This is a guest post from Charlotte Hughes (Instagram here), who’s gone from treadmill-and-bodypump, to standing on stage in the UKBFF Bikini Class, to competing at the BDFPA Powerlifting National Championships in the space of just 4 years.
And so the journey begins
I took 2nd.
My first ever Powerlifting competition and I came in 2nd position. This was a triumph for me! Having competed in UKBFF Bikini class only months previously, where the entire focus is on conditioning and how defined your abs are, transitioning to a competition that is judged on a “do or don’t” basis, rather than a subjective opinion, was an alien yet refreshing concept for me!
I entered the BDFPA East Midland Championship in September 2015 with my coach (and questionably better half!) Derran Langston. This was a qualifying event for the British Finals which would take place in February 2016. Stepping on to that platform for the first time was a daunting yet exhilarating experience! Adrenaline was pumping and I bagged myself a 277.5kg total (Squat 90kg, Bench 57.5kg, Deadlift 130kg). This put me in 2nd place in the 63kg category, and I left that day with an invite to the British and a VERY big smile on my face!
The real preparation for the British started about 6 weeks ahead of the event. Following a rather gluttonous Christmas, I still had 3kg to drop, just four weeks out. I tweaked my macros, keeping my carbs around the 100g mark. Come the end of January, my daily calorie intake was still a reasonable 1,700kcals a day.
My weight became stubborn! The digits on the scales refused to budge so come mid-February, I was consuming 1,500 per day, weighing in at around 64.5kg. Training had changed focus by this point. I dropped out any accessory work to focus solely on the three lifts. I followed a programme called Smolov which introduces sequenced rep ranges (usually over a 13 week period), ultimately to add to your 1 rep max. Because I wasn’t pushing to hit PBs each training session, I hadn’t realised how much improvement this programme was actually making to strength!
Exercise form is the most important aspect of powerlifting. Regardless of how strong you are, if you don’t learn how to lift correctly, you won’t ever reach your full potential, worst still, you risk serious injury! The final few weekends before finals, I spent a few hours in the RWF studio with Derran and Tim (RWF’s PTs). They critiqued my form and shared some great advice. Before I knew it, I was pulling 120kg deadlifts like I was bending to pick up litter from the floor!
Sh$t got real!
A week out and I was still way off the 63kg I needed to be. Saturday morning I was still at 64.4kg. Derran and I had agreed that this week I should adjust my calorie intake to 1,400 and begin to waterload. Having water loaded for my bikini competition, I knew what to expect! A bloated tummy and a loo run every 20 minutes! Beginning the water loading sequence saw me drinking 8 litres of liquid each day. This would get my body used to excreting water. Your body is typically around 70% water, so imagine how much that actually weighs! I also introduced water balancers (I used HRI, they contain dandelion extract which is a natural diuretic), vitamin C to help with the water retention and added salt to my food to help absorb fluid. I maintained this process throughout the week. Come Tuesday I was down to 63kg – RESULT!
The next day when I weighed myself again I had gained 300g but couldn’t understand why! I dropped the calories by another 100 and reduced my carbs to 50g. I continued with the water loading until Friday. Friday morning weigh in mystified me! I couldn’t understand why I was still 200g over when I had comfortably hit the 63kg only a few days before! Then it happened! Mother Nature intervened! It explained everything!
That day I was so panicked, I restricted myself to 800 calories (not on Derran’s advice!) and one litre of water! Later that evening, Derran made me go for 30 minute walk in the FREEZING cold, followed by a steaming hot bath to burn off some energy. Then, guess what? I weighed myself and I was dead on 63kg! I could finally relax, knowing that overnight I’d lose another few hundred grams.
Waking up the morning of the British I was feeling lethargic, dehydrated and hungry! Not how you ideally want to be feeling when you are hoping to hit PBs!
When we arrived at Motiv8 gym, I stripped to my pants (I was leaving nothing to chance!) and stepped on the scales. Closed my eyes in hope. Cautiously looked through squinted eyes….62.2kg! I’d done it!
Following the kit check I rushed over to my cool bag and munched my way through oats, bagels and cranberries – carb coma!
Heart pounding. Adrenaline pumping. Nerves kicking in. I set my opener at 90kg. This had been my PB at the qualifiers in September but I was feeling confident! I took the bar, wobbled but got a good lift! Second lift I set at 95kg. I approached the bar with confidence, dropped down low but was ‘no lifted’ on depth. Third and final lift, I went in at 95kg again. No lift. Got pulled on depth again! To say I was frustrated and disappointed was an understatement! The judging was tough (some would argue too tough!) but then this was the British finals!
Opened at 52.5kg. Second lift, went in at 57.5kg but the bar just wouldn’t go up. Third lift, 57.5kg. Despite all my effort, I could not lock out! Energy was drained! No lift. Sad face.
I’d been dreading this event! I was already shattered by this point and thought I had been a little too ambitious with my opener! The loaders racked my bar at 120kg. I stepped up and channelled all those tips Derran and Tim had shared with me a few days before. “Get tight, inhale, search for the bar”. It flew up! Second lift, 130kg. It went up too! Final lift of the day, I went for a PB. 135kg. It moved – I couldn’t quite believe it! I actually managed to lift it off the ground! Unfortunately didn’t make up to full lock out but I didn’t care – I made 135kg move!
I was disappointed to leave with a 272.5kg total. This was 5kg less than my qualifying total and 18kg off what I had hope to achieve that day. Despite the disappointment, I took with me some amazing learnings!
Diet. I will NEVER allow myself to get into the state I did one week out. Panicking I won’t make weight, having to drop into such a calorific deficit. I felt drained and weak before I had even lifted a bar!
In all though, this has been one amazing journey. From being told “you’ll not like what powerlifting does to your shape” to realising, actually, I now look far more feminine than I ever did before! I love being strong. I love to PB. I love taking my anxieties from the day out on the bar. I love telling people I am a powerlifter and watching their face change. I also love the people this sport brings into your life. Some of the most inspiring, motivational and supportive folk I have ever had the pleasure to meet!
I blinkin love it all!