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2023 USAPL Virginia Winter Thaw 03/18/23 - Retrospective Analysis

Updated: Apr 2, 2023



I recently competed in the USA Powerlifting Virginia Winter Thaw on Saturday March 18, 2023. In today's post, I'll review my performance on the BIG 3 along with some lessons-learned and technical changes I plan to make in preparation for my next competition. If you've been following my strength journey as of late, then you know I've hit some road blocks along the way for this most recent meet prep. The biggest one being Cervicogenic Headaches (unconfirmed diagnosis) that were induced by low bar squatting in November. See previous post linked below:



The symptoms I experienced mimic that of an aneurysm, so I went to the emergency room and gave up all back squatting for 1.5 months until I was medically cleared by the doctors to train again. Obviously, this was not ideal when training for a competition less than 4 months away at the time of the incident, but I decided to keep going just to get more competition experience under the lifting belt. Now, whether the pain was caused by low bar squatting in and of itself or not, I wanted to play it safe by switching to high bar squats for several reasons:

  1. To disassociate head, neck, or eye pain with back squatting

  2. To reduce the likelihood of encountering cervicogenic pain for the remainder of meet prep

  3. To disassociate myself from the previous numbers I could hit with low bar

Knowing I wasn't going to beat my previous squat numbers, my goal for this meet was to hit a bench PR and a deadlift PR, only one of which I achieved but I'll take it!


Disclaimers:

  1. I am not endorsed or endorsing any of the products listed below. They are identified for context, informational, and entertainment purposes only.

  2. There is footage of me in a singlet. If that offends you, then look the other way.

  3. Any views and opinions expressed are my own and are not affiliated with USA Powerlifting or any brands listed below.


THE EVENING BEFORE

If you checked out my previous retrospective analysis, you know I got no sleep the night before the previous meet. This time, I did get some sleep, but only a few hours. I'm starting to realize I have sleep management issues especially around competition time and is something I need to work on as competing in a sleep deprived state is not ideal.



Whether it is due to nerves or jitters, something about the night before competition makes me anxious, so I'm working with my coach to see if we can establish some sleep rituals for priority training sessions and competition.


From my previous post, I mentioned the importance of bringing ear plugs and an eye mask if traveling for competition to help with sleep the night before. I did listen to my own advice, but could hear the sound of my own heart beating when I had the ear plugs, so that did not help. It could be due to my slightly elevated blood pressure among other scary things, but I don't think it is the scary things as I already got screened for those during my most recent cervicogenic episodes.


MEET DAY

I got out of bed at 5:30 AM to start getting ready for the meet, i.e. pack, answer the call of nature, shower, etc. Weigh-in was at 7:00 AM but I didn't try to get there early this time since I had a pretty could idea of what I would weigh in at. Following Lesson 2 from the previous meet, this time around, I did a much better job of managing my bodyweight and weighed in at 87.9 kg or 193.8 lbs which has been my average walking weight as of late. I am a creature of habit so immediately after weigh-in I pounded two (2) choccy chip croissants and 24 oz of iced coffee to kick things off. I normally train fasted so I didn't want to eat too much, and the chocolate chip iced coffee combo worked out okay for me last meet.


Squat


I started warming up for squats around 30 minutes before my opener. This is also when I opened my first can of monster energy zero sugar ultra sunrise, which I consumed throughout warmups and finished after my opener. The warmups and opener went well in my opinion with all things considered. My 2nd attempt was harder than I would have liked so I went for a conservative 2.5 kg jump on the 3rd attempt. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to grind out my 3rd squat which leads to Lessons 1a and 1b below.


Lesson 1a: If you high bar squat with long femurs, there is little room for error in execution at maximal loads.
Lesson 1b: There is more technique involved in Powerlifting than outsiders looking in give credit for, especially at maximal loads.

These lessons have influenced me to reconsider technical changes in my squat, the primary one being stance width and toe angle. Since depth has never really been an issue for me, my hope is that a slightly wider stance will allow me to keep my torso a bit more upright. This is even more important for high bar squatting as the amount of torque required to recover from a forward leaning torso is much greater than for low bar squatting because... PHYSICS!!! I intend to implement Squat Technical Change 1 (STC 1) in the next block of training to see how it feels and if there are any improvements with torso angle and sticking points.


STC1: Experiment with slightly wider stance width and toe angle.

In a previous post, Stop Comparing Your Movement Patterns with Others', I discuss why it's impossible to have a perfectly upright torso when you have long femurs. However, it's still important to fight for upright positioning as much as possible in order to maximize efficiency of the movement.



OK But How Long Are My Legs REALLY Though?

An article by Michael Hales PhD (1) explores the topic of segment length and how to use this for determining deadlift style (sumo vs. conventional). Table 2 below from this article defines average segment lengths as a proportion of overall height (A).

If your legs (C) are greater than 49% of overall "stature" or height (A), you would be considered to be long legged. Below are the results of my proportions, and while they are all above average, note the difference between my legs, and torso... there's more than a 10% difference. As far as my femurs, they make up 50% of my total leg length... FML.

Note: The leg proportions are not really anatomical lengths of the bones, rather the length of the segment of the leg with that bone, measured from joint to joint.


Bench Press

I started warming up for bench around 20 minutes before my opener. Warmups felt okay, and I had shaken off my failed squat attempt. My first bench attempt felt like a warmup so I added 5 kg for the 2nd. My 2nd attempt was a bit harder than I would have liked so I went for a conservative 2.5 kg jump, a weight I crushed at my previous competition... But alas, I failed my 3rd bench attempt, which was a bit demoralizing considering I've done this weight before.


The 2nd lesson from this meet is that you can never get enough practice unracking weights. I always tell lifters to exaggerate unrack and rerack times, and I always thought I did a good job of that myself. On my 3rd attempt, it took me 5 seconds to get a start command, which was actually more fatiguing than I imagined. Had I done a better job of establishing position and demonstrating control, leading to a quicker start command, I bet I would have been able to hit that weight.

Lesson 2: You can never get enough practice unracking the weights.

This lesson has forced me to reconsider my unrack. I've always enjoyed self unracks as it is one less variable to deal with by eliminating the hand off. My self unrack also helps me feel tighter in the upper back. Upon reviewing my 3rd attempt, it does appear that my elbows are a bit soft in the unrack, so I will be cueing myself to think "rigid elbows" moving forward. I think that this will better transfer the weight to my scapula and reduce wasted energy from soft elbows.

BTC1: Think "rigid elbows."

Also, using a lower rack height by one pin could also help me better maintain scapular retraction during the unrack and help reinforce those rigid elbows.


Deadlift


Similar to the previous meet, at this point I was literally running on fumes, caffeine, and adrenaline. Cue in the 2nd can of monster energy. I started warming up for deads around 30 minutes before my opener. My opener moved quick so I added 12.5 kg for the 2nd attempt. The 2nd also moved really quick, so I went in with a 10 kg jump for my 3rd attempt and crushed it with more gas in the tank! I'm quite happy with this performance so I will not be making anymore technical changes to my deadlift at the moment.


HIGHLIGHTS AND SHOUT OUTS

All in all I had a great meet and would like to thank USA Powerlifting for putting together another great event. Also, special thanks to the spotters who risked life and limb to protect the competitors... they saved my @$$ a few times! Not all heroes wear capes.


While I did not hit a total PR, I am happy I was able to match my previous total with high bar squats in lieu of low bar. The icing on the cake for this meet was hitting an all-time and meet deadlift PR; I'm really excited to have FINALLY hit 500+ lbs and start that journey to 600!


Of course all of this would not have been made possible without the love and support of my wife who puts up with my training and lack of attention to things unrelated to it :) Also, many thanks to my coach Hassan Mansour for his continued guidance and wisdom.


Each meet is a stepping stone for the next, and I'm all signed up for my next meet in October 2023, so stay tuned!


Of course all of this would not have been made possible without the love and support of my wife who puts up with my training and lack of attention to things unrelated to it :) Also, many thanks to my coach Hassan Mansour for his continued guidance and wisdom.

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