Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hard Work and Taking Chances – How Deadlift Competitions Can Be a Girl’s Best Friend

Guest Post from Client and GTS Trainer Nancy Navarrette

“Hard Work and Taking Chances – How Deadlift Competitions Can Be a Girl’s Best Friend”

By Nancy Hallgren Navarrette

On Sunday, July 3, 2011, in a conference room at the Hilton Hotel in Costa Mesa, five women from
the South Bay strode, one-at-time, towards their quarry – a barbell loaded with iron plates on either end. The barbell weighed in at 165 pounds and would get heavier with each round. Each woman was ready for a fight, and ready to win.

Nancy's American Record Deadlift
I was one of those women, and we were all competing in the United States Powerlifting Association’s deadlift event. Only one of us, Anna Pearson, 29, had competed before, and yet she had only begun training in the deadlift three months previously. For the rest of us - Conny Marinos, 43, Nancy Hallgren Navarrette, 49, Dagmar Nelson, 50, and Linda Adams, 56 - it was our first competition and we, too, were new to training.

Now, why in the world would the five of us think it a good idea to don odd-looking shoes and singlets– short unitards with plunging armholes and necklines, requiring an under-shirt – to compete in a powerlifting event? And what the heck is powerlifting, anyway?

Powerlifting is comprised of three lifts – the bench press, the squat, and the deadlift. We competed in the deadlift event, only. The deadlift is superficially simple: stand with a loaded barbell at your feet (the load consists of various combination of plates), bend down, and pick it up. That’s it. But not really.

Anna lifting double her body weight
All of us train under Jason Kelske, owner of Game Time Strength, at Four Star Gym in El Segundo, and we learned that the deadlift requires the lifter to put their weight in their heels, initiate the movement from the glutes, keep the back straight – STRAIGHTER – and, when reaching for the bar, keep the shoulders retracted and the hands in a plumb line under the shoulder. Alternate your grip (one hand facing in, one hand facing out) and switch that grip with every rep to maintain symmetrical muscular development in the shoulder girdle. Blow all the air out of your lungs and then inhale strongly right before lifting the bar off the ground. Arms straight, not bent, the legs are doing the lifting, not the arms. Grip the bar tight. Keep the core tight. Everything tight! Keep the neck in-line with the spine, don’t crank the chin up too high or you’ll affect the stability of the lower spine. Lock out at the top, shoulders back. Now put it all together - back straight, butt back, weight in the heels, big air, everything tight, tight, up, up, drive, drive!

That’s a deadlift.

So, why did we do it? I suppose it’s because Kelske is so encouraging and he made it seem so
normal. And it is normal, for him. In 2009 he earned a spot in the Top 20 (220lb) Powerlifters and set a new WPF World Record in the Deadlift. He now competes in the 198 lb weight class and won best deadlifter in this most recent event. He lifted 650 pounds. It was a difficult number for me to comprehend until I googled it and found out that it’s the same weight as a grand piano. A grand piano.

Jason's 650 lb Deadlift
Jason Kelske is a Pied Piper, of sorts, but instead of leading us off the edge of a cliff, his pipe-playing led us to the edge of the deadlift platform where the spotlights were blazing and the Hilton Hotel audience was thrown into shadow.

Before approaching the bar, we stood nervously at the back of the stage and bathed our palms in
powdered chalk. The chalk was heaped in what looked like a silver mixing bowl. Anna Pearson, Jason’s fiancé, gave each of us a slap on the back and words of encouragement as we walked the short distance to the bar. Spotters, plate changers, three judges and their seatmates populated the platform and the perimeter.

Conny after setting an American Record
I walked towards the bar for my first of three allotted attempts. Nerves broke the surface. What the heck am I doing here? Stay calm, save the second-guessing for later. Just breathe. I know how to do this. As I moved past one of the spotters, he said calmly, insistently, “Pick it up.”

I grabbed onto the simplicity of it like a life preserver. “Pick it up! That’s right! That’s it! That’s all I have to do. I’ll do that!”

And I did. And we all did.

We grew more and more elated as our hard work and push into the unknown was rewarded with each round. In the end, we ALL medaled, and three of us had set American Records. We were a little stunned. Instead of Ladies Who Do Lunch, we had become Ladies Who Do Deadlifting.

Linda setting records at 56 years young!
Afterwards, Conny Marinos, who was anxious to get through the event before the competition had started, had a beautiful smile stretching from ear to ear and proclaimed, “This stuff is addicting!” In corresponding with Linda Adams after the event she wrote, “I hope we can encourage other women to push a little harder to achieve something outside their comfort zone. The benefits are endless. Since working with Jason, the arthritis I have in my neck and hip has eased significantly. My overall strength, confidence, and ability to perform everyday tasks have improved my quality of life. Not only that, the friendship and encouragement of other women with similar stories and working as a team has been priceless.”

Dagmar, lost 27 lbs and stronger than ever!
Similar sentiments were voiced by Dagmar Nelson. She related to me that, “Since working with Jason I’ve lost 27 pounds, decreased my time in my last triathlon by 20 minutes, and competed in my very first deadlifting competition, something way out of my comfort zone. Who would have known? He has a wonderful personality and gets the most out of you without you even knowing it. The women I have met are incredible. I look forward to my workouts. But most of all I feel incredible. I have more energy, my stress level has dropped and I have more confidence in myself. I would highly recommend other women to try this. I don’t cut myself short anymore. I now say, ‘I can try this.’ Before I said, ‘I don’t have time’, or the most famous of all, ‘I can’t do this.’ Just goes to show, you never know what you can do until you try it.”

In the week following the competition I spoke with Anna Pearson asked her how her friends and co-workers reacted to the news that a 131-pound girly-girl lifted more than twice her bodyweight. She said that some were congratulatory and some were confused. “Why would you do something like that?” she was asked dubiously. Being a straight-forward gal, she gave a straight answer, “Because it’s awesome!”

Just practicing the deadlift provides numerous physical benefits, but actually competing in the deadlift has given us all increased confidence and the sense that there are more, untapped, pools of potential residing in ourselves.

For pictures of the competition, go to

Competition results:

  • Anna Pearson, 132-pound weight class, 25-30 y.o. division, lifted 264 pounds and won 1st place
  • Conny Marinos, 132-pound weight class, 40-44 y.o. division, lifted 203 pounds and set an American Record
  • Nancy Navarrette, 148-pound class, 45-49 y.o. division, lifted 220 pounds and set an American Record
  • Dagmar Nelson, 148-pound class, 50-54 y.o. division, lifted 220 pounds and earned 3rd place
  • Linda Adams, 132-pound weight class, 55-59 y.o. division, lifted 215 pounds and set an American Record

For information about Jason Kelske and Game Time Strength, go to

For information about Four Star Gym, go to

For information about the United States Powerlifting Association, go to

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