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IPA National Powerlifting Championships 
Contest Report

by Gary F. Zeolla

I competed in the International Powerlifting Association National Championships on Friday November 14, 2003, in Harrisburg, PA. I competed in the 114-pound weight class in the men’s amateur, open and masters (40-44) divisions. My training leading up to this contest is detailed at Training Routine and Two-Week Rotation (8/13/03 - 11/14/03).

Pre-contest/ Weigh-ins

I left for the contest on Wednesday. Before I left I still weighed 116.8 pounds. This was 2.3 pounds over the limit of 114.5. This left a little bit worried about weigh-ins the next morning, so I took my scale with me. But by the time I went to bed that evening, my weight was down to 115.2. I knew then I’d have no problems making weight.

First thing the next morning I weighed 114.4. Then after going to the bathroom I was down to 113.6! I thought weigh-ins started at 8:00 am and so arrived at the convention center a little before 8:00. But weigh-ins ended up not being scheduled to start until 9:00. However, there was already a line when I got there, and quite a few lifters came in between 8 and 9:00. So I guess I wasn’t the only one anxious to eat and drink something again!

While waiting, I looked over the meet schedule and scorecard with all of the lifters listed on it. Only one session was scheduled for Friday, starting at 9:00 am, broken into three flights. I would be lifting in the first flight. Overall, there were 38 lifters listed for the full power meet along with ten additional lifters for the bench only portion of the contest. Plus, I talked to a couple of female lifters in the weigh-in line that were not listed on the scorecard but would be lifting in my session. So that brought the total number of lifters up to at least 50 and the number in my flight to 14.

The IPA Rulebook states that the maximum number of lifters that is allowed to compete in one session is 50. So the limit was already reached. And if there were any other lifters competing that were not listed, the IPA would be breaking its own rules in only have one session.

This all had me a little bit irked. I much prefer a fast moving meet than one that drags on. If I can go quickly through a contest I can get done before fatigue sets in. But if I have to wait round between attempts and lifts, then the fatigue can become a real problem.

Now I understand the situation the Chaillets (Mark, the president of the IPA and his wife Ellen, who was conducting weigh-ins and would be MC at the contest) found themselves in. There were basically too many lifters for one session but not really enough to divide the day’s lifting into two sessions. But I would really have preferred if they went ahead and split it into two short sessions.

In any case, I ended up weighing in at 113.6. So it would seem my own digital scale is pretty accurate. I weighed-in for my last contest at 113.7, and the one before that at 113.5. So I’ve been pretty consistent in that regard.

Without going into details, that night, a couple of my health problems flared-up and I got basically no sleep. So for the second contest in a row I would have to compete on very little sleep. For that matter, I wasn’t feeling very good the whole time I was in Harrisburg. But it was contest time, so off to the convention center.


I arrived at the convention center at 8:00 am planning on starting to warm-up as soon as I got there. Despite the lack of sleep, I wasn’t feeling too tired and just wanted to get started. But just as I arrived an announcement was made that the start of the contest would be moved back from 9:00 to 9:30. So I had to wait around some to start. But then I waited too long and ended up being rushed on my last warm-up set. I finished it just as the contest was starting. I was lifting seventh, so I really had to move quickly and didn’t have time to mentally prepare myself for my first attempt.

At my last contest I squatted 335 on my third attempt, which was good for the IPA open and masters world records. This time, I opened with 365.

The opener was relatively easy. However, I ended up with two whites and one red. The red was for depth. In my previous two contests I got all whites on my squats, and I thought I went down to the same depth as at those contests. So I didn’t think too much of this one red light.

For my second attempt I went up to 385. The weight felt very heavy when I lifted it up off of the monolift, and it was a very difficult lift. I almost stalled in the middle part of the lift, but I fought through it. But when I looked at the lights board, it had one white and two reds. After unwrapping, I asked one of the judges how high my squat was, and he said it was “just a tad high.” So I figured that I just had to sink my final squat a little bit more.

But I was a little worried. My first try with 385 was so hard that I wasn’t sure if I could do it again and sink it lower. But I got really fired up, and when I lifted the weight off of the monolift, it actually felt lighter than my first try with 385. I sunk it lower than my previous attempts and came up with it easily. I was excited, until I looked at the lights board. Once again, one white and two reds.

I was dumfounded, shocked, bewildered-I just couldn’t believe it. I *know* I sunk that attempt lower than my previous two. And I really felt like I sunk it at least as low as I did at my previous two contests. So I’m really not sure what happened. Maybe the judging was stricter this time, or maybe in my training in the previous weeks I had imperceptibly starting not sinking my squat as much.

I really wish there had been a videotape of the contest so I could see exactly where my squat attempts were. But I asked Mark Chaillet (the president of the IPA) and he said they weren’t taping it. So I was left dumbfounded and greatly disappointed on my squat performance. After going 3/3 on squats with nine white lights in my previous two contests, this time I was one white light from bombing out on squats.

But I really shouldn’t be too disappointed. The 365 opener that passed did break my squat records by 30 pounds. Also, my best squat in college at 114s was 347. So this was actually the first PR [Personal Record] I had gotten since I started competing again if I count my college lifting days. Now admittedly, it's not a fair comparison as the double thick power squat suit and 2.5 meter power wraps I was using at this contest are much, MUCH better than the “supersuit” and “superwraps” that I used in college. But still, I was 19 when I squatted the 347 and I’m 42 now. And I’ve spent the better part of those intervening years dealing with one health problem after another, so it is still quite an accomplishment.


The bench only lifters were put into a separate flight. So there would be four rather than three flights for benches. And for some strange reason, they put the flight of bench only lifters first. This left some lifters confused, as they still numbered the other flights the same as before. So I was listed as benching in flight #1, but I would actually be in the second flight. Meanwhile, the remaining two flights of squats really seemed to drag on. So there ended up being about three hours between my last squat attempt and my first bench attempt. This was simply way too long to wait around.

I pushed some empty chairs together in the warm-up room and laid down on them for much of this time. And as I lay there, the fatigue really started to set in. I also began feeling very depressed, not just over what had happened on squats but about my health situation as well. I really could have done without all of this time to think.

But trying to shake off this malaise and getting anxious to get going, I started warming up for benches way too early. So I had to space out my warm-up sets way more than I should have. Also my new CMW double Xtreme bench shirt is really tight, so I had originally planned on waiting until the last minute to put it on. But as it was, I put it on, and then waited a while to do my last warm-up set. I then had a good while to wait for my first attempt. So I probably had it on for a good 45 minutes before my first attempt, and it was really getting uncomfortable.

But in a way this was good. Right before my opener I had someone pull the shirt down some more and tighten the Velcro in the back. And when he did, it felt like the shirt really conformed to my body. The instructions that come with the shirt say to re-adjust it after you’ve had it on a while just for this reason. And it seemed to work. In fact, this might have been part of my problem with squats. With getting behind on my warm-ups, I didn’t have time to let the suit conform to my body and to re-adjust it before my attempts.

In any case, on benches I should mention that I had no problems getting my last warm-up set with 180 down to my chest. I couldn’t get 185 down to my chest the first and only time I used the shirt in training. Maybe the shirt was more broken in this time, or maybe by leaving it on longer before my warm-up set it was fitting better. But whatever the case, at least this eliminated the worries I had about not being able to get my opener down.

I opened with 195, and it ended up being a lot harder than I expected. But then, I wasn’t really psyched up enough, I wasn’t concentrating enough so my form was off, and I just couldn’t seem to get going again. But still, at least I got it and for three whites.

At my last contest I had benched 200, which was good for the IPA masters record. So I went up to 205 for my second attempt. I got it about halfway up and then stalled. Again, my form was way off. So I called for 205 again for my third attempt. I tried getting my head together between attempts. And my form was a lot better this time. But again, it stalled halfway up.

So that was it. 1/3 on benches and 2/6 for the contest at that point. By far, my worst performance since I started competing again earlier this year. A big disappointment to say the least.

The last two flights of benches seemed to move along rather quickly. Looking at the attempts sheets, it looked like there were fewer lifters than there had been for squats. I wasn’t really paying attention, but I guess there must have been several bomb outs on squats. I’m just thankful I wasn’t one of them. But that might answer my question about whether the judging was stricter this time. In any case, I didn’t have too long to wait around after benches to start warming up for deadlifts.

Deadlift Déjà Vu

For deadlifts I could almost just copy and paste from my discussion on deadlifts in my last contest report. Just as with my last contest, I really felt horrid while I was warming up and didn’t know if I was going to make it. But at least I timed my warm-ups correctly this time. I took my last warm-up about 15 minutes before my opener, just how I like it.

Also just like last time, as I was preparing to do my last warm-up, I felt a surge of energy and the weight flew up off the floor. And once again, I knew I was going to have a good day deadlifting.

I open with 355, and it was easy, and good for three whites. At my last contest I had pulled 365, which was good for the IPA open and masters records. So I went up to 370 for my second attempt. It was a slow, hard lift, but I got it cleanly and for three whites.

I debated on going up to 380 or 385 for my final attempt. But with the way this day had gone, I figured I’d better be conservative and only go for 380. As soon as I started pulling on the bar I knew I was going to get it. It was a slow, hard fight, but again, three whites. I probably would have been good for 385. But I was happy as it was and jumped in the air, arms raised, cheering as I left the platform!

Finally, 3/3 and nine whites on a lift! So DLs really saved the day.

Total and Summary

My total was 940. At my last contest, I totaled 900, which was good for the IPA open and masters records. So I had added 30 pounds to my squat records, 15 pounds to my deadlift records, and 40 pounds to my total records. So despite the problems, overall, not too bad.

Benches, however, are leaving a lot to be desired. I benched five pounds less than at my last contest. But, as indicated, I got both of my missed bench attempts halfway up. And the same thing happened in my workout before the contest. So the new shirt is doing what it is supposed to do. I just need to work on the second half of the lift.


After I got done deadlifting, I rushed back to my hotel room. I figured I’d have just enough time to shower and get back before the awards ceremony started. As it turned out, when I got back, the second flight was still deadlifting. By the time the lifting ended and they figured out all of the placings and handed out the awards, it was 7:00 pm. Remember, I had arrived at 8:00 am for warm-ups. Eleven hours is just too long for a contest to last.

I guess I should mention that I took first in both the open and masters divisions. But once again, I was the only person in my weight class. So this was rather meaningless.

After the awards ceremony, I went to the Perkins restaurant across the parking lot and ordered, of course, steak. It tasted really good! I then went back to my hotel room, laid down, and turned on HBO just in time for the start of “Star Wars: Episode II - The Attack of the Clones.” I hadn’t seen this before, so that was my evening.

The next day, by the time I packed, checked out, and got to the conference center, the second session of lifting was already almost finished with squats. There were several companies selling stuff at the contest. A couple of lifters had suggested to me that I try bands for my bench problem, so I bought a pair of “min-bands” from Elite Fitness for this purpose.

The session ended at 1:30 pm. I couldn’t help but think that maybe my day would have gone better if my session had gone as quickly. In any case, the next session wasn’t going to start until 3:00 pm, so that’s when I left for home.

See Training Routine and Alternate High/Low Reps (11/22/03 - 2/2/04) for my new training routine.

IPA National Championships - 2003 - Contest Report. Copyright © 2003 by Gary F. Zeolla.

Powerlifting and Strength Training
Powerlifting and Strength Training: Contest Reports

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