• 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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