This post is the first in a series of posts under the banner of “Expressions of Strength”. In these articles I wish to cover the different ways that the human body can express strength and the amazing feats that are achievable through the consistent application of technical know how, self belief and genetic talent or predisposition.

The different aspects of strength tie in to bodybuilding and fitness, since we know without some measure of strength an athlete cannot progress or get into any kind of shape. While muscular stimulation and contraction does depend on the ability of an individual to mobilise muscle fibres to perform a movement without the application of resistance, in whatever form (weights, bodyweight, bands etc) forced adaption and change would either be very limited or near on impossible.

The first Expression of Strength I will be looking at is Powerlifting as suggested by the title of this post. Having powerlifted myself “in my younger days” and though I cannot do the snatches or clean and press of the Olympic lifts any more I still include the deadlift, squat and bench on a regular basis with the lower rep range and 1RM application to assist me to break plateaus.
In order to get into the spirit of things I have decided to visit a Powerlift meet to see what the spirit of competition is around the discipline.
So on the 14th of February 2015, yes Valentines day – confirming that my first love is the iron – I attended the SA Powerlifting Nationals Qualifier at the High Performance Centre at St Stithians College in JHB.

I drove up an unassuming driveway into a school I had not been to since I last played rugby and cricket against at in high school. The school grounds were even more magnificent than I remember them and we were blessed with a beautiful crisp Johannesburg morning. Everything was flourishing and green. It was quiet and calm, almost eerily so, but this created an air of expectation for some brutal, powerful weightlifting carnage to follow.

I found the High Performance Centre next to the 1st team cricket field. I was the one of the first two people there and thought “Oh no this is going to be an under-attended event and I’m not going to get to see any big lifts”. I was wrong!

The centre wasn’t large but it had all the necessary equipment that you would need to perform Olympic as well as Power Lifts. I was greeted by a respectful young man named Liam whom I learned attended Saints. He proudly pointed out his name to me on the wall of fame saying “That’s me!” It was then that I actually took a look around at the walls of the venue. They are plastered with stats of past to present heroes and their greatest lifts achieved in this humble facility. It’s then that I realised the history and sense of pride the school has. A culture of discipline and strength takes pride of place next to the mainstream sports at the school, as it should since it seemed not only were the students lifting competitively but also using the movements to support and enhance their rugby and other sport discipline skills.

Today we would be covering the 3 powerlifting disciplines of Back Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift. Initially I planned on providing coverage on this event as I have been for the bodybuilding events, i.e. Top 3 in the weight category and their lifts. But I soon realised this sport is vastly different to Bodybuilding. Firstly the comradery seems to be more intense. Now I’m not saying bodybuilders don’t support each other. They do, but, with bodybuilding there is a clear distinction of me vs you. Competitors are compared to each other in a line up side by side. Yes there is the 1 minute routine section, but ultimately the decision is based on who looks best compared to the others on that given day. In powerlifting since each competitor performed a lift on a single station, one at a time it afforded others a chance to stand on the side of the stage and watch and support their rival. When guys or girls went for big lifts almost the whole field was out there screaming, willing them to get that weight up.

There was every level of athlete on the day as well. For most of the athletes a YOB (Year of Birth) was supplied but the moment it went over 1960 they were termed as masters. So I can tell you that there were one or two competitors in their 50s to 60s. Watching them I thought to myself “I hope I am still lifting and as strong as these guys when I am that age”.
Another inspiring part to the day was the amount of female athletes that partook in the meet. Again every age, size and shape. Everyone was there with the hope of qualifying for the nationals but I could see that they were there as well to compete against themselves. I think for a woman in today’s world there could be nothing more liberating than to be able to say I am stronger than most men. Take that comment as you like, except as a sexist comment. I mean, what else would you call a teeny Guilia Muto weighing in at 49.9kgs squatting 105kgs? If you took her power to weight ratio and applied it to an average male lifter at the gym of say 75kgs bodyweight he would have to squat 157.75kgs! I know a lot of 75kg male lifters that don’t even squat their bodyweight so that should give you an idea of the level of strength displayed on the day – by the girls – so u can imagine what was displayed by the top men.

Here are some examples. Kyle Noonan Deadlifted 320kgs, the heaviest on the day, with what I thought was a closely failed third attempt of 332.5kgs weighing in at 100kg bodyweight. 47 year old (according to YOB) Mr Mark Phillips Squatted 260kgs at a bodyweight of under 100kg. He also got the heaviest bench press on the day of 200kgs which was an equipped lift, but I can tell you that that was really heavy and also his personal best. Check out the Facebook page for some of the heaviest and most entertaining lifts for the day.

At the end of the day I can honestly say that strength was expressed. It was expressed with passion, it was expressed with intensity, it was expressed in failure and most importantly it was expressed with comradery. The older generation was there to coach and pass on knowledge to lifters. Opposing coaches pushing other coaches athletes and freely passing through tips to help a failed lifter be successful on the next lift. I have no doubt that out of this event a true TEAM Gauteng will be going to the Nationals to lift together. The 3 disciplines test upper body, lower body as well as overall strength, all aspects which I firmly believe can support bodybuilders in reaching their goals.

Special thanks goes out to Sarah Ezzideen for inviting me out for the day and giving me someone to shout for and keep me company (you’re a star) and to her coach Henk De Wet for entertaining some questions. See transcripts of my interviews with them here. Sarah was interviewed from the perspective of a first time lifter. Henk was interviewed as a coach and in part, from an advisory role as to how the power movements could assist bodybuilders but my voice recorder didn’t get the interview past 1 minute. So at risk of misquoting I have chosen to exclude the interview. My Sincerest apologies to Henk.

Read Sarah’s interview here:

Sarah Ezzideen

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