If you’re plugged into the online powerlifting community, then chances are you’ve seen the name Gina “Half Wolf” Aversa at one point or another. She’s built an incredibly strong resume in the sport of powerlifting in a short time, and currently holds the women’s 165 lb all-time deadlift world record, which she set this past November with her 556 lb pull.
After seeing her explosive growth in 2017, her all-time deadlift world record, and her recent 475 lb squat on Instagram (shown below), we wanted to get to know Aversa a bit more, and learn about some of her thoughts on the sport of powerlifting.
On Instagram and her personal training site, Aversa is known as “ginahalfwolf”, so we thought it was only fitting to ask about that first.
“A lot of people seem to think this is my last name, I get asked that a LOT, and I kind of wish it was because that’s totally badass. Its actually a quote from a Parks and Recreation episode. April Ludgate at one point says that she loves animals because she’s “Half Wolf”. It was my Instagram name long before I got into lifting and then it just kind of stuck.”
Okay, so you’re not actually part wolf, so where does the natural strength and athleticism come from?
“I started playing sports pretty much as soon as I started walking, so I have a very athletic background. In high school I was tri-varsity playing soccer, swimming, and pole vaulting/sprinting for the track team, which I continued into college. Id say this definitely had a huge influence on my success in powerlifting. I was already fairly muscular before I even started powerlifting which really allowed me to just hit the ground running. Anyone who’s seen me deadlift also knows that i’m a very explosive and fast lifter, which I would say 100% has to do with my years of training as a sprinter.”
In a 2017 Girls Who Powerlift interview, Aversa spoke about how lifting never really interested her when she was playing sports, so we asked what finally gave her the push to jump into powerlifting?
“Yeah it’s funny how our passions and interests change over time. I was forced to lift when I was pole vaulting in college and I hated it, but that’s because I didn’t see it as a sport. I stopped track after my sophomore year because I wanted to focus more on school and that was the first time in my entire life that I had not been participating in a sport and I felt kind of lost for a while. I needed to stay active so I tried doing some bodybuilder type stuff, but found that I became pretty obsessive, rather quickly, on how my body looked. Once I discovered powerlifting, I think I fell in love because it allowed me to play a sport again. It took the focus away from what my body looked like, and put the focus back on what my body was capable of.”
When you started powerlifting, what lift progressed the fasted, and which has been the slowest?
“My deadlift definitely was the fastest to progress. The very first time I picked up a bar, I deadlifted 265 and within a month or so I was up to 400. Thats probably why its always been my favorite lift.”
“My bench has always been, and still is, my weakest lift. When I first started “training” (I put that in quotes because at this point I was just going into the gym and doing whatever I wanted with no structure or program) I didn’t bench for the first 3 or so months because I liked squatting and deadlifting way more. Its probably just been lagging behind ever since.”
So after a later start to powerlifting, what finally pushed you to compete, was it a certain milestone in training, or a push from an external force?
“It was actually neither. I had just moved to San Diego after graduating college and was just discovering powerlifting (this was during the phase of going to the gym and just lifting whatever I pleased). I randomly decided to look up if there were any powerlifting competitions in my area and coincidentally, there was one about a week and a half away. I didn’t really think about it at all and just signed up on the spot. I had ZERO idea what I was doing- I didn’t train into the meet or have a coach/handler, I just showed up, lifted and had tons of fun. After that point I was hooked, I think my total was about 850lbs. To give you an idea of how much of a newb I was, I put chalk on my legs instead of using baby powder.”
Outside of lifts, how has your mentality changed since starting your powerlifting journey?
“I actually take the sport less seriously now than when I first started. When I first started, I was very intense and thought I had to be perfect about my training sessions and had a very hardcore attitude.”
“Overtime, I realized that wasn’t sustainable and if I wanted to be competing in the long run, Id have to a have a much more relaxed approach. Now I still take my training seriously but I also put other things, like work and my family, before powerlifting and know that its not a huge deal if I have to miss a training session or two. I actually broke the ATWR after probably my most inconsistent training cycle ever, so I guess that just goes to show that you don’t have to be perfect to make improvements.”
Did claiming the deadlift world record change your mentality and energy towards the sport at all?
“There was definitely this feeling of, “Ok, Ive accomplished that, now what..?”, but that went away rather quickly. I do feel some pressure going into meets because I know that people expect me to be lifting at a certain level and will be judgmental/disappointed if I under perform, but I try to block that out. My only intention going into this sport was to be the strongest version of myself, not break records or be the best ever, so I try to go into every meet with the only goal of ‘do better than last time’. So even if I only hit 5lbs PRs on lifts, I’ll be happy.”
Transitioning from the mentality to training, we have to ask, and we know our readers want to hear your thoughts on this, what are your favorite deadlift accessories?
“Would speed work count as an accessory? I’m a big believer in actually staying rather light for deadlift and simply nailing in perfect technique. I only go heavy about two times going into a meet.”
“If that doesn’t count, then Id have to say snatch grip work – either snatch grip pulls or snatch grip back extensions. There’s a part of me that hates it because it’s so challenging, but I’ve seen huge carry over to my deadlift.”
Taking a second to step back and analyzing yourself again as a beginner compared to being a world record holder, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
“Probably that chalk goes on your hands and baby powder goes on your legs (laughs). But if I’m being more serious, I’d probably tell myself to not avoid the things I’m bad at, and actually spend more time on them. For probably the first year of my lifting, I only developed the things that I was already good at, which I think we all know isn’t the way to progress.”
From your beginner advice to where you’re at now, what’s something you and your coach have to remind yourself of on a regular basis?
“On a more mechanical level – my coaches at Kabuki Strength have been trying to drill in better bracing techniques because that’s definitely something I’m lacking. On a more psychological level – I often have to remind myself that feeling weak on one training day doesn’t equate to actually getting weaker or not making progress. People often forget, myself included, that you usually don’t feel “strong” in the process of getting stronger.”
The sport of powerlifting has been steadily growing over the last few years, and social media has been a huge help in encouraging more women athlete to try the sport. Do you think the growth in women’s powerlifting will continue to become increasingly more popular over the next five years?
“I absolutely do. I think that women are really started to discover how empowering it is to feel strong and I don’t see that going away anytime soon. Also, powerlifting is starting to make the baby steps to getting more widespread media attention and not just being a niche sport – Meg Squats is in a Special K commercial, which is huge!”
That’s true, we’re always amazed with Meg and how much she pushes to make powerlifting more mainstream. Although, on a more serious note, do you think there are still societal restraints that make women feel hesitant when thinking about starting something like powerlifting?
“I can’t even count the numbers of times women have approached me wanting to get into powerlifting, but not wanting to get “bulky”, so I think that is still a big thing making women hesitant about lifting. I think that breaking that myth for good is just a matter of women that are already in the sport showing everyone that picking up a barbell does not just magically turn you into a man, and I think there are some great role models out there as examples.”
“I also think that a lot of people avoid actually competing because they are too focused on comparing themselves to others and don’t think they can compete because they’re not on someone else’s level. People try to wait to compete until they know they’re going to break a record or know they’ll get first, and that attitude is just foreign to me. My advice to people like that is – competing is a talent in and of itself. It’s completely different than just lifting in the gym, and its a skill that you need to master as well. So stop putting all this pressure on yourself and just jump into a competition and have some fun, see if you like it, then keep refining your skills until maybe that record is in your reach.”
To wrap up our interview, what are your current thoughts on the state of powerlifting as a whole? Do you think any part could be improved?
“There are parts of powerlifting that I love and other parts that I’m not so fond of. Maybe it’s because I’m more aware of the ins and outs now, but I feel like recently powerlifting is getting a lot more political and divided.”
“People seem to feel divided based on the federation they’re competing in, instead of just appreciating the fact that we’re all trying to support and promote the same sport. I’m just over here like, can’t we all just lift weights and be happy?”
Feature image from @ginahalfwolf Instagram page.