 lbs in order to make the 231 lb (105kg) weight class limit.  In the past I had accomplished this by dieting for a month or so and then cutting the last 4-7 lbs by drying out over the last 24-36 hrs before weigh-ins.  While this is very much standard operating procedure in the powerlifting world (2 hr weigh ins), I decided that as I aged into divisions even farther away from the Open competitors, I would eliminate this unnecessary stress from my meet preparations.

Originally, my intention was to drop enough weight that I would be able to compete in the 205 lb (93kg) weight class.  I thought that if I dropped down to a walking around weight of 205-210 lbs, that I'd only need to do a simple water cut, if anything, to make weight.  After a year, that ended up not happening. While I did lift in one competition in early May as a 93 kg weight class lifter, I needed a drastic water cut to make weight.  Right after that meet, my weight bounced up to 220 lbs.  After a vacation in early October, my weight settled in at 228 lbs. While I didn't reach my original goal weight, a "walking around weight" of 225-228 lbs was still better than the 240-245 lbs from a year prior.   I made the decision to compete as a 231 lb (105kg) weight class lifter.

We took a cruise, I exercised but I also exercised my right to eat all I could eat.

Although I've only lost 15-20 lbs, I ended up needing to replace or drastically alter all of my pants, jeans, jackets, and dress shirts.  I've also noticed that my back feels much better than it did last year.  I feel like carrying around less weight has had a positive impact on my overall recovery ability.  In May, after my last meet, I also changed my squat stance.  Based on a recommendation by a couple other lifters, I decided to move to a wider stance and use flat shoes.  It took a while to adjust but it allows me to keep a slightly more upright posture.  Taking additional stress off of my back by changing my squat motion has also contributed to feeling better, generally.

old  shoulder-width squat stance, heeled shoes

new wider stance, flat shoes

One last thing I implemented just in the last 60 days was the inclusion of lowish intensity cardio.  While high intensity intervals are all the rage, I decided that what I needed, what I had neglected for years, was to rebuild my aerobic capacity.  To do that, I had to start doing sustained aerobic exercise.  Running was out of the question (too much pounding on the back) and riding a stationary bike seemed too boring and butt numbing.  I decided to use the Concept2 Rowing machine.  It involved both the upper and lower body, was low impact, and done correctly, doesn't tire out the lower back.  Although I had only been using the rowing machine for 60 days prior to last weekend's competition, I had already noticed significant improvements to my aerobic capacity as well as strengthening of certain neglected muscle groups (hip flexors, abdominals).

My cardio equipment of choice, the Concept 2 Rowing Machine

Just about the only thing that was not improved going into this meet was my left hand.  I finally took the time to see a doctor about it and was referred to a specialist.  The specialist ran tests and determined that I had an ulnar nerve blockage that was causing the muscle atrophy in my left hand.  Even though my left hand has gotten progressively weaker over the past two years, until now, the hook grip has been sufficient to hold onto whatever my back and legs could get off the ground.  I would learn a couple things at this meet, one good, one not good about my "gimp hand".

my atrophied left hand vs my right hand
My training going into this meet was going pretty well.  My new squat groove was starting to click an and I had made a training squat of 465x1 that gave me confidence that at least 210 kgs (463 lbs) was doable.  My bench press was holding steady at 320 lbs, lower than the 341 lbs (155 kgs) that I had lifted a year prior but given my lower bodyweight, I was okay with this.  Even my deadlift was feeling better than it had in over a year.  While my heaviest training pull was only 565 lbs for one strapped up rep, my back felt good and strong.  I thought going into the meet that if I hit 210 kgs (463 lbs) in the squat, 145 kgs (319 lbs) in the bench, and 260 kgs (573 lbs) in the deadlift, that I'd be pretty happy, especially given how I lifted in May after almost a 20 lb weight cut.

I weighed in for the competition at 102.6 kgs, well under the 105 kg weight class limit.  This was the first competition where I've ever been able to compete in the 105 kg weight class without having to do a weight cut.  In previous competitions where I've lifted without a weight cut, my weight was always between 109 and 113 kgs a good 14-23 lbs more than I weigh now.   I had the pleasure and the privilege of lifting in the same session as some good friends and some absolute legends of Canadian powerlifting.

One of those legends (who is still winning both nationally and internationally), Jeff Becker, was gracious enough to share some of his over 30 years of experience with me while we waited for our session to start.  He overheard me talking about my hand with another lifter and immediately insisted that I speak to another Canadian powerlifting legend, Aras Kvedaras about it. Aras is a chiropractor and an expert in how the body moves.  He has been helping Canadian powerlifters for over 12 years.  He's at virtually all of the big meets and travels to many of the international meets as well.  While there are literally hundreds of lifters that have been helped by him, I had never asked him for help, mainly because I felt like my little aches and pains weren't worth taking his attention from better lifters that might've benefited more.

Since I currently have a surgery consult for my elbow scheduled for early January 2017, I figured I had nothing to lose so, at Jeff's insistence, I walked over to Aras and explained my problem.  He did a few tests and agreed that there was an ulnar nerve blockage.  He disagreed that surgery was needed to fix the problem.  He did two things on the spot, he gave me a simple exercise to help open up space in the joint for the ulnar nerve and he did some active release on the scar tissue in my elbow joint.  He said if I did the exercise (a specific type of tricep extension) for three weeks, that I'd see improvement.  This was pretty exciting stuff since any progress made between now and January might be able to put off or completely cancel my need for surgery.  He also said he'd never seen someone not recover from this type of issue so that really gave me hope that I could avoid the scalpel.

As for my lifting, squats and bench presses went amazingly well.  I think it was a combination of meet day adrenaline and not having to deal with the stresses of recovering from a weight cut.  Either way, I ended up squatting more than I had originally planned, 473 lbs (215 kgs) and bench pressed my goal weight of 319 lbs (145 kgs).  The only difference was, I expected the 319 to be a grind and instead it was smooth enough that I may have had 2.5 kgs or even more in the tank.  Either way, it was a very nice surprise to out-do what I had done in the gym just a week prior.

I had a lot of optimism going into deadlifts.  I wasn't tired at all.  I attribute some of that to the two months of work on the rowing machine.  My flight was only 8 lifters and with a couple lifters taking token attempts, the rest of us only had 5-6 minutes between attempts.  5 to 6 minutes between sets in the gym seems like a long time but in a competition, it feels like you barely have time to get off the platform, get your next attempt in, sit for a moment and then it's your turn to lift again.

My opening attempt at 529 lbs (240 kgs) went up very easily.  I moved to my planned second attempt of 573 lbs (260 kgs).  Before the meet, I had looked up the National Record in my age and weight class and it was only 272.5 kgs (601 lbs).  I didn't think it was in play due to my poor deadlifting in recent months but I thought if everything went perfectly, that I'd give it a go.  Well, after the 573 lbs went up about twice as fast as I'd done 565 lbs in the gym the week prior, I decided to try to break the record with a 275 kg (606 lb) attempt.  In National meets, you can attempt to break a National record by only 0.5 kgs but at a Provincial meet, apparently you need to make minimum 2.5 kg jumps.  Either way, I don't think the extra 2 kgs (4.4 lbs) made a difference.

Now, keeping in mind that I had failed to break 270 kgs off the floor the previous November and failed with 267.5 kgs in May (albeit after a huge weight cut), prior to the moment of putting in my attempt of 275 kgs, I was not completely confident in my abilities.  However, once the announcer called my name and said the bar was loaded, I was 100% committed to this pull.  I set up my hook grip and started to pull.  It was heavy but broke the ground pretty quickly.  As the bar passed my knees, I knew I could finish it.  I was going to have my first National Record (it's just an age group record but beggars can't be choosers).  Just when I was about to lock it out and hold it for the judge's "down" command, my gimp hand popped open and I dropped the bar and lost my National Record.   In an instant I looked to the ceiling and let out a primal scream (no profanity, just a scream).  A year and half of deadlift frustration combined with a massive adrenalin dump.   Totally out of character but for a split second, I was out of control.

It was frustrating because I have pulled more than 275 kgs in the past.  And now that my back was strong again, my hand let me down.  I don't know if it was weakness from the atrophy or if I made a tactical error.  Usually when a deadlift rips from your hands, you tear skin, often from multiple places.  However, on my left hand, the hand that let go, there were no torn calluses or even scuffed skin.  I think it's possible that I put too much chalk on my hand and also failed to set the bar's knurling deep into my thumb and fingers.  The whole point of the hook grip is to use your thumb as a lifting strap.  Since your thumb is not going to tear off, usually it's good for whatever you can get off the ground.   I suspect using too much chalk actually reduced friction rather than increased it because my fingers and thumb did not show any abrasions from having the bar ripped from them.

In any case, as I write down my thoughts 3 days later, my body feels good, I've been doing the exercise recommended by Aras and I'm really looking forward to redemption in January at the Canadian Powerlifting Union Central Championships.  I don't know if I'll have a chance to try to break the deadlift record again but I do feel like I'll get back into the 600 lb deadlift club.

Meet results:

bwt 102.6

Best Squat:  215 kgs  (473 lbs)
Best Bench Press:  145 kgs (319 lbs)
Best Deadlift:  260 kgs  (573 lbs)
Total:  620 kgs

I actually totaled 10 kgs less this year than last year but my outlook for the future is completely different.  Last year I felt like my body was on the verge of breaking down and I was mildly discouraged that perhaps age related strength decline was starting to set in.  This year, it feels like completely the opposite.  While I haven't gotten back to previous strength levels yet, my body feels better in many ways than it has in a couple of years.  It feels like I can get back to a 640 or 650 kg total in the 105 kg weight class again.   Once I do that, I'll be able to set my sights on some lifetime PR's.

2nd  Leonid Khankine, 1st Me, 3rd Jim Norton  105 kg wt class (50-59)

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