Powerlifting can be a brutal sport. It takes dedication, mental toughness, determination, and a real love for the sport. Even more so when you sustain an injury.
Peta Day is one strong woman, not only physically, but also mentally! In this article, Peta talks about overcoming injury and the challenge of approaching a powerlifting competition following injury.
Saturday 11 July 2020. I was competing at the Oceania Powerlifting Pacific Invitational. This was my 14th powerlifting competition and 5th international meet. I was primed to deadlift 152kg to break my own Powerlifting Australia, Oceania, and World Powerlifting World records in the 60-64 year age group.
Warming up for deadlifts and a sharp pain behind my right knee caused me to drop the bar from knee height.
Was it just a temporary “funny ping” or was it more serious? My heart sank. I needed a successful deadlift to cement the Oceania and PA national records in squat, lifted earlier in the flight. But now, I was limping. Still in shock, I pulled a token 65kg to get a total.
Reality set in. No longer indestructible, and never more conscious of my age. For a brief moment, I heard my inner voice say: “I’m too old for this”. Then: “I’m not done yet. The boat may be leaking, but it’s not time to abandon ship!”
By the time I had driven home (in a manual car!) I had a plan of attack: Keep the knee as warm and mobile as possible, identify what made the pain worse (straightening the knee and hinging forward), organise initial physio and exercise physiology appointments. And reinforce my mental toughness in preparation for rehab.
Powerlifting is a hobby, but I see myself as an athlete. Mature-aged, but an athlete nevertheless. I will never achieve ‘Elite’ status but training and competition are a huge part of my life. Powerlifting is my passion!
Having done resistance training for more than 25 years, I started powerlifting 51/2 years ago at 56 years of age. As a master’s lifter, I want to be not just “strong for an old person”, but competitively STRONG in the sport.
Rehabilitation IS strength training
Injuries are a part of every sport. Every athlete – whether elite or hobbyist or masters lifter – needs the support of experts who are qualified to rehabilitate injury.
Just as importantly, athletes need experts skilled at identifying and correcting movement patterns that have the potential to set us up for injury, or which cause energy leaks that could be directed into a more efficient lift.
Tendons lose their elasticity over time, and I had sustained a Grade 1 strain to the distal medial hamstring tendon, just behind my right knee.
Five years ago, Kelly Mann @PerforMotion guided my successful rehab for a long-term shoulder pain, and three years ago, for a nasty hamstring tendinopathy. I had first-hand experience in the value of patience and commitment to the rehabilitation process. Now, I was still working with PerforMotion again, but this time with Tom Haynes, renowned Exercise Physiologist and now my powerlifting coach.
I knew that this setback would be an opportunity to work on the weaknesses that contributed to the injury and to come back stronger.
Initial rehab was performed within the pain threshold of 2-3 out of 10. It needs mental toughness and a deep faith in the rehabilitation process and body’s resilience to reach into that threshold, to meet it, to accept it, to not fear it. It takes patience and discipline to not exceed it.
Initial rehab included delights such as tempo Spanish squats, hamstring rollouts, loaded elevated feet hip glute bridges with isometric hamstring holds, Sumo deadlifts and Copenhagen holds. 5 months post-injury we started a conservative comp prep.
Powerlifting Competition come-back and mindset
Older women can compete in powerlifting – we just need to be a little smarter about programming and how we train, and Tom Haynes is the best in the business. He uses RPE-based programming and post-session check-ins to ensure I train with intensity and good form, but don’t overdo the volume in order to avoid fatigue.
In the weeks preceding any comp, I practice comp day routine from warm-up to executing lifts with the same timing of the meet, visualising each lift as if it was in competition, hearing the referee calls in my head.
In training, I wear the footwear, socks, soft suit, and T-shirt I intend to use on the day and eat the snacks and drinks I will consume on the day. In the 5 day lead up, I reset my body clock to wake up at the time needed for comp day and get accustomed to delaying breakfast until after planned weigh-in time.
This time around, anxiety around re-injury could have impacted my competition prep and performance. But it didn’t! I had done the work and all I foresaw was a successful, enjoyable day.
On 20 February, 2021, after a soft “peak” I competed at a local meet to qualify for major competition later in the year with World Powerlifting. Stuck to my plan of 2 attempts each for squat and bench and pulled an easy, non-grinder 152kg conventional 3rd deadlift to nab another Australian age group record.
I have lost count of the number of Australian, Oceania and World Powerlifting world age group records I have set. Setting records is a big motivator when slogging through the brick-by-brick training we all do. But that 152kg deadlift record was definitely the sweetest yet! It was the ultimate expression of all the months of patient and diligent rehab. And even more special because my son Huw handled me so expertly on the day.
Injury rehab and movement correction is not glamourous. It requires commitment, determination, patience and a strong resolve to see it through.
I have a mindset that ‘rehabilitation is strength training’. It sees me through the discipline of rehab. Best of all, rehab is an opportunity to chip away at my weaknesses so they become my strengths!