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Powerlifting and getting “swole”

Young Brook

Growing up, I never wanted to be big. My parents were both over 6’ tall, and I worried about being as big as them. Most of my friends ended up being shorter than me, and were usually skinnier too. I was made fun of for being “chubby” in middle school, and that stuck with me. Being fat or chubby or skinny all rule, but I didn’t know that as a kid. I just thought I was broken, bc I didn’t have a flat chest or whatever the other kids did at 12. I used to worry about my weight all the time, and no matter what I ate, or didn’t eat, I kept some love-handles. Eventually I got used to my body, and now I love it. There’s a longer story there, but generally not wanting to be “big” kept me away from weights, and on a bike.

Present day

I still keep track of my weight, but on a longer time-scale, and these days, it’s less about getting down to a number, and more in line with general health-tracking. I did yoga regularly for around three years, but I never felt stronger, just usually more calm, which rules too. Last summer, I read The Myth of Bodyweight Training and then a bunch of posts from Casey about powerlifting, and thought, “ok, I’ll try this”. I heard about Bold & Badass from some XOXO friends, and went in for a session. Then I went back, and back, and back. I took off some time last year due to an unrelated surgery, and a trip to Japan in January, but since February, I’ve gone two days a week on average, with July and August being closer to three, and four most days. It feels great, and I feel both stronger and happier while there and on rest days. The focus and calm I found during yoga is present during powerlifting, but I can also track progress, which I enjoy because I’m a nerd.

WTF is “powerlifting”?

Simply put: bench-pressing, squatting, and deadlifting. I usually do accessory workouts and a lot of stuff that gets my heart-rate up for cardio health, but those three lifts are the crux of powerlifting, and in competition, the total of the 3 weights lifted are what your’e judged on. It rules. There’s so much complexity and muscle memory involved in doing these lifts well, and it’s really helpful to have a trainer, and start very light. But, once you get the hang of it, you end up lifting more than you would ever imagine.

Gains?

I still remember my first sessions bench-pressing ~80lbs, squatting ~100lbs, and deadlifting 65lbs (the bar + 10lbs on each side to lift it up). These days I’m very proud to be bench-pressing 175, squatting 245, and deadlifting 345. It’s been a lot of work to get to this point, but I can see the progress. My gym is doing a summer of strength at this point, and that means a specific linear training regimen that means each time I lift with my arms (bench/OHP), I add 2.5lbs, and each time I lift with my legs (squat/DL), I add 5 lbs. Once we get to a place where we can’t do a 3rd set of 5, after first trying for a third set of 5-10 for as many weeks as possible, we unload by 10% and start over. It’s freeing knowing what I’m going to lift before I start each day, and having the encouragement of all the awesome folks in my gym as we all strive to improve our personal numbers. Our competition is with ourselves, largely, and that’s the most fun kind, in my opinion.

Lifting is silly

I want to be clear that the benefits to my mental and physical health also come with a new type of self-aware humor about the whole thing. Gyms are weird, and lifting heavy stuff is particularly silly. I’m lucky that a lot of my coworkers also love powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting (clean & jerks, and snatches), so we can laugh even as we cheer each other on. Being able to enjoy things, and laugh at/with them is super important to me. Plus, have you seen the long socks for sumo? JK, they rule.

Getting started

If you’re stoked on lifting at all, and you’re in Portland, come join me at Bold & Badass, or find a body-positive gym in your area. If you read this, but still have zero interest, then… thanks for reading?

brook is a noted sapphist who lives in a cave with her cat snorri. she loves travel, food, and satan.