Powerlifter Caitlyn Trout holds the world record for the squat in her weight category (she’s 123 pounds and has lifted 391 pounds). Just a few weekends back, I witnessed her do three consecutive reps with 330 pounds at Juggernaut Training Systems’ Become Unstoppable Seminar in California. Like it was nothing! It’s absolutely incredible and a little unfathomable to me that she can do that at such a slight bodyweight.
Meanwhile, my best squat is currently 275 pounds. While that’s certainly nothing to sneeze at—it’s a Minnesota state record for my weight class of 148 pounds—Trout is next level. Probably the level after that, to be honest.
Here’s the even more incredible thing: She’s only been lifting weights for about three and a half years. Before that, she was a self-described “cardio fanatic,” running up to 10 miles a day.
Growing bored with that led her to powerlifting, as did the desire for more visible muscle definition. Within six months, she entered her first competition, and since then, her rise to the top of the world rankings has been meteoric.
That said, you don’t have to be an elite lifter to apply weighty wisdom to your own regimen. So I decided to pick her brain for advice for women of all experience levels, from those just getting started with strength training to those looking to maximize their strength gains. Below are four highlights from our conversation (which has been edited for space and clarity).
#1: Lifting Makes Life Better
Jen Sinkler: What are some reasons you think more women would benefit from lifting weights?
Caitlyn Trout: Women are really susceptible to low self-esteem and body-image issues. Lifting weights gave me a sense of empowerment, both physically and mentally.
As far as health benefits go, lifting builds lean body mass, shreds fat, increases your metabolic rate, strengthens tendons, builds bone density, and enhances performance for other sports. You look better, feel better, and I also find that working out makes me want to eat better, too, because of all of the hard work I put into it.
You apply the discipline that you build from following a program to other parts of your life, such as work and relationships.
Jen Sinkler: Yes, yes, yes! Being strong physically has a way of seeping into other parts of your life, doesn’t it?
Caitlyn Trout: Absolutely! Confidence changes everything.
#2: Conquer Obstacles at Your Own Speed
Jen Sinkler: Have you had any setbacks as a lifter?
Caitlyn Trout: I recently got over a sacroiliac (SI) joint injury [located in the back of the pelvis near the tailbone]. I had to take two months completely off of deadlifting because I couldn’t even move a single plate from the floor when it first happened. That has been my biggest challenge as a lifter so far.
Jen Sinkler: What caused the injury?
Caitlyn Trout: Heavy deadlifting from blocks that were dented [that is, she was pulling from a raised platform that was crooked]. Every time I would set the bar down and come up for another rep, the dents caused the bar to twist. On the third rep, I felt something pop. Then, like an idiot, I kept trying to push through it to finish my workout and of course that made things worse.
Jen Sinkler: SI joint injuries are the pits! I had one from repeatedly landing on my rear in rugby, and it sent pain down the back of one leg for quite some time. Acupuncture, craniosacral treatments, and massage helped me, as did strengthening my posterior chain. How did you treat yours?
Caitlyn Trout: Like you, I did a lot of posterior strength training—things that I could do without any pain. I went to the chiropractor weekly for therapy and adjustments and deep-tissue massage. Once I felt okay to deadlift again, I started with a plate and moved up from there each week.
Jen Sinkler: I’m glad you’re rocking again. How did you overcome the mental blocks that crop up after an injury?
Caitlyn Trout: Thanks, me too! Mentally, I didn’t cope so well at first—it took around five months to get back to where I was. I’m really competitive, so being injured killed me. I thought about just giving it up, which sounds so stupid now that I say it out loud.
But then I looked around at fellow lifters who have made it through much more dramatic injuries and realized that this was just a small bump in the road and that I needed to woman up. The biggest thing was that I told myself that I wouldn’t feel like this forever, that it was only temporary. I celebrated every little victory—when I used more weight, or could do something pain-free again—and left it at that, waiting until the next week to try more weight instead of rushing things.
#3: Don’t Bother with Buttheads
Jen Sinkler: Do you deal with stereotypes about women who lift weights? How do you handle those situations?
Caitlyn Trout: I’m not sure how I feel about being called a “beast” all of the time. I mostly ignore comments like that because I know people mean it as a compliment 90 percent of the time.
I am very rarely called manly or bulky, but the few times I have been, I just remind myself that these people are very closed-minded. I am the happiest I have ever been with myself, body-image wise, so how do their opinions matter, anyway? I never say anything back to combat these comments—it’s not worth the trouble or time.
Jen Sinkler: Good! That’s the way to go, in my opinion. It’s easy to want to battle it out, but when there’s so much positive to focus on, why bother with the dummies?
Caitlyn Trout: Exactly. There’s no reason to let one comment out of 100 good ones ruin your day.
#4: You Are Capable of Anything
Jen Sinkler: What is your core message? That is, what is it you want to share most with the world?
Caitlyn Trout: That a woman can do whatever she puts her mind to with some hard work and confidence, and if that includes lifting heavy friggin’ weights, then so be it!
Jen Sinkler is a longtime fitness writer and personal trainer based in Minneapolis who talks fitness, food, happy life, and general health topics at her website, jensinkler.com, and writes for a variety of national health magazines. Earlier this year, she authored Lift Weights Faster, an e-library of over 130 conditioning workouts for fat loss, athleticism, and overall health.
Jen works with clients at The Movement Minneapolis, a facility that uses biofeedback-based training techniques. She is a certified kettlebell instructor through the RKC (Level 2) and KBA, and an Olympic lifting coach through USA Weightlifting; she also holds coaching certifications through Primal Move, Progressive Calisthenics, CrossFit and DVRT (Ultimate Sandbag).