Max Higgins is strong. At 5’10” and 266 pounds, one might confuse the muscular bulges protruding from his chest and arms for watermelons stuffed under his T-shirt.

By squatting 733 pounds, bench pressing 540 pounds, and dead lifting 606 pounds, the 21-year-old Santa Barbara native and UCSB law and society major took first place at the 58th Annual Iron Man Powerlifting Championships in the men’s open division over this past winter break.

The event, held in Fresno, California, was a qualifying competition for the American Power-Lifting Federation Senior Nationals (APFSN) to be held this June in Baton Rouge, La.

“It’s one of the biggest meets in the country – it’s cool just to get to go,” Higgins said. “It’s an honor to get to compete with those guys.”

By lifting a total of 1,879 pounds in the squat, bench press and dead lift at the Fresno competition, Higgins surpassed the 1,848-pound weight requirement to advance to the APFSN. Although he was still eligible to enter the junior 18-to-23-year-old division, Higgins entered the men’s open bracket, competing with other professional and amateur lifters in their early 30s.

In Baton Rouge, he will be going for a combined weight total of 2,000 pounds – one ton – in order to earn the title of American Power Lifting Association “Elite.”

“In the weightlifting world, it’s like having the phrase M.D. or Ph.D. before your name,” Higgins said. “I’m going in there with the intention to do my best, but in a very humble way. I don’t expect to win because these are the professionals. I’m going for the personal goal.”

From Football Field to Weight Room

At Santa Barbara High School, Higgins was a self-described “okay” football player, but he said he was always able to lift more weight and in better form than his teammates during weight room workouts.

During a workout, a friend from the team told him he should enter a weightlifting contest at the Santa Barbara Gym and Fitness Center.

At 17 years old and 215 pounds, Higgins surprised himself – as well as his older competitors – with a 556 pound squat, 336 pound bench press and 502 pound dead lift.

“I fell in love with it, Higgins said. “By the time I was 19, I was ranked number three in the nation in the teenage class.”

He said very few other weightlifters in the world, if any, share his youth and strength.

If he qualifies this June at Baton Rouge, Higgins could move on to a World Powerlifting Congress (WPLC) event.

“If you’re serious about weightlifting, [the WPLC] is where you go to be with people just like you,” Higgins said. “But I’m probably not going to hit the [qualifying] numbers.”

“Bitten By the Iron Bug”

“At these competitions, everyone is so positive and the environment is really supportive,” Higgins said. “The feeling you get from lifting your heaviest weight is as good as scoring a touchdown or kicking a goal. They call it being bit by the iron bug. Once it got a hold of me, I was hooked.”

Higgins does not train alone. His coach and mentor, Ryan Geraurd, supervises his workouts, and his training partner John Allstadt helps with spotting his lifts. Dave Dallmeyer, a physical therapist, gives Higgins deep tissue messages before and after workouts.

“I don’t and I couldn’t do this on my own. It takes a ton of people to help with training,” Higgins said. “Sometimes I whine like a little girl because the workouts are so tiring, but they put up with me.”

In addition to strength, weightlifting is a matter of timing. Variables affecting peak performance on any given day, especially competition days, include diet, health, supplement consumption, amount of rest and proper training.

“Most people never really have a day when everything comes together,” Higgins said. “It takes a lot of fine tuning and a long time to develop. It’s very easy to get injured or sidetracked. The higher you go and the more weight you lift, the less room there is for error.”