By Ellen Bittner
Chapter 1: From Bench Sitter to Bench Presser
It’s been awhile since I wrote my last blog post (actually it’s been more than 2 years); so, I guess it’s time to update my fitness journey.
My last chapter, under the heading “Feeling Fab” was titled Going Public. At that time, I was just beginning to feel comfortable with my body and my physical abilities, and I joined Vadim’s small group boot camp classes. Working out with these “fitness fanatics” provided a different experience, helped me to look at exercise in a new way, and challenged me to do things I hadn’t done before. My boot camp buddies were fun and encouraging; and because they were also considerably younger than me, one of them dubbed me “The Cougar.”
The weekly boot camps provided me with a fast-paced cardio workout, but I still wanted the benefits that one-on-one sessions provided. So, I continued to train with Vadim once a week. These private sessions focused on improving my strength, balance, and flexibility. They included lots of work with the barbell – bench pressing and deadlifts (stiff legged, regular, & sumo), dumbbell complexes using handheld weights, and kettlebell exercises.
It was during one of these private sessions that Vadim told me about his recent experience at the Albany Strength Powerlifting Meet. He was so excited I thought there must be something pretty special about a powerlifting competition, aside from the fact that he won a trophy, and began asking lots of questions. I learned that unlike weightlifting (which is comprised of two lifts – the clean & jerk and the snatch; and requires speed and flexibility along with strength); powerlifting consists of three lifts: the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift. Each of these lifts has rules and regulations for what constitutes a valid lift – more about this in future blogs.
Either Vadim didn’t know the answers or he was tired of my questions, but he suggested I go to a powerlifting competition and see for myself. A few weeks later I drove to Pine Bush, NY and watched Vadim compete in the OC Powerlifting Championship. While I was there I saw that there were a number of women competing and spoke with several of them. Olga, Katia, and Billie Jo willingly shared their own powerlifting experiences with me, gave me much needed guidance on powerlifting clothing and gear, and helped me understand what was going on at this particular event. I also spoke with Frank, who was running this competition, and tried on a couple of singlets (what I called “onesies”) to see how they fit and felt on me.
Their excitement and encouragement, along with the realization that I had nothing to lose, motivated me to become a powerlifter, and so another transformation began. For the next few months Vadim and I worked to get me ready for my first powerlifting event – the New Jersey State Bench Press Championships in Princeton, NJ. Vadim worked to improve my bench press and get me ready for the technical aspects of the competition, and I worked on finding the right gear and singlet to wear.
And so, on a bright sunny day in July I found myself driving on I-95 to Princeton, NJ. The dividend to this adventure was that my niece Amy was a doctoral student at nearby Princeton University. This gave me the opportunity to have dinner with her and have some quality time together.
The next morning I met Vadim and Sharon for weigh-in and equipment check, before we had breakfast together. Vadim and Sharon competed in the three lift powerlifting competition (squat, bench press and deadlift). Since this was my first competition, I focused on one lift – the bench press. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering how I did – I won a GOLD MEDAL… and began the journey of becoming a competitive powerlifting!