Written by Barrett Snyder
Julia (Ladewski) Anto is no stranger to success. Her 1124-pound total ranks 7th of all time in the 123-pound weight class; Powerlifting USA Magazine ranked her as the top female powerlifter in the country in 2006, and she has placed 1st or 2nd in 16 of the 17 total national powerlifting competitions she has entered.
However, the numbers do not tell the entire story; they rarely do.
Despite how substantial Julia’s accomplishments under the bar have been, she will be the first to tell you she did not begin this lifelong journey in powerlifting (fitness) to break world-records or gain national recognition. When the University of Buffalo hired Julia as a full-time strength coach at the tender age of 22, she had one goal in mind; make sure young girls across the world know their worth and know they can do whatever they put their minds to.
Julia has completely and undoubtedly accomplished this goal and then some.
For those who are not aware, your husband, Christian Anto, is a nationally ranked powerlifter and highly sought after powerlifting and strength coach. Please talk about the impact Christian has had on your powerlifting career and how your mutual love for powerlifting (strength training) brought you two together as husband and wife?
Christian and I knew each other from being Elitefts teammates. Our paths crossed several times, but it wasn't until God's perfect timing that we started a relationship. We trained together at the Elitefts compound the weekend of a business summit in 2017, which led to hanging out at the summit all day, which led to getting to know each other more at that evening's social event. We didn't realize that each other was single until that final evening. Long story short, we were married just one year later.
Even though I've been competing since 2000, Christian has had a huge impact on my powerlifting these past few years. He's encouraged me to be open-minded to other training styles but has also reminded me of what got me to be a successful lifter in the first place. There's always a balancing act with that. He is a master technician when it comes to lifting, so finding the small details in my breakdowns has helped me develop and tweak things. The biggest impact he's made on my life as a coach and lifter is his ability to serve and help me, even when it inconveniences him.
Need my food prepped? He's on it. Need him to run the kids around so I can get a massage? He's on it. I've even told him I'd wrap my own knees during training, knowing full well that he has to wrap his own knees too (which is exhausting!) and he refuses. He will sacrifice his energy and forearms to ensure I get the best training session I can have.
Our mutual love for powerlifting isn't just based in powerlifting. Someday we won't be competing and if we based our relationship and love for each other on powerlifting alone, our love would eventually dwindle away. Our relationship is built on Christ and building each other up through that. Powerlifting just happens to be something we both enjoy doing.
There will be many women reading this article who are trying to balance their powerlifting career with motherhood; two things you have been able to maximize. What advice do you have for mothers who want to remain competitive in powerlifting (strength sports) while also being the best mother they can be?
As with anything, being really awesome at something takes focus and being intentional. You can't grow a multi-million-dollar business if you are scrolling through social media in the middle of a major business deal. When you're at the gym, train hard and get your s*** done.
First and foremost, know where powerlifting ranks on your priority list. If you are in a position in life where you can devote more time to training, then by all means, do what is necessary to compete. You may need to rely on neighbors or grandparents to watch your children at times, you may to drive an extra 15-20 minutes to train at a more powerlifting friendly gym, you may need to find a gym where your kids are welcome to color or watch a movie while you get your work done. I often found myself bringing my children to the gym and providing them with activities to do while I trained. As they got older and began to observe my training sessions, they even began to show an interest in working out. They would now look forward to going to the gym as much as I did. We bonded over getting strong. I can assure you, it is possible to compete in the sport of powerlifting while you have children. I am not saying it is easy, by any means, but it is possible and there are ways to make your dream of competing a reality.
On the flip side, maybe at this point in life, you have to spend more time at home and your attention is needed elsewhere. Perhaps one of your kids needs constant help with homework, perhaps you have a toddler who requires frequent doctor visits, maybe your traditional 9 am to 5 pm job turns into a not so traditional 8 am to 8 pm job and by the time dinner is served, homework is done and storybook time is over, it is already 11 pm. In situations such as these, maybe you can’t afford to make competition one of your top priorities. This does not mean you can't find ways to fit in a couple of 30-minute hardcore training sessions at the gym per week, but a schedule such as this one is not conducive to competing in the sport of powerlifting.
Aside from understanding what point of life you are in at that moment in time, it is essential to be intentional at home and fully present with your children in every which way possible. I encourage you to play with your kids, plan fun activities, constantly engage them in conversations, and just simply take the time to be there with them; take the time to be a mother. If you hear your child say, "But Mom, you never (play, come to my game, help me with homework)," that could be a very big indication that your child is desperately longing for time with you. As mothers, we all know that the job of being a mother never truly ends, and this includes doing the dishes and endless amounts of laundry.
When it comes to training for powerlifting, you follow a conjugate style system of training. In your mind, what is it that makes conjugate the most ideal training method? What are the biggest benefits you have experienced running conjugate compared to other training programs?
For any athlete, the “ideal” training method is the one that you can actually follow through and through. If you attempt to follow a program that calls for equipment you do not have the means to access or a program that requires more days in the gym than you can commit to, then that method is not ideal for you. So "ideal" is relative.
For me personally, the conjugate system trains the areas of strength that are most necessary: straining (max effort), speed/explosive (dynamic effort), and muscle building/weak point building (repetition effort). I find incredible benefit with the conjugate system because it incorporates all these different aspects. I also found it to be very "fluid" rather than “rigid.” In other words, if I don’t feel good on a particular day, it is easy for me to adjust my training. For those who follow a program that calls for specific percentages and reps in a particular order on a particular day, they might have a hard time adjusting when life gets complicated.
Many of the exercises utilized in the conjugate system are variations of the main lift. This not only allows you to work on things you may not be good at, but it allows you to remain injury-free. It is not uncommon to see lifters develop chronic overuse injuries by means of performing the same straight bar lift week in and week out for 52 weeks a year. The conjugate system allows for multiple variations which gives the body a break from traditional barbell work.
You have competed nationally in both powerlifting and figure/physique. What were the biggest challenges you faced transitioning from one sport to the other? Please address training and nutritional difficulties.
The biggest challenge I found in regards to my training was going from a mindset of “move the weight by any means possible” (powerlifting) to a mindset of “move the weight with the right muscles at the right time” (bodybuilding). When I started being more intentional in my bodybuilding training, I often had to slow things down and make sure I was contracting the right muscles. I could not just simply “muscle things up” if I wanted to improve and enhance my lagging body parts.
In regard to my nutrition, both sports benefit from a solid diet of quality food. During actual prep periods for bodybuilding, I had to focus more on portion control, while when I was powerlifting, I could more easily get away with oversized portions and even junk food here and there. To be honest, I found the junk food often fueled my strength. While quality foods will always win, I cannot stress the importance of having a mindset that allows you to remain completely disciplined when your goal is to step on age and compete. You have to have the discipline to follow your nutritional plan to a T.
What is the biggest misconception you hear when it comes to strength training for women?
Gosh, there are so many I’ve heard over the years. The most common ones that come to mind are; don’t lift heavy, you’ll get too big; having muscles is manly; more reps and lighter weights are better for women; lighter weights make longer and leaner feminine muscles (if you want longer and leaner muscles ask for different parents); if you build muscle and then stop working out, it just turns to fat. The list goes on and on.
With life in a day and age where social media is so rampant and so popular, it can be difficult to weed through what is actually true and what are just scare tactics to get you to buy into what someone is selling. I do believe that strength training for women is extremely beneficial (that topic could take up its own entire article) but does this mean that I believe every woman needs to be a powerlifter or even powerlift? No, of course not. However, studies have routinely proven, time and time again, that building muscle has extremely positive health benefits.
Truth be told, effort and consistency always win. If you have a solid and consistent training and nutrition program, you will slowly begin to feel and see your body change for the better, both inside and out. You will begin to lose body fat from certain areas (which we all want), causing the muscle underneath to show better. That is exactly what happens when people “tone up,” that’s it! They have actually lost some body fat over the top of the muscle. It is that plain and simple.
You have accomplished a great deal in your career and in life thus far. You are a former Division 1 college strength coach, nationally ranked powerlifter, elitefts sponsored coach, and the mother of two incredible children. What accomplishment are you most proud of and why?
As I approach my 40th year on earth, there are so many memories I look back on and say to myself, “Wow, I did that!” Each part of my life makes up who I am, and I certainly would not be WHO I am today without all of those things. All my past successes, and even failures, have led me to where I am at this exact moment in life and they have given me the family, friends, and network I have today.
I truly believe the accomplishment that I am most proud of, is the fact that I had to work so hard for every accomplishment I ever achieved. In other words, I am most proud of all the hard work I put in, day in and day out, year in and year out, to achieve every single one of my accomplishments. When I was powerlifting, I worked my butt off even when it got tough; when I wanted to be a college strength coach, I traveled across the country to do an unpaid internship (which eventually led to me being one of the youngest female Division 1 strength coaches to ever be hired at the age of 22) and I spent money I didn’t have to attend a Dave Tate seminar, which eventually led me to be added to team elitefts a few years later. Through good times and rough times, I made sure my kids knew that they were loved and cared for and could count on me to be there.
God has gifted me with the skills and talents I have, and He also gifted an average girl the ability to not see limits. 5 foot 3 inches and run hurdles? You can do that. Young girl coaching 100 football players in a weight room? You can do that. Single mom, working, raising 2 kids, building her own brand, writing for elitefts, all while making sure young girls across the world know their worth and know they can do whatever they put their minds to? You can do that too.
I’m not perfect and I’ve made mistakes. I’ve questioned my talents and my own confidence. But I keep fighting for what I believe in my heart I am called to do on this Earth. That’s what I’m most proud of, dusting off the dirt every time life gets tough and making sure I stand a little taller.
What is the most underutilized exercise in the gym that you think should be a “must” for any powerlifting/strength program and why? What exercises do not get the love they deserve?
When it comes to exercises for powerlifters that do not get the love they deserve; I would have to answer with push-ups. Most of us powerlifters are so pinned back in our scapula during the bench press that over time we lose our ability to move the scapula as we should. While some lifters can move heavyweight, they lack the ability to not only move their body weight, but they also lose the functionality of a closed chain exercise such as a pushup that can keep them healthy. In addition, push-ups are great because there are multiple variations that can be used to increase the difficulty of the exercise such as; mechanical drop sets, loaded with chains on your back, and walking plank pushups just to name a few.
Bracing is a topic of substantial importance when it comes to moving heavy loads in a safe and efficient manner. How would you describe bracing to the reader and what is the most common misconceptions when it comes to bracing? Where do lifters go wrong when it comes to bracing properly?
Bracing, in simple terms, is filling your belly like a balloon and maintaining that balloon throughout the entire lift. If your balloon loses even a pinprick of air, you risk losing position in the middle of the lift. We don't want any energy leaks! I think the most common misconception, especially when I work with my clients in person, is that they think they are bracing because they took a big breath. Most do not realize that bracing isn't just inhaling and holding your breath, it means actively pushing out on your abdominals and lower back; making a big balloon all the way around. Once someone understands that, they immediately feel the difference in their lifts. It takes practice of doing it every rep, from warm-ups to heavy weight.
When your time on this earth comes to an end. How do you want others to remember you?
That they saw Jesus in the things I did, the way I worked, the way I lifted, and the way they were loved. My time on Earth is not about me; it’s about passing on the things I’ve learned, whether my name is attached to it or not. And it’s ultimately about God getting the glory.
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