I’ve just came back from the World Classic Bench Press Championships which was held in Vantaa, Finland. It has been amazing experience to compete alongside world class athletes wearing green and gold. Massive thanks to Sam’s Fitness, everyone in Australian Powerlifting Union for making this happen and my Life Coach/Mentor Matt “Trunk” Grimshaw. Without the help from these amazing people I would have never realised my dream.
I had qualified for the world bench press championships back in 2017 October with a half decent 170kg lift. I was still doing heavy singles a few days before competition because I didn’t truly take that particular event seriously. The competitions in the previous federation were slightly unorganized and there was very little rivalry, which didn’t give me much motivation.
However, everything changed when I had a chat with Sam about the World Bench Press Championships. Just the thought of wearing Green and Gold and representing Australia gave me all the motivation I needed. There was just a small little thing, the powerlifting future in Australia was uncertain of political issues associated with the various federations.
It seamed like my dream to represent Australia in world bench press championships was never going to happen, until one sunny morning I’ve seen news of a new federation being formed in Australia. Sean Muir and Scott Presley alongside few other people, decided to take on this massive task of forming a new federation and starting everything from scratch. There was hope for me.
It didn’t take me long to contact them and get on the waiting list for the World Classic Bench Press Championships in Finland. After waiting for a couple of months I was notified that I made the Australian team. I was stoked, but there was another issue. Currently I am a Lithuanian citizen, who has been living in Australia for nearly 3 years.
I had to get a permission from Lithuanian Powerlifting Federation, allowing me to represent Australia. The president Antanas Jodauga was a real champion and gave me the permission to represent the country which adopted me. Next thing on the list was to get the IPF board committee to agree on that decision. Massive thanks to Gaston Parage, I had a chat with him in Finland, he is a really great guy. The future of International Powerlifting is in good hands.
Needless to say, it was quite stressful to get myself on the Australian Powerlifting team and I am sure that I annoyed the Australian Powerlifting Union Team Manger – Julie Henderson dearly. But I am happy with the end result.
Now that I made the Australian team I had to reward this show of faith with a solid result. My preparation for this particular competition started around 3 months before my first lift in the championships.
It wasn’t easy, my training consisted of 3 days of benching and 2 days of shoulder/back exercises. This is really bench specific, and I will elaborate more in future articles. Great thing I work at a gym equipment distribution business, so I had access to all the newest equipment as well as the whole showroom just for myself.
The program was exhausting, but I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel when I got to heavier weights. It is hard to trust a program, since your performance will depend on it, but I calmed my nerves and stuck to the program which gave me a 12.5kg increase in bench press in a period of just 3 months.
I was sitting at around 91 kgs when I started training so I still had a bit of room to fill out. Great thing about powerlifting compared to bodybuilding is that you can eat even when the competition is drawing nearer. I was sitting at a friend’s party enjoying my chicken tacos and across the table was a bodybuilder preparing for a competition too.
It was great seeing him trying not to choke on his very bland looking kangaroo meatballs and rice. That is why I am a powerlifter and not a bodybuilder!!
By the time I finished my program I was standing at 94kgs which was the ideal weight for me as I can utilize every kilo in my weight class (93kgs and under) and only need to lose a kilo before the competition to make weight.
Travelling to Lithuania
Now that I felt prepared and strong it was time to travel to Europe. It was a gruelling 30-hour trip. I am a light sleeper at the best of times, so I could not fall asleep in the plane, I ended staying up for two days straight. That didn’t really help my body. But I had 9 days in Lithuania to recover. Since I had been home for so long, I made sure I visited my family first, which now in hindsight was a massive mistake. But I really missed my family as I haven’t been there for almost three years. I did not tell them I was coming as I wanted to surprise them. Plus, I didn’t want them to organise a million family events. That was a distraction I didn’t need.
Small tip to everyone who is travelling for competition to another country – try to hydrate as much as possible. They don’t give you much water on airplanes. After the trip you will end up exhausted and dehydrated. Every time the flight attendant walked past I asked for more water (but I did that on my trip back to Sydney not to Lithuania which was one of the first mistakes I’ve made).
Because the competition is on a specific date and time, you have to time your training peak to perfection. You want to be in your peak form and to utilise every single training session available but at the same time not overtrain and arrive to the competition exhausted.
Your body needs time to heal up. What happened to me is that I slightly miscalculated the day of my last training session and ended up having almost two weeks off training. So, I trained very lightly during that two-week rest period.
This is where I made my second mistake. When you are training heavy you are burning more calories therefore you consume more calories. However, when you are de-loading before the competition you only train at around 50% meaning you don’t burn many calories at all.
The appetite for food does not disappear when you are training at 50%. You still want the same amount of food you were eating when you were training heavy. You end up having all these extra calories which your body does not really need. Long story short I kept eating all the snacks and local food in Lithuania and ended up being 97 kgs, 5 days before the competition.Something always goes wrong before the competition and this one was no different. But this was a big problem.
With only 5 days left until competition I needed to lose 4 kgs in order to make weight. I cut out all carbs, started drinking less water and limiting my calorie intake. Because of this rapid loss of energy, I am feeling drowsy. But because I am hungry I have troubles sleeping at night. Which isn’t helped because I am stressing about my first International competition.
The Trip to Finland
I arrived in Finland on Wednesday, two days before I will lift. I already managed to lose a couple of kilos in a couple of days, I still had two to drop. I’ve caught up with Kim Stevenson, my fellow Australian lifter on Thursday where she passed me the Titan Support Systems T-shirt, Wrist Wraps and Soft Suit. Massive thanks for their support!
Friday came quick and I was still stressing about my body weight. On Thursday I only had two protein bars and a couple of bananas. I weigh myself with two hours before the official weigh ins and I am sitting at 91 kgs. I lost 6 kgs in 5 days, which, was not very healthy.
My coach on the day – USA Powerlifting Head Coach Steve Petrencak (who is a really great guy, looking forward to catching up with him next year) said that I can have something to eat so I treated myself to a banana and a can of coconut water to help me rehydrate, but the damage was already done. I was feeling drained.
I’ve done the equipment check and then made the weight with a kilo to spare at 92.05 kg. Had roughly two hours until my first lift so I tried to rehydrate as much as possible, but your body can only absorb so much in this time period.
The Warm Ups
Next thing on my list was the warm ups. In the warm up area, we had 5 bench press stations. Each team occupied a bench station and I was sharing mine with the Great Britain team. Probably the biggest difference between the warm ups in the gym and the competition is the timing.
If you start too early your muscles will get cold and you might get injured. If you start too late you will be fatigued and chances are you will fail your first lift. I started warming up 45 minutes before my first lift (including stretching). At that point I thought that everything is going well, and my weight cut did not affect my strength that much. I’ve finished my warm up with 160 kgs for two repetitions with ten minutes left until the approximate time of my first lift. At that time, I was thinking to myself that I will do quite well and perhaps place above 5th place.
That was until I saw the Kazakhstan athlete finishing his warm up with 190 kgs. At that point I realized that I won’t be as close to the top as I originally thought I would.
Some of the athletes were nervous in the backstage area, and I saw quite a few hands shaking with competition jitters. My mentality when going on the stage is that the maximum weight of what I can lift on that day is capped and I won’t be able to lift more than that limit. You have to be realistic and have faith in your hard work and preparation leading up to the event.
I like to put my headphones on and zone out when I am waiting for my turn. When stepping on stage I become tunnel visioned and see only the bench and the bar, I try to ignore everything that is happening around me and just focus on the lift. That was until of course I looked up during my first lift and seen myself in the massive projector screen which was displayed to the crowd, which threw me off a little.
After my first lift, which is usually my worst, I realized that I won’t be even coming close to my best gym lifts. I told Steve to call 182.5 kgs after originally planning benching 185 kgs as my second lift. You are given 1 minute to complete the lift once they call your name and say that the bar is loaded.
Nobody utilised the full minute. As soon as the bar was loaded the lifters would run to the bench and try and complete the lift. There were only 8 lifters in my weight class, so my turn to bench came up really quick. I was used to resting up to 10 minutes during training but in competition the resting period was reduced in half.
When I unracked the 182.5 kgs I realised that I should not have eaten so much at my grandmas in Lithuania as I didn’t have any power left in my body. This was one lift I really had to grind out to complete the lift. I am happy I did, it got me a 5th place in World Championships.
The Swede’s coach tried taking the fifth place away from me with some clever tactics, good thing I had Steve on my side. The Swede’s coach called 192.5kgs. Calling a higher weight would mean he would lift after me. But once I lifted he could drop the weight down.
My coach Steve called 195kgs forcing the Swede to go first. I was heavier in bodyweight than the Swede, so I did not have the luxury of benching the same weight and still coming ahead.
The Swede called 182.5kgs (the same weight I had already benched) so I had to go a bit heavier – 185kgs. It was supposed to be my second lift, but it just wasn’t my day. After I saw the Swede fail I knew that I had secured 5th place and just tried to get a personal best in competition. I failed as well, but I was happy because I knew I gave everything I had on that day.
The final battle between Great Britain and Kazakhstan was a bit more interesting than mine and the Swede’s. The lifters were battling for first place and the new junior bench press record. The battle was won by the coach’s strategy and not so much by the lifter.
The Great Britain’s coach called 215 kgs and could not bring the weight down because he used up both of his attempt cards for the same lift. A couple kilo’s less and the outcome would have been different.
I had a great time competing in the World Classic Bench Press Championships Vantaa Finland 2018. It has been an honour to wear green and gold and be the very first athlete to compete under the new Australian Powerlifting Federation.
Not as easy as you think
Someone posted a comment about 200 kg bench on one of our Facebook posts. As a competitive lifter I have heard of many lifters that are stronger than myself. But there is a massive difference between lifting in a gym than in competition.
There are so many variables that come into play when lifting in a competition that don’t factor in a gym.
In this competition you can see how travel, your training and weight play a massive part. That is before you even get to the event!
In my years of competing I have seen many a lifter with big numbers fail to reach them on the big stage. Competition can bring out your best. It can also bring out your worst.
Not only do nerves play a part, but you have to make sure you nail your lift with the required technique. You have to make sure your lift passes the three judges scrutiny, just the same as you will see in Weightlifting in the Olympic games.
Here is a lift of me hitting 175 kgs before I even knew that I wanted to go to world bench press championships. I am not going to show videos of my max lifts in the gym. You will see them in competitions later this year.
Another thing that can put off the average gym lifter is the timing of the lifts, which I mentioned above. In the gym you can lift when you are ready. In competition you have to lift when it is your turn. This will be another tweak I add to my training.
If you think you have got what it takes, I beg you to compete in Powerlifting. Compared to Lithuania which is a very small country, Powerlifting in Australia is not very popular. Competition at local events is not strong, with only a few competitors in each weight class, and/or age group.
With competition the sport will grow. More importantly competition makes you a stronger athlete. The camaraderie amongst competitors is great too.
I’ve had a really great time competing and representing Australia. I had massive support from everyone around me. It has been an honour to represent Australia, I am happy to be a part of such a great country. Again massive thanks to Australian Powerlifting Union, Sam Lucas, Matt “Trunk” Grimshaw and whole Sam’s Fitness crew for putting up with me, Cass Oates from Hello World travel agency and everyone who supported me and put their faith into me!