Laying on his back, ready to bench press the national record of 413 pounds in the 198-pound class, a 23-year-old Columbus powerlifter was feeling confident.
After all, Luis Arreola already had lifted 415 pounds twice while training and was expected to break the state record in total pounds going into last month’s Acceleration West competition.
As the contest began, Arreola lifted all 413 pounds off the rack and brought the bar down to his chest. He pushed the weight back up and was two inches from clearing more weight that any 198-pound man has ever lifted when he heard a loud pop.
Arreola needed assistance pulling the weight back to the rack. And by the time he was upright on the bench, Arreola could no longer feel his right arm.
He would learn later that he tore his pectoral, which bruised quickly and began to swell up, Arreola said.
The weightlifter was told that if he continued to participate in the competition, he would injure himself more severely and be forced to have surgery.
“I was shooting for about 435 (pounds) that day,” Arreola said. “I would have destroyed the record. That’s what’s been eating me up. I knew that it wasn’t because the weight was heavy. I’ve done it multiple times.”
Arreola has felt the disappointment of losing high school football games as well as boxing matches, but those experiences didn’t come close to what he felt after tearing his pectoral.
“I felt empty,” Arreola said. “I didn’t want to talk to anybody … I feel like I let a lot of people down.”
Arreola, who usually spends 18 to 24 hours in the gym on a typical week, did not want to want to see any weight for a full two days after the competition.
After feeling such disappointment in his first competition, Arreola said he will be going into his next one with a chip on his shoulder. He already is back training for another competition in March, when he will look to shatter the national record.
Arreola has high expectations for an athlete who just started taking powerlifting seriously a little more than five months ago when his brother, Ulisses Meaa, sparked his interest in the sport.
Meaa started tagging him in a few online videos, and after doing his own research Arreola signed up for his first competition.
“I’m in the gym this much already, so I might as well do something with it,” Arreola said of his decision.
Arreola was never interested in lifting weights until he joined the Columbus North football team his freshman year. He played four years on the team and after graduation continued to work out in the gym. He was used to working on one muscle group a day before he started powerlifting but now has changed his entire workout routine.
He just focuses on the big three lifts — deadlift, squat and bench press — instead of working on isolated muscle groups like he did before.
“I went from spending an hour to an hour and a half on one body part to spending two hours on just one main focus, like chest,” Arreola said. “Then the next day I’d do legs and the next day I’d do deadlift and then go back to chest. So you are doing everything twice a week.”
Changing his exercises was a big change for Arreola mentally as well, because he was used to looking a certain way when working out all of the muscle groups. He also was not used to the extended rest between reps, now at least two minutes long.
On the days Arreola works as a residential officer with the Bartholomew County Court Services, he will go to the gym once a day for two hours. On his off days, Arreola will got the gym twice a day.
When a person is lifting as much as Arreola, it is important to maintain a balanced eating habit and follow the same eating routine daily, he said. He eats a meal every two to three hours, or about six times a day.
“I like to eat the same things over and over,” Arreola said. “If it works, stick with it.”
On his days off, Arreola will start his day around 6 a.m and sit down to play some music while getting his food ready for the day. He will get to the gym around 7:30 a.m. and stay until 9:30. He eats his four-egg omelet and three packets of oatmeal around 10:30 a.m. Arreola likes to keep to himself during training, so he usually runs errands between 10:30 and noon before eating a cup of rice and 12 ounces of chicken.
He may spend a little time with his grandparents or best friend before heading back to the gym at 5:30 p.m. and staying until 8 p.m.
“That’s usually my long workout,” Arreola said.
He stops at Chipotle on his way home, and the last meal of the day for Arreola is a cookies-and-cream protein shake he drinks before bed.
“That routine is the same Mondays, Tuesdays and the Wednesdays I have off,” Arreola said. “On my work day, I sleep in a bit and I only work out once. I go to the gym around 4:30 and have my dinner before I go to work at 10.”
Arreola will keep this same routine until the middle of March when he tries for the national and state records a second time. Meaa will also be participating in the next competition with him.
“He’s about the only person that I’ve ever lifted with who’s about as strong as I am. So it will be a double competition between me and him,” Arreola said.