Stephen “Blake” Lehew has earned three world titles for powerlifting over the past two years. Two weeks from now, he’s expecting to win his fourth.
Powerlifting competitively for the better part of nine years, Lehew graduated from Maypearl High School in 2013 and went on to compete throughout his time at Texas A&M University. He graduated with his bachelor’s in Sports Conditioning in Spring 2017 and currently serves as the coach for A&M’s powerlifting team.
He recently won his third world title at the International Powerlifting Federation Classic World Championship in Calgary, Alberta in June and is currently training for his next competition, which is in two weeks in South Africa.
FOOTBALL TO FIRST BENCH
Before he pursued powerlifting, Lehew played football for nine years. When he started lifting weights during the off-season, he began to realize his full lifting potential.
“It didn’t take me long to realize that I was a much better powerlifter than I was a football player,” Lehew said. “I’m about 5’5, 170 pounds. Not exactly built to be on the football field, but it actually works really well for the sport of powerlifting.”
Lehew said one of his friends noticed his bench press and asked him how much he weighed. That’s when Lehew was introduced to the prospect of powerlifting.
“He started explaining about how I would be very good at powerlifting,” Lehew said. “He said whenever I became a freshman, I should stick around after school and start lifting with the powerlifting guys.”
Shortly after consistently lifting with the other powerlifters, Lehew joined the team and started going to competitions. But he was so new to the sport that at his first competition, he made a mistake.
“I was like half a pound over the weight class,” Lehew recalled. “The guy was like ‘Eh, I’m not gonna make you try to lose that half pound.’ So he just wrote my registration number on my hand and let me go on in.”
HIGH SCHOOL VS COLLEGE
Lehew enjoyed powerlifting so much that he decided to continue pursuing it throughout college, joining the A&M powerlifting team as soon as he could. Lehew said competing at the collegiate level is starkly different than competing at the high school level.
“In high school, you do five to six competitions in maybe a two month period,” he recalled. “Now I might do four to five competitions in a year.”
In 2016, Lehew won his first two world titles in IPF’s June and September championships. Lehew said the biggest difference between both titles was in equipment: equipped lifting fits him in a padded suit and knee wraps, while raw lifting is performed only in a singlet, shoes, a belt and maybe some wrist wraps.
“You’re wearing more supportive equipment, but it gives you more on each lift,” Lehew explained. “Raw, I can squat roughly 600 pounds. Equipped, I can squat a little over 700.”
At 168 pounds, Lehew said he could also raw bench approximately 390 pounds and raw deadlift about 670 pounds. Lehew explained that placement in competitions is dependent on your best squat, best bench and best deadlift. The total you get from all three lifts calculates your final score, and Lehew won his world titles by outscoring everyone else.
Competing in the Czech Republic, Canada and next month in South Africa, Lehew said he never expected to be traveling the world through powerlifting. Lehew made all-state during his senior year of high school and traveling then pales in comparison to the miles he makes now.
“State was in Abilene,” he recalled. “To me, that was traveling. I never imagined myself taking it as far as I have.”
Lehew said the most significant difference between high school and college was recovery time. When he was 15 or 16, his body was able to handle two to three meets a month because his body recovered quicker. That’s not the case now that he’s older.
“I’m only 23, and a lot of people are like ‘You’re still young,’” Lehew said. “Not when you’ve been doing powerlifting for as long as I have.”
Lehew said he has to pace himself and watch his body so he can continue to compete at the highest level without any problems. Because of that, Lehew stressed that recovery is one of the most critical aspects of powerlifting.
“Some would even say it’s quite literally the most important thing,” he explained. “If you don’t take care of your body, then you’re in for a rough ride.”
ROUGH AROUND THE EDGES
Because powerlifting is such a strenuous sport, Lehew said it’s relatively common to get hurt while training. He thankfully never broke or tore anything, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t tied his hamstrings or had a sore back.
In those cases, Lehew said it’s important to listen to your body and treat it the way you need to.
“My elbow might be a little inflamed,” he elaborated. “Maybe a mild case of tendinitis, or maybe a rib popped out of the socket. It’s sore, but there’s nothing really wrong. I’m in this constant state of it kinda hurts, but I’m fine.”
Dieting is also essential to the powerlifting practice. Even though Lehew doesn’t follow a consistent diet, he stays aware of what he eats and mostly consumes protein and carbohydrates, as well as some healthy fats in dairy and peanut butter.
“I literally can’t remember the last time I have eaten fast food,” Lehew remarked.
In his junior year of high school, Lehew decided he wanted to help others become their best selves by becoming the best version of himself first. He did that recently with his 60-year-old father-in-law, who started lifting with his competition equipment in his garage.
Shortly after, his father-in-law was diagnosed with stage one cancer and had to have his prostate removed. It took him a week and a half to fully recover.
“The doctors told him he recovered faster than anybody they knew,” he explained. “That’s because of the lifting.”
Lehew said after he competes at the Junior Powerlifting Championship in September, he’s going to continue coaching for the next year before moving to San Antonio, where he plans to become a professional trainer at Heavy Metal Fitness.
“Everyone can lift,” he said. “Whether you’re 12 years old or 80, everyone can lift.”
David Dunn, @DavidDunnInTX