Vicky’s Note: A while back I asked John to write something about living with a powerlifter. I’m not sure quite what I expected, really. I know *I* find me hard to live with when training is particularly brutal so I was curious/a little afraid as to what he would say from his angle. I also know that without him, his support, perspective, sense of humour, unswerving belief in my strength and value, I would have a much harder time crawling back into the gym some days. So maybe what he has written here isn’t just about powerlifting. Maybe it’s about marriage and why ours works; it is held together by two people who each value what the other holds dear, even if they don’t always quite understand the whys.
My name is John, and I am a powerlifter’s spouse. This entry is all about what it means to be a non-powerlifter to a powerlifting spouse, partner, significant other, or what have you.
I’ve watched Vicky’s career in lifting from its very inception, when her coach at the time suggested that she might like it. From her very first meet in 2014, it was clear that this was something to which she was extremely well-suited, both mentally and physically. She has more than her fair share of Stick-to-it-tiveness, and she was always naturally strong.
Over the past four years, she’s had a modicum of success in this sport. Provincial Champion, three-time National Champion, and World Champion. She holds more provincial and national records than I can conveniently count. I’ve seen her stand on the top of an international podium, Maple Leaf wrapped around her shoulders, while our national anthem played in her honour.
I’ve also watched her earn a place of respect in the powerlifting community. These are a dedicated bunch of men and women, who take note, not only of the numbers you put up on the platform, but also of your presence at every local meet, working behind the scenes and on the platform so that each lifter has every opportunity to have their best day. Spotting. Loading. Commentating. Running weigh-ins and equipment checks. Refereeing. There’s a host of volunteers who are essential to every meet, from the smallest to the largest, and Vicky’s done them all. Most recently, she earned her certification as a National Referee, and serves on the Boards of the NLPA and helps out with the CPU.
This is what you see on the outside. On the inside, there is work, sacrifice, exhaustion, frustration, blood, sweat, and tears. Other lifters know about the work in the gym, the training. Other volunteers know about the effort it takes to put off a successful meet. Those who serve in the governing bodies of the sport know about the endless meetings and the countless hours spent in administration. For every moment that goes spectacularly right, there are hours of grinding work, and not a few days of frustration of the beating-one’s head-off-the-wall variety.
Powerlifting spouses see all that, and sometimes, it can be hard to watch. I’ve rejoiced in Vicky’s glory, and I’ve held her many many times when she comes home crying, feeling broken, and crumbling. So here are my thoughts, in no particular order, on how best to support your lifting partner, gleaned from four years of watching my wife pick things up and put them down again.
- You are a shoulder to lean on, a source of encouragement and support. But you also owe your lifter the duty of honesty. If a hard cycle of training or diet is truly exerting an ever-increasing downward pressure on your lifter and their family, then it’s up to you to remind them that lifting is only one part of their life – a very important part, one nonetheless, one facet. Sit down with them. Tell them this. Talk. Communicate. You do neither yourself nor your lifter any favours by letting your worry turn to frustration and your frustration to resentment against the sport. Even if it’s not important to you, it’s important to them. They are important to you, and therefore it is important to you. Remember too, it takes two people to argue. You are a voice of reason and you are not out to score points.
- You also need to realize that you are but one voice in your lifter’s head. They have a coach, lifter friends, and non-lifter friends, all of whom will have their opinions, and to whom your lifter will listen to greater or lesser degrees. You are an important voice, it is true, but don’t have the arrogance to presume that your lifter will listen to you to the exclusion of anyone else. You are not a lifter; you can’t know what it is like to be inside the head of one.
- Another really important thing to do is to take the time to learn about lifting. It’s important to your partner, and they will want to talk about it. If you learn about it, they will talk to you about it. When the time comes for REALLY IMPORTANT conversations, they are more likely to listen to you, because you have taken the trouble to become knowledgable about this journey that they are on. It’s harder for them to say, “you don’t understand” when you can discuss the finer point of locking out a deadlift, or why you should twist the legs of your singlet forward for the squat (it’s so the refs can see your hips break parallel, and so make depth). (That’s a freebie. Go find out the rest yourself.)
- This is also important for social gatherings. Powerlifters like to get together. They like to talk about lifting. If you go with your partner to some of these gatherings (and you should), or if you host them (and you should), then you will be able to at least follow the conversation, and occasionally ask an insightful question, or contribute a material point. This will impress other lifters, who will appreciate the interest you show in the sport. Just don’t try to be a know-it-all, or assert opinions that you really have no business presenting. They’ll know you’re faking, and will laugh you out of the room.
- Do not be afraid to compare lifting with whatever sport or physical activity you are involved in. Just be polite about it. It’s a lot of fun being the only runner/triathlete/endurance guy in a room full of lifters. They will say things like “You run how far?” And “Cardio is hardio” (this is a powerlifting joke.) Then you can say, “well, I can’t lift ‘x’ amount of weight, so there ya go.” Hey presto, mutual respect and admiration. If you’re not involved in a sport or physical activity, go find one. Walking around the block counts. Just get moving. It’s good for you.
- Encourage your lifter to have a life outside the gym. This one requires the same subtle touch that communicating concern does. Don’t say “just blow off training today; it’s only one day”. That won’t work. What will work is “you lift better when you are more relaxed. You are more relaxed when you (go for a hike)(play board games with your family)(host your in-laws for dinner)[just kidding](build model airplanes)(have sex). Why don’t you take your next rest day and do that?”
- Lifters who are trying to cut weight are strange beasties. Some of them “watch their macros”. I’ve never seen one, and believe me, I’ve looked. Nary a macro scurrying around our house that I can find. Others count their calories, or weigh their food before they eat it. All of them record all this stuff in great detail, and they can talk for HOURS about it. If your partner is like this, don’t eat burgers and fries in front of them when they’re eating steamed chicken breasts and broccoli for the fourth day in a row. (What is it with the steamed chicken breasts stereotype, anyway?) Best thing to do is to take a minute to look at your own diet. Could you eat a little better yourself? Probably. Making better food choices yourself can go a long way to helping your partner meet their own goals.
- One of the weird side effects though, of people who are trying to cut weight, while still training like a demon, is that they can get a little moody. When your lifter has reduced their intake and is training hard, it can have a profound effect on their emotional state – little things can more easily upset them – and their workouts will often feel harder than they would be otherwise. If your lifter experiences the same thing, the absolute worst thing to do is to tell them to “get over it.” The preferred course is pats on the back, hot baths, and making sure they’ve had enough to eat. Remind them to be gentle with themselves, and that whatever SOUL-DESTROYING MONSTER is riding them at the moment, it likely owes its existence to a rumbly tummy. Putting them to bed early is also a good idea.
- Go to their meets. Sit in the audience, or if you can wangle it and they want it, be backstage. Yell and scream when they lift, like you’re a teenager at an Elvis/Beatles/Stones/Van Halen/Nirvana/Nickelback/Ed Shirran concert. Celebrate their successes with the same enthusiasm that you would want them to celebrate yours. Learn to read them after they miss a lift, have a crappy meet, or even bomb out. Find out the best way that you can support them when everything is turning to shit around them. Everyone’s different, and you know your partner better than anyone, so figure out what they need from you and supply it. It might be hugs. It might be space. It might be wine. It’s often wine.
- Be steadfast in your public support of your partner. Other people may criticize. “Why does she do that anyway?” DO NOT AGREE WITH THESE PEOPLE. Outwardly, you are unwavering in your defence of your lifter. If you have concerns about their health, etc., as above, keep them between you. They are no one’s business but yours and your lifter’s.
- Become an ambassador of the sport. Since you’ve learned so much about it, when people ask, you will be able to tell them what it is, how it works, and most importantly, the level of detail to give – just shy of the eyes-glazing-over point. They are more likely to ask you than the lifter sometimes because you bridge the gap between those who lift and those who don’t.
So there you go. Eleven points on how to survive and thrive being a non-powerlifter in a world full of people who think that a bar has nothing to do with drinks and wouldn’t think of eating off their plates. (Also point number 12 should be “Don’t take food from their plates.” Or if you do, count your fingers after.)
John Taylor-Hood is a triathlete, runner, hiker, and explorer-type mountain guy whose secret identity is hidden beneath a lawyer costume.