Interview with Vanessa Gale

Here’s another re-post as I merge my two blogs together. This is one of my favorite interviews, as Vanessa is one of my personal inspirations. She’s a total bad-ass and totally embodies the energy of her PrettyStrong movement.


Sport: Powerlifting

Weight Class: 148lbs. or 158lbs. (new IPF weight class)

Best Squat: In competition, 281lbs. (raw) & 352lbs. (knee wraps only)– In the gym, 305lbs (raw)
Best Bench: 165lbs. (raw)
Best Deadlift: 352lbs. (raw)
Best Total: 760lbs (raw) – 870 (knee wraps)
Records: I had the Junior USAPL 148 American Squat & Deadlift record at some point in 2010 – 2011, but it’s probably been beat by now, and I am no longer a “junior” to take it back J. On to the OPEN records!!!
When and how did you first get involved with lifting?
I started squatting and benching when I began running cross-country in high school. The only reason I started running was because my guidance counselor was the cross-country coach. They took one look at my legs and said they would serve me well in competitive sports. Before that, I had been dancing since the age of 4. I took ballet, tap, jazz, modern, ballroom, lyrical, acrobatics, musical theater; you name it I did it. I went to New York City for college and received my Bachelors of Arts in Dance. I took about three years off from the gym because dancers weren’t supposed to be big and strong, they were supposed to be skinny and limber. It wasn’t until my senior year, as graduation approached, that I began taking lifting more seriously and began moving away from dance all together. My body could do anything I asked of it up until this point. As I became more conscious of my body’s innate capabilities and aware of my scoliosis in dance class I decided that having a STRONG back was far more important than being a skinny little dancer with a nice arabesque. I had always wanted to put more muscle on my body, and so I decided to go for it. I also didn’t mind the switch of scenery from male dancers to male powerlifters, if ya know what I’m sayin! 😉
How did you transition from ‘random chick in the gym’ to competitive lifter?
I worked in the gym at which I trained, so having a specialty or being a competitive athlete looked good on the resume. I never have done anything without a goal in mind, so the term “random” doesn’t really apply. I was known as the “dancer turned powerlifter” overnight. Within my first month of training I squatted 215 lbs, benched 115 lbs, and deadlifted 280 lbs. For a 140 lbs. girl, I was pretty strong from the get go, thanks to the years of dedication to the art of dance.
Has your passion for lifting affected your career choices? If so, how?
Very much so! My path to become a Doctor of Chiropractic was initiated by my chiropractors in high school and college. Some said weight training was the best thing I could be doing, others said it was bad for my back. Obviously, you see whose side I’m on now. Studying chiropractic just seemed like the only option to me. Better nerve flow is the greatest gift a person can give to the world, in my opinion. Chiropractors turn on life!
What motivated you to start PrettySTRONG Powerlifting?
I have always wanted my leave my mark, and well-behaved women rarely make history, so what better things for me to start a blog about powerlifting, feminism, and chiropractic. The name “Pretty STRONG” came about when one of my training partners called Sara Cichorek and I “the pretties”… We all like to hear that someone thinks we’re pretty, right? – Not so much. I really wanted someone to recognize is our strength, our intelligence, our work ethic, and our passion for life. We went home that night and started the website. A day later we started posting articles about what it means to be “PrettySTRONG.” Now I post about all types of things that inspire people to be more than pretty! My idea of beauty is being who you want to be without anyone else’s/society’s opinion to consider, and only strong people can do that!
What is your happiest/proudest lifting related moment?
There have been many happy moments along the way, but the most important one by far is when I got my follow-up x-rays taken at my chiropractor’s office and saw that my scoliosis was straightening itself out! It is the black and white evidence that what I am doing is working. Principled chiropractic along with powerlifting was literally correcting my curve.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your lifting career?
Challenges are only as big as you let them get, but since you are asking, I’d have to say my greatest plight in powerlifting is maintaining strength while at the same time cutting weight for a meet. I have found that when I do not have to cut any weight, I go 9 for 9 and hit PRs easier than when I have to shed 2-10 lbs to make a weight class. Bench is the first to go when you drop bodyweight.
How is your training going for you now? What are your current challenges?
Training is going great these days! I am three months away from my next meet, which is the IPF Raw Challenge at the Arnold Classic. This is the most prestigious meet I have ever qualified for, so my focus in training has never been so paramount day in and day out. I am in what some may consider the “off season,” which in powerlifting means more work than the “in season” for some. I’m wrapping up a training cycle of much higher volume than I would normally do if I were peaking for a meet. I’m working with weight I’d normally do sets of 2-3 reps with for sets of 4-5 reps. I’m combining some Matthew Gary protocol with some Mike Turchscherer RPE’s right now, and I’ve never felt stronger! My biggest challenge right now is eating enough to bulk up to 158lbs. I am currently around 151lbs, and I know if I can get to 158, my bench will go up for competition day!
Do you do this primarily on your own or do you have a network of people who help you along the way?
I have a HUGE network of people. I’ve always said powerlifting isn’t a team sport on the platform, but it certainly is in training! My head coach is Matthew Gary of Supreme Sports Performance Training, who I only see a few times a year at big meets. He has programmed for me for over two years, but as I become more experienced, he lets the reigns out bit by bit, allowing me make my own calls on a day to day basis with his general guidelines towards the same end result. My boyfriend, Dave Bell, is my best and favorite training partner. He’s my back spot for every set, and he yells really loud when I need that too. We discuss our goals daily, and that helps us reach them together. Dave and I also are the Life University Powerlifting team coaches and the strength coaches at CrossFit on the Square in Marietta, GA, so we have an entire crew of people we lift with at every training session. My chiropractor, Patrick Anderson, is also a powerlifter and a great mentor for me through all of this. Then of course, there is the Internet; with Facebook, and PrettySTRONG, I can’t help but stay motivated to keep on doing what I’m doing to the best of my abilities.
What does your lifting programming look like? Does it change much as you approach a competition?
I stay within the 80-89% range pretty much all year. I am always competition ready, but as a meet approaches I scale back the volume and increase the intensity. I hardly ever perform max effort lifts in the gym. I like to keep my nervous system healthy and ready for the platform.
What does your diet look like normally? Does it change as you approach a competition?
My diet consists of meat and vegetables, with the occasional bowl of rice or a piece of naan. Yes, warm naan drizzled with olive oil; it has become my new post workout obsession. I also love the juicer. I make beet, carrot, apple, and celery juice pretty much every day. People think I’m drinking the blood of the weak. I don’t correct them. Sometimes I blend it with raw kale and avocado to make it creamy. OMG, my mouth is watering typing this. I am originally from New Orleans, so I’ve never lived a day of my life without good cookin’. My mom is the best cook in the world, and that’s not just my opinion. I like to think I just inherited that trait, but removed the gluten and dairy – except for heavy whipping cream. MUST HAVE HEAVY WHIPPING CREAM and COFFEE – can’t forget coffee. Mouth still watering!
Do you work to manage your stress and emotions during periods of heavy training?
My motto for PrettySTRONG is “live light, lift heavy,” so managing stress has always been something I found important. When I lived in NYC, stresses of life were a lot worse than it is here in Georgia, but being in graduate school produces different types of stress. I find that powerlifting is beneficial in itself at alleviating the stresses of life, unless overtraining occurs. The stress of overtraining can accumulate and you can end up worse off or sick. Training is something you can control, whereas the stresses of life are usually unexpected. So I try to keep my training at an optimal level of overload to increase performance, but not stress. When I feel stressed or even slightly overtrained, I like to cook a big nutrient dense meal, hike up a mountain, get lost in the woods, draw in my sketchbook, write an article for my blog about something more personal, or do some improv dance in a big, wide, open space. Clearing the mind and body of negative stresses and emotions is very importing for healing.
What advice do you have for women who are just getting started in competitive lifting?
The best advice I can give is to TAKE the ADVICE of a legitimate COACH. Don’t just lift weights with guys that have lifted weights their whole life, and don’t just lift weights with someone who has XYZ certification. Really research your coach and make sure he/she knows what they are talking about. Also, don’t go ALL OUT at the very beginning. If you are new to lifting, your central nervous system doesn’t know what it’s doing yet. I realize putting more weight on the bar will seem tempting and manageable, but at the beginning, every training session is a shock to your system. Time under tension is key for strength gains and it takes years to develop. So if you’re not in it for the long haul, you might as well quit before you start!

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