Written By: Nathaniel Hancock
Last week at the USA Powerlifting SLP Classic in Salt Lake City, something extraordinary
occurred: I relaxed.
In my first meet under Reactive Training Systems (RTS) coach Mike Tuchsherer, I hit all my lifts,
including weights I had never even tried in training. I achieved four lifetime Personal Bests (PBs)
at age 44, breaking into the top ten all-time tested performances worldwide for my weight and
age. What’s more, all third attempts felt fast and effortless.
Looking back over my competitive lifting career, it took seven years of powerlifting training and
five years of competing for me to secure my first nine-for-nine day (in 2018). It did not have to
The mistakes I made in earlier meets range from the comical (chalk on thighs) to the careless
(jumping the rack command) to the technical (squat depth). It is my belief that mistakes –
provided we learn from them – can be blessings in disguise.
At the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020, I wrote about the Ingredients of the Perfect
Training Session for Kabuki Strength. What follows is a related reflection detailing what goes
into generating our best meet performances.
Bringing Out Our Best on Meet Day
Perhaps you have heard of British cycling performance director Dave Brailsforth and the
‘marginal gains’ concept, or making 1 percent improvements in a host of areas (as highlighted in
James Clear’s bestselling book Atomic Habits). If you are anything like me or RTS coach Mike
Tuchsherer (driven, passionate, meticulous, studious), you recognize the value of intellectual
humility on the one hand and lifelong learning on the other. But even when armed with these
character traits, how do we determine which specific areas affect our meet day performance?
Let’s take a look at a sampling of categories as we consider which ones may help you.
How often do we train alongside gym goers who seem to be going through the motions and
never seeing tangible improvements? It is in our power to consult lifters and coaches with more
experience, to read materials and watch YouTube videos, to listen to podcasts and ask
questions; in short, it is within our power to decide to become true lifelong learners – “students
of the sport,” as we often hear.
There is much to be said of the intellectual side of meet preparation; certainly we will only
scratch the surface in an article of this length. That said, consider asking yourself the following
PHYSICAL (YOUR BODY)
In a sport where the expression of strength is being tested in specific disciplines, it goes without
saying that physical preparation is paramount. The following are key areas that merit your
attention going into a meet.
PHYSICAL (YOUR ATTIRE AND ACCESSORIES)
As anyone with whom I’ve trained over the years is aware, I am a sucker for powerlifting attire
and accessories. I’ve owned far too many knee sleeves, singlets, belts, and wrist wraps (not to
mention squat shoes!) to count. While I am not advising anyone to follow suit, I do believe that
investing in what you think is optimal for your performance (within the regulations of your
federation of choice) is well worth your research and money. Only then can you sit back, relax,
and tell yourself that you have squeezed every kilogram out of any possible benefit your knee
sleeves or belt could offer.
Everyone has their own opinions and brand preferences, so please take my recommendations
with that in mind. That said, I am a huge fan of the following products:
Training the mind for optimal performance has been a focus of mine in recent years. The
literature in this realm has exploded as of late, with many useful reading options now available.
Some of the key recurring themes are:
My father, a Harvard-educated political philosopher, once expressed to me that humans are
emotional (rather than rational) creatures. The longer I live, the more I see this in my
interactions with others, and in my own internal workings as well. While we may sometimes view
our sport as entirely scientific and data driven (after all, a properly executed 700-lb. squat
always wins out against a 600-lb. one), it is nonetheless the case that all athletes are human
beings with life challenges, moods, and emotions; as a result, these aspects play a role that can
either help or wreak havoc on expressing maximum strength when it matters most.
There are many aspects of the emotional game that overlap with the psychological (and
physical) spheres; that said, the following “emotional” themes tend to come to the forefront for
me meet after meet:
There are two lifting philosophy articles that have become foundational for my thinking about
training over the years:
Authors Henry Rollins and Brad Stulberg recognize that our time spent with the barbell develops
far more than muscles and physical strength. As I approach 34 years since first maxing out on
the bench at age 11, the themes of resilience, integrity, gratitude, selflessness, and longevity
now underpin my reasons for continuing the pursuit of lifetime strength records. My advice to
you, reader, is that you see in your iron pursuit the possibility not only of realizing the perfect
meet, but of achieving new levels of soul expansion in the process. Numbers will fade in time,
but our impact on others can prove far more enduring.
Nathaniel Hancock is a Master (40+) lifter in the USAPL federation. A former soccer player,
marathoner, and state champion bodybuilder (NPC Utah 2000), Nathaniel is committed to
continue progressing in the iron game. In addition to his powerlifting accomplishments (a
446-lb. raw bench and a 639-lb. raw squat), Nathaniel holds a Master’s in French
Translation and is the father of four children. He and his family currently reside in Utah,
where they frequently enjoy mountain views and desert hikes.