A Decade of Self Dominance: Wisdom for the Master’s Powerlifter

By: Paul Leonard

Paul, Squatting 450 with a Camber Bar on New Year’s eve 2019

2018 marked my tenth year as a masters age lifter, having turned 40 in 2008. 2008 also marked the year I really put it all together at my career, getting a paid promotional move from Texas to Arizona. I always knew I would have a residence in Arizona at some point in my life, but I always planned on it being in the metro Phoenix area, not Tucson where Uncle Sam needed me. Texas has many people I love and was a great place to live, train and compete- but my family was on the west coast for a decade and a half and many family members and friends are located in California, so the pull was strong to return further west. As a student of physical culture, I was aware that Arizona had grown strength deities such as Jon Cole, Superstar Billy Graham, and Dave Pasanella.

I arrived in Arizona in August 2008, living out of a hotel room until my house sold and we relocated permanently in February 2009. What did I do during those months as a new supervisor and transient? I trained at wherever I could find and I did my first Arizona meet, a USPF contest at Cold Iron Gym in Tombstone on Super Bowl weekend. As 2009 progressed, I became eligible to compete in the USAPL, which was a very vibrant organization in Arizona and had a division I had never done-but trained the most-raw. I moved into my new home and with it’s 4 car garage, and I relocated Yorba Barbell there. Unlike my Yorba Barbell days, I had kids now and more work responsibilities so my training fit around those priorities. As my lifting career progressed from a 1600lb total to best official lifts of 810 534 750, I was very selfish and did whatever it took to put those 500 lbs on my total in 12 years.

The main difference in my training was the fact that in ten years in Arizona, I have had few consistent training partners because I have placed my family as a priority. From 2004 until the present, their school, sports, activities and needs took precedence over any workout I had. Fortunately my kids train with me at times, and I have met a few like minded men and young lifters who understand my position with regards to priorities.

I have been able to compete in meets here in Arizona for ten years now and have accomplished best lifts of 568 325 628 in the 275lb class of the USAPL. I have also done USPF, SPF, WABDl, a Police Olympics, the Arizona State Winter Games, and a backyard unsanctioned meet. Arizona is a fantastic state to lift and compete in with numerous opportunities to display your strength at well organized, greatly equipped venues. I have competed in Tucson, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Guadalupe, Tombstone, Chandler, and Peoria.

The purpose of the this article is to provide you with some things that worked for me in training as well as competing as a powerlifter in both the masters and open class during my 40s. I hope some of these ideas help you in your journey.

  • Create a home gym. You will be in control of when you can train-basically

whenever works best for you. Outfit it with a power rack so you can train

heavy, alone. As Louie Simmons has said, his first two training partners

were his power rack and his radio.

  • One of the things I can tell you that has worked for me is to embrace technology. By this I mean that you should get an IPad and create a few song lists for your gym, as well as you can stream sporting events while they happen and you want to train. During the holiday season when we train we will have bowl games on in the background as the training environment is more relaxed. I film my tops sets on my IPAD as well for feedback. Most times, if I am training myself I listen to a podcast such as Dave Tate’s, Westside Barbell’s, Marty Gallagher on Iron Company or any other interesting content on YouTube that I can listen to while I train. Remember, at the meets I enter you cannot pick your own music. Shockingly I do just fine.
  • Heed the advice of Stan Efferding, Matt Wenning, and Donnie Thompson when it comes to traction, balancing your weaknesses and getting in better shape metabolically. I have a set of Jumpstretch monster bands and I will do Donnie’s lower back protocol by hanging upside down for 5 minutes or more before I train. You know who else loved to train upside down? Paul Anderson and Franco Colombo. Healthy backs to say the least. The guys I train with now on Sundays cannot wait to hang before they workout.
  • I do ten minute walks all the time. At work I do them in the stair wells. I

walk up and take the elevator down. I do not need the added knee stress 

of three times my body weight on the way down.

In California my building’s parking structure had ramps and fresh air. Walk backwards at times for a different training effect on a ramp.

  • If it feels good, it is probably good for you. I used to always be envious when you would see a video of how many unique and expensive recovery modalities that elite athletes are able to utilize such as massage, cryotherapy, float tanks, cupping, stem cell injections, light therapy, etc etc etc. NFL beast and Conjugate training practitioner James Harrison famously claimed he spent 800,000 per year on body work. I can’t afford that and it made me feel better when Stan Efferding published a video of saying that things you do for yourself are far more effective than things that are done to you. And Stan can afford it. I will say that I have owned a house with a pool for almost 25 years so when I can I will lay in a raft and sleep in the sun like a baby. Arnold and the Golden Era guys were right, training and then food and sun does a body good. At times I can’t sleep in my own bed when all my kids are accounted for the night, but in that pool I will dream and doze while I recover a few times per week for 6 months out of the year. I go in the pool year round and the temperatures getting down into the 50s feel great as I will dive in, lay in the sun and repeat. The first man to officially bench over 500lbs, Doug Hepburn said that sun bathing was one of his hobbies. Count me in.
  • Sleep more-if you can. My good friend and former training partner Mike Martin and I will laugh when we hear that Matt Wenning and Ed Coan both say to be your strongest you need to sleep 12 hours per day. With 6 kids between us we never had that luxury while we serve our country. We both totaled over 2000lbs at national level meets though so no one ever got “twice as strong as us.” I used to train in the morning when my kids had activities after school, then would be in bed early. That changed when they became teens. I now train in the evenings primarily, so that I can play Uber, teach them to change a flat, or run them a can a gas-yes these things have all interrupted workouts in the past few years and I am sure will in the future. If I had trained in the morning before work, by about 9 pm I would be useless to my family. The science is strong on naps. Take them if you can. Many a college football game at my house is enjoyed as I doze in and out of consciousness- recouping from when my kids either played in or were just at Friday night lights, or far away volleyball games or Jiu Jitsu tournaments.
  • Keep warm when you train and move more. Joe Rogan and others have quoted experts on how beneficial saunas are for your health. My garage is not air conditioned, I use no fans and I like it hot-period. Kaz’ muscular bulk program says it is are better to sweat a lot rather to urinate a lot if you are trying to gain muscular bulk. I have trained in garages as well as outdoors in California, Texas and Arizona for a decade and a half now and I would never return to training inside. Kaz did his best lifting in Alabama, while Jon Cole became a legend in the scorching heat of Phoenix in the early 70s. Did anyone ever say…ok let me cold up to train?
  • Buy or make a weighted vest. Many times I have cut the last 5 lbs for a

Powerlifting meet by walking my bulldog a half a mile with an extra 25 lbs

on. It does not tax the system at all and it makes you feel great as it

strengthens your whole body. I believe this added form of resistance builds 

all of the small soft tissues that surround the spine and lungs. I won’t wait 

for any research because I know what I feel.

  • Stay away from heavy loading on machines. I used to train in Metroflex 

where Ronnie Coleman did. I am sure most have seen his video the 

Unbelievable where he leg presses over 2000 lbs and hack squats with 

over eight 45 lb plates per side. If you have seen Ronnie today in his 

newest Netflix documentary, you know he has trouble walking. In my 

opinion it was not his power lifts that did him joint health in, it was his use of

spine crushing weights on leg accessory machines. They torque the spine 

and cause the pelvis to be placed under damaging forces. Thousands of 

lifters today in Strongman lift heavier weight in exercises than Ronnie did, 

just with safer exercises.

  • Realize as soon as possible that so few give a fuck about your meet performances or lifting and you will be better off. You heard that right, your family may run the spectrum from supportive to tolerate, or possibly despise IF you neglect your responsibilities for gym time, meets, or citing the need to rest. Donnie Thompson was right, no one cares about your squat- except for those in meet competition against you and a few close friends or training partners-period. Be good to your training partners. Unlike family you can pick them and therefore you should have some of the best relationships of your life. There ain’t nothing like a training mate and recounting all of life’s malaise you overcame to train, compete and master yourself.
  • As Josh’s recent release about gratitude stresses, be thankful you are able to train and occasionally compete. Regardless of slow progress, nagging injuries, or an imperfect schedule for training “fits” whenever possible- be thankful for the chance to better yourself by training even if the training environment is far from ideal or what it once was “back in the day.”
  • Don’t get me wrong, having your kids participate in opportunities you never got the chance to is the best. I met 2 football players through my kids sports. Both of those young men now how state records for USAPl Powerlifting. I get to train with Jiu Jitsu fighters often at my gym. I met these fighters through my kids and they are great to train with as they work hard and have a strength that is only obtained by hard work. If you are a powerlifter or other iron athlete, do not be adverse to finding quality individuals who want to get stronger for a sport, life, or because it is fucking awesome to be strong- period. There was a time I was not interested in training with anyone but powerlifters or strongmen. That has changed as I solely seek quality, high character individuals before I let them come to my home to train.
  • Learn from the masters who came before us. When Bill Kazmaier was inducted into the Arnold Sports Festival Hall of Fame, he spoke of learning to train from Bill Pearl. Study Norbert Schemansky, Bill Starr, Tommy Kono, Bob Bednarski, Joe Mills, Paul Anderson and the legends of the iron game who have stood the test of time. The older I get the more I realize how many people had this iron game figured out. Look for similarities not differences. The real icons in physical culture all believed in their training philosophy and most of them had these beliefs documented in articles that can be found for free online. If an iron icon was published in a book, find it and buy it. That is the number one thing I always took from anytime I trained with someone stronger than myself- which thankfully was often. They all believed in what they did. Be that person and kick ass into the second half of your life while others wilt and never enjoy that walking strong feeling as described in the writings of the late, great Dr. Ken Leistner.