The old mantra of “squat, bench, dead,” really understates the complexity of powerlifting.

This is a sport that requires brains: technique, proprioception, mobility, and diet all need to be precisely dialed in, plus you need smart programming, a great coach, a prehab routine, and we haven’t even started on the mental side of things.

There’s a lot to work on. And that means there are a lot of mistakes you can make. We spoke to some pretty extraordinary powerlifters to learn the things they wish they could tell their younger selves before they started powerlifting — there are gems here for even the most experienced lifters.

Blaine Sumner

IPF Open World Record Holder in the Squat (505kg)

“The most important thing I wish I realized when I started was the critical part of being not just strong, but a good powerlifter.

“There is a massive difference between being able to throw up crazy numbers in the gym with sloppy form, and executing quality lifts on the platform. High squats, bounced bench presses, hitched deadlifts, and other ‘delusional’ lifts as I call them have no place for a great powerlifter. Understand what is expected of you in competition, and hold yourself to the same standard in training.”

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Jennifer Thompson

IPF Word Record Holder in the Bench Press, 63kg Class (142.5kg)

“I wish I knew that to be the best, it is not just the two hours you put in the gym. It’s getting enough sleep. I find this to be hugely important. Naps are must, even if it’s running out to my car.

“Also, getting the proper nutrition is of the utmost importance. Now I plan everything around training. I used to go out wakeboarding and then try to get a leg day in. I’d stay up late with my friends and think I could get a good workout the next day. Today, I nap and plan workouts into my vacations. We call it the 95/5 rule. You have to be 95 percent of your best 95 percent of the time. You only get 5 percent of the time to screw around.”

John Gaglione

Head Coach at Gaglione Strength

“The first thing I’d say is focusing on proper movement and technique and to not worry about the weight or treat each exercise as a separate skill. I used to think I was doing that, but when you’re a teenager, what you think is good form and what is actually good form is different!

“Proper nutrition was also a big one for me, because I kind of put on weight for the sake of putting on weight. So proper nutrition and not just eating excess calories, a more slow and steady gain of muscle over time and proper nutrition. Stay in your weight class as long as you can and be patient with gaining weight.”

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Charity Witt

GPA Junior Women’s World Record Holder, 75kg Class (447.5kg Total); APC Record Holder, 75kg Class (180kg Squat, 174.6kg Deadlift)

“There are many things I wish I knew before I started lifting, and one of those things I have to remind myself daily. That is, great progress takes a great amount of time. As in, years on years.

“Another is that meeting genuine people who will support you through highs and lows is next to none. So, if you find those people, keep them close. Most people I’ve found, including athletes and coaches, are only out for their own gain or riding the coat tails of your personal success. So, just be mindful and keep your circle tight!”

Jordan Syatt

RPS Raw Junior World Record Holder in the Deadlift, 60kg Class (240.4kg)

“The stronger you get, the harder it gets. I’d like to say, ‘I wish I knew this when I first started lifting,’ but, truth is, you can’t understand it until you’ve been in the gym day after day, year after year, putting in the work, grinding, failing, getting back up, and starting all over again. It doesn’t come with age — it comes with experienceAnd what it boils down to is this: the stronger you get, the harder it becomes to get even stronger. To put more weight on the bar. To hit new personal records. To advance as a lifter.

“When you first start lifting — even the first couple years — you get stronger on a near daily basis. Personal records are just a matter of showing up, not so much strategy or even mental fortitude. As you advance, though, the stretches of time become longer and harder. It takes weeks. Then months. Half a year, sometimes, to add even five pounds to a lift. Not to mention the daily ups & downs in your strength.

“My point is this: very few people ever reach an elite level of strength because they don’t have the patience. They expect strength to build linearly, as it did when they first got started. But it won’t. The stronger you get, the harder it gets. And the more you understand that now and prepare for the struggle, the more likely you are to win in the long-term.”

Featured image via Blaine Sumner on YouTube and @marksmellybell@charity_witt, and @gaglionestrength on Instagram 

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