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An Interview with Julia Ladewski

Written on January 31, 2008 at 1:36 pm, by Eric Cressey

By: Eric Cressey

We’re back with another interview this week – and it certainly won’t disappoint.  Those of you who haven’t heard of Julia Ladewski need to seek out everything she writes, as she’s one of the brightest young stars in the strength and conditioning community.  Keep an eye out for great things from her in the months and years to come!

EC: Hi Julia; thanks for being with us today.  For our readers who don’t know you, could you please fill them in a bit on your background and what you’re doing now?

JL:  Currently, I’m a Strength Coach at the University at Buffalo, in Buffalo, NY.  I graduated from Ball State with a degree in Exercise Science where I also spent time working with the varsity athletes (baseball, volleyball, gymnastics, track & field).  From there, I spent a summer at Athletes’ Performance in Tempe, AZ where I continued to work with college athletes, as well as youth and professional.   After that I came out to Buffalo, where I’m going on my fifth year as Assistant Strength Coach.

I am also a competitive drug-free powerlifter, squatting 463, benching 240, and deadlifting 424 in the 132-pound weight class.   And in my “free” time, my husband and I train high school kids of various sports.

EC: Now, you started out at Ball State, which is well known for producing some outstanding lifters and coaches.  What is it about Ball State?  Something in the water?  And, how the hell did that schmuck Robertson manage to get in?  I heard his father teaches there, so that must have had something to do with it.  But I digress…the floor is yours!

JL:  Ball State, first of all, has one of the top Biomechanics labs in the country, formerly headed by Dr. Robert Newton.  Dr. William Kramer also used to be there, so it has a tradition of serious biomechanics research, which in turn breeds super smart students, who become awesome strength coaches.  I have no idea how Robertson ended up there.  I had the unfortunate “privilege” of being on the powerlifting team with him while I was there.   And I can say this about that team… Other than it being good ol’ Mid-Western, Indiana water, it was started by Justin Cecil, who himself was a great lifter and coached many of us to National Championships.  His intensity and desire to be the strongest team was imbedded in us whenever we trained.  It’s like Westside Barbell… strong breeds strong.  And that’s what we were…. STRONG!

EC: You’re a highly successful female in a sport that has traditionally been dominated by males.  How has your path to success in powerlifting been different in light of your gender?

JL:  First of all, I owe it all to the females before me that paved the way.  Once I fell in love with the sport, I wanted to be the best, to be #1.  It’s about stepping out of your comfort zone and surrounding yourself with people who are strong and supportive.  Most of those people are males.  If you’re fortunate enough, you’ll have some other females to train with.  (I have only 1 female training partner.)  So it’s setting standards higher than the public sees.  Most people think women are supposed to lift 5 pound dumbbells and run on the treadmill all day.  But stepping out of that stereo type has not only allowed me to be successful in powerlifting, but also make me a successful strength coach.  For me, it’s motivating to know that there’s only a handful of women in the history of the sport that have done what I’ve done.  And being a part of that history keeps me wanting to lift more and more.

EC: Thus far, we’ve focused primarily on you as a lifter, but you’re also a strength and conditioning coach at the University at Buffalo.  How has your experience as a lifter made you a better coach?

JL:  Eric, powerlifting is a huge part of my coaching career.  Here’s why… Strong breeds strong.  Ok, so my athletes don’t need to be ‘powerlifter’ strong, but they do need to get stronger.  Being a strong female has allowed me to gain the respect of the athletes I work with, especially males.   They listen to me when I help them squat because they know I have had success in that.  It has also allowed me to be proficient in exercise technique and program design.  If I could give advice to someone wanting to be a strength coach, or how to get better in your field, it would be to workout and get stronger.

EC: I know you and I have discussed the problems we encounter with female athletes at length; why don’t you fill the readers in on the problems you face as a coach in this regard?

JL:  The problems are so extensive that I could write an entire book on it.  But to keep it simple, here are the most prominent issues.

1. Knock-knees – females knees buckle in severely when squatting, jumping, landing, lunging, etc.  It has to do with the Q angle of their hips and (the thing that can be corrected) weak glutes.

2. Over-dominant quads – females tend to use more quads, less hamstring and glutes for all activities.  This leads to patella femoral problems.  So, strengthening the hamstrings and glutes has to be a staple of their program.

3. Not wanting to get “bulky” – I hate that word, Eric.  It’s so stupid.  I’ve been lifting consistently (heavy) for 10 years and I have yet to “bulk up”.  Without going into too much detail, as women, it’s going to be extremely difficult for you to grow man muscles due to your low testosterone levels.  So with my athletes, after they have been lifting for a year or so, and I’ve instilled some confidence in them that they won’t get “bulky”, then they really start to buy into the program, they get really strong and their athletic performance takes off!

(Note from EC: Julia and I are actually going to be publishing an e-book together on this very topic in light of our extensive experience with training female athletes at all levels.)

EC: How about ordinary female weekend warriors?

JL:  As I mentioned above, most female recreational lifters, who are lifting just to stay healthy and ward off the body fat, don’t want to get big.  So they use light weight, high reps and they use the same exercises over and over and over again.  And they wonder why their progress stalls!  You must constantly use new exercises to provide a stimulus for the muscles to grow.  And hopefully we all know by now that muscle burns fat, so it’s ok to build muscle!   Weekend warriors have the same knee problems that athletes have, more so the weak glutes part.  They can’t use their glutes effectively when, for example, picking up something around the house, so they use their back muscles and they end up with back pain.  The list goes on, but those are the main things.

EC: What are some exercises that you think all women (assuming they’re healthy) need to be doing?

JL: I think all women should be doing squats and deadlifts.  They are great total-body exercises that give you the most bang for your buck – especially for most women who are in a time crunch when it comes to working out.  You could knock out some squats and deads and get what you need lower body-wise from those two exercises.  Of course I always recommend doing single leg exercises as well.  But those two are the Granddaddy of ’em all!

EC: Who has had the biggest influence on you as a lifter and a coach?

JL:  Well, I would say that my husband, Matt, has had the most influence on me as a lifter and coach together.  If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have began or stuck with the sport of powerlifting.  He also supported me when I decided to change majors and pursue a career that I loved, where he challenges me daily to learn more and more.

But independently from Matt, I would say Louie Simmons (and Westside) have had the biggest influence on me as a lifter.  When we lived closer to Columbus, we traveled out there quite often to learn from the best.  Remember, strong breeds strong!

As a coach, I can’t say that I can narrow it down to one person.  Most importantly, the people that I have worked with and under have shaped me the most.  Mark Verstegen, Cheyenne Pietri and Buddy Morris have all had impacts in my coaching career.  Most of all, I have learned how to develop my own coaching style and each of these men have brought something to the table.

EC: On a semi-related note, let’s go with a word association game; what’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say:

Buddy Morris

JL:  I gotta keep this short, huh?  😉  Ok, ok.  Buddy has forgotten more things thant most people will ever learn.  He’s been in the business for 25 years.  Love working with him.

EC: Louie Simmons

JL:  Powerlifting icon.  He’s taught me so much and is willing to help ANYONE!

EC: Curves

JL:  Need I comment?  Fine…  Curves is ruining the women’s fitness industry.  Don’t get me wrong, those women working out are at least doing something.  But if they only knew…

EC:  Buffalo Winters

JL:  Not as bad as you think.  Everyone thinks of the couple years they got 8 feet of snow in a week.  It’s not like that every year.

EC: The Chicago Cubs

JL:  ROCK!!!  I know, we have a good season every once in a blue moon, but I love ‘em!  (I’m a Chicago native.)

EC: Last but not least, what are some of your top resources (books, manuals, DVDs) that you feel all lifters and coaches should have:


1. Supertraining by Mel Siff

2. Magnificent Mobility DVD – Eric Cressey & Mike Robertson

3. Science and Practice of Strength Training: 2nd Ed. – Zatsiorsky and Kraemer

4. Any Russian Manual – Verkhoshansky (among others)

5. High Low Sequences of Programming and Organizing Training – James Smith

6. The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual – Eric Cressey

This is by no means a complete list, but they are items I refer to most often.

EC: Thanks for taking the time to be with us today, Julia.  Where can our readers find out more about you?

JL:  Check out the new website at www.LadewskiStrength.com.  I have a free newsletter for which you can sign up, articles, products, and other stuff.  You can email me directly at julia@ladewskistrength.com.   Thanks, Eric!  We’ll have to do this again sometime!

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