COACH BRENNA ON THE SPORT OF POWERLIFTING
Written by Brenna Bulach
If you would have told me five years ago that I would now be a competitive powerlifter, I would have laughed in your face. Granted, I’ve always been competitive, but my athletic “career” has been plagued with numerous ankle rolls, a torn labrum in my shoulder, two ACL surgeries and every other joint problem you can think of.
After college I had pretty much resigned myself to my comfortable globo gym workouts with 45 minutes on the elliptical and some sit-ups. I had zero muscle and hated working out. Then I joined P360 in 2011. Things began to change for me, and surprisingly more emotionally than physically. My competitive nature kicked back in. My inner athlete that had been dormant since college woke up and wanted some action. I pushed myself and I got better. I gained confidence and realized that being strong was fun.
It turns out I have a knack for picking up heavy things and I wanted to test my mettle against people other than those at the gym.
Enter: competitive powerlifting (and the realization that I’m weak AF compared to many other women out there).
On June 4th this year, I competed in my fourth powerlifting meet, alongside fellow P360 Coach Julianne Russell and strong-as-hell member Jenn Ciofolo. In a powerlifting meet you have three attempts per lift to get your best back squat, bench press, and deadlift. Then, your highest successful attempts are added together and lifters are placed within a weight class based on that total. Getting a PR in the gym versus doing a powerlifting meet is night and day different. Almost NEVER do you attempt to max out all three powerlifts in one day at the gym. THAT WOULD BE INSANE! It’s too much stress on the body and the likelihood of lifting the most weight you possibly can in all three lifts in one day seems near impossible.
Well, that’s exactly what a powerlifting meet is, and it’s not for everyone.
On Saturday when we showed up to the meet in inland San Diego, it was already sweltering hot. The gym was small and crowded full of competitors, coaches, and spectators. All of our nerves were on edge and the pre-workout jitters had set in.
Squats were first thing in the morning, a very exhausting lift to try to recover from for bench press, which was midday. Then we finished up the afternoon with deadlifts, surely the most taxing of the three lifts. Time between lifts consisted of shoving enough food and liquid in our bodies to keep up our energy but refrain from seeing it again on the platform.
Every time Jenn and Julianne got up to the platform to do a lift, my heart jumped in my throat. That day made me realize, that even though I’m competitive and I wanted to do well myself, I’ve truly got an inner coach in me that wanted the very best for Jules and Jenn. I wanted success for them just as much as I wanted it for me. I had tears of joy when Julianne came back after missing her opening deadlift attempt and pulled it successfully for her second attempt. Sweet victory. We had the best support group possible as well. Coach Dave was there as an amazing coach to Jenn and Julianne, who was also learning the ropes as it was his first powerlifting meet. I had my mom sitting front and center for every lift, and we had the best group of P360-ers screaming from the corner every time we lifted.
Even though I finished up the day with first place in the 148# weight class and took best overall female lifter, I wasn’t fully satisfied. I missed all three third attempts on my lifts. I know that this is something that will come with time: the ability to judge what my next attempt should be. I just went slightly too heavy on those third attempts.
I ended with a 308# squat, and 165# bench press, and a 385# deadlift. None of those were PRs for me, but I did get my highest Wilks coefficient ever (405.5), which measures the strength of the lifter against other lifters competing, despite differences in body weight.
My goal of this meet was to finally break 400, and I did it.
I do have to say however, that my third attempt deadlift, which was an unsuccessful 10 second grinder with 396 pounds on the bar, is an testament to the unbelievable community that is powerlifting. The entire gym was screaming for me: my friends and family, other competitors, random spectators, fellow teammates. The powerlifting community, particularly for women, is less about cutthroat competition and more about supporting all lifters to be better than they were before. Every time I leave a powerlifting meet I have 10 new friends. Only recently are we discovering that women can lift really heavy shit too.
The sport of powerlifting for women is growing exponentially and the support and community that it is building is awe-inspiring.
So, what’s my take-away from all of this?
Powerlifting isn’t for everyone. There is a certain amount of focus, dedication, and a high tolerance for self-punishment that it takes to put yourself on the platform.
But what I can say for everyone is that pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is necessary. Attempting to be better at something than you were before is how you will gain self confidence and discipline. You can’t compare yourself to others, only to what you used to be. Use those people that are more successful than you as sources of information and motivation to better yourself, step outside your box, and give your old lazy self a kick in the dick.