Long time readers of this blog may recall that a bit over four years ago, I decided to get back into shape (helped liberally along by a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes). In this blog post, I wrote about my decision to take up powerlifting, a form of weightlifting, as my vehicle for doing so, and my decision to measure my progress in units of weasels, which (lacking a NIST-approved Standard Weasel measurement), I declared to be four ounces. I figured getting into shape would be more fun if I didn’t take it too seriously, and measuring my progress in units of weasels would (a) seem a lot faster (bigger numbers!) and (b) more hilarious (just imagine all those weasels scampering around over the barbell!) than measuring in pounds.
Powerlifting consists of three lifts:
- the bench press, where you lie down on a bench, lift a barbell out of a rack, lower it to your chest, and push it back up again,
- the back squat (usually just called the squat), where you put a barbell over your shoulders, squat down, and stand back up again,
- the deadlift, where you squat down, pick up a barbell that’s sitting on the floor, stand up straight, and put it back down again.
At the time I started, I could squat 380 weasels (=95 pounds), deadlift 380 weasels (=95 pounds), and I’m not sure about bench press, but I think it was about 260 weasels (=65 pounds). Not too bad for a couch potato, actually.
I spent about three and a half years working with Toussaint, an excellent fitness trainer at Silicon Valley Athletics. Three years or so into training, I finally blasted through the 1000-weasel mark in both squat and deadlift – 250 pounds in each! – and shortly after that, the 1200-weasel mark at 300 pounds in squat. In an idle moment, I looked up the stats and realized that this was a heavier squat weight than anyone in my age class had lifted at the California State Championships in 2019. Whoa. I had no idea I was that strong.
At that point, I decided to enter my first powerlifting competition, the “I Powerlift Like a Girl” meet with NorCal Powerlifting. Needless to say, I had to dress in theme, so I made myself a T-shirt for the occasion:
I did…okay…in the meet. Depending on how you calculated, I placed either 3rd or 5th out of the 15 women who entered, but I felt I could have lifted significantly heavier if I hadn’t been so nervous. That’s okay – I got the first-competition jitters out of the way and now I know what to expect!
Afterwards, I did some serious thinking and decided that I wanted to get much more serious about powerlifting. Which meant making some changes. While I loved my trainer, Toussaint, he was a more general fitness trainer, and couldn’t teach me the more specialized points of powerlifting. I switched to a more specialized strength trainer at the same gym, Joey, who bumped me up significantly in a few more months. But I realized I was going to have to go to a coach who specialized in powerlifting if I wanted to get really good at it.
So I looked around on Yelp, found someone with great reviews, and reluctantly told my (wonderful) trainer I was going to leave and go train with someone more specialized.
“You can’t do that!” he said. My heart sank. I had been hoping to avoid a scene.
“You can’t possibly train with this guy,” he said. “You have to train with Dan Green. Dan’s the best guy in the Bay Area, and possibly in all of California. You’ve got to go with Dan.”
And Joey would not take “no” for an answer. He was absolutely adamant that Dan was the best of the best.
So I looked Dan up. It was…intimidating, to say the least. Dan has his own Wikipedia page. He holds world records in squat (783 pounds without special equipment) and total lifts (2099 lbs). AnimalPak.com has posters of him for sale on their website, for heaven’s sake.
Here’s a fun video of Dan in action (skip to the last two minutes if you’re the impatient type and just want to see the big weights):
More to the point, though, he’s also a great trainer and a really sweet guy. Definitely the “gentle giant” sort.
Anyway, I went over to his gym, Boss Barbell, and despite my sheer terror at the idea of training with a legendary powerlifter (because there was and is soooooooo much I don’t know about powerlifting outside of how to do the basic lifts) talked to him about training with him.
The net of it is, I’m now training with Dan. I can’t afford to train regularly with him (Dan’s rates are high, as you’d imagine for someone of his stature), so I’m doing video coaching with him as well as one personal training session every other week. Dan puts together a training schedule for me in a spreadsheet, I video my workouts and provide subjective commentary in the spreadsheet, and he gives me feedback on each exercise in the spreadsheet. Then I decide which of the lifts I want to work on most, and we do that in our every-other-week session.
That’s actually turning out to work just as well, or maybe even better than, working out more regularly with Dan. Because working out on my own with written feedback makes me think about what I’m doing, rather than listening to a trainer, where it seems to go in one ear and out the other. As a result, I feel like I actually learn faster in some ways. I wouldn’t want to give up working directly with a trainer, because more detailed feedback is very helpful too, but I’m finding it easier to take in one or two comments at a time, and really think about those comments, than it is to get a lot of information that I can’t remember later. (This is really making me think about what people say about “learning styles” and how every student is different!)
I will say that the first week of training was SUPER HARD. Coming into a gym where everyone else was an experienced powerlifter and I had no idea what I was doing half the time (I mean, I was looking up some of the exercises on YouTube to see how they were done!) – plus having to face a bunch of super buff, muscled-to-the-max men working out when I am emphatically neither – was both demoralizing and terrifying. I basically made it through only because I had decided I was going to do it and when I have put the death-lock on I simply do not back down. But geez, it was hard.
One thing that made it a lot easier, though, was that I went in one day mid-morning rather than in the late afternoon and found Dan there training someone who (like me) was decidedly NOT a super buff guy. Her name was Deborah and she was 72 years old (I know because she proudly told me 🙂 ). She couldn’t have weighed more than 120 pounds. And she was deadlifting something like 160 pounds! and could do more push-ups than I can. I want to be Deborah when I grow up!!
Anyway, it was a HUGE relief to see that (a) Dan isn’t just training big buff guys, and (b) there were other women going to the gym. Representation matters!
Since then I’ve discovered that the gym has very different vibes depending on what times you get there. 5pm is when all the big buff guys arrive in force, and the gym tends to be packed then. Mornings tend to be very laid back, but I can’t work out in the mornings and still have enough brain left to work on the Academy. So I work out in the late afternoon, when my work day is over (I start at 5am) but it’s still fairly mellow.
The training schedule is tough. The actual workouts last anywhere from an hour and a half for the shortest ones to two hours (more usual), but by the time you throw in stretches, warmups and cooldowns, plus travel time to/from the gym, it’s more like 3 hours/workout, 5 days a week. It’s like a part-time job!
Here’s a video of me in one of my usual workouts. Here I’m doing one set of deadlifts – 275 pounds for 5 reps. Not as impressive as Dan’s 914 pounds, but not bad either!
I’m really enjoying this trip down the weasel den. My goal right now is to see if I can beat the highest world record for my age/weight class (there are different federations – this is the max I’ve found). That is 370 pounds in squat (1480 weasels), 435 pounds in deadlift (1740 weasels), and 231 lbs in bench press (924 weasels).
I have no idea if I can do that, but it’s worth a try. My best crack at it is going to be in squat, where I can currently do 300 pounds, but I can also do 315 in deadlift so I might be in with a chance. Bench press I can only do 135, so that’s probably out of reach.
Looping aaaaaaaall the way back to my original fitness goals – while my weight hasn’t changed one whit from when I started four years ago, I’m clearly a lot leaner than I was, I can see muscles flexing in the mirror, and shirts that used to fit just fine are now tight across the shoulders and arms (and looser in the belly)! I’m seriously considering starting a “before and after” series of photos – I just wish I’d started them sooner.
So – who knows where weasels can lead you?
Go Tien! very impressive. what a personal accomplishment!
Tom Cotter says
Great for you. That’s a huge commitment and huge payoff. I sincerely appreciate your choice of unit of weight.
Sandy Lincoln says
You’re doing GREAT keep it up. But I am so excited about the Academy I can hardly wait.
Susan Cayton says
Wow! You go girl…diving into a new world with all you have.
Congratulations! Take care and stay safe. Threading heddles, lifting shafts and
moving looms will be a cinch. Is cheesecake out now?
As a very active, short, female adult of some years, I take exception to your use of the negative stereotyping term, “bona fide Little Old Lady.”
There is a whole lot of negative weight hanging on those of us who could be designated as such.
Tien Chiu says
Thanks for the feedback! It was not intended offensively – in fact, I quite admire Deborah – but it also wasn’t relevant to my point, so I’ve changed it. Thanks for flagging the term for me!
Joyce Outten says
WOW!!!!! I’m so proud of you!!! From a 70-year-old Alaskan gal!