by Bret Contreras June 23, 2015
Post Powerlifting Meet Reflections
By Sohee Lee
Last month, I wrote a post discussing the first two and a half of months of my powerlifting prep (see HERE). I’ve since followed through and competed in the 100% Raw American Challenge in Tucson, AZ, and thought it would be appropriate to put together a follow-up post detailing the remainder of how my prep went.
As a refresher, here were my starting numbers in the squat, bench, and deadlift back in January:
Squat: 125 lbs
Bench: 85 lbs
Deadlift: 155 lbs
This was at a bodyweight of 108 lbs.
I ended up spending a total of 18 weeks preparing for this meet, and here’s how my numbers improved over time:
As you may recall from my first post, I started experiencing some severe hip pain during squats towards the end of week six after utilizing a daily undulating periodization (DUP) protocol that had me squatting three days a week. I took two full weeks off of squatting, and Bret modified my training program in such a way that allowed me to continue to improve my squat numbers while not experiencing any pain. Squatting once every four to five days with just one hard set as opposed to multiple times per week proved to be the winning strategy for me.
Bench press, in my opinion, is my strongest lift. In four months of prep, I was able to add over 20lbs to my 1RM, going from 85lbs in late January to my personal best of 107lbs the week before my meet.
In the graph above, you’ll notice that I actually benched less than my PR. This is simply because the next highest increment I could have benched at the meet after 104.7lbs was 110lbs, and there’s no way I would have been able to get that. So we stuck with 104.7lbs and I was happy with that.
Finally, the deadlift. This is the one movement I was particularly nervous about because I’ve struggled with this for as long as I can remember.
My starting 1RM using strict form was 155lbs – strong for a girl, but nothing particularly noteworthy, especially for someone who’s been lifting for seven years. The heaviest weight I’d been able to pull before this was 195lbs, which I’d achieved back in early 2013 when I was 20lbs heavier. I was therefore skeptical that I’d be able to pull more than 200lbs in the 105lb weight class.
But it’s pretty incredible what some proper programming, the right coaching, and a little boost of confidence can do. After two and a half months of strict arch-back deadlifting, Bret gave me the green light to start pulling with a slightly rounded back. I should mention that I flew out to Phoenix for a week right around this time, where I had the opportunity to train in person with Bret multiple times. We also did a mock meet at Revolution Training out in Tempe, which gave us a chance to practice commands and give us a better idea of what my meet numbers might look like (see related: First Powerlifting Meet – 20 Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make).
By my last in-person session with him, I was pulling 205lbs. I then proceeded to add 20lbs to my deadlift over the next five weeks, and seemingly out of nowhere, the weight started flying up like it was nothing.
Here are the details of the training program I followed for the last six weeks leading up to the meet:
Training Day 1
A. Back squat 1×3, 1×2, 1×1
B. Barbell reverse lunge (low bar position) 2x10ea
C. Band hip thrust 2×15
D. Band seated hip abduction 3×15/15/15
Training Day 2
A. Conventional deadlift 1×3, 1×2, 1×1
B. Barbell hip thrust 3×5
C. Neutral grip pullup 3xAMRAP
D. Dumbbell chest-supported row 3×10
Training Day 3
A. Bench press 1×3, 1×2, 1×1
B. Military press 2×10
C. Dumbbell tricep extension 2×10
D. Dumbbell fly 2×10
Bret also had me doing 10-minutes of band glute work four to five nights a week, and in addition to the above, I was adding in 10-15 minutes’ worth of kettlebell work four days per week right up until early May as I prepared for the Strong First Girya (SFG) Level I Certification.
Once I was done with SFG (which I passed, by the way – wahoo!), I put my nose to the ground and cut out all extra conditioning work. The only kind of cardio I did was walking my two dogs around my neighborhood.
My training volume was far lower than anything I’d done before – lower than PHAT, lower than any bodypart split, lower than any program I’d received from another coach. I’ll admit that my eyes may have bulged out of my head a little upon seeing how little work I’d be doing, but I’d made a promise to Bret to not deviate from the plan, and I put my full trust in him. The goal, after all, was to get stronger, not to improve my conditioning or bring up lagging bodyparts or run myself into the ground. It was important to keep the goal the goal, so I quieted my ego and stayed the course.
I never did anything drastic with my nutrition. Since our goal was to have me compete in the 105 lb weight class, I simply aimed to eat to maintain my everyday bodyweight in the 107-109 lb range.
I shot for around 130 grams of protein, though I oftentimes went over that simply because I love meat. I ate more carbohydrates on the days I was training, and upped my fats on my days off from the gym.
Again, no food restrictions whatsoever. I had half & half in my coffee regularly and would enjoy the occasional slice of pizza. On any given day, I’d estimate that I was eating anywhere between 1,600-2,000 calories a day. I chose not to count macros during this time, and instead loosely eyeballed my portions.
This is what I looked like the week of the meet. I maintained my bodyweight and measurements throughout the course of my prep and kept a 24.2-inch waist. While aesthetics was not the goal, as you can see, my physique did not suffer, and I did not become manly and bulky from four months of powerlifting. This was primarily because I was smart about my nutrition and total calorie intake such that I did not pile on extra bodyfat during my training. Had I eaten with abandon, you can bet that I would have looked noticeably thicker within a matter of weeks, but this would have occurred with any type of training.
Making weight was the one aspect of this prep that I was nervous about. I had never had to cut water weight before, and I had no idea how my body would respond to the tactics that Bret had planned out for me. But I was excited and ready for a new kind of challenge.
Two weeks out from weigh-ins, I started tracking my macronutrient intake again. (You can see everything that I ate by following my MyMacros+ account, SoheeFit.) Even though I was feeling pressure to drop weight, I was careful not to cut my calories too drastically. After all, I still had to maintain my strength.
Here’s a snippet of what I was eating leading up to the meet. Meal 1 shows the contents of a homemade breakfast burrito.
I started weighing myself daily at this point. While I don’t recommend relying solely on scale weight for general fat loss purposes, this was an exception, as I simply had to keep my bodyweight down to compete.
In about a seven-day span, I was able to bring my bodyweight down from the high 108’s to the high-107, low-108 range. For being as petite as I already was (at a daunting 5’2”), I was happy with this, as this meant that I’d only have a few pounds of water weight to drop on the day of weigh-ins.
Here’s how the last couple of days leading up to weigh-ins panned out:
On Wednesday, I woke up at 108.0 lbs. We kept my sodium levels high and water intake was normal as well (approximately three liters). I started dropping carbs slightly at this point. That evening, we did a light workout consisting of heavy banded hip thrusts, pushups off of handles, inverted rows, and straight leg situps – nothing too taxing.
Thursday was when we started to crank things up with my nutrition. Again, my bodyweight was at 108.0 lbs, which was fine. Throughout the day, I was allowed to have coffee, but otherwise stuck to the protein shakes that Bret whipped up for me. We got in another light full-body workout consisting of prowler pushes, banded goblet squats, pushups, inverted rows, and dumbbell military presses in the afternoon just to get the blood flowing and work up a light sweat.
In the evening, I was permitted to nibble on one (offensively tiny) chicken salad. In sum, I had three protein shakes (each made with skim milk, whey protein, and a small spoonful of peanut butter) and probably around three ounces of chicken throughout the course of the entire day. Sodium was little to none. I was hungry, yes, but I was focused.
Friday morning: game time. I woke up that morning and weighed in at 107.4 lbs – hooray! I ordered myself a short Americano from Starbucks (it’s one size smaller than a “tall” and is not on the menu). At around noon, Bret made me a protein shake to sip on. I’d estimate that at this point, I had ingested approximately two pounds’ worth of fluids, which meant I still had around 5lbs of weight to get rid of.
We started the water-dropping process at 2p.m. After sitting in a Jacuzzi for about 20 minutes followed by 20 minutes in the steam room, we started the 110-minute drive to Tucson. My weight was, again, 107.4 lbs right before we left.
Here’s the kicker: we put the heat up on full blast the entire way there. And we were also in long sweatpants and a hoodie and socks. This was the strategy that Bret had used to drop weight for one of his prior powerlifting meets, so he was doing the same with us.
I swear, it was hotter than a sauna in there. Our phones all turned off from the extreme heat, and even Bret’s stereo system in his truck quit on us two or three different times. I think it’s safe to say that that was probably one of the most physically uncomfortable experiences of my entire life. I could have
By the time we arrived at Evolution Fitness in Tucson, we were understandably incredibly sweaty, cranky, and parched. We proceeded to check-in and then made our way over to the corner of the gym for weigh-ins.
I had my doubts. I wasn’t sure that a mere handful of hours sitting in heat was enough to do the trick.
I asked if I was allowed to come in at, say, 105.2 lbs and still qualify for the weight class. (In other words, I was trying to gauge how much wiggle room I had.) The answer? Nope, not at all.
No pressure, right?
I walked into the bathroom where I was to be weighed and closed the door. I just wanted to get it over with. Despite wearing nothing but a sports bra and booty shorts, I wasn’t going to risk the extra 0.3lbs that the clothes would add to the scale (yes, I had weighed my clothes before), so I proceeded to strip naked and finally met my fate.
What a freakin’ relief. I let out a loud yelp of surprise. You couldn’t find a happier girl in the room at that moment.
Here I am in the two minutes following weigh-ins. Not the best picture of me but I’m looking very dehydrated and extremely elated about the Powerade in my hand.
The remainder of the evening was a blur.
Within the span of two hours, I chugged one Powerade, one slushie, and three giant iced teas. My guess is that all added up to between 4-5 lbs of fluids.
We also split a giant butter toffee cookie before chowing down at the Macaroni Grill. I unfortunately ended up getting sick over the sheer volume of fluids I had sucked down in such a short period of time, but I bounced back quickly at the mention of donuts – ha!
We continued to eat and eat into the night. Now that we’d made weight, the pressure was off, and our next aim was to consume as much food as possible to prepare for the next day.
The meet itself went from 10 a.m. to approximately 6 p.m. and was an absolute blast.
I was well-rested, well-hydrated, and most definitely well-fed.
In other words, I was ready.
With Bret’s coaching, I was able to warm-up sufficiently before each of the big lifts, and fortunately never missed a judge’s command after having practiced before at the mock meet. No words can sufficiently do justice to the day’s experience, so I’ll cut right to the chase.
I ended up going 9/9 for all of my attempts, and I hit all my target numbers for a 496 lb total.
Squat attempts: 62.5 kg, 70 kg, 75 kg
Bench attempts: 42.5 kg, 45 kg, 47.5 kg
Deadlift: 85 kg, 97.5 kg, 102.5 kg
As you can see in the video, I very likely could have gone heavier in the deadlift, but 226 lbs was still a lifetime PR for me. For that, I’m incredibly proud, and now I know I can shoot for higher in my next meet.
I was highly impressed with how supportive the fellow competitors and attendees were, and I had so much fun testing my body’s limits.
I don’t think I could possibly be happier with how my powerlifting meet went. I worked closely with Bret over the past four months to prepare for this day, and nothing major went wrong. Yes, we did have to modify my training midway due to my hip pain from squatting, but we were able to work around that just fine. I followed his programming to a T and I set multiple lifetime PRs as a result.
My plans for the next few months will be prepare for the bikini stage again for later in the fall. But after that, I’ll be back to training for my next powerlifting meet, likely for the spring of 2015. Bret and I agree that I should toggle back and forth between bikini and powerlifting, slowly striving to improve in both areas over time.
Throughout this process, I fell in love with training even more so than before.
If any of you reading this are feeling lost with what you want to do in the gym or if you’ve ever been curious about powerlifting, let me say this: Give it a shot at least once.
I can’t tell you how refreshing of a change it was for me to watch my training numbers go up from week to week and stop caring so much about what I saw in the mirror. I loved feeling strong, and it was incredibly empowering to realize what my body was really capable of.
Strength gains await.
Sohee Lee is a health coach and fitness writer specializing in helping women develop healthy relationships with food and their bodies while getting them to their fitness goals.
Having fought through both anorexia and bulimia, Sohee knows firsthand the toll that it can take on your life. Her mission is to empower women to practice compassion and grace with themselves in the gym, in the kitchen, and in life. #eatliftthrive
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