Feb 12th, 2011
Schedule Update: The Strength Saturday class has been rescheduled to this Sunday evening from 4 to 6 PM. Strength Saturday classes will resume as normal next weekend.
Laura Phelps-Sweatt bench pressing 300 pounds for a triple
For those that follow powerlifting, Laura Phelps-Sweatt is something of a living legend. Training both at her own gym and with Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell in Ohio, she is among the strongest women in the world. How strong? In the 181 pound weight class, she squatted 745 pounds, bench pressed 510 pounds, and deadlifted 529 pounds (according to the Southern Powerlifting Federation Website). You read those numbers correctly. A woman weighing less than 181 pounds squatted 745 pounds. She can also walk around her gym on her hands and sometimes competes in the 165 pound weight class. Amazing does not begin to describe Phelps-Sweatt.
Competitive powerlifting has two big factions in it – those who compete "equipped" and those that do not, often called "raw" lifters. Equipped competitors use tightly fitting suits, wraps, and shirts that store elastic energy in the in the joints that provide assistance to the lifter when handling heavy weights. Arguments over what is better, equipped or raw, are the fodder for endless arguments on the Internet. I will not go further into the subject, but it is important to realize that people who know how to properly use suits and wraps lift more than they would without the equipment. Phelps-Sweatt normally competes in the equipped divisions.
While some would suggest that the usage of suits somehow makes Phelps-Sweatt’s accomplishments less impressive, they need only watch a few videos of what she can do on her YouTube channel for that idea to be dispelled. With or without equipment this woman moves weights that routinely put men to shame. She literally works out with the men at Westside Barbell. If you happen to have a CrossFit Journal subscription, they produced a video article showing Phelps-Sweatt performing speed squats with a few of the other Westside lifters. Humbling doesn’t begin to describe it.
Phelps-Sweatt is not a lightweight. While I don’t know her exact height, I would be very surprised if she was much taller than 5′ 3", yet she weighs between 165 and 181 pounds and is quite lean. Muscular bodyweight is useful bodyweight. This is not to suggest that every woman should be shooting to weigh 180 pounds, but a few extra pounds of muscle is something to be welcomed, not feared.
When the bar feels heavy, I remind myself that Laura warms up with a lot more weight than I am using for my work sets. That often provides some extra motivation. Here’s to a strong February.