For Bob Covello, powerlifting is more than a lifestyle

At 71 years old, the powerlifter recorded a 341.7-pound squat and a 248-pound bench press

POULSBO — If you work out at the Poulsbo Athletic Club, there’s a good chance you’ve seen or at least know of Bob Covello. The 71-year-old powerlifter squats, benches or lifts there almost every day and he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

When asked if Covello has any nicknames at the Poulsbo Athletic Club, he chuckled while adding he hopes not.

“Most of them think I’m crazy, but they don’t call me that,” he said.

Although he didn’t start “seriously” working out until his 30s, Covello has taken up a passion that has led to multiple state powerlifting records in various age groups. Most recently, he competed in the Amateur Athletic Union’s Washington State Powerlifting Championships on Feb. 10, breaking two American and four state records.

What makes his feat more impressive, though, is he did it in the 70-74 age category. Athletic Trainer Mark Smaha, who supports and occasionally helps Covello, said that is exponentially difficult because as people age, their bodies requires more time for working out and more time for recovery.

“For people over the age of 50, to lift weights and gain strength, you pretty much have people lift every other day,” he said. “But when you get older, it takes an extra day to recover.”

Covello added that he loses muscle easily if, for example, he misses a week due to sickness or injury. To complicate matters further, it takes longer to build muscle mass back up — something he knows well due to three hernias and persistent knee pain.

“That is one of the problems of powerlifting,” he said. “Anyone that is in powerlifting for quite some time is going to sustain some type of injury … I’ve had a lot of difficulty and operation on my knee. And then of course, [there’s] the periodic shoulder problems.”

His record-setting performance at the state championships qualified him for the AAU World Powerlifting Championships, held in Nevada. But Covello missed the April 6 event because of knee pain. That being said, there are multiple championships held annually and, if all goes well, he’s hoping to attend the upcoming September event.

Performances that inked his name in the world championships include his 341.7-pound squat, which broke the national record set in 1999 for that age group and 181-pound weight class. Covello’s bench press of 248 pounds also surpassed a previous long-standing American record, which was set 16 years ago.

Smaha said he admires Covello not just for his accomplishments, but also for his technique.

“When you’re lifting that kind of weight that he’s lifting, like for instance a squat … you have to use the technique and do it perfectly to maintain your spine,” he said.

That’s not an uncommon piece of advice from gym rats and trainers everywhere. Without good technique, people can cheat themselves from a beneficial workout.

Even if lifers tilt forward as little as 10 degrees while holding 20-pound weights in each hand, Smaha said that’s a recipe for disaster as it can place between 500 and 750 pounds of pressure on the vertebral disc.

“He works religiously,” Smaha added. “He knows what he’s doing. I was really excited for him when he told me he won. I’m the type of person that if somebody wins something, I think they should be rewarded and recognized for it. I took his stats from his lifting and my wife made up a congratulations poster.”

No stranger to the state championships, Covello said the most unique takeaway from the event was and always has been the camaraderie between competitors.

“Some of the competitors I’ve trained with but most of them I know, or I have trained with their coach,” he said. “It’s really kind of unusual that you find that type of support from your competitors. Everyone wants to see the other person do the best they can do.”

The retired Project / Operations Manager said he grew up on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, but as the population increased, he became dissapointed in how busy it has gotten there. He and his fiancée, Kathie Swanson, were particularly drawn to Poulsbo because they found it was like their experience on Queen Anne years before it became a popular neighborhood.

“It’s not as busy, it’s a very nice community and a nice place to live,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of great people here at this gym.”

Along with Smaha and Irv Shotwell, one of Covello’s long-time friends, he said that Swanson has been especially supportive in his powerlifting passion.

“Kathie has always been my greatest supporter,” he said. “She accompanies me to every meet, nurses me through my injuries and always encourages me not to limit my expectations.”

— Jacob Moore is a reporter for Kitsap Daily News. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @JMooreKDN.

<em>Covello broke four state records at the AAU Washington State Powerlifting Championships on Feb. 10.</em>                                <strong>Jacob Moore</strong> / Kitsap Daily News

Covello broke four state records at the AAU Washington State Powerlifting Championships on Feb. 10. Jacob Moore / Kitsap Daily News