Antoinette Kriel has done South Africa proud by winning the World Powerlifting Championship in her weight class. Health24 caught up with her and asked her how she does it.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
“I live with my partner and coach Andrew Anthony. Andrew and I opened up the 5E CrossFit, weightlifting and powerlifting gym in Parktown, Johannesburg at the beginning of the year.”
When did you start Powerlifting and why did you choose this specific sport?
“My first powerlifting competition was in March 2013 - the first SAPF (SA Powerlifting Federation) South African RAW (unequipped) Powerlifting Championships. I started training specifically for it around August 2012; so I am really still just a baby in the sport
In 2012, I was training for CrossFit when I became very ill. Once I recovered, I was very weak and my coach/partner and I decided I needed to regain my strength first before taking up CrossFit again. I needed a goal to train for and we decided to enter the SA RAW Powerlifting Champs the following year. It turned out that I was quite good at it and more importantly that I loved it!”
What other competitions/championships have you won?
“I have won my weight divisions (52kg and 57kg) as well as Best Female Lifter for two years in a row at the South African RAW Powerlifting Champs 2013 and 2014. I have also won Gauteng RAW Bench Press Champs 2013 and South African RAW Bench Press Champs 2014, both in the 57kg category.”
What are the dangers of Powerlifting and have you injured yourself badly?
“As with any sport there is always a risk of injury, which can be minimised through proper technique, proper training and recovery. I have never had any really bad injuries; only niggles which have been sorted out by going to the physio, biokineticist or chiropractor.”
Antoinette Kriel in action at the Championship
Can anyone do this sport and what are the benefits?
“Absolutely anyone can do the sport and I would encourage especially women to take up the sport. Not only is it physically empowering to be and feel strong, but there are also many health benefits to lifting heavy weights such as combating bone density decline - a particular problem for many women.
It is also so mentally empowering to work for and achieve those Personal Bests (PB). Powerlifting is also a Paralympic sport so people with disabilities can also take part. This consists of one lift only, the bench press.”
Read:How fit must you be for weightlifting?
Do you do any other types of exercise?
“On certain days I do a bit of aerobic work and metabolic conditioning with the more explosive weightlifting moves.
During certain parts of the year I will also do some gymnastics. Gymnastics is an excellent way to keep me agile and to ensure the body is well balanced.
Lastly, I do get a fair bit of exercise while coaching our CrossFit classes at our box 5E CrossFit in Parktown, Johannesburg, where I jump in during the WODs (Workout of the Day) to make sure everyone maintains proper technique and understands why we do certain exercises.”
Read: Everything you need to know about CrossFit
What is your diet like, and do you supplement? If so, with what?
“I have just started a mass gain diet as I want to get my weight up to a solid 59/60kg which will be a good training weight for me competing in the 57kg category. This means that I'm eating a lot these days.
I try to stick to a very specific diet that will give me specific quantities of protein, carbohydrates and fats. I don't eat red meat so my protein consists of fish and chicken, and I eat mostly complex carbohydrates such as butternut and sweet potato.
On this diet I mostly drink my greens because I just don't have the capacity to eat so much solid food! Having just finished a major competition I am 'recycling' my training and have also, at the same time, come off all supplements, such as creatine.
I will probably start again in a couple of months. I normally take a creatine mix that my partner and I mix ourselves, glutamine, BCAA’s and Omega 3.”
Read: A structured diet and exercise plan is best for shedding pounds
What does a typical week of training look like?
“In my current phase of training I am training the powerlifting lifts (deadlift, squat and bench press) three days per week. For two days in the week I do active recovery work and for another two days I rest completely or just do some light mobility work.”
Do you set personal goals and records and does this work for you?
“Yes, I set personal goals but I have learned to not cast them in stone as the body works on its own rhythm.
No matter how much you may want to squat or bench or deadlift a certain weight by a specific time, the body doesn't always respond to training in the way you expect it to or things happen that derail progress for a while, which means you've got to be prepared to adjust expectations without thinking you're a failure because you didn't reach your goal.
Personal goals are useful but you've got to work with them in the right way otherwise they can mess with your mind.”
Read: Growth-promoting hormones don't stimulate strength
What are your goals for the next championship?
“My goal for each competition is to lift and compete better than the previous one; to try to have a flawless performance, get 9 out of 9 lifts and no red lights. If this also means I get competition PB's in some or all of my lifts then it's a bonus. If my lifts on the day are good enough to get me a podium position then it's a double bonus.”
What goes through your mind right before you attempt a lift in competition?
“I don't think much before a lift, I go into automatic action mode, getting the set up just right and then wait for the commands in the squat and bench. I definitely don't think of the weight I'm about to lift - you can give me 20kg or 120kg at that point in time and I'll attack both with equal effort.
Watch: How to do the perfect squat
I know I have certain things I say to myself before each lift. For instance, during a squat I'll say 'make it easy,’ meaning take it off the rack strong. In the bench I'll say 'drive' emphasising the drive off the chest. In the deadlift I'll remind myself to 'keep tight' as I am a bit lazy in this regard in the deadlift.”
What challenges do you face as a female powerlifter?
“I think maybe the biggest challenge I see as a female powerlifter is to combat the misconception out there that if you lift heavy weights you will get massive muscles and look like a female version of Arnold Schwarzenegger. This stops a lot of women from entering the sport and it is total nonsense.
Yes, of course you are going to gain muscle but not to the degree that you look like a bodybuilder. The training is totally different to bodybuilding training for a start and most women don't gain muscle as easily as men do anyway!
Antoinette preparing to bench press
Read: A bodybuilder's diet
I would like more and more women to enter the sport because a) I think it is a brilliant and very accessible sport to get involved in and b) it means the competitive field grows bigger which is always good for pushing up standards.
I know other female lifters who train in 'conventional' gyms sometimes get patronised by male gym goers, but I am lucky enough to train at my own gym where weightlifters, powerlifters and CrossFitters respect each other's achievements and hard work, and don't worry about the gender thing. We even have women at my gym squatting more than some of the men!”
What advice would you give someone who's looking to get into powerlifting?
“I'd say try to find a gym that is powerlifting-friendly, with the right equipment and with people and coaches who can help you with proper technique and training advice. Start out right and you will make life a lot easier for yourself.”
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