SPOTLIGHT SERIES 01 – Sal Castagnaro: Competitive Powerlifting

We got to sit down this week with Sal Castagnaro and discuss some competitive powerlifting! Sal is a 27 year old powerlifter from Long Island, NY.  He was a former college athlete turned powerlifter after multiple nagging injuries.  Once making the transition into powerlifting, he primarily focused on getting stronger and gaining body weight.  Since starting, Sal has added about 60lbs to his body weight, going from about 160lbs – 220lbs.  The gain in body weight added about 400lbs to his total and he has been progressing ever since, along with competing at various powerlifting events.

Tell our followers a little bit about what got you to this point in your career along with why you got into competitive powerlifting.

Sal: “I actually started “lifting” for baseball in college and really had no idea what I was doing. I had no real guidance until years later when I joined a strength gym and started getting coaching with programming.  It all started with “squatting” (and I use that term loosely) about three times a week and trying to strengthen my lower body. Since then, I’ve competed in numerous states and have added hundreds of pounds to my total along with a good amount of body weight.”

What are your major upcoming goals/events?

Sal: “I plan to compete in Allentown, PA in December 2019 to qualify for the 2020 USPA Nationals and from there I’ll probably compete at nationals in Columbus, Ohio if I do qualify. My goals right now are to stay at my current weight class and hit a 550+ Squat/ 350+ Bench/ 625+ Deadlift. With all of this in mind, my main goal is to get healthy and stay healthy.”

Which of your big three lifts do you feel is your strongest and which of them do you want to focus on getting better at?

Sal: “I would like to say my deadlift is my strongest lift. I always end up having an awful deadlift training block and then it always comes together on meet day.  I definitely need to work on my bench. It’s my weakest lift by far and right now, a nagging shoulder injury is preventing proper training. I’m looking to get that all figured out by December to hit a big bench.”

Periodization is a big part of competitive powerlifting.  How do you like to schedule your training blocks in the months leading up to an event?

Sal: “I normally compete twice a year, which gives me 6 months to fully prepare for the competitions. I’ve found that my body responds to volume really well. High-rep sets have always helped my strength greatly.  As I get closer to the meet, I taper down and cut volume until I figure out my opening attempts.  I tend to always hit PRs at the meet luckily, and not in the gym.”

How important are deloads in competitive powerlifting and how do you like to structure your own deloads?

Sal: “I think deloads are extremely important, especially in powerlifting.  I feel like so many people either don’t take deloads or take them every 4th week.  I don’t necessarily think you need a specific schedule for deloads.  I tend to take deloads on an as-needed basis. I’ve had times where I had deloads scheduled on the weeks I feel best and end up having to train on my worse feeling weeks.”

Speaking of deloads, do you have any particular nagging body parts that flare up from time to time?  If so, how do you deal with them during your training protocol?

Sal: “As training goes on and volume builds up, I do tend to have issues with my elbows flaring up. These issues stem from my bar positioning on squats. To fix the issue, I open my grip wider to take stress off the elbows and wear elbow sleeves to keep the area compressed and warm during training.  With better positioning I also work on mobility, prehab, and rehab.” 

I’m glad you brought up mobility.  What are your thoughts on mobility work for powerlifting?

Sal: “I think so many people either do too much, or too little mobility.  I’ve found that there really has to be some type of balance. Foam rolling is a great tool and I find that it’s best for after training, or very little before training. Too many people beat up areas with foam rollers and become too loose to the point of not being able to get tight during heavy lifts.  Being able to stay rigid especially during squats and deadlifts is so important, and foam rolling your back can make that super difficult at times.” 

What would be your best piece of advice for someone just starting competitive powerlifting?

Sal: “The best piece of advice I can give to a new lifter would be you’re not a powerlifter until you have a meet total. So go out there, find a competition, and have fun with it. Get a total on the board and use that as a starting place to build from. Have fun and don’t stress about cutting. Chances are that if you’re new to powerlifting, you’re not coming in with a record total.  Focus on your numbers and not with everyone around you. Your first meet should be a learning experience.  Talk to everyone! (especially the strong guys) You’ll learn a ton from them. “

“I also think someone will benefit from coaching and I think it’s needed to further your career in powerlifting.  Even the top level lifters in the world get coaching from someone else.  Last is get your nutrition in check and drink water! Feel good, lift good.  These are all things that will prolong your powerlifting career.”

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