Many aspire to be like their parents, but few can say they hope to grow up a weightlifter as strong and disciplined as their mother. Michael Soya DPT’15 grew up watching his mom lift weights and knew he wanted to be just like her.
Soya’s December 1 victory in the Northeastern USA Regional Powerlifting Championships serves not only as a testament to his talent and skill, but also to the hard work and the time involved in becoming a winning powerlifter.
A current P1 physical therapy student, Soya has had a busy year. In addition to his lifting, he also serves as the vice president of the Student Physical Therapy Association, as treasurer of the Alpha Chi Honors Society, and as a Student Government Association senator of the Exercise Science and Wellness Management Club.
Seven years ago this month, Soya start lifting with his high school football team and quickly “fell in love with the feeling of growing stronger,” he said. Jim Brown, the owner of the gym near Soya’s childhood home, who also happens to be an American record holder in the USA Powerlifting (USAPL), enrolled Soya in a program described as “second to none.” Brown became Soya’s powerlifting coach with promises of making Soya into a top-level competitor.
Soya’s training for regionals, and powerlifting in general, primarily focuses on three competition lifts: squats, bench presses, and deadlifts. Each of these has technical standards during competition, so performing the lift within those standards during practice is critical. To condition the body, strengthen movements, and protect joints, Soya performs accessory work beyond these common lifts.
Pointing to Henry Ford’s famous, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right,” mantra, Soya explained that, “mental toughness and the belief in oneself is also key to success. While training is important, the belief in your capabilities is crucial. If you're not 100 percent sure you can perform a lift with a given weight, you probably won't. Powerlifting is as much physical as it is mental.”
Beyond mental conditioning, Soya also finds internal motivation a necessary component of his success, believing a person has to want it for him or herself. Wanting something for the right reasons, and separating oneself from emotions like vanity or pride, also helps a person to carry on.
His success in regionals earned Soya a place in USAPL's Raw Nationals, the largest event in drug-free, unequipped powerlifting in the country. There, Soya will face the nation's best in powerlifting, all of whom will come into the meet at their top performance-level and the stakes are high.
This time around, Soya plans to focus a bit more on accessory work to have better overall conditioning and to stay injury-free. In addition, he will place a greater emphasis on stretching and plans to do so about two days per week in addition to both before and after his four training sessions.
Soya will also incorporate more mental training. Undergraduate coursework at USciences, in his Psychology of Cognitive Processes and Sport Psychology classes, exposed Soya to mental training for the first time. The topic is well-researched and proves to be very effective by his standards.
“Mental practice essentially involves performing the movements in your mind, rather than acting them out. This imagery excites the same neuronal pathways that are active during the movement,” Soya explained. “I plan to set aside time a few nights a week to perform mental practice, focusing on every detail from body positioning, movement pattern, and the weight. One big caveat is that you should try to make the scene appear as vivid as possible,” he continued.
If all goes according to plan, Soya will go from visualizing himself at the top of the podium lifting a first place trophy to making it happen.