What Do You Do? Part 2: Powerlifting

A lot of people hear I’m a powerlifter and think I do what they see on the Olympics. Powerlifting is a competition involving The Big Three – Squat, Bench and Deadlift. Athletes are separated based on weight, age, gender and if they’re using special equipment or not to compete. For the sake of this conversation, I’m only going to talk about “raw” powerlifting. This is what I compete in.

Raw powerlifting involves the use of a weight belt, knee sleeves or knee wraps, and wrist wraps. Some federations have two types of raw powerlifting, which allow or disallow the use of knee wraps. It comes down to the individual lifter as to what equipment they want to use. I compete in knee wraps and with a belt. “Geared” or “equipped” powerlifting involves special suits that help a lifter complete each move.

Before each competition an athlete will weigh in on a scale in front of a judge, where they’ll be sorted into a weight class. This is important for a lot of lifters because the less you weigh, the more impressive your lifts are. This can be a catch-22 because the means through which the person tried to lose the weight can damage their lifting. Some people go weeks without carbohydrates, others don’t drink any water and sit in a sauna for hours – that will hurt their lifts if they don’t rehydrate appropriately.

The Squat

The squat is the first move performed in an event. The lifter has 3 tries to hit the heaviest weight they can do. It’s not simply the act of squatting, there’s more to it. A lifter will take the bar off the rack and step away from the rack. The judge sitting in front of them will tell them to start the lift. The lifter will then lower into a squat – depth depends on the federation. For most federations you just need your femur (thigh bone) to be parallel to the ground. Others require the crease of your hip to be lower than your knee. Make sure you look up your federation to see which is required. The lifter will complete the lift and wait for the judge to tell them to re-rack the weight. If the lifter executed the lift to completeness, a scoreboard to the side will light up with 3 white lights. Each judge has one “vote” – either white (good) or red (bad). They each evaluate different parts of the lift to make sure it was completed appropriately. The lifter will wait their turn for their second and third attempts. A lifter does not attempt all 3 in a row, they are given time to rest.

Bench Press

Bench press is one of the most well known lifts, so I’ll keep this brief. The main differences between the competition lift and the average joe involves the commands. The lifter will unrack the bar from the rack and, depending on the federation, wait for the cue to start. The lifter lowers the bar to their chest (actually touching the chest) and waits for the command to “press.” At this time the lifter will press the bar off their chest. There is no bounce, the bar must be paused on the chest. The judge will then tell them to re-rack. You miss a lift if one arm locks out before the other, or if the bar comes down then back up.


A deadlift is exactly what it sounds like – lifting dead weight from the ground. A lifter will lift the bar off the ground, lock it out, and wait for the command to lower it back to the ground. You cannot just drop the bar on the ground – if you see people let the bar go from the lock out they’re not powerlifting. They’re picking up a heavy weight and then dropping it on the ground. Part of the execution of the lift is keeping your hands on the bar the entire lift. While this lift has less commands, it can be much harder to complete for various reasons. If the bar travels downwards before completion of the lift it’s no good. If the lifter hitches the bar, the lift is no good. If the lifter’s grip slips and the bar comes out of their hand, no lift.

Every athlete gets 3 attempts at each lift. Some federations allow a 4th attempt if it’s for a world or national record. At the end of the meet lifters are awarded based on how much they lifted vs. their body weight. Different federations use different calculators, but The Wilks Score is the most popular one. Some use calculators that take age into consideration as well, since sometimes a 25 year old man and a 15 year old man will be in the same weight class. Awards are also given to best overall lifter, which will compare the 300 pound person to the 140 pound person.

If you’re interested in powerlifting, go to and find a gym or a coach, or even go to a meet!

Technology Update

Hey all!

I get asked from time to time about which apps, fitness products, etc. I’m currently using. I’m not an endorser by any means (you know, those people who show pictures of them with “cleansing” tea like it gave them a six pack) but if I believe in a product I’m going to talk about it. Today I’ll show you “One of Each” – my favorite meal planning app, my favorite headphones and my favorite fitness tracking device.

Fitness Tracker: Polar Loop 2 Activity Tracker, Black

polarloopI’ve had my Polar Loop since about October and I’m pretty content with it. Polar has long been my favorite heart rate monitor, and I’ve used them for a few years now to track the intensity of my workouts. The Loop is a little more integrated – you have a heart rate monitor you wear during exercise to give a more accurate total of calories burned/etc. during your workout vs. your day.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 9.11.55 AMThe Polar Flow diary is pretty sweet too, because you can see how much time you spent in each zone with your workout. Previously my Polar watches only gave little synopses on the watch itself. This is a full program. The battery life is great and charging is easy.

The downside? I don’t think the steps counted are accurate. I can work an entire emergency shift on my feet (10-12 hours) and barely clock a few hundred steps. I also dislike the lack of community that I found with my FitBit. It’s also hard to synch with my phone, and the sleep tracker is seriously lacking. Until something better comes along this is my current go-to to make sure I don’t sit around all day on my rest days and I love the interaction with my heart rate device for workouts.

Food Tracker: MyMacros+


I’d heard about this app before but due to my long history (like 3+ years) with MyFitnessPal I was slow to convert. However, I soon found that MyMacros+ had everything I wanted from MFP. With MFP there’s a HUGE focus around calories, and trying to figure out your macros is hard to do. You have to click a few extra buttons rather than have it all there and ready for you. Additionally, unless you download an extension for your browser, macros aren’t the emphasis for MFP. You have to calculate your calories and hope your macros fall into an even percentage distribution that works in increments of 5%. Super annoying.

My Macros allows for customization of you macros with calories as more of a side note. For someone who tracked calories (in an unhealthy way) for so long, it’s great to see them so small and insignificant. You can save meals, add items quickly, etc. The database is seriously lacking (if you type in “Frozen Green Beans” like nothing comes up) and some of it is clunky, but I’m sure with increased usage this will get fixed. Overall, I like it much better than MFP. Also, you can save “meals,” so if you’re like me and eat the same thing every day it’s really, really useful.

Headphones: Powerbeats2 Wireless, Active Collection – Blue

pDSP1-18892058p275wThe Powerbeats2 are pricey ($199) but I got them for my birthday, so there’s that. I’ve long been on the hunt for good wireless headphones that don’t make me look like I have something growing on my head. Wireless has become my friend for a long time, especially because the lack of wires all in my face and down my shirt are priceless for powerlifting. I don’t know how I used wired headphones before.

HOWEVER I hate those ear bud type. I tried quite a few brands (Jaybird, etc.) and they all fell out of my ear. I just wanted something to go around my ear and hold it in place! Why was that so hard to find?! Most of the things I found were like Geordi from Star Trek’s visor. They hurt my ears, they pinched in the wrong places, and I hated them. My Motorolla’s I’d had for years stopped charging, so I was moving on.

Thankfully these babies are about 90% what I need. The battery life is horrible (6 hours) and they can be cumbersome with that hangy-cord crap. I find that making a small loop and putting it over my pony tail keeps it in the right position. Overall, I’m pretty happy with these and glad they’re in my arsenal!

What have you guys been using?

Mini Goals

Lately I’ve been setting a lot of “mini goals” to keep my focused through prep and beyond. I’m not talking about my powerlifting goals or aesthetic goals – those are self explanatory. Lately I’ve set out on some performance based goals that are pretty independent of things I’ve done in the past. For example, pull ups, weighted triceps dips, etc. These will help my bigger picture goals but also make me feel like a badass.

Yesterday, I hit one of my goals.

tumblr_ncl1rdtBQo1qck3nso1_500It was my first time attempting it and I was surprised I got it! Of course, as I practice these I want to eventually straighten my legs completely and not hunch my shoulders so much. Those sort of body weight calisthenic exercises have been all the rage lately and I’m interested to try out a few!

Heart Rate Training: THE BEST

As I’ve said before, HIIT is my preferred way to train cardio. If I can spend 30 minutes throwing the barbell around and never once stepping foot on the treadmill I am 100% happy. Hell, I’ll voluntarily do box jumps before I get on any sort of machine.

However, lately I’ve been feeling like…behind. Like I’ve been putting in this extra work for my HIIT routines and not seeing much progress. My body has stalled, my weight loss has stalled, and while I look great I’m not where I want to be for my show. At 3.5 weeks out this is always startling to me. No, my diet hasn’t been 100% – but a lot of that is because I’ve found myself saying “What’s the use?” All in all, I’ve been feeling discouraged.

Then I was reading something the other day and realized that I’d been going about this all wrong. See, I’ve been doing “baby HIIT.” I’ll “sprint” for 40 seconds, rest for 20, etc. and do this for 15-20 minutes and it’s whatever. Last year this was the best way for me to lose fat. This year? Nothing. It’s because I’m not really getting to that high intensity level, and it’s my own fault.

Bring in: my heart rate monitor. I sat down and figured out my max heart rate using this calculator. Once I did that, I figured out 75% of my max heart rate. It’s 140 bpm, based on my age and gender. When I’ve been doing my “HIIT” I’ve been getting my HR up to about 145 – that’s not max effort! I’m not saying I should be all the way up to 188 every time, but for a HIIT workout 145 is kinda wimpy. I vowed not to let this become the norm so I’ve changed the way I do my HIIT.

Now, I’ll do the 40 seconds of sprints, then rest until my HR is down to 75% of max, or 140. Then I’ll sprint again for 40 seconds, and repeat. I’ve only started training this way this week, so I’m not sure if it’s working, but I have a feeling it will. Why? Because when it comes to cardio I am a notorious slacker. If you tell me to do an hour of cardio I will get on a stairmaster, put it to a low setting and watch TV for an hour. My powerlifting training taught me to rest a lot between sets, which is great for strength, but not so great for the fat burning effects of HIIT. ESPECIALLY when my HR isn’t getting high enough to do any good.

I’ll see how this heart rate training goes and try to implement it in the off season. I mean, what good is a strong girl if she has no endurance, right?!

So…What Do You DO? (Bodybuilding)

Concerned friends and family members are always confused as to what I’m training for. Why do I go to the gym twice a day? Why do I cook 500 pounds of chicken in one sitting? What does 8 weeks out mean and what is a “cheat meal”? There’s no easy way to describe it, so normally I just smile and say, “I’m 8 weeks away from wearing a bikini and heels on stage with a bunch of other girls – this is what needs to be done!”

But it’s not that simple. Let me break it down as best (and easy!) as I can.

What is it called?

When I tell people about what I do, I refer to it as “Body building,” though to be technical I’m a figure competitor. If you think of a bodybuilding show as having 4 “levels” (I’m talking about your traditional NPC show here), I’m a “Level 2.” I’ll explain.

Level One-  Bikini


Bikini athletes, like the beautiful Nikki Blackketter above from NikkiBNation, are the “level 1″ of body building. These girls are slim and athletic looking, but not overbearingly so. They have smooth lines and firm bodies. They don’t have a ton of muscle and they’re not terribly lean. Their bikini’s show off their glutes, their poses focus on their small waist and proportionate upper body. They are “level 1″ because, in the scheme of the shows, they’re the least muscular. They still lift weights and do cardio and count macros etc., but they’re expected to be lean without being “cut.”

Level Two – Figure


Figure athletes are what I consider a “level 2.” Above is Ava Cowen, who’s considered one of the top figure athletes in the game.These girls have more muscle than bikini, and that muscle is more prominent due to their lower body fat. They have strong, wide backs that are showcased in their poses. Additionally, they have to do a number of poses that show off these different muscles. Since they’re leaner than bikini they require more conditioning, and since they’re more muscular they have stricter diets to maintain this muscle. Judges like a strong back, good shoulders, and symmetry. Posing also focuses on the “X” shape – that is a wide upper body, small waist and proportionate lower body.

Level 3 – Physique


Physique is figure, but with more muscle and even leaner. Where figure athletes should have lines, physique athletes have striations. Their posing routine is more fluid and very similar to mens body building. The focus is their conditioning, size, and vascularity. They even have a 30 second routine to music much like mens bodybuilding does. Pictured above is Dana Linn Bailey, who’s considered the queen of physique. She’s won the Olympia (the Holy Grail of bodybuilding) in physique multiple times. These women are truly dedicated, their conditioning and diet is spotless. As you’ve probably guessed, the higher you go up in “levels” the harder the look is to achieve.

Level 4 – Bodybuilding


The final level of body building is body building itself. Often when I mention bodybuilding to the average person this is what they ultimately think of, mostly due to the greats like Arnold and Lou. Above is my coach Judy Gaillard, an IFBB pro women’s body builder. As you can see, they are even more muscular than physique and even more defined. The ideal is big, symmetrical muscles that are easily visualized from one muscle to the next. They, too, use similar poses as mens bodybuilding and have a 30 second pose to music routine that they do.

That’s a simple, quick and dirty break down of the 4 “levels” of body building!