As a powerlifter with a good chunk of road under my belt, one of the things I still love to see is that steely-eyed fearlessness young up-and-coming powerlifters display on the platform and in the gym. They have that single-mindedness to their lifting. They simply know that they are going to approach the weight and then pick that weight up—no ifs, ands, or buts. It is a confidence thing. It is a self-belief thing. But also, it is a ‘never had a serious injury’ thing.
As new lifters, they have had nothing but success, and let’s face it, to a newer lifter success comes quick, fast, and in a hurry. The PRs fall like rain, and it is not unheard of to put 50, 75, and then 100 pounds on your total from your first to your second to your third meet. These are the days of plenty—the days when it is easy to be a powerlifter.
As a powerlifter with a good chunk of road under my belt, another thing I still love to see is that veteran powerlifter. That weathered warrior. That been-there-done-that sole. That lifter who has fear and doubt, but who acknowledges those injury-produced fears and doubts—who looks them right smack in the eyes, pushes them aside, and with a look of defiance and conviction, stares them down as he/she approaches the weight and then lifts the weight successfully. It is a self-believing thing, but it is also an ‘overcoming a serious injury’ thing. And that, my friends, is what separates the merely physically strong from the physically and mentally strong. These are the days when it is not so easy to be a powerlifter.
When it comes to serious injuries, it is not if, but when. Injury potential for a powerlifter, a true swinging-for-the-fences powerlifter, is a 100% winning bet. You will be injured, but it is what you do after your injury, or what you don’t do after your injury, that will define your life as a powerlifter.
For those new to the sport, the PRs do fall fast and furious. For the guys/gals that have been at this for years, those PRs take on greater significance since they are fewer and farther between. For the lifters that have experienced major ‘torn this’ or ‘completely detached that,’ setting a PR is like gold.
I love the line in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Harrison Ford’s character says to his love interest Marion, “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.” So true for the life of the powerlifter.
Some thoughts for those who are injured now:
Note: Be smart. Biological healing is on its own time schedule. Just because the will to lift heavy is there does not mean that the injury is ready to be pushed. If you are just getting back into the gym after tearing something, take time with the little weights because adding that little 50 pounds to your post-injury 135-pound squat won’t get you back to 800 pounds any quicker…but it sure can de-rail you for another several weeks if you re-tweak that injury. So get your mind set. It is okay to be slow and deliberate in your healing.
Do you think Dave Tate is rushing back from his hip replacement? Or, do you think he is methodically rebuilding himself for the long haul? Dave didn’t become Dave by half-assing anything, and neither should you. He is not looking to be strong for the next six months; he is looking to be strong for the next few decades. It is a journey, not a race.
Note: If it is a muscle tear and you are not explosively lifting for many months, when you begin to lift explosively, do so with lighter weights and higher reps before attacking the big singles because tendons and ligaments have also been sitting idle for many months. You will need to slowly strengthen those connective tools as you strengthen your muscles.
Note: Learn from your mistakes. Why did the injury occur in the first place? Not enough hydration? Not enough of a warm up? Too big of a jump in weight? Not enough rest or sleep? Learn what happened so that you don’t make that mistake again.
Note: Adapt, adapt, adapt. When I blew my bicep tendon while prepping for Finland, my surgeon said I could change over my pronated and supinated grips, but the new supinated bicep would have a good chance of rupture as well. Slowly, and I might add painfully, I adapted to a hook grip where both hands are pronated and neither bicep is engaged.
Note: Listen to your body. If you feel like something is just not right, take the extra time and continue with more warm up sets. Don’t be in such a big rush to get re-injured.
Note: Keep the faith. This too shall pass. Some injuries can take you a year of healing and training just to get you back to where you were. You will get there again. Believe in yourself and have a vision of where you want to be. Equally important—have a plan. Good intentions without a plan is like a car full of passengers but no gas in the tank.
Note: Do not become mentally crippled by physical injuries. Sometimes injuries pile up quickly. Work on what is healthy and rehab what is not. Focus on what you can focus on, be it nutrition, form, your grip, calves, or even the dreaded world of cardio.
Note: When being plagued by lots of littler injuries, re-think your approach to a meet. When you are injury free, you find a meet and train for it. Once you have begun to fight off injuries, change your mindset and get healthy, then find a meet and travel to it. When you are injury free, meets come to you. When you are staving off injury, you might have to travel to the meet. In other words, sometimes the mountain has to travel to Muhammad.
It is not if, but when. Injuries are part of the game. They are 100% part of the game. But know this, an injured lifter can still be that steely-eyed, fearless lifter. Only, he/she will be steely-eyed with fear acknowledged and suppressed…and all the wiser for it.