PUT ON SOME MUSCLE! The Biggest Mistake I See With Newer Lifters
The general landscape of powerlifting has changed thanks to the millennial generation now partaking in the sport, along with the use of social media platforms where everyone is showing their recent lifting accomplishments to their friends & colleagues. With Instagram feeds being loaded with powerlifting related videos daily, some athletes are concerned with their physical appearance & don’t wish to end up being drastically overweight. Totally understandable – on some level, most of us lift weights with the general idea that we’re improving the look of our bodies. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to look good! Especially in the realm of lifting, we are regularly subjected to seeing physiques of all sizes and shapes while scrolling through our social media feeds. Now, how does this all relate to powerlifting?
Back in the early-mid 2000, the single & multi-ply scene dominated the American landscape of powerlifting with Inzer & Titan gear regularly being used by the majority of competitors. While raw lifting still had its place, Powerlifting USA & other powerlifting media outlets primarily covered the latest records & lifts to go down in the geared scene. Especially with the Westside Barbell club being founded by Louie Simmons, we were seeing huge lifts on a regular basis that shattered world records across all weight classes. With this, the notion that the carryover from gear had to be maximized for success on the platform was prevalent with all competitors. Along with mastering the extreme learning curve necessary to use multi-ply suits & shirts was also the necessity to put on bodyweight to maximize leverages while wearing the gear. Especially in the higher weight classes, from 275 to SHW (308+) – powerlifting was regularly seeing some very big men rule the platform, with most of the sport’s attention being turned towards the biggest men who could perform the heaviest lifts.
Fast forward to now, and things have shifted in the sport as a whole. Multi-ply lifting has been a lost art in this era of powerlifting – check Powerlifting Watch’s Yearly Top 50 list for the 242 pound weight class. Take a look at the raw Yearly Top 50 versus the multi-ply Yearly Top 50 list. The raw divison’s #50 spot is right around 1,800 lbs, whereas multi-ply’s #50 mark starts around 1,500 for this year. That being said, there are still some ridiculously strong lifters making their mark in the multi-ply division – Jimmie Pacifico comes to mind with his performance at last April’s RPS U.S Open. Still, there is without a doubt a major shift in how most powerlifters are competing – the vast majority of us are competing raw.
Why does all of this matter at all? Well – unlike in geared lifting, athletes generally do not benefit as much from carrying excess bodyfat or water retention when lifting raw. Lifters caught onto this, and we are now generally seeing leaner looking athletes at meets. Of course, there are exceptions to this – taller guys in the 275+ division are not going to be showcasing clear abs on meet day – but it is fair to say that the “ideal” bodytype that your novice powerlifter is striving towards is more of a Jonnie Candito than say, Ben Seath during his run on the platform. Powerlifters entering the sport look towards elite athletes that are within their starting weight class, or even a weight class lower as an end goal for their potential lifting career. And it is great that new lifters are fans of top powerlifters making their mark on world records – we all are in awe whenever we get the electrifying experience of witnessing a world record being broken at a meet. That being said, newer lifters are overlooking the following when choosing their desired long term weight class:
- Your starting weight class is oftentimes going to be the lightest weight class you will ever compete as during your tenure in powerlifting. Of course, this is completely invalidated if you’re entering the sport while you’re overweight with the intention of cutting down to a more healthy bodyfat range (and props to you for making the decision to do so). You will be putting on muscle mass as you develop & make progress in powerlifting, especially while you’re brand new to lifting weights and your body makes the “newbie gains” during your first round with a serious lifting program.
- Nearly every individual that partakes in any athletic endeavor that utilizes strength ends up putting on more muscle mass than what they initially started out with. This is especially true for athletes who end up competing at a high level in their respective sport – part of their success attributes to having a physical composition that is much more superior to the sedentary couch potato. With this in mind, don’t try to confine yourself to being a 181 lb lifter for your whole career if you’re coming into the sport weighing 185 pounds. You can definitely try to compete as a 181 lb lifter your first couple meets if you’re comfortable with following an easy weight cutting protocol – nothing wrong with that. But you are definitely not losing any ground by coming in at a higher weight class and doing your meet as a 198er.
- As you put on weight, it is inevitable that you’ll put on some bodyfat – especially if you rush the process and gain an excess of a pound per week in a short period of time. This is part of the process, and thank god that the platform doesn’t care about what bodyfat percentage your abdominal area is holding. The platform only cares about what you can lift on meet day. Generally speaking, it is a shorter process to burn off bodyfat than it is to put on quality muscle mass. Even if you end up getting tubby (I was a tubby bitch myself during my initial years of powerlifting), realize that you have the ability & personal choice to take a month or two to burn the fat off.
- Last, but certainly not least: powerlifters like Jonnie Candito, Jesse Norris and so on are genetic freaks. Even if their physical appearance pales somewhat in comparison to their mind-baffling strength, they are the exception- not the rule. That isn’t to say that you can’t be a great lifter who might one day break one of their world records – but until you reach a truly advanced level in your lifting career, don’t model what you’re currently capable of to someone who was genetically inclined to be freaky strong.
Throughout my whole experience in powerlifting thus far, I have encountered literally dozens and dozens of aspiring lifters who want to get past the beginner/intermediate stage (250-350 Wilks) and want to set their horizons towards competing at a more elevated level. The NUMBER ONE reason why newer lifters either stall out their progress for YEARS or make very slow gains is because they’re confining themselves to a lower weight class. I cannot tell you how many guys I’ve seen in either a 24 Hour Fitness or an actual powerlifting gym weigh anywhere from 148 to 190 pounds, and have their lifts stuck at 385/295/455 for years at a time. If you’re a newer lifter and you’re reading this, I am here to tell you that PLATEAUING IN YOUR LIFTS FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR IS NOT NORMAL! Hell, a three month plateau is already a tell-tale sign that something in your gameplan needs to be changed. Now, I am not saying that your bodyweight is the sole reason to blame for a temporary halt in progress – lots of other things come into play, such as your nutrition, training program, sleep, and so on. However, if you don’t seem to be making the progress you’ve aspired for and everything else seems to be on point – eat more food and let your body put on some mass. You will likely be able to perform better in the gym while operating on a caloric surplus, and you’ll find that your body will be able to recover with more ease from session to session. And hell – maybe, just maybe….your squat will be able to progress from 385 to 405 in a few months time.
I’m not saying that you need to order a whole box of Krispy Kreme donuts and go HAM (though that sounds like an awesome idea right now as I’m writing this). Let your body naturally grow and don’t be afraid of putting on some weight at the expense of adding some bodyfat. You can always lose it within a relatively short period of your lifting career, whereas you’ll be spending the rest of your time trying to lift heavy weights and having your body make the necessary adaptations to lift even heavier weights later on. It’s not my intention to write advice in the form of gospel – it’s just my opinion and I realize that this entire piece comes off as being opinionated. Still, part of finding success in powerlifting is to keep an open mind to different approaches when things aren’t working the way they should. I started in powerlifting as a 198er and ballooned all the way up to being an obese 265, and as of December 12th I’m down to 235 pounds & the strongest I’ve ever been in my life. If your name is Toby, Indy, Nick, Michael, or Jacob, and you’ve been stuck trying to go from a 295 bench to 315 for the past year or so – I wrote this article for you and I hope you find it to be of value in your future powerlifting career.