By Steph Puddicome
A frequent reaction that I receive when people find out that I’m a world level competitive powerlifter is, “but you’re too small,” “that seems impossible,” or “females don’t lift heavy.”
There are a lot of misconceptions around what powerlifting actually is. Powerlifting is not just a sport for males. Powerlifting does not make women bulky, and powerlifting is not a drug-ridden sport. Powerlifters come in all shapes and sizes. The sport of powerlifting is packed with competitive athletes with lean athletic physiques because optimal nutrition and an intense training regime is a big part of the game.
Powerlifting is a sport of passion, a sport of inner fortitude, a sport of determination and commitment, and a sport of true strength.
Powerlifting is combined of a series of three lifts: squat, bench-press, and deadlift. Competitors attempt to lift as much weight as possible for their max one repetition over three attempts. Each lifter is placed into a specific division based on age and weight class. Competitors compete for the highest total within their weight class but also compete for the best overall lifter title against all weight classes by using the Wilks formula. The Wilks formula is analogous to a “pound-for- pound” comparison that can be used to measure the strength of a powerlifter against other powerlifters despite the different weights of the lifters.
Having the capacity to lift heavy weights and increase your strength has significant psychological benefits, such as enhanced confidence and feelings of empowerment. This translates and enhances all other areas of life.
Powerlifting is a primal rush and signing up to compete is one of the best things you can do to amp up your training intensity and progress.
People often ask me how I got into powerlifting, however they never ask what I get out of it. I think this is because they can clearly see this. I have grown from a shy girl to confident elite lifter and fitness professional. I am not afraid to show what I have accomplished and I am not afraid to go after my dreams.
There is nothing that can compare to the empowerment one feels when lifting a lot of weight. Not only will you feel physically stronger (and bad ass!), you will also become stronger in every
other aspect of your life. It is hard to imagine how a heavy squat can translate to a happier home life or better performance at work, but it happens. There is just something transformative about being able to do something that once seemed impossible. Once you realize the strength your body contains, you start to realize that just about anything seems achievable.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Do not expect it to be easy. Expect it to challenge every aspect of your mental and physical strength, expect it to push you to your limits, expect it to knock you down, expect it to pick you up, and expect it to bring out something in yourself you never thought possible.
From Your Body
When training is focused on strength with heavy weight and lower reps, you build dense muscle mass. I don’t mean you will get bulky, however you will gain some size. If you really want that “toned” fit looking physique in your legs, stomach, and arms, heavy lifting will get you there.
Another thing to expect is the ability to eat a lot of food! Overloading the body with fuel increases your lifting capacity. Nourishing yourself properly is not only healthy but causes increased lifts. The body goes into overdrive with heavy lifting and you will feel constantly hungry. However, increased muscle means the ability to eat and not gain excessive weight. Bring on the carbs!
Training for powerlifting is time consuming and requires true dedication to the sport. You will need to set aside at least 4 training days a week. Missing training sessions is missing opportunities for self-improvements. In this sport you need to check your ego at the door; it isn’t always about getting a record lift every time you step under the bar. Training happens in cycles, sometimes you are de-loading, other times doing volume work, and then there are times you are hitting max lifts.
A lifter cannot have longevity in this sport with maxing out lifts every session. Strength gains and muscle building come from the ups and downs in a periodized training cycle. Trust the process and trust your coach.
Some people ask what they need to do to get stronger as a powerlifter. DO THE LIFTS! Don’t spend too much time doing accessory exercises: If you want to be a good squatter, squat more. Work on form, work on volume, and work on increasing weight. Follow a training plan and listen to people with experience in the sport.
How to Get Started
The best thing to do is train with people much stronger than you, people who know more than you, and people who you aspire to become. You will learn from these people, be motivated, and rise to their level. Iron sharpens Iron; a solid training group is important for any competitive athlete.
As a female lifter, the dynamic can be different. Train hard… harder than anyone else around you. Earn your spot at the powerlifting rack and train with people who admire strength.
Finding a group of dedicated training partners who view you as an equal opposed to some sort of fitness sex symbol is imperative. My training group is comprised of all males; as the only female, I have earned my spot on the team. I hold my own and do my share. I get treated like one of the “bros” and I contribute to the training team just as they do. This includes spotting, loading the bar, and encouraging teammates. I do what they do; I push like they do. I do not need to be handled with kid gloves or treated differently.
Powerlifting is an extraordinary sport, and with each competition, it allows for a true measure of strength. There isn’t any lying, cheating, or blaming someone else. You either lift the weight or you don’t. It’s as simple as that. It is not a subjective sport. It is not a sport of favoritism. Powerlifting is a sport of fairness and strength.
With every training cycle, every session, and every rep, there is always room for improvement. Setting out on a mission in powerlifting can be life long journey. Once you reach your goals, you set higher ones.
Welcome to the sport of powerlifting! Train hard, eat to perform, and live for the lift. You have to truly love the sport to excel; the questions now become do you have what it takes to stay? Are you willing to do what you have to do to achieve greatness?