My name is Paul Cooper and I’m currently the British & Commonwealth Raw Powerlifting Champion in the 74kg weight class. I hold British and Commonwealth Records in the Benchpress (156.5kg), Deadlift (256kg) and Total (611.5kg) and I’m currently ranked World Number 1 raw lifter in the 74kg class.
My journey into the sport is an unusual one to say the least!
As a 10 year old I took up athletics and stayed in the sport for 20 years. As a teenager I held county titles over the following events – 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, Long Jump, Pole Vault and Cross Country. I was County Champion in one or more events for 12 consecutive years.
At the age of 15 I decided to specialise in the 800m (for no other reason that the best coach in the area was a middle distance coach!). Over this distance I won medals at National Championships, held the County Record and represented my country. My Championship Best Performance for the U16 Boys 800m at the County Schools Championships still stands to this day (155.9 seconds in 1992).
As a senior I continued to win county titles and competed in the Olympic Trials and World Championship Trials but I never quite managed to break through to the international stage (hovering around 1min 50 seconds for years). I competed for Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers in British League Division 1. As a full time teacher I started to get increasingly frustrated, as I would often be the only competitor on the start line who wasn’t a full time athlete!
As an athlete I trained twice a day for years. A typical day would consist of a 5-mile tempo run in the morning followed by an interval session on the track in the evening. My rest day was a Sunday when I would do a 12-mile run to recover from the week!
I eventually retired from the track at the age of 30 due to niggling injuries. For a couple of years I kept ticking over and entered a couple of 10km races – running a best time of 33 minutes. I then increased my mileage to upwards of 60 miles per week and started competing in mountain marathons. I twice competed in the 2-day Karrimor International Mountain Marathon, in the A Class (now known as the OMM).
So, where does Powerlifting come in? Well, just over 3 years ago I started using the free weights gym at work with some friends. If I’m honest I was fed up with being a skinny runner so this was mainly for vanity reasons! I mainly did bench press and very quickly started pressing around 140kg (at a bodyweight of about 67kg). For the next few months my mates kept encouraging me to compete but I ignored them. Eventually I had a look on the Internet at some results and realised that I could do ok. I got in touch with the regional secretary and he invited me down to his club (Steelman – based in Morley, Leeds). My first proper competition came in May 2009 – the British Bench Press Championships, which I won. In my second competition I managed to break the British Record. All the while, I was still running 50 plus miles per week and competing in mountain marathons.
Eventually I eased off from the running and my weights started to fly up!
I am coached by Phil Stringer (6 times European Champion and Former World Record Holder) and owe a great deal of my success to him.
People often ask me how I have managed to make the transition from being an endurance athlete to a strength athlete and I honestly don’t know the answer. As a child I was very springy, long jumping over 6 and a half metres and high jumping 1m 80m (being only 1m 70cm tall at the time), so I think that had the best athletics coach in the area been a pole vault coach (or similar event) then it might have been a different story!
I suppose really, this is an example of how everyone is capable of being good at something but you just might not know it yet. If it weren’t due to the fact that I suddenly got vain when I was 33 years old then I would have never known what I was capable of. I would have grown old thinking of myself as a failed athlete! I’m now in a fantastic position where I am happily married with two gorgeous children and thoroughly enjoy my sport (which wasn’t really the case with athletics) and receive first class support from GB Nutrition!
My advice to anyone is to try as many different things as possible and eventually you will find the one that you excel at. More importantly though, you will hopefully find the one that you enjoy the most!