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. In week two, he visits DB co-founder and strength coach Patrik Hedvist to breakdown his technique for the three lifts: squat, bench and deadlift.
If there is one piece of advice appropriate for any form of weight training, and it should be inscribed on our hands as a permanent reminder, it’s that technique reigns over numbers.
Let me give you anecdotal evidence. When I first entered a weightlifting gym in my late teens, the prevailing thought and fear was not to be an utter embarrassment.
In a gym full of meatheads, the idea of lifting light weights had me believing I’d be laughed out of the place.
However, the apprehension was misdirected. Opting for 60kg on the flat barbell bench press seemed like the right thing to do, even though the result was a wobbling bar barely reaching halfway when out of the rack.
An old guy, comfortably in his 60’s, watched my strife once or twice from afar and then somewhat nobly stepped in.
“Forget the weight, focus on the form,” he explained. “Nobody will laugh at you for the weight you lift, but they certainly will for the way you lift.”
Short and sweet, but sound advice I’m sure you will agree. It’s remained with me from day one because constructive criticism should always be received with gratitude rather than a grumble.
It’s the only way of developing in a discipline which is hallmarked by improvement.
So when the switch from bodybuilding to this powerlifting challenge presented itself, the prominent thought was to work on clean technique because get that right and the numbers will take care of themselves.
When it comes to the three lifts, squat, bench and deadlift, from a powerlifting perspective at least, my form for the trio is rather primitive.
Being afforded the opportunity to pick the brains of Patrik with a three-hour video analysis session at Scandinavian Health & Performance was like meeting an oracle.
From markedly altering my genuinely dangerous back-up movement for deadlifts into a hip-hinge manoeuvre, to utilising leg drive and contraction through shifting my feet back on the bench, to then noticing the need to tuck my elbows and brace more for the squat, Patrik spotted and corrected every fault, big or small.
The comparison between the before and after, was laughable and in a sport like powerlifting, the need for a coach like Patrik isn’t just advised, it’s a necessity, no matter what level you’re at.
Armed with this knowledge, the idea going forward is to drill each movement over and over again. Filming will be a huge help and every lift will be videoed to ensure form remains consistent.
Incidentally, you’ll know you’re in a gym with powerlifters around because the floor will end up looking like a teenager’s bedroom. The mountain of gear just strewn all over the place, weightlifting shoes, belts and straps is practically a signature.
The program designed by Patrik (a 3-3-2 split for squat, bench and deadlift) gives my body an opportunity to properly learn each lift and quickly become more efficient.
Over the next few weeks the improvement will be obvious.
COACH CORNER WITH PATRIK HEDQVIST (@borjetheswede)
You have taken the decision to walk along the powerlifting road. The first piece of advice I can give, is let the progress take TIME. It´s about learning a specific skill, to master three complex movements. The body needs time to learn and adjust.
Secondly, and this may sound contradictory, train both all-round and specific. What I mean by this is to be as specific as possible with the actual lifting movements, but don’t be afraid to train a lot of assistance exercises. A great example is the shoulder complex, the primary portion of the body involved in bench press. When training bench press a beginner should aim to perfect the technique with a straight bar and competition form. However, it is important to strengthen the shoulders in all angles so; incline presses, different rows and cable work is a good way to uphold a good balance.
What can become a challenge is the enormous amount of programs that can be found online, and the easy access to see how the world’s elite athletes train. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great way to spread the sport, but one must remember that these individuals are elite lifters, often with many years of experience. Keep it simple and keep a good basic structure, start according to your actual lifting level, that’s the best advice.
When it comes to the actual lifting, the best advice is to have a good coach screen your technique so that you lift according to your own personal structure. Should you use a wide or a narrow stance? Sumo or conventional? The answer is always “it depends”.
How to choose the above will be discussed in the coming weeks.
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. Track his progress each week and see everything from training to technical analysis and see his development from novice lifter to stage competitor.
Earlier this summer I effectively starved myself for two months. During an eight-week physique challenge, my body morphed from your average bodybuilder into a leaned-out stage-ready competitor.
Physically, the tailored nutrition programme – a politer way to say ‘unfed’ – sucked a lot out of me, but the real damage was mental because it was just so incredibly draining.
It would be some weeks until mind and body recovered from the brutal cut down to six per cent body fat and it was even longer still before I felt anywhere near comfortable with hitting heavy compound lifts again.
But as soon as I did, the impulse to embark on a new challenge bolted in my brain like the thought of donuts during my weight cut.
I’ve always had a taste for powerlifting because it’s such a crucial cornerstone of weight training, stretching across all forms from bodybuilding to CrossFit and beyond.
Most people will enter a gym and perform at least one of the three lifts in their lives – squat, bench and deadlift.
Granted, the vast majority will be like me in their primitive understanding of these movements, yet the primal rush you get from lifting heavy metal can’t be beaten.
When it comes to training, my outlook has been so utterly clear in its narrow-mindedness, lift heavy at every opportunity, which to me is effectively every day.
To a point, it has worked because I’ve developed some natural core strength, but predictably bad habits have also emerged.
In other words my form is largely horrifying and to any watching eye with half a mind for powerlifting, the sight of my hunched back during deadlifts must have them, much like my spine, at a snapping point.
At 26, I very much conform to the ‘bro-lifting’ stereotype of chasing big numbers regardless of how it’s achieved.
Genuinely, though, there is nothing more frustrating than knowing you are doing something wrong and not understanding how to fix it. That above everything else is what I hope to take away from the next six weeks.
Yes, this is ultimately a numbers game because when I step onto the podium to perform the three lifts at Powermeet 5.0, the tangible reward will be the digits on my scorecard.
But it would be embarrassing to do so in front of a packed house full of experts with horrible form. Where the physique challenge was about what my body looked like, this is the polar opposite as it’s about how my body works.
From the battle with the mirror, I now get set for a battle against the powerlifting bars.
Wish me luck, and probably save a little more of that good fortune for my coach from Desert Barbell, Patrik Hedqvist, because he has a job on his hands.
COACH CORNER WITH PATRIK HEDQVIST (@borjetheswede)
Welcome to the first installment of Coach Corner with Desert Barbell co-founder Patrik Hedqvist. Over the next six weeks, Patrik will be whipping our reporter Alex Rea into shape ahead of his first ever powerlifting competition at Desert Barbell’s Powermeet 5.0. The Swede, 42, is one of the leading lights as powerlifting begins to illuminate the sporting landscape in the region and here’s all you need to know about the expert physio and strength coach.
My love of sport has manifested across various disciplines from football and hockey to motorcross and tennis.
However, at the turn of the century I discovered my true vocation – powerlifting.
I started training with weights in the early ’90s and from the very beginning I took it very seriously because I was fascinated with the body’s response to exercise and nutrition.
So, in 1997 I took my PT degree, followed that up with the advanced degree and then in 2001 entered university to become a physio. It was during this time my connection with powerlifting was formed and after graduating, I continued my studies delving into sports nutrition and orthopedic manual techniques.
#tbt Just a few months ago, can still recall the feeling unracking that bar at @theipf worlds in Belarus. Come a long way since shaky benchpresses with @bean_1975 at Ormbergets Gym 😁 An awsome comp for me and hope to do even better in the future. Trying to better myself every day, every week, every month. Got to lift side by side with some amazing M1 lifters and share this with @lifecoachdxb Proud to represent @styrkelyftforbundet and the Swedish National Team.
From 2005 I’ve been working as a physio and living in Dubai for the last three years as a physio and strength coach at Scandinavian Health & Performance.
In 2018, me and my business Marco Cipolat launched Desert Barbell and from September I’ll taking on a full-time coaching role with the business.
From a competitive standpoint, I’ve completed more than 50 comps since my first in 2002.
Medals have been achieved on both the local and national stages, but undoubtedly the proudest moments have arrived in recent years with bronze medals for bench press at both the IPF Worlds in 2017 and the IPF Europeans 2018 in the -105 kg class M1 category (age 40-50).
In terms of coaching, I’ve been training lifters for well over a decade and have worked in the Swedish Powerlifting Federation, both as a coach and in the anti-doping committee.
In 2013, I was assistant coach for the national team at Europeans and then head coach the following year.
Allied with that, I was also the head of regional development for five years, competing with Northern Finland and Norway.
Technique and high specificity when it comes to powerlifting movements are the two pillars of my training style.
A fairly high frequency means being able to keep the loads a bit lower than on high intensity regimes and I usually train my lifters in blocks of four-six weeks, but also with a longer term plan of three-six months.
Are you competing in any fitness events in August and September?
Here’s our top six to get involved in!
ADSC INDOOR RUN FERRARI WORLD
Friday, August 17 and Friday, September 14
The Abu Dhabi Sports Council Indoor Run is hosted by Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and Yas Mall.
The run will start and finish in Ferrari World with the run taking in the ground floor of the mall.
Runners will have options to take part in either the 2.5k, 5k or 10k.
TIME: From 8.15am*
MORE INFO: ADSC Indoor Run Ferrari World
URBAN-ULTRA NIGHT REBEL
Friday, September 21
If you are ready for a serious challenge then this may well be the event for you.
Described as one of the toughest solo night footraces in the UAE, the Urban-Ultra Night Rebel has three distances available for competitors – 10km, 20km and 30km.
Wanting to test your fitness before the season kicks into gear – then this is a must.
START TIME: 7PM
MORE INFO: Urban-Ultra Night Rebel
RUSH-A-WAY SUMMER CHALLENGE
September, September 22
Another new adventure is headed to Dubai with the Rush-A-Way Summer Challenge, set to physically and mentally test participating teams in a variety of ways.
Each challenge will offer a different test, with aspects like teamwork, stamina, strategy, communication skills, quick thinking and speed required.
With it being summer and the heat ratcheted up, this edition will take place at indoor locations, meaning there’s nothing to sweat as you zoom through the challenge.
Teams will earn points based on how fast they complete each challenge, and those that don’t finish in the given time will receive a penalty.
TIME: From 8am*
MORE INFO: Rush-A-Way Summer Challenge
WADI ADVENTURE RACE
Saturday, September 29
The popular Wadi Adventure Race returns this month where athletes will be pushed to the limits in a gruelling obstacle course.
Since its debut in 2012, the race has gone from strength to strength, and organisers are expecting another strong turnout this month for what will be the seventh edition overall.
Competitors will have to overcome a 5k, 10k and 15k obstacle course where they will crawl, run, carry, swim, swing and climb their way to the finish line.
TIME: From 6am
MORE INFO: Wadi Adventure Race