Updated: May 6, 2019
My name is Adam Price and I’m the founder and co-chair of 100%RAW Powerlifting Federation Canada. I’ve wanted to write about the sport of powerlifting for a while now, but I've never really known how to get things started. With Bar Wars concluded, I woke up this morning and found my inspiration on what to write about. I’ve had the privilege to lift in multiple federations, competed 31 times as a lifter and have represented my country five times in my decade long powerlifting career. In 100%RAW, I’ve reffed over 35 meets so I think I have a large enough body of work that I can speak on the subject. So what is the subject for today? I want to talk about what makes a powerlifting crowd go wild.
You’d think it would be the monster lifts, and sometimes it is. But for the most part, the thing that jacks up a crowd the most are the “You Can’ts”, and the “Grinders”. I’ll explain more about those two types in a second, but anyone who’s been to a meet knows what I’m talking about. A lifter walks out from behind the curtains, steps up to the bar and from the second they grab hold, it’s like the entire building is on fire. People are on their feet, the noise is deafening and the entire building is invested in this one lifter and their quest to get three white lights. So what do I mean when I use the term “You Can’t” and “Grinder”? Let me explain, and please note that I hold the people that fall into these two groups in the absolute highest regard. They are the ones that keep me in this sport. They are the ones that inspire me the most, and better than that, they make this sport fun.
The “You Can’ts”
You know the ones I’m talking about. The people in the warm up room that do not stereo-typically look like they belong anywhere near a barbell. It’s easy to locate the stereotypical gym junkies in any environment, but they are far more prevalent in the backstage area of a powerlifting meet, making the “You Can’ts” stand out in the crowd. Some of my absolute favorites have included.
- A 5 year old boy with his own rubber barbell his parents brought from home. We had to weigh the barbell on the meet scale to get the accurate weight so we could record his lifts officially and get them into the record books.
- A 90 year old man who can deadlift over three times his bodyweight and is an absolute legend in this sport. I can’t use real names here so we’ll call him Joe Stockinger.
- Another 90 year old man who built a bench press out of plumbing parts so he could start lifting weights in his basement. His first ever powerlifting meet was at 90 years old, and he lifted in a collared shirt, because “that’s what gentlemen wore”.
- A couple gentlemen I know are well over 6 feet tall. So tall I can walk under their squat bar height without bending down. The amount of distance they have to cover with a barbell to get to legal depth is insane.
- A 60 year old woman, starting out in powerlifting for the very first time, because someone told her she was too old to lift weights.
- A single mom who seems to get the short end of every stick offered to her in life, yet somehow finds time to keep training, train through a pretty bad injury and keep going when anyone else in her position would crumble.
I could go on and on, but the point is that somewhere in life they found the lifting bug, and more than likely were told by someone that “lifting heavy weights isn’t probably your thing. You should try something else”. Look into the eyes of a person like this as they are about to go on the platform and you’ll know exactly why I hold them in such high regard. They have a fire, an intensity inside them that can only be ignited by the world telling them NO at sometime in their lives. Every time they get on that platform to attempt a max effort lift, you can see in their body language that this lift, this event, this sport is a giant F.U. to everyone who ever told them they couldn’t do something. When they grab on that bar, the crowd can feel it.
I think these people get the loudest cheers, because they are relatable. They take the sport of powerlifting and make people realize that it’s not just for the buff gym goers, but a sport for everyone. It makes the person in the crowd take notice and say “hey, maybe I could do that”. And then maybe they do, and then maybe they go on to inspire someone else. Lifting weights may not be something everyone wants to do, but the “You Can’ts” make everyone stand up and realize that a weight lifter can be ANYONE.
A “Grinder” can also be anyone from any walk of life. The key for this is that the weight they are lifting needs to be right on the edge of their abilities. You’ve all seen a lift like this. A lift that screams to the world “IF THIS BAR WAS ONE GRAM HEAVIER IT WOULD NOT BE MOVING!!!!”. We have a few of those every meet and they’re always fun to watch. As a ref, I can usually contain my emotions when on the platform, but when in the presence of a “Grinder”, you can’t help but get emotionally invested while watching the lift. We had a lifter lift this at Bar Wars yesterday. I swear this guy took about 10 seconds to get the bar off his chest and back to arms locked. But he never made an error, it was just so close to his body’s abilities that he was fighting with his life for every millimeter. He got the lift, everyone went nuts, and then the next guy out smoked an easy attempt that hardly got any crowd reaction because it looked so easy. I remember feeling sorry for that second guy, because we’d all invested so much in the previous attempt, we had nothing left for him. But that’s another thing I love about powerlifting. It’s really really easy to spot absolute effort.
Even if you’ve never lifted before, you can recognize when someone is at the edge of their abilities. No offense at all intended to any of my friends or fellow lifters who are very strong lifters, but a 400 pound bench press is only really impressive if it’s a grinder. Casually benching 400 pounds is impressive, and will get some oohs and ahhs, but if it rockets off your chest and it looks like you could do it for reps, I guarantee you the crowd won’t be anywhere near as into it as someone who looks like they are losing years of their life in an attempt to lift a bar.
I can tell you with absolute honesty that the loudest cheer I’ve ever heard from a crowd has not been for a 1000 pound squat or a 900 hundred pound deadlift, but for a 60kg Special Olympics athlete, deadlifting a little over 200 pounds. That lift took him at least 20 seconds to finish and he never EVER once faltered or did anything to earn a red light. It was 20 seconds of fight and absolute sheer determination that I’ll never ever forget witnessing. When I’m feeling down in life, or when training has me doubting my ability to continue, I think back to that Special Olympics athlete, and that 20 seconds where everyone in the room was on their feet, cheering at the top of their lungs and watching one of the greatest examples of intestinal fortitude in sport that I’ve ever seen. He never quit. NOT ONCE. The ultimate Rocky story brought to life. We need more of both kinds of lifter at meets. More people who were told they can't lift, more people going to the absolute edge of what is humanly possible for them. Because whether they believe it or not, their actions inspire the rest of us far more then they could ever possibly know. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to those people who stepped up to the platform and made me realize that really isn't ever the size of the dog in the fight, but the fight in the dog that counts the most. Keep fighting.