Rob “Da Savage” Hall Explains How to PR When Everything Goes Wrong

Few athletes in powerlifting history have hit totals over 1,000 kilos. Even fewer have done so injured, sick, and following the death of a loved one, but that’s exactly what Rob “Da’Savage” Hall accomplished at the USPA Southern Strength Showcase in Louisiana last month.

If you don’t know Rob Hall, you probably should: he holds the second-best total in history at 308 pounds bodyweight, behind only Eric Lilliebridge, and also holds the all-time USPA American record in sleeves at 1002.5kg. Rob entered his first powerlifting meet in 2015, and won Boss of Bosses 3 the following year, then became the fastest person in history to break a 2,000 pound total in just 33 seconds.

I had the chance to sit down with Rob and talk about the bad breaks he caught during his last meet prep, and how he overcame them to squat 854 lbs, bench 573 lbs, deadlift 810 lbs, and walk away with a personal best 2,238 pounds amidst some of the worst circumstances imaginable. Read Hall’s tips on what to do when everything seems to go wrong below:

Don’t Be Afraid to Lighten Up

Going into the meet, Hall suffered a few minor injuries (a tweaked back and a tight pec) that derailed his training. “Because of injuries, I wasn’t in the right realm of peaking, so I had to change my game plan at the last minute,” he explained. He wasn’t able to deadlift over 700 pounds leading up to the meet, and as any seasoned lifter knows that doesn’t do much for confidence.

Instead of losing his nerve, Hall just knocked his opener down a bit. “When deadlift came around, I needed 810 lbs to PR my total,” he explained. “I did 777 for my opener and it moved super slow, so I made some adjustments and nailed 810 lbs on the second.” By then he had found his groove again, and was amped up enough to try 843 lbs. “I was feeling myself, and I was so intense I just decided to go for it.” 843 lbs was a close miss: it moved well, but when he felt his left arm unlock, he decided to play it safe rather than pushing through and risk tearing a bicep.

If your own training has been a little subpar, then your best bet is almost always to back off a bit. Usually, when you’re not feeling your best, it’s because your body needs a little more rest, so give it more! You don’t necessarily need a full deload. Even lightening your planned poundages by 10% for a week can be enough to get you back on track.

Have a Backup Plan

It wasn’t just the deadlift attempts that Rob needed to adjust. The whole meet prep had been a perfect storm: between travel, stomach pains, and the loss of his grandmother a week earlier, “Things were kind of haywire for me,” Hall said. “I started having a panic attack before I left, which wasn’t the most efficient thing for a meet.” After weighing in at a light 295 lbs, Hall spent the rest of the day and half the night vomiting. He ended up sleeping in more than he’d planned, and arrived at the meet venue late; his flight was already warming up when he got there.

Because of all the external pressure he had to deal with, Hall didn’t plan as much as he normally would have before a meet. “I didn’t have a have a secondary approach,” he said. “Normally I always have a straight strategy, and then a backup. So if I miss a bench press, I have an option to call a different deadlift. If I miss a deadlift, I can either try it again or go for broke at the end.”

So he had to adjust on the fly. After his second squat attempt at 854 lbs, he felt a tightness in his hip. Rather than risk injury, he decided to pass on his planned third attempt of close to 900 pounds. Then, after vomiting again between lifts, his last bench warm-up of 495 lbs moved slow enough that he then knocked down his opener on that lift, too. Despite all the unplanned changes, Hall’s ability to keep his cool allowed him to walk away from the meet with a win.

You need that type of flexibility, too. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a meet or in the gym; what do you do when things go wrong, when a warm-up set feels like a max-effort grind, or when you notice a slight twinge in your hamstring? Can you stay calm, step back from the situation, and reassess with an open mind?

If not, then it might be time to practice a little visualization. But be careful: when most people practice visualization, they imagine having a perfect day, and that isn’t really ideal. Studies show that when we imagine perfection, we get very attached to it, and perfection isn’t real. So when things invariably go a little different than we imagine, we get flustered. We lose that ability to adapt, and instead fall apart.

So instead, don’t imagine perfect, imagine adversity, and responding to that adversity skillfully. Maybe you visualize how if you miss a lift, then you’ll use the time between attempts to take a few deep breaths and re-center yourself. Or maybe you imagine having a trusted friend or family member with you to help you keep your head on straight. Hall regularly practices meditation to help find that balance between calm and aggressive that’s so important when it comes to moving heavy iron, and that’s a great idea, too.

Keep Your Perspective

Above all else, remember that flexibility – being able to deal with adversity and move on – is a mindset, and it’s crucial to becoming an elite athlete. “The idea is to just go in and do the best you can,” Hall explained. “At the end of the day, it was one of the worst meets I ever had, but it was also the best meet I ever had. With all of the conditions, I ended up PRing my total and my squat.”

“Anybody can go to a meet and go 9 for 9, but having a good day when you’re feeling like crap? Not many people can do that. I thought it about it afterwards and realized, ‘You didn’t have a really bad meet. You had a really good meet regardless of what happened.’ You’ve gotta see the silver lining.”

Next for Rob: a long off-season, followed by the Gulf Coast Championship as a warm-up meet for a showdown with the biggest of the big: Big Dogs 3, in Australia. Stay tuned for some big plans and bigger weights from Rob “Da’Savage” Hall!

Feature image screenshot from @worldbreakersavage Instagram page.