By Erik Eggers
Note: For those who didn’t have an opportunity to read Beast Reality, Volume 1, Issue 1, I recommend giving it a quick look. It’s still posted on the EliteFTS website. Reading about the night I spent in the hospital with a case of prowler flu is worth fifteen minutes of your life (let alone my ménage à trios’ proposal and its subsequent and hasty rejection). For those already enlightened, press onward, enjoy, and as always, fasten your seatbelts.
Owen Smith celebrates after pulling a record-setting deadlift at the APA 2010 New England Winter Iron Bash
Not in Oz Anymore
Do you ever have those surreal moments in life? They seem to occur more frequently as I grow older. Sadly, I’m forty-one years old now. I was eighteen yesterday. I’m not kidding. I wonder if it’s the same with you. Is this really happening? Is this really my life? Really?
Imagine walking into the yard of a maximum-security prison; you’re in gen-pop, and although you’re technically a badass, at least you were when you were younger (much younger), a shank-in-the-back in never far enough away. That’s how it felt and that’s how I felt. It’s the Twilight Zone; there’s a guy standing not ten feet from me who’s wearing a donkey mask. And although I was standing with my posse, some of the strongest, most lethal men on the planet, I felt naked, somehow vulnerable.
No, I’m not describing the American Powerlifting Association’s New England Winter Iron Bash; I’m describing a holiday party I attended two days prior, but we’ll get to the “Holiday Party” soon enough.
First I have to tell you about Owen.
Five Finger Death Punch
At my son’s Little League game I bumped into Dan, a friend of mine. He’d been doing some carpentry work for me in the gym, repairing some of the cosmetic bumps and bruises in an attempt to ensure the town of Trumbull would ultimately be happy with the Beast in terms of building compliance codes.
“You should’ve seen the guy who walked into the gym yesterday when I was there,” Dan says. “His neck was as big as your waist.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I say. “I’m going to see him on Sunday. He’s coming in to train. He’s the first guy to find us – the first hardcore guy, anyway.”
“Tomorrow’s Sunday,” Dan says. “Kid was a monster.”
“Well, we’ll see.”
Sunday arrives. I wake and try to shake-out the soreness that feels more persistent with each passing year. Packing up water, protein mix, and coffee for the road, I give my kids and wife kisses, throw on a pair of Oakley Flak Jackets, and head over to the Beast.
I’m looking out from under the overhead door when Owen pulls-up; he’s a little late, but not to the point where I was ready to write-him-off. I remember as a kid, reading that the most important key to training is showing up. After running the Beast for a little over a year I know it’s true – about 1 in 10 potential clients actually follow-through. Owen followed-through.
He walks into the Beast on a beautiful March afternoon; I recall it was one of the first weeks we were able to train with the big overhead door open. Opening the overhead door makes a big difference. It makes the gym feel less confined. Owen’s wearing a Trumbull High School Football Hoodie, although he’s long since graduated. He was 21 years old and one of the thickest one-ninety-pounders you’re ever going to meet; solid rock, with nary an ounce of fat on him.
“… I’m into Powerlifting,” Owen says. “I saw yesterday that you have bands and chains here; I’d like to try those one of these days.”
“What are you training today?”
“And maybe some deadlifts.”
I soon discovered Owen could train tirelessly for up to four hours; handling more volume than any other human I’ve ever been around. They used to have a saying at Westside Barbell in Ohio, back when powerlifting legend, Chuck Vogelpohl still trained there. The saying was, “you just can’t do what Chuck does.” At Beast, my saying is, “you just can’t do the volume Owen can.” I don’t even try to.
We’ll come back to Owen shortly …
High School Football – the Beast starts to Hit its Stride
Late May, my wife Kim is in the gym when the behemoth strides in with his father. He’s a Junior Football Player at the local High School and his coach sent him to Beast to get prepared for the season.
I’m working in Jersey, when my phone rings.
“I’ve got something to tell you,” Kim says.
“What’s up?” There are always a lot of dramatic pauses when Kim’s talking; I’ve come to expect it.
“You’re going to be happy,” she adds. “I’ve got good news.”
“Kim, I’m working. Spit it out.”
“A football player from Trumbull High School came into the facility today to discuss our athletic training programs. His name’s Zach Voytek and he’s a big kid.”
“About 6’ 4” and I’d say about 280.”
“Pretty solid, I’d say.”
“How did he find out about us?”
“He said his coach sent him.”
“That’s awesome. Which coach?”
“Great; I’ve got to get Hellthaler’s contact information. When is Zach getting started?”
“He’s getting his tonsils out next week and they will get back to us when he’s got medical clearance.”
One day later I ring Coach Chris Hellthaler from Beast’s office, closing the door to muffle the White Zombie blaring in the facility. I explain who I am, a little about Beast, and the programming we’re looking to implement to get his athletes ready for the season. Chris is excited. He’s well aware the off- and pre-season training the athletes have been doing up till now is less than ideal. I’m excited too. I know if he can help deliver the athletes, we can deliver the training and the results.
I spoke a little about training football players in Beast Reality Volume 1, Issue 1, so I won’t go into too much detail here (I don’t want to give away too many of our secrets), but I will reveal that we trained with an upper body/lower body split schedule, which combined strength training with dynamic and/or explosive training.
The thing I’m most proud of, as I look back on the training and reflect on what our athletes were able to accomplish on the field, is that 100% of the upperclassmen we worked with, received a post-season honor from the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference (“FCIAC”) Conference, including 5 first-teamers, 3 second-teamers, and 1 honorable mention. I’m very proud of that fact and very proud of those athletes for the work they dedicated both on and off the field.
Almost as important as the strength gains they made, I think the preseason training helped mold the athletes into a more cohesive unit. The sessions also empowered the players, and by that I mean, when they marched from the locker room to the field, the players who trained at Beast had the luxury of knowing they were the best-prepared athletes on the field.
Plus the training was a hell of a lot of fun, both for the trainers and for the athletes.
Trumbull High School Eagles 2010 Captains: Phil Terio, Frankie Gaines, Will Testani, Ian Milne, and Mat Lena (from left to right)
“My friends told me about a Powerlifting competition in Connecticut,” Owen says. “It’s the American Powerlifting Association’s 2010 New England Winter Iron Bash. It’s a push-pull meet at a Gym in Wallingford, Connecticut.”
“Yeah; when is it?” I ask.
“It’s on December 12th. I think I am definitely going to do it.”
“That’s awesome; you can represent the BEAST.”
“I think you should compete too,” Owen says.
“I just might,” I say, surprising myself with my own answer.
“We can both represent the BEAST,” Owen says.
Owen sits across from me in office at Beast. His brow is furrowed and his neck appears approximately double the width of his head. I am designing the programming to maximize our respective bench performances at the meet. I’d been using a modified Westside template, which involved a lot of board pressing, floor pressing, and dynamic or speed work. I love the board presses. They crank-up upper-end strength, and for a guy like me (i.e. with shoulders seemingly made of glass), the limited range of motion, while allowing for heavier weights, can take some of the stress off the shoulders. However, for this meet, both Owen and I were competing in a RAW division (i.e. no gear, except wrist wraps and a belt) and we both needed the work to the chest.
I devised a simple percentage based periodization program with approximately three weeks of high rep Preparation phase, a three week Strength phase, and a two to three week Competition (or peaking) phase.
Historically, Owen and I had done all of our reps “touch-and-go,” so I was slightly worried about the pause (while waiting for the press command) that would be required at the meet, but ultimately elected to train without the pause, with the intention of “saving” my shoulders. Owen, who is much younger than I am, elected to practice his pause, and the commands (“Press” and “Rack”) the last two weeks prior to the meet – during the Competition phase.
The awesome YouTube Video of Owen and me competing at the 2010 APA New England Winter Iron Bash:
The Infamous Holiday Party – aka Bachelor Party (but no one is getting hitched)
Note: In order to appropriately discuss the holiday party, I’ve changed some names to protect the … Er ah; not exactly sure how to phrase this, because they are definitely not innocent; for now, just note, some of the names have been changed.
Chris and I were training Slosh and Gremlin (“Grem” for short) twice a week. Both were great guys; they were brothers-in-law, Grem married Slosh’s sister. They were both really fun to work with; they trained hard and enjoyed both pushing and antagonizing each other during the training sessions. One would agree to do an extra set, if only because the other didn’t want to do it. They always left Chris and I in stitches.
Grem screamed like he was being tortured during his heavy sets. Great stuff. Slosh was a heating and cooling guy. He owned his own business and, although he never really said so, I have a feeling he was doing pretty well. One Thursday night, around 9:30pm, as we’re winding down the workout, Grem turns to Slosh and says, “We should invite these guys to the party.”
“Yeah, you guys should come to my Holiday party,” Slosh says with a broad smile plastered across his sweat-drenched face.
“Oh yeah,” I say.
“Dude, it’s awesome,” Grem says. “The first time we did it was for my bachelor party, but we had so much fun, we decided to do it every year. We set it up at Slosh’s office and warehouse – 200 guys and 20 strippers; it’s a fantastic time. We raffle-off televisions, we have food and all you can drink. You and Chris should definitely come. I’ll bring you a bunch of invitations next week and you can invite all the guys from the gym.”
“20 strippers, huh?” I say. “When is it?”
“It’s Friday night, December 10th.”
Training the Deadlift – Owen’s Exponential Strength Increases
“Are you taking fish oil?” Jon asks.
“Yes I am,” I respond.
“You’d better not get shot.”
“Fish oil thins the blood. It doesn’t coagulate as well. They tell guys in the military not to take fish oil in case they get shot, so they don’t bleed to death.”
“I promise I’ll do my best not to get shot.”
Powerlifters like to compete for a multitude of reasons. Meets really help with training focus and periodization. Having that stake in the ground gives the trainee something to work toward, with the ultimate goal of peaking on the day of the meet.
Owen’s deadlift training was fantastic. He was pulling heavy as hell and literally making gains week-in and week-out. I remember sitting down with CJ, one of the guys who works in our gym, one evening. We were discussing Owen’s training and how he was fully entrenched in the 600s (for reps) at a bodyweight of 190. I said to CJ, “One of two things is going to happen at that competition. The outcome will be binary; he’s either going to totally burn himself out prior to the competition and crash or he’s going to peak at the competition and totally blow away the rest of the competitors. Totally blow them away.”
My own deadlift training was another story altogether. My training was a mess and my technique was a mess. I felt like Chris Farley’s impression of Matt Foley motivational speaker, fat, off-balance, and always inches away from falling through a coffee table. I had been experimenting with sumo style pulling, but could never get the technique down to where it felt really good – although I definitely liked the idea of a shorter pull. I switched back to conventional style, but there was a myriad of other problems, the first of which was that I was incredibly weak.
Also, I was really having problems getting enough air in my belly to assist with pushing my belly into the belt to get my core as rigid as possible for the pull. I could get my air when I was standing erect, but when I bent down to grab the bar, I would frequently lose my air and was not able to get it back at the bottom. Dave Tate suggests that driving you feet through the floor doesn’t start the deadlift; driving your belly into your belt and hip flexors starts it. I agree with him, but needed to do the work to get this aspect of my pulling down and I was rapidly running out of time.
Horrific Deadlift Training
“You know how you’d compared Jon to the Bumble because he was screaming while doing the farmer’s walks?” Owen asks.
“Yeah, I remember.”
“I was watching a video on the internet the other day that made me think of that,” Owen says. “Except this video had a REAL Bumble in it.”
“A real Bumble? What do you mean a real Bumble?”
“I mean, not a person who looks like a Bumble, but a REAL Bumble.”
It’s Monday night, November 29th, about two weeks away from the Powerlifting Meet. I’m still working on my deadlift and I’m very displeased with my progress. I’d trained my deadlift pretty hard earlier in the year using a modified 5/3/1 approach, but tweaked my back in the middle of March or April and basically stagnated after that; I know, I know … excuses, excuses … yadda, yadda, yadda. But recall, earlier in the year, I’d never considered competing. I’d always lifted to be strong for myself, and only for myself.
Since Owen suggested I compete, I’d been pretty pleased with my bench progression, but I knew I was behind the eight-ball on my deadlift; essentially I was doing the equivalent of cramming for the deadlift, and as all lifters know, you can’t get strong by cramming.
Monday night was supposed to be my last hard pulling prior to the competition. I’d had my best workout in recent memory the week prior, which consisted of pulling a pedestrian 525 for a triple and some heavy rack pulls, with the pins set just above the knee. I‘d worked-up to about 650 and holding that weight really helped to improve my confidence.
Prior to heading to the Beast, I’d spent the evening researching articles about deadlift form; I couldn’t understand why I was so weak and I figured I must’ve been doing something wrong. Most of the aspects of the deadlift I considered importuned were covered in an article written by Dave Tate: The Dead Zone – The Top 10 Deadlift Mistakes and How to Fix Them.
On my last set of the evening (as it turned out), I’d attempted a 505 pull (that’s correct, only 505) and found the weight glued to the floor. That attempt was actually my second miss of 505 that evening. I was in disbelief after the first miss and attempted the second, with what I’d hoped was a newfound increase in intensity. I was alone in the Beast; it was about 9:30pm, again White Zombie was blearing from the speakers. I looked up at the grainy black and white poster of Mohammad Ali and sat down on a bench, completely dejected. Two weeks out from the meet and I’m literally missing 505 pulls at a bodyweight of 275.
I half walked, half crawled to the office. I wasn’t sure if I was going to cry or put my head through the wall. Fortunately, I didn’t do either of those things. I felt utterly defeated, so I picked up the phone and did what any old married powerlifter would do. I called my wife.
“I just missed a 505 deadlift; couldn’t even get it off the floor. What am I going to do? The meet is in two weeks.”
“Oh Erik; I’m sorry.”
“Erik, you’re burned out; you’re trying to do too much and you need to rest a bit.”
“I know,” I said.
“What are you going to do about the meet?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t know, but I am going to clean up for the night and come home.”
Deadlift Mistake: Pulling Hard all of the time – Dave Tate knows it and I learned this mistake the hard way, pulling circa-maximal weight week-in and week-out can take a toll on the CNS. I know I’m prejudiced on this point, but when you factor-in the hectic work and family schedules of the modern powerlifter; it’s easier to burnout than ever before.
I needed a more effective plan for my training, but I’d already run out of time.
Class LL Connecticut Football State Semi-Finals – Beast Athletes realizing their Full Potential
“Eggers, it’s Don.”
“Hey Don, what’s going on.”
“I need to tell you something.”
“I’m in the car, heading home from work; what’s up?”
“We tested at football today and I have to tell you about it. Since training at Beast my bench press went from 185 for 3 reps to 185 for 11 reps and my 40 time is down to 4.59 from 4.9.”
“Don, that’s awesome.”
“Thank you Eggers; thank you for getting me in shape for the season.”
Because of Beast’s roll in training many of the Trumbull athletes, I had the privilege of standing on the sidelines, with the players, for almost all of Trumbull’s football games, both home and away. I was also fortunate to be able to bring my sons with me on a couple of occasions.
The first game I attended with Harrison, my ten-year-old, I recall Trumbull’s Quarterback Ian Milne coming up to him before the game and shaking his hand. “Hello, I’m Ian,” he said. I remember thinking how classy that gesture was and how pleased I was with Ian. Harrison appreciated it too.
Following a Trumbull win, I was very interested in getting Harrison’s reaction to the game.
“So Harrison, what did you think?” I asked, after we’d made it back to my car and the crowd had thinned. I figured he would comment on one of Ian’s touchdown passes or the offensive line’s dominating performance.
“Phil Terio is a really good dancer,” he said.
“What are you talking about?”
“Before the game when the teams were warming-up, Phil Terio was doing the moonwalk; he’s really good at it.”
“Oh, I see.”
“I can dance like that too.”
Watching athletes you’ve trained play in the State Championship Tournament is an awesome experience. Fortunately Trumbull rolled in the Quarterfinals to advance to the Semi-final match-up with NFA – the Norwich Free Academy. Prior to the game, I only knew a few things about NFA: 1) they were undefeated in the ECC with an 11-0 record; 2) they had absolutely massive offensive and defensive lines; and 3) a college friend, aware of my coaching relationship with some of the Trumbull players, attended NFA, which meant should Trumbull lose, I was going to eat a lot of crow.
The game was played in West Haven Connecticut on December 4th, a cold and windy Saturday afternoon. Incidentally this was the same day I was supposed to be at Jones Tree Farm, with my wife and children, hand-cutting the family Christmas tree, however the tree would have to wait – I have a very understanding wife.
During NFA’s first offensive series, which ended in a punt, I noticed there had been no exaggeration; NFA’s front was huge. They towered over Trumbull. During Trumbull’s first offensive series, I noticed something else about NFA, perhaps something more germane to the final outcome of the game – they were turtle slow; the speed discrepancy between Trumbull and NFA was even larger than the size discrepancy. Two of Trumbull’s players in particular, Ian Milne and Phil Terio, when contrasted against NFA, appeared as though shot out of a cannon on each offensive snap.
Throughout the season, I’d spent most of my time on the sidelines with Bryan Halapin, the father of one of Trumbull’s coaches. We’d watch together; we’d cheer together; we’d opine on the plays being run versus those we thought should be run – armchair quarterbacking at its best.
On one play in the NFA game, Phil Terio was heading down the sidelines after catching a screen pass. He dodged at least five would-be tacklers with moves I hadn’t seen since The Matrix, and finally hurdled a guy before getting dropped to the turf.
Bryan and I stared at each other in disbelief. “You need to get that highlight clip for one of your gym videos,” Bryan says.
“Yeah, I’m not sure moves like that can be captured on film,” I say. “There are technology limitations.”
Trumbull defeated NFA by a score of 21 to 6 to advance to the State LL Final, which they last won in 1986.
Later in the week I received a text from Bryan Halapin; the Class LL Championship game was set for Friday Night, December 10th – the same night as Slosh and Grem’s party; having already committed to the party, I had to figure-out how to be in two places at once.
Class LL Connecticut Football Finals – A Triathlon of Sorts
I’m in Englewood Cliffs New Jersey on a dreary and cold Friday. I’m tired. I left Beast the previous evening at around 11pm after ushering out the last lifter and vacuuming to get the gym ready for the morning Boot Camp. I’m wondering how I’m going to get out of the office to make the three-plus hour trek to East Hartford to watch my adopted sons (as Chris, my top trainer, calls them) fight for the CIAC Championship. Fortunately it’s a rather quiet day at the office and I’m able to depart at 2:30 in order to try and make it for kickoff.
The plan was to drive to Milford Connecticut, which was the location of Slosh and Grem’s party. I was going to meet Owen at 5:30 in the parking lot of Slosh’s warehouse; he was going to leave his car there and we were going to make the trek to Rentschler Field together in my car.
After saying goodbye to a couple of my peers at work – the last soldiers standing before the weekend, I hopped into the Honda and started to layer-up for a cold and snowy evening. Thankfully I was smart enough to bring winter boots too.
The ride was typical Friday Hell, but I made it to Slosh’s warehouse by approximately 5:45 – only fifteen minutes late. I was very anxious about the game; nervous for the guys, but I also wanted to make it on time. I didn’t realize I was going to experience “Owen time.”
I’d been calling Owen throughout the ride to update him on my progress. I knew I was going to be a little late, but told him to stay the course with the 5:30 time and I would try and make it as soon as possible. I called him again at 5:45 to hear him say, “I’m on my way.” Shit.
Owen finally pulls into the lot around 6:10; I’m pulling my hair out and eating a protein bar at the same time. The bar will serve as my dinner for the evening until presumably I can grab a bite at the holiday party much later in the evening. Owen hops into the passenger seat while I check to make sure the Valentine One radar detector is properly operating, as I’m planning on one hell of a fast trip for the remaining fifty miles.
The ride is filled with banter about our training for the meet, which is now in just two days; I’d previously devoured the APA rulebook and we’re discussing the minutia, down to what type of underwear is allowed, by rule, for an APA sanctioned meet. The kickoff is at seven and we’re still ten minutes out; fortunately I’d checked to see if there was going to be a radio broadcast and I somehow remember the station.
Over the cracking of nasty reception we hear Xavier bring the ball right down the field for the first score of the game. “Shit,” I say. “It’s seven – zero, Xavier.” I knew it was going to be a war, but I knew my guys were going to be up to the task.
The reception is horrible, but over the remainder of the drive, I hear Trumbull bring the ball right back down the field in a drive which culminates with a Don Cherry touchdown run.
“That’s a good sign,” I say to Owen. “Xavier scored first, but Trumbull came right back to answer. This is going to be a good game.”
Owen and I enter Rentschler Stadium, the home field of the UConn Huskies, with the score locked at sevens. Trumbull has the ball. It was strange watching my guys run around in such a large venue. As we make our way to the Trumbull side of the stadium, Ian Milne, Trumbull’s quarterback drops back and launches a bomb intended for Bryan Dewalt, who is streaking wide-open down the left sideline. The pass drops to the turf, overthrown slightly. To this day, I believe had Trumbull connected on that pass, it could have been a different game.
Ultimately, Xavier proved too strong for Trumbull on that evening and defeated Trumbull 24 -13 for the Connecticut Class LL Championship. Xavier’s line, both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, proved to be the toughest Trumbull faced all year. Don Cherry had a strong game in the losing cause, with 15 tackles and a touchdown.
Party – A Modern Day Apocalypse Now – The Horror … The Horror
Owen and I head out of the game as the tired clock winds down to zero signaling the expiration of time and the expiration of Trumbull’s football season. We wade through the cold parking lot, back to my car, for the next leg of our trek. The ride is largely filled with silence although I periodically interrupt the quiet with some thoughts about the game and about the season.
“I hope Ian’s alright,” I say. “I think he took some big hits today. He didn’t look like himself out there.”
“He’ll be okay,” Owen says.
“Xavier looked tough … looked strong.”
“Oh well; they had a good run. They had a good run.”
We make is back to Milford in short order, with the Valentine One periodically buzzing to keep me in check. The warehouse parking lot is full and there are a bunch of guys milling around the parking lot near the entrance of Slosh’s place.
“You might want to leave your coat in the car,” I say.
“Good idea,” Owen says.
“Rock ‘n Roll.”
We approach the building and I can now see the crowd out front more clearly; they’re heavily tattooed and donned in leather, clearly bikers.
“What’s up guys,” I say, as Owen and I push past them and into the building. We enter the first room, which is the office, preceding the warehouse. It’s crowded and smoke-filled. I’m looking for someone I recognize and I quickly spot Grem, who’s rapidly approaching with a giant smile plastered across his happy mug. He’s not sober, but he’s still reasonably coherent.
“These guys don’t have to pay,” Grem says. “They are special guests.” Grem pulls out a red sharpie and scratches and “X” across each of our hands. He’s laughing like a banshee.
“I think all the food is gone already,” Grem says. “We had to order twenty pizzas on top of all the catered food and those are gone too. Go on inside and grab a beer.”
“Owen, you go on ahead,” I say. “I need to use the bathroom.”
Owen bravely trudges into the abyss and I knock on the bathroom door. The door opens and there are three strippers, barely dressed, and a guy (thankfully mostly dressed) inside. “Never mind,” I say, and I trudge inside the warehouse, hoping there is another bathroom option.
The warehouse is about 2,000 square feet; it’s smoke-filled and full of unsavory looking guys and strippers that I can only describe as – well, if you can’t say anything nice, maybe it’s better not to say anything at all – well one, the one they called The Teacher, was pretty cute. The room has the feel of a Bachelor Party on steroids. I was able to find an empty bathroom, so that was a plus.
I find Owen standing in the middle of the mire with Chris, who apparently arrived just prior to Owen and me.
“Holy cow, this is a shit show,” I say to Chris. “Someone is going to die here tonight. Have you seen Jon? Is he here yet?”
“No, but I think he’s on his way.”
I look around the room and the only way I can describe the scene in a manner fit for this article is that it’s mayhem. Everywhere you look; it’s strippers; it’s lap dances; it’s the smell of marijuana; it’s unsavory drunk guys wearing donkey masks – I’m not kidding; some things you can’t un-see. In one corner of the room is a guy with a prosthetic metal claw for a hand; he’s wearing a top hat.
Chris and I walk over to a corner partition made of four-by-eight sheets of particle board; on the face of the partition is a sign that reads, “Champagne Room.”
“Want to take a peek in there?” I ask Chris. He doesn’t answer; all he can do is smile and laugh. We peek around the corner to see two vacant metal folding chairs, a variety of empty beer cups strewn about the floor, which is soaked in hell-knows-what fluid.
We leave the Champagne Room and head back to the keg area; in the corner, on the couch, Slosh is getting well acquainted with the Teacher’s hind parts with a move that (I think) is termed the motor-boat … ahem.
Fast forward one hour; we’ve escaped the party alive; it’s about 12:30am Saturday and we’re in a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, downing chicken wings and beer; I’ve been awake since 5am Friday and driven nearly three hundred miles over the last several hours.
There’s about five of us, all from Beast; we’re tired and laughing about the evening; thankful we’ve escaped the holiday party unscathed. Now, with the game and the party behind us, Owen and I could finally focus 100% on Sunday and succeeding at the meet.
Meet Weigh-in – A 275 Roll of the Dice
It’s Saturday December 11th. I’ve somehow dodged a hangover and have arrived at Metal Health Gym in Wallingford. I’ve decided to weigh-in the day before the meet so I’ll know if I’m going to compete in the 275s or the 308s. I’m hoping the fifty chicken wings didn’t knock me up a weight class. I’ve got Harrison, my precocious ten-year-old in tote.
As we get out of the car and approach the gym, I turn to Harrison and say, “This is a pretty tough place. If anyone messes with me, I hope you’ve got my back.”
“Dad, if anyone calls you fat, I’m going to be really mad.”
“Fat? Who said anything about fat?”
I weighed-in at a svelte 273, firmly entrenched in the 275 class.
(If you subscribe to the BEASTTRAININGLLC YouTube Channel and send me your Email address, I will share the pre-meet checklist we put together. It could save a new powerlifter tons of time and aggravation.)
MEET DAY – Where did all these other Beasts come from?
Meet day is a whirlwind of anxiety and adrenaline. I can only give you my perspective, but suspect others must experience similar feelings.
I found myself looking around the room, sizing-up the competition, trying to determine, by sight, who was in my class and who was in Owen’s class. I was competing in both the Open and Masters at 275, while Owen was competing in both the Open and Junior Classes at 198. Both of us were in the RAW division, which added another element to the pre-contest stare downs (i.e. we wouldn’t have to worry about beating any of the equipped lifters).
After the pre-meet instructions/rules and about half a dozen trips to the men’s room, the meet begins with the bench press. There were about fifteen bench attempts preceding Owen’s opener in the first round; after several anxious minutes, “Owen Smith in the hole,” comes the announcement from Scott Taylor, the President of the APA.
We walk over to the chalk bowl, Owen as the on-deck lifter and I as the spotter/hand-off guy. Owen’s bench opener was 325 and I think I was more nervous than he was.
“Make sure you get out of the way after the handoff,” Owen says as he’s wrapping his wrists and chalking his hands.
“I know. I know,” I say. “Make sure you wait for the press and rack commands.” I tell Owen to turn around and I generously apply chalk to his shoulders so they won’t slip on the bench. Once he has his arch, I don’t want him to lose it.
The lifter in front of us has completed his press successfully, and receives the “rack” command from Scott. There is audience applause, but for some reason the smallish crowd is somewhat sedate.
“Load the bar to 325; next up for the attempt is Owen Smith,” Scott booms. The spotters work quickly to load the bar to the designated weight.
“The bar is loaded.”
“Let’s go,” I say, but I’m sure Owen doesn’t hear. He’s now fully in the zone. He’s going to crush this weight. I know it and he knows it. We just have to make sure we don’t flub on the commands. It’s just too easy to make a mental mistake after crushing a lift. Rack the weight a second too early and you’re gonna get “red-lighted” – no lift.
The hand-off method I’m using for Owen works as follows: essentially when he’s ready, he’s going to take a big breath and fill his diaphragm with air, at that point, I count “one-two-three,” and I lift on three.
We execute the hand-off without a hitch, I get out of the way; Owen lowers the bar to his chest slowly and under control. The bar grazes his chest and pauses. Owen receives the press command from Scott and he rams the weight up like it’s an empty bar.
I realize this article is turning into a small tome and detailing each lift could get a little tedious for the reader; however I do have to expound on a few to do the reader justice.
My bench opener was 425; I picked a weight I was sure I could get. I’d heard so much about people bombing-out of their first meet; I was reluctant to join that monstrous hoard. I was able to get into what I thought was pretty good position on the bench; good arch; retracted shoulder blades; driving feet into the floor … blah blah blah – fortunately the weight offered little resistance and, although the wait for the press command felt like an eternity, I was in the books with a 425 opener.
Owen’s second press attempt was 340. He threw the weight up so easily one of the audience members shouted, “Put some weight on the bar!”
My second round attempt was 450; this was the lift I wanted to hit and was reasonably sure I would be able to get. Candidly, I was a little shocked at how much energy I’d expended with only the first lift; I think it was a combination of nerves and adrenaline, but I felt as though I’d completed a half dozen Prowler Pushes.
After I positioned myself on the bench and Owen gave me a lift-off, I thought I felt the bar drift slightly to my left, but was patient and waited until I felt steady before I started lowering the bar. I received the “Press” command and successfully rammed the weight up to full lock-out. I was successful with 450 and although I didn’t realize it at the time, I had just tied the Connecticut APA Raw record in the 275s and now owned the Master’s record.
Before I get back to Owen, my final bench attempt was 470, which I missed, but I think if I was a bit tighter in my setup on the bench, I could’ve hit it. I learned quite a bit just by watching the video of my attempts; I noticed that after I set up (which I do Metal Militia- style), I lose some of my tightness when I re-grip the bar. If you’re not already doing it; I strongly suggest you video your lifts from time to time. Video is an indispensible coaching tool.
Owen hit a 360 easily on his third attempt, a personal record for him, and was awarded a fourth lift in order to attempt to set the Junior Division record at 385. Owen narrowly missed the 385, but this is really where the story of the meet starts, at least as far as I’m concerned.
My opening deadlift was 525, which I pulled easily, and since this was a push-pull meet, I was finally assured a total and bombing-out was not a possibility. Based on my horrific training, you can understand my trepidation surrounding the deadlift. Strangely, once I was on the “platform,” the lift felt like an out of body experience – very easy and almost like someone else was doing the work. Maybe some of you have felt this way too? In the interest of moving on to Owen, my second attempt was 560, which I pulled fairly well; my third attempt was 600, which I missed (a weight-glued-to-the-floor type of miss).
Owen’s deadlift is much better than his bench; the kid, in short, is a human crane. The Connecticut APA record in the Junior Class was 505 and 550 in the Open Class. Owen’s opening lift was a 560 attempt.
He marched up to the 560 and smoked it liken an empty bar. At this point, at Owen’s first Powerlifting meet, he narrowly missed the Connecticut record in the bench press (Junior Class) and now, after his opener, owned the APA Connecticut record for the deadlift in both the Junior and Open Classes. The best part was Owen was just getting started.
The meet was surprisingly quiet, but through the course of the competition, Owen and I had assembled a pretty formidable cheering section. As Owen approached the bar for his second round attempt of 590, the chanting for Owen began.
“Come on O. Come on O,” I roared. Others, standing behind me shouted similar encouragement.
Owen got into position, took a couple of quick breaths and descended to the bar quickly, positioning himself to maximize his leg drive. Once again, quicker than a Tyson knockout, Owen ripped the 590 from the floor and stood with it.
“Yeah … cake, cake!” I shouted, as Owen returned the weight to the platform.
Owen trots over and gives me a fist bump. “What’s next, “ I ask. 620 comes Owen’s reply.
Third round – after another great setup, Owen easily pulls the 620.
“Yeah, yeah … smoke show,” I yelled.
Owen, as the new Connecticut record holder in the deadlift, was granted a 4th lift.
“What do you think I should take?” Owen asks. “630?”
“I think you can pull 640 today,” I say.
“640 it is,” Owen replies with an air of confidence, and he reports the massive number to the official’s table.
If successful, Owen would break the previous Connecticut Raw Open record by ninety pounds.
He jumps onto the platform and starts to psyche himself up for the lift. He pops an ammonia cap and practically sprints up the massively weighted bar and lets out a primal grunt. The bar is cowering under the intensity of Owen’s gaze.
“Lock those legs O … lock’em lock’em lock’em,” I scream.
Owen grips the bar and pulls with all his might; the bar breaks the floor, but starts to slow around mid-thigh. Owen is not going to be denied. He continues to pull with all his might, until he’s at full lockout and the lift is passed – an amazing lift and an amazing effort.
Owen won two first place trophies (Junior and Overall Raw 198 classes), as well as the best overall Raw lifter by formula with a 980 total (1,000 Total if they counted the 4th deadlift). He was really happy and I was happy for him as well. I also managed to grab two first places (Masters and Overall Raw 275 classes) with a 1,010 total. It was a long, interesting weekend, to say the least. We met a lot of good people at the meet, including lifters from The Refuge, a hardcore gym in Middletown, CT, and lifters from the Universal Powerlifting Club in Northampton, MA.
My only regret was not competing sooner; Owen’s got a lot of good lifting in front of him, but I’m not done either.
Take care for now and good luck setting some records this year.
Life is good in the belly of the Beast.
Beast Training (“Beast”) is a Warehouse Strength and Conditioning facility located in Trumbull, Connecticut (www.beastllc.com – Twitter: @BEASTTRAINING). Beast is dedicated to helping athletes achieve their full potential. Founder and strength and conditioning director, Erik Eggers is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (“CSCS”) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association, a member of the American Powerlifting Association (“APA”), and an APA State record holder. He has been involved in resistance training for the past 25 years.