Exercise has been important to me for a long time. It's taken various forms over the years, but for the past 10 years or so, powerlifting has been my main focus. But why did I end up powerlifting, why do I enjoy it, and why is it important to me?
What is Powerlifting?
Powerlifting is a strength sport, focussed around three exercises: squat, bench press and deadlift. Similar to the Olympic Weightlifting you may've seen on the TV, the idea is to perform each exercise for a single repetition with the heaviest weight possible. Athletes compete in gender + weight classes e.g. Mens 82kg (for men up to 82kg in bodyweight), and they can compete either 'equipped' or 'un-equipped' (often referred to as 'raw' powerlifting). Equipped lifting involves the use of extra equipment - elasticated shirts/suits - that change the dynamic of the movement, and generally allow a lifter to lift more.
A little history
I grew up a nerd. I was awkward as all heck, I felt out of out shape, didn't have the coordination for team sports, and wasn't great with people. Exercise and sport was something that popular people did, and I suffered through, because I was made to do it. PE was a weekly exercise in ritual humiliation. But somewhere in my mid-teens, something clicked. I grew up watching 80s action movies, the sort filled with buff, brash hero types played by Schwarzenegger, Stallone et al. At some point, I realised that I wanted to be strong. I didn't really know how, but I was going to figure out.
My school had free weights, but they were hidden away somewhere, for the use of the rugby team (and friends of the rugby team. I was not a friend of the rugby team). However, they did also have a tiny gym with a few weights machines. At around 16, I was finally able to avoid proper sports and choose to spend my twice/thrice-weekly sports sessions there, so of course I did. I loved it - I could do things on my own terms, not judged against others, and progress against myself. And it turned out, after a year or two of that, I ended up reasonably strong, and with a strong gym training ethic. I still didn't really know what I was doing, or anything about strength sports, but I enjoyed what I was doing, and the progress I was making.
Naturally, when I went to university, I immediately signed up to the gym, and discovered that free-weights (barbells, dumbbells, etc) were a thing. I also met a powerlifter. Watching someone not a lot heavier than me deadlift 300kg left a strong impression: I want to do that! I asked him a bunch of questions, and spent a lot of time reading and watching videos about powerlifting. And the rest, I guess, is history - I've been powerlifting ever since.
A discussion of why I exercise would not be complete without discussing mental health. I've struggled with my mental health for most of my life, including anxiety, major depression, suicidal urges and more. I would credit my strong gym training ethic for me still being here to write this post now. Doctors near universally recommend exercise as a way to combat mental health issues, particularly depression, as the endorphins are incredibly powerful at lifting mood. However, if you're in the pits of depression, starting a gym routine is the last thing that you're likely to be up for doing. If you're already going to the gym, then I've found it prevents the lows from getting super low. I've had periods where everything else has gone to shit - I was barely sleeping, my diet was dreadful, I couldn't concentrate - but I still went to the gym. Maybe I didn't lift perfectly, but just going and doing something kept me going when nothing else did.
Another aspect i think is best summed up by someone more eloquent than I - Henry Rollins. His essay 'The Iron' is well known now, but it sums up many of the feelings I've had about lifting and strength training. It gave me something to stand on, when I felt I had nothing, and has kept me grounded when it felt like everything was falling apart around me. As the essay finishes:
Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.
Weight lifting has taught me discipline, it has taught me persistence. It's given me a focus, a form of meditation. 'The Iron never lies to you' - the weights will always be the same. Some days life will kick you where it hurts, but those weights are the same as they were yesterday, as they will be tomorrow.
Why am I writing a post about it here?
I've kept track of my lifts for years, in various forms, but never really done anything with them. I used to use Fitocracy, but got annoyed with the social side of it, and never really used the graphs etc. I want to keep more of an eye on medium/long-term progress, so I want to build out a few tools to help track progression, as well as maybe some fun things like Wilks calculators, comparisons to various UK/International powerlifting records, that sort of thing. It's an excuse to combine two things I enjoy a lot - software and lifting - in one place. I may also just waffle about some new novelty I've discovered in the course of lifting - I'm still learning new things, even after 10 years!