Monday, February 27, 2012

A Monster in the Making

by Cristi Bartlett

It was 2001 and I was a freshman in high school, 200lbs, and solid as they come; not at all muscular but just really thick--looked like I could pop at any minute.  I had just been told that I was hypertensive, and would need to take meds daily to control my blood pressure.  On top of that I didn’t make the high school varsity basketball team I’d just tried out for.  Needless to say, I was fat and pissed off. 

This was the beginning of a monster in the making. 

At this point I had a year to get my life in order before basketball tryouts came around again.  So I started on my meds, shamefully started drinking slim fast, and took a weight lifting class that my high school offered and went to work. 

At the time, in my mind, our weight room was a shit hole, there were no shiny new machines, no cardio equipment, nothing of the sort; everything was rusty and old.  Literally, my uncles 15-20 years older than me used the same equipment when they went there. Our weight room had rubber flooring throughout, two spaces to do O-lifts, a leg press machine, a calf raise stack, a dip/pull up stand, a few incline/decline/flat benches, leg extension machines, and seated military bar.  Oh and two squat racks--you know the kind that you had to pull the pins out so you could actually squat.  Yea, those inconvenient bastards. It had everything one needed.  I remember my first day in class like it was yesterday; we had a couple laps to run and then we went in to lift some weights. That day there was no instruction, so I sat down on the leg press machine, did a few sets and proceeded to walk outside and puked up my delicious chocolate slim fast shake.  I wasn’t in shape for anything.  I questioned why in the hell I even began this lifting nonsense.  I stuck with it though.  Weeks passed, and I got more and more proficient with the lifts I was introduced to.  I got a load of confidence, my body weight started to go down, and I got off the meds.  Hot damn, I was on the right track.

A love affair.

6 months into my class I’d fallen in love with the bench press. Every day I came in I would do nothing but spend time with my beloved.  I loved the bench press! It was one of those things that was easy for me.  And plus it was really fun trying to out lift the football guys.  I'd throw 135 on the bar and just rep it out, 8’s and 10’s, every day. Very Foolish, but fun.  It was what I was good at so I exhausted it.

One year later.
Basketball season was arriving. I was 30-40 lbs lighter than I was the previous year; strong, and ready to prove a point. Tryouts came and I killed. I made it.  Over the course of the rest of my high school career, I continued to lift weights on my own and thrive in that environment. 


Senior year of high school came and went.  I received a full D1 scholarship to play ball at Winthrop University.  YAY! I had my very own strength and conditioning coach to tell me how to lift the way it should be done. I was too excited.

In high school I learned that I was pretty strong, and could lift with some of the guys.  In college, I proved to be the strongest girl in varsity athletics at Winthrop.  I boasted a 300lb squat, a 200lb bench, and a 185lb clean. Pretty good for a college freshman. 

Lifting after College.

I did the typical bodybuilding split for years post undergrad. I worked only with sub-maximal weights and high reps.  I never squatted after college; I hated it so I avoided it.  I benched a lot, leg pressed, and did lots of arms.  In my last year of graduate school, I started working out at Crossfit. It was a great change up for me; I stayed with it for about 8 months. Since the Crossfit gym I trained in incorporated a strength component to the WOD (workout of the day), they reintroduced me to lifting maximal weights. I was happy with that.  This is where I pulled 400lbs during a training session.

400lb Pull.

This pull led me to my first and only meet.  One of the trainers at Crossfit told me I should enter a competition just for shits and giggles.  I entered one.  Had no clue as to what I was doing.  I didn’t train for it, I just lifted as normal.  I probably deadlifted twice a month, so I don’t think I was anywhere near my max potential when I did the meet.

The meet. 

My first meet was an experience to remember.  I don’t know what federation it was with but it was a smaller one, and the meet was held in a hotel conference room. First of all, I had to wear a singlet. UM WHAT?!  Hated that part of it but I got over it.  The meet was a single lift meet only for the deadlift.  I ended up pulling something like 425, and breaking 2 of the federations’ records. Hot damn again--not too bad for a first timer. 

After the meet.

I realized that I was somewhat strong after that meet, so I decided to incorporate heavy lifting back into my regimen since I was no longer crossfitting.  The heavy lifting was then a priority.  I loved it.  Over the course of the next 6 months I had fair growth in all my lifts.  It was then I started working with Steel.

The Madness begins.

In all my years of lifting I have always lifted by myself until I got to Philly.  Damn, have I been missing out.  There's nothing like coming in to work and lifting with Tracy, Steel, Keller, and Believin’.  We start getting our mind right, you know, taking our pre workout mix, picking out the lifting soundtrack of the day, talking shit in the office, just getting amped. It’s like it’s our own powerlifting meet EVERYDAY and it's awesome.  When someone lifts it’s their time, all the attention goes to that lift and that lifter.  There is always feedback coming from somewhere.  There is always support.  There is always something in the air.  If I come in and I’m not feeling it for the day, guess what? Believin' is and he is in the corner “getting 10 with something" and I have no other choice but to feel it; there is just that transfer of energy. That energy leads us all to doing what we do best, getting MONSTROUS and getting better by the day.  Steel started training me about 6 months ago.  It’s been a whirlwind of PR’s since.  I’ve PRed in every lift. My deadlift has increased 75lbs, my bench has jumped 20-25lbs, and my squat has jumped 50.  The man knows a thing or two about training.
I like to think that I am a baby monster when it comes to lifting maximal weights.  I’ve only been lifting heavy weights consistently for about a year and a half, if that.  And I’d like to think, I’ve had some pretty good success thus far.  I think in about another year I'll be a teenage monster, then in a few more years I'll be a full grown badass iron eating Monster. 
Since you know where I’ve been in this Iron Game, it’s only right you know where I’m going:  Bench, I need 3 plates, 275.  Deadlift, I need 525 but eventually (a very short eventually) it’s going to be 600, Squat 400 needs to come ASAP. 

Raise your glasses! Here's to Vodka and Heavy Lifting. 

Cristi Bartlett loves to deadlift. She is an Assistant Strength Coach at Penn. You can reach her at

All About Being a Lifer

What's a Lifer? Someone who isn't in to something for just a day, a month, a's for life. Whether its training or your family or your doesn't matter. You work at it, you build on it, you see the big picture . You don't miss workouts because it means something to you. You are like a Shakespearean actor- no matter what is going on in your life, you block it out when it's time to train. You walk into the weight room and all else disappears. Worry about it later.