I wanted to recount a little story about how I got to a 1000 lb (454 kg) weightlifting total — how I got here, what I learned, the impact it had on me, and why I think it’s not for everyone.
I want to tell the story because it taught me a lot of things. It taught me about patience, self-knowledge, and to not get too focused on a goal.
It’s so hard to be patient. And easy to flagellate ourselves for missing training, getting tired or bored, losing focus, dropping weights, and so on. And that’s OK, and I have to remember it for next time, and I wish I could tell myself that in the past.
So here’s the story.
What I (finally) achieved
Last week I got to a new powerlifting total: 1000 lbs, or 454 kg.
And all it took was seven years of hard work, interspersed with breaks to do other things, and developing a lot of self knowledge.
Actually I cleared my goal by 10 kg, getting to 465 kg. I did it at Snap Fitness in West End, Brisbane, and had a coach Alex verify my lifts (but while it was comp style, it wasn’t a competition).
My lifts were:
- 190 kg (418.9 lb) deadlift
- 115 kg (253.5 lb) bench press, and
- 160 (352.7 lb) back squat
- For a total of 465 (1025.2).
My deadlift was a bit shaky (though he passed it), but I also cleared 180kg quite easily, and previously 185 kg, so I’m OK with it.
These days I generally weigh in around 85-86 kg. I’m not “shredded” — you can see a good 4-pack with a slight tyre at the bottom after a workout or if I stand tall. According to different testing methods (electric pulse type or DXA scan), I have between 8 and 12% body fat, though I think I look more like a 12-14% body fat person. I’m 41 years old. (Please don’t use this information to steal my identity…)
Attentive people will notice my squat in the photo wasn’t right at the bottom. Timing of the photo may be off (it was a burst and I didn’t stay at the bottom) — I got barely there. My coach was happy.
Conditions weren’t perfect. The bars were slippery, the weights weren’t “competition spec”, the bench was slippery, and it wasn’t a competition day (though I did do the three lifts in three attempts each, in a ~90 minute block).
Anyway, I’m 100% confident I could hit those weights again, especially in a good powerlifting gym. In terms of hitting personal goals, I don’t have to convince anyone but myself, and I’m happy.
So how did I get to a 1000 lb total? The funny thing is that seven years ago, in mid-late 2014, I had never even touched a barbell. I didn’t know what a total was, of course. I wasn’t what you’d consider “fit”. I wasn’t fat, but I wasn’t fit.
These days, when filling out forms (e.g. at a new doctor’s office) and they ask me to grade my own level of fitness, I always choose the top grade: “very fit”. I think of myself as an athlete.
Here’s how I got there, and what I learned.
Background: Lazy nerd → Middle-aged CrossFitter → Amateur Powerlifter
I grew up as a “nerd”. My dad was a nuclear physicist, and for me, the two most important things were math and physics. My parents weren’t really into sports, and I never was into them.
I first ran more than a km (or mile) when I was 16 and decided to get into the Australian Air Force (yes, we have one), which had minimum fitness requirements. I got in and got a cadetship at ADFA (the Australian equivalent of West Point) but pulled out to be a lazy university student.
Yada yada, I maybe jogged a few km before work most days a week, but never touched a barbell until I in my mid thirties and going through relationship issues and needed to find myself (a common story).
I found a gym near me called CrossFit Typhoon in Hong Kong. I walked over and signed up.
At my first CrossFit session I was terrified. I didn’t know where I was going or what I was doing. I had literally never touched a barbell before. I could do a pull-up, but not many, and definitely couldn’t do other CrossFit moves like double-unders or kipping anything. More importantly, I didn’t know how to squat, deadlift, overhead press, or bench (benching is rare in CrossFit, but my gym did it sometimes).
Honestly, I never really thought of myself as a “weight lifting” person. In fact, I would have been the kind of person who’d say “I don’t want to be huge”, as if that happens accidentally (it doesn’t, and never did).
After about 3 months of CrossFit I was hooked on the camaraderie. But I also realised something… I was pretty good at picking up heavy things and putting them down.
Some CrossFitters really get into Olympic weightlifting (the Snatch and Clean & Jerk). I hated those things (I don’t mind cleans), and found zero joy in eventually achieving a 72.5 kg snatch. I have no interest in improving it further. It’s fine!
But through CrossFit, I realised I liked powerlifting and bodyweight fitness (I quite like party trick feats of strength).
During my time in CrossFit (mostly in the US, in the imperial weights world), I saw some posts about people who had achieved a powerlifting total of 1000 lb. People asked “what do you look like?” or “how did you get there?”. So I became aware it was a thing — but a thing that was so far away from me it was laughable.
In my CrossFit years I got to a 1 rep max of a 165 kg deadlift, 135 kg squat, and 110 kg bench — a total of 410 kg. Not bad, but a long way away — and I was at the point where increments took months.
The best CrossFit gym I ever trained at was Flagship Athletic Performance in San Francisco. It was pretty “post-CrossFit” — you’ll notice it doesn’t have the name in the title. The coaches there did what they wanted. They are exceptional and rebuilt me from the ground up. I thought I knew how to lift, but I didn’t!
But despite being a great gym, Flagship was still mostly a CrossFit gym. And I got bored of CrossFit. I miss the community. But I got sick of kipping movements and was not excited about incremental gains at Olympic movements.
And when travelling to other, less elite gyms, I became frustrated by competitive bros who cheat on form and reps for no reason.
On top of that, I was pretty aware that one of the principles of CrossFit is to “regularly learn and play new sports”. That sounded like fun.
So, I was getting past CrossFit. And I wanted to focus more on a more personalised program for me.
Powerlifting is for Huge Nerds
I didn’t really know powerlifting was a sport until partway through my CrossFit journey. Powerlifting is not (yet) an Olympic sport. But I started hearing about people’s “totals” and seeing stuff about little meets and competitions.
I also learned about specialised powerlifting gyms — but I never joined one (but I will!)
My first foray in powerlifting was training with this huge dude named Jeremy at a boxing gym in San Francisco, The Park Gym (named for its owner, a Korean gentleman named Mr Park).
My powerlifting coach Jeremy deadlifted something like 800 lbs and had a heart of gold.
Many people don’t realise that weightlifters and powerlifters are often very nice people. Often, the better they are, the nicer they are. Many powerlifters are gentle souls. They’re often obsessive about details. They’re nerds, even.
There’s a perception that powerlifting or any bodybuilding is for meatheads — grunts that go to the gym and flex at themselves in the mirror, and that anyone could do it. “Why do that when you can do something beneficial to yourself or society?” people ask.
But bodybuilding and powerlifting, like any sport or activity which involves the pursuit of excellence, both take incredible focus, knowledge, self-awareness, humility, and dedication. Yes, anyone can go and do a crappy job of it. But people like me constantly observe the old adage that “someone out there is warming up with my 1-rep max”.
There’s a lot of psychology in powerlifting — just as in any sport or personal endeavour. That’s a story for another time. But a few of my favourite psychological benefits of weightlifting are
- Believing I can do anything. Every time I hit a new record, or do something I didn’t think I can do, it helps me believe in myself a bit more. That translates to my other endeavours, which are as diverse as language learning or building new businesses.
- Accepting that there are good days and bad days. In the beginning, every new max is great. But as time goes on, I’ve learned to accept that life is like an undulating ocean, and how I am on certain days depends on so many factors, that I neither can blame myself for poor performance, nor over-congratulate myself for a great lift.
- Learning to calm my mind. There’s a special moment before I walk up to a bar where I take a breath and think of nothing. I empty myself of any thoughts other than correct form in a good lift. I then attempt the lift in total peace.
I think those are the main lessons I’ve learned.
Basically, if you have an impression that powerlifting is for meatheads, consider that I’m a hyperpolyglot with first-class honours in advanced degrees and a respectable career in traditional and online business. I’m a huge geek. And I’m into powerlifting.
While I’m a little different from most people, so are most powerlifters. And you’d be surprised how nerdy many of them can be.
Taking a break from lifting during travel
After training with Jeremy for a while I began a nomadic life of blogging from different countries around the world, starting in 2018.
Powerlifting took a back seat. I was just trying to stay “in shape” and did so however I could at any gym in any country I went to. Often, I’d just go for a run and do push-ups, pull-ups, or whatever. At gyms I often had to use machines, but not in a very systematic way.
During my nomadic period, I found a personal trainer, a German named Julia, at one of the gyms I dropped into for a period. I liked her and her general attitude, so I asked her if she wanted to be my personal trainer while I was on the road (I tried travelling in a camper… but that failed), coaching me through whatever means I had (bands, pull-up rings, running). She agreed.
Julia and I had good rapport, and she enjoyed torturing me, making me do burpees in the wilderness. But we always knew that bands had their limits. They were fine if they’re all I had, but they’re hard to use.
Focusing on Powerlifting at a Gym
Then in February of 2021 I found myself in one place for the next 3-9 months. This was the first time this would happen in a while!
I told Julia: Let’s get me stronger. I’ll go to a real gym.
So she agreed to write me a powerlifting program — but with lots of CrossFit-style torture to keep my heart strong.
Still, every week included the following strength moves:
- Squats and weighted lunges
- Deadlifts x 2 (standard and sumo)
- Weighted pull-ups
- Barbell press
- Overhead press
Plus some other varied accessory movements, like weighted push-ups, Romanian deadlifts, etc.
I noticed my weight going up and did some random tests of 1 rep maxes and thought… crikey… they’re getting up there. I thought — what would it take to get another 15-20kg on the bars and get to a 1000 lb total?
Now, I’ve been in Australia in recent years. I think in kg now. We’re metric here (as is most of the world), and so people go for a 500 kg total, not a 1000 lb total.
But 500 kg is a LOT further away, and would probably take me another year of consistent training to get to. It’s a worthwhile goal — but I have other stuff to do in my ~30-40 remaining years of serious physical activity (like learn martial arts — I’ve become smitten with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu).
My training program, surprisingly, didn’t change. Every week, it was the same lifts as above.
Some details on the training cycle:
- I usually trained in 8-12 rep sets, with 1-2 minutes pause between them.
- I’d do 2 movements a day (e.g. bench + overhead press, or deadlift + single leg lunges)
- I trained to a maximum of 70% of my max in each kind of lift.
- I deadlifted twice a week (shock!) — sumo one day, and regular another. But neither was at close to my 1RM.
On the 27th of August I tested my weights again. This time I did it “competition style”.
Weights I achieved were
- 190 kg deadlift
- 160 kg squat
- 115 kg deadlift
- Total: 465 kg (or ~1025 lbs).
Conditions for the lifts were far from ideal. I had no chalk, a slipper and thin bar, and the weights were a good brand but weren’t “competition”.
I wasn’t quite happy with my deadlift, but my coach passed it. Even if I hadn’t made it, I made 180 kg on the day (which also gets me over the total) and 185 kg a couple of months ago, so I’m happy.
Three Lessons Learned from Getting a 1000 lb Powerlifting Total
I learned three main lessons:
- Success doesn’t come alone, and comes with the support of the right conditions, and people,
- I have to appreciate the long journey, and
- I have to not get too caught up in arbitrary metrics.
Success in weightlifting (or any endeavour) doesn’t come in a vacuum.
Firstly, I recognise that that no success comes by itself.
We all have genetic advantages and disadvantages. I’m a male and I’m pretty strong naturally. I’ve always been around 80-85 kg and find it relatively easy to put on muscle (and fat, unfortunately).
For people to achieve something — a great education, business outcome, or fitness achievement — a lot of stars have to align. We have to have a stable foundation on which to get the conditions right. This often means having money to live, the right amount of emotional support, and time.
I couldn’t have gotten to my total if it weren’t for many things going well, like my online businesses supporting me, having a good remote coach, and having good trainers at the gym to encourage me through my lifts.
Learn to appreciate the long, arduous, and chaotic journey
Secondly, I learned about the benefits of the appreciating long, often, and chaotic journey.
In every endeavour, we get excited about initial, early progress, and want to continue it.
There are down periods where we can’t train, get injured, or life gets in the way. It makes us dejected when our peaks go down or we feel like we’re “underperforming”.
In powerlifting as with any endeavour, those lulls are fine. And equally, those random days where we outperform are outliers. They’re not the mean.
Just like if you go on the scales and you weigh two pounds lighter than yesterday, you haven’t lost two pounds! There are so many things that go into your weight that even if you weigh yourself every day under the same conditions (diet, time of day, pre/post-toilet), you still should take an average over a number of days.
I took long pauses in my training. I came back and often had different strength numbers to where I started.
There were times my weights were down considerably from the peak, and then times in which I found my weights going up easily. I got one deadlifting total, for example, after eating a lot of pizza the night before. Coincidence? I will continue experimenting…
And I had injuries along the way (none of them from powerlifting, interestingly). Like, I sprained my ankle playing tennis (badly, and for the first time in 20 years), and I developed a weird knee click in my other knee from an imbalance caused by that sprain.
I saw doctors and physiotherapists for them, and was willing for them to tell me to not do powerlifting any more (they said it was fine!). But all those things affected my performance.
So it took a lot of self-conditioning to not get too caught up in the undulations of life and to accept myself.
Don’t get caught up in arbitrary weightlifting metrics
The final thing I learned was to not get caught up in arbitrary metrics.
I already mentioned I was targeting 1000 lb total — and pursuing it in a country that’s metric.
Measuring is important. Having a metric gives us an objective measure of progress. But they’re not the be-all and end-all.
A couple of weeks before my attempt I saw the story about US gymnastic Olympian Simone Biles. She was a multiple gold-winner from previous Olympics, but pulled out of most events due to mental health issues. In a nutshell, she said her heart wasn’t in it. She just had had enough and recognised it was harming her psychologically and would harm her more.
I was quite inspired by her story. If she can pull out of a global competition with all eyes on her because it was destroying her, then I can certainly pull out of… well, probably anything. It takes a lot of self-knowledge to pull out because that’s the best option. You have to know when to tap out.
I knew that on my test day, I might not make one or more of my lifts, and that was fine. At one point I thought “it’d be cool to get a 200 kg deadlift”, but immediately realised how ridiculous that was.
To help you understand how ridiculous it is, try converting a goal of yours to another metric.
For example, if you want to have savings of a million dollars, you might be less impressed with savings of 725,000 British Pounds. Or if you want to lost 10 lbs, you might find it weird to express that as losing “4.54 kg”.
Your arbitrary metric goal doesn’t sound as cool in another unit, does it?
Getting caught up in arbitrary metric goals can be very distracting psychologically. It can have negative effects like causing us to be down if some metric doesn’t match expectations. Or at worst, it might tempt us to cut corners just for the sake of quantitative glory.
Even when we wrote about getting to 100,000 pageviews a month, I knew I should be talking about a) sessions, and b) getting there sustainably, month after month. But I wanted to hit “publish”.
Even though I did reach my quantitative goal (and so get to write this particular story), I realised that might be just another day on my way to writing another story — e.g. “how I failed to get a 1000 lb total and what that taught me”.
What’s next after powerlifting?
After getting to my powerlifting goal, I’m taking a break in increasing numbers.
My coach said I should enter some amateur powerlifting comps. And I might, just to have fun! I’ll definitely work on keeping my general strength up, and do 3-4 lifts a week.
But I’m starting on a new journey at the ripe old age of 41: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (that’s my article after my first 50 hours) as a starting platform for combat martial arts (striking, grappling, etc.)
See you in five years, when I hope to be OK at it.