So You Want To Be a Heavyweight?

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Article written by Alanna Casey

This year I decided to compete in the heavyweight division at America’s Strongest Woman, Sept 20th, 2014, during the Olympia.  I have won the middleweight strongwoman class at the Arnold Sports Festival for the past two years in a row. I also won the 2013 World’s Most Powerful Woman (under 165 lb) in Glasgow, Scotland. In the past two years, I have only been defeated once. That was by Kim Baum at the 2013 America’s Strongest Woman (middleweight). With Kim no longer competing in strongwoman, I have gotten a bit bored. Originally, I was thinking I would compete as a heavyweight in September and then turn around in October and compete as a middleweight (both national level contests in their respective weight classes). But, after looking at the weights for heavyweight nationals I came to the conclusion that competing as a middleweight wouldn’t be fun for me. The weights are so much lighter that it would almost feel like I was competing at a different sport, more “Crossfit-esc.” Then, I found out that I was being deployed in late September. At first, I assumed that I wouldn’t be able to compete at either heavy weight nationals or middleweight nationals, due to the deployment. I decided to train and prepare for the heavyweight show anyway. I later learned that my deployment date was scheduled for two days after heavyweight nationals. After that news I was full steam ahead. 

Training for a heavyweight show is very different than training as a middleweight. Even at an international level, middleweight weights have always been weights that I have done in training and most times, they were lighter than what I have trained with. For me, middleweight was a battle of speed. Looking at the heavyweight weights I was inspired and excited. They were all weights that were close to my 1RM. I knew that I would have to be smart about my training program.

 Lesson one: when you’re competing as a heavy weight, more is NOT better. Traditionally, I have been able to push harder and harder every week of training. That is what I started out doing. But, as I neared the competition weights I realized that my body couldn’t keep up with what I was demanding of it. Already I had dropped my training days from four to three days a week. Now, even three became too much. My method of “punishing” myself was no longer the most effective approach. I realized this after doing the yoke about three weeks ago. I wasn’t happy with my performance and instead of calling it quits, I decided to yoke again, and again, and again, and again. I then did about five picks and five second holds. I just about broke my body.  I had to take off for an entire week after that. I am still paying for that mistake in stubbornness. When the weights are super heavy, you get one go at them, maybe two. Any more than that in a single training session, and you will pay the price later.

Lesson two: eating is not nearly as enjoyable when it’s your job.  The heavyweight class starts at 180 lbs. Six weeks ago I was 152 lbs. I knew there was no way I would get to 180 lbs by Sept 20th, nor did I want to. I did however, decide that I would gain weight and come in around 170lbs. To do that, I would need to gain about 1.5-2.0 lbs a week. That is easier said than done. When you are trying to gain positive weight (meaning weight that will help you come competition day) you have to eat A LOT of protein as well as carbs. I have been struggling to get down 220+ grams of protein a day. I have to force myself to eat chicken, beef, hard boiled eggs, and down my True Nutrition protein shakes. Just about every night I go to bed bloated. I sometimes fail at eating enough after a training session and in those cases I feel like a failure. In the other hand, the scale has been moving beautifully in accordance with my plan. I’m currently at 165 lbs and it’s been an adjustment. I only have one pair of pants that fit me. I feel fat, ugly, and sexually unappealing. My girlfriend suggested I go to the pool today and I turned down the suggestion because, “I’m too fat to be in a swimsuit and I don’t want to be laughed at.” I am strong as f*** but, I’m also bigger than I’ve ever been. It’s a very conflicting feeling. I understand there are people who think that you can be super lean and super strong but, I personally believe that you are your absolute strongest when you have a little bit of fat on you. My fat is taking some getting used to.  If you want to be a heavyweight, get used to yourself being bloated all the time. Take a look at Zydrunas off season vs on season. Off season he sometimes looks like a bodybuilder. On season he looks like a giant marshmallow. 

Granted I picked the picture where he is at his leanest vs his fattest. But, my point remains that heavyweights have to bulk up, and it’s not always fun. Lugging around a heavier bodyweight takes more out of you. I have to complete the Air Force’s physical fitness test this coming week and I am legitimately nervous about running a mile and a half. Being a heavyweight is no joke and carrying around 10-15% more body weight has its disadvantage.
Lesson three: technique becomes even more important. When you are competing as a heavyweight, you can no longer get away with poor technique. As a middleweight, I believe I was the most technique driven athlete, which contributed greatly to my success. Competing up a weight class, technique matters even more. I am constantly videoing myself, pausing, rewinding and watching again and again. I have reached out to my fellow LBEB teammate Nick Best for additional coaching. Even still I get frustrated. I have yelled more in the past four weeks during training than I ever have. Most commonly, “FF*******************!!!!” and “AAALLAAANNNNNNNNAAAA!!!” I have asked my partner and teammates to leave me alone after missing a lift multiple times. I have been close to tears in frustration. When you are lifting weights that are near impossible you must have three things: confidence, technique, and brute strength. If any of those are missing, no lift. 

Lesson four: you must take care of your body in between training sessions. I stopped icing and stretching in between training sessions. I didn’t schedule any deep tissue massages, I didn’t take Epson salt baths, I ignored my primary care doctor when he told me to get an MRI and, I stopped seeing the osteopath. The combination of my laziness had me in a position where I could barely bend down to tie my shoes, much less deadlift 500 lbs. When you are pushing big weights, you HAVE to take care of your body. In the past couple weeks I have tried to squeeze in everything that I’ve neglected but, I’m still paying the price.

Across the board, competing up a weight class is much more challenging, mentally and physically.  I cannot hide from any event. They are all brutal. The toll on my body has pushed me near my breaking point. With less than one week of training left, almost all the work is done.  I have 1-2 more sessions and then I will rest. I scheduled one more appointment with my osteopath and a short vacation to help myself relax.

If you are considering competing up a weight class because you are bored of your current weight class then by all means go for it! Just understand what you will be asking of yourself. For some it might be worth it, I’m still trying to figure out if it’s worth it for me. But hey, most of life is trial and error anyway! 😉

  • Thanks, as always, for a fascinating article and point of view! I hope you enjoy your vacation.

  • Great article! I can definitely relate as I’m in the Air Force and compete in strongman. Having just finished a decent mass building period with a PT test on the horizon, I know that struggle. As an NCO I need to set the example for my Airmen with a 90+, which for me means max points on the waist – a tall order after a couple months of eating like its your job. Good luck in your training and competition!

  • awesome article alanna keep it up

  • As a SHW, I had to learn lesson #1 the hard way. I was training 8-9 times a week, with one rest day, and trained myself right into a lower back injury last year. Now I’m training 3-4 times a week and making MUCH better progress than I was before. I love to read about other SHW women because it makes me feel like I’m not alone! Thanks for this and best of luck at the competition!