We take a look at what it takes to be a champion powerlifter like the Olympic gold medalist.
Hidilyn Diaz. Art by Maya Caran Dang, converted to black and white.
Just a few days ago, Hidilyn Diaz made Filipino everywhere proud by bringing the country its first Olympic gold medal ever. She ended up breaking two Olympic records as well. Furthermore, her feat of strength has reportedly been inspiring plenty of Filipinos to start lifting too. Pretty cool, huh?
Let’s say you wanted to be like Hidilyn and be able to lift 224 kilograms over your head. Where should you start?
To be honest, we don’t know either (oops!). So what we did was talk to someone who did know how to start. That someone is Nathan Dominguez. He is a graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Human Kinetics. He’s also a former national champion, a national team member and a former Southeast Asian Games champion for arnis, so he definitely knows what he’s talking about when it comes to being a world-class athlete.
“Well, let’s establish some facts. Hidilyn is an international class elite athlete. She is a national champion, Southeast Asian champion, Asian champion, world champion, and now an Olympic champion,” says Nathan. “Her first SEAGAMES was in 2005, her first Asian Games was in 2006 and her first Olympics was in 2008. In short, it took her 16 years to win an Olympic gold medal!”
So if you’re going to train to be like Hidilyn - a world-class, multi-medalled athlete - what steps should you take? Nathan says there are five things you should do. Surprisingly, none of these are exercise programs.
Have a big dream.
“Training for a long time is not easy,” Nathan says. “If you’re going to be training for the sake of training, you will get burned out before long. And not only that, you will suffer in training, plus, you will definitely get plenty of defeats in contests. You will encounter many obstacles to your goal. You will be tempted to quit many times. Quitting is easy, after all. To keep going, you’re going to need a bigger reason why you’re doing what you’re doing. For example, for me, it was being part of Team Philippines. It was wearing the Philippine flag on my chest as an official representative of the country and of Filipinos. In short, have a dream that’s bigger than the challenges you’re going to face.”
Understand the process of becoming an elite athlete.
As Nathan said, it took Hidilyn 16 years to win an Olympic gold medal. So if you think Hidilyn just lifted a heavy barbell to win, you’re thinking wrongly. “Getting to the Olympics is a full-time, long-term project for any athlete. One doesn't just get chosen to get there. You can't simply apply either. For every athlete in the Olympics, there are thousands of others who competed for that spot and lost,” Nathan explains. The process starts at varsity level competition in universities. If you get chosen, you will eventually compete for that spot with many other athletes in the country. And you’ll get sent to different competitions around the world and compete against other athletes from different countries. If you win, that’s the only time you get a shot at joining the Olympics. Doesn’t sound easy now, huh? You’re really going to have to be on a different level to stand a chance, much less win.
You must be passionate about what you’re doing.
“On a personal note,” Nathan relates, “I started my arnis journey in 1990 and entered my first tournament in 1993. I became a National Champion in 2005 and a Southeast Asian Games Champion in 2005 as well. I tried my hand at competing in other sports too like dragon boat rowing and powerlifting. And they were definitely rewarding for me. However, nothing keeps you on the road to your dream like the sport that you have a passion for, and which you identify with very much.” In short, if you want to lift like Hidilyn but don’t have the passion for powerlifting, you’re not going to last long. If you’re going to invest time in a sport, it can’t be something you do just once a week. It has to be something that you will live, eat, and breathe.
Build yourself a strong foundation and a good support system.
“In sports science, we study what we call “the parameters of fitness”, Nathan says. “There are health parameters like muscular strength, muscular endurance. Then we have performance parameters like agility, balance, and coordination. To train to be an elite athlete, you have to develop yourself in all these parameters to perform at the highest level.” You’ll need a good coach who will bring out the best in you. You’ll need the right team behind you. You’re going to need someone who has your back when you feel like giving up. You’ll need someone to help you with strategies, tactics, and so on. Just like Hidilyn has her Team HD, you can’t become an elite athlete all by yourself. “Every advantage you get, it matters,” Nathan advises.
Accept that your journey to elite status will cause you to have a different “normal”.
“There are no shortcuts to becoming elite,” Nathan says. “Your lifestyle will be different from that of your friends. You’ll end up having at least two training sessions a day. You’ll need to watch what you eat. You can’t sleep late. As the competition draws near, it gets worse. You’ll be sacrificing a lot of things like family life. You won’t even get a personal life. And if you ask any champion, they’ll tell you the same thing. You’ll be sacrificing so much for a reward that you might not even get. But once you win, once you reach what you’re gunning for, all of the sacrifices you took? You’ll definitely feel that it’s all worth it.”