Lessons from joining the 1,000 pound club

I finally hit the 1,000 pound club, a minor, but respectable achievement in powerlifting.

I’ve tried a lot of different exercises over the years, but plugging away at my three main lifts has been motivating enough to stick with. I can’t say the same for running, P90x or even distance cycling, all of which I’ve found slightly mind-numbing.

Importantly, lifting has also been efficient. It takes just as long to squat 200 pounds as it does to squat 300 pounds. I worked out, on average, 3 to 4 times a week and each session was between 45 and 90 minutes. All told, I’d guess I devoted about 400 hours of time over two years.

  • Starting body weight: 180
  • Ending body weight: 180
  • Squat: 180 to 370
  • Deadlift: 245 to 405
  • Bench: 135 to 225

Here’s what I learned:

1. Consistency is crucial

I prioritized my workouts. On some occasions, I traded — or delayed — happy hours for workouts. I sought out a gym with weight racks while traveling for work or vacation. Finally, I installed a rack and weights (from Craigslist) in my home. That quickly paid for itself in avoided gym fees. It was also so easy to come home, make dinner, then work out while catching up on reading or laying waste to my inbox between sets.

2. You can’t learn everything on the Internet

Most of my knowledge about lifting came from Starting Strength and posts on reddit.com/r/weightroom, which proudly avoids cat pictures and memes. But the most valuable advice was from paying for a session with a seasoned coach. It also made the time I spent studying online more valuable since I could relate articles, cues and videos back to the coaching.

3. Small wins mattered

If I set a new PR 2.5 pounds heavier than my previous record, I felt great. If I hit a new rep max, I felt about as great. Eventually, I started programming lifts around hitting new rep maxes, leading up to a new 1RM PR. That made me work harder, look forward to my workouts more and — I believe, but can not prove — let me hit this long-term goal after plateauing for a while. That said, I still overshot on a lot of workouts and wasted time trying to get PRs that were out of my reach that day. (John Phung has some good stuff on this, too. Also, buying 2” washers that weight 1.25 pounds each is a lot cheaper than buying microplates.)

4. Programs are outlines, not prescriptions

I spent 80 percent of my time following a program: Starting Strength, Madcow, Texas Method, 5/3/1, GZCL, etc. Eventually, I learned that programs aren’t that different at their core. While Texas Method and GZCL taxed me too hard, 5/3/1 felt easy and didn’t produce significant gains. Eventually, I started setting goals for each workout depending on how my warmups felt. A good day meant hitting two or three new PRs at different rep ranges. A bad day meant squeezing out one or at least going to failure. That solution won’t work for everyone and from what I’ve read, any lifter has to eventually figure out what works for them based on their genetics and recovery abilities. Hopefully, I’ve found my sweet spot for a while.

5. FOOD SLEEP FOOD SLEEP

Besides form, these were the only other two factors that seemed to affect my performance. I’m sure fish oil and creatine can be helpful, but it’s hard for me to imagine that many people need a lot of supplementation unless they’re looking to compete or simply perform at a much higher level.

6. Disrupting homeostasis

One phrase from Starting Strength resonated: “disrupting homeostasis.” You can’t expect any physiological or health changes unless you stimulate your body enough to cause an adaptation. You have to increase the duration, intensity or volume of work you’re doing to improve. That was a fun lesson to learn in lifting and it probably applies to other areas of life, too.

I’m not quite sure what my next goal is, but I’m really happy I achieved this one.