San Marino Gym Owner Breaks Strength Records

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 | 7:25 pm

Chris Grace is the relaxed and friendly 42-year-old co-owner of Mission Fitness Center, a boutique gym in San Marino’s elegant Mission District. There he trains a wide diversity of clients, ranging from teen football players to senior matrons.

But last weekend, he was also awarded as the strongest 40– to-44 year old man in California in his weight class, breaking state records.

At the Southern California Open of the United States Powerlifting Association (USPA), held at the Long Beach Metroflex Gym on October 5, Chris blew past previous California weightlifting records for his age and 250 pound weight class— hefting a combined total of 1526 pounds on three different lifts, exceeding the California record by 133 pounds.

The three lifts, he explains, are the fundamentals of strength building, familiar to many people who work out in a gym – though normally people don’t lift quite so much. First, there’s a deep squat, in which the hips must go below the knee, with a barbell on the shoulders – Chris’ record-breaking lift was 530 pound at the competition. Next, the bench press, done flat on the back, lowering and raising a barbell in a controlled way – Chris broke another record, at 424 pounds. And finally, the most difficult, the dead lift, which Chris calls the “lift of all lifts,” leaning forward to pick a barbell off the ground, then standing up straight, holding it with arms extended downward. The California record was 507; Chris deadlifted 573.

And he did it in pink knee socks, at the insistence of his 12-year-old daughter. The socks did not clash with the 6” gold medal he was awarded at the end of a grueling day.

Although this was Chris’s first powerlifting competition, the victory was hardly a fluke. A year ago, he and his training partner Dom (who asked that his last name not be used) decided to go for the powerlifting records, even though neither of them had ever competed in powerlifting before. Dom, who is 43, wound up winning a silver medal in a lighter body-weight category than Chris.

What was the secret to their training success? “I don’t put myself in a dangerous position for my ego,” says Chris. They trained an average 12 hours, over four days, each week. “When I started I could only lift 1360 pounds over three lifts,” says Chris. “The first eight times I tried to squat 500 pounds, I had to drop the barbell.”

Through overloading by tiny amounts – and taking frequent rest days – he and Dom built themselves up gradually. Plus, he says, they were scrupulous about positioning, especially the back. “I’ve always focused on technique, technique, technique,” Chris says. “It’s only when you get out of alignment that you risk slipping a disk. There are established principles and systems that we’ve applied for the past year.”

Chris explains that he’s not Olympics-bound – the Olympics includes weightlifting, a different sport. “There’s more motion and momentum in weightlifting,” Chris explains. ”For example, weightlifting has the ‘snatch’, taking a weight off the ground, pulling it over your head, and standing with it. It can rip your shoulder out of your socket. Powerlifting is a lot safer; it’s all about control.”

Steroids are generally not a big issue in the powerlifting world, Chris says, though there may be a few rare abusers. “This is not a drug-tested event, and of course there are people who will use any means to reach their goals. I am only competing against myself – that’s what I like about powerlifting. At the end of the day, you’re trying to lift more than you did the week prior, whether by one extra repetition, or by one extra pound.”

In fact, the most important aspect of training is keeping records, says Chris. “And whatever your system is, you have to change it up every three months, so your body doesn’t get used to what you’re doing. It’s a matter of tricking your nervous system to tell the muscles to keep growing stronger.”

The preparation wasn’t without sacrifice, Chris says. He suffered elbow problems, requiring lots of rest, ice and massage. But he claims that the sport has actually been good for his back. Powerlifting squats are so deep that they engage many different muscles. “When you squat like that regularly, your back ends up being in better shape and more mobile.”

Chris, his wife Wendy (also a trainer and co-owner of Mission Fitness), and his children are all getting a big kick out of his win – especially the massive medal. “My 6-year-old boy couldn’t believe it. ‘I didn’t know you were going to get a medal, Daddy!’” His daughter – who told him he needed some pink in his wardrobe before the event – wore the medal to school to prove that she wasn’t making up her story of her father’s accomplishment.

Chris is now thinking about going for the US record for his class by the time he turns 44. The national record is 1703 pounds.

He’s also become a missionary for his new sport. “I think everyone should powerlift – maybe not in competition, but so they can, take out the trash, lift groceries, buy water bottles, move around in space, without feeling like they’re going to hurt themselves. Seniors should do it, women should do it. There’s a myth that lifting makes you huge – it isn’t true. Eating makes you huge, not lifting. There’s nothing wrong with being strong. The body was meant to be worked. I’ve trained a lot of seniors in lifting who tell me they can finally get out and do things again.”

A view of Chris’s and Dom’s record breaking performances are on Youtube, at

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