The School Newspaper of Cherry Hill High School East


The School Newspaper of Cherry Hill High School East


The School Newspaper of Cherry Hill High School East


Elliot Sykes breaks powerlifting world records

Courtesy of Max Swartz (‘24) and Elliot Sykes (‘24)
East seniors Max Swartz (top left) and Elliot Sykes compete in powerlifting competitions.

Cheering faces shift around a panel of judges, trying to get the best view of the raised platform. Over a hundred audience members from around the country gathered at Kenmore Barbell & Fitness in Kenmore, New York, on January 20, 2024. All eyes were on 17-year-old Elliot Sykes (‘24). As the adrenaline kicked in, Sykes slowly, with the control learned through years of practice, began to lower himself, perfectly creasing his hips below the top of his knee — the proper position to meet lifting requirements. By successfully standing with all 606.2 pounds on his shoulders, Sykes broke the world record for under-18 raw squatting.

Sykes discovered his potential in powerlifting when he began wrestling as a freshman at Cherry Hill High School East. He began working out as a way to en- hance his wrestling skills, but after looking up teen- age powerlifting records, he realized that if he took lift- ing more seriously, he had a shot at breaking them.

“I told myself I would train for a year in power- lifting, break the national records, and after that quit,” said Sykes.

While Sykes did move on to break dozens of state, national and international records, he is far from quitting.

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In his sophomore year, Sykes signed up for his first competition, paying for the registration fees himself using money he was making as a lifeguard. The September Smash took place on September 12, 2021, in New Jersey. Inexperienced and intimidated, Sykes felt unprepared for competition, as he was unfamiliar with strategies.

In standard powerlifting competitions, lifters are given three attempts for each of the three lifts: squat, deadlift and bench. A lifter must choose the weight of their opening attempt carefully. Depending on how the opener feels, the lifter can choose to increase their weight for their next attempt or stop. Lifters, however, cannot choose a weight lower than that of the opening attempt. It’s difficult to determine the correct weight to start on, as it cannot be too heavy, but it also should not be too light. Choosing a light amount will only leave two more chances to increase the weight to the highest attainable amount.

“If you don’t go deep enough on your first squat, but it felt really easy, you have to make the choice of staying at that weight or moving up but still be able to squat lower at the heavier weight. If you fail all three attempts for your squat, then your whole en- tire meet is disqualified,” said New Jersey powerlifter and East senior Max Swartz (‘24).

While Sykes missed many of his attempts — al- most getting disqualified — he managed to break all of New Jersey’s powerlifting records under “Raw Teen 1” — “raw” meaning with- out the use of supportive equipment such as a belt, and “Teen 1” meaning ages 13-15.
Sykes broke these records across all body weights. In order to take body weight into account, a DOTS score is calculated. This system creates a score that is adjusted based on the lifter’s weight, gender and other classifications.

Since then, Sykes has continued to learn and grow. He has created an optimal routine that balances safety, rest and training.

“I only go to the gym four times a week. Most people expect me to say like six days a week. If you get more rest, you can use more weight,” Sykes said.

When training, Sykes prioritizes specifics — training to see specific results, all while keeping in mind fundamentals such as fatigue, volume and load. Usually, he squats and deadlifts twice a week and benches two to four times a week.

In order to avoid fatigue, Sykes incorporates variations throughout his workout week. Variations allow him to highlight a specific part of a movement while using less weight. This less fatiguing movement strengthens a certain component of a lift.

“Usually one of the days for squat and deadlift will be a variation and then two to three of the bench days will be a variation,” Sykes said in regards to his 4-day workout schedule.

Managing fatigue is one of the most important and challenging aspects of powerlifting. Deloading is a commonly used strategy in which lifters use less weight and volume.

“You would think training more means more strength, but a lot of the time less is more,” said Swartz.

Sykes continued to apply these strategies as he trained and competed in four other competitions.

On February 19, 2022, 15-year-old Sykes compet- ed in the Iowa State Open, where he became the top raw lifter in New Jersey under 18. One month later, on March 23, 2022, Sykes’s third competition was na- tionals. There, he was the youngest on the podium, coming in second place behind one of the best 19-year-old lifters in the world for his weight class. This placed Sykes second nationally from ages 15-19, without any professional training. November 5, 2022, was his fourth competition, The Ataraxis Open, where he received, at the age of 16, the best DOTS score worldwide for under-18 raw lifting.

His last competition was on January 20, 2024, in Kenmore, New York. He competed under the new federation he is now a member of, Powerlifting America. Prior to this, Sykes entered the powerlifting community through the United States of Amer- ica Powerlifting (US- APL) organization. With Powerlifting America, an affiliate of the International Powerlifting Federation, he can compete internationally and move on to the world com- petition for 18 and under in the near future. At this competition, Sykes received a DOTS score of 513.56. Now, on the Open Powerlifting database, Sykes is in first place out of the recorded 7,379 lifters worldwide for teens 16-17 raw in his weight class.

Another East senior, Swartz, began his powerlifting journey in the summer of 2023 after years of working out in the gym. Only seven months after his first competition, Swartz is currently ranked second in the state in his weight class for Raw Teen 2 (ages 16-18).

“I was always going to the gym and I saw Elliot start powerlifting and getting really strong, so that kinda inspired me to get into powerlifting. So over the summer, I asked him if he could train me for my first powerlifting meet and he guided me through all the steps and everything,” said Swartz.

Swartz is a current member of the USAPL and has participated in three competitions in which Sykes has accompanied him as his handler — a source of support and help.

“After my first competition, I realized the potential of what I could do and what I wanted to become,” said Swartz.

Lifting continues to be a learning experience for both of them. At his first competition, Swartz underestimated how low and how long his squat had to be. Now at the gym, Swartz prioritizes that his reps follow the guidelines of competitions.

Before competitions, the two follow a similar routine. Two or three weeks before, they use heavy weights to do high-intensity workouts with less volume, or reps. The week before a meet they deload, also known as a taper, allowing them to rest by working out less frequently and by work- ing with unchallenging weights.

Yet, besides the physical aspects of powerlifting, the sport also comes with mental challenges.

“For me, it started out really, really easy because I wasn’t really committed to the sport and I was kinda new to it, so I didn’t have any people setting expectations for me and I didn’t have any expectations for myself, I just wanted to go and lift heavy stuff. Then I started to grow a social media following and spent a lot of time worrying about that. I feel like most of the pressure is self-placed because no one really expects a certain amount from you,” said Sykes.

In order to alleviate these feelings, Sykes has taken a break from social media. Now, Sykes reminds himself to stay consistent and work hard for himself.

“I used to get so upset whenever I had a bad lifting day, and now I just move on to the next day, and if the next day’s better then the next day’s better. Not a big deal,” said Sykes.

In general, powerlifting is an incredibly supportive and positive community. With dozens to hundreds of people wanting to see each other succeed, the adrenaline blocks out the competition nerves.

“I’ve done all types of sports, and out of all the sports I’ve done, powerlifting has been the most positive environment that I’ve experienced. It’s all people just screaming for each other just to lift weight and it’s really nice,” said Sykes.

During his November meet, Sykes recounts when he received a standing ova- tion for his 573.2-pound squat and 600.7-pound deadlift.

“It was a feeling like no other. In wrestling you have people yelling and stuff in the crowd, but it’s never like you’re staring at them and you just gotta lift weight and do what you do every single day. It was pretty crazy. I’ve never ex- perienced something like that,” said Sykes.

Swartz and Sykes plan to continue their powerliftiing journey. Swartz sees powerlifting as a way to challenge and improve his body, competing against himself and seeing the rankings as another factor. For Sykes, as he continues to hold higher standings at the international level, he sees powerlifting as a large part of his future as he hopes to compete against all age levels.

“For the people trying to get into it, training is easy, competing is the hardest part, but it is also the most fun part. So really, what you should focus on is having fun, don’t stress out if your first meet doesn’t go well, who cares, that’s what it’s for, it’s to learn how to actually do it,” said Sykes.

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About the Contributor
Ella Hampton
Ella Hampton, Eastside Culture Editor
Ella Hampton is a senior and an Eastside Culture Editor. At East, she is on the tennis team and is a SGA representative, a peer leader, the Social Studies Honor Society President, and more. She also enjoys working on expanding her club, Camden Connections. Ella enjoys spending her free time listening to music, traveling, and being around friends and family.

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