Sharon Prager is a woman involved in all things strong. She is currently an active NPC Judge, Trainer, Powerlifting Competitor and Colorado State Powerlifting Chairwoman of the Natural Athlete Strength Association (NASA). She got hooked on bodybuilding when she first started competing in the eighties. She started training female competitors who were getting ready for shows at the time when there was just female bodybuilding and male bodybuilding back when Cory Everson and Gladys Portugues were big. She recalls, "I was a paralegal and in corporate for a long time. It was always kind of my side thing but the passion for bodybuilding was always there. When my son entered 8th grade about 6 years ago, I decided to give up my job at the hospital where I was a patient care tech and unit coordinator, to try my hand at starting my own business full time. Technically my business has been up and running for 10 years, but I've been at it full time for 6. I got into powerlifting when my ex asked me if I wanted to do a bench press contest, fast forward 7 years, I'm now the state chairwoman going on my 4th year.”
Recently, I attended the NASA Powerlifting competition in Denver. The first thing I noticed at the show was the variety of women competitors (different ages, weights, shapes, sizes etc.) This is truly a sport open to all. I caught up with Sharon and asked her a few questions.
How does a woman get started in powerlifting? If they do not have a trainer what do they focus on (start working on squats, chest press and deadlifting)?
I guess it would be the same as somebody wanting to start competing in NPC shows. I've had quite a few clients that I've tweaked and coached who started on their own. It's a little complicated to state how one would train. There is a technique and there is form and there is a right way to do it. Without a coach I would suggest looking on YouTube sites. Be careful which ones you look at! The Federation we lift with is very strict about form and technique. I worked with a woman who has been training on her own for quite a while but had plateaued and couldn't increase her weight load. I worked with her for one session help her with her form and technique and she increased all of her lifts by 20 and 30 pounds. It’s more about form and technique than strength and weight.
What can a good trainer provide?
A good powerlifting trainer can help build confidence encourage and teach the proper technique and form.
What differentiates a champion powerlifter from the rest?
Everybody is a Champion Powerlifter who comes to lift.
What are some common challenges women have when training for powerlifting? (mental? diet? amount of training?)
The wonderful thing about powerlifting is you don't have to be a certain body type or weight or eat a certain way. Some of the misconceptions I have heard are you have to be big and bulky. This is certainly not true when we have lifters who weigh 119 pounds and have dead lifted over 300lbs.
How would you encourage women to compete in powerlifting?
The benefits of female powerlifters is it empowers you. Powerlifting gives you confidence and gives you the mental and physical strength to realize there are many things in life you can do (perhaps a new job, moving, a new relationship). Nothing makes a woman feel more confident than knowing she can pick up weight off the floor.
After I spoke with Sharon, I ran into Alec Harris from Classic Barbell and we talked about overcoming the fear of increasing the weight. He said, "you simply train yourself to increase the weight gradually over time. Working with a good trainer/coach can help you push your limits. It’s mostly mental. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failing is important. If you never fail then you never took a shot." I agreed. In my experience, greatest mental growth and physical gains usually come from overcoming fear and discomfort.
It was really apparent how empowered these women were from powerlifting. I spoke with a gal named Tracy and asked her how she got into powerlifting. She said, “I wanted to be able to lift 185lbs. The wight of my ex-husband who had been abusing me for years. It didn’t take me long to get there. I remember him breaking his foot after kicking me. Even before that, I suffered from PTSD since the age of 23. There would be times when it was so bad, I would lock myself in a closet at home and never leave the house. I gained access to a gym while I was at a safe-house. At age 45 I am now finding my strength in powerlifting. There is something about it that works on your nervous system and you feel great. It’s my first time competing and all the women have been wonderful with cheering me on supporting me. It’s not even about body acceptance or image, for me it’s more about the nurturing and supportive community.”
And she was right. As each person went up to do their squat, bench press or deadlift you can hear the excitement and anticipation in the air as the crowd cheered each lifter on. We applauded when they were successful and felt a slight disappointment when they failed. Don’t get me wrong, this is not just a show up, lift heavy stuff and go home sort of thing. There is an actual progression and drive in each competitor to win. Each experience is a learned opportunity that builds on itself. Christina was another first time competitor who told me her story: “I was in football and am used to lifting. One day, some trainers at the gym saw how strong I was and recommended I compete. I trained for 3 months and followed a diet that gave me just enough protein and carbs to keep me strong. It’s my first time so I’m learning a lot. I need to make some adjustments for next time but I love how everyone roots for each other.”
For Karina, competing in powerlifting was more about girls being able to do what boys do. “My brother loved cars and lifting. I did everything my brother did. If he can do it, I can also.”
After the show, my love for lifting was even more solidified. It always boils down to that thing that leaves us paralyzed from achieving our goals and finding fulfillment. FEAR. We fear to fail, we fear to fall, we fear ….. In lifting and competing we must push through those fears and confront them head on or we never get to where we want to be. Lifting brings on that empowerment of no longer fearing how heavy the weight might be and that, in return, strengthens these women to no longer fear other things in life. So if you want to feel empowered, take your lifting to the next level or experience the camaraderie, take a look at powerlifting.
Special Thanks to Sharon Prager.
You can find her here:
720. 323 0643.
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