I have had the pleasure of knowing Anne for a few years now. I've chatted with her at length at meets, I've given her mostly white lights on the platform but the most lovely thing I've encountered with Anne is her humility and grace. Whether she receives a good lift or a no-lift she never stops smiling and she's always simply thankful to be there. Anne truly is a light in the powerlifting community and I'm so thankful for her for paving the way. -Ivy
Interview by Barrett Snyder
"Anne has over 35 years of experience as a personal trainer and athlete in the strength world. She is an IFBB Pro Bodybuilder and a strength coach with EliteFTS.
After a 17-year bodybuilding career, Anne Sheehan finally turned Pro, earning two wins at Masters Nationals over 35 and over 40: 1st Heavyweight and Overall for each division. She attributes these victories not just to her die-hard work ethic in the gym but to her recovery from alcohol as well. After Anne was welcomed into the IFBB, she gave her first attempt at powerlifting and earned Florida State and Masters World Records. Anne ended her first season with a 27th Open ranking and 5th Masters ranking in all federations in 2018. As a dual athlete, her goal is to help others on the stage, platform, and with addiction. Her motto is “We can’t keep what we don’t give away,”
For those who are unaware, you spent many years dealing with alcoholism. However, as a testament to your character, resiliency and incredible determination, you are now sober and have been for quite a while. Since sobriety, you have become an eliteFTS team member, you earned your IFBB Pro Card and in 2018 you transitioned from bodybuilding into powerlifting and you set Florida State and Masters World Records in your first powerlifting competition. One quote I keep coming back to from you is “I learned that in order to stay sober, you HAVE to help someone else.” Please talk further about what this quote means to you, how this quote transformed your life and what lesson the readers can take away from your incredible story?
I have been blessed with many gifts since I have been in recovery. The ones you have mentioned are very important ones. I am blown away when I sit back and reflect on the last 3.75 years. They have been some of the best years of my life and I know the best is yet to come.
Powerlifting is a newfound love of mine and one I plan on staying with for the rest of my life. The powerlifting community is amazing and my team, eliteFTS, is so inspiring. It is still hard for me to believe that they find me worthy enough to be a part of their team. I wish I had more time to dedicate to writing for my blog on their website, because I have a lot I want to share, but it always seems as though I am sharing with people on a one-on-one basis, opposed to large audiences. That is one of the reasons why I’m grateful for this interview, Barrett. It’s important for people to hear my story of hope and strength because it could save someone going through similar issues that I went through. John Meadows introduced me to Dave Tate, the founder and CEO of eliteFTS, in 2013 and that is where powerlifting sparked my interest. At first, I honestly did not know if I was cut out for it, but I know now this is a sport for me. In addition to eliteFTS, I am also a part of a powerlifting team named, The Ironbound Barbell Club, located in Tampa, Florida led by “Andrew Yerakadu, also known as “Pops.” The rest of my powerlifting journey is still unfolding; I am still learning, every single day.
It took me a very long time to get my IFBB Pro Card. Addiction to alcohol, people, places and other things prevented me from earning it sooner. However, on my 90th day of sobriety, I earned not one, but two Pro Cards; earning Heavyweight and Overall in two age groups. While I am a powerlifter now, I am also still a bodybuilder and I am planning on competing in May at the IFBB Puerto Rico Pro. I am a dual athlete and coach, but I cannot compete in Women’s Bodybuilding forever. However, I can compete in powerlifting forever. I am even considering the idea of getting into gear for a few reasons. One of which is I think going from a bikini on stage to a suit on a platform is just awesome and I hope more women start doing it too.
Back to the helping others in recovery or advancing in any aspect of your life. If you think you can move forward without being able to show someone else how to do it, you won’t. Same with recovery. Same with lifting, mathematics, any skill. We reinforce what we learn by teaching. When we do this, we constantly empower one another. You make connections with people that will last a lifetime; I know I have. Anybody that teaches me anything that makes me stronger, mentally, physically and/or emotionally, resides in my heart forever. If you want to truly master any craft, you must teach it. Don’t be afraid of giving to others, because there is plenty of everything to go around. None of us get out alive. None of us know what we are doing. We are all just trying to survive. Nobody is paying that much attention to us because they are worried about what we are thinking about them. If we all stop focusing on what we can gain from everything and start focusing on what we can give, we get so much more.
You have had the opportunity to coach and train many individuals over the years. Based on your experience as an athlete and as a coach, what are some of the most common mistakes you see individuals making in the gym that is preventing them from increasing muscle mass and increasing their absolute strength levels?
In general: NOBODY does enough abdominal or mobility training! Everybody should be doing some type of yoga. Other common mistakes I see include:
- Lifting too heavy of weight with improper form
- A weak setup
- A lack of bracing
- No plan
- Poor diet
- Lack of sleep
- No meditation
- Not enough technically efficient reps
- Push too hard when they are not ready
- Think they know everything there is to know
- Cannot take direction from a female, last but not least
Before making the transition over to powerlifting, you spent roughly 17 years competing on stage as a bodybuilder. What ideas, lessons and concepts did you learn during your time as a bodybuilder, that you believe allowed you to make such a smooth transition to powerlifting? What are the most valuable lessons you believe the powerlifting community can learn and apply from the bodybuilding community?
Bodybuilding focuses on individual muscles and overall or general muscle hypertrophy. Each muscle is isolated, worked, flexed and watched. We constantly make sure the layers are growing. The movements are detailed and micromanaged. In order to build muscle, you must; breakdown the muscle in some way and recovery through proper nutrition, sleep, and rest (low anxiety).
Powerlifting, on the other hand, uses integration. From the floor to the sky, force is being produced. It is a harnessing of the body’s entire energy, muscles, joints, the breath and breaking through barriers. The tendons must be strong. There is a focus on the central nervous system in preparation for heavier loads. The programming is mathematical and very planned out. Whether the individual competes in bodybuilding, powerlifting or both, they each have 1 rep maxes and base their workouts of percentages of those maxes and strategically select exercises to strengthen body parts to correct any “weakness.” The diet is very lax. Calories make you stronger.
Without both practices being combined in each athlete’s programming, in either sport, they will not be optimal. The third thing is mobility. There is not one person on earth that does not need to focus on mobility.
Whichever sport you are competing in or focused on at that moment, should be the priority. For example, I am a bodybuilder doing a powerlifting meet. My programming always starts with abdominal training; I get them done and out of the way first. I typically perform three sets or do five minutes’ worth. This is something everybody can do that and it’s also a great way to warm up. Having strong abdominals equals having a strong back. Anybody who has back pain, I guarantee has weak abdominals. Train your abdominals and watch the back pain disappear, or at least seriously lessen. After my meet, I will focus on my bodybuilding prep. I won’t be going over 50% of my maxes for a while since I will be doing more bodybuilding style training, but I will still be doing my three main lifts. While I do this, I will be getting stronger because I will be growing all of my muscles, which will help with leverages while also giving my joints and tendons a break from the heavyweight for a while. Right now, 50% of my squat is 227.5lbs so, it will still be hard work.
You have been training for well over three decades. Knowing what you know now about training and proper nutrition, what mistakes did you make early on in your career, that you can advise individuals who are new to the gym, not proper nutrition that you wish you knew decades ago?
In 2007, I found yoga. Initially, I was struggling with my teenage daughter and was hoping it would teach me to “calm down.” Not only did it do that, but I had not previously noticed the mobility and flexibility issues I had created within my body. Mobility, stretching, balance, and meditation are all very important to incorporate into every program.
Sleep has always been a factor for me. I typically slept four hours every night with no time to rest in between. This was a mistake. Remember, we do not go to the gym to build muscle; we go to the gym to break down muscle and we build muscle when we rest.
Motivation is crap and lifting angry is stupid. Have a plan and be prepared to listen to your body and auto-correct the plan.
Alcohol is the devil. You cannot digest your food properly if you consume alcohol. It literally prevents protein synthesis and slows down the entire digestion process. It is nothing more than empty, sugary calories that will make you weak and fat. Alcohol is stored in pretty bottles to fool you.
As a powerlifter, you follow a Conjugate Method of training that you learned from Conjugate University author Nate Harvey. What is it about the Conjugate Method that is most appealing to you? Why is the Conjugate Method your method of choice for strength training?
The definition of conjugate is two or more things joined together. Conjugate combines different, scientifically proven methods, and combines them in order to reach optimal performance.
There is a reason for every exercise, set, and rep and nothing is wasted. Everything is customized to each athlete's individual strengths and weaknesses No stone goes unturned. Combining the different areas of training in each workout creates an atmosphere for a well-rounded athlete. This also keeps the athlete safe as nothing gets over or underdeveloped.
Conjugate is not only for powerlifters; this programming is ideal for every athlete. We train for strength, hypertrophy, speed and conditioning/agility. Each area is categorized in "lanes,” and what is focused on the most, depends on which sport the athlete is competing in at the moment.
I attended two seminars on the conjugate method, I read the Nate Harvey’s Conjugate University book, and then went back to have a one on one training session with Dave Tate before I felt totally confident with the conjugate method. I then experimented with myself and the results came very fast. I incorporated this system into my training for bodybuilding and powerlifting, as well as my clients' training, and I saw incredible results fairly quickly. Conjugate is the outline that I use now for all of my training programs and for all of my clients.
Let’s say an individual comes to you wanting to add more hypertrophy work into their training program in order to increase their level of muscle mass and ultimately increase their strength level. However, they are concerned that if they begin to add more muscle mass, they will not be able to remain in the 123-pound weight class where they compete as a powerlifter. What advice would you give this individual? Is it possible to continue to add muscle mass while remaining at their designated powerlifting competition weight?
Weight is nothing more than proof of gravity. Body composition is much more important. Increases in leverages by addition to muscle mass will help you grow strong and increasing your strength helps you build muscle. People who are overly concerned with weight will not be able to move forward with strength nor hypertrophy. It is a point of reference, that is not really even that meaningful.
What do you believe is the most underutilized exercise in the gym that you think should be a “must” for any powerlifting/strength program and why? What exercise doesn’t get the love it deserves.
Abdominal and mobility work are a must for every single person.
You have accomplished a great deal thus far in your life. You have overcome alcoholism, you have defeated bouts of depression, you received your IFBB Pro Card, you are a member of team eliteFTS and you are a loving wife and mother. What accomplishment are you most proud of and why?
My adult children are brilliant, hardworking and independent. I was not the best person when they were young, but I did a great job raising them. I am extremely proud of being their mother.
I am also grateful for all the connections I have made through the strength industry. Helping people is one of my top four priorities and watching the transformation process of each client has been very rewarding to me. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well. I pray to be led by God and there are moments when He lets me know I’m on the right path. Helping people grow strong is what I am meant to do. I absolutely love it.
Get to know Anne better on Instagram!
Barrett Snyder is a CSCS and personal assistant for Swede Burns, Julia Ladewski (Anto) and Christian Anto. He is currently enrolled at Drexel University's LeBow College of Business.