From physique challenge to powerlifting competition, our reporter embarks on new journey with UAE’s Desert Barbell

Sport360's Alex Rea took part in a physique challenge earlier this summer and now embarks on a new challenge with Desert Barbell.

Alex Rea 2018/08/20

Sport360°’s Alex Rea has teamed up with the guys at Desert Barbell to embark on a six-week powerlifting challenge, working alongside industry experts ahead of his first ever competition. Track his progress each week and see everything from training to technical analysis and see his development from novice lifter to stage competitor.

Earlier this summer I effectively starved myself for two months. During an eight-week physique challenge, my body morphed from your average bodybuilder into a leaned-out stage-ready competitor.

Physically, the tailored nutrition programme – a politer way to say ‘unfed’ – sucked a lot out of me, but the real damage was mental because it was just so incredibly draining.

It would be some weeks until mind and body recovered from the brutal cut down to six per cent body fat and it was even longer still before I felt anywhere near comfortable with hitting heavy compound lifts again.

But as soon as I did, the impulse to embark on a new challenge bolted in my brain like the thought of donuts during my weight cut.

I’ve always had a taste for powerlifting because it’s such a crucial cornerstone of weight training, stretching across all forms from bodybuilding to CrossFit and beyond.

Most people will enter a gym and perform at least one of the three lifts in their lives – squat, bench and deadlift.

Granted, the vast majority will be like me in their primitive understanding of these movements, yet the primal rush you get from lifting heavy metal can’t be beaten.

When it comes to training, my outlook has been so utterly clear in its narrow-mindedness, lift heavy at every opportunity, which to me is effectively every day.

To a point, it has worked because I’ve developed some natural core strength, but predictably bad habits have also emerged.

In other words my form is largely horrifying and to any watching eye with half a mind for powerlifting, the sight of my hunched back during deadlifts must have them, much like my spine, at a snapping point.

At 26, I very much conform to the ‘bro-lifting’ stereotype of chasing big numbers regardless of how it’s achieved.

Genuinely, though, there is nothing more frustrating than knowing you are doing something wrong and not understanding how to fix it. That above everything else is what I hope to take away from the next six weeks.

Yes, this is ultimately a numbers game because when I step onto the podium to perform the three lifts at Powermeet 5.0, the tangible reward will be the digits on my scorecard.

But it would be embarrassing to do so in front of a packed house full of experts with horrible form. Where the physique challenge was about what my body looked like, this is the polar opposite as it’s about how my body works.

From the battle with the mirror, I now get set for a battle against the powerlifting bars.

Wish me luck, and probably save a little more of that good fortune for my coach from Desert Barbell, Patrik Hedqvist, because he has a job on his hands.


Welcome to the first installment of Coach Corner with Desert Barbell co-founder Patrik Hedqvist. Over the next six weeks, Patrik will be whipping our reporter Alex Rea into shape ahead of his first ever powerlifting competition at Desert Barbell’s Powermeet 5.0. The Swede, 42, is one of the leading lights as powerlifting begins to illuminate the sporting landscape in the region and here’s all you need to know about the expert physio and strength coach.


My love of sport has manifested across various disciplines from football and hockey to motorcross and tennis.

However, at the turn of the century I discovered my true vocation – powerlifting.

I started training with weights in the early ’90s and from the very beginning I took it very seriously because I was fascinated with the body’s response to exercise and nutrition.

So, in 1997 I took my PT degree, followed that up with the advanced degree and then in 2001 entered university to become a physio. It was during this time my connection with powerlifting was formed and after graduating, I continued my studies delving into sports nutrition and orthopedic manual techniques.

From 2005 I’ve been working as a physio and living in Dubai for the last three years as a physio and strength coach at Scandinavian Health & Performance.

In 2018, me and my business Marco Cipolat launched Desert Barbell and from September I’ll taking on a full-time coaching role with the business.


From a competitive standpoint, I’ve completed more than 50 comps since my first in 2002.

Medals have been achieved on both the local and national stages, but undoubtedly the proudest moments have arrived in recent years with bronze medals for bench press at both the IPF Worlds in 2017 and the IPF Europeans 2018 in the -105 kg class M1 category (age 40-50).

In terms of coaching, I’ve been training lifters for well over a decade and have worked in the Swedish Powerlifting Federation, both as a coach and in the anti-doping committee.

In 2013, I was assistant coach for the national team at Europeans and then head coach the following year.

Allied with that, I was also the head of regional development for five years, competing with Northern Finland and Norway.


Technique and high specificity when it comes to powerlifting movements are the two pillars of my training style.

A fairly high frequency means being able to keep the loads a bit lower than on high intensity regimes and I usually train my lifters in blocks of four-six weeks, but also with a longer term plan of three-six months.

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