How Powerlifting Made Me a Better Libertarian

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Libertarianism is a very physical worldview.

A recurrent and basic theme in libertarian writing
is the human body. For instance:

  • "Let us…concentrate on the question of a man's ownership
    rights to his own body. Here there are two alternatives: either
    we may lay down a rule that each man should be permitted (i.e.,
    have the right to) the full ownership of his own body, or we may
    rule that he may not have such complete ownership."
    (Murray
    Rothbard
    )
  • "State laws, regulations, and actions are objectionable
    just because the state is claiming the right to control how someone’s
    body is to be used." (N.
    Stephan Kinsella
    )
  • "…the principle of self-ownership stands at the basis of
    libertarian thought. Each person is the owner of his or her own
    body." (David
    Gordon
    )

Individuals exercise self-ownership through a variety
of physical choices such as a man choosing to wear a beard or not.
For the despotic alternative, consider the prohibition of beards
by Albania's Enver Hoxha and, more recently, Turkmenistan's
Saparmurat Niyazov
.

Athletic endeavor is a particularly emotional exercise
of self-ownership. Accordingly, sport can yield great appreciation
for one's body and the ownership thereof. I would like to share
my recent experience in such an endeavor.

I was a competitive martial artist in high school
and lost interest in college. A couple of years ago, I began lifting
weights to build a stronger, healthier body and re-cultivate my
kinetic identity. In short, I fell in love with the intensity, efficacy,
and individuality of strength training. (Training partners can be
great, but ultimately it's you and the bar.)

My athletic temperament remained, and I sought
a competitive application to strength training. This is how I discovered
powerlifting.

Powerlifting is a sport consisting of three one-repetition
maximum (1RM) attempts in the squat, bench press, and deadlift,
for a total of nine attempts. Powerlifting is more specifically
a sport of relative maximal strength, with weight classes ranging
from 97 lbs. to over 308lbs.

Powerlifting is also a sport of mastery with several
criteria for successful performance. To give a few examples, a squat
must break parallel (where the top of the legs at the hip joint
is lower than the top of the knees, not exactly commonplace in gyms);
a bench press requires a pause at the bottom (no trampoline-style
ugliness where people bounce the bar off their chests); and there
can be no downward movement of the bar during a deadlift.

I gravitated to what is called raw or unequipped
powerlifting, which consists of wearing only a belt with the required
singlet.
(Depending on the federation, knee wraps and wrist wraps are also
allowed.) Assistive gear
such as squat
and deadlift suits
and bench
press shirts
— in short, they create immense tension and enable
higher lifts — predominate powerlifting today, but this style of
competition doesn't appeal to me. (I'm the type who considers Scot
Mendelson's world-record
raw bench press of 715 lbs
. more impressive than his equipped
bench press of 1008lbs
. And then there's Dennis
Cieri
benching 525 raw as a 198.)

I initially found no raw meets in my region and
thought I would be unable to compete. Through research, I discovered
the USAPL Florida
federation offered an unequipped division at its meets.

In November, I attended USAPL Florida's Southeastern
USA Regional Bench Press and Powerlifting Championships
. I was
impressed by the professionalism and solidarity I observed and decided
this was the right federation for me. (Powerlifting could be called
an anarcho-capitalist sport in having many federations for lifters
with different preferences concerning gear, drug testing, etc. Heterogeneity
and choice reign.)

A February
state championship
was announced at the end of the competition.
This is where the rubber would meet the road. Was I really serious
about competing or not?

I sent in my registration in December.

On February 24, I
competed
successfully in my first meet. By "successfully,"
I mean my subjective definitions of success: getting on the platform,
not "bombing out" by making good attempts in each lift,
and ending
the meet with a personal record (PR) in the deadlift
.

I was also successful in the objective sense of
winning my division in my weight class, but this isn't paramount.
The competitiveness of powerlifting is largely internal, and PRs
usually matter more than medals. As champion powerlifter Nick
Tylutki
observes, "In this sport, success isn’t measured
by winning, in my opinion. It’s measured in self-improvement through
goal setting, hard work toward that end, and breaking through that
goal."

I also made several errors that cost me a significant
amount on my total. (Total is best squat plus best bench press plus
best deadlift.) These errors included lack of sleep the night before,
weighing in too light, and making an excessive jump between my first
and second bench press attempts.

Live and learn. Overall, it was a wonderful experience.

My next meet, what's called a push-pull (bench
press and deadlift), is in May. I currently enjoy being a local
(i.e., state) lifter and sharing my love of the sport.

To be nationally or internationally competitive,
I would need to do things that don't appeal to me such as gain a
large amount of weight, with probable negative health consequences.
In this vein, retired elite powerlifter Jim Wendler notes,
"Anyone who has tried to compete at the highest level knows
that athletics are not that healthy." (I'm 6'1 with long
arms and legs and weigh around 180. Leverage figures importantly
in powerlifting, and to compensate for my biomechanics I would need
to weigh well over 250. For a comparative perspective, champion
powerlifter Brad
Gillingham
is 6'5 and over 300lbs.; Tony
Cardella
is 6'0 and competes in the 275s; Dave
Ricks
is 5'6 and competes in the 181s; and Wade
Hooper
is 5'3 and competes in the 165s.)

Ultimately, though, it's my body.

For those who consider powerlifting too dangerous
(yet often support danger-filled sports like football), no one is
coercing you to enter a meet. But I doubt you will find a sport
with as much decency and mutual support as powerlifting.

"The sport of powerlifting is the greatest
sport in the world," Frederick
Hatfield
wrote in 1981. "Ask any powerlifter." (In
1987, Hatfield squatted 1014lbs., which set a world record.)

Powerlifting did not make me value self-ownership.
I was a libertarian before I became a powerlifter, and my attraction
to powerlifting probably arose in part from being a libertarian.

But
powerlifting has deepened my concern for self-ownership. My passion
and my freedom are intertwined. Now more than ever do I appreciate
the words of Frederick Douglass:

"It is a fundamental truth that every man
is the rightful owner of his own body."

March
10, 2007

Myles
Kantor [send him mail]
Myles Kantor writes from south Florida.

Myles
Kantor Archives

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