Never, in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I would hold a national record in power-lifting. I had always found weight lifting somewhat boring, and, well, hard. But, last year, my son, Chris, a fitness expert and record-holding powerlifter, asked me if I wanted to compete in a local deadlift competition. I looked at him as if he were crazy. I mean, seriously, I love working out but I wasn’t a weightlifter and certainly wasn’t going to win any competitions!
Chris pointed out that no records had been set by women in my age and weight class and that I would likely set state and national records simply by default.
While it was disheartening to hear that there was a pernicious age and gender gap in powerlifting, my ears perked up at the possibility of becoming a national champion. So, I decided to give it a try. After all, it would be a great mother-son bonding experience and, at age 62, I’d learn something new.
My Goal Was to Deadlift Double My Body Weight
Chris advised me that a common goal for deadlifters is to lift twice their body weight. So, my goal would be to deadlift 184 pounds for the competition. Given my previous max of only 135 lbs., 184 seemed pretty ambitious.
Nevertheless, I agreed to compete and at age 62 registered at the USPA website. With about five weeks until the meet, Chris, who lives in L.A., devised a Russian training program based on very specific mathematical calculations. My personal trainer, Skyler, from Thunderdome Strength & Conditioning, here in San Diego, supported my training in between my sessions with Chris.
I trained diligently, keeping in mind that maintaining correct form would be the key to my safety—and to my success. After emerging from years of chronic back pain, the last thing I needed was to tweak my spine. Luckily, my son is a stickler for correct form, plus I have a keen sense of body awareness. (I highly recommend that anyone planning on lifting heavy weights get an okay from her/his doctor and take the time to seek out a trainer who is knowledgeable and obsessively focused on form.)
The Body is the Quintessential Learner
I never cease to be amazed at how the body learns and develops. It truly will learn to do almost anything you train it to do. After my first two weeks of consistent training, I increased my deadlift max by 20 pounds, to 155 pounds! A couple of weeks more of consistent training and I increased it to 175. In accordance with my training program, I would not lift any heavier weight until the day of the competition, which worried me, yet, Chris was confident that I would pull the 184.
The Mind Game
I experienced something quite unexpected during my training—like I was developing an insatiable appetite for lifting, like an addiction. Restricted to lifting only the prescribed amount of weight and number of sets at each training session, I yearned for more. I especially wanted to repeat my current max. But I had to be patient and follow the program. Chris explained about the neurological side to the training, a brain-body dynamic that occurs during the program. I was getting pumped up both physically and mentally.
Another surprise was that I came to love the pithiness of the workouts. As a long-distance runner, I'd had to calibrate my mind to hang in for an hour or two during training runs for marathons and half-marathons. My deadlift workouts lasted less than an hour, including a warm-up and 2-3-minute breaks between sets. Knowing that each lift or set of lifts would last only seconds, I was confident that I would get through those short bursts of exertion.
The Benefits of Strength Training
It is no secret that strength training has tremendous benefits, especially for the aging population. Growing stronger should be a top priority for most of us and it can take many forms, from body weight exercises to lifting free weights to powerlifting.
Age and Gender Gaps in Powerlifting
There continues to be a huge age/gender gap in powerlifting. A lot of women my age just aren’t into it. The good news is, with the right training, many of us could not only reap the health benefits, but easily snag a state or national title! The bad news is, these gaps show that many of us still believe that we are destined to become weaker, not stronger, with age, simply because of our age. Let's change that!
Inspiration for Us 60-Year-Olds
But, let's face it, powerlifting is not for everyone. I get that. But, whether you're interested in weight training or not, it's hard not to be inspired by women whose defiance of conventional wisdom has allowed them to reach unprecedented levels of physical and mental strength. Check out these kick-ass deadlifters:
After five weeks of training, a good night's sleep, and hearty breakfast, there I was at the competition decked out in my new singlet, knee socks, and the flattest sneakers I could find.
The competition consists of three lifts. The plan was that I would lift 170, then 184, and then see how I feel after that. About 30 minutes before my turn, I warmed up with several lifts, building up to 170 lbs., 5 pounds less than my max, and 14 pounds less than my competition goal. Would I make it?
- Lift #1: After watching competitors in other weight classes completing their lifts, my turn finally came. Boy, was I pumped. I walked onto the platform, took a few seconds to set up, and pulled the 175 with no problem, setting state and national records for my gender/age/weight class! It was electrifying!
- Lift #2: About 30 minutes later it was time for my second lift. I could feel the adrenaline surging through my body. This would be my first time ever lifting184 lbs., double my body weight. Boom! Done! No problem. I'd beat the records I had set just minutes before, setting new state and national records! I was ecstatic.
- Lift #3: Endorphins flying, my son asks if I think I can pull 198. I felt so amped, so energized, that I jumped at the chance. I approached the platform, ran through my mental checklist: placement of feet and hands, hinge at hips, neutralize neck, lock up core, shoulders back and down, knees back, weight on heels, no slack on the bar. I took two very deep breaths and held the second, pressed through my legs, and pulled with all my might…Up, up, up. Hold. Wait for signal. Down. Done! Woohoo!
That third lift still holds as the current record for my gender, age, and weight class in the state of California and in the USA. What an incredible experience. And I got to share it with my son. Sheer euphoria!
Last, but Not Least
Did I mention that my son competed in that meet? He did indeed, and broke his previously held state record with an impressive 457.5 lb. deadlift. Chris has incredible grit and focus, and an incredibly generous heart for inviting me into his world. I couldn't have, and simply wouldn't have, done this without him. For that I am forever grateful.
Chris recently informed me that a world record has not been set for a deadlift in my gender, age, and weight class. So, I now have my sights set on a world competition this fall. So has Chris. Wish us luck!
Are You Up for the Challenge?
If you're game, I urge you to find a highly-qualified trainer who could introduce you to the world of powerlifting. Register at the USPA website, enter a meet and enjoy the thrill of competition. Chances are, you'll become a state or national champion!
I would love to hear your story about your fitness goals and achievements. Do you lift weights? Do you prefer running or walking or yoga? What motivates you to get off the couch or away from your desk to work out? Please share in the comments section.
Jacqui Hook is the founder and owner of Tenáz Athletics, innovative concepts in women's athletic wear. Tenáz is the Spanish word for tenacious. Jacqui's mission is to inspire in women a tenacity for staying fit and healthy regardless of age, fitness level, body type, or other perceived obstacles. Get your tenacity on!