Girls Who Powerlift: Dani LaMartina

Girls Who Powerlift: Dani LaMartina

Dani LaMartina is a Duke DPT alum, CSCS, and elite level powerlifter in the 123-class living and working in Fort Collins, CO. Her best meet lifts include 358 squat (sleeves), 192 bench, and 440 deadlift, consistently ranking her among the top in her class. She's the first to admit she pushes the envelope because she loves to train and values her own experience with injury and the physiological, biomechanical, and psychological components involved in getting back to training. Relationships and trust drive her to empower athletes with tools and education so they can do what they love: train. She can be reached for coaching and injury consult inquiries at Dani@MergePerformancePT.com.

For those who are not aware, your husband, David LaMartina, is a nationally recognized powerlifter and CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) Please talk about the impact David has had on your powerlifting career, your career as a physical therapist and how your mutual love for powerlifting (strength training) brought you two together as husband and wife?

This is probably the hardest question to answer, because my whole heart swells with a combination of emotion, learning, and joy from the impact he has had on my life. There is not a single role of mine that has been left untouched by his impact and it’s SO hard to unwrap the multiple layers; it is like the gift that keeps on giving. The conversations that happen at our dinner table or while we are on walks together blow my mind. Dave’s mind operates so differently than my mind and we are each other’s opposites in more ways than I can count. Dave is cautious and consistent, while I tap my ‘on’ button all too often. However, the balance has provided me has really rounded me out, making me a better lifter, coach, Physical Therapy, and most importantly, a better human being.  We joke about how he fixates on certain things, and Dave has been truly fixated on lifting since early in high school. He used to ride his bike to the gym before school, and then ride home to eat his bodybuilder breakfast of egg whites, oats, and berries, all while listening to or reading something from a champion bodybuilder. This lifestyle is deeply ingrained in him and he has been involved in the training lifestyle more than he’s been out of it, and he has been certainly been training longer than many current competitors. To that end, if I had to pick the two most influential facets he has highlighted, I would choose longevity and starving comparison. These two things have allowed me more joy in my own progression, a level of contentedness that eliminates anxiety (and allows me to push myself more, because the root is more pure), and to more consistently turn my eyes to others and serve them more effectively (which has been my hearts truest desire from the get go). When Dave and I met, I was coming off a string of successful meets, and solely focused on competing. I was going through a phase, personally, where I needed affirmation from others. I needed to be told I was “good” at something, and that affirmation came from powerlifting. There were only two people in my class at the time who would come close to my total. That is where I found my value and self-worth. It has been a long road to get here. From January to June 2019, I could not walk or for myself due a connective disease I suffered that severely damaged my nervous system. Despite the chaos and emotional struggles, Dave was there by my side through all of this and became my steady bass drum. Dave has fed my passion for progression, which has effectively starved my need for affirmation.  When Dave and I had first started dating, elitefts CEO Dave Tate explained to me that picking a spouse was the same as picking the single most influential person in your life trajectory. This was essential for me, because my life mainly revolved and continues to revolve, around lifting and training in some way, shape, or form as a coach, Physical Therapist, athlete, and teammate. Dave has unleashed a freedom within me, to become my very best self athletically, without needing to compare myself to others. This has opened up more mental energy for me to serve and love others. Dave and I have some challenges with each other, as well as our own training, but our heartbeat is always, “how can we challenge, teach, and take the best care of people physically and emotionally that we can?” 

How have you evolved as a Physical Therapist over the years as you have gotten older and wiser? What changes have you made over the years regarding how you treat your patients, in particular powerlifters?

Science is always evolving, principles are always evolving, trends on what is effective is always changing, but the fact that this is all about taking care of people, that never changes. 

I am lucky; I have had some amazing mentors over the years. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to begin working in Physical Therapy clinics since I was 15 years of age, and I saw enough physical therapy done poorly, and initially, I was pretty convinced I wanted to do anything but be a Physical Therapist. However, I had a mentor later in college that changed that completely. Everything about his practice was about taking care of and truly understanding the patients. He (as well as my other mentors) had quite a few cases where clients had tried everything else but could not get better, despite the “scientific evidence” they received from their former physical therapists. During this time, one of the biggest things that I began to notice was; social media has become a huge source of information for rehab but even on social media, there have two very distinct types of clinicians. There are certain clinicians that perpetuate ideas, talk about articles, make appealing videos and drink their own “Kool-Aid.” While on the other hand, there are other clinicians who are actually out there working in the trenches, training lifters, seeing patients and actually treating.  

Treating people and getting them better is a lot harder than talking about treating people in a video. The biggest shift I have had to embrace is the fact that every athlete I work with has been touched by the intellectual type in some way, shape or form. They have come in with ideas about what their issue is, what needs to happen to “fix” their issue and their expectations for what physical therapy looks like, has been shaped by people who have never actually put their hands on them. The athlete’s narrative has been significantly altered by people who, quite frankly, don’t even know this athlete exists. It is my responsibility to understand all of that as much as I can, and the athletes fixed ideas are the first thing I need to uncover. If I am not speaking the same language as someone I am working with, the chances of them feeling better decreases significantly, no matter how spot on my application of scientific principles might be.  

In addition, I have become much “smarter” over the past few years. I apply principles differently and my core ideas of what it takes to help someone has evolved. However, the biggest change I have made and where I have seen the greatest amount of progress has been in allowing myself to really listen to the athlete and engage in a and healthy dialogue around their own narrative and acknowledge what fixed ideas they might have heard prior to coming to work with me. It is amazing how much asking questions about the athlete’s story can simplify the whole situation, especially fitness-oriented people who have already sought answers through mediums like social media. 

You have spoken in the past quite a bit about tempo training and it’s a necessity. How do you define tempo training and why is it such an important variable to add to one’s training program? How can someone reading this article immediately begin implementing tempo training into their program? 

I absolutely love tempo training. Tempo training is where you control the speed of a movement with an intentional speed/pace and it can be broken into four distinct phases: the top of the movement, the lowering of the movement, the bottom of the movement, and the “raising” component of the movement against gravity.  One other way to think about this is by looking at the involved muscles (or agonists) involved from a contracted, eccentric, stretched, and concentric standpoint.  Most iron sports will have different ways of looking at this depending on the goal.   

Tempo training is likely a form of training I will always keep a part of my training routine because it can be applied for so many different goals including; tissue resilience, positional control at certain phases of the motion, hypertrophy, motor control, and eccentric control. Different lifting speeds have a different tension requirement and contrary to what you might think, lifting fast actually requires less tension. I am currently training for my first bodybuilding show and with the idea of tension as a stimulus for growth, I am even more into tempo training now than I even was from a rehab standpoint.  Tempo training, depending on how you apply it, forces eccentric strength, isometric positional control, and it can utilize explosive, high threshold motor unit recruitment for movement on the concentric or intentional tension and pacing on the eccentric for hypertrophy stimulus. Depending upon what your goal is, power production, control, or hypertrophy, your tempo ranges will likely need to be adjusted to suit your goals. This can apply even for specific types of exercises because every exercise has a different strength curve and tension curve specific to the range of motion of the exercise. 


For powerlifting programming, for example, you might see a program where tempo squats are written to do in a 3-1-x-1 style, meaning 3 seconds down, 1 second pause at the bottom, move quickly/explosively at the concentric, then pause for a second at the top. Given eccentric strength, in my mind, plays a bigger role in control and intentional loading (in squatting, for example), it’s not uncommon to see a lifter lose control right where the strength curve is the hardest: within an inch or two of the hole on both the concentric and eccentric.  I’ll see people really take their time with the first 1/2 of the eccentric on a squat, not paying attention to the fact that the bottom is where most will lose position, so it’s important to pay attention to a consistent pacing and being intentional with wherein the range you are and get what you need to out of the exercise.   


In rehab, the same principles apply, especially with training and the repetitive stress we accrue. A loss of position at one point over the course of a number of reps can accumulate local stress and disrupt the nervous system. Our nervous system is incredibly complex, and there is a growing body of evidence that supports the narrative that pain does not equate to tissue damage, but instead can act as a “check engine” light to your body. Often times, my powerlifters and fitness-oriented clients have very simple solutions to their pain; they need to be able to control segments of their body independently, especially when they are changing position or phases of movement. 

I have a number of people who I have worked with who have had pain with squatting, particularly in and out of the hole.  When we look at their lifts not only on video, but what their body had adapted to even with body weight, we saw that as they needed to phase change from eccentric hip flexion control to concentric hip extension, their backs/pelvis and often knees also changed position. As they changed position, their body segmentation changed. In powerlifting, it is similar to when someone loses tightness in the hole; you will see energy leak by movement outside of what is required to get out of the bottom portion of a squat.  Their rehab often includes tempo training to force control through the range that is often load. My favorite movements to use for rehab here are goblet squats (which can be loaded heavy when you’re ready) and split squat variations. If I have someone do a 3-2-3-2 tempo, their intent is often to stop and proprioceptively feel what they need to (which is case dependent) on that 2-second pause and maintain position as they transition to the concentric. The coolest thing about using tempo training as part of your rehab or as preventative measures is that it will carry over to your main lift in some capacity.  There is an adage, “stability is the mother of strength,” and tempo work in the rehab capacity, when used with the intent of positional control, feeds that. 


However, it should be noted. That tempo training is not only for positional control. There are a number of times it can be used for tissue health, and even joint health (if avoiding full joint lockout and maintaining muscular tension is emphasized). Tendon rehab is a great example of how tempo training can be used to address the physiology of our body.  All our tissues respond to stimuli a little differently.  Tendons in particular, which connect stretchy/contractile muscle to non-contractile bone, have a hard role placed on them. The cells and tissue of tendon itself are what we call “mechanoreceptive,” meaning it responds to load and, more specifically, tension.  We also know that isometrics can be used to reduce local, acute pain (paused work) and that tendons respond well to slow, heavy loading, controlled. 

The most important part of determining tempo training is wherein the motion the muscles are accumulating tension, and the total “time” under tension per set.  This will help determine your rep ranges, too. A decent rule of thumb is to aim for 40-75 seconds per set if your goal is to increase hypertrophy. Of course, this second per set recommendation will vary depending on who you are speaking to on the topic. If I am leg pressing at a 3-2-3-0 tempo, without a full lockout, each rep will take roughly 8 seconds and I may aim for a set of 8-10 reps with an intensity that allows for progressive overload week to week.  If you want growth, spend more time where it’s hard. 

Tempo training is incredibly versatile and no matter what your goals are, it is a great way to maintain health and help with long-term injury prevention.  We think about exercises as movements, but the ultimate effect is that they are changing either our tissue or our nervous systems' ability to adapt to the load. Tempo training is a means to an end.

One topic you have spoken out in favor of over the years is unilateral training. You believe unilateral exercises play a pivotal role in a powerlifters training routine. Why is this the case? What is the greatest benefit you have seen from incorporating unilateral exercises from both a health and performance point of view? What unilateral exercises do you believe every powerlifter (generally speaking) should look to incorporate in their training routine?

We are ambulatory creatures and most of our life is performed in an alternating, reciprocating pattern. Our left arm swings with our right leg. Our pelvis rotates one way while our ribcage (sternum, shoulders) rotates the other way. Structurally, we are NOT the same on our left as we are on our right side (heart, liver, diaphragm, hip flexors), yet as powerlifters, we put a very heavy, symmetrical object in our hands as asymmetrical beings. Everyone is obsessed with being symmetrical and but for the most part, we cannot and probably should not be symmetrical. As powerlifters, most of our training is bilateral; we place our two feet on the ground when we squat and deadlifts and place our two hands on the bar. We cannot expect perfect symmetry, and I think almost every lifter I have talked to has one or two things they know are not the same on the left and right sides, but they frame it as though they are broken. While I hate to break it to you, it is probably inherent in the fact that you are a human.  In a perfect world, yes, we would feel exactly the same on our left and right side during our pressing movements, but the small differences are likely always going to be evident. 

Can unilateral training close the gap between discrepancies? Sure.  But the bigger thing that we often Do NOT pay attention to is more than just the moving part: it’s what the rest of our body is doing. I will use dumbbell pressing as an example.  We may feel a difference side to side and think, “wow, my left side really feels unstable at the bottom as I transition to the press.”  If we stop and look, I mean really look, we will see lots of other things going on, too.  Most notably, what does the left ribcage look like, compared to the right? That tells me what the abdominal wall and serratus are doing.  This is part of the reason I LOVE unilateral training that incorporates contralateral stability.

Dr. Eric Serrano posted an exercise earlier this year incorporating one arm pressing, while using the opposite side lat and obliques to stabilize.  The concept of biotensegrity is a big part of why we lose position, and also the ways in how we make up for it. Unilateral training is not necessarily always about “equalizing” sides; sometimes it is admitting that we are probably going to be a little asymmetrical, and given that circumstance, it is important to build structural stability across a number of joints and soft tissues.
It is not that I think asymmetry is not a problem and that glaring issues shouldn’t be addressed, but I do think sometimes we neglect to actually look at human structure and accept that it is part of us. 

My favorite unilateral exercises that I think most people should incorporate in some variety are properly executed single leg deadlift variations, in addition to some variation of a unilateral press with core integration, perhaps even maybe half-kneeling.  Horizontal pressing should be performed in a way that maintains the same concept of biotensegrity and stability. If you are asking for fluid movement pressing, ask for three-dimensional or tri-planar stability on the opposite side, especially. 

A follow up to the previous question, what 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. 

The most underutilized exercise is definitely single leg deadlift variations! There are so many ways to change this exercise and make it more or less challenging.  You can load it heavy with something like a split stance, or really focus on controlling the movement with constant tension. Much of our life is done with our feet on the ground, so building stability with good patterns in that position can help with a myriad of things from rooting, to bracing, to tri-planar control. It is a great way to build from the ground up.  My favorite variations include a heavy barbell stance trap bar RDL, double paused (1.5 rep) dumbbell RDLs, and single leg RDLs with load in the opposite hand or both hands.  The key is to make sure the hips move back, the ribcage and pelvis stay “stacked,” and that there is no rotation. It is essential to have control and not let the hips open or the spine move. I have worked with a lot of people that get a ton out of even doing bodyweight single leg deadlifts with the emphasis being on their foot rooting and feeling the floor.  Neurological input through the feet is one of the most underrated inputs we can get. 

I believe there is quite a bit of confusion within the fitness population when it comes to mobility versus stability. First, can you please explain the difference between mobility and stability? Second, how would you address a client who has a mobility limitation and how would you address a client who has a stability limitation? Do you typically see more powerlifters with mobility or stability limitations?

There are many people who are big on disseminating mobility of movement throughout a range, versus stability to control that motion. However, I believe the biggest thing most powerlifters need to take away is that these are not two separate entities that operate independently. It is not an “either/or” operation. We need both, and an improvement in one will likely benefit the other. The mechanisms by which our brain receives information and “permits” movement or maximizes control are more complex than assuming stretching is actually “stretching” a muscle like you would stretch taffy. There is a litany of resources all basically giving textbook definitions, but what I think most lifters need to actually start thinking about is input and output. Whatever input our nervous system gives our brain is going to yield a different output, and ultimately, you are looking to create change.  Maybe you are trying to truly lengthen a muscle, maybe you are stretching to simply provide time in a position as input to allow a green light for movement from the brain. You have to know what you’re actually looking to influence. This is why I think it is absolutely critical to have a great clinician working with you. There is a physiological response and reason to why we suggest the treatments we do. One other concept that I think needs to be included when we look at mobility and stability is position, because position will often influence length-tension and create false positives for a need of mobility or stability. If you have a boatload of one, it goes without saying that improving the other is probably the way to go.  If you have been hounding after improving one and it’s not changing, maybe you’re missing the reason, and need to switch gears. The hamstrings and hips are maybe the best examples I can think of.  Women, in particular, seem to have a bigger need for stability, especially with fluctuation in hormonal cycles (which can affect ligamentous laxity), childbirth, and generally different morphological hip structure than men.  I do not want to villainize anterior pelvic tilt, extension is performance.  But, living in a position of extension and saying your hamstrings are “tight” and subsequently stretching the tar out of them is like asking the brain to do two different things: It’s like saying “let my pelvis tip forward and spine extend, so make my hamstrings long” but wait, now they feel “tight” because they’re already lengthened, so lengthen them further.” At some point, you need to ask why something is tight, which structure is tight (is it muscular? capsular? a joint restriction?) rather than simply assuming you need more or less mobility. If you have a posterior hip capsule restriction, and continue to just “stretch” your glutes, you are not only missing the actual structure that needs changing, you are giving input (that you may or may not want!) to the brain, that will have an effect.

One of the biggest struggles I hear lifters say is that they improve their range and control, but it does not seem to maintain. There is a really fantastic analogy that, while mobility and even control work is like “writing” a document on a computer, movement and utilization of the new range and control is like hitting “save.” One way to further increase how well your body maintains integrity of both qualities is by being specific in the position in which you train them. I am all for 90/90 lift offs, as CARS and FRC work is becoming more popular, but I am far more interested in how well someone can control hip rotation when their foot is on the ground, because that is how we perform. I generally suggest doing whatever routine you feel opens you up and allows control through whatever means but making sure you follow it with something that actually emulates real life and/or lifting with your feet on the ground.  The impact of input from the feet to the brain is essential. 

 

You recommend that it is important for powerlifters to “take time away from the heavyweight.” To some, this might sound counterintuitive. Why do you believe it is essential that powerlifters take time away from the heavyweight, in order to set themselves up for greater long-term success?

The biggest piece of advice I wish I had taken when I was a younger lifter at 23-25 (I’m 32 now, still young, but I will say recovery takes a big hit after 30), you have to play the long game. Just because you “can” squat 100% today, it does not mean that you should.  The obvious answer to this is for structural stability, but there are a lot of different reasons that can contribute to this being a good idea, from both a health as well as a performance standpoint. 

There is a reason some of the most experienced coaches in the world have their athletes spend a training cycle in a GPP phase, from the conditioning standpoint (which will aid in recovery) to the hypertrophy component, there are a number of benefits that allow you to stay healthy while building tissue capacity. Tissue capacity and control are, in my mind, the two single most important elements to maintaining a long training career.  The athlete that can train the longest is going to see the most progress. From a performance standpoint, efficiency with submaximal weight with technical proficiency and bar speed will pay off in the long run.  Casey Williams is a good friend of mine, and he recently wrote an article on EliteFTS where he had one of his athletes take barely 90% as his heaviest squat of his cycle, and hit a massive PR.  You can find the article here. Swede Burns is another coach and friend of mine who really hammered the role of technical proficiency and bar speed into me. I had my best meet squat working with him and took (also) no more than 90% as my top squat for the cycle. 

From a psychological standpoint, I think there is a transformation that happens when you realize what you are capable of achieving. You get a taste of it, and you want more.  Every time you lift a heavier weight then you did last time, it does something to the way you approach everything in life. It is easy to become dependent on that, but you need to know that just because you do not express that top end strength every day, it is still there. I have been in dark places where it felt like my mental well-being hinged on how my top sets went.  It was not a good place mentally, and I knew that, but I thought I needed to go as hard as possible every session. This left me beat up, I performed mediocre in my powerlifters meets, and I had a large amount of self-doubt. I dug myself into this hole because I used training as a daily coping mechanism to shut other things out, not as a way to build, not as a way to prepare, and certainly not as a way to perform or prevail in the long term. When it comes to taking time away from heavily lifting, you have to trust yourself, and for most of us, women in particular, that is really hard to do. Giving yourself a reason to trust yourself by touching something you have no business doing in the offseason is proof that you do not need to try maximally every session. Challenge yourself to have some inner fortitude.  You will have days when even sub-maximal weight feels heavier than it should, but you will grow a ton mentally from cycles focusing on GPP, hypertrophy, speed, and rehab work.  You will see the forest through the trees, rather than relying on the expression of maximal strength as a reason to prove to yourself you still have it. You have absolutely nothing to prove, to anyone but yourself, that you have the discipline, fortitude of mind, and control over your circumstances. 

When speaking about the importance of “core” training, you made the comment “Usually when I ask powerlifters what core work they’re doing, they say one of two things: "planks" or "what core work?" I cannot overstate how much you will improve your resiliency in your higher intensity phases or high-volume phases if you take the time to do the un-sexy things now.” When it comes to training the core for powerlifting, what “un-sexy things” have you found to be the most beneficial that have the greatest carry over to the platform? 

When you think about what happens with higher rep sets and “technical” breakdown, it is often due to the fact that that the bar misgrooves as a result of losing tightness somewhere. I hate to throw blanket statements out there, but in my opinion, a lack of “pillar-endurance” can often be a contributing factor.  Technical failure often occurs as a result of leakage through where we should be the tightest. The more efficiently and soundly you can maintain stabilization, the more stability will yield strength and continued power production. Powerlifting requires stabilization at the top and bottom of a motion, but most of the time, everything from the shoulders, ribcage, and pelvis should remain concrete, while our legs/arms change their relative positions.  It is not that planks, or the ab-wheel are bad, but I believe we can do better because our specific training involves stabilizing centrally while moving peripherally. In a squat, our hips and knees are changing joint angles. In a deadlift, our arms, knees, and hips are changing joint angles. I am a fan of movements that permit you to both feel the floor with your feet and also encourage static strength centrally (e.g. the core) while moving limbs. Heavy carries, KB marches (symmetrically or asymmetrically loaded) are both great examples of ways you can maximally irradiate the core while still allowing your arms and legs to move as needed.  Bear crawls are another great example of stability and mobility coordination. 


In addition, exercises like dead bugs, especially with a band looped behind you forcing you to engage your lats or off to the side where you are also resisting rotation, can be really helpful in teaching you to find position positions. If you are someone that loses spine position, choosing a core exercise that gives proprioceptive feedback of where you are can be a good way to start making some progress. You will want to graduate to where you do not need it, but if Joe Sullivan can make dead bugs look hard for him, you can, too. 
One other component to consider, and I speak to this because social media has made the whole “anti” movements popular, is the direction of motion.  Most core exercises will fall into the categories of anti-flexion, anti-lateral flexion, or anti-rotation.  I will add one more category of tri-planar, in weight-bearing (e.g. heavy carries) where you are actually integrating foot on the ground. My general recommendations would be to pick one or two of each category and spread them out throughout the week. An athlete might select anti-extension dead bugs (band behind them, engaging lats), half-kneeling chaos pallof press (anti-rotation), Copenhagen planks (anti lateral flexion), and trap bar carries. It is not a huge addition of work, cumulatively, but it can make a big difference in the neural efficiency with which we engage under a bar. Pay special attention to your position, as arbitrary core work for time done poorly really is not going to benefit you.  You want your positions to be as specific as you can. 

Everyone is familiar with the term “recovery,” but I am not sure everyone is speaking the same language when it comes to recovery. Let’s start very basic. What does recovery mean to you? Second, where do you think most lifters in the sport of powerlifting are missing the boat when it comes to recovery? What is the biggest misconception when it comes to recovery? 

Actually, I think a lot of people are getting this one right. Physically, there is a huge trend towards looking at sleep habits, proper supplementation, and soft tissue work.  It is great to see.  There is a growing number of people who are understanding what it means to get “parasympathetic.” People are practicing diaphragmatic breathing and meditation after sessions or before bed.

This might be out of my wheelhouse, but as an athlete and coach, the biggest thing I am seeing is that people want to assume more work, more weight, more everything is better, and also lose sight of the fact that if you do not allow yourself to rest and recover mentally, it is tough to fully shift into a recovery state. There is a lot of chemistry behind our thoughts, and that chemistry has a physiological impact. I am suggesting recovery is solely a state of mind, but our thought process can influence our ability to stay sympathetic or get parasympathetic, as well. This is huge because those two divisions of our autonomic nervous system are controlling how well we actually do recover. You can be doing all the active recovery work in the world, but if your thought process is constantly negative and beats you down, it is really tough to shift to a physiological state of recovery.

There is a common theme of “stress” when we think recovery, but it is important to remember that not all stress is created equal, and not all stress is bad. Stress is often the catalyst that breaks barriers and stress itself can be further delineated into distress and eustress (distress being a net “negative” stress, eustress being a “positive” stress). How we think about our circumstances and our responses are often what delineates the two, and also what makes us more resilient humans.

We have all trained around that one person who is constantly a gray cloud. Their whole persona is negative and their whole life is nothing but “trial and tribulation.” Their work sets are always “terrible,” and quite frankly, they look exhausted because their entire state of mind creates an uphill battle because they are battling negative after another. My heart hurts for those people. Compare that to someone on the complete opposite side of the spectrum; they are roses and rainbows and butterflies. Distress does not even register. I love these people and they instantly take you up a few notches by just being around them and their positive energy.

The ability to reside somewhere between these two bookends reflects an ability to conquer and grow through circumstances. This ultimately leads to a sense of capability and self-assuredness. It makes it easier to handle the bad days and not overthink them. It makes it easier to say, “tomorrow will be better,” and to relax and get parasympathetic after especially training, rather than overthinking every situation and being negative. 

This is an incredibly broad question and I am sure you could write an entire book on this topic so please fill free to take this question in whichever direction you see fit. What is the biggest misconception you hear when it comes to strength training for women?

I feel like this is one of those hot topics that people are going to flip flop on every few years. First, we are told to train just like men, and more recently, there has been a trend of, “women are not just tiny men.”  Now, I do not want to overgeneralize and point out the obvious that, yes, clearly, we are hormonally, structurally, and often psychologically very different, but any athlete, male or female, that actually hits a stall in their progress is going to be more limited by how they handle it mentally than whether or not they are training appropriately for their gender. Strength training and progressing is much more a function of longevity and embracing the long road rather than keeping the mindset short term. Of course, this is much easier said than done. The longer a person can train, the more likely they are to continue making progress.  


In my experience coaching both male and female athletes through meets as well as through rehab and GPP phases, women worry more. We want to make sure we are using our time just right, that we are going to get to where we want to be, and that there is a perfect recipe and if the recipe is off just a little, we “have” to change it. The men I have worked with tend to be pretty objective, with occasional needs for redirecting.  This whole topic really could be a novel, and I am certainly not saying every female is like this, but the biggest thing I would hope females would take away from “what’s different about training,” is that you will make progress when you trust the process. It is going to look different for everyone. If you struggle with a particular area (confidence, technique with a movement, consistency, compliance), that is going to hold you back more than gender differences.

Does science say that hormonally and physiologically there is an “optimal” way to train men and women differently? Sure. However, studies change frequently, and we as athletes do not operate as science experiments. We operate as people, we have bad days, we have changes in schedules, we have distractions, kids, jobs, and we do not train at an NCAA training facility doing only leg extensions and back squats. We do not hold up to months of German volume training; we have injury histories and movement limitations.

Do what works for you- and find a good coach that you’re comfortable working with for years, not one cycle. 

Back in 2017, you said something truly remarkable and something well worth repeating, “We have nothing to prove. Our attempts at proving anything continually detract from being fully present. From laughing, growing, enjoying, relishing.” Please talk about this statement. What does this statement mean to you? What are your biggest takeaways from this statement?
This has been game-changing for me. I grew up never feeling good enough, and the more I look at my competitive history, the more I recognize how many incredible moments and relationships I missed out on because I was so hell-bent on proving (to whom? I have no idea because very few people actually care what I deadlift) that I was good enough. I missed out on a lot of personal growth and happiness because I was constantly dissatisfied, chasing this mirage that I would eventually be “good enough.” I said no to a lot of things I wish I’d said yes to.  I wrote this statement when a friend of mine who I met through powerlifting was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is someone who “lives with yes on the tip of her tongue.” Something shook me to my core about this friend of mine and the way she was able to lavishly love and bring joy to people.

Without having embraced this concept, I am not sure how I would have fared through the last year.  I was told I may or may not walk again normally; that my condition might be degenerative, that my stutter may be permanent. I was then told that I had this weird form of blood cancer after a litany of testing (non-leukemia), then one other diagnostic came back negative. At this point, things have for the most part resolved, minus some antibody testing, in which we were told, “wait and see in 3-5 years.” All of this after an injury that was unlike anything any doctor I had consulted and had seen in a powerlifter before and being told I would be lucky to squat at all again. The thought of having every single way I tried to prove my worth (lifting, work, writing, being a wife) taken away made it abundantly clear that I am treasured, beyond measure, regardless of how many ways I try to earn it or prove it.  It’s absolutely liberating, and I’m blessed by the experiences.  It’s been amazing to see how I was prepared for each trial that was put in front of me, and this statement was the beginning of it. 

When your time on this earth comes to an end. How do you want others to remember you?
That I have lived to serve and to elevate others, out of an abundance of love that has been lavishly heaped upon me.


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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.


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