Almost 20 years ago when EliteFTS still accepted user submitted articles, I wrote an article called “Teamwork and Powerlifting“. Back then multi-ply powerlifting WAS powerlifting. It never would have occurred to anyone at the time to make a distinction. Today the landscape has shifted, and I should have said “multi-ply powerlifting is a team sport”. As a raw lifter you can get away with training alone, going to a meet alone, and posting a total alone. Sadly, that means you have to likely celebrate victory alone, but you can do it. Multi-ply powerlifting has always required a crew to reach your full potential.
As the old man in our crew I have been called on to handle a lot of lifters this year. It is something I take very seriously because I know my help can have a serious impact on a lifter’s total. From wrapping knees, to setting bench shirts it all matters. You have to calm down lifters that are too excited and pump up lifters that can’t get going.
One prominent multi-ply powerlifter recently posted suggesting that self sufficiency in the sport of powerlifting is a lost skill. They also made a point to say the lifter they were praising at the time self-wrapped their knees, as if that was another feather in his hat. Personally, I don’t particularly see that as an accomplishment. It ranks right up there with people that brag about walking a squat out. Sure it is harder, but why do it if you don’t have to. What does walking with heavy weight on your back have to do with squatting? What pride does one gain from self-wrapping their knees if they don’t have to?
Now don’t get me wrong, being able to show up at a meet by yourself (or with one person) and getting a total is commendable. We should all be able to do it, but for the most part it is a worst-case scenario. When it comes to multi-ply powerlifting, if you show up to a meet alone you likely did something wrong. Sure you can manage to post a total, and good for you. However, when you consider all the variables there is no way you potentially wouldn’t have had a better day with a crew.
Now there are lifters that live in small towns and can’t find others to train with, but they still want to compete. More power to them. If I see that person at a meet in need of help, I will help them. Everything should be done to encourage someone like that to continue to pursue the sport if they choose to. On the other side of the coin there are some powerlifters that are parasites. They travel from gym to gym getting help and rarely return the favor. They get as much as they can from one gym, and when they wear out their welcome they move onto the next host. These are the type of people that train alone. It is not necessarily because they are a beacon of self-sufficiency, but more often than not it is because they don’t have other options.
This past weekend my wife, Rebecca Roberts Johnson competed at the Twin Cities Barbell Holiday Showdown in Minneapolis, MN. Whenever she competes my stress level is through the roof until she gets her first bench in. When she gets her first bench in I can finally relax. This means she already got a squat in (stressful in and of itself), and it means she gets to deadlift which I rarely worry about. This meet was different, we both were more relaxed than normal though you might not have known it too look at us. Just showing up to this meet was a big deal. Anything that happened beyond the first squat command was a “bonus”.
To a lot of people this was likely just another meet. To my wife and I this was a huge accomplishment. Last year at this time we were frequently dealing with ER trips as we tried to navigate her diverticulitis diagnosis. At our lowest point we were 30 minutes away from emergency surgery, a colostomy bag, and worst case the end of a world class, 27 year powerlifting career.
If you are married or have a significant other I genuinely hope you never see the pain, or fear in your partners eyes that I did that day. Luckily 20 minutes later an overly enthusiastic technician came in to inform us that the scheduled (non-emergency) surgery could be done that day. They had no idea the emotional rollercoaster that we had just been on. On the one hand it was a massive relief that this terrible scenario was potentially avoided. On the other hand I wanted to punch them in their smiling face. As Adam Sandler would put it “something that could have been brought out our attention AN HOUR AGO”.
Rebecca underwent successful diverticulitis surgery on Feb 17, 2023. She couldn’t touch anything over 10lbs for 6 weeks, then she got to graduate to 20lbs. When she finally started lifting, on April Fools day no less, as is often the case she went right back to doing what she does, kicking ass. There were hiccups along the way as we adjusted to the new normal, but she never stopped putting in the work. My wife is the most amazing person I know. I am just happy I got to be a part of it. On Oct 28, 2023, a little over 6 months after having major surgery my wife posted a 1719.6 total. This was a day where not everything went perfectly. Not even close, and she still managed to come within half a pound of her all time total. The icing on the cake was her last lift of the day. She achieved a goal she has chased for the past couple years by pulling 600.8lbs. This was the perfect end to a day that just as easily could have not happened.
Powerlifting is so much more than posting totals on a platform. Let’s be honest, every multi-ply powerlifter has something wrong with them. We often joke that if you don’t have a complex, you’ll never reach your true potential. The gym is where we go, not to “workout”, but to work shit out. The crew you build around you becomes your family. These are the people you quite literally trust with your life. As we walked towards the monolift in Minneapolis and my wife got set to squat, I took a moment to appreciate that it wasn’t just me walking with her. Virtually our entire collection of misfit toys (aka our crew) was there on the platform to help and support her. There is no way you can seriously think that showing up to a meet alone is better than that.