I was just as excited to read this as I was to share this because back in 2015 we interviewed Yessi and we've remained in contact ever since. I'm in awe of her today and I was then! I hope you enjoy.
Interview by Barrett Snyder
Recap: Yessica Martinez is a powerlifting and strongman competitor and eliteFTS sponsored athlete. Graduated from Florida International University with a major in Psychology / minor in Social Work and worked in an outpatient mental health facility during and after college. Yessica earned her elite total in 2011. Currently, she holds the RPS bench record in single-ply; APF Florida State and National Record for the Open Women's division; and has placed 1st in 9 out of 13 meets throughout her lifting career. She has a 1019 total in single ply and 903 raw total with wraps. Trying to dominate the iron sports as a powerlifting and strongman competitor, her ultimate goal is to watch the sport grow and know she contributed to that in some way.
There will be many women reading this article who are trying to stay on top of their training and nutrition, while also working full-time and/or raising a family. You have been able to maximize your training and nutrition, all while working 3 jobs. How have you been able to do this? What advice would you give to women who want to maximize their training and stay on top of their nutrition, while working full-time and handling all the other demands that come with life?
Shifting my approach with how to juggle responsibilities has helped me manage my time. The “secret” is to be brutally honest with yourself and come to terms with the fact that life is and never will be balanced. There are moments when we feel we have a grip on everything but when we try to maintain consistency with it, we set ourselves up for failure and we are often left feeling defeated. Stress is stress is stress and we need to manage that stress and I have found that the most important thing to do is to focus, commit, and be intentional with the responsibilities we have at the moment. If we set aside time to catch up on work emails, make sure we commit to that time. If you plan quality time with your kids but worry about your to-do list, it defeats the purpose of time spent with your kids. Are you really there and present with them?
When it comes to nutrition and training, I would approach it the same way. What is realistic and are these truly important to me? Once you have answered that, you will look through your schedule and make time to accomplish that goal. We do not set goals for ourselves because it is convenient, it is often quite the contrary. I always want to make sure I am taking accountability for what is in my control. Those are the small, tiny choices we make every day. For example, am I going to have a slice of pizza because my boyfriend ordered it and it is conveniently there to eat? Am I going to drink bottomless margaritas because it’s social hour with my girlfriends and that is what you are supposed to do? These external influences will always be there, but you have to choose every day what you want and if it is worth it to you. Once you have that control; when you have that slice of pizza or margarita, nine-times out of ten, you will not feel as guilty about it because you are your own driver.
It does not always have to be so dreading either! If you need to meal prep, have your kids join you and teach them how to cook. Invite your girlfriends over so it becomes something you can all do together. There is no one way or right way to do these things, but a wrong way is making excuses for not putting yourself first.
For those who are not aware, you are quite the photographer. What is it about photography that appeals so much to you? What impact has photography played in your life? How has photography transformed you into the Yessica we see and know today?
Photography is just another form of expression. I grew up writing poetry and drawing and that is what I did in my room when I wasn’t out and about playing sports. I was a pent-up emotional kid and when my friends or boyfriends would take the time to write letters to me, it meant the world. This was something tangible to me, even though those emotions did not necessarily last forever, or even if my time with them would not last forever, their letters did. I feel this same exact way with photos; we take them because it is a moment we want to remember forever.
Photography has been another craft for me to master and I am creating the habit of when I improve on something, I delete my previous work. That is part of the hate I feel for digital cameras. Therefore, I went thrifting one day and bought myself an AE-1 Film Cannon for $18. This camera is from the 70’s and it made me fall in love with photography again, allowing me the opportunity to just capture the moment as it appears. The moments where we don’t plan for the perfect shot, often end up being the best moments. It is raw and authentic like the letters we used to write to our crushes when we were younger or the letters we wrote to our friends overseas. Ironically, those are the photos I do not post. Those are kept for me in a box that I can revisit when I feel the need.
You have spent countless years under the bar and on the platform. Looking back, what would you say was the biggest training mistake you made early on in your career? What do you know now that you wish you knew back then?
I have to admit, I made all my mistakes at the beginning of my lifting career. Even though I started at a gym that was very knowledgeable, I learned about competing the hard way and today I am better for it. I did not check the weight when the spotters miss loaded and I did not bring my support team because I thought I could do it on my own. When I missed a lift, my ego told me I had something to prove, so I would up the weight to where I could not lift it and I would totally bomb. I also learned that no amount of energy drinks or fancy pre-workout mixes will magically increase your total or your focus. I made the vow then, to learn more and set myself on a path for self-improvement; both as a person and as a lifter. I did not want to just compete to compete, I wanted to train with intention and purpose. That purpose has become “Live, Learn, Pass On.” If there was one thing I could have told my younger self knowing what I know now, it would be; training and competing will never mend your problems. Your problems will always be your problems unless you deal with them head-on. Lifting humbles you and it provides tremendous guidance, but it by no means magically fixes all your problems.
What is the most underutilized exercise in the gym that you think should be a “must” for any powerlifting/strength program and why? (basically, what exercise doesn’t get the love it deserves)
I would say, core work, uni-lateral movements and anti-rotational movements. Too often we think of compound movements and not the tedious work that strengthens the foundation of our body, allowing us to better perform the compound movements. I would also mention the importance of ankle mobility and pronated grip accessories for rehab.
You recently made some changes to your bench-press while receiving world-class coaching from JM Blakley. What were these changes and why were they necessary to improve your performance long-term? In addition, you have had the opportunity to work with many female lifters over the years. What would you say is the most common mistake you see female lifters make when it comes to executing the bench-press properly?
This is a bit difficult to explain rather than demonstrate, but I accept your challenge. Our time together was solely focused on helping my bench in a shirt and how to work around some aches and pains that were preventing me from lifting any sort of maximal load. All the changes I made in my bench were for the short term, but I took away a few lessons that would aid in my long-term performances. When we use leg drive to wedge into the pad, I was setting into my lats opposed to stacking my upper back. I needed to begin thinking “double chin” and “pressure on the neck,” allowing me to create more stability and support from the pad. Next is the handout. We have spotters for a reason, and we need to utilize them a little more for support. Communicate with them that they need to take the load off the handout and ease the bar to you VERY patiently. This allows you to let the bar set into your lats, creating a shorter range of motion. Think scapular retraction. This allows the load to settle more on your upper back and not your shoulders. This was key for me. Maintaining that force (leg drive) should be 100% of the entire duration of the lift. If you descend with force at 80% and press at 100%, that difference will create instability, which we do not want! These technical changes are hard, they are exhausting, but they are necessary to improve my long-term performance.
The most common “mistake” I see lifters make in general is that they do not take the time to work on their setup. They just want to lift heavy weights or rush the movement so they can get from point A to point B. Setting up for the lift is the hardest part, but it is also the most crucial part. You must have patience.
Although you are a powerlifter and female strongman competitor, you have recently been in-cooperating more yoga into your training routine. Some might see this as counterproductive but you say yoga has had a tremendous amount of carryover for you onto the platform. Talk about why you think this is? How has yoga helped you with your powerlifting movements and should more powerlifters be incorporating yoga into their training regime?
I’ve been doing yoga for 3 years now and I advise everyone to at least try it once. It has given me the opportunity to enhance my mind-body connection. Trying inversions, improving flexibility, and identifying where I hold stress were all important factors for me to discover. However, much like lifting, I easily got caught up in the distractions. It became apparent that I had the hardest time in restorative classes than in any hot yoga flow. Restorative is more breathing focused and passive stretching. In this class, you really had to sit with your thoughts, learn to refocus and essentially tune out the noise. I now find myself working on that constantly because it is not something that comes easy to me at times. When I am not consistent with it, I notice my performance takes a toll. It carried over to my lifting for a period of time where I felt emotionless once I got under the bar. There were zero distractions and it was just something automatic like a switch. This really helped me perform at my best and during that time I totaled over 900 raw and surpassed my 1000 total in single-ply.
Yoga is about practicing mindfulness and what all powerlifters need to realize is that the sport is much more mental than physical. This is why many quit after a few years of competing; it doesn't get easier with time.
One of your favorite quotes is “Make your mistakes, now and forever,” by Neil Gaiman. What does this quote mean to you? What impact has this quote had on your life?
This quote has to be the one I revert back to the most. It is a reminder for me to keep an open mind and to pursue something I am not good at or something I do not even know how to do. Sometimes I discover a strength and other times I discover a weakness. What it comes down to is that I am trying to get to know who I am, and I do not want to be a product of my circumstances. I do not want to be set in my ways. I have my values that are important to me but unless I take risks, I will be left with all too common feeling, what if?
When your time on this earth comes to an end. How do you want others to remember you?
A person who was hopeful and did it anyway despite any doubt.