An Interview With Becca Swanson: The World's Strongest Woman!

The world's strongest women takes a few moments to answer questions about what she has accomplished, how, and what her future goals are.

[ Q ] Can you tell us about yourself? 

A: I had graduated from UNL in 1998 with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. But the desire to be a powerlifting athlete took over and now I own a gym with my coach (Rick Hussey), Big Iron Gym in Omaha, NE.

[ Q ] What are your best lifts?

A: 843 lb squat, 501 lb bench and 650 deadlift, my best total is 1912 lbs.

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[ Q ] Any comments about the first time benching 135, 225, 315, 405, 500 etc?

A: I started out as such a weak bench presser; it took me a year to bench 135 lbs!! No joke! I was training every week, twice a week, light bench day, heavy bench day.

It took another 7 years to bench 405. This lift has really been my nemesis. Once I crossed the 400 barrier, the 500 lb bench press came so fast, it was unreal!

[ Q ] How important are training partners to you?

A: Training partners are a must. You must have consistent training partners with your same goals. They learn your patterns; they learn what key words are important to remind me of good form. They are the reason Rick and I keep Big Iron Gym alive, they are priceless!!

[ Q ] What inspired you to become one of the greatest powerlifters?

A: I really don't work off of inspiration. I work off of goals. I found myself close to some world records in 2001. My coach, Rick and I focused on capturing records. Then breaking barriers, 1600 lb total, 1700 lb total, 700 lb squat, and 800 lb squat. I am the greatest female powerlifter because of my 8 year consistent persistance!

[ Q ] Can you tell us about your training routine?

A: I do heavy bench and chest assistance on Monday. Shoulders are on Tuesday. Heavy deadlifts and back assistance work on Wednesday. Tricep and bicep workouts are on Thursday. Friday off. Saturday is heavy squat along with quad and hamstring assistance. Sunday is off.

We train 4 weeks of heavy 5's, 3 weeks of heavy 3's, 3 weeks of heavy 2's, and then max two weeks before a meet, train heavy into the meet, but no max until the meet.

[ Q ] What are the biggest mistakes that beginners make when trying to get a bigger bench press?

A: Sacrificing form for weight. Putting a bunch of weight on the bar, bouncing it off your chest and lifting your butt. What are you thinking? Learn correct form before trying to be good at something. Back the weight down and do each rep correctly. It will come.

What NOT To Do:

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[ Q ] What is your advice for beginners (Under 225 benchers), intermediate (315), Advanced over 500?

A: All levels need to pick your goals within reason. After you bench 500 lbs, don't look for 600, look for 530, then 560, etc. 600 will come.

[ Q ] Who do you think is the greatest bencher ever?

A: The greatest bench presser I have ever seen is Scot Mendelson. He has beautiful form. He executes his lifts with great precision and explosive power.

[ Q ] Do you have any advice about how to choose a shirt, the differences, improving the arch, etc?

A: Practice at setting the bar low, where your rib cage splits. In order to do this you must work on a good arch and driving the bar straight up. A good arch can be attained over time with weekly practice. I set my arch up, then wiggle my toes back as far as I can. This way I can feel my lower back squeezing down by my waist.

My best bench presses have been executed when I feel really tight and sturdy in my entire back. These things take time, don't give up on them. If you tend to set the bar high, you should stay in polyester. If you can set the bar low, you will work well in denim. A lot of lifters work good with denims, I do not. I need the spring I get from a polyester to execute a powerful lift.

[ Q ] What makes the difference between an average lifter and a champion?

A: A true champion would do anything to get their workout in; an average lifter will miss workouts. A true champion will not brag about accomplishments, they will be asked. A true champion encourages others to excel to his or her level, and thrives off the motivation.

[ Q ] What are some of your most memorable/craziest powerlifting experiences?

A: The first time I competed at the Arnold Classic, I don't know what came over me. I had some sort of panic attack while warming up for squats.

My opener was 685 and 665 crushed me in the warm-up room. My coach was yelling, "What is going on?" My eyes were blurry, my heart was racing and I was breathing hard, aka panic attack!

Well, I went out there and squeeked out my first lift. From there it just got better and better and better and better. I got personal records in all lifts and in the end broke into the 1700's.

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[ Q ] What goes through your head before destroying a huge weight?

A: Generally, I do not know what is on the bar. It is nice to have a coach that you trust 100%. We rarely discuss numbers; he knows what I can and cannot do.

What goes through my head? Keywords. Tight back, tuck elbows, set low, straight up. Other than that I tell my self if I get this lift I will have a chance to break this barrier and that total barrier.

Each lift is so important to get the total I need to improve from last meet. I constantly remind myself of that.

[ Q ] What does your diet consist of? 

A: Mostly food. Every once in a while I will have a small child or animal, but only when I have a big workout the next day. Truly, I lift best at 240, so I have to eat and eat whatever I can get my hands on. I just make sure that protein is a big part of the program. And lots of water.

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[ Q ] What are your future goals?

A: Oh, I think I will wait for another girl to climb towards my total. Then get back in the sport and race to 2000 total. Can a girl have a little fun?

[ Q ] What do you think is the most important factor when trying to get a bigger bench press? 

A: Heavy, heavy tricep/lockout work!

[ Q ] How does it feel being stronger than most of the men who powerlift?

A: Oh, well, yes this is a fact I simply cannot deny (smile). Yet, I don't think this way. So, it doesn't really feel anything. When someone mentions it I guess I do get a big old grin.

[ Q ] Do you do any carder?

A: Nope.

[ Q ] Is there anything else you would like to tell our Readers? 

A: I am on a break right now. I had bilateral bicep surgery on June 23rd. The left tore in March after the Arnold. I was deadlifting 600 for reps and my left side got out in front of me and I pulled it back, there went the biceps. I was on rep 6 or 7. Damn, I never do stupid shit like that, go figure! I kept training heavy, reps up to 500 with no gear, which is what tore down my right bicep. Then 7 weeks later the right side went.

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