Last Saturday in San Diego, Brandon Ha bench-pressed 435 pounds to set a United States Powerlifting Association world record, which isn’t much of a surprise, maybe only to himself.
“I was shocked,” Ha said.
Like Tom Brady, he’s getting better with age. The New England quarterback and Hilo powerlifter are both 41 years old.
Three years ago in Las Vegas, at age 38, Ha set a USPA world record with a bench press of 424 pounds in the same 165-pound Raw division.
In the perennial fight against advancing age and diminishing returns, Father Time is undefeated. Athletes get older and watch their games, no matter the sport, tumble down a mountain.
Name a famous athlete and there’s an unsightly time-to-retire memory, such as Michael Jordan failing on a dunk as a Washington Wizard or Willie Mays stumbling in center field for the New York Mets.
So what is Ha’s secret?
“Basically, I train really hard,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of different equipment at the Penn Fitness and Training Center. JD Penn asked what kind of equipment I needed, and they bought two competition benches. It makes it easier for me to train.”
He does listen to his body, which is a key.
“If I feel something is really not going, I’ll stop and switch to something else,” he said. “I strengthen all my weak points. When I was younger, I could train through pain and heal faster. Now that I’m older I’ve got to listen to my body. If it’s don’t do it, then don’t do it.”
Ha also had his own set of motivational fires from his wife Liza’s support to his spotter and uncle Kenneth Ha to his other uncle Richard Ha, who helps as a sponsor.
“I felt 100 percent when I went up there. My mindset was in the right place,” Ha said. “On my end, I’ve got a lot of pressure put on me. When you go up there, anything can happen. When I go up there, I want to make sure the money people are putting into me is not wasted.”
Ha has come a long way since he started lifting in 1994 as a Waiakea junior. Back then, he weighed 150 pounds.
He’s got perhaps the perfect physique for bench-pressing. Ha is 5 feet 2 and three-quarter inches. He’s got a compact muscular frame and not a long distance to push a bar, compared to someone who’s 6 feet with longer arms.
The NFL standard for strength testing is 225 pounds. Former Oregon State defensive lineman Stephen Paea, who retired from the Cowboys, set the record with 49 reps in 2011.
Ha didn’t do a 225-pound NFL rep test. But he managed 350 pounds, heavier than most NFL players, 20 times.
He started training four months out and went heavy with sets of five at 390 and 400 pounds. Then with the San Diego competition around the corner, Ha went cold turkey and cut lifting one week before to give his body some R&R.
Basically, he flew in blind to the bench press. He has three attempts and has to take a gambler’s call to figure out his weight attempts. Go too heavy from the start and drain energy or take a conservative route.
He went 402, 424, and 435 pounds and cleared each one. Maybe next time, Ha will go heavier from the start.
But now, he can go back to his no-so-fun diet of chicken breast, broccoli, and brown rice. There are only so many times someone can eat that meal on a daily basis. He does treat himself. He’s not Tom Brady eating avocado ice cream for dessert. Sometimes, Liza will buy him a happy meal from McDonald’s.
So what does a guy who can bench-press 435 pounds do for fun?
“For fun, I just lift,” Ha said. “I love weight lifting.”