One of the very hard to accept facts of powerlifting and the activity of just getting a heck of a lot stronger is that “less is more.” Powerlifters are driven, often compulsive, analytic, have great attention to detail, and of course competitive. These are all positive traits for an athlete seeking success in what will always be our beloved though obscure sport. Certainly the general public’s interest and involvement in all fitness activities relative to the 1950s and ‘60s where most people’s focus was on “work”, earning a living, and doing not-so-strenuous-stuff when off from employment has given some awareness to powerlifting. However, in a world, during an era where most men worked a job involving some level of physical labor and often an incredible amount of physical labor that severely taxed energy levels and drained the desire to do physical activity when not required, any type of weight training was seen in a negative light. Among the iron workers in my family and those they worked with, my ability to lift and carry very heavy equipment and pieces of steel in the shop and on jobs earned respect, but most of the men, primarily immigrants or at best first generation Americans brought up in immigrant neighborhoods with immigrant values, thought I was short of common sense for dedicating time and energy to powerlifting and training to improve my football performance. It was an accepted adage that working hard at what were often brutal physical tasks made one stronger and of course it did, up to a point.
With fewer jobs related to physical labor and certainly with the equipment and technological innovations to significantly reduce physical demands and output needed for what used to be exceptionally strenuous jobs, men and women rarely “get a lot stronger” working in labor related employment. Needless to add, the mental toughness necessary to get through some days of work, often many days of work for example, carrying and moving 100 pound lengths of beam or carrying buckets of rivets up and down ladders for hours while seventy floors above street level in ten degree weather buffeted by twenty-mile-per-hour winds, could positively be carried over to any athletic arena. This entire concept, for most of the past few generations, is completely lost. Thus, the “replacement concept” is that one must work hard in the gym which is true, be focused on the task which is also true, and do “a lot” of work to move forward which is not true and one of the stifling concepts in the athletic arena and especially within the powerlifting community.
The purpose of strength training is to stimulate one’s muscular system and entire physiology to make the biochemical changes necessary to result in strength and muscular size enhancement. If ever there was a “Polish Statement Of Truth,” that could be it or certainly one that can go into one’s Top Five. Yes, absolutely, one lifts weights hoping to “do something” that makes muscles get stronger and usually larger. The physiology is not that difficult to understand although there are and continue to be decades long disagreements, arguments, and discussions among physiologists, biologists, and other interested scientists relative to the exact triggering and reactive mechanisms. For lunk-head gym guys like myself, the only information necessary was that you had to go to the gym on a regular basis; lift more weight or do more reps than you did the time or few times you had previously; over a period of time insure that you lifted more weight than you had been lifting; and with enough rest and reasonable attention to nutrition, you would be stronger. The obvious components were consistency, progression with weights utilized, reps completed or both, and then recovering enough to do just a little bit better than one did the last time in the gym, or a few weeks ago. While the axon/neuron/myofibrils/motor units part of the equation can be interesting to some, in truth it just isn’t needed. One has to train progressively, train consistently, “just do better” over a defined period of time usually extending from one contest to the next on one’s personal calendar, and be ready to go to battle not only with the weights but with oneself when walking into the commercial gym, basement, or garage.
There exists, as it always has, the equation that More Work = More Progess = More Victories or Records, even personal records. Unfortunately, a very important part of the powerlifting equation includes recovery and dependent upon one’s personal physiology there is a point beyond which the lifter cannot fully recover, will not fully recover, and/or be unable to put full effort into a succeeding workout. Another unfortunate aspect of recovery or lack thereof, is that one may not be aware they aren’t recovered. Certainly if my schedule included teaching, coaching, a mad rush to evening graduate classes at a local university, and then flying at 1 AM to be in Baltimore for example to provide and supervise backstage security for a well-known record label and their personnel for shows the following day and evening , securing a hotel floor after a concert, getting perhaps an hour worth of rest prior to insuring that all equipment was secured and all personnel were on whatever busses, airplanes, or trucks as planned before taking air transport back home to begin another work week, both training and recovery would suffer. Doing “too much,” doing “too often,” or a combination of the two can and will erode one’s performance ability both in the gym and on the contest platform. Yet, too many competitors continue to equate “more” with “better” and for the majority that just does not bring positive results.