Last month we were honored to host a workout with local USPA Referee, Powerlifter, and Record Holder Imam Elahi.
As a strength athlete Imam Elahi has held the Oregon State USPA drug tested records in the squat lift, bench press, and total. At a weight of less than 200lbs, he is working towards a squat and deadlift of over 500lbs. Imam is a highly dedicated athlete who trains with some of the most knowledgeable coaches in the world.
At Couch Potato Strong we strive to provide applicable health advice directly from people living the healthy lifestyle. During our workout and interview we discussed training philosophy including, the role coaching plays, at home fitness, lessons learned, and practical advice for fitness newcomers. Instead of transcribing the entire interview, the following is a summary of the best advice from the segment. The entire interview is available for viewing at https://youtu.be/S0KAhVb9BhM
Motivation is a critical aspect of fitness, without it we often fail to remain consistent. In sports many are motivated by the win; however, not all athletes are exceptionally competitive. Imam explained that he is not nearly as motivated to out lift his competitors as he is to out lift himself. I guess when you are a record holder; the only person left to compete with is yourself.
Kidding aside, there are benefits to focusing on competition with oneself. Imam states that by competing he gathers an official understanding of his current strength level.
“It gives me… an official PR that is… undisputed”
At home in a perfect environment when protein levels are good, temperature is good, and mindset is unaffected by negative stimuli, lifts are incomparable to those performed in competition. At competition one must create the perfect environment in their mind without regards to stimuli out of one’s control, such as temperature, noise, time of lift, etc…
“It’s a good environment to test where I am at”
Planning and preparing for a competition can be very motivational in itself. When one knows on a specific upcoming date they are expected to perform their best; it motivates one to keep a consistent training and diet schedule. However, competition is only involved in two of the five major athletic aspects of motivation. The vast majority of people training athletically are motivated by (1) improving self-performance, (2) winning, (3) being part of the action, (4) performing well, and (5) meeting the challenge. Official sanctioned competition is not required for one to live a healthy lifestyle, but, it can be a motivator for training hard and becoming one’s best.
In the fall of 2019 Imam set the UPSA Oregon State Classic Raw (drug tested) records in the bench press, squat, and total. Unfortunately, Imam’s records were topped a few months later. However, Imam is intent on reclaiming his records as soon as possible. We look forward to watching Imam chase those records as soon as competitions resume.
Blunders and injuries
Imam has been very fortunate to not have suffered any major injuries during his athletic career. Imam is perhaps even a bit lucky not to have had an injury, because, he trained himself for several years. Prior to entering the USPA and working with a coach, Imam, like many of us are guilty of, researched online and hopped from program to program without considering his personal needs.
Imam found he wasn’t making the gains he wanted by hopping from program to program. He states that his biggest blunder was spending years stuck in this pattern without consulting professional help. Now Imam is a record setting powerlifter with huge aspirations, much of this is thanks to him working with a coach on consistent programmed training.
Imam trains with Peter Nguyen of PDX Barbell Club. Nguyen has a USPA-Elite class total, is a USPA World Record Holder (drug tested), IPL World Champion, and, registered trainer at the world famous Kabuki Strength Lab. If you are local to the greater Portland metro area, and wish to get serious about powerlifting, PDX Barbell Club will help you meet your goals (www.pdxbarbellclub.com).
Imam’s current powerlifting goal is the Class-1 total for the 198lb UPSA Class Raw (drug tested) division. This requires a total weight lifted of 1,317lbs in the combined squat, bench press, and, deadlift. Imam has set a personal mark of 1,321. His goals for each lift are 501lbs in both squat and deadlift, and, 319lb on bench press.
The global COVID-19 pandemic is over a year long at this stage. Athletic competitions have ceased throughout the world. Athletes are struggling to find means of not only competition, but, to find access to consistent training. It is imperative at this time to take a step back and realize the benefits that exist during the quarantine.
Imam has been forced to telecommute to work. However, he found that he has had the opportunity to prioritize sleep while working at home. The extra time he spent commuting to work is now invested into recovery. Imam was able to find the silver lining.
With restaurants closed, there is also the benefit of having more control over diet by cooking all meals at home. This ensures one knows exactly what is in each meal, thus, leads to better diet tracking and proper nutrition for training. In addition to sleep and diet, Imam quit drinking alcohol entirely. This has lead to improvements in recovery, sleep, and overall diet control.
“Anyone can benefit from a little bit more sleep and, diet”
Imam shared with us the top techniques that have significantly improved his powerlifting performance. Imam explained that specifically, foot exercises for rooting, working on bracing, cues for bracing, and, breath control have been key components of improvement. Additionally, Imam has worked on postural adjustments to correct the common open scissor (sticking the chest out) issue. We recommend working with a partner familiar with proper form, or if that’s not possible, recording oneself and self-analyzing afterward from videos. We do not recommend lifting in front of a mirror and adjusting posture while lifting. This often leads to overcorrection, distraction, and injury.
“I switched to deadlift slippers from lifting shoes for pretty much all of my lifts by now”
Footing, posture, and, rooting are all critical aspects to lifting heavy. You will find some coaches recommend wedge shoes for squats, flat bottom shoes for deadlifts, or, some recommend deadlift slippers. You’ll find a great deal of powerlifters compete barefoot. The shoes one uses to lift will likely be a personal choice, the goal is to be able to feel the ground well, have sound balance, stability, and coordination.
What would you do differently?
When Imam was new to lifting he would do what many new guys do, and, try to max out on weight regularly. Imam stated that if he could start his training over with the knowledge he has now, he wouldn’t try to max out so often; and, instead he would do a lot of work in the 8-12 rep range. This range builds the body and prepares the body for heavier lifting. Working in the 8-12 rep range establishes a foundation new lifters need to avoid injury when attempting max weight lifts.
“Push for rep PR’s instead of just single rep PR’s”
Setting rep personal records instead of max weight personal records is great advice, especially for new lifters. If you are new to lifting and you can bench press say 185lbs for a few reps, don’t immediately go for 225lbs; instead, try to work on getting 5 reps with 185lbs, then 8 reps. It’s better to learn to control a weight and lift it slowly, or paused, with perfect form before moving up in weight. This ensures you are taxing all the muscles and connective tissues needed to perform the lift properly, and, to avoid injury.
What is your most important piece of home equipment?
With gyms closed even top level athletes are struggling to find means of training. Without a rack at home, Imam has had to rely on alternative methods of training to keep his strength levels high. The home piece of equipment Imam has relied on the most during the quarantine is the axle bar. The axle bar is similar to a standard barbell; however, the ends do not rotate, and, the entire bar is 2-inches thick.
Traditionally axle bars are used to focus on grip training; however, the axle can be used for any conventional barbell lift. Additionally, the added thickness not only targets the grip, but, also the stability muscles associated with each lift. This is due to the axle being more difficult to control, thus, encouraging the user to apply more effort to maintain proper form with the extra thick bar.
“I was glad to have an axle, so I can do my zerchers, I can do my tempo deadlifts, I can do my axle overhead press. That really helped with keeping things together while I was out of the gym”
With Imam’s at home focus on utilizing the axle; we were not surprised when he said he wanted to focus on grip during our workout. Along with the original spuds Frank and Addam, Imam started out with warming up on the log. After a few sets of log lifts we switched to grip and that remained the focus for the rest of the workout.
Our grip work started with on two hand pinch. This was a new exercise for Imam; however, he had no problem 2-hand pinching 90lbs (2x45lb plates). His grip has certainly been conditioned a bit from heavy deadlifts.
After 2-hand pinch we moved to the Golden Potato pinch lift. Imam set his sights on the 1-hand record of 89lbs; however, it was just out of his reach. He did however set the Golden Potato lift record for the 231lb class. A record Frank now has his sights on claiming.
After claiming the Golden Potato lift record, Imam decided to leave an even bigger mark at the Couch Potato Garage by claiming a natural stone. Imam, having never lifted natural stones, single handedly hoisted and carried a 134lb natural stone across uneven terrain to forever claim it in his name.
We finished our workout with hammer levering. This was also a new exercise for Imam and he enjoyed it quite a bit. This exercise was a bit outside of Imam’s normal workout movements, and, provided quite the challenge. Wrist work has excellent benefits for heavy powerlifting, especially in the bench press. We worked several forms of hammer levering until the three of us called it quits.
Imam intends to join us for a future workout where he will school us on the ins and outs of powerlifting. We are looking forward to this as the three competition lifts in powerlifting are a part of our core workout program at Couch Potato Strong. Look forward to a detailed write up on this workout in the future.
Advice for average people at home trying to get fit and healthy
During the quarantine, like many of us, Imam has found himself with extra free time. Without any specific goals in mind, and, just to stay active Imam has started regularly walking. Over the past few months, Imam has noticed improvements in his focus, recovery, overall health, and, even his strength; just from regular walking.
Regular walking is something that benefits all. Walking not only burns calories and improves cardiovascular function; but, it has many psychological benefits. We all live in a very fast paced high-pressure world. A walk through the park or, along a trail allows the mind to reset. It reduces the perceived negative feelings involved with time pressure, increases positive affect, and, decreases negative affect. Regular walking is a critical aspect to quality of life and longevity.
“Watch what you eat and, move. It’s as simple as that”.
Thanks for reading.
Take care and keep moving,
Couch Potato Strong
Elahi, I. (2020). Among the stones. Couch Potato Strong. https://youtu.be/S0KAhVb9BhM