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Bench “Cheat Sheet”: Top 3 Assistance Exercises

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At 5’5 with humerus bones the same length as most 6′ tall men, I am not built well for the bench press. Yet if I can reach a 215 lb bench at 63kg/138lb bodyweight, than there are no excuses to allow your bench to stay weak! Here is a list of my 3 favorite exercises to help get the most out of your bench (without hurting yourself!):

1.) Make-shift “Slingshot” benchScreen Shot 2018-04-28 at 2.55.34 PM


Helpful for people who:

  • Have issues engaging stabilizer muscles (shaking or poor bar control)
  • Inconsistent barpath
  • Unable to get J-curve barpath
  • Overtuck elbows

What this does:

  • Forces engagement of stabilizing muscles to keep band pulled apart
  • Pushes bar into correct j-curve barpath off the chest

Using a thin band, fold in half and make figure 8. Put your arms through the loops of the 8 right above your elbows. You want to use a band strength for this that will not overpower you (if you bench <100lb use a 0.25″ wide band, 100-200lb use 0.5″ wide, 200-300lb use 0.75″ wide, etc.). I prefer this to actual slingshot bench for lifters who lift <400lbs as the lesser tension has a much higher carry over to your raw bench while still allowing a bit of overload. Rep range can be low or high.

2.) Handstand push-upsScreen Shot 2018-04-28 at 3.15.32 PM.png


Helpful for people who:

  • Unstable off the chest
  • Weak off the chest
  • Unstable or weak with wide grip

What this does:

  • Builds muscles in shoulders and stabilizers of the shoulder girdle
  • Activates and strengthens core

Using a WIDE hand placement, flip back onto a wall or walk your feet up a wall. Walking your feet up will allow you to do a slight decline to make it easier. (You can also do a decline off a box, or work your way to this point starting with standard or incline push-ups). Keep your hands in line with your armpits for proper balance. Brace your core as you would for a plank and go down so your head touches the ground. Aim for variation in height that allows you to do at 8+ push-ups, and make the variation harder once you are able to do 3-4 sets of 10+.

3.) Tempo BenchScreen Shot 2018-04-28 at 3.27.37 PM.png


Helpful for people who:


What this does:

  • Enforces good positioning on the way down
  • Strengthens stabilizing muscles
  • Encourages an active pause (bar not sinking into chest)

Tempo bench is a great variation everyone should utilize. It is one of the best ways to find out where you struggle and what you need to address.  There are several different tempos that work, but my most common tempos are 420 or 530. While doing these, focus on keeping your base  (quads, glutes, core, back, shoulders) as tight and engaged as possible. Rep range should be low (5 or less).

Deadlift “Cheat Sheet”: Top 3 variations

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Deadlifts are my favorite lift, no doubt about it. There is something so satisfying about lifting lifting extremely heavy objects off the ground. Even if the deadlift isn’t your bae, that fact that it makes up such a large part of your powerlifting total is a good reason to show it some love. Here is a list of my 3 favorite exercises to help get the most out of your pull (without hurting yourself!):

1.) Eccentric Tempo Deadlift

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 3.50.58 PM.png

Helpful for people who:

  • Have inconsistent starting position
  • Hips shoot up
  • Can’t get tight
  • Sumo OR Conventional

What this does:

  • Teaches good starting position
  • Strengthens stabilizing muscles

Deadlift the bar up as you normally do, using a weight a bit below your normal working weight. Slowly set the bar down so that the bar stays close to your body and ends in an optimal starting position for your next rep. Set all the weight on the ground but keep the slack in your hands, then do your next rep without repositioning. For sumo, remember knees out and scrape the shins on you way up AND down. Stay slow that last inch to the ground as it is the most important. My usual tempo is 013 or 015.

2.) Block Pulls

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 3.34.17 PM

Helpful for people who:

  • Have hip flexibility issues
  • Have “pooping dog butt” syndrome
  • Misgroove on heavier weights
  • Sumo

What this does:

  • Eases hips into more open position
  • Teaches good starting position
  • Allows for heavier weight to be used to encourage optimal barpath

If you cant seem to sumo deadlift off the floor without hip pain, knees caving, or back/butt rounding, block pulls allow you to practice the movement from a lessened ROM. These can also help get form optimal on an off day. Stack the blocks as high as you need to keep your shins perpendicular to the floor while touching the bar, knees out, and back flat. Over time, decrease the height of the blocks as you gain flexibility and muscle memory of the movement.

3.) Back Extension Deadlift

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 3.04.50 PM

Helpful for people who:

  • Have issues with lower back rounding
  • Hips shoot up
  • Don’t know how to pull the slack out of the bar
  • Sumo OR Conventional

What this does:

  • Teaches good starting position
  • Strengthens spinal erectors

The goal of this exercise is to raise the bar off the ground without extending your knees. Start with just the bar or 135lb max. Grab the bar and set your hips at the height they tend to be right before the bar breaks the ground for your deadlift. Raise the bar off the ground using only back/hip extension, while being very careful that your knees do not move and extend at all. This is how you pull slack out of the bar. With light weight, the bar will come off the ground, and with heavier working weight, this will pull the slack out and engage your back muscles prior to starting the pull with your legs. Play around with hip height to find what feels best for you. This is a great warm-up before your working deadlift sets.

Powerlifting Meets 101

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So you signed up for your first powerlifting meet!! Now what? There’s a definite learning curve when it comes to preforming your best at powerlifting meets, and nothing trumps experience,  but learning what to expect can make things go smoother and help avoid a lot of heartache.


beltBefore anything else, you want to make sure you know the equipment allowed and the rules for the particular federation you signed up for. The 2017 IPF equipment list applies for all USAPL meets above the local level, and 2017 USAPL rules can be found here. Make sure you memorize all the rules pertaining to the lifts and apparel. Nothing will set you up for a bad day faster than being unable to compete due to not having the right gear!


As you near the meet (1-2 months out), make sure you are training with the required apparel and equipment (belt, knee sleeves, stiff bar if USAPL, deadlift bar if USPA, etc.). Practice your lifts as they would be executed in a meet and have a friend give you commands every now and then.

Unless you are planning to set a record, don’t try and water cut down a weight class on your 1st meet. The following may not be applicable if you do a large water cut. This 1st meet is a chance to get your foot in the game.

Now is the time to get an idea of what your attempts will be, don’t wait until the day before the meet to start thinking about this. Unless you get injured, what you can lift a few weeks out will not be drastically different than what you can lift on meet day. Take time to figure out your conservative training maxes. Remember you need to make at least 1/3 attempt of each lift to say in the meet, and at least 2/3 judges must white light it to be a good lift. For new lifters who are not trying to place in a National Championship or take any records, here are some helpful attempt selection guidelines:

  1. Your 1st attempt should be something you could triple on a bad day. Imagine coming into the gym after a terrible long day of work/school, you have hardly eaten all week, and you hardly slept at all the past 2 days. Now think of the max weight you could definitely triple to competition standards on a day like that. THAT should be your 1st attempt. There is no reason to go super heavy on a 1st attempt, this is to get your foot in the game so you don’t bomb out. You can’t drop the weight from what your 1st is so it should be something you can do even if you tweak a muscle on your last warmup. Play it safe!
  2. Now your 2nd attempt is where your true strength starts to show.  If your 1st went really well and felt great, choose a weight near your training max (95-100%). If your 1st attempt went slower than you’d like, choose what would be just below your max on a bad day (90-95%). This will be below your training max and even more so if your training max wasn’t to comp standards. Also keep in mind that on most training maxes you were lifting fresh. In a meet you have to max on squat and bench before even starting deadlifts!
  3. Now is the time for PRs!! Shoot for something near or slightly over your training max if your 2nd was rough (95-100%). If your 2nd flew up, take a bigger jump (100%+)!

This means before going into a meet, have a plan A and a Plan B depending on how your warmup and 1st attempt moves. When you are finished with each attempt on meet day, you will need to go give your next attempt to the people at a table near the platform. To minimize stress, you can bring a friend with you who can do that for you and be your handler. Simply give them the list of attempts that you made ahead of time. This person can also keep an eye on things as you are warming up to let you know how much time you have left and when you will be up.


Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 1.39.40 PM

Babby’s 1st USAPL Meet. 

When you get to the meet location, you will have to weigh-in, get/give your rack heights for squat and bench, and give the refs your 1st attempts. After that, check what flight and platform you will be so you know when and where to start warming up. Many local meets may only have 1 platform and 2 flights. Warm-up times is very individual, but the most common mistake is starting warm up too early. Don’t warm up just because others are, unless you know for certain they are in your flight and not the flight before you. I generally do a total of 4-5 sets to warm up (depending on the lift, least for bench) over the course of ~30 minutes before my 1st attempt.

If you do not have a handler, it is best to keep your headphones off so you can keep an ear out. When you are next to lift, they will say you are “on deck”, and the person after that is “in the hole”.

This is what you have put all the work in for, but it’s also a time to meet other lifters and have fun!! Nothing beats the supportive atmosphere of powerlifting, yelling at everyone to grind out a new PR. Remember your cues and commands you have been been practicing and lift your heart out <3.

After each attempt, you or your handler will have a minute to give the table your next attempt selection. Good thing you thought of them ahead of time! After you finish all 3 attempts of 1 lift, other flights will finish and there will be a break to change the setup on the platform. Now is the time to change your equipment for the next lift and use the restroom. Then just repeat the what you just did for bench and deadlift.

STAY HYDRATED!! You will likely be lifting for hours, so drink tons of water, electrolytes, and eat easy to digest carbs.  A common tradition among lifters is to bring lots of gummy candy and share them with everyone 🙂

There will always be more you learn each time you compete, but no matter what try and have fun!


Why I gained 30lbs and I am not stopping there (Pt. 2)

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“How did you decide to go up a weight class?”
This is a question I have gotten frequently these past few months. As most of you know, I recently went up to the 63kg/138lb weight class after having competed as a 57kg/125lb lifter since I started powerlifting.

From my first official powerlifting meet back in the summer of 2014, till Raw Nationals in 2016, my wilks score increased by almost 50 points.  During that time, my out of meet bodyweight went from 117lb to 128lb.  At my next competition 8 months later, IPF Classic World Championship 2017, my wilks only increased by 3 points. I had no more weight I could gain while still staying in my weight class and my lifting was starting to stagnate.

Looking around the platform at Primetime Raw Nationals and Classic Worlds, it wasn’t hard to spot the difference between me and my competition…


Just a skelly trying to be swole


When you put me next to the best of the best, it became shockingly apparent how much taller and lankier I was than my competition. At 5’5, I was almost a half foot taller than the other ladies in the 57kg weight class. Once you get to the highly competitive levels of powerlifting, weight classes become essentially height classes. Here’s a really easy calculator to see what weight class is, on average, the most competitive for your height. For my sex and height at 5’5, that would be the 72kg/159lb weight class.

It puts you at a disadvantage to be significantly taller or shorter than “optimal”. Ideally, you want to be at a weight that allows you to have them most muscle mass possible while limiting excess fat to only what you need for good hormonal health. If you are too tall for your weight class, you wont be able to reach your full muscular potential. More of your bodyweight will be from bone, tendons, etc. as opposed to all muscle, and you will also have to move the weight a greater distance than your competitors. If you are too short, your bone structure will have already reached the limit for the amount of muscle you can put on it, meaning more of your weight will come from fat. Your competitors will likely have more muscle than you just because they have more surface area on their bones to grow muscle on. There are of course exceptions to this, but looking to see which weight class has most competitive lifters your height is a good place to start. I highly recommend this article from strongerbyscience.com if you are interested in learning more about this.

Once I decided to go up a weight class after Worlds, my lifts and wilks skyrocketed. At Raw Nationals 2017 I ended up totaling 135lb and 25 wilks points more than I did at Worlds just 3.5 months prior! For me, it was obviously the right decision. In only 3.5 months, my wilks went up 50% as much as it did the previous 2 YEARS!

Screen Shot 2017-11-15 at 9.37.00 PM.png

Baby’s 1st meet vs. Raw Nationals 2017. Getting all the powerlifting gainz.


Going up a weight class is always a gamble though. Even if you are tall and would theoretically fit better in a heavier weight class, adding muscle takes a ton of effort and time. Genetics and muscle memory play a huge part in this. Some people just cant develop as much muscle mass, while others develop more than average. If you were heavier and more muscular before, you will likely fill out the weight class up more quickly and effectively than someone who has never been that weight. I credit my winter bulk to a large part of why I was able to go up a weight class so quickly and with such success. Persons at a lower bodyfat percentage gain muscle better than ones with a higher bodyfat percentage, which is another factor.  I still have room to grow in this weight class. I have more muscle to build and fat to lose. Once my bodyfat percentage is similar to where it was as a 57kg lifer, I will likely bulk up another weight class to the 72kg class.

Screen Shot 2017-11-15 at 9.37.18 PM.png

57kg vs. 63kg. Only 2 days out from Raw Nationals a year apart. Noticeably higher bodyfat percentage on right.


If you have decide to go up a weight class, the next step is to get on a program designed for muscle hypertrophy, and listen to your body. More posts on that to come in the future!

Why I gained 30lbs and I am not stopping there (Pt. 1)

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20171109_110312“So I’ve decided to get get fat!”
For part 1 of this topic I will be talking about my personal thoughts on the aesthetic changes to my body. For part 2 I will talk about the strength changes and picking a weight class.

Everyone I know has SOME sort of grievance with their body, and I’m no exception. Before I started lifting , all I could focus on was my belly ‘pooch’ and my small boobs. My mom and sister are very large chested and thick legged, so I joke I got my dad’s body. I didn’t start lifting for the gainz though. To me, it just sounded like a lot of fun (~proof of craziness intensifying~)! It was June 2011 and I got hooked almost immediately.

I tried really hard to not gain weight at first. I didn’t want to lose my abs! I have a small appetite so this part wasn’t a struggle. I got decently strong in the 1st few years, going up from 110 to 117. I still wasn’t happy with my body though. My pooch from before lifting was gone, but now my focus had shifted to my ‘large’ waist. Now my waist is not naturally small, but it’s far from large either. My abs were very visible but I felt like a block.

I realized that the only way to make my body look less blocky to me was to build my legs, especially my quads. My legs were strong. I got to the point I could squat 315 and pull 405, but without adding calories I couldn’t add mass. I decided to try and bulk that winter.

It took my forever to actually have a successful bulk (gain more than 5 lb) because I suck so hard at eating. I finally did it though last winter and gained 10 lb! My stomach was a bit softer, and for the first time I didn’t care about that. I developed more cellulite than ever and I didn’t give a fuck. I had a goal, grow bigger legs, and I didn’t mind the body changes I didn’t want because what I did want outweighed it.


I got cellulite on my bum. It’s ‘aight.

I had to begrudgingly cut back down for worlds. After that I bulked back up, gained all the weight again and then some. I have cellulite and a softer tummy again, and that ok. I achieved my goal to bulk up my legs a bit. Now my next goal is to maintain and recomp for a year or 2. Then I will bulk again, repeat. This is the most happy I have ever been with my body 🙂

For everyone worried about aesthetics, try picking one goal at a time and focus on it as best you can. Having reachable goals really helped me be more confident in my body and not focus on the negatives because I know what is in my power to change once I set my next goal. For the things I can’t change, I focus on the positives about them. I don’t mind my small boobs anymore. I can go braless without pain, they are super perky so I can wear dresses that you can’t wear bra, and I will probably never have much sagging. My waist my never be very narrow when you look from the front, but it is hella strong and I probably wouldn’t be as good a lifter if it wasn’t as thick. I’m not perfect with being upbeat about the things I don’t like and can’t change, but it’s a big improvement.