I’ve been wanting to write a blog on this topic for a long time now, but I kept stopping myself thinking, “come on, Katelyn, no one really cares.” Then I saw this post from @girlswhopowerlift, and it inspired me to just write the damn thing. What does it matter if no one cares? I’ve got a story I want to tell, so I’m going to tell it.
“When did you start powerlifting?”
That would be almost 5 years ago now! At the end of 2013 is when I first started training in a powerlifting style. It was more of a soft start, though, because I didn’t recognize it as powerlifting until a few months later.
I just found a barbell and started using it for squats, bench, and deadlifts. I honestly don’t even remember how I learned about these movements or what made me want to do them, but I do remember being immediately addicted to adding weight to the bar.
In the beginning the “BIG 3” were just part of my exercise. I didn’t have a program. I did whatever I felt like doing on the day intended for “arms” or “legs” or “abs” or whatever else. I wasn’t yet interested in fitness as a profession. To be honest? I knew next to nothing. I just enjoyed the way it felt to move with the barbell, and I found it absolutely intoxicating to see the weights on the ends grow more and more numerous with every training session.
It’s been a long time since those days…
“What has changed?”
Well, I very quickly realized two things: (1) the office setting was not for me, and (2) I absolutely love fitness. So, to shorten the story: I quit my desk job, got certified with NASM, got a job in the fitness industry working as a trainer, and I continued refining my lifting all the while.
In the timespan of about a year I was almost solely focusing on the big 3 in my training and thinking about becoming competitive with my powerlifting. Competition was a prospect that straight up terrified me, but it excited me almost just as much, which is probably the only reason I went through with it.
So since the beginning in 2013, here’s what’s changed for me:
I’ve come around to the idea that, yeah, I DO know what I’m doing.
These days the female population in the powerlifting community is much larger than it was 5 years ago, and it’s growing still! But, 5 years ago, to be a female powerlifter was still somewhat rare among fitness enthusiasts and professionals. Now, whether or not being a female in this sport has anything to do with the amount and the nature of the “advice” I’ve received regarding my training over the years is not what I’m here to talk about. The point is just that I’ve gotten a LOT of it since I started this journey…
Some of the advice I’ve received was actually constructive criticism that went towards making me a better lifter. Most of it, though? Most of it was condescending, opinionated, unsolicited, unfounded, and biased blabber that I now let go in one ear and out the other.
But in the beginning I was impressionable and fragile, to be quite honest. This new passion of mine was carving out a side of me I’d never met before. She was brand new, and my confidence surrounding the lifter in me was weak at best. So to have all of these “authority figures” (aka: people who were older than me and had been lifting longer than me) spouting their minds off left and right had me feeling confused and down on myself quite often.
Only in the last ~2 years have I been able to brush these people off, because I’ve accepted that:
- I DO understand human movement and proper form.
- I AM a successful and technically sound powerlifter.
- I’ve competed in 5 total meets and only ever missed 2 lifts on the platform.
(That’s 40 out of 42 total lifts completed successfully in my lifting career so far.)
- I’ve added 182 pounds to my total since 2015 (and lost 15 pounds of bodyweight!).
In short: I’m GOOD at this.
- And, to top it all off, I’ve had the opportunity on numerous occasions to make a positive impact on other people through my lifting.
I’ve gotten so much physically stronger.
This may seem like it goes without saying as someone who participates in a sport in which the whole point is literally to be as strong as you can... But actually becoming stronger takes perseverance, injury prevention, proper form, and good programming. Most people — who are not fitness professionals themselves — would hire a coach for these things.
I am my own coach.
And I’ve been doing pretty damn good!
The other day I thought back to the beginning of my lifting when one of those constructive pieces of criticism suggested that I try using a set/rep scheme of 5x5 in my strength programming. Simple enough, why not? So I gave it a try. Turns out 5x5’s are not only essential to strength training, but they are incredibly brutal both mentally and physically when done at an appropriate intensity. One of my early programs containing 5x5’s took me up to #205 lbs before changing course, and I remember being SO SO excited that I’d gotten over #200 lbs with something so difficult. I started thinking, ‘wow, it’d be amazing to someday do this with #225 lbs!’ But I sort of laughed it off almost feeling as though it was too lofty a goal to even entertain… And then, just a few days ago I completed a grueling 5x5 at #245 lbs.
Damn. That’s undeniable progress. Clearly visible strength gain. Freaking motivating is what it is!!
I’ve been forced to see that I am a strong person.
So, yes, I’ve gotten physically stronger on paper. Where it used to say #205 for 5 sets of 5 reps it now says #245 for 5 sets of 5 reps. That’s an amazing feeling in its own right.
But it’s totally separate from recognizing that I, and all of who I am — not just my muscles — am a strong person.
To be a successful competitive powerlifter means constantly training for the sport. And THAT means not skipping workouts, rethinking things when you miss a lift in training, constantly tweaking and improving form, practicing competition-legal lifts, a never-ending struggle to strengthen weaknesses, and above all, pushing through on the days, or weeks, or even MONTHS, when you just do not want to.
I am strong, because I’ve been doing all of these things and more for the last 5 years with no signs of stopping.
I am strong, because I don’t let the fear of getting underneath a weight that’s heavier than I’ve ever lifted before stop me from trying.
I am strong, because I’ve admitted my weaknesses many many times, and I am strong because I’ve worked hard to improve them.
I am strong, because I know I will always have weaknesses.
I am strong, because where I knew very little I read, and watched, and studied, and practiced to learn more.
I am strong not just because I can lift the weight but because of how much work I’ve put in behind the scenes to be able to lift that weight — and more — day in and day out.
Lastly, and worth nothing, my form has improved tenfold.
I will be the first one to admit — and I already admitted it above! — that in the beginning, I didn’t know SH*T. I thought the bench press was to strengthen your arms, squatting too heavy would hurt my knees, and that the deadlift was a back exercise. (In case it’s not clear, none of these things are true.)
But I only know what I know now because I put in the time to LEARN. Whether or not the advice was helpful or condescending in the beginning I gave it my full ear. If there was a youtube channel, a book, a website, or a certain fitness professional on IG who came highly recommended, I watched. I read. I studied. I put the info to use.
None of my lifts look even remotely like they did in 2013. Or even 2014. Or, honestly, even 2015. I probably have these improvements in form to thank for why I’ve never been injured. I also probably have these improvements to thank for why I’m able to continue growing stronger. 2013 Katelyn NEVER would’ve gotten to a 5x5 at #245 with that crummy understanding of how to squat. 2018 Katelyn’s got this, though. It’s exciting to think of what 2019 Katelyn and beyond will be capable of!
To end this feel good parade, I just want to say: DAMN I’m glad I started lifting!
It’s amazing how much powerlifting has changed me, and as a result, my life.
Give me a motive, and I can’t be stopped.