10 Elite Powerlifters Share Why They Started Lifting

As a strength sports writer I’m continually learning the unique qualities of each sport, along with how each athlete thinks and acts. One of my favorite questions for strength athletes and average gym-goers alike is, “Why did you start lifting?”

This question often causes someone to stop what they’re doing, close their eyes, then provide a direct, calculated answer. Lifting isn’t typically something that comes naturally, nor is it something that’s easy. Factor in different strength sports, and you have another level of intensity and passion added to the mix. Not every strength athlete started for their sport, and in fact, very few did as evident by the anecdotes below.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to publish articles that dive into why some of the top, and most well-known athletes from each strength sport started lifting. Today, we’ll be looking at powerlifting.

Why Did You Start Lifting?

Blaine Sumner, 120kg+ Lifter, IPF World Record Holder

The reason I started lifting was for football. I was a tall skinny kid in high school and played linebacker. I knew I needed to get bigger and stronger to be a better football player – so I began lifting weights. And have been addicted ever since.

Jenn Thompson, 63kg/72kg Lifter, IPF World Record Holder

I started lifting because my roommate in college had a whole set of weights in the basement of our rental house. Every evening about five guys would show up and they would lift weights for a couple of hours and hang out afterwards. I wanted to be a part of this group of fun people.

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Here is my 197.5 deadlift (436 lbs) deadlift. It broke the unofficial world record total by 4kgs. I had my work cut out for me yesterday with 4 of the girls going over 500 Wilks. This was a particularly hard one for me because I had hip reconstruction surgery this May. I had to pull out of @theipf Classic Worlds to fix an injury that has been problematic for some time. I only told my “circle of trust “. I didn’t know if I would squat or deadlift ever again. But I had @jenniferthompsonshusband whispering encouragement the whole way. I had my @ironsisterhood @trackfu @bubblypowerlifter telling I wasn’t done yet, that I got it. I had my training partners loading weights and helping me on and off my crutches. I had @heathernickole93 kicking my ass in PT for 5 months listening and developing new exercises to get me ready for Nats. My hope was to squat 300 and deadlift 400 after 6 Weeks of training. I blew that out of the water with 330 lb squat (PR), 315 Bench. The power of the mind is great. It’s amazing to lift without pain and I feel this is only the beginning. Life is not about things. It’s about the people in it. Thanks so my supporters and sponsors @sspnutrition @lvdfitness and @sbdapparel

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They had a great camaraderie and would laugh, raz and cheer on each other. They invited me to lift with them every day. Finally, one day I got up enough courage to say yes. They took me under their wing and showed me the ropes. Within a couple of years I was out lifting some of them. I found Powerlifting a few years later

Kelly Branton, 120kg+ Lifter, 900+lb Squatter

What got me into powerlifting was to fill that competitive void from sports. I have to wear myself out at the gym everyday, or I would not be a very good member of society. Powerlifting keeps me in line and that’s why I started and that’s why I’ll never quit.


Kimberly Walford, 72kg Lifter, IPF World Record Holder

I started lifting when I was 13 years old because my high school coach told us he not only wanted us to be fast, but strong. From the moment I touched the weight I was hooked and continued strength training throughout high school and college. Who knew later on it would bring me to powerlifting.

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(Swipe) Repost @itz_lexx : Awesome day for @tracku! Squat 188kg/414lb American Record Bench 115kg/253lb Deadlift 246kg/542.3lb Unofficial IPF World Record/American Record/ Total 549kg/1210.34lb Unofficial IPFWorld Record/American Record Wilks 541.37 (Best Female Lifter) Body weight 70.91kg/156.3lb 9 for 9! So proud! (Will follow up with “thank you” messenger after this weekend. Still work to do today..😉) #usaplrawnationals #theipf #ipf #usapowerlifting #usapl invictus #invictusanimus #ipf #theipf #usapl #usapowerlifting #sbdapparel #sbd #teamsbdusa #sbdelite #apemanstrong #promerasports #TEAMCONCRET #bellpowersystems #powerlifting #powerlifter #fitness #fitnessmotivation #powerliftingmotivation #beast #otg_ia #training #trainingpartner #ZPhiB #deadlift @goparabolic @powerlifting_watch #deadlift #deadlifttillimdead

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Jennifer Millican, 57kg Lifter, IPF World Record Holder

I started lifting because my husband was doing CrossFit a few years ago and would come home and tell me how he won, and well, I wanted to win at something too. I also lost a lot of weight after my son was born and I knew building muscle was the only way to get my shape back.

Mike Farr “Silent Mike”, Powerlifter and YouTube Personality

I began training like most people for sport. Training was the clear cut way to get more athletic, be better at basketball, and of course to improve my body. What has kept me training is my unsuitable craving for progress. My passion is progress. I train because of my passion.

Meg Gallagher “Meg Squats”, 63kg Lifter, YouTube Personality

I started specifically powerlifting, because I gained about 30lbs after cutting down for a bikini show. My new weight made me very insecure, and I didn’t feel comfortable going back to HIIT, or CrossFit, or anything else, really. Eventually, I found myself in a corner of the gym doing the only thing that felt comfortable: Squatting.

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HERES THE FUN PART! Deadlifts were not grooving on the platform. I was feeling slower off the floor than usual, the bar kicked out on my earlier attempts, and just wasn't as on point as I usually am. Still, all you're doing is literally picking things up off the floor, so I was chugging along, and confident in the fact that if we loaded 500lbs, I would have picked it up. At first, after my 2nd attempt, Ryan declared a small PR at 180kg/396lbs, as you have a 1min clock to declare an attempt, but are allowed 2 changes to your third DL. I said, "NO WE ARE GOING 400+" I think he needed me to articulate how bad I wanted it. Only took me about 5 seconds to break the floor, and the bar almost slipped out of my left hand, BUT GOOD LIFT AND WE MADE IT FAM! — I've never really brought intensity to the platform like I did on this day. The past few months I've struggled to deal with opinions on myself, and people questioning my strength and integrity. This was an opportunity to focus on MYSELF and drown out the noise I've been so focused on lately. — At the end of the day, there are people who perform, and people who watch, and I know which one I am. — Couldn't do it without my hype-men/coaches/handlers @ryan_espiritu @hani_tsa and A1 camera man @ericszeto THANK YOU 🙏🙏🙏

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This is how I named myself Megsquats, because my introduction to strength progression was only focused on my squat. I completed the base cycle of Smolov and then ran a Bulgarian style squat program written by Gabe Malone. After 2-3 months of only squatting, I finally got interested and branched out to benching when I felt like it, and deadlifted once a week.

I see the same insecurity I had with my own body in a lot of people, and recommend powerlifting-style training to anyone who feels like they might be too big or unfit to try anything else. That progression in strength is more likely to create consistency for newer lifters, and I hope everyone who feels how I did, will eventually find lifting, or even just squatting.

Charity Witt, 75kg GPA World Record Holder

There were a lot of events in my life that “caused” me to ultimately step into the gym (from being diagnosed with cardiac arrhythmia, struggling with eating disorders and looking for a stress outlet).

However, the REAL reason was that I simply got tired of feeling weak. I wanted to be in control of my body, my health, my mind and my life. I began that journey in the gym and it has been the best decision of my life.

Rori Atler, DPT, 72kg Lifter

FOR FUN!!! And that’s what we have to always remember! We started because it’s FUN!

But really my husband (then boyfriend) introduced me to it in PT school. I always wanted to be strong. When he taught me the movements and educated me about the lifts there was no turning back. I saw the value in the functionality of the movements for both recreational strength (my own working out) and functional strength (across the patient spectrum) as a physical therapist.

And then after my first competition I realized I was actually strong and good at this sport and I got HUNGRY and just wanted to keep trying to be the best.

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COMEONNNNNN @9for9media

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Clifton Pho, 66kg Lifter, IPF World Record Holder

I started lifting simply because I enjoy it. Part of the enjoyment is the constant pursuit of progress; but the thing that keeps me going is the community.

P.S. The real reason I started to lift is obviously because it’s in my name!

Wrapping Up

While some of the reasons are the same, the majority of the athletes above all started lifting for different reasons. Unlike most sports, elite strength athletes often find themselves starting their journey in the sport simply for the love of lifting. As you can see above, almost all of the world record holders started lifting for the joy of it, not to set simply set records.

Feature image from @thevanillagorilla92, @trackfu, @jenthompson132, @megsquats, @silentmikke, @jenmillican, @rorimegan, @clifton_pho, @charity_witt Instagram pages.