The Powerlifting Road Trip
By Competitive Powerlifter and Coach Dave Kirschen
I’ve been lifting weights in one form or another for over 25 years, with around 20 of those being devoted to powerlifting. A lot has changed over the course of my career, but without a doubt, the most profound changes have stemmed from the introduction of the internet into the sport.
Now before I launch into a “back in my day” rant, and start sounding like a bitter old meathead, I need to highlight the fact that most of these changes have been for the better.
When I first became involved this sport, (mid 90’s) Powerlifting USA magazine was the closest thing to media coverage we had, but compared to mainstream magazines, it wasn’t much. It was thin, black & white, and consisted mostly of meet reports in small grainy type, with shitty pictures. Most of the lifters who read it, did so for the monthly Top 100 list, and Louie Simmons’ monthly column. It wasn’t much, but it was the closest thing to media we had.
Occasionally you’d see powerlifting pop up on Wide World of Sports (or later, ESPN 2), but this was rare, and the meets were pre-taped and heavily edited to fit into the small time slots they were given. Unlike mainstream athletes, powerlifters were viewed as curiosities, rather than personalities.
In general, there wasn’t much information on the sport to be gained outside of the gym itself.
By contrast, today’s lifters have an unprecedented wealth of information to draw from, and coaches (like myself) have more opportunities than ever to build and promote their businesses. Online coaching has become big business, and today’s lifters have the chance to be coached by the best in the business without ever having to venture out of their own zip code.
With the rapid expansion of strength sports (and yes, Crossfit) across the internet, participation in powerlifting is at an all-time high, especially among women, who had previously been a small minority among powerlifters.
There are some negatives too of course, but all in all, the internet has been a great force to expand powerlifting
But there is one casualty of the internet that I miss, and I believe today’s powerlifters are missing out on.
The Powerlifting Road Trip.
Due to the deficit in information years ago, powerlifters had little choice but to hit the road every now and again, to seek out lifters better than them to learn from.
I’m not talking about going to a seminar, as is common practice today, because there weren’t very many of them. Remember, with no social media coaches didn't yet have much opportunity to promote them.
I’m talking about packing up your gear, hopping in the car (or even catching a flight) and traveling sometimes hundreds of miles just to train with someone better.
And when I said “catching a flight”, I wasn’t exaggerating. On at least 3 or 4 occasions early in my career I flew out to Westside Barbell in Columbus, Ohio just to be able to train with the best for a few days, and I wasn't alone.
And If you happen to think that this is kind of extreme, consider the fact that some lifters even uprooted their lives and moved there for the same purpose.
On the East Coast, where I’m from, there were numerous gyms within driving distance that I traveled to, just to seek out better lifters. off the top of my head, there was Iron Island in Oceanside NY, Southside Gym in Stratford CT, Adirondack Barbell in Lake George NY, Nazareth Barbell in Nazareth PA, Iron Asylum Gym in Amsterdam NY, Skiba’s Gym in Carteret NJ, and of course, Apollon Gym where I currently train.
Many of these gyms are now defunct, but as I was coming up in the sport, I visited every one of them, often multiple times not to mention countless basement gyms in various lifter’s homes, including Eastside Barbell, owned by John Bott, where I lifted for around 7 years.
This wasn’t just something that I did on my own either. Powerlifting road trips were as common as online coaching back then, because we simply didn’t have any other practical way to learn from other lifters. And despite the vast online resources we enjoy today, the powerlifting road trip offers advantages that today’s online coaching and e-books do not.
Traveling to an unfamiliar gym and training on different equipment pulls you out of your comfort zone and forces you to make adaptations in the moment, just like you would at a meet. A different group of eyes will spot imperfections in your technique that your own training partners may have missed, especially if they are more experienced. Not only that, but you can also learn technique and programming variations that you may not have previously considered trying.
And unlike online coaching, you can learn this stuff in real time while getting the feedback you need, as you learn.
And I’ll reiterate, this was never seen as coaching in the formal sense, and money was never exchanged. You’d simply show up, and jump right into the mix training side by side with the local lifters. They’d spot and coach you, you’d do the same for them (to the best of your ability) then you’d all go to the nearest diner or buffet and shut it down, while exchanging training info, dirty stories, and generally laughing your asses off for hours on end.
While there is a great deal to be learned about training from formal coaching and seminars, you can learn exponentially more around the dinner table if you keep your ears open. I’ve had the opportunity to see some of the greatest lifters and coaches in the world speak in a seminar setting, but I’ve learned far more by simply hanging out with them after hours, when the conversation developed organically, and they could talk about whatever was on their mind in the moment.
If you’ve hit a stall in your training and haven’t been able to find a solution online, maybe it’s time to venture out of the the security of your usual gym and seek out a better gym, and some better lifters to learn from.
Apollon Gym is a better gym, and there aren’t many left like it. Apollon is a throwback to another era, where you’ll find pro level lifters and physique athletes training side by side day in and day out, all of whom are happy to help anyone who needs guidance. And the reason we are happy to help is because we all got to where we are today because of lifters who were generous with us early in our careers.
The only expectation is that you pass on what we teach you to the next generation.