Powerlifting Mental Battle Part II: Questioning everything after a gruelling peak week

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Team Desert Barbell (Photo by: Tarek Roumie)

Sport360°’s Alex Rea has teamed up with the guys at Desert Barbell to embark on a six-week powerlifting challenge, working alongside industry experts ahead of his first ever competition – Powermeet 5.0. For week five, we serve up the second part in our examination of the mental side of powerlifting. In Coach’s Corner with DB co-founder Patrik Hedqvist, the Swede explores the sport’s biggest benefits. 

A cartoon dropped in my Instagram inbox this week which quite aptly depicted the last seven days.

The sketch illustrated a tiny figure straining to ascend this steep mountain, and at its peak a signpost rooted in the ground was emblazoned with the word “GOAL”.

On the toiling figure’s back was an enormous rock engraved with “SELF DOUBT” across it, and that is perhaps the best way I can illuminate the way training is going right now.

Doubt has floored me. To use the cartoon, I would be at the foot of the mountain, flattened by fatigue and weakness.

The wicked part about that feeling is you begin to doubt whether you should even be doubting yourself in the first place – or whether it’s a totally normal emotion to feel a couple of weeks out from competition day.

Ultimately, the reason for this swell of emotion is because week four saw me hit my “peak”. It was gruelling.

Big numbers, close to my personal bests, for multiple repetitions after weeks of high-volume sessions took its toll.

In the words of my coach and DB co-founder, Patrik Hedqvist, the idea was to hit the targets with “semi-good form” and hopefully that was achieved. Yet the problem wasn’t necessarily in the successful lifts, as grim as they were, but rather in the unsuccessful ones.

Bench in particular has really lacked pop and power. When 135kg was the target early in the week for a double, a single was just about ground out.

As soon as the bar rattled back into the rack, the reverberation from the metal was akin to the pang of disappointment cutting through my mind.

You immediately question yourself. Why are the numbers low? Is my body supposed to feel so powerless? What sort of shape will I be in for competition day?

Of course, it’s only natural when experiencing something like this for the first time and that’s why having a coach in your corner is so pivotal.

But the beautiful part of powerlifting in this country is the sense of community, and comfortably the best aspect of it, is that you’re not alone in this vacuum of self doubt.

The gym is packed with people on exactly the same timeline and in an identical head space.

The benefit of the powerlifting community here, is that when the balloon of emotion is deflated and the air is sucked out of you, there is always someone around to help pump you back up.

And one piece of advice this week helped most, “learn to enjoy the small wins”.

With the weakest of my three lifts coming into this challenge – the squat – moving smoothly and by far the strongest of the trio, the small win is expanded to help in a big way.

Still, you can’t help but question everything when you’re in such a state of fatigue, like wondering how much the rock on the figure’s back weighed…

COACH’S CORNER WITH PATRIK HEDQVIST (@borjetheswede)

The benefits of powerlifting for any and everyone 

One part of powerlifting is the competitive side. Last week I wrote about becoming an elite athlete, but honestly, that’s just for a very small segment of all lifters.

In truth, the biggest part of the sport, is doing it for recreational purposes or as a base for other athletic performances. And there are very few sports more suitable for this.

As a physiotherapist, I see huge advantages in all-round health and different muscle and joint related problems. So, I’ll lay out some points as to exactly WHY powerlifting is beneficial for any and every one…

OVERALL STABILITY AND STRENGTH – Lifting heavy loads, with good form, under controlled circumstances is a great way to just teach the body how to brace properly. This comes in handy for pretty much all everyday situations and athletic sports.

ENHANCING KNEE FUNCTION – To perform a proper barbell squat you require strength and control in both the anterior and posterior part of the knee. Having good coordination and strength around the joint will help to prevent future problems and will also help if you already have joint related pain. Think of the joint as a hinge. If it’s loose you tighten it up to prevent it from braking. Same thing with the knee joint and its surrounding muscles. Strengthen them up, and the joint will last longer.

COPING WITH LOWER BACK PAIN – You might think this sounds like some sort of contradiction, but the truth is correctly performed deadlifts with clean form is a really good treatment for mechanical lower back pain. The key is just…. correct form and medium load. I’ve seen remarkable improvements for these kinds of clients many times and after a successful rehab they can move on to heavier loads.

It is important to note, that the above advantages slowly decrease the more you move towards the elite side of powerlifting. All sports at a high level put a lot of strain on the body, but few have the massive advantages of powerlifting on a recreational level.

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