Breaking records in powerlifting

Angela Lewis with her coach Colin DeWolfe after a very successful competition at the Last Chance for the Dance event in Calgary, July 20.

Powerlifter Angela Lewis is using her competitive streak to set new world records and she wants to do it again.

The Medicine Hat resident, who grew up on a farm near Kyle in southwest Saskatchewan, has set world records for bench press in two different age divisions since she started competing 18 months ago and she will represent Canada at the 2019 world powerlifting championships in Calgary in October.

“I love competing,” she said. “I would still compete if records weren't attainable. If I couldn't touch them, I'd still go. I get a thrill out of going and performing in front of people and seeing what I can lift, and making each competition better, but because I know what my body can do and how hard I train, I just focus on it and I just want to get it.”

She had no intention to become a powerlifter when she started going to the gym in January 2017, but she took some weightlifting classes and enjoyed it.

“I guess what drew me to weightlifting in the first place was I grew up on a farm,” she said. “I was strong growing up, I was always in sports and physically active, but then kind of got out of it when I went to college and then when I started working. It gave me that opportunity to get back to feeling strong like I was when I was on the farm, and gave me the opportunity to show women that you can be strong and you don't need to rely on anyone else. You're more than capable of doing everything yourself, and the confidence that came with weightlifting just drew me to it even more.”

She started powerlifting in October 2017 and joined the Medicine Hat Powerlifting Club. She participated in her first competition in Medicine Hat in February 2018.

“I was a nervous wreck at my first competition,” she recalled. “I definitely wanted to compete again. It was amazing, the team atmosphere and the supportiveness. As much as you're competing against other people, everybody just wants you to do well. … So I knew after that one that I still want to compete again. There were a couple of lifts that I have failed that day that I knew I could do in the gym, and I just wanted to see how far I could go.”

She is currently only competing at events hosted by the 100% RAW Powerlifting Federation. Last year she was still in the 20-24 age division in the 75 kilogram (kg) weight class, and she felt she had a realistic opportunity to break the world bench press record in that age division before she turned 25.

She was able to do that at a powerlifting competition in Calgary in May 2018, when she set the new record at 85 kg.

“It felt pretty surreal,” she said. “It's pretty amazing.”

That record, which is still standing, was a big motivation when she moved into the open division for powerlifters between the ages of 25 and 34.

“There's quite a bit of strong females, especially people who have been in the game longer,” she said about the competition in her division. “They've competed more, they're more seasoned. … So there's a lot of women that have been competing longer and have a higher squat and deadlift, which I need to perfect to be able to be as competitive against some of them.”

Bench press is her favourite lift, because she has good upper body strength and it is also a very technical lift, which she enjoys.

“I think I'm very good at following technique and always trying to be better to make it the best it could be,” she said.

Deadlift is her least favourite routine, even though it is a straightforward lift. It is the final lift during competitions, after the squat and bench press.

“I guess my endurance kind of runs out,” she said. “I'm always fatigued by the time I get there. I think a lot of the sport comes down to a mental aspect as well, and believing you can lift that much weight is almost surreal sometimes. You don't think your body can do it, and I think sometimes that's something I have trouble with.”

She looked at the national and world bench press record after moving into the open division of the 75 kg weight class, and felt those were reachable. She set a new national bench press record at a competition in May 2019, but it was broken shortly afterwards by another powerlifter.

Lewis was not deterred, and she was looking for another record when the competed most recently at the Last Chance for the Dance event in Calgary, July 20.

Her first bench press of 95 kg set a new national record, and she went for a new world record with her second lift of 99 kg, but she received a red light on a technicality.

“I lost the engagement of my shoulder,” she explained. “So my arm dropped slightly. In the bench press, as soon as you bring the bar to your chest, the ref will give you a press command. As soon as you start pressing upwards, the bar can't deviate and come down whatsoever.”

She was a bit shook up after the failed second lift, even though she knew she is able to do it. For her third lift her coach asked if she wanted to do the same lift or increase the amount of weight.

“He knew I could do it,” she said. “He knew it was just a little bit of a mistake that caused me to fail that, but I just wanted to kill it and get it out there, get that lift made and then see what we could do from there. So I chose to stay at the weight that we have done and just make sure that I was set up correctly.”

She lifted 99 kg with her third attempt, which set a new world bench press record. She then had another opportunity, because a powerlifter is asked if they want to take a fourth lift when they break a record. She went for it and increased the world record again with a lift of 102.5 kg.

“It was amazing,” she said. “I wanted to hug my coach, I wanted to hug my family, I wanted to just quit for the day and not do deadlifts.”

But her coach, Colin DeWolfe, helped to keep her focused and she completed her deadlifts too. While she now holds the world bench press record in her class, she realized it might not be for very long.

“I know that there's women out there that's probably going to look at it and think they can break that and go back in and break it as well, but I'll probably go back in and take it right back from them,” she laughed.

She is now focusing on her preparation for the world powerlifting championships in October. The event is hosted jointly by different powerlifting federations, but she will be competing in the 100% RAW Powerlifting Federation’s worlds.

Thereafter she is planning to take a break from a very busy competition schedule for the next year to focus on improving her squats and deadlifts.

“There's talk of possibly going to Ireland next year for a competition, but we just want to get my strength up,” she said. “My squat and my deadlift aren't as competitive as they should be. So we're going to work on getting those stronger and in 2021 we'll be back at competing and see what other records I can take.”

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