A woman who squats over 400 lbs?? You read that right. That's actually pretty light weight for Renee Garcia. Renee is a member here at Gaglione Strength in Farmingdale NY and is part of the powerlifting team we have at the gym. She is an elite level competitor who is rising on the scene quickly. Not only is she a great lifter but she is a great teammate and friend
This year was Renee's first taste of the "Big Leagues" so to say. She qualified for her first national level meet at the XPC Finals in Columbus Ohio at the Arnold Classic. In order to get invited to this meet you need to total a certain amount of pounds lifted in total with your squat, bench, and deadlift, if you are capable of hitting this total you are usually a very high ranking lifter on a national scale. This was a huge opportunity for Renee and we delve into her experience in this interview
Renee also touches on the misconception of powerlifting for women. That powerlifting will make you "big and bulky" which couldn't be further from the truth. Powerlifting has actually been exploding with female lifters as of late. The days of these misconceptions that powerlifting is only for big burly men squatting 1000 lbs has been shattered. Now women from all over are taking to the platform to test their strength, and many perform better than the guys!
Without further ado, I present to you my interview with elite level powerlifter Renee Garcia, I have been honored to help coach her along with our head coach John Gaglione and assistant coach James Poscillico here at Gaglione Strength. I am proud of her progress and happy to call her my friend and teammate
Coach Ben - As mentioned in the introduction you just competed in your first national level powerlifting meet. Congratulations first off, that's an amazing accomplishment. Before we get into some of the details of the meet, why don't you tell us a bit about how you got involved in powerlifting and how you ended up training with Gaglione Strength?
Renee - I initially started my "fitness journey" in 2013 when I wanted to lose weight just to look better. I hated how much weight I put on post-college so I ate well and trained hard by doing cardio and lifting weights. I remember taking the small 30lb curl bar and walking to the complete opposite side of the gym just to do squats... eventually I worked up to 70lbs and my brother told me I should graduate into the squat rack. At the end of the year, i ended up losing 50lbs with my strength still going up & around that time was when brother said to me "Why don't you become a powerlifter?!" I remember replying "GROSS! They're so huge and manly" - clearly a common misconception!
It wasn't until 2 months later when I remembered seeing these tiny Asian girls lifting 225lbs+ thinking "That is so bad ass! I wanna be a badass!" It wasn't until then when I realized that I could be strong and still hang onto my feminine side. Over the next year I coached myself into my first meet by running a program that combined of Sheiko, 5x5 and Smolov Jr. and on January 2015 where I squatted 335lbs, benched 165lbs and deadlifted 380lbs for a total of 880. After my first meet, my lifts began to plateau. I coached myself to a certain point, but knew that if I wanted to progress that I would need someone who was much more knowledgable. I always saw Gaglione Strength around when I'd go to spectate different meets and always saw how professional the team conducted themselves and how successful they were as a team with so many ranked lifters. I knew something good was brewing there and that's when I knew that John what the coach I've been needing.
Coach Ben - Tell us about the improvements you've seen since joining Gaglione Strength and the atmosphere there. You lift on Sunday morning and that weekend crew sure brings a ton of energy
Renee - The vibe is unreal and everyone is so friendly and always willing to help. I was nervous coming into GS thinking that if come across people who were intimidating or snotty but everyone is friendly and willing to help! The Sunday crew is so dope and in how many months we went from just being teammates and gym buds to family. Its amazing to see everyone get behind each other and whole heartedly support each other. When someone misses an attempt, we feel the miss. When someone is successful, we all feel the success and its really an amazing feeling!
Coach Ben - In your qualifying meet for the XPC finals at the Arnold Classic, you went an impressive 9/9, the perfect day. Tell us a little bit about that performance and your thoughts on training leading up to your big meet in Ohio. When did it sink in that you'd be lifting at a huge national level meet at the one and only Arnold Classic in Columbus OH?
Renee - AH YES! That was quite the perfect day! I remember when John initially mentioned it earlier in the summer that if I hit a qualifying total in November that it would get me a ticket to the Arnold and I just laughed to myself thinking "I'm not quite at that level yet, but it would be cool to do it NEXT year (2017)!" As my training cycle went on and my lifts started to get stronger and come together I was like "OH sh*t. The Arnold could actually be a reality."
That was quite the perfect day and I never in a million years thought I'd even get to qualify for such a meet! I had some numbers in mind to hit for that day but can specifically remember wanting to hit a 430 deadlift as my main goal and just my luck, it came down to that last 430 deadlift to qualify me. There's nothing more empowering than having to hit a lift under a huge amount of pressure with what felt like a lot on the line!
After that qualifying meet, I was super excited about going to the Arnold but my body is still learning to recover after strenous situations so it took some time to really get back into the swing of things and really focus and buckle down on doing the Arnold. I actually went back and forth and wasn't sure if I was going to do it because the post-meet blues hit me hard and really sucked the motivation out of me.
A good 3-4 weeks later, I was ready to go and officially committed to the meet by signing up. I like to think I had a GREAT cycle. Hit all the lifts I needed to and set some good gym PRs for myself. It wasn't until I arrived at the airport in Columbus when I was surrounded by so many different athletes and people with huge muscles that I was like "OMG. I made it here and no one else just gets here!"
Coach Ben - Lifting started early that day, I remember meeting up with you at 7am that morning at the Rhodes Center. How were you feeling that morning and could you recap the meet a bit in your own words
Renee - I felt good! I was excited, a little nervous.. but I felt good. My mom, some friends from NJ, and my family from Chicago came out to watch which had me excited especially to watch me on a national stage! I arrived nice and early giving myself enough time to warm up, stretch and get in there with the rest of the competitors.
Going into squats, I was feeling good until I hit my last warm up of 375/380. It felt slow, but I thought that it was just in my head. Come time to be up on the platform, Gene was a nice familiar face that I saw but it did feel a bit intimidating having so many more spotters and loaders being up there on the platform. I took 400lbs and got up with it fast and easy just like I've done more than a handful of times in training and for multiple reps and remember looking up to seeing 2 red lights and my heart sunk a little. I've always watched how hard it is for people to bounce back from missed attempts so my nerves started to settle in. I took 400lbs again for a second attempt and it moved slow, but I was able to get 2 white lights to pass it so it was a huge sigh of relief that I was still in it. Tried 430lbs which would have given me a 5lb meet PR but couldn't get up with it. I internally felt so discouraged after squats because they're my bread and butter, but I tried to get myself back into it by just focusing on the rest of the meet.
Going into bench, everything felt great! Warm ups were all easy and fast and then I get to the platform to hit 175 - and completely rocky leading to a missed lift. I remember John asking me what happened and to be completely honest - no idea! Took it again and was able to hit it much cleaner, still felt heavy but it was really disheartening considering how many times I've hit it in the past.
By the time deadlifts were up, my back had started to really lock up. Took some time to warm up, but by this time warm ups REALLY felt good. Had my first go at liniment and I was ready to go. Hit my first deadlift at 385 easy, then hit 415 easy as well. I wanted to go and hit a perfect 3 deadlifts, but prior to my 3rd deadlift a competitor was proposed to right as I was walking a mere 3 feet towards the platform and I know I didn't switch mental gears fast enough to get me out of that and missed it.
Coach Ben - I know you didn't have the day you were expecting but I just want you to know the team was very proud of how you handled yourself and finished the meet strong, you showed all the traits of a mentally strong lifter and you have a bright future ahead of you in this sport. Moving on, what's next for Renee Garcia? Lay out your plans for us in this upcoming year
Renee - Thank you. I really appreciate that! You, John and the rest of the GTeam have been such an amazing support system since I've started at GS!
At the end of that day, I felt relieved that I was finally done with my long day of missed lifts and not so stellar performance. A part of me was disappointed because I didn't go in there and do what I set out to do. I also felt like I may have disappointed some people who may expect me to lift at such a high level but forget that I am so new to the sport.... kinda like a freshman who gets bumped up to the Varsity squad after the first two games and everyone expects me to play and react with the experience of someone on the Varsity level. (Hope that makes sense!)
At the same time, I had to remind myself that not everyone makes it to this point of their lifting careers so I deserved to be there despite a rocky performance. I am extremely happy that I had this experience so early in my powerlifting "career" so that I can have the chance to really grow and become a more seasoned lifter. Life's gonna knock you down sometimes, but how you get up and react to it is what will make me stronger in the long run.
This year I have quite a few things to look forward to.. currently in the process of cutting down to a lower weight class, hopefully competing at another national level meet, and God willing qualifying for the Arnold again! It's definitely a lot on my plate right now, but with the support system and great coaching I have, I know we'll find a way to get there.
Coach Ben - There is no doubt in my mind you'll be back up there again in 2017 and I know you'll have the big meet you wished you had last time. I expect a lot of the team here at Gaglione Strength to be up there competing with you as well. It is going to be a great time and fun training cycle for sure!
Renee - Thanks! That's the goal not only for myself, but for my teammates as well! I am so excited to have more of the squad out at the local meets but especially the big ones like Arnold! It's been absolutely fun to compete with everyone but definitely looking forward to just having a ball with many more of us since I've already felt how cool it is.
Coach Ben - It is very humbling for some of the guys at the gym when they see a strong woman like yourself squatting and deadlifting over 400 lbs regularly. It must feel very empowering when you get those jaw dropping stares
Renee - LOL... It's pretty cool and I just smile and let my lifting do all the talking for me. I remember when I first started lifting at my commercial gym and lifting 315 for reps and squatting over 275 for reps and I would get daps from guys and it sure feels pretty good.
Coach Ben - Women's powerlifting has grown exponentially in the past few years. There are now entire lifting sessions at meets designated for females. It has been awesome to watch the sport branch out to so many new lifters. As a representation of the female strength movement how do you feel about this new boom in powerlifting?
Renee - I came into powerlifting during what seems like a great time and it's so awesome to see females empowering other females through this sport. There are some apples in the bunch who just "do it for the gram" and aren't coachable/willing to learn, but I truly I love watching and being surrounded by the multitudes of other females who are so willing to know more and become better and stronger.
Coach Ben - What do you want to say to the women out there that still think powerlifting will cause them to become "big and bulky”?
Renee - I always like to remind ladies that it takes YEAAAAAAAAARS to get to that stage of "big and bulky" naturally! Staying consistent with your diet and training hard will get you to a point where you will become comfortable with who you are that "big and bulky" won't even be a part of your vocabulary when describing yourself! It takes time to understand, but ladies don't realize that the increased confidence, will power and overall strength gains will over shadow that concept of "big and bulky" and you'll eventually transition that to "Beautiful and strong."
Coach Ben - Any words of advice for new lifters out there starting out?
Renee - Read a lot. Scour through articles online. Don't read just one, but read and compare. Pick the best consistent advice on what you read and compare it to when you watch videos.
Watch a lot of videos! In the beginning, I spent so much time on Youtube and Instagram looking at video's of other female powerlifters watching for consistencies in their form and using it as a benchmark to compare mine. That does come with a disclaimer as everyone has different leverages and capabilities (especially when it comes to flexibility and mobility), but I spent much time really getting to know what a good squat, bench or deadlift should look like so that I can become familiar with the movement.
Record yourself. From day 1, I've always recorded myself so that I could compare my lifts to videos of what they should look like. Like I mentioned, that comes with a disclaimer as noted above, but when I train, I review videos the way a football team would review game video, being meticulous as possible in seeing where things start to breakdown so that I can work on that certain area to bring my lifts up. Recording yourself will help in the long run to not only show you the "smaller picture" in your lift, but also show you the "bigger picture" where you can really see how far you've come.
Be coachable and open to new things. So many people come into the sport these days thinking they know everything just cause they've read it online or watched XYZ powerlfiters lift a certain way, etc. THAT'S GREAT, but be sure to always be eager to learn and try new things. Sure you'll be given some bad advice but that's where your research will kick in and you'll be able to differentiate what's "right and wrong."
Stay hungry, focused and consistent! Strength doesn't just come training once or twice a week. It comes with time and consistency is a must! Powerlifting can easily break you, but at the same time it can build you up to the strongest you'll ever become. It's really thrilling to see someone new start out because it's enjoyable to watch their confidence blossom as they get better and stronger! Any powerlifter I know has ALWAYS been willing to help someone new to the platform whether it be online offering critiques, during meet prep and even on the platform.
Have fun! I never want to get a point where powerlifting isn't fun for me anymore so once I start to feel overrun and discouraged, I take a little step back and have fun with training. Does that mean not completely sticking to the plan? Yes, but plans are meant to take another route and things happen! The sport of powerlifting is a marathon, not a race and enjoy the ride. You'll become the strongest version of you as long as you can stay accountable with training and nutrition, but you'll also meet some amazing people along the way who'll make your journey one of the best and most rewarding experiences you've ever had. Stay hungry, focused and consistent and just have a blast!
Coach Ben - Thank you for taking the time for this interview Renee! Best of luck to you this upcoming year. Where can people follow you on social media?
Renee - Thanks Benny! It was fun getting to do this! You can follow me on my Instagram @Reneeniz & my hashtag #RGFitnessJourney to see what the most updated scoop is