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Kate Connolly Interview

It was hard to miss the phenomenal lift that Kate did at the SFN Expo 2019 in September of this year breaking her own previous Log Press British Record and hoisting 90KG above her head. It was wonderful to watch and was a masterclass in how mindset can make or break a lift. Give it a watch and you will be on the edge of your seat willing that log to go above her head! So I thought it would be timely to meet up with Kate to have a chat about all things Strongwoman and how her career has progressed from the very beginning to how she handles training, programming and her mental health.

Tell us all about your British Log Press Record at the SFN Expo, how did it go?

Well, me being me I was very nervous when I arrived in the morning. Training in the few weeks before had been going well but as anyone will tell you, you can never be certain of how something will go on the day because training in a gym in your usual surroundings, with your usual set up, warm ups and rest periods, just to name a few, is a lot different to comp day when you don't know how much chance you will get to warm up, you don't know how long you will have to wait between the warm up and your first lift, and how short or long you will have to wait between lifts. 

My planned three lifts for the day were 82KG, 86KG, 88KG, then all going well, I would be allowed a 4th lift because the 86KG and 88KG would be new records and so I was hoping to finish on 90KG. 

I had to wait quite a while between warming up and my first lift because all but one other female had to do all their 3 lifts first because it was a rising bar (the weight on the bar is increased so everyone lifts in order of weight). My first lift at 82KG would win me the event, but to be honest I was only focusing on getting to 90KG. My first two lifts went well but because I was now lifting with the guys, I had very little time between my lifts. After my 86kg lift, it was me up again to do 88kg, so I literally only had a minute to rest and re-focus. The 88kg went up surprisingly easy considering the lack of rest. The next lift was the biggie. I had a few more minutes rest but ideally would have had a lot longer. The clean was great, the press...not great. The log went too far back and so I had to ditch it. There was no chance I was just walking away, I knew I was close, so I took a few seconds to get my breath back and tried again. Again, the clean felt fine...but the press took the log too far forward so I couldn't lock it out. I’d never even considered the option of going for a 3rd attempt. Trying a max lift 3 times is not something you see often. But I asked the ref how long I had left (you have a minute to complete the lift, although time is usually irrelevant in a max lift comp). He said I had 20 seconds left, so I knew I had time to go again, but it would be my last chance. Again the clean felt fine (which surprised me because I’d never cleaned 90KG three times in a minute before, for obvious reasons! You know pretty soon when you've pressed a log if it’s gonna go up...I knew straight away that this time I had got it right, but the relief when it finally locked out was indescribable. I was totally oblivious to it at the time, but if you watch the video of the 90kg attempts, you can hear the commentator give up hope after the 2nd attempt and then his amazement when I got it the 3rd time. Watching the video back is totally different to the actual experience. When I'm lifting I have total tunnel vision and I'm only aware of me, the weight and the ref. All the crowd disappears, nerves disappear, and I'm just focused on what I'm doing. When I watch videos of me lifting it never feels like I’m watching myself! 

How did you get into Strongwoman?

After I left school the only form of exercise I did really was running, but about ten years ago I injured my hip, so I couldn’t run. I had a gym membership so one day I thought I’ll have a go in the weights section. I went over, didn’t have a clue what I was doing and didn’t even enjoy it much to be honest. I didn’t know what weights I should be using, I didn’t know what technique I should be using, I didn’t know anything. I’d watch other people in the gym and just copy them, whether or not they were doing it right I didn’t know. Then fast forward probably a couple of years and almost every time I went to the gym someone would come over and ask me what I was training for or say “you’re really good” and so when people would ask what I was training for I’d say nothing. For reference it was Total Fitness, not known as a Strongma or bodybuilding gym, just a general fitness gym.  A few people suggested that I should compete but I didn’t know what options there were; I’d never heard of Powerlifting, but I’d heard of Strongman but assumed there was no female side to the sport. I started training with a lad, Adam, and he had done a bit of Strongman himself and he mentioned Strongwoman to me and he said I should start. So he found my first comp which was in Bolton in 2015.

How did you prep for your first competition?

Adam helped me through the training for that, but it was quite basic. The events could be trained in a regular gym and we only had a few weeks’ notice between finding out about this comp and then doing it. Mentally I didn’t give it any thought, I was very naive. I think ignorance was very bliss because I didn’t know anyone else competing, what the standard would be, if I’d be against five people or fifty people, I didn’t know if I’d be classed as good or s**t, it was a case of turn up and just do it. If I was good then great, if not then oh well. 

At the comp I had the strength required, but on the day nerves did get to me. On the first event there was an overhead press. I locked it out but I didn’t wait for the ref to tell me to put it back down. The ref did tell me literally just before we started to wait for the down command but nerves just took over and I forgot. It was an early lesson in being aware of the ref and waiting for their commands at the beginning and end of a lift. 

What is your favourite event? 

I think I’m meant to say log but the truth is I hate log but I think that’s because the better you are at something the harder it is to progress at it. For me to add an extra kilo can take literally months, whereas when you first start progress comes pretty quick. And I struggled with an arm injury for 12 months which held me back for a long time. So the Log may be my best but it’s not my favourite. I quite like Yoke at the minute but honestly my favourite event can change on a monthly basis depending on how it’s going!

Why do you think you’re so good at Log Press?

I think everyone has a lift that they excel at more than others and what the reason for that is I don’t know. Maybe it’s got something to do with genetics; a genetic predisposition to favour pressing, or pulling...or maybe it’s the one you subconsciously train more either because you enjoy it the most or because you seem to progress easier with that lift/event. I’ve got strong shoulders but I did used to do a lot of shoulder work when I started weight training because I enjoyed it the most. 

Do you have any worst events?

Definitely squats and atlas stones, I’m slow and not as strong as I should be. My head is a huge barrier for squats. I have a huge mental block. I have no confidence with the heavier weights. I'm slowly making progress but squats are definitely the most frustrating lift for me at the moment. Atlas stones can be equally frustrating. I won’t watch a fail video of atlas stones, I don’t watch a fail video of anything to be honest! I don’t want to see anyone fail anything. I don't need that image in my head! Atlas stones are probably one of the few events where you can’t bail out past a certain point, no one can spot you and no one can save you, it’s you and the stone and it can be very dangerous if something goes wrong.

Have you had any setbacks?

I’ve had a lot of problems with my lower back. It can put me out of heavy lifting for a few weeks which is frustrating because it brings progress to a halt and in a sport where you compete alone, it can be very upsetting because you feel like everyone else is training and getting better and you're going backwards. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve had problems with my arm, mainly due to bad technique on Log two years ago. I had to literally rest it for months and then start at the beginning again. But it’s turned out to be a blessing because my technique is now so much better; stronger, more efficient, and a lot less likely to give me any problems in the future.

Where do you train?

When I first started Strongman, I  did all my Strongman training at Break the Bar in Leigh but with it being an hours drive away I was limited to how often I could go. I started at Kaos (Kaos Strength Gym) when it opened in Preston a last year. Having a dedicated strongman gym only 20 minutes away has made training so much easier. I can train specifically for strongman nearly every day I train, instead of being limited to once or twice a week. You can definitely get good at Strongman just training it once or twice a week but being able to train it four or five days a week, even if it’s just a ten minutes play on an axle at the end of the session makes a big difference. My coach is Rhianon Lovelace. We also compete against each other which may seem like a strange set up, but it’s a testament to Rhi's love of the sport and her willingness to help others. 

What does your typical training week look like?

I train five days a week, depending on work depends on which days I train. Typically a session is an hour long so really not that long. Split wise I’ll do a deadlift day, two pressing days, a leg day and an events day. Rhi does all my programming, it takes all the stress and the worry away from me, wondering am I doing too much am I doing too little, am I doing the right things, am I going to heavy am I going to light. When we’re training together she often doesn’t even tell me the weight she just tells me how many reps, she takes all the questions out of my head, I can’t over think it I just do it. In the past I was very guilty of making a plan for myself before I went to the gym but then whilst I was there if it was going s**t  I’d just walk out of the gym! Whereas if Rhi has a plan and it isn't going to plan for some reason she’ll change the plan but still make it a successful workout. So it’s not always about doing more, as in weight or more reps, it can be ‘so you’re not feeling strong today so we’ll strip the weight back and work on technique’. You still benefit from a session instead of just going ‘well I can’t do it’ and then walking out and feeling s**t about it and then it snowballs.

What would be the number one piece of advice you would give someone either a newbie or a seasoned lifter?

For me my biggest barrier is my head, so from my own experience, I’d say if watching people and following people on social media encourages you then carry on, but if it makes you feel like you aren’t good enough or it makes you feel like you aren’t strong enough, or in any way makes you doubt yourself then don’t watch the videos and don’t follow the person. I’ve done that in the past and still do to a certain degree. I don’t always want to know how other people are getting on because it affects my head too much. Especially if I'm going through a bad phase. Other people are the complete opposite, I get that, they want to know exactly what everyone else is capable of and they’ll use that to motivate themselves; that is fine as well. But do what’s best for you. I purposefully took the beginning of this year off from competing. I didn’t do the qualifier for England’s so that I could focus on myself. I stepped back from everything to do with Strongman and had an open mind to never competing again. My head was a mess at the end of competing last year (2018) and I didn’t enjoy competing at all. At comps I was hating the whole day and I was just glad when it was over. I took a few months out, got Rhi doing my coaching, and focused on enjoying it again.

To anyone starting the sport I'd say consistency is key. Put the work in and don't give up when things go wrong. It’s taken me ten years of lifting and four years of doing Strongman to get to the point I'm at now. Some people will progress quicker, some slower, but the ones who make it in the end are the ones that don't quit. God that sounds cheesy but it’s true. I've had people tell me they're no good at the sport, but they've only been doing it a few months and they're comparing themselves to the best in the country, or even in the world. That wouldn't happen in any other sport. No one starts tennis and compares themselves to the top tennis players but for some reason in Strongman it happens a lot. Strongman in this country is growing a lot and the talent we have is amazing. There's about a dozen girls going to WSW this year, a few years ago it was one or 2! 

How has training affected your mental health?

I’ve always struggled with mental health, from anorexia, depression and anxiety. In terms of anorexia and eating, Strongman training has done me the world of good because it gives you a purpose, an actual need to eat and to fuel your body to get stronger. Also, the other thing about Strongman is you aren’t judged at all about your physique, no one cares what you weigh or how you look, people only care about what you can lift relatively to your weight. Someone might say to you ‘what do you weigh?’ not because they want to fat shame you or to decide whether you’re too heavy or to light it’s so they can reference your bodyweight to the weight you just lifted, it’s the only reason people might ask for your weight. In your normal day in society no one would go around saying ‘how much do you weigh?’ but in Strongman expect to be asked, how much do you weigh, what do you compete at are you under 63KG, are you under 82kg. They don’t care what you weigh as such, it’s just so that they can then compare the weights you’re lifting to your body weight.

With depression it can swing both ways, if I’m not feeling good a session can literally be the only reason I get out of bed and make me feel better. Equally if I don’t feel like I’ve got the energy to go to the gym my head can then mess with me and tell me that I’m lazy, that I’m s**t and I’ll never be good enough. On the whole I’d say Strongman has helped me because it’s very much a one man sport, no one else is lifting the weights for you so anything I do achieve is ultimately down to me. Although having said that, I have a great team around me which is equally important to my success. The negative side to Strongman is that if you do have to have time off for an injury or you miss a session, then progress stops. You can’t be improving whilst you’re not training. And you can’t get anyone else to train for you. That can mess with your head, well it does with mine.

I have realised in the last year that I can only affect how I do; I can’t have an influence on how my competitors are doing or how anyone else is doing, so I'm learning to not worry about them. If I get the best I can be it may or may not be good enough come comp day, but how everyone else does is out of my control. I can only control me.

Thank you to 100% C.A. Strongman Promotions for the for the cover photo and the video link to Rebecca Cumpsty (Facebook Page)