Master of powerlifting

Juneau's Ira Rosen turns to sport 'just for fun' and becomes a record-setter

Posted: Friday, March 08, 2002

Under the right conditions, Ira Rosen could probably bench press you.

This is impressive enough, but the idea takes on new dimensions when you consider that Rosen himself weights only 123 pounds. Oh, and he's 52 years old.

Rosen, who lives in Juneau, holds eight national and American records in the USA Powerlifting Association. Last May, he set all four national records in the 123-pound weight class for his masters age group (50-54 years old). His records are 385.75 pounds in the squat, 198.25 pounds in the bench press and 413.25 pounds in the deadlift, for a total of 997.5 pounds.

"I had been a recreational weightlifter, but mostly for fitness," said Rosen, who began powerlifting in 1988 when he was 38 years old. "And then a competition was held at the Juneau Racquet Club. I had never in my life done deadlifts, but I had done squats and bench press. So I thought well I'll give it a try, just for fun."

In that first competition, Rosen saw he had a chance to do something special.

"Even without really hitting it that hard," Rosen said, "I was within striking range of some of the masters records."

Since he was only two years away from being in the masters division, Rosen took the time to train more seriously. He started working out with someone who had powerlifting experience, and at his first masters competition, Rosen beat all the existing state records.

Next on Rosen's list were the national records.

"I looked at the nationals, and they were challenging but still within range," he said. "I thought if I keep going, if I keep making progress the way I am, I could challenge those. I started going to nationals right away, and within a few years, I did get a couple of the records."

But taking all these records wasn't as easy as it sounds.

"My first (national) record stood for about 30 seconds," Rosen said. "The next lifter up beat me. So I had trained all year for that one lift, got it, but only to go down a minute later."

Since then Rosen's records have been able to stand longer. Two of his records set five years ago in the age 45-49 masters division still stand.

Powerlifting is similar to Olympic-style lifting, commonly known as weightlifting, but the two sports differ significantly.

Where weightlifters concentrate on technique, powerlifters focus on pure strength. Olympic-style overhead lifts, compound moves like the clean-and-jerk, are replaced in powerlifting by three simple events, the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift.

"But because (the events) are much simpler, the lifts are much heavier," Rosen said.

Rosen's next competition will be in May, at the USA Powerlifting National Masters in Charlottesville, Va.

He's already in the second phase of his three-phase cycle training routine for contest preparation.

About three months before a competition, he begins conditioning and foundation-building. Four to five weeks later, the strengthening starts, weights increase and repetitions decrease.

Then, six to eight weeks before the competition, Rosen says the real preparation begins. That's when he starts to focus on real powerlifting, phasing out his aerobics, cycling, and martial arts. While in this phase, Rosen uses protective gear, knee wraps, weight belts, and support suits to minimize injury when he lifts competition-style.

As he trains for upcoming events, Rosen also must consider his weight.

"As important as the increase in strength is the lowering of bodyweight," Rosen said.

Until last year, Rosen competed in the 132-pound weight class, but he started a new fitness-diet program called Body for Life, and his weight began to drop. He stabilized at about eight pounds lower than his usual weight, and at that point Rosen realized he was within range of the next lower weight class.

"It turns out I'm a much better lifter at 123 than I was at 132," he said.

At his first competition in the lower weight class, every one of Rosen's lifts was a record.

According to Rosen, the weight loss is the result of a simple diet. He eats six times a day, balancing carbs and proteins at each meal, and drinks lots of water. Throughout the year he takes vitamin supplements, and for joint inflammations he takes chondroitin and glucosamine. Then, about six weeks before a competition, he begins taking Creatine.

"But you have to be very, very careful about what you take because of the drug testing," Rosen said. "There are many, many legal products which are banned. Just the fact that you can buy it in a drugstore doesn't mean that you can take it."

Cold medicines, even herbal teas can contain banned substances.

"If you have a cold, you're just going to have to tough it out," he said.

In addition to the national meets, Rosen also competes in the International Powerlifting Federation. He's competed in England, Argentina, Czech Republic, and Canada.

This year's international meet will be held this October in Villa Maria, Argentina. Rosen has competed in Villa Maria once before, in 1998, and he claims it was the most fun he's had at a competition.

"In that town, it was like a mini-Olympics," Rosen said. "They had the parade of countries with all the flags. They had the gauchos on horseback. The mayor made speeches. The center of town was pretty much dedicated to the opening ceremonies."

Rosen enjoyed the festivities and the recognition, which he says is sometimes disappointing in this country.

"In a lot of the world, the strength sports are pretty well regarded," Rosen said.

At 52, Rosen has considered taking some time off, but he doesn't plan to quit powerlifting anytime soon.

""I enjoy doing it, and as long as I have fun, I'm going to keep doing it," Rosen said. "I suppose at some point, if my totals start to go down instead of up, I might reconsider. But there are guys I see every year at the nationals, in their mid-60s and mid-70s, going strong, hitting it hard. They're an inspiration to me."

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