I’m really delighted to share Manon Bradley’s fantastic powerlifting story with our HealthyHappy50 readers after we were introduced by the brilliant Henpicked.net community.
Which sport do you enjoy?
I am a powerlifter. More specifically I am a drug-free powerlifter. More specifically again, I am a drug-free benchpresser.
Powerlifting is a combination of three lifts: squat, benchpress and deadlift. In our federation, the BDFPA, of which I am now the President, you can either do all three lifts (full power) or do just one of them (single lift). BDFPA stands for British Drug Free Powerlifting Association.
I used to squat but after an injury I’ve stopped competing in the squat – but never say never!
Have you always been sporty or is this new to you?
I wouldn’t have said that I was ever sporty before I found powerlifting. However, when I think back to my school days I did represent the school in both the 100metre sprint and high jump when I was 11 / 12. The sprinting makes sense – I’ve got the legs for it and the high jump was simply because I was tall (I haven’t grown since then so now I’m short!).
But really I was the girl who did what she was told so when I was asked to represent the school I didn’t try to wriggle out of it like others. But I was never one of those “county level” athletes and certainly never in the local hockey, football or netball teams.
How did you start powerlifting?
When I left school I stopped doing “games” and it took me until well into my 20s before I found the sort of exercise that I enjoy. I started to make enough money to join a gym and I joined LivingWell, a fancy health club in Manchester city centre.
One day, when I had been a member for a few months I was in a queue at the water fountain and a bloke behind me said “You’ve got great legs for a bodybuilder”. I could have been offended but instead I decided to find out what he meant. He told me that the calves are one of the hardest muscles to develop and since I had very muscular calves I already had great bodybuilding legs.
I’ve always believed in “pushing at open doors” so I decided to listen to him, take his advice and see what transpired. It was a life-changing decision.
Patrick taught me how to lift weights. He taught me the difference between an incline dumbbell press and a bent over row. He taught me how to master very tricky lateral raises (it’s like emptying two kettles at the same time) and how to plan my workouts to get most benefit.
More importantly he gave me a life-long love of picking up heavy things!
Realising that bodybuilding wasn’t for me!
My initial plan had always been to follow the bodybuilding path but the more I saw of it as a sport the less I wanted to compete. For female bodybuilders there was a huge emphasis upon appearing hugely strong as well as “feminine” which often led to internationally renowned competitors taking steroids to develop muscle and then getting breast implants on top of their large pectoral muscles so that their bikinis had something to cover up! It was not the sport for me.
It turns out that I was very good at the “hugely strong” bit of the sport; however, it took another decade for me to find a competitive outlet for this and I spent my mid-twenties to mid-thirties weight-training in gyms all over the country.
Discovering powerlifting! I can do that!
In 2004 I finally heard about powerlifting and a little voice in my head said “I can do that.” I entered my first local competition in April 2004 and won the European championship in May that year.
I was an overnight success – but like all overnight successes this was built on a decade of hard work and practice.
How often do you train each week?
Nowadays I have a gym in my home where I train 4 times per week with my training partner and life partner – Dale. I also coach a number of local lifters on a regular basis.
The training typically consists of three bench-press sessions and one squat session. Usually we mix up the bench training so that we cover speed exercises (repetitions of a low weight as fast as possible) as well as high weight, low reps training. We’ll also throw in a bit of back, triceps and shoulders work for good measure.
Until recently I had always trained in local gyms and enjoyed the camaraderie, the clang of metal plates on metal bars. But there were always compromises to be made – not enough space, not enough equipment, broken equipment, bent bars, inaccurate weights.
Training like a champion
I was told some time ago by a friend that if you want to be a champion you have to train like a champion and think like a champion and that means scheduling your meals around your lifting, planning every workout rather than leaving it to chance.
With the lack of proper resources at our local gym this became impossible. I would leave the house with a plan in mind and have to reassess as soon as we got to the gym, when I realised that we couldn’t use the equipment we needed to.
So, we bought our own equipment, put it in our converted garage and now I can cook my dinner whilst training! It’s wonderful.
How do you feel when you are training?
I have always enjoyed lifting weights, far more than any other form of exercise. There is something about the way in which you can feel each muscle as it’s doing its work and the ritualistic repetition of an exercise over and over until exhaustion. And proper form (doing it the right way) is vitally important and this appeals to the goody two-shoes in me!
But above and beyond this sheer pleasure of lifting heavy things is the relaxing, meditative aspect to it. This might sound counter-intuitive – especially when you see weightlifters psyching themselves up – but that is just in competition.
Visualising the movement in everyday training
In everyday training it’s important to focus entirely upon the bar you are trying to lift, to visualise the movement – how it’s going to travel up and down – and how your muscles are going to combine to make that happen. If you don’t do this it’s very likely that you’ll end up on your backside with the bar on the floor or with a heavy weight being heaved off your chest by your training partner.
How has powerlifting enhanced your life?
When you are this attuned to your body, when you are co-ordinating your breathing with your lifting you are in a place very akin to meditative yoga when the total focus on the physical frees the mind.
I may walk into the gym thinking about my woes and worries but when I come out at the end of it they are a million miles away.
Powerlifting contributes so much to my emotional as well as my physical wellbeing.
Becoming a champion and world record holder surprisingly hasn’t really enhanced my confidence. I have always been enormously confident. What it has done is to give me a hook to hang that confidence on. Now I have a reason to feel like I’m the best in the world – because I am!
And that’s one of the things that owe to powerlifting. I always knew that I was flippin’ amazing! We all are. Through good judgement, pushing through open doors and a little bit of good luck I’ve stumbled upon something that I am world class at.
I always give this advice to friends: Have a go at lots of things!
Many people don’t get that opportunity (to be world class at something), which is why I encourage all my friends to have a go at as many things as possible “you never know you might be the best in the world at it!”.
What is your motivation to keep training & competing?
The only thing that motivates me is the desire to be better than I was at the last competition. I don’t really pay much attention to what other women are lifting, that’s their business. I don’t care what I look like – which is just as well because singlets are the least flattering items of clothing invented!
All that matters is that I’m getting stronger. This helps to cut through the noise of competitions. If I pay too much attention to other people, to what they are doing, what they are thinking then I won’t pay enough attention to myself and the bar. At the end of the day those are the only two things that matter.
Are you as motivated training at home as you were at the gym?
When we set up our home gym lots of people asked if we would still be motivated to train every week – as if the gym itself was somehow responsible for my motivation! Far from it! Although I enjoy being in a sociable environment my motivation is something else (I’ve written at length about it).
I don’t need motivation because I’ve got habit and habit trumps motivation every day! There is never any question in our house whether we will train or not – because we train Monday, Wednesday, Friday and one other day. The only question is which is the extra day and that tends to work around my work diary.
How do you train when you’re on holiday?
Even on holiday our training schedule doesn’t shift – we just have to plan our trips around the location of well-equipped gyms.
Who inspires you?
When we were in Australia last year visiting family I was lucky enough to be invited to train at the home of a local hero called Terry Geddy. Terry lost the use of his legs in an accident when he was 15 years old but he didn’t let this stop his sporting dreams. He competed in Paralympian 100 metre wheelchair races, the seated shot-put and seated discus throughout the 1970s, 80s and 1990s wining gold, silver and bronze.
Now in his 60s he is further limited by diabetes and kidney failure – but he still opens “Big Terry’s Little Gym” to local lifters and teaches them how to powerlift. Many of his lifters have their own limitations – due to illness or accidents – but they all turn up, they all train as hard as they can and they all put in 100%.
That’s what inspires me – it’s not the trophies – it’s the hard work and dedication in people who could so easily sit at home and cry “poor me”!
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
I do have my own fair share of silverware. Powerlifters love their big trophies. I have British, European and World Championship trophies going back to 2004 – together with some lovely medals and certificates acknowledging my world records. For me, the records matter more than the championships. A record can last for years, or just for minutes if the lifter after you smashes it.
But whilst you can win a competition with a far from perfect performance you can only break a world record with 100% effort and preparation.
What are your next goals?
I am currently the world record holder in my category for the benchpress with a lift of 83kg (achieved in February 2016). I would like to break this once more before I move up into the next age category in October.
I would also like to have a crack at setting a new world record in the squat. This is currently 120kg. I used to hold this record but took a break from squatting after a back injury. But I am now back under the bar and have my sights set on being a double world record holder!
What are the three best things about your sport?
• The way you can chart progress week after week and see real improvement
• The fact that being a woman who knows what she’s doing in a male dominated environment is hugely uplifting
• The way that it helps to deal with the everyday stresses and strains of life
What are the worst?
The stress of competition – I am always anxious about not embarrassing myself at a competition. I feel this very acutely just before competing.
Do you track your progress?
I use a notebook and a pen! Very high-tech. I didn’t used to bother but a friend of mine said – “if you don’t know what you did, when you do something really good how can you replicate it?”
What’s your favourite piece of kit?
Squat rack. I looked into my heart for that one. I’ve been benching for far, far longer and have reached far greater heights in the benchpress but there is something almost visceral about squatting – about un-racking the bar, taking a deep breath and starting to move. It’s far more frightening than benchpressing, where you have a training partner ready to take the weight from you.
If you fail a squat then you are probably going to end up on the floor. And that’s why success at squat is more satisfying – it’s like facing a huge demon, not knowing if you will be victorious or not and yet striding forward to meet him.
What is your favourite music to train to?
Any sort of dance music. Often at competitions I will listen to “Soar” by Christina Aguilera – it’s magical and it helped me to achieve my first competitive 70kg bench press – which was a pretty big deal.
What’s your favourite food before or after training?
Cake! Every time!
Do you have a favourite powerlifting magazine?
I don’t read about this stuff, it’s about me not about what others do so I find my own way.
If someone was interested in taking up powerlifting but doubted herself or worried about being judged or made to feel welcome, what would you say to them?
I deal with this one a lot because in powerlifting there is only you and the bar, your success is due to you and so is your failure. You can feel very exposed – plus you are being watched by a lot of people – usually wearing something that makes you look terrible. It’s a common fear, particularly of women, to not want to compete in powerlifting because of this.
And I tell them – it’s not what you look like, it’s how much you lift. No-one gets awarded extra points for having nice hair!
Once they truly realise this it’s amazing how this realisation impacts on the rest of their life.
I would also point out that the BDFPA powerlifting community is wonderfully welcoming. It’s a small club and so we are very excited when a new person joins us.
What practical tips would you give someone looking to take up powerlifting?
• Find a gym that has some decent kit – if they don’t have a proper squat rack then don’t bother. Some gyms use a smith machine – which is an assisted squat machine – it’s not worth using!
• Once you’ve found the right gym that is easy to get to (no point making life more difficult for you than you need to) ask around for a decent trainer to show you the basics – to ensure you don’t hurt yourself.
• Don’t pay for too much PT, my experience is that powerlifters love to share their sport.
• Get the basics under your belt and then watch other people, ask them what they’re doing, ask for their advice.
• Then join the http://british drug free powerlifting association and enter a competition.
Do you have a sporting motto?
It’s the hours of trial not the moments of triumph that make me great!
What would you tell your 20 year old self?
Sore back – squat more
Fat legs – squat more
Thin legs – squat more
Want to lose weight – squat more
Want to put on weight – squat more
Had a bad day – squat more
Had a great day – squat more
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Manon – it is wonderfully inspiring. It is an honour to have a World Champion and Record Holder on our website. We wish you every success with your training and competitions, please do let us know how you get on!
If you would like to follow Manon’s journey on Twitter, it’s @ManonBradley.
All photos copyright/courtesy of Manon Bradley.
Would you like to share your story? We’d love to hear from you! Please get in touch!
Healthyhappyfifty@yahoo.com or @healthyhappy50 on Twitter & Instagram.
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