Have you ever talked to someone and immediately feel connected to them as if you've been friends your entire life? That's how I felt the first time I chatted with Lisa. We started talking about her becoming an admin for Club GWPL, our Private Facebook Group and we talked about it and everything in between, even doing our very own seminar focused on Women's health! (Details to come!!) And let me tell you guys, she's a freaking genius! Keep reading to get to know my amazing brilliant and strong friend, Lisa Maximus!
Introduce yourself to the GWPL Nation
Hi GWPL Nation! My name is Lisa Maximus (MacDonald). I am 31 years old and I live in Salt Lake City with my husband Bobby Maximus, my son, and my step-son.
When did you start powerlifting and what are your best lifts/total?
I started powerlifting 18 months ago (although I have over 8 years in the fitness industry). My best deadlift is 391lbs, my bench is 205lbs, and my squat is 400lbs. I planned to PR all those lifts in the next six months but that has changed since I found out we have a brand new baby on the way.
You speak a lot about the differences between women and men and how it relates to life. Where did the passion to talk about that come from?
My passion for Women’s Health came from all the damage I did to myself during my own fitness journey. I tried all sorts of fad diets to try and get more fit, leaner, and add muscle. There were times I wasn’t following a proper training program and I’ve suffered from an eating disorder. I actually lost my menstrual cycle for 7 years and faced some fairly serious health-related issues due to my under-eating and overtraining. During those years I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I really thought I was doing the “right thing”.
Over time I realized that it wasn’t because I was failing or not doing the “right thing” but because I had a serious problem I had to fix. I also realized during my healing process that there is a ton of false information relating to women’s health. There isn't a lot of good information on the hormonal differences, psychological and physical differences between men and women especially when it comes to fitness. To top it all off there are all kinds of what I consider to be negative role models for women on social media and in the public eye. Frankly, there are some women people look up to that they shouldn’t be looking up to. My life goal has become to educate women, inspire them, be a good role model and help women avoid going through what I went through.
You transitioned from being a bodybuilder type program to powerlifting- why and how did that affect your daily routine?
I was never a bodybuilder or physique competitor. I used to be into HIIT training very intensely, to the point that I was training around 6-7 hours a day. I would run first thing in the morning, immediately go to the gym and do HIIT training, come home for a small lunch do a 20-mile bike ride, then go back to the gym and do another intense training session. I never saw the progress I really wanted to see. This pattern of overworking and undereating continued through my first pregnancy. After I gave birth to my son I wanted to get more fit so I was doing a lot of cardio work and cutting back on calories. That exasperated milk supply issues I was having so I had to back off cardio and just lift. At that point, I realized how much I loved lifting and how much I actually hated cardio. My husband said, “You can just lift if you want. It’s a sport called powerlifting”. We got the opportunity to visit Westside Barbell and I jumped at the opportunity to go meet everyone there. I immediately fell in love with the sport. I went on to pursue my Strength and Conditioning Certification through Westside Barbell. Only training 4 days a week and the intensity of training was such a change for me. I loved it. I loved working hard and learning to recover and eat for my fitness goals. It gave me new insight into how important calories are and how much neglecting recovery can affect real progress.
What was the toughest time period you've ever been through and how did you get past it?
The toughest time period of my life was dealing with my eating disorder. I had convinced myself that wanted to look lean and muscular and essentially starved myself. My eating disorder never got better though. Not until I realized that my eating disorder didn’t stem from a desire to be skinnier but rather stemmed from some deeply seeded psychological issues.
Once I realized that the path to curing myself was simple but certainly not easy. I started to do some serious self-work and I discovered that I had issues with self-image and self-worth and that they went deeper than I could have imagined.
I started doing therapy and began to understand how my upbringing affected me in such a negative way. The therapist helped give me the tools to make a change. I needed to change my mindset, my perspective and focus on my healing my trauma. I also had to learn coping mechanisms to live a happy and healthy life. It was only then that my body image started to change, and I took control of my Eating Disorder.
You're a wife, a mom, a business owner, and a powerlifter. How do you balance your life?
When it comes to balancing being a business owner, athlete and mom it takes determination and being good at “scheduling”. I don’t let work appointments mess with my training schedule. That is sacred. The best advice I got about time management was to “be the dentist” (Ever try to make a Dentist appointment? You’re on their clock. Not yours). This means that I have a standing appointment with myself for my training and nothing comes above that. If someone asks me to meet during a training session I simply say no. We can always meet at another time. If you are serious about your training I suggest you do the same.
What's the best advice you've ever received about lifting and how did it impact your life?
The best advice I received about lifting was that “you have to believe it for it to become true”- Bobby Maximus. My husband told me that I needed to believe that I was going to be the best to actually be the best. That meant that I needed to eat, sleep, breathe and train like a world champion lifter even though I wasn’t one at the time. I had to focus on recovery and eating to make gains in the gym. I had to prioritize my training. I had to sacrifice girls’ nights out and hanging out with friends if it would affect my training. I had to work on mindset exercises and sports psychology to help stop negative self-talk and set myself up for success. I had to treat myself like a champion in all aspects of life and believe I was a champion. Doing that really helped me change the way I looked at myself and the way I treated myself as an athlete. It also was a major catalyst for success.
If you loved this and want to get to know Lisa a bit better find her on Instagram
When you think about Girls Who Powerlift, you think of strength. But that strength doesn't just mean how much you can lift. True strength comes from struggle and what happens when there's no other option. No struggle is harder than being sick and having to fight for your life. We had the immense pleasure of interviewing Valerie Valentino who is a 23-year-old cancer survivor. Just after finding her passion for powerlifting she was diagnosed and had to learn to be just as strong outside of the gym as she was inside the gym. Here's her story.
Introduce yourself to the GWPL community
Hello! I’m Valerie Valentino, I’m 23 years old and I’m a cancer-surviving powerlifter. I recently moved to North Dakota with my boyfriend because he got stationed here. He’s my boyfriend, but he’s also my coach and he’s taught me everything I know about the barbell.
When did you get into lifting and why?
I got into the gym straight out of high school. I was an athlete all through school, so after graduation, I just needed something to keep me active. When I first stepped into a gym I was intimidated and scared! I didn’t know how to use anything and I thought everyone was looking at me and knew I had no idea what hat I was doing. I started seeing people squatting, benching and deadlifting, and I was like hey, I want to learn how to do that. So I started asking people to show me. Most people showed me the wrong way, but eventually, I asked a powerlifter (Kevin, the boyfriend) and I learned the right way. I started with just the bar and slowly was able to add weight. Then something awesome started happening; I started getting stronger! What felt impossible one week, I’d be lifting the next. I fell I love with the feeling of hitting a PR. I fell in love with improving myself. And before I knew it, lifting had become one of the biggest parts of my life.
Which of the big 3 is your favorite and why?
My favorite of the lifts changes from time to time-based on whatever is feeling best for me at that time. I love deadlifting because I feel like it’s the most savage and I honestly have fun doing it. Squats I feel are more impressive and take a lot of technique in order to excel at them. Squatting takes a lot out of me so when I know I have a heavy squat day I usually make an afternoon of it. The bench is probably the lift that I’m most proud of. When I started I could hardly bench the bar and I’ve had to work very hard to get where I am today. I remember when benching a plate (135lbs) was a dream of mine, and now I can rep a plate and that just a great feeling to have.
Talk to us about when and how you were you were diagnosed with cancer?
I was diagnosed with cancer on January 16, 2018. My boyfriend was deployed and he was coming home the very next day so it wasn’t exactly how I wanted to welcome him home. So here’s how I found out; I was training for a new job and now was just standing there listening to my coworker when I touched my neck. I instantly noticed a golf ball size bump above my collar bone that I had never noticed before. I kinda panicked so this girl probably thought I was out of my mind. Well, I asked around over the next few days and people all said the same things to me. “Oh it’s just a swollen lymph node”, “oh you’re body is just fighting off an illness, it’ll go away”. Well in my 22 years of life my lymph nodes had never done this and it wasn’t going away. It would fluctuate in size and after a few months, I decided to see a doctor. I really thought it was nothing. I thought maybe they would have to remove it but nothing serious. So I got referred from doctor to doctor for a couple of months and was growing impatient with their lack of urgency. I remember saying to myself, “what if it was something serious like cancer, and they’re just taking their sweet time”, not thinking I actually had anything serious like that.
Eventually had a biopsy on it, which hurt very badly, and they told me the news. I was pretty devastated for different reasons. First off, they told me I was going to lose all of my hair. I had long beautiful brown hair and I was going to lose it all. Secondly, I had just signed up for my first powerlifting meet and I was really pumped for it. I was stubborn and I said I was going to compete anyway. I kept training only to become weaker every week. It got to the point where I couldn’t even do the main 3 lifts without hyperventilating and I eventually made the decision to back out of the meet.
At first I was aggravated by how many months it took them to diagnose me, but honestly, it was perfect timing. If they had told me any sooner I wouldn’t have had Kevin home to help me through it all. He was the one who shaved my head when I couldn’t handle the shedding anymore. He’s the one who sat by me when I was getting chemotherapy. He’s the one who cooked for me when I was so sick I could hardly speak. Things like that make me feel like everything happens for a reason because I would have hated to have faced this alone. It was hard. It was really really hard and it’s still hard at times. I felt like I was losing everything that made me feel like me. I lost my long beautiful hair. I lost my strength and I could hardly do anything at the gym. I had to watch all the strength I had trained so hard to gain, just fade away. I lost my energy and I was sick every other week. I had a lot of side effects from treatment too. I got mouth sores so bad I couldn’t eat or drink. The pain was so bad I couldn’t sleep more than 30 minutes and I’d wake up crying again. I got random skin discoloration due to hormone imbalance. I had heat flashes non stop. I was given a shot to turn off my baby maker in order to protect it so I could have kids one day. With that came menopause essentially. So on top of going through chemotherapy, I got to go through menopause as well.
I had 8 rounds of chemo, one every other Friday for 4 months. My last treatment was on June 1st, 2018. I got back to powerlifting almost immediately. It wasn’t easy and the chemo was still in my system for about 6 months after treatment was over. I was just itching to get under a bar again. Kevin wrote me out a program and I started getting my strength back, and it came back pretty fast.
Before long, I was stronger than I had ever been. I signed up for my first powerlifting meet and competed March 23, 2019. I got first place in my weight class for open and juniors and took 8 state records. Talk about a freakin come back! I will never give powerlifting up. It was always there for me even when I didn’t know it was. It's shown me how strong I really am and what my body can overcome. When I was sick And stuck in Bed for days all I could think about was lifting again. When Kevin would go to the gym I’d go with him even though he told me I needed to rest.
How did being sick and going through treatment affect your life and your training?
Having cancer and going through chemotherapy affected my life and my training tremendously. As far as training went, I really couldn’t. I couldn’t even touch a barbell after the first month of treatment. I still went to the gym and did what I could, but I just continued to get weaker. I was so anxious to be able to lift and train hard again. I had been so used to pushing myself in the gym, but for the first time, I really couldn’t do that. It was hard. It was hard losing everything that I thought made me, me. I lost all of what I believed to be my best qualities. I lost my strength, my long beautiful hair, my perfect skin, and most of my muscle. Powerlifting had become a passion of mine and I had to take a step back. The great thing about powerlifting is that as soon as I beat cancer and I was ready to train again, it was still there.
What advice would you give to someone who is dealing with a setback?
There are not many young powerlifting women going through cancer. So when I got diagnosed there were a lot of questions the doctors couldn’t answer for me. The advice I would have given myself would be that it’s ok not to be ok. It’s ok to be sick. I didn’t know the difference between being lazy and just being really sick. I tried to push myself and I was too hard on myself.
What have you learned about yourself going through this process?
I really learned how strong I am going through all of this. I learned how much I could inspire others with my story and that's exactly what I hope to continue doing. I learned that powerlifting will always be there for me to come back to, and I learned that the come back is stronger than the setback.
Has your fight with cancer affected how you live and train now? Meaning, are you more careful or mindful of things and if so, how?
Well, I definitely appreciate powerlifting more than I ever did before and I also came back more motivated than ever. I came back with a vengeance for the weights. I came back with a point to prove. I really just wanted to feel like myself again. It still tries to hold me back in the gym at times though. I have acid problems now so I have to be careful when I lift or I'll throw up ( yes, it's happened}. During chemo, I had a port in my chest and I only had one sports bar I could wear to the gym because if it, People would ask me why I always wore the same one, so they probably thought I was a weirdo. Now I have a pretty gnarly scar on my chest from my port and it still gets irritated from my sports bras and tank tops, but I just suck it up.
Do you have any specific goals in powerlifting? (i.e. totals, PRs, specific records you want to break)
Right now my goal for powerlifting is my next meet that’s in October this year. I want to break my own records I just set it March. I’d like to squat and deadlift around 350 and bench 170, so fingers crossed!
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
It’s really hard to say where I see myself in 5 years. Whenever Kevin gets stationed I’ll follow him and my job transfers easily anywhere in the country. Maybe we’ll still be here in good olé North Dakota, or maybe we’ll end up closer to our family on the East coast. I’ll probably be married with a little monster running around, and I’ll definitely be even stronger than I am today. Oh and I’ll have long pretty hair again because I’m never cutting it short again in my life. I hope Kevin and I are still competing together and pushing one another to be the bests version of ourselves possible.
(Just for funsies) What's your favorite breakfast meal?
First of all, breakfast if my favorite meal. The perfect breakfast would be a ham and cheese omelet, cinnamon French toast, 7 pieces of crispy bacon, a fruit salad and a very large iced coffee. Please and thank you.
Get to know Valerie a little bit better on Instagram
The past year has been a year of growth. I needed to reset myself. Honestly, it had nothing to do with powerlifting but because that was such a huge part of my life I needed to break up with it in order to figure what other aspects of my life had taken a back seat. I’ve learned so much in the past year. Going through it, made me feel as though I had failed, but now being partially on the other side of it, I realized that it was necessary. I had some real conversations with myself and those close to me and what I found out was that I needed to get healthy.
I had built up this idea that I was a powerlifter so as long as the weight was moving I was going in the right direction but that was a lie and eventually the weight stopped moving. Powerlifting, while it was a part of my life, wasn’t my entire life. I wasn’t eating well and I wasn’t moving well in or outside of the gym. Things that I should have been able to do with ease were hard. Going for a jog, walking up stairs, standing for longer than 20 minutes. Those simple things made my heart race and made joints, back and feet ache. I felt like a much older person. I’m in my early thirties with no real illnesses. My strength started to plateau.
What helped: I used what I had. I’m the proud owner of an incredible gym that offers boot camp classes for beginners. I wasn’t a beginner to the fitness world but because of the way I was moving, it was if I had to start from the beginning. My joints got stronger. My cardiovascular system was getting better and I was starting to be able to run and jump as I had never before. The next thing I did was ask for help! This one is big because I’ve often felt like asking for help meant that I was dumb or inadequate in some way. I realized that although I knew what I needed to do, I also needed accountability. I got a nutrition coach. She has changed my life! I’m not at the place where I quite understand what she did for me but what I know is that I’ve never thought of myself as a person with discipline and somehow I’ve been so disciplined and focused and it’s really starting to pay off. I’ve never been prouder of myself.
I was terrified daily. I was afraid that everything that I had built would disappear. I was afraid to move or make decisions because I was putting so much pressure on myself. I began to isolate myself because I was embarrassed about my feelings and I felt alone because I didn’t think anyone understood what I was going through since I couldn’t exactly articulate it myself. One day, I thought to myself, “if I was gone, no one would care. In fact, everyone and everything would be better off even be more successful. I am the reason for every bad thing is happening.” I wanted to disappear. I confessed my feelings to my husband and he encouraged me to seek help. I went to a therapist and learned that I wasn’t alone. In fact, there were actual legitimate reasons why I was feeling this way and she gave me practical, tangible advice. I also sought help from others who were like me. I read books, listened to podcasts and read articles and blogs from other female entrepreneurs. I realized that most of us go through very similar seasons in life. It was enlightening. I listened and put into practice everything that I had learned.
What helped: I envisioned the person I wanted to be and started taking steps to become her. I cleansed my social media. If it didn’t serve me or bring me happiness I unfollowed or muted the account. I started doing things like setting alarms in my phone or writing on my mirror messages to myself to remind me of the person I wanted to be. Strong. Confident. Happy.
I took my life back! I stopped thinking about what others thought of me and I stopped worrying about whether anyone was ok with it or not. I couldn’t afford to give anyone that much energy.
I’m happy to say that this journey, although it’s still the beginning, has gotten me to where I’m training again! I have a new powerlifting coach and we’ve been working together for 5 weeks and I’ve never felt stronger. I went from trying to do it on my own all the time so having a group of people that are dedicated to my success and happiness.
I wanted to share this part of my life so that you know that you are not alone. If you are not happy with some part of your life you have the power to fix it. If you feel lost, there are ways to find yourself and you owe it to your future self to do so. Remember that seasons are cyclical and if you keep moving forward eventually you will be in a new season, a bright colorful one that’s full of new beginnings but you have to keep moving. Ask for help and do the work! You got this! I believe in you!
The king of all exercises: the squat. What seems so easy for some can truly be a royal pain in the ass for others. Perfecting your squat technique takes an understanding of biomechanics and consistent refinement and practice. Working with a variety of athletes and being a competitor myself I found there are a few cues that can improve the squat from both a performance and injury prevention standpoint. Before I get into those cues, it is important to understand what type of squatter you are.
Generally, there are two camps of people. The people who have an upright, seemingly perfect squat form and those who resemble more of a folded over, good morning-type squatter. The Internet trolls may disagree with me here, but NEITHER is good or bad. The respective form is dependent on your individual leverages, strengths, and weaknesses so having an understanding of where you fall on this continuum will be important as you read through these cues.
The first type of squatter are those people as I mentioned who will remain relatively upright during the descent and ascent of the lift. These lifters have proportions (i.e. femur length compared to torso length) that are relatively balanced which allows them to squat deep and remain upright for most of the lift. Again, generally speaking, these people will have strong ass legs in comparison to their low back.
The second type of squatter are those who tend to look pitched forward at the bottom of the lift. These are the people with long femurs in relation to their torso, thus creating a squat that looks more like a good morning coming out the hole. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, we can’t change how our bodies are built, but it’s just a different “look” to the squat. People with this form typically have strong backs in comparison to their legs.
Regardless of where your squat falls, the following 4 cues can be used to un-f*ck your squat, particularly for raw lifters.
Cue 1: “Squeeze your elbows together”
The squat really starts in your set up. This often over-looked aspect by a lot of beginners is perhaps, in my opinion, the easiest and most impactful cue because if you’re not prepared from the start, your squat will go to shit real quick, regardless of how “perfect” it may be. Whether you are implementing the high or low bar set up, the idea of squeezing your elbows together remains. Your hands should be placed as close to your shoulders as your mobility will allow. Elbows should be pointing back behind you as you think about pulling them “together” or towards the spine. Again, this will look different on everyone, but the concept remains the same. Squeezing your elbows together will allow your upper back to create a “shelf” and secure the bar into place. This tightness will also help mitigate any discomfort caused by the bar while helping to implement cue #2.
Cue 2: “Drive your back into the bar”
As you’re coming out of the hole of the squat, there is a tendency for the chest to fall forward to some degree. Regardless if you’re in the short or long femur club, this pitch forward can mean the death of the lift. Once the bar strays from that magical center of gravity point (generally around the mid-foot), recovering can be very difficult if not dangerous. To help avoid or mitigate that, coaches will say “drive your back into the bar”. This cue has actually replaced the popular “chest up” as it helps keep the lifter in both spinal alignment and within the center of gravity path. You see, chest up creates extension, particularly in the lumber spine, which during the squat is the last thing we want happening. Thinking about pushing your upper back into the bar will automatically keep the chest up, but ensure the energy being created and moved stays in that center of gravity while keeping the spine neutral. Further, this cue can also help lifters think about driving their legs and using their back simultaneously (more on that concept in cue #3).
Cue 3: “Knees to the wall in front of you”
Wait a minute, did I really say your knees need to be forward in the squat? How can that be if we follow the infamous “weight in your heels” cue as we are coming out of the bottom of the squat? Hate to tell you, that cue is crap for most of us. The phrase “keep your weight in your heels” was actually coined for equipped powerlifters, but somehow it has been deemed appropriate for general squatting technique. A better way to look at it is to keep your weight distributed evenly throughout the foot (particularly in three points: the big toe, pinkie toe, and heal). As you ascend up you want to “keep your knees on the wall in front of you” as long as possible. Generally, coming out of the hole and for the next 3-6 inches is where a lot of lifters tend to “get stuck” or “buried”. There will be this tendency for the hips to shoot back, making the hamstrings and low back take the brunt of the load, leaving the quadriceps almost out of the whole equation. Even if you are a back-dominant squatter, this is not a good position to be in. To neglect not only the biggest, but the most advantageous muscles really limits the lifter’s potential and more importantly, puts them at risk for injury. Thinking about keeping the knees forward will help deter this shift back from occurring by keeping force production balanced and efficient. On a side note, this was the most impactful cue for myself as a lifter. I struggled for 2 years to break the 300lb mark, but once I was able to get my quads involved, PR’s were coming every meet thereafter.
Cue 4: “Stay strong in your legs”
Over the last few years, I started to see some trends amongst my athletes as I began coaching the squat more and more. Some of these trends would also show during my own training so I knew I had to figure out a way to combat some of these slight technical flaws to not only help my people but ascend me to the next level. “Stay strong in your legs” is a pretty broad way of saying be intentional in your reps by grounding your legs throughout the entire move. Let me explain.
Yes, the squat is technically a total body exercise. From maintaining upper back tightness, bracing your core the entire 360-degree circumference, and using your lower body to drive you up, there really isn’t a muscle not working or engaged at some point. Being intentional about each rep reinforces this, but particularly in the legs. From the start, the legs and glutes should flex as you stand waiting to perform the rep. This, in my opinion, and experience, creates a slight “activation” of the very muscles we want working when the weight is trying to hold us down. Then, during the descent, there should be a mind-body connection with the legs to help you control your descent. Whether you’re a dive bomb squatter or someone who is precise and calculated as you go down, the legs need to be very much involved and thought of. Finally, as you are in the hole and making your way up, you should be thinking of pushing your legs through the floor as your upper back drives into the bar. Staying strong in your legs allows all of that to happen; briefly letting this just “happen”, especially during sub-max and maximal efforts, again, limits potential and puts one at risk for injury.
Well there you have it, my top 4 cues raw lifters should live by! During your next squat session, give these a try and be sure to tell me what you think!
Brittany Kohnke is a 63kg USAPL powerlifter and coaches out of Phoenix, AZ.
Jen Thompson is not only considered one of the greatest female benchers but one of the greatest benchers of our time period, male or female. Her resume speaks for itself, with multiple IPF world records, and multiple championships. She has a competition best of 319.7 lbs at under 140 lbs bodyweight! So yes, there is definitely a lot we can take away from her approach to benching! I have learned much from her training, approach, and educational materials over the years which is why I want to share my big takeaways with you.
Benching Is A Total Body Movement!
Benching is still categorized today by most as an upper body movement. In powerlifting circles, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The bench engages your lower body just as much as it does your upper body if performed correctly! Setting up with the help of your legs and utilizing leg drive on the bench can be exhausting. It might feel like you’ve been through a squat workout after!
If you’ve seen Jen bench, you can actually see how she uses her legs within the movement. When she pushes the weight off her chest, she’s not just using her upper body muscles as one might think. She is actually getting just as big a push from her legs than anywhere else! When you learn to use your legs to assist your bench it will unlock so much potential strength for you. You’ll be setting up better and pressing more weight!
Bench Press Leg Drive (Drive OFF The Bench) - YouTube
Heavy Holds For The Bench Press
Something that Jen uses in her training is heavy holds. This is where she loads the bar up with as much as 500 lbs and simply holds the weight in her hands for time. This is a fantastic way to overload your nervous system and gets you “primed” to lift heavy. After holding 500 lbs, 300 lbs is going to feel a lot lighter! It’s an awesome way to start a workout. I typically start my lifters by having them hold their max for 10 seconds and progressing in weight throughout the course of the training cycle.
I have slowly started to implement this with all my athletes and have loved the results! Not only does it provide the feeling of weight feeling lighter after, but it also teaches them to “get tighter” before working sets. If you can bring the tightness required to hold 500 lbs for 10 seconds to 200 lb “speed work”, you are going to get a lot out of that training session. Always treat the lightweight like it’s your max. I’ve found that my athletes have gained a deeper appreciation for the details of the setup and take out process in performing these!
Squeeze The Bar With Your Pinky
This is an awesome cue I learned from Jen! It really changes the game in terms of activation and how tight you can get to the bar. Most of us know and at least try to squeeze the bar as much as possible. We often hear the cue “bend the bar” repeated over and over. We think we are doing all this with 100% effort, but when you put this cue in your mind, you realize you have more to give! That extra bit could make all the difference under your next max attempt!
If you think about bringing 100% effort to squeezing the bar as tight as possible with your smallest, weakest end finger, you’ll begin to bring 110% effort to squeezing the bar with the rest of your hand. It’s how you frame the action in your mind that makes all the difference and I can say this cue has made a profound impact on my athletes' training as well as my own.
Jen Thompson Bench Press Grip Cue - "Pinky Crush" The Bar - YouTube
Progress Isn’t Always Linear
This is a great lesson not only for beginners but serves as a great reminder to veterans of the sport as well from time to time. We get caught up and put so much stake into always hitting a personal record in every lift each meet that we get so frustrated at the moment when it doesn’t happen. Progress doesn’t happen in a linear fashion, especially the longer you compete in powerlifting. It becomes a grind, and you’re working harder and harder with less and less payoff. Powerlifting is a giant puzzle and you’re constantly trying to fit new pieces. To some, like myself, this is what makes this sport awesome!
Take a look at Jen’s career. You don’t see her hitting a new bench record each meet she enters. Sometimes there’s a different goal, or the game plan changes as the meet ensues, or record strength simply isn’t there that day. That’s OK. Take the entirety of her career and you’ll see that the trend is always steadily increasing. She’s getting better on a larger scale, but when you focus on the meet by meet, there are ups and downs. One meet doesn’t define you as a lifter.
Give Something Back
This one might not pertain strictly to benching but is important nonetheless. This is one of Arnold’s 6 rules to success. We typically take with ease but never give back. Giving back is the primary reason I’m writing this today. Giving back can take many forms. Sharing knowledge, helping out at meets, hosting events, introducing a friend to the sport, etc. I think Jen embodies this as much as anyone.
Jen is a world class bencher and has taken away a lot from this sport and has been able to enjoy some amazing moments as a result, but she always gives back just as much. Whether it’s running meets, doing podcasts, writing articles, sharing her knowledge through Iron Sisters Camps, and coaching others. Let’s look to do the same. If you’ve been competing at the same meets over the years, just take the time to reach out and offer help, it’s likely they could use it! If you have a friend that wants to get healthier, expose them to the sport you love! If you think you have something to share that could help others, share it! Don’t wait for someone else to do it! Part of being a strong individual is being a strong role model. This message is one I want to share with everyone!
These are just five things I’ve taken away from Jen Thompson as a top-level athlete and person, although I’m sure there is much more that could have been included! I hope these tips help you as much as they have helped me! I want to thank Jen for her continued pursuit of excellence and doing so in the right way!
“My website www.bigbenchas.com and my YouTube channel Big Benchas is dedicated to providing all the content you need to take your bench to the next level. I cover every aspect of how to perfect the technical side of bench pressing. I encourage you all to reach out to me for additional training help. You can reach me at email@example.com.”
When I first started powerlifting, I signed up for a meet right away. I knew close to nothing about the sport, but I have zero regrets about competing just three months into picking it up. Here are my top ten tips for your first meet:
Just sign up! I hear so many lifters say that don’t want to enter a competition until their lifts hit a certain number. But everyone starts somewhere, and the experience of a meet under your belt will help. I entered my first meet after just three months of training. I was so nervous, but I am glad I did it. I got to watch a lot of experienced lifters and learn from them. It prepared me to train better and be more competitive at future meets.
Don’t cut. For your first meet, don’t worry about your weight class. Enter whatever category you naturally fit in. The physical and mental stress of cutting before a meet can totally tank your numbers when it comes time to hit the platform. It’s your first meet, just go out and have fun.
Check your equipment. Before the meet, make sure that any equipment you use is on the federation’s approved list. Some federations have more strict lists than others.
Practice your commands. One of the biggest differences in lifting in the gym to lifting at a meet is that you have to wait for commands. Make sure you research these commands and practice beforehand. You’d hate to have a PR disqualified because you re-racked your squat before the “rack” command.
Do a mock meet. At least a week before the big day, do a mock meet. Do all three lifts with cues. My suggestion for your opening numbers is to pick a weight that you can do at least 3 reps with. Don’t make your opening lift your max or a PR. You get two more chances to hit those big numbers, and you don’t want to be DQ’d for completely missing a lift.
Pack food, lots of food! I’ve been at meets that last a couple of hours, but most of them have taken all day. You may not know the surrounding area so bring your own food. I always bring a cooler full of goodies. You’ll see a lot of doughnuts and junk food at meets, and that’s great, but consider the toll it may take on your stomach. Personally, I like to have healthier options and a few treats for a little sugar rush right before a lift. Either way, you don’t want to run out of fuel so pack up!
Have a handler. This is something I didn’t know about in my first meet, and it left me with using the volunteer staff to do my liftoff on bench. (This only applies to some federation. Some federation will not allow you to choose your lift-off person. Make sure you know the rules of the federation you will be lifting in.) It would be much better to have someone there that you’ve practiced with and who knows how you like your liftoff. You don’t have to have a coach; just get someone you trust.
Warm up, but don’t overdo it. You need to find the sweet spot here, and that’s why a mock meet is so beneficial. You definitely want to warm up before your lifts, but I’ve seen so many athletes kill themselves in the warm-up room and run out of energy on the platform. I like to warm up as closely as possible to when I’ll actually be lifting so I set myself up to peak.
Know kilo conversions, and bring your own conversion chart. You can view a conversion chart HERE. After each lift, you’ll go to the judges’ table and tell them how much you want on the bar for your next attempt. You’ll need to say the amount if kilos, not pounds. They’ll usually have a printout of conversions, but sometimes it just helps to be familiar with the conversions beforehand and have an idea of what you want your attempts to be.
Have fun! Competing is a huge adrenaline rush and the powerlifting community is filled with kind, supportive athletes. Look at your first meet as a learning experience. Soak up all the tips and tricks from veteran lifters, and just enjoy yourself.
Comment below if you have any other tips for a first-timer.
Each year on March 8th, International Women’s Day is celebrated all over the world to commemorate the successes women have already accomplished, as well as all future ones, were destined to accomplish. Every year has a theme, and this year’s IWD theme is ‘Balance for Better,” which amplifies the need for equality between genders. There are so many ways you can celebrate on your own or as a group, so keep reading if you need a spark of inspiration.
Celebrate with women you look up to
Whether it’s your mother, aunt, grandmother, friends, and/or mentor -- celebrating with the women who inspire you the most is a great way to spend IWD. Go out of your way to spend time with these women; it doesn’t have to be anything extravagant either unless of course, you’d like for it to be. You could throw a party inviting all of these women or even make it as simple as having a conversation over a cup of coffee. They will surely be flattered by your thoughtfulness and it’s a great way to honor what the day is all about.
Celebrate by treating yourself all day long by recharging and taking care of your needs. Maybe start the day by getting outside for a morning walk and treat yourself to a coffee with no guilt. If you feel you’ve been neglecting your body, try a workout to make you feel strong and healthy. It can be a hike outside, session at the gym, or an at-home workout -- anything that makes you feel good. End the day by tending to your skin and wash off all your makeup before bed. Try incorporating products that keep your skin looking youthful, like an anti-aging cream and vitamin C serum if the winter’s got you feeling dull. Then you can curl up with a drink of your choice and relax. Let IWD be a day where you bask in your greatness and take care of yourself.
Volunteer at organizations for women
Giving back to women in the community is a wonderful way to empower women everywhere. There are so many amazing non-profits that are empowering women to choose from. There’s Shepard’s Hands, which gives female veterans access to counseling, medical care, and job training. Or there’s Girls on the Run, which is an organization that strives to help young girls reach their highest potential and express themselves. Find an organization that you’re passionate about and spend today adding to their efforts.
Invest in what makes you happy
Whether it be in your career, your fitness goals, or personal goals -- make it a point to start making changes and invest in the things that make you happy. You can start small by writing down a few things you’d like to work towards. From there, begin making these little changes to help get you where you’d like to be. Who knows, by next IWD, you may have reached your goal!
Learn about inspirational women
A truly respectful way to spend IWD is by recognizing all of the influential women who have come before us and how their lives have impacted ours. Icons like Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, and Malala Yousafzai are just a few examples of some famous women in history. Reading their stories and becoming educated in the struggle it’s taken to get you where you are today will be both inspiring and humbling.
#kidswhopowerlift is now a thing! How cool is that?! But how do you know when your kid is ready to start powerlifting? Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Age vs. Attention Span
Will your child pay attention? Are they trainable? There are children as young as 4 or 5 that can pay attention and learn technique without an issue. There are also some who aren't 100% interested, have a short attention span and just aren't ready. So it’s not really about how old they are, it’s about how well you know your kid. Just like adults, if the child isn’t really into it then they aren’t going to take it seriously and that can lead to injury.
Your kid is ready! Now what? If you have no clue how to train someone else or are a beginner yourself find someone else. The challenge is finding a coach who's knowledgeable and good with kids. It's amazing what a little encouragement and positive feedback from their coach can do for a child trying something new.
HOW TO START:
Start with technique. You can use a PVC pipe or simply just do the movements with bodyweight before you incorporate an actual barbell. Once your child has the technique down then you can add weight. You can with add weight to the PVC pipe or you can find lighter weight barbells on www.xtrainingequipment.com.
Adding weight to the barbell should be thought of like a promotion. Make sure to celebrate all their hard work as you go along. Learning all the cues for proper technique, breathing and bracing should always be a priority and continuously worked on.
Once you start adding weight, start with volume with low to moderate weight. Personally, we don't have our daughter hit heavy singles or doubles, we usually do triples towards the end of a meet prep but before that, it's sets of 6 or more. High volume training is great for perfecting their motor skills and allows them to perfect their technique. Once your little lifter understands proper bracing and the Valsalva maneuver, you can introduce a lifting belt for those heavier training days. We recommend ordering a custom sized belt from Pioneer General Leather Craft. Every coach should know their lifter and not force them to do anything they're not ready for, this is the same for kids. Some kids can handle lifting heavier for low reps and some aren't ready. Lifting heavy is very mental and can intimidate your beginner lifter. At the end of the day, make sure everyone is having a good time and celebrate each accomplishment.
Powerlifting: a sport in which participants compete to lift the heaviest amount of weight in what’s known as the big three: squat, bench and deadlift
Bodybuilding: a sport in which participants compete to attain the perfect amount of symmetry and definition in their physiques
Powerbuilding: being strong and looking the part
A new wave of training methodology is gaining popularity as trainees are looking to gain the best of both worlds, hitting incredible levels of strength while also obtaining and maintaining a lean, conditioned physique. That wave is called Powerbuilding. How does this style of programming really work though? What is the methodology behind it and can it be the missing link for most athletes AND general fitness goers? This article will highlight what Powerbuilding is (and isn’t) and why most should adopt this style of programming at some point in their training careers.
Traditional Powerlifting-Style Training
Because Powerlifting is a sport of brute strength combined with the technical efficiency of three barbell lifts, traditional programming revolves heavily on the execution of these three lifts. Like any sport, one must “practice and perfect” their craft in order to excel at it. Although the styles of programming for Powerlifters is a whole article in itself, most programming revolves around the implementing of the “big 3” along with movement derivatives. For example, a trainee may perform 5 sets of 5 barbell back squats and then move onto 3 x 3 pause back squats. Often these movement derivatives are used to address various weaknesses within the lift itself. After these compound lifts have been performed, often the trainee will move onto a few accessory movements to address assisting muscle groups. For example, on a “bench day,” one may do a few sets of pull-ups to help develop the important muscles of the back and then round out the training with some triceps work such as rope pushdowns or dips.
With the exception of a few accessory moves, most typical powerlifting programs stay within the 1-5 rep range (depending on where the trainee is in their meet prep) as this has been shown to elicit the best environment for pure strength to develop. The number of movements within traditional Powerlifting programs ranges anywhere from 5-7 movements, with the bulk of those coming from the movement (and their derivatives) themselves. Further, depending on the trainee and the philosophy of the program itself, training days are split by the exercises themselves (e.g. Bench day) with frequency ranging from 1 to 3x a week.
Traditional Bodybuilding-Style Training
Most bodybuilders and physique athletes approach training using a much different methodology than powerlifters. Programs are split according to the body part or muscle group, with a typical split ranging from 5-6 days of something along the lines of Monday: Bench, Tuesday: Back and Biceps, Wednesday: Legs, etc. Because the goal of these athletes is to create and sculpt muscles, the development of strength is irrelevant. Bodybuilders may use the “big 3”, but often they will use derivatives or machines so that they can specifically target muscles (not movements).
Because strength is irrelevant, most of the training uses rep ranges within 8-30 per set. Volume is another key difference with this style of training, as athletes will usually perform anywhere from 7-15 various exercises per training session. These exercises will usually rotate every couple of weeks as progressing each is not a common practice by bodybuilders. The use of supersets, giant sets, drop sets, and other training methodologies is another way many bodybuilders promote muscle growth.
Combining the Best of Both Worlds
Powerbuilding is just as that statement reads; a method of training to develop both strength and aesthetics. No matter which camp you are in, the benefits of the other sport can be the missing link you need. Are you a powerlifter who needs a stronger squat? Maybe high rep, burn out sets focusing on quad growth could be the answer. Are you a physique athlete consistently being told by judges you need to grow? One of the most effective ways of developing dense, quality muscle is implementing strength-based practices.
Research has shown the use of compound movements is superior at muscle hypertrophy (growth) than isolation movements, but one can not perform a great deal of volume with these movements as CNS fatigue and general overtraining will ensue. Further, isolation movements are needed to address smaller, assistance muscle groups. So this is where we can marry the two concepts.
Powerbuilding programs can utilize numerous strategies in order to build strength and enhance aesthetics however, the phase of programming should reflect the priority of the athlete at that time. For example, if a powerlifter is prepping for a meet, focus and consideration should be on that. However, during “off-season” or non-meet prep, this is where a “bodybuilding” focus can occur.
What does it look like?
Here is what an example week might look like:
Back Squat 4 x 6
Pause Front Squat 4 x 5
Leg Press 3 x 15
Walking Lunge 3 x 20
Tempo Leg Ext. 3 x 15
Leg Extension 3 x 15
Sumo KB DL 3 x 20
Sled Push 4 x 60 yds
Bench Press 4 x 6
Close Grip Bench 4 x 8
Shoulder Press 3 x 10
Cable Row 3 x 12
Lat Pulldown 3 x 15
Front Raise 3 x 12
Lateral Raise 3 x 12
Rear Delt Raise 3 x 20
Hammer Curl 3 x 20
Deadlift 4 x 6
RDL 4 x 6
Snatch Grip Row 3 x 8
Seated Leg Curl 3 x 15
RESS 3 x 10 ea leg
Wide Cable Row 3 x 12
Face Pull 3 x 20
Chin Ups 5 x 5
Tricep Ext 3 x 20
Overhead Press 4 x 5
Incline Bench 4 x 8
Wide Grip Bench 3 x 10
Goblet Squat 3 x 20
Lateral Step Up 3 x 10
Arnold Press 3 x 12
Rear Delt Raise 3 x 20
SL Glute Bridge 3 x 20
YTW Raises 3 x 10 ea
Like the old saying states, “there are many ways to skin a cat.” If you’re looking to balance out some areas of weakness or concern or just want to be as strong as you look, give Powerbuilding a try.
Brittany Kohnke is a national level 63kg powerlifter and coach out of Phoenix, Arizona. Learn more about Brittany on Instagram
Since that first meet I’ve competed in a few more, I’ve handled tons of athletes and I became a USPA State judge. I love meets! I love the chalk in the air, the adrenaline, the jitters, the screaming, the crowd and all the passion that goes into it. Whether I’m competing, handling, reffing, sponsoring or simply spectating I always leave having learned something new. Here a few tips I have for meet day.
Have a good handler: You handler is like your parent for the day. They become your coach, your decision makers, your caretaker, your cheerleader, and your assistant. Need something? They got it! What’s your next attempt? They got it! How far out are you? They got it! Your handler should be someone that you can trust, has your best interests in mind. They are there to let you be great but not let you injure yourself in the process. Communication is necessary but so is accessibility. Click here to check out the fanny pack that makes every handler’s job a little easier.
Have all your gear: You should have everything you will use on the platform at gear check. You singlet, t-shirt, socks, wrist wraps, knee sleeves, knee wraps, lifting belt, any and all shoes you wear during your lifts. They will even check your underwear! You will also need your up-to-date membership card and your id.
Your gear should be stuff you're used to lifting with but if you need something new get it far enough in advance to make sure that you like it and you get comfortable enough to use it on the platform. You might also think about bringing ammonia, baby powder and a travel sized safety kit, just in case.
Know the rules: So you decided to powerlift and then you decide to do a meet! Pick a meet and find out which federation that meet is sanctioned by. Then your next job is to learn the rules of that federation. Find the rule book online and read. Does your attire need to have certain specifications? Are there brand limitations? Do you know the specific lift commands? This can be a little overwhelming but the more you know the better and ask questions.
Have a good attitude: Powerlifting is hard and we sacrifice a lot to get a total but at the end of the day, it’s about empowerment. Feeling good about yourself and helping others feel good about themselves. If you don’t believe that, that’s ok. I’m still gonna cheer you on if I ever see you at a meet because it’s what I love most about powerlifting. Everyone at a meet knows what it took to get there and they are ready to scream your name when it is your turn on the platform. Do the same for them. At most meets the judges, spotters, loaders, and other staff are there as volunteers. They are sacrificing their physical bodies and their time to make sure you have a great meet. Be nice to them. Show them your gratitude. A thank you and fist bump can go along way.