Some people think power lifting is simply about being strong, but one local man and his team of around 10 people are here to say there’s more to it than that.
No one knows this to be truer than Birchmans Pereira, 67, a Bower resident, Guinness World Record holder, and power lifting world champion.
Pereira, who has spent the last 56 years in the gym, has been setting world records from a young age, and while he continues to do so he also has a knack for training world champions.
Five days a week from Monday to Friday, Pereira and his team can be found within the walls of Red Deer’s own Peak Fitness. The mix of Central Albertans on Pereira’s team, ranging in age from 18 to 68, have little in common with one another aside from their individual desires to be stronger and the core common denominator of Pereira training them.
Among the team members is Margaret Ann Estabrooks, 68, who began her power lifting adventure alongside the world champion only three short years ago, and has since gone on to break world records of her own.
While Estabrooks has always lived an active lifestyle throughout her younger days through horseback riding in the summers and skiing in the winter, as she grew older she found herself with a case of arthritis and unable to keep up on a family trip to Prague.
“It was hot out and I couldn’t keep up with my daughter she said she thought it was because I wasn’t fit,” explained Estabrooks. “I started going to a personal trainer but never once while I was going to those sessions did I have the sense of feeling strong.
“I could barely do the sessions, it was time consuming and expensive – I didn’t like it so I quit.”
The next attempt to reach her personal goal came when she took to the Collicutt Centre where her and a friend would walk the track and use the fitness machines available.
“Every time we would finish for the day I would get off the machines and say how my leg would hurt or my knee – there was always something aching and we had had enough and my friend suggested we try training with Birchmans at that point.”
She remembers her first day at Peak well.
“Right after walking into Peak on that first day, it was obvious right away I wasn’t at the Collicutt anymore – I turned to Mary Anne and asked, ‘Do you think we can get our money back?’
“I looked around at all of these incredibly strong people and immediately created a list in my head of all the things I wasn’t going to do – I especially was never going to be squatting.”
Little did she know, her world champion coach had other plans for her and soon she would be on the world stage winning a few gold medals of her own at the 2014 World Championships held in Argentina.
It was only a few short weeks after her first day at Peak that her rule list flew out the window and she found her feet shoulder width apart and a broomstick across her shoulder blades learning proper squatting techniques.
“The bar itself is 45 pounds so when some one starts out squatting their technique won’t be the best,” explains Pereira on why the broomstick to begin. “I recommend squatting to everyone unless you have really bad back problems.
“It really is the best exercise as it is both aerobic and anaerobic – if you have to squat with just the bar for the first 10 reps your heart rate will go higher than it would on a treadmill for a half an hour.”
Three years after her first day Estabrooks is now dead lifting over 250lbs – to which she says, “Is a lot of weight for a senior!
“Power lifting is more than just a physical strength – it’s about doing your personal best and it requires you to push yourself as an individual and that’s also what Birchmans does when you’re training with him,” she said.
“Partly because of my age I am hesitant at times to push myself, but he’s always there saying, ‘I know you can do more’ and so eventually I try and usually he’s right.”
Estabrooks explained for a senior, there is no better feeling than to be strong, adding power lifting improved not only her fitness level but also her posture, arthritis, and her confidence stating Pereira truly is, “The Dalai Llama of the gym.”
Many would assume training from a world champion would come at a steep price, however Pereira has but a few rules and regulations to train alongside him and none of them have a price tag attached.
Those wishing to be a part of his team must only hold a membership to Peak Fitness and be present at the gym from 4 – 6:30 p.m. if they wish to train with him and there is to be no swearing, no spitting, no phones, no music and no drugs.
When asked why Pereira chooses not to charge people for his training and expertise, he explains a story from his youth.
“When I was young I came to the gym seven days a week, I thought everything I was doing was right until one day this older man came up to me and told me he felt sorry for me – in my young arrogance I said what do you mean bad for me?”
“He told me I was doing it wrong – he said come work out with me for a while and when you get comfortable you don’t have to anymore.
“Immediately I noticed a difference, my breathing was different, my technique was different – before I was very aggressive with my training and didn’t care how I got it done – I just wanted to do as much as possible as fast as I could.”
Upon informing his trainer he couldn’t afford to pay him, the man replied in return for the knowledge and strength he had given Pereira he must one day pass it along to another. Over the last 50 years Pereira has trained hundreds of athletes and body builders and will be taking his current 10 to the 2015 World Championships this year in Portugal.
“I’m very confident,” said Pereira. “I don’t believe in luck – I believe in hard work, good mental ability, confidence and self esteem – these are the things I instill in my team.”