Guest Post: Jackie and the Platform

Today’s article is courtesy of Jackie. She gives us an honest and frank look into her story of going from a gym-stud to fresh meat on the platform, with a little prodding from her coach. More importantly, it’s easy to see just how much the work we do with the barbell effects our outlooks in the rest of our lives. A huge thanks to Jackie and her coach Chris for bringing us this story – keep ’em coming, folks! – Jacob


When it comes to training, I have had some significant personal accomplishments. Deadlifting 300lbs, pressing the 24kg kettlebell, 32kg Turkish Get Ups, and repping out pull-ups have all been exciting feats. But I must humbly confess that these have all come relatively easily to me. Which begs the question, what am I capable of if I really applied myself? I’ve never really found out the answer, but it’s a question I hope I never stop asking myself. As a recovering fitness trend-junkie, in addition to a stubborn Italian (which is more of a character asset if you ask me), I have always struggled with training “ADHD,” and I occasionally relapse back into old habits of over-training, under-eating, lack of mobility work, and training with the purpose of vanity. This resulted in disturbed sleep patterns, inevitable injuries, mood swings, apathy and boredom. This is a lesson I have learned all too many times, and am frankly sick of getting beat over the head with it (if you’ve met my mentors, you would understand I mean this both figuratively and literally).

The truth is that I haven’t ever really worked hard for something. I mean, really worked for it. To clarify, I have applied myself in school, work, relationships, and I do have experience setting goals and meeting them. Yet, the goals I set were mediocre at best, and easily attainable. To be even more candid, if I did ever set a high standard that would require some serious dedication (which was rare) I would usually quit. Give up. Just like that. If it wasn’t executed perfectly, exactly as I expected, it was over.

But to work hard, hours on end, sacrifices, compromises, losses and gains and more losses, all for something that looks and feels so far away, and promises no guarantees? Nope. Never really knew what it felt like. I’ve been one of those people who would back out in the middle of a winning streak for fear of losing face, who would “stop while I’m ahead,” who wouldn’t pursue something because it would entail some serious effort and risk failure. I have been this person, this way, for most of my life. Which, ironically, isn’t really living it all.

For two years now, Chris Falkner, coach for Tucson Barbell, has been fighting to get me into Olympic lifting. While I did play around with the idea and techniques, it just seemed ‘too hard’ to actually commit to. Recently, however, life threw me a couple of curve balls, leading me straight to the platform. After feeling uninspired for so long, it became the only place that I could seem to find the solace and serenity that seemed so absent from my life.

Spending 1-2 hours, 5-6 days a week, for 3 months (and counting), focusing on the same movements and techniques over and over can be very humbling. You fail… a lot, and start to discover more about yourself and your “limits.” You can’t afford to use any energy on giving a shit about what you look like, what people think of you, or, God-forbid, getting “bulky.” The goal becomes the focal point, and it’s amazing how your perspective changes when you do finally wake up. It’s like seeing everything for the first time… finally. I remember watching my coach in his training session one day. I had seen him lift before, but this time I saw it differently. Before approaching the platform, he stood back for a few moments, almost as though he was paying his respects. There was complete silence, no music, not talking. It was just him, the platform, the bar, the weight and the passion to become better. Everything he would talk about, in that moment, had finally started to make sense.

A few days before the Grand Canyon Winter Open in Phoenix, AZ, Chris had suggested I register as a participant. Immediately I got flustered and scrambled to find reasons not to. ‘I’m not ready.’ ‘I have too much homework and a test to study for.’ All euphemisms for: ‘I am a chicken shit.’ Chris did what he does best and called me out, and I was fuming. (You see, when people other than myself are right, I get pissed.) I decided to do it, even if it was mostly out of spite.

At 5:30am on a Saturday morning, I braved the 2-hour drive, in pouring rain on Interstate 10 (which is scary as hell) to participate in my first official weight-lifting meet. Already sleep-deprived from the nerves the night before, I spent the entire two hours talking myself into going and not turning around back towards a warm bed. I weighed in, warmed up, and it was time to lift. The gym owner was explaining the rules, and I honestly don’t remember a single word he had said, I was so preoccupied. My hands were shaking and I had to remind myself to breath. But I remember finally setting foot on the platform and having the visual of coach training, and my teammates. In the moment before, I suddenly stopped giving a shit about anything other than the lift. In the moments between, I was too busy admiring the other girls’ lifts and paid no attention to the adrenaline rushing through my body. I ended up hitting all three of my snatch attempts, setting a new personal record at 47kg. I landed two attempts of the clean and jerk at 60kg and 64kg, and missed my last one at 67kg. Three of my teammates and I qualified for University Nationals in April. It was an amazing time, and I learned an invaluable lesson. The experience wasn’t about hitting numbers higher than the next girl, or having the best technique, but to work hard and compete with the older, weaker version of myself.

In the days following the meet, I have felt more confident in my training and technique. The gym has become a refuge and I count the minutes until I get there. I realize my numbers aren’t necessarily the most impressive. I am a little fish in a rather large pond and I acknowledge the cards are stacked against me ever becoming the “best.” But as long as I show up and am better than yesterday, I’ve found my calling.


The Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrnold is here!

It’s finally here – this is the week of the Arnold Sports Festival, which runs this Thursday to Sunday in Columbus, Ohio, and is so massively awesome, it might make you shit your pants. You’ve been warned. If you do, just own it.

This is a huge deal. We have a bunch of 70sBig lifters competing, a lot of readers attending, and there will be more sports and competitions and displays than we could possibly begin to preview, or cover. Luckily, I’m guessing not many of you care as much about the “5k Pump ‘N Run” or the World Jump Rope Championships, and we’ll be sticking to covering mostly the lifting exploits, and probably a few pictures of the IFBB stuff just for funsies.

In the spirit of Ladies’ Mondays, I thought I’d highlight two female weightlifters who will be competing on Saturday, and whose coaches actually post on here.

Glenn Pendlay is a household name in our world (unless you’re ow3n), and his MuscleDriver USA team will be very well-represented at the Arnold, which also serves as the qualifier for the Pan-Ams. I think he’s coaching around 9 athletes, which sounds pretty much like cardio. We’ll cover some of the guys later in the week, but you already know Jon North is one of ’em. Did you realize, however, that Jon’s wife is also competing? Jessica is a ton of fun to watch in the MDUSA training streams, because her quiet intensity and determination is inspiring as hell. Check out this video, ignore the cheesy music (really, Jon, really?), and tune in Saturday to see how she does in the 75kg class.

Big Ben “Brown Thunder” Claridad has also been a friend of the site for a long time, and was teaching us all how important it was to have ginormous arms before we even knew who CT Fletcher was. He’s not only competing (105+), but also coaching two female lifters, Emelie (75+) and Cecily (69). I haven’t met Emelie, but I can attest to the fact that Cecily is just as fun and inspiring to watch as Jess North. When I briefly met her and Ben at Cal-Strength, I got to witness one of the most badass jerk recoveries of all time. Little did I know she would make a habit of it.

Amanda and Jess at Raw Nats

In Powerlifting, I could go on and on about at least half of the female competitors. There are several who have posted on here in the past, and several who I’ve met in person and are flat out awesome. Amanda Padgett’s long humble discussion with my special lady friend at Raw Nats is something Jess still smiles about to this day. She also loves to tell the story about her competitor, the one-and-only Jennifer Thompson, taking time to cheer her on mid-meet. JT is one of the best powerlifters of all time, male or female, and at last year’s Arnold, she broke the 300lb bench barrier – raw and drug tested – at 132 pounds. I think she’s going to break that this year… Check out this vid she put out in the past week of her smoking a 305lb training lift.

We’ll continue coverage this week of more lifters, more sports, more hookers, and more blow. If you’re attending the Arnold and would like to submit some photos, I’d appreciate it – click on Submissions and get’r’dun.

Bert’s Lady Friend – Part Two

Last Monday, I posted an article by a long-time reader, Bert, about how he introduced his lady friend, Marijke, to lifting, and what a dramatic difference it quickly made in her life. It had a great response amongst dudes and dudettes, and I promised a follow-up article on her first meet, which happened just 4 months after she started lifting. Here it is. A huge thanks to Bert for this well-written submission, and extreme props to Marijke for getting out there and competing after her first four months in the gym. How long have you been lifting? Have you competed? Have you trained a significant other?

In my previous article, I outlined the training and diet I had my girlfriend use during her first four months of powerlifting to have her recover from intestinal and spinal problems. In this article, I’ll review her experiences and results from her first contest.

The Results

First off, we both had a great day of lifting.

The Olympic Ghent Team

She went 7/9, doing 70 kg (PR) in the squat (154lbs), 35kg in the bench press (77lbs) and 70 kg (PR) in the deadlift (154lbs). Her second squat attempt was not approved because she racked the bar before the command, and she missed her last bench press attempt of 42.5kg (91lbs) because she gripped the bar closer than normal. Her bodyweight was 54.4 kg (120lbs) in the 56kg weight class, senior category (+24).

Cloud says “get your shins vertical!”

I went 9/9 and hit 170kg (375lbs) – 110kg (242lbs) – 220kg (485lbs) at a bodyweight of 75.25 kg (165.55lbs) in the 83kg weight class, senior category. I chose not to cut weight for the 74kg class since 75 is already light for me and I’m not yet near my actual all-time PRs yet, so I’m just going to “grow into the class” and get back into competing.

Other impressive performances were a 105 lifter of our club who hit 300 – 195 – 300 (geared) and a 125+ lifter who squatted 360kg (geared) and deadlifted 330kg (raw).

Experiences at the Meet

Going into the meet, she was nervous: “What if I am the only girl?” (she was); “What if I’m the odd duck there?” (she wasn’t; much odder ducks were present), “What if my butt looks big?” (it does, but that’s a good thing).

All these worries proved to be unfounded. All lifters were extremely supportive and friendly towards her and myself, and encouraged her each time she stepped up to the platform. Seeing her be accepted in this way pleased me enormously, let me tell you (this made the Hank Hill in me happy, btw, I tell you what. – Jacob). By the end of the day nearly every lifter had come by for a talk and words of appraisal for our lifting execution and lifts.

The camaraderie at the meet was exceptional and there was no rivalry at all to be found.


Post-Meet Impressions

My girlfriend claimed this was the most fun and friendly competition she had ever entered (having experience from competition in martial arts, gymnastics, dog and horse sports).

She was shocked how well-mannered (and often highly educated) the lifters were. No less than 2 lifters out of 20 had a PhD. Also, she received compliments that her back position was very good, without anybody knowing that she had such grave problems in her spine only months before.

She had an amazing time and felt accepted from the first moment. Besides constantly bombarding me with questions about how her new training schedule will look, she’s registered for the next comp on March 2nd. I’m enormously happy for her and hope that we’ll continue to have such a great time as a couple in this sport. I can recommend it to anyone.


Video of Bert and Marijke’s attempts:


I hope everyone learned something from Bert and Marijke’s experience. Training a significant other can be much more difficult than Bert let on, but can also be extremely rewarding. My lady friend is capable of hitting 10 reps with what she hit at her first meet now, but those early days weren’t easy, though she did experience a lot of camaraderie when she entered her first few meets, including USAPL Nationals. Ladies, I’d lofe to hear from you about your experiences as you got into lifting. Let’s get more females involved with competitions, and spread the word about how rewarding being 70sBig can be. I will always be a huge proponent of females competing, because I have seen the smile that ensues. Get big! 

Look at that smile!

Look at that smile!

Bert’s Lady Friend – Part One

Editor’s Note: In 2012, Justin spent a majority of Mondays discussing female-specific topics. Eventually, he pretty much ran out of material and lately, they’ve trickled down a bit, though I believe they are still very popular. I hope to bring these back with a vengeance. Not only do I really enjoy coaching female Powerlifters (remember this article?), I also love the positive message that we, as a community, try to put out there for our female lifting friends. Readers, especially females, please send me your Monday posts and let’s do this.Today’s article is the first guest post by Bert, who recently coached his lady friend to her first PL meet. This week he discusses some of the experiences and difficulties they went through in her early training, and next week, we’ll get a full recap from her first meet. – Jacob

In October 2012, I met my new girlfriend. Unexpectedly, when she first set foot in my home gym, she immediately fell in love with it: the rings, the weights, the medicine balls, the kettlebells. I introduced her to the squat, press, chinup and deadlift, showed her a few training videos (powerlifting, weightlifting and Crossfit-type conditioning) and she knew what she wanted to do: powerlift.

Bert’s Home Gym

She was built to lift: 5’1″, with thick joints and a broad athletic background that ranged from equestrian vaulting (gymnastics on a horse ) to judo.

However, she had a few challenges:
Lower Back: falling from a horse caused her to crack a few vertebrae and suffer from lower back pain that impeded her from standing for prolonged periods of time or participate in most sports. Her physicians had her doing plenty of balancing, exactly what a girl who is able to stand on one leg on a galloping horse needs to recover (sarcasm). This, of course, did nothing.
Neck: a whiplash that was caused by a car crash, caused her neck pain, even though this crash occured six months earlier.
Digestion: due to eosinophilic gastroenteritis, her private and professional life was disturbed. She often suffered from intestinal attacks that caused heavy sweating, fever and intestinal drama and gassiness. Endoscopy and other allergenic tests revealed no gluten or lactose-intolerance, nor adverse reactions to any other food. She was, however, unable to eat most fruit, meat and vegetables without trouble. Instead she relied on pasta, bread and candy. The saddest part, for me, was that she stated that “she simply didn’t like eating.”
Weight gain: she had gained 10 kilos (22 pounds) from cortisone injections meant to deal with the intestinal inflammation. She stopped the treatment and was able to lose 5 kilos on her own so far, by running. The PCOS possibly also caused her to be slightly insulin-resistant.
Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies: her gut didn’t produce ferritin (a protein that stores iron) and vitamin B12, forcing her to receive it intravenously via monthly visits to the hospital.

Diet Changes
After making sure that she was willing to go all out with this, I modified her diet by having her eat two to three meals a day. Since she didn’t like to eat breakfast, I had her skip it, conforming with the 16/8 intermittent fasting protocol. This reduced the bloating immensely. After some evaluation, it turned out that pasta (her former favourite food), first and foremost, caused the digestive attacks. Secondly, food that contained a high amount of gluten (most breads) and processed food were culprits.

After an adaptive period, she found out that she seldom suffered from the intestinal troubles and was even able to eat meat and fruits again, which she had missed dearly. Her skin also cleared up and some minor joint inflammation she had also disappeared, most likely due to reduced systemic inflammation.

Training Changes
I had her begin a simple routine, alternating A and B workouts three times a week. On the other days she ran with her dogs or went for a long walk. She used linear progression for the first two months with only minor modifications. I had her overhead pressing dumbbells at first, until she was strong enough to use a barbell.

A: Squat, OHP, RDL, Chins
B: Squat, Bench, Hip Thrust, Chins

Other assistance exercises included hyperextensions, (more) hip thrusts, rack pulls, and abdominal exercises.Since she had a very weak posterior chain (yet strong anterior chain), I had her do many lower back, glute and hamstring exercises. Deadlifting was at first impossible, as she was unable to hold the required back position throughout the movement, even with an empty bar. RDLs and Rack Pulls strengthened this back position. After two months she switched from conventional to sumo deadlifts, which suited her back and leverages (short arms and legs) much better.

Powerlifting Meet
After two months, she had made a radical physical transformation: she had lost weight, gained muscle, improved her lifestyle (by not having to go to the restroom so often) and had regained her love for food. In addition, her confidence was soaring.
She now had her mind set on doing a powerlifting meet. Her routine wasn’t a typical powerlifting routine as I felt she still had much room to improve things like overhead strength and other physical qualities that would assist her powerlifts regardless.
She was now doing the following:

Monday: Squat, Bench, Sumo DL, Chins
Wednesday: Squat, OHP, Kettlebell DL, Chins
Friday: Squat, Bench, Rack Pull, Chins

Assistance work remained the same. She did conditioning with sprints or circuits once a week, on Saturdays.

Strength Increases and the Future
After three months of training, she was able to do the following, at a bodyweight of 55kgs (121lbs), with only weightlifting shoes, no belt:
Squat: 67.5 kg (148.5 lbs)
Paused Bench Press: 40 kg (88 lbs)
Sumo Deadlift: 65 kg (143 lbs)

In addition, she can do four strict chinups, after starting out with zero. She’s also able to run faster and longer, while training less. After being told to “live with” her conditions by many a doctor or physician and dietician, she was able to improve her jest for life, her appearance and her confidence. I hope she continues to improve and that others will be able to find inspiration in her journey, and join in.


Tune in next Monday for a recap of her first meet! 

Women Allowed In Combat Arms

For a long time Mondays were dedicated to female training topics, and recently this topic was requested (by females). 

Image from

Recently Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, signed an order that opens combat arms jobs to women. Previously, women were barred from jobs that were tasked with combat involvement, though they could serve in support units that often found themselves in combat (mostly in the Iraq war).

It’s a little known fact that women have not only been fighting, but dying in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of the 6,600+ service members that have died, 152 have been women (not including non-lethal casualties). Now they will have the opportunity to qualify for combat arms jobs.

Allow me to point out that I don’t think I’m fully qualified to have an opinion on this topic since I am neither an active duty service member or a combat veteran. Take that into context when reading my opinion.

Personally I don’t have a problem with women serving in combat roles, so long as they can meet the standard — a standard that has not been lowered for their benefit. It would be a disservice to both women and men in a combat unit if a woman was pushed through training without having to meet the same minimum standards of everyone else, regardless of sex. It would put the woman and her teammates in jeopardy. Pentagon officials agree and have repeatedly expressed that standards will not be lowered to facilitate female prospects.

In truth, I think most or all women would agree with that sentiment (and the military women I know have echoed this). Women make up 14% of the 1.4 million active duty force. Of the available women, there is probably only a small percentage of them that would physically qualify for a combat arms job. But what does “qualify” actually mean? Right now it means passing the course (e.g. infantry school) while passing the official physical assessments in the course. But the Pentagon is asking the services to define what the actual physical requirements of each job are (e.g. infantry may require pulling a 300 pound load x distance in y time — turning these expectations into actual graded events). I interpret that as solidifying what “the standard” is so that a woman (or man) knows exactly what is expected of them and if they do not perform up to that standard, they will not pass the course. It will prevent law suits (that have previously occurred) from women arguing they were removed from training simply because they are female — quite an ambiguous and difficult argument for either side.

It’s useful to obtain the opinion of women who have served in combat, especially women who have worked in a job where combat was more prevalent than a support element getting ambushed. I read an article the other day where a female NCO who has been in combat said something along the lines of, “I hope that women will join combat arms because they truly want to instead of doing it just because they can.” (My apologies, I know this is shitty reporting to not cite my source, but I couldn’t find the article). It’s a fair point — do it because it’s what you desire, not because you want to make a point about gender issues.

The most poignant female opinion I’ve seen on this topic was from an interview with a woman serving on a Cultural Support Team (CST) on — men are at times barred from interacting with women and children in Afghanistan, so a CST woman is attached to a special operations team to do so. She was attached to a 3rd Group SF team and was trained for and saw combat during her deployment. She dispels the typical reasons men bring up about women in combat roles (protecting women, cleanliness, sex, etc.) and talks about her experience.

But the most important thing she stresses — more than once — is that standards should be equal for men and women. The women aren’t stupid and know that this is important, and it seems that the DoD is following suit.

To make this quasi-relevant to training, there are obviously different demands between combat arms and desk jobs. Women who aim to perform to standard will need to be strong and emphasize proper technique to make the most out of their likely smaller statures and lack of absolute strength (with respect to a strong male). In other words, if she needs to put things overhead, she’ll need to know how to push-press it. If she is going to drag equipment or a teammate, she’ll need to know to use leverage by dropping her hips low. This strength foundation should be built with compound barbell movements like the squat, press, deadlift, pull-ups/chin-ups, and push-press. Strength and technique will be critical for these women.

Personally I know women who could successfully meet these standards, but the reality is that muscular women who are strong and can ruck all day are not common. A skinny, weak male can get through infantry training by virtue of sucking it up, but a female may need to sharpen her physical attributes to be effective. Nevertheless, I’m sure there will be many good female role models when the changes officially occur.

The change will be slow, but this will be a transitional era for the U.S. military. They will join many other countries in allowing women in combat roles despite being late to the party. It seems like Leon Panetta has the right idea in fairly implementing this policy by saying, “Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier, but everyone is entitled to a chance.”