Youtube and Instagram are full of videos showcasing the “what” – lifters breaking records at meets – but few have shown the story of “how” and “why” the lifter broke a record. I’m hoping to begin sharing the how/why story now (before I start breaking records this year) and continue sharing that story as I progress throughout the year.
I played soccer, practiced Taekwondo, and ran track throughout K-12. Soccer was always recreational for me. Though my dojang was a belt factory, I did get to 2nd Degree black belt by tenth grade. And, I hit a sub five-minute mile during my senior year of high school. I wasn’t particularly great at any one of the sports, but together they gave me a baseline level of athleticism.
When I was in 7th grade, I performed my first dumbbell curl. Unfortunately, all I did was bicep curls and abs through high school. I focused on the aesthetic people-pleasers. Living with a juvenile form of macular degeneration called Stargardt’s, I had a lot of insecurities as a child – lifting was definitely a way to compensate. My desire to be like some anime characters *cough* Goku *cough* also introduced me to strength training.
I didn’t deadlift, bench, or squat until my sophomore year of college. By that time, I weighed 133 lbs and stood at 5′ 6”, and I’ve hovered around 133 +/- a couple lbs ever since. The first time I deadlifted, my 1RM was 225 (1.7x BW) – I was ecstatic. Two plates!!
September 2014: 225 lbs, 1.7x BW
I noticed I was close to lifting 2x BW (275 lbs), so that became my goal. My routine wasn’t great – I would deadlift conventional once per week, training with multiple sets of singles. At the time, life wasn’t too great either – I had cut off my core friend group at school due to a botched relationship, for which I was largely to blame. Protip: dormcest usually doesn’t work out. Thanks to some noob gains and a particularly low point in life, I deadlifted 2x BW (275 lbs) within three months. I was impressed with my work, so I backed off deadlifting during the next semester and my summer internship.
December 2014: 275 lbs, 2x BW
After that summer where I didn’t deadlift once, I decided to test out my max again just out of curiosity. I pulled 295 (2.2 BW). I was surprised. This was just shy of the legendary three plates, 315 lbs (2.4x BW), so that became my new goal!
September 2015: 295 lbs, 2.2x BW
Around the same time, a fellow gym goer suggested I try this variation called “sumo deadlift” instead of conventional. It felt odd at first, but I ended up loving it in a couple weeks. My lower back was much happier with sumo. At this point, I had formed a new core friend group and per the advice of my friend, Jeff, I started training with triples. Turns out triples were way better than singles in the long run. My CNS wasn’t totally fried anymore. He also suggested I start using chalk – the difference was incredible. Three big changes happened around the same time: sumo, sets/reps, and chalk. Within four months, I pulled three plates and some extra: 325 (2.4x BW). That semester was incredible as I had finally formed a new core friend group and passed the legendary three plates! Again, I was pretty satisfied. However, this time, I didn’t back off the deadlift training.
January 2016: (Switched to sumo, switched to triples, and started using chalk)
April 2016: 325 lbs, 2.4x BW
I continued to climb with the triples and three months later, I hit 345 (2.6x BW). By this time, I was entertaining the idea of a four plate deadlift. Four plates also happened to be three times bodyweight for me, 405 (3x BW), but I was still pretty far off.
August 2016: 345 lbs, 2.6x BW
Serendipitously, Jeff coerced me into doing a Russian program called Sheiko with our new friend group in senior fall. This also marked the first time I started training squat; to this day, I still wish I had started sooner! We would wake up at 5:30 AM, lift for 2-3 hours, and then go about our college days. Specifically, we did Sheiko 37 and 40 each for one month. Since I was looking to back off of deadlift again, I set very low working weights throughout Sheiko. So at the end of Sheiko, my max had hardly changed. Little did I know, Sheiko had built up my technique quite a bit, introduced me to new deadlift accessories, and trained a squat that would transfer over somewhat to the deadlift.
September – November 2016: (1 month Sheiko 37, 1 month Sheiko 29)
Over the next three months, I followed a self-created regimen inspired by select principles from Sheiko 37 and Kinobody reverse pyramid training. In particular, I used triples and quadruples as the foundation for my deadlift training (this time using much higher maxes for Sheiko). Three months after wrapping up the unadulterated Sheiko 40, I pulled 370 (2.8x BW), which will forever be one of the ugliest lifts I’ve ever performed. Jeff and I noticed that despite pulling multiple reps of a marginally lower weight in training, I was absolutely terrible off the floor when it came to maxing. I had been doing touch-and-go reps the whole time! I dropped down the weight and started working up with quadruples, this time making sure to let the weight come to a dead-stop before each rep.
February 2017: 370 lbs, 2.8x BW
This next phase happened to coincide with the lowest point in my life thus far. The 2016 election had shaken me pretty badly, It was my last year of college, and I was spending far less time with core friend group 2.0 as nearly all of them were in relationships (except me). Towards the end of senior year, I did start seeing someone briefly, but I’ll get back to that shortly. Events and themes related to suicide managed to work their way into almost every part of my life: personal, professional, school, home, etc.
And then in the span of sixteen hours, I was simultaneously rejected by Harvard’s deferred B School program and essentially dumped by the girl I had been seeing. Harvard and the girl had perfectly legitimate reasons for their decisions. But it didn’t change the fact that the rejections broke me. Why did two seemingly trivial events break me? The crux of my B school application had revolved around my visual disability, and disability had been an anchoring shared experience for me and the aforementioned girl. I had tried to hide my visual disability for so long, and two of the very few times I decided to be vulnerably transparent about it, in my application and with a partner, I was absolutely and totally 100% rejected.
A lot of those childhood insecurities that I cursorily mentioned earlier roared back to life. The idea that my visual impairment made me a burden to others, and thus rendered me unworthy of human connection, came back. Was I conflating the two events and projecting my own insecurities onto the situation? Most definitely, but hindsight is 20/20. I don’t drink that often, but that night, I blew the skin off my knuckles destroying two pieces of furniture and a wall. The next day, my fists were black and purple. I couldn’t make a fist….which meant I couldn’t hold anything….which meant I couldn’t deadlift. I had to go the next four weeks without lifting (or using my right hand at all for that matter), but miraculously nothing in my hand had been broken.
I felt like an absolute loser graduating college – the year had been full of so many losses and all I needed was one win. Despair and anger (at myself) translated into some pretty intense deadlift workouts after my knuckles had finally healed. I pulled 410, more than three times bodyweight, cleanly a month after graduating. 3X bodyweight seemed like a respectable number, so I started to curiously look up powerlifting records.
June 2017: 410 lbs, 3.1x BW
I had no idea what “raw” and “equipped” lifting referred to – heck, I had never even used a belt before! I had no idea what the difference was between wraps, straps, sleeves, and suits. And why were there so many different federations?!? It took a couple days but I slowly learned what I needed to know.
There were a bunch of different federations with different rules and regulations that catered to various lifting preferences. There were records at state, national, and world levels for each federation, further segmented by age and weight class categories. I hadn’t taken a pre-workout or a post-workout supplement ever in my life and I personally wasn’t interested in performance-enhancing-drugs, so I narrowed my search to drug-free federations. I made the following spreadsheet, booked flights, ordered a belt online, bought a singlet, and purchased deadlift shoes immediately to keep myself accountable. With the sunk cost, I had to compete. There was no backing out.
My belt arrived in July, and I have to say – the weights feel so much lighter using a belt. I don’t know how I got to 3x bodyweight without using a belt for so long! I’m pretty confident that my weights are about to climb 20/30 lbs in the next several weeks.
If I said I’m doing this for every kid who’s felt inferior because of a disability, I’d be lying. If I said I’m trying to set a record for everyone who’s reached a point so low that taking their own life seems like the only way to stop the pain, again I’d be lying. As I am right now, I can’t espouse such noble reasons. Right now, I’m doing this for myself, compensating for insecurities and covering up scars. I’m 22 right now (July) with a December birthday. I’m competing in the Junior 20-23 class, so I have exactly 18 months to break some records.
July 2017: Start training with TITAN belt, SABO Deadlift shoes, and actively pursuing records
Live Updated Split (07/23/17):