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Thursday, 13 March 2014

Tom Taylor - Powerlifter

At the beginning of this year I finally decided to take the plunge into a sport I have been following and training for over the past few years. So at the end of February I attended and competed in my first Powerlifting competition, whilst on a completely plant-based diet.
I’ve been involved in sports for as long as I can remember. Beginning with swimming competitively as a kid, I moved on to a few different martial arts in my early teens, and then inline skating. I was always drawn towards more individual based activities, and when I was 14 I discovered Parkour and Freerunning. I was completely consumed by its practise and the culture that surrounds it ever since. I’ve now been a Freerunner for almost 10 years and have worked professionally both as a coach and performer. However, as with any sport practised for this long, I have suffered injury and had to take periods of time off to recover as a result. This is where I first discovered weight training, and later Powerlifting.

At first I saw lifting as purely a means to an end. To recover for my sport. But soon I discovered the massive performance benefits it afforded. I came out of injury stronger, faster, and more confident. I was bitten by the Iron Bug and quickly weight training became an end in itself. I was always chasing a bigger squat, bench, or deadlift.
Powerlifting is a sport itself based around an athlete’s ability to perform those three big lifts. In a meet you are afforded 3 attempts to lift the heaviest weight you can within each exercise. This means that a Powerlifter will spend a lot of time focussing on developing the strength and technique for these movements in particular, however they will also utilise bodybuilding techniques in order to work on weaknesses and build supportive musculature for the exercise.

When I first began weight training in any serious kind of way I followed dietary advice from a lot of the top strength coaches within Powerlifting, which basically amounted to; eat a lot of calories, get a lot of animal protein, drink loads of milk, try and fit some veggies in. So when I first was converting to Veganism I was still stuck in this paradigm, thinking that converting to veganism was going to lead to a drop in performance. This wasn’t so important to me however, as I was converted due to the ethical arguments of Gary L. Francione. Despite my initial doubts, when I became vegan I got leaner, but continued to get stronger and more muscular.
There is an initial learning curve with veganism, changing from the animal-based paradigm (especially if like me you have no clue about cooking), but it is easy and just takes practice. The main staples of my diet are Soya, Peanut Butter, Lentils, Split Peas, and Kale. In terms of Macros I use the guidelines set out by Noah Hannibal from Melbourne Strength. These seem to work great for my goals.

In terms of programming, I have always seemed to respond best to linear periodization based models. I have followed programs like 5/3/1 and Westside but they didn’t seem to garner as effective strength gains as basic progression from higher volume to higher intensity. In the run up to my competition I had 9 weeks to prepare and chose to follow the ‘Russian Extended Peaking Cycle for Powerlifting Competition’ on Joe Skopec’s website. This is a pretty standard program, it builds volume at 80% of your training max for 4 weeks and then begins to taper down the volume and increase the percentage. I did this for all but the final week, which I took off as it that Sunday was the date of my competition. Additionally to the three lifts in the program I did one assistance exercise for each lift, these were Front Squat, Board Press, and Block Pulls. The idea was to overload within the movements to get used to handling heavier (or what felt like heavier) weight.

This was my first competition, I had decided to join the British Powerlifting Union and competed at their South-West and Wales Regional Qualifier. This federation seemed the most organised and put together. I didn’t expect to place at all, however I managed to place second in my weight category 82.5kg Open. I Squatted 170kg (a 10kg PR on my training max), Benched 100kg, and Deadlifted 180kg. I missed a bunch of lifts due to first time nerves and some errors in preparation, however I was happy with my performance on the day overall. I totalled 430kg in the end and took home a silver medal. I really enjoyed the competition, everyone was very supportive and welcoming. I would recommend competing in this sport, and specifically this federation, to anyone interested. It’s such a great way to track progress and get the most out of yourself, compare to an objective standard, and meet other determined and inspiring people. 

I plan to compete again next year and am aiming to make nationals!