Three Ivy Training Lifters, One Powerlifting Competition

Earlier this month we had two of our Ivy Training clients, Heather and Melanie, compete in a powerlifting competition alongside our very own Ivy Trainer, Rachael. All three had a great day on the platform, hitting personal bests throughout the day.

We will provide a brief introduction to powerlifting and cover the rules of the sport, but if you’re just here for the results and videos you can click here to take you straight to the fun part.

An Introduction to Powerlifting

Before we get into the finer details of the day, it’s important to understand what the sport involves. After all, you might not have heard of powerlifting before. My grandmother used to think powerlifting and weightlifting were the same sport, and would often ask whether she needed to book flights to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games. Sorry to disappoint you grandma, but powerlifting isn’t an Olympic sport! Powerlifting is a barbell strength sport that consists of three attempts on three lifts – the squat, bench press and deadlift. The lifter’s best successful attempt on each lift counts toward their competition total. Competitors are judged against other lifters of the same gender, weight class and age. In most competitions, the lifter with the highest total in each weight class will be announced the winner.

The powerlifting competition that Rachael, Heather and Melanie participated in was an unsanctioned meet, and as such weren’t divided into different weight classes. Instead, they were ranked in order of their points that were tallied at the end of the competition.

Black Flag Barbell Club Powerlifting Competition Participants

Group photo of the participants in the competition at Black Flag Barbell Club

Powerlifting Competition Rules

Let’s first cover the rules of the competition to help contextualise our results for the day. For the purposes of this blog, we will be referencing the rules outlined in the International Powerlifting Federation’s Technical Rulebook, which can be found here.

Squat

Rules:

The lifter will face the front of the platform, with bar held across the shoulders. The hands may be positioned anywhere on the bar inside and or in contact with the inner collars.

After the lifter has racked the bar, the lifter must establish their starting position. When the lifter is motionless, with the knees locked the Head Referee will give the signal to start. This consists of a downward movement of his or her arm and the vocal command “Squat”.

The lifter must then bend the knees and lower the body until the surface of the legs at the hip joint is lower than the top of the knees. The lifter must proceed to stand up with the knees locked. When the lifter is motionless in an upright position, the Head Referee will give the signal to rack the bar. This consists of a backward motion of the arm and vocal command “Rack”. The lifter must then return the bar to the rack.

Reasons for disqualification:

  1. Failure to observe the Head Referees’ signals.
  2. Failure to bend the knees and lower the body until the top surface of the legs at the hip joint is lower than the the top of the knees. 
  3. Double bouncing, more than one attempt at the bottom, or any downward movement during the ascent. 
  4. Failure to assume an upright position with the knees locked at the start and at the end of the lift.
  5. Stepping backward or forward or moving the feet laterally.
  6. Contact with bar or lifter by the spotters/loaders between the Head Referees’ signals. 
  7. Contact of the elbows or upper arms with the legs.
  8. Any dropping or dumping of the bar after competition of the lift.
  9. Not completing the lift.
Rachael Squatting

Rachael preparing to squat her third attempt of 120kg

Bench Press

Rules: 

The lifter must lie on his or her back with head, shoulders and buttocks in contact with the bench surface. The feet must be flat on the floor. The hands and fingers must grip the bar with a thumbs around grip. The spacing of the lifter’s hands must not exceed 81cm, and the use of a reverse grip if forbidden.

After removing the bar from the rack (with or without the help of a spotter/loader), the lifter needs to wait with straight arms and elbows locked for the Head Referees’ signal. This consists of a downward movement of the arm and vocal command “Start”.

After receiving the signal, the lifter must lower the bar to the chest of abdominal area and hold it motionless, before the Head Referee will vocally command “Press”. The lifter must then return the bar to straight arms’ length with elbows locked. When the lifter holds the bar motionless in the final position, the Head Referee will give the signal to rack the bar. This consists of a backward motion of the arm and vocal command “Rack”.

Reasons for disqualification: 

  1. Failure to observe the Head Referees’ signals.
  2. Bar not lowered to chest or abdominal area. 
  3. Any downward movement of the bar in the course of being pressed out.
  4. Failure to press the bar to straight arms length elbows locked at the completion of the lift.
  5. Heaving or sinking the bar after it has been motionless on the chest or abdominal area.
  6. Any change in the elected lifting position during the lift.
  7. Contact with the bar to the lifter by the spotters/loaders between the Chief Referees’ signals.
  8. Any contact of the lifter’s feet with the bench or its supports.
  9. Deliberate contact between the bar and the bar rest supports during the lift. 
  10. Not completing the lift.
Heather Bench Pressing

Heather bench pressing 82.5kg

Deadlift

Rules:

The lifter will face the front of the platform, gripping the bar with both hands and pulling the bar until he or she is standing in an upright position.

On completion of the lift, the knees should be locked with the shoulders back. The Head Referees’ signal to return the bar to the floor will consist of a downward movement of the arm and the vocal command “Down”.

Reasons for disqualification: 

  1. Lowering the bar before receiving the Head Referees’ signal.
  2. Failure to lock the knees straight at the complete of the lift.
  3. Failure to stand erect with the shoulders back. 
  4. Any downward movement of the bar before it reaches the final position.
  5. Supporting the bar on the thighs during the performance of the lift.
  6. Allowing the bar to return to the platform without maintaining control with both hands. 
  7. Stepping backward or forward or moving the feet laterally. 
  8. Not completing the lift. 
Melanie Deadlifting

Melanie looking fierce with a 165kg deadlift

Powerlifting Competition Results

Rachael Fisher

Weight: 67.8kg

Squat: 110kg / 115kg / 120kg

Bench Press: 72.5kg / 77.5kg / 80kg

Deadlift: 150kg / 160kg / 170kg

Total: 370kg

Points: 381.01

Rachael performed exceptionally well at her 11th powerlifting competition, placing first amongst 15 other females. She went 9/9 lifts, which means she successfully got all of her attempts. Her last competition was in September 2019, where she totalled 356kg with a 121kg squat, a 75kg bench press and a 160kg deadlift. With over a two year gap between competitions, Rach wanted to focus on beating her previous bench press, deadlift and total score in this competition, which she did successfully!

Check out Rachael’s best lifts from the day:

Heather Service

Weight: 90.8kg

Squat: 125kg / 130kg / 137.5kg

Bench Press: 72.5kg / 77.5kg / 82.5kg

Deadlift: 145kg / 150kg / 157.5kg

Total: 377.5kg

Points: 335.24

Heather is our pocket rocket, who has been training with Rachael and more recently Jake since she was 18 years old, starting in January 2019. Heather is an extremely proficient lifter, and has really dialled in her technique over the past few years. She went 9/9 lifts on the day, and definitely had a bit of room in the tank on her third attempts. Like Rachael, she last competed in 2019 where she totalled 295kg with a 105kg squat, a 60kg bench press and a 130kg deadlift. Heather continued to train hard throughout periods of COVID-19 lockdown, and the results speak for themselves! We’re excited to see where she’ll be in a few years time.

Check out Heather’s best lifts from the day:

Melanie Willems

Weight: 108.1kg

Squat: 125kg / 130kg / 135kg

Bench Press: 55kg / 60kg / 67.5kg

Deadlift: 150kg / 157.5kg / 165kg

Total: 355kg

Points: 294.38

This was Melanie’s very first time stepping on the platform, and to put up at 355kg total as a new competitor is absolutely outstanding. Mel went 6/9 lifts, missing her first attempt squat and second attempt bench press on technicality, and third attempt bench press due to a failed lift. Where she excelled, was the deadlift. Having only deadlifted 152.5kg prior to the competition, we weren’t expected 165kg on the day – especially with the way it moved! We have no doubt that with more experience in the gym and on the platform, Mel will be able to further develop her skills in the sport and will definitely get stronger along the way.

Check out Mel’s best lifts from the day:

What’s Next?

Rachael, Heather and Melanie were all invited to ProRaw Sleeves, which is a much larger scale powerlifting competition down in Melbourne next month. They’ll be competing alongside lifters from across the country.

In addition to sharing the platform with a higher calibre of lifters, the main difference between the competitions is that the girls will be categorised into different weight classes, and they will also need to wear a soft suit (think of it as the uniform of powerlifting).

Wish them luck!

Rachael Deadlifting in a Powerlifting Competition at Lift Performance Centre

Rachael attempting 170kg in her competition in 2019

Falling into the Functional Training Trap

Introduction to functional training

Functional Training is a buzzword phrase you’ll often hear thrown about in the fitness industry. Like many buzzwords, it can refer to so many things that it tends not to mean anything specific at all. I’m willing to bet that if I asked you what you think “functional training” entails, you may envision someone training their balance with special implements (like a ‘Bosu Ball’), performing unilateral exercises (single leg/arm), trying to mimic sporting movements and using a wide variety of free weight implements and suspension trainers, possibly in a circuit fashion while avoiding machines in an effort to be “functional”.

I want to be clear, I’m all for people becoming physically active. However, I don’t like misinformation providing inaccurate expectations to unknowing individuals. Functional Training is often touted as being useful for the following:

  • Injury prevention
  • Sport performance
  • Building muscle and strength
  • “Correcting imbalances”
  • “Toning” and burning fat

The burden of proof however lies on the individual’s making these claims. As we’ll unpack today, you’ll see there’s little evidence showing any particular training style, especially what I’ve previously mentioned is uniquely beneficial or safe compared to standard resistance training. People are already struggling to participate in physical activity. My goal is to keep training as simple and as accessible as can be. To that end, today I hope to unpack the fallacy of functional training and show you how normal resistance training is more than enough for you to reach your goals safely and effectively [1], [2], [3].

It’s all in the word

“Functional” – let’s stop and think about that for a second. What does it mean? It usually refers to two things:

  1. having a special activity, purpose, or task.
  2. designed to be practical and useful, rather than attractive.

A special activity, purpose, or task

Last time I checked every exercise is useful and purposeful if your purpose is to get fitter and healthier than you once were in the absence of exercise! Allow me however to expand on this point further:

The weight room is fantastic at making your body more “robust” overall which you then take into your everyday life or sport via “practise” or challenging the tasks specifically that you actually expect to perform. Bastardising regular exercises by making them mimic the sports field not only ruins the practice of the position (as it changes under load) but additionally, means you can’t load your weights optimally and miss out on the output benefits from strength training. 

Now it’s not completely black and white. Here’s what I mean, one study showed that vertical jump improved with regular barbell squats but also showed a robust response with quarter squats which more closely resemble the task [4], [5]. There’s probably a point where more specific work is useful especially with more advanced athletes. However, for the overwhelming majority of individuals who are undertrained, basic, non-specific strength work is sufficient.

Dumbbell Incline Press

Practical and useful, rather than attractive

There may also be times where it can be productive to train specific tasks or activities of daily living that an individual may come across, especially in certain populations with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s [6],[7]. To play devil’s advocate however, as per the principle of specificity, if you devise a program and train individual’s on unstable surfaces, then testing people in unstable environments will most likely show an improvement as opposed to “regular training”. A fairer question would be “does resistance training also improve balance sufficiently for activities of daily living” and to this end, the answer is yes [8]. Resistance training in its basic form is still well established to improve quality of life for all age groups and life stages [9].

It’s the marketing, not the method

My cynical self says that most of the hype about “functional” is a matter of marketing. It simply plays on the fear of “missing out” rather than anything justifiable. So why am I making a big deal about it?

Well, for the following reasons it/s:

  • Fear mongering.
  • Marketing which sucks people into something that looks flashy but doesn’t have much substance.
  • Lacks long term progression and fostering a progression mindset to training.

Fear mongering

In particular I’d like to speak to “fear mongering”: people don’t exercise enough and that’s not good. The last thing the fitness industry needs to do is place up arbitrary barriers to participation on made up requirements around “competency” or “earning the right to lift” (whatever that means). Moreover, it suggests that exercise is unsafe which is a) untrue [10] and b) it means they don’t consider the overall benefit of exercise to outweigh the incredibly small chance of injury.

Flashy, but zero substance

Secondly, it looks flashy. I get it, basic dumbbells, machines and barbells are nothing new (but do they have to be?). It looks cool to balance on one leg, do awesome push-up variations and hang off suspension trainers. In fact – it’s all exercise so I can’t complain. My issue is that many of these movements are incredibly advanced and not very well scalable. In fact, many competent fitness professionals who demonstrate these movements have spent years already doing the “basics”; they didn’t get there in a flash, they got there on substance. They need to teach you the same.

Lacks long term progression

This ties into the last point about long term progression too. Lifts that are overly complicated do not lend themselves well to long term loading potential. We aren’t here to perform circus tricks, we are here to train our body productively. Although there’s nothing wrong with, and, in fact, it’s wonderful to see what the human body can do, incredibly athletic and skilled individuals (athletes, performers etc.) have still built their base of fitness and strength on basic exercise [3].

Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

It’s not HIIT, either

Okay one last bugbear of mine. We often hear “functional training” get mixed in with HIIT or some boot-camp style training. This kind of “functional training” is just circuit training, it’s not HIIT. I understand the popularity of classes and and I’m absolutely stoked that they get people moving. But as an exercise professional, at the basic level of science communication and professional standards, it pains me to hear people butcher both the term and usage of HIIT.

Bodyweight or light resistance circuits are not HIIT. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. By nature, HIIT requires a VO2 max above 90% (or 90% of max sprint speed). Resultantly, and due to the “intensity” of the intervals which should be of no surprise, “high”, requires long enough rest intervals to be able to sustain that intensity of effort. What irks me is that again, there’s marketing behind this method of being uniquely superior which is not based on sound reason or physiological principles. These programs do not build substantial amounts of muscle as the resistance is limited and recovery low. Moreover, they do not cause you to burn more fat on the basis of increasing your post oxygen exercise consumption to substantial amounts (the “afterburn”). Again, misleading marketing isn’t helping anyone [12], [13].

HIIT on the Rogue Echo Bike

What is functional training?

I would argue that what’s functional is really either:

a) training that is specific to your goals.

b) training that allows you to push the tasks you actually want to perform, better.

I would probably add that the training you perform should actually lead to an outcome. If you want to build muscle, don’t do aerobic-limited or endurance-limited circuits. If your goal is to increase your cardiovascular endurance, you actually need to challenge yourself, you can’t just lift weights even if it feels like you’re “getting puffed”.

In closing, there’s nothing wrong with resistance circuits for the movement benefits and enjoyment. Moreover, sedentary individuals with a low existing base of muscle mass may put on a small amount of muscle before plateauing but it isn’t a long term strategy.

I care about this topic as many people will be spinning their wheels after exercising for years and they are unsure as to why they aren’t making progress. Now, if we acknowledge that training is useful for a specific purpose and has its limitations then, people should ideally train for the correct reason in an appropriately allocated amount. The gym is where you can work on the “hardware” of your system and is nearly infinitely scalable to varying levels of experience; the sporting field or everyday activities is where we develop the “software” or skills required but may not have scalability as a feature.

Barbell Overhead Press

What do we do at Ivy Training?

Well we’d argue that our training is fit-for-purpose. We do cater to clients with very specific performance outcomes. Some compete in powerlifting, others are marathon runners, others are preparing for particular tests such as the Police Capacity Testing. In these instances, considering which movements and energy systems we train matter more.

For the overwhelming majority of individuals and many “off-season” athletes, the priorities of building muscle, physical resilience and strength will be covered with the basics [3].

To that end, we argue that strength training is completely fine and absolutely “functional”. Most compound exercises strike a reasonable middle ground between balance, range of motion, and overall systemic loading. This makes your time spent training reasonably efficient. Exercises such as squats, bench presses, deadlifts, dumbbell presses, lat pulldowns, leg presses and more are all sufficient for someone looking to get fitter, stronger and healthier.

Clients at Ivy Training

Resources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3578432/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18712944/
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341481917_Functional_training_a_conceptual_update
  4. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17461391.2019.1612952?journalCode=tejs20
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15155427/
  6. https://europepmc.org/article/med/27879959
  7. https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-200535010-00004
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33203156/
  9. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240015128
  10. https://breathe.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Strength-training-as-superior-dose-depen-2018.pdf
  11. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6850677_The_Role_of_Instability_With_Resistance_Training
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30733142/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8294064/