For the first two decades of the Internet Age, powerlifting lagged behind many other sports when it came to coverage. World Record lifts were captured — if at all — via grainy video or stills, and while the advent of YouTube certainly helped bring big lifts online, it was often a tossup whether or not the sport’s best moments would be preserved for the masses.
So when he discovered powerlifting in 2012, it didn’t take Adam Palmer long to see a need for better coverage, photography, and video. Just a couple years after taking up the sport as an athlete, Palmer began teaching himself professional photography and videography. Now, after two years, countless hours of practice and travel, and nearly $20,000 invested in equipment, Palmer has created one of the powerlifting world’s most respected brands for video and stills: 9for9 Media.
Through his work, Palmer and crew are documenting the sport with an eye for quality and big moments, giving lifters and their fans a closer look than ever into the us and downs of competition.
We sat down with Adam to talk about his athletic background, how he got started in powerlifting, and what it takes to balance photography with his hectic military career.
1. What’s your athletic background? How did you get involved with powerlifting, both raw and equipped?
I grew up a competitive swimmer from the time I was about 7 years old through my freshman year at the Air Force Academy swimming NCAA Division 1. I competed at that level until my first semester and I was actually cut from the men’s team.
So as an athlete, I would say I have always been just slightly above average. My sophomore year at USAFA was the first time I was really ever introduced to weight training consistently and I pretty much followed the typical bodybuilder bro-split, really having no clue what I was doing. I actually competed in a bodybuilding contest and placed dead last (lol) weighing 135lbs. Fast forward to graduating from the Academy in 2005, I had a period of a few years where I probably could have been diagnosed clinically depressed and I pretty much stopped training completely.
In 2008, toward the end of my third deployment to Afghanistan, I discovered CrossFit and found it was probably the most miserable thing I’ve ever done, but I loved it at the same time. After that deployment, my wife and I joined a CrossFit gym in Florida where we were stationed at and I dabbled in it for a while. When we moved to Georgia in 2012, I decided that if I wanted to ever be considered less than shitty at CrossFit, I needed to get significantly stronger. I looked at powerlifting as a way to solve that problem. So to that end, I had heard of this guy named Mike Tuchscherer and that he was pretty decent at powerlifting and that he happened to also be a 2007 Academy grad, so we already had that in common. Once I adopted his training methods, I quickly fell in love with powerlifting training and I saw a lot of progress very quickly using the Reactive Training Systems brand of autoregulation.
My jump into equipped powerlifting happened about four months ago after learning more and more about the origins of some of the top athletes in the sport. For example, Mike Tuchscherer himself is best known for winning the gold medal at the 2009 World Games which continues to be one of the most prestigious events in powerlifting and is equipped only. I thought to myself, there must be some correlation between those strong raw lifters and their background as equipped lifters, I had always been curious so I thought I would give equipped lifting a try.
It’s turned out to be super fun, but I will say that the jury is still out on how much my raw lifting will improve over time as a result of being an equipped lifter.
2. How did 9 For 9 Media start?
When I first started working with Mike, I was just one of his clients. I ordered a shirt off his website and when it arrived, I was pretty underwhelmed to say the least. So I approached him with the idea of re-designing the shirt, having it printed, and then drop shipped out of my own house. He bit on the idea and after doing that for a while, he eventually had an opening for a managing editor with his company, Reactive Training Systems. He asked, and you don’t exactly say no to an offer like that, so I started writing and editing for RTS.
During that time, I adopted a new format for his articles, which included the use of many of the photos he had in his inventory from various competitions throughout the years. We quickly ran through those and decided we needed more. So the first meet I ever covered, coincidentally was one I also competed at, 2014 Raw Nationals. I only covered the RTS and SSPT athletes at the meet out of the 400 or so athletes at the event. It was at the time one of the largest USA Powerlifting meets in history.
My wife had bought a Nikon D5200 that I used at the event. By my current standard, I’d say that pretty much none of what I had produced at that would have been useable, but that’s how these things start, you continually grow into the profession. Eventually over the next year, I would invest around $20,000 into upgrading equipment and travel to meets around the U.S. all while still being in the military.
3. You’ve grown quickly and accomplished a lot in the space. What’s next for the company in the near and long term?
Near term in the next six months, the big events are 2016 Raw Nationals and the 2016 IPF Equipped World Championships. Going back to 2015 Raw Nationals, at the time it was far and away the largest meet in USA Powerlifting history, with over 1100 entries. I was pretty unknown at the time but I had a contract with RTS and some individuals to shoot the event for them. I produced around 7,000 images, covering maybe 7% of the athletes at that competition and I worked pretty much alone with minimal assistance.
Coming up on 2016 Raw Nationals, I’m anticipating that it will be just as chaotic and stressful, but things have certainly evolved to the point where I will have three additional, trained assistants, a sales representative, and the first officially sponsored 9for9 Media athlete, Andy Askow, helping with the co-located RTS and 9for9 Media booths at the event.
For the upcoming IPF World Championships, I am able to say now that I’m being on-boarded to the IPF Media team to help them produce photos of the athletes for promotion of the IPF and for the official IPF Magazine. This was one of my goals when I set out on this path, so I’m pretty excited about that.
With 2017 looming, I want to continue to expand the amount of coverage I’m able to provide to include major regional, national, and international events. For the first time this September, I am able to send a trained assistant to cover USA Powerlifting Bench Nationals alone and unafraid with a meet kit and I’m confident he’ll do well there. Along those lines, I’d love to have an opportunity to shoot at the 2017 World Games, but we’ll see how well things go this November in Orlando before jumping to conclusions on whether I’ll be allowed to support that event or not. ☺
Long term, my big rocks are improving throughput to the customers, especially when it comes to large events. At the 2016 IPF World Championships, we produced around 80,000 stills and several hundred hours of video. At the time I’m writing this, I’m just now nearing the end of post-production on the last third of the videos to be put out from the Classic World Championships which happened in June. I’ve largely been the bottleneck for that due to moving across the country, my day job, and just life in general, but I don’t think it’s reasonable for customers to expect to wait that long to receive what they’ve paid for. With that being said, I’m working on ways to solve that problem via delegation and distributing the workload of post-production. I’m hoping to have content from nationals out significantly faster than what was produced at the IPF World Championships.
Beyond that, my vision for future business is to come up with enough capital to invest in a backend that allows customers the option to access the work prior to purchasing if they aren’t confident in what I produce. That delivery system would also create a way for customers to extend their licensing rights similar to the way stock photography sites do without me having to intervene personally and negotiate pricing. My hope is that level of automation will free me up to do bigger and better things as well as improve revenue for the company.
4. What do you think is still missing from the powerlifting community from the media and coverage standpoint?
Regardless of powerlifting’s status as a World Games or Olympic Games sport, there should be a continued desire to further commercialize both USA Powerlifting and the IPF. We have great athletes who are largely unheard of and any major network television deal where advertising partners latch on would be a huge boon. I think powerlifting has the spectacle potential of other sports like CrossFit, World’s Strongest Man, and Olympic Weightlifting, so we just need to figure out how to make that happen. The IPF has proven through its partnership with Viva TV and the traffic it gets through live streaming that powerlifting can and should be commercialized.
The biggest challenge we face is staying on the trajectory we are currently on. I think we need to continue to push the boundaries and not get complacent because we had one or two outstanding events. We should continually be pushing the quality of production up. An event where the lighting isn’t great, or the venue sucks, or the spotters and loaders are inexperienced, or the meet runs late is a big step backward for powerlifting as a whole. We’ve got to be consistent with the production we deliver if we ever hope to make it to the next level. I think the community at large knows which events were great this past year, and which events could have used some love.
I’m anticipating an exceptional production at 2016 Raw Nationals this year with the primetime flights in the evenings. I think this is the kind of prestige the sport needs to elevate the production to the next level. Along those lines, the Arnold Sports festival this past March easily had the highest production value of any powerlifting event I’ve ever seen. In my opinion, that should be the standard for any large national and U.S. hosted international events. We want powerlifting to become an Olympic sport very badly, but if we can’t take our production seriously at the national level, I just don’t see how the international community will take us seriously. With the Arnold Sports Festival being the exception this year, other countries like Canada and Finland really do take the production seriously and they have had far and away the best executed meets I’ve attended in addition to high production value. We need more of this.
5. What’s are some of the most challenging things about photographing and recording powerlifting? Anything that surprised you as you were building your skills and equipment inventory?
I’ve had to deal with a few challenges when covering powerlifting meets. I have yet to cover two meets that have been exactly the same. Whether that is the number of platforms, the lighting, the access I’ve been allowed, number of lifters, space constraints; none of it has ever been the same, so I am constantly adapting to new environments with every event covered.
I’d say that as a photographer, I don’t really have to deal with any challenges that are all too different from any other sport really. I would consider the fact that I am also an athlete and invested in the sport a pretty big advantage when it comes to knowing what to look for. Most of my biggest challenges have had to do with the fact that I evolved from being an exclusive, pre-registration focused business, to making the decision to cover everything and then recoup my production costs in the aftermath.
I have had to make some hard management decisions on how many resources to commit to pretty much every major event as well as how many events I can cover in a given calendar year. To that end, I have more constraints to work with than the average business owner given that I’m still an active duty military officer. First and foremost, I’ll make no mistake that my primary obligation is to the U.S. Department of Defense. However, I’m really fortunate that I have some talented assistants working for me and none of this would have been possible without my partnership to Mike Tuchscherer and being a part of his team at Reactive Training Systems.