Joe Fahey, Software Developer on Powerlifting

The thing I love most about powerlifting is the friends I’ve made along the way – like-minded people who want to lift big and are always looking for ways to improve. There’s also a real sense of accomplishment when I set a new personal best, knowing that my success is a direct result of the effort I put in. Once I’ve got a new best, it’s time to improve, and that endless cycle of improvement is something that really works for me – it gives me something to focus on, even when other aspects of life may not be going to plan, so I can still make progress in the gym.

My name is Joe Fahey and I’m the Code Monkey in situ at PolyPico, a biotech start-up in Cork, Ireland. Our product revolves around a micro drop dispensing head which is capable of creating drops of liquid 50 trillionths of a litre in size. I’ve been with PolyPico for a year now and hope to still be here when our dispensers are being used in labs all over the world. I have a passion for 3D printing, which ties in nicely with my current role. Our machine is basically a 3D printer with a droplet dispenser in place of the plastic extruder. My personal experience in 3D printing meant I could bring a lot more to the role than just hammering out code on a keyboard. Not to mention, we have plans to add 3D printing as a feature of our machine, for interesting things like cartilage and stem cells.

Outside of my job, I love powerlifting. It’s something I started over a decade ago in college, and something I can’t ever see myself giving up. My time in the gym is my ‘me time’, where I can decompress, think through things that are going on in life, and pit myself against the tireless might of gravity which I refuse to let bring me down.

My first real interest in lifting came from a guy I lived with back during college. I was, for want of a better word, terribly overweight. He (being an outdoorsy type) suggested I take up lifting as a hobby and as a way to get in shape. So I did the usual thing it seems everyone starting their lifting journey does: I bought a barbell, some weights, and a few dumbbells, and then proceeded to use them maybe once every 2 months when I remembered they were there (the dust they collected added more weight to the lifts, I swear).

The real catalyst was during Societies’ Day of my 2nd year. I had been doing my level best to win a free jacket by doing a plank for as long as I could, which drew the attention of some guys who were trying to get sign-ups for their Olympic lifting club. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to hang out with some people who could show me the ropes, and that’s exactly what they did. I think my greatest inspirations in powerlifting were the 2 guys, Max and Trevor, who I met on Societies’ Day when they signed me up. I quickly became great friends with them both – we trained together at the club meeting times and during our lunch break. I learned almost everything I know about powerlifting from them – through their guidance and friendship, I managed to figure out how to get in shape and how to be more confident in myself. Between Max’s seeming omniscience in the world of lifting and Trevor’s boundless enthusiasm for attempting new things and pushing limits, I could not have fallen in with a better crowd.

Far and away, the Deadlift is my favourite lift. Generally speaking, it’s going to be the biggest weight you’ll be lifting, so that in itself is awesome. Also, when you’re deadlifting, you’re practicing Necromancy, because you’re raising the dead (that joke really tickles me).

I originally started out with a training plan called Starting Strength, a very basic lifting plan developed by Mark Rippetoe, a man who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk in a very big way when it comes to powerlifting. Eventually, your body will become accustomed to a workout, so it’s time to change things up. After Starting Strength, I moved to Stronglifts 5×5, and then on to 531 – these are both more advanced plans for people who are no longer seeing gains from Starting Strength or the like. It’s very important to track your progress and take note of areas of weakness so you can target them with isolation exercises and assistance work. I use the 5×5/531 apps for this, which allows for graphing over time across all lifts, as well as calculating numbers for lifts based on which phase of the plan I’m in.

Personally, I’m a big fan of listening to Mars, the Bringer of War in the lead up to a big lift – from the 3 minute mark up to about 4:30, it builds to this incredibly powerful crescendo, and really makes me feel like I could lift anything that was put in front of me.

At this point in my life/career, time and energy are the key challenges in my training. As the sole developer in a start-up, I find myself quite busy and drained by the end of the day. I find the best remedy to this problem is having an equally dedicated training partner in a very similar situation. Motivating each other to meet up and get our training in is probably the most important thing we do for each other (aside from stopping each other from getting crushed, I suppose). Physically, squatting has taken its toll on my knees over the past decade or so – these days, I wear knee sleeves to alleviate some of the pressure on the joints. Staying motivated in times like these where my joints ache or (in the worst case) I can’t raise my right arm fully is a real struggle. But at the end of the day, I push on because, well … I lift, therefore I am.

I have also done some work with the Irish Drug Free Powerlifting Association (IDFPA). My buddy Trevor had set up his own lifting club (Cork City Powerlifting Club, now Cork Strength & Performance Centre) and invited me to come along to catch up. At this new club Trevor had formed, my main focus became competition. We all signed on with the IDFPA and trained like there was no tomorrow. Aside from that, my gym buddy and I became the unofficial IDFPA IT guys for a while and carted our PCs around to competitions to stream the events live on YouTube. We’ve since moved on from that as both of our jobs are fairly time-intensive, and they’ve found some other young whippersnappers to do it in our place.

My first and only Powerlifting meet was in Middleton in 2014 – I’ll never forget it because in my rush to get to the car at 5 a.m. in order to make it there in time for signups, I fell face first down the stairs and twisted my knee! The event was a push-pull, so just bench press and deadlift. The atmosphere on the day was pretty intense, as people from all over the country were competing (some would qualify for nationals, and then on to the international level to represent Ireland in the WDFPA). For my part, I came 3rd in my category, which is fine by me. It was fairly nerve-wracking standing in front of hundreds of people as I prepared for my lifts, but the nerves were all forgotten the second I touched the bar as the crowd exploded into cheers of encouragement, as they do for everyone at the event. There was no favouritism, no hoping for someone to fail a lift so their friend/son/whatever would win; every single person who stepped up to the platform that day had the full support of the crowd no matter who they were. That was a really profound feeling – not just to be part of a club, but to be part of an organisation where everyone’s success mattered.

Coming from a place where my weight was out of control, my first and most memorable achievement was my first pull up and my first dip. These are some fairly basic bodyweight exercises that any gym-goer will be familiar with, but to the Joe of yesterday, they were a constant struggle of weight loss, targeted strengthening and mental preparation to achieve. Probably my favourite of the two was doing my first dip, because I then immediately did another, and another. It was as though doing one had shown me what I was capable of, and I kept on going.

In more recent years, my favourite moment was breaking the 200kg mark on my deadlift. I was at the gym that day to hang out with my buddy rather than train, but for some reason, I had the urge to deadlift. We loaded up the bar and he pulled 200kg (an easy feat for him being a mountainy man from Kerry, who I’m fairly sure is part forklift). For me, 200kg was a number I had been chasing for years. That day, I walked over to the bar and lifted it in one smooth motion; the only thing I remember was the surprise at what had just happened. Naturally, we both got excited by this, but then realised there was no proof of the lift (something of a joke we have between ourselves, but if there’s no video of the lift, it didn’t happen). Naturally, I’d have to pull it again. I took a short break and walked over and pulled 200 again like it was nothing – I’d finally caught my white whale! It’s over 2 years ago at this stage, but the sudden realisation that I’d gotten a lot stronger than I thought was really exciting.

Powerlifting has become a part of who I am, so my real future goals are to never stop. It has helped me to focus, destress, and mull over all the happenings during my career. My advice to people looking to do powerlifting is to read all you can. Watch every video you can when it comes to training. Find someone who really knows what they’re doing and learn all you can from them (Knowledge is power, as they say).

Keeping a positive attitude towards lifting is always helpful too. It’s obviously the case where failure is inevitable, nobody gets every lift, nobody has the energy to finish every set every workout, and nobody has the willpower to hit the gym every day that their program calls for. It’s important in these cases not to be too hard on yourself because rest is also a very important part of the process. Keeping things light is a big deal for me – having a training partner with a sense of humour makes things a lot easier, as the jokes between sets can take my mind off of failures or nerves in the lead-up to a big set.

Considering my career and my cosy little corner full of monitors, 3d printers, and cables, people are generally surprised to hear what I get up to in my spare time. There’s definitely still some stigma around being a computer nerd; nobody expects me to be interested in anything physical. Funnily enough, I faced the opposite stigma in a previous job, where I was known as the jock due to the powerlifting (sometimes, you just can’t win!). I doubt there’s anyone out there who is just one thing. Unsurprisingly, everyone is different, and we each have our own story, so putting these articles out there is absolutely a great idea!

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