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Pulling your weight — or double

Pulling your weight — or double

Michelle Tedford July 22, 2019
UD's Powerlifting Club is raising the stakes — and the weight — by competing in national competitions.

Like many students, John Gutsmiedl sets personal goals: Eat healthy. Do well in class. Deadlift 600 pounds.

That last goal has him in good company among more than 40 members of UD’s Powerlifting Club, a club sport that started in 2011 and this spring sent 15 students to compete at the Collegiate National Finals, held in Columbus, Ohio.

Gutsmiedl graduated in May with a degree in computer science and three years of service on the student EMS squad. But back in high school, when he and his parents sat down at their home in Omaha, Nebraska, to whittle down his college choices, it was schools like UD with lifting clubs that made the short list.

weightlifters_img.jpgUD’s club started as a way to connect lifting buddies. As it grew, it formalized its structure and began assigning students as lifting officers to oversee trainings in RecPlex, helping members with form, technique, safety and training programs. Now, its members are among the most dedicated of the campus clubs.

“If I got them cots, they would sleep here,” said Jen Brandt, assistant director of fitness for Campus Recreation, whose office door is 2 feet from the bench press.

GutsmiedlGutsmiedl said he started lifting his freshman year of high school when he was a 95-pound football player. He soon realized he could outlift guys who were 20 pounds heavier. “I’m kind of good at moving a lot of weight,” said Gutsmiedl, who last summer came in first in his division in the United States Powerlifting Association National Championships in Las Vegas. His combined weight in three events: 1,328.3 pounds.

Lifting is a lifestyle, he said, with perks in the real world.

“My friends or my mom will say, ‘Can you carry this for me? It’s heavy,’” he said. “And I pick it up, and it’s not heavy at all.”

“I get that all the time,” agreed Emily Berkheimer, an exercise science major from Tinley Park, Illinois, who will graduate in December. She came in third in her class at the USA Powerlifting Midwestern Collegiate Cup, lifting 209.4 pounds in the squat event, bench pressing 126.7 pounds and deadlifting 225.9 pounds.

“I like breaking stereotypes,” said Berkheimer, who enjoys saying she can bench her weight. “They don’t believe me because I am this tiny 5-foot girl.”

Berkheimer on bench pressBerkheimer says the success of the club and its members gives her hope for it building toward a varsity sport with professional coaches to help lead members to even greater success.

“It will be cool to come back as an alumna and see what the club has accomplished,” she said.

Brandon Payne has done just that. A 2018 graduate in electrical engineering, Payne continues with the club both as a lifting coach and a club member pursuing his dual master’s degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering.

weightlifters2_img.jpg“As far as school goes — really, in anything — I’m a competitor,” said Payne, a Dayton native. “I try to be the first one done eating. I’m waiting on my girlfriend to get done, and I’m like, ‘Come on, let’s go.’

“You get instant gratification when you see in the weight room that you’re improving. On the next training cycle, I can see everything is getting a little bit easier to move, feeling a little bit stronger.”

Payne came into lifting as many do — through another sport. A former football player and current Flyer cheerleader, he introduced his girlfriend, Lauren Murray ’19, to the sport.

“It helps that she is a dietetics student and can now combine both the nutrition knowledge gained from school with the physical knowledge from working out,” he said. “She likes moving heavy weight and hitting personal records even more now, because she sees the improvement she’s made from when she started.”

Powerlifting is a sport where new athletes can make consistent improvement and seasoned lifters can refine their skills to hit new highs, Payne said.

And that’s what Payne achieved this April while competing in the 2019 USAPL Collegiate Nationals. At 228.4 pounds, Payne placed third in his class and seventh out of 500 male lifters. He ended the meet lifting 402.3 pounds at the bench press, 644.8 pounds on the squat and 755 pounds on deadlift, for a total weight nearly that of two polar bears. 


8 things to know about powerlifting

1) Lifting is about setting personal goals and implementing plans to achieve them
— not so much winning your weight class.


2) Individual lifting is also a team sport. You can always use a partner to spot you or cheer you on. “Even if you’re
not in the same program, you have a crowd who will support you,” John Gutsmiedl said.


3) It’s not just a man’s sport. Women tend to be stronger in the legs, so while they are shorter overall, they can lift more than their bodyweight. “It’s cool to see other girls working out in the weight room and throwing off that intimidation factor,” Emily Berkheimer said.


4) In competitions, weight is important, but technique even more so. “When you’re out at competitions, if you don’t get a certain depth (on your squat), your lift doesn’t count and you’ve just wasted that energy,” Brandon Payne said.


5) Bench is a full body exercise, not just a chest event. You have to use your back, legs, chest and triceps to move as much weight as possible.


6) There’s no magic diet all powerlifters should follow. “You can eat whatever you want as long as you’re staying on top of your lifts — and make your weight class,” Berkheimer said.


7) Having one bad day in the gym is not the end of the world. Don’t let yourself get discouraged.


8) Powerlifting is more than a sport — it’s a stress reliever. “I’ve had some of my best workouts at the end of busy weeks,” Gutsmiedl said.