Lara Sturm: CrossFitter and 2013 Pan Am Champion

Posted on 29 December 2013

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CrossFit affiliate owner and 2013 Pan Am champion powerlifter Lara Sturm wants CrossFitters to experience what it’s like to lift at a meet on the platform. “Much of what can qualify as a PR in the gym would not fly as a successful lift in a meet,” she says.  Sturm speaks from experience as she holds 13 state USAPL records within Georgia. And that’s only since 2012.

The former figure competitor had ACL replacement surgery on her left knee in 2005 after her very first figure show.  “Then, sometime in 2007 my knee started dislocating. My orthopedic said that my ACL had stretched out and the only way to address it was to have surgery again. I haven’t opted for surgery as it took a long time to recover from the first one and I lost inches of muscle. I also figured if it didn’t work the first time, why would I do it again?”

After Sturm’s first show she sought out the first place competitor’s trainer, started training with him, and soon began collecting trophies. “It was addicting. For a few years it was a huge part of my existence – every moment of every day between caring for my kids was going into cardio, training, food prep, and getting in that gallon of water,” Sturm says.

But Sturm soon started getting frustrated about her placement at national shows. “I remember my trainer consoling me by telling me how strong I was. I remember thinking that it didn’t matter since I was being judged on looks, not my strength. I started looking for another sport that judged athletes on performance. I kept hearing about CrossFit but it took me awhile to even try it as I was worried about my knee and how it would behave,” she says. In 2009, Sturm ended her five season figure show career and moved on to CrossFit, which is where she met her husband Dan.

“Dan was leaving his corporate job and was thinking CrossFit was what he wanted to do. I was still working as a personal trainer in a globo gym and once I started CrossFitting I knew I couldn’t be there anymore. It was like my eyes were open and every time I looked around it was a scene from ‘Awkward Gym Moments.’ Bad form was suddenly everywhere! So I maybe sped up Dan’s timeline by applying for our affiliate and starting to look for space. We’ve been open since February 2011, got married in December 2011, and it’s been quite a ride. We have close to 200 members and have seen so many people get stronger; it’s been pretty awesome,” Sturm says.

Heavy squat and deadlift days quickly became her favorite, so Sturm focused on powerlifts. “I decided to train for and compete in a local USAPL meet. I wanted to do a meet as a way to see where I really was with my one-rep maxes and my training is much more focused when I have an event in mind. I had been to Rippetoe’s Starting Strength seminar and thought it would be a bonus to compete,” she says.

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winner
“We are very fortunate to live close to Quest Gym in Duluth, GA; they are a national powerlifting mecca. I got hooked up with Josh Rohr to coach me since I wanted help with programming my training. Along the way I realized I needed help with correcting some form too. I’ve learned A LOT from working with Josh and have become a better coach myself for it,” Sturm says.

During Sturm’s first meet, she went 9/9 and set 8 new state records.

“After my first meet I really wanted to introduce other CrossFitters to competitive powerlifting. Lifting in a meet is a very different experience from performing a one-rep max in the box. Following the commands for each lift and needing two of the three judges to give you a white light for meeting the standards for each lift ensures your lifts are legit.”

“You get three – and only three – attempts for each lift: squat, bench press, and deadlift. The only real number that matters in the meet is the total of all three lifts. There is strategy involved; it’s a bad idea to just attempt a new PR three times. Successful lifters need to successfully perform as many of the 9 total attempts as possible with each lift adding to the overall total,” Sturm says

Sturm moved on to the Raw Nationals in Killeen, Texas in July of 2012, earning the Master’s silver with a 248 squat, 148 bench, and 292 deadlift. Her hopes were to use this to qualify for the Arnold, but her total wasn’t enough.  However, because she placed 2nd she was invited to be on Team USA for the IPF/NAPF Pan American Championships in the Classic (raw) division.

Several months later Rohr suggested Sturm be an equipped lifter in a meet where she would compete in bench only. “I thought since playing with the slingshot for bench was fun, a bench shirt would be fun too. WRONG!!! No one tells you it hurts like HELL. But through this experience I caught the idea that as an equipped lifter your technique has to be spot on to effectively use the gear. I wondered what it would feel like to squat and deadlift in gear.”

“The first time someone wraps your knees for support, you think ‘Ah, this is nice.’ But then when someone wraps your knees relatively tight – and I am saying like 7 out of 10 tightness – you think ‘HOLY ?!&%, MOTHER%@$!&#, GET IT OFF, GET IT OFF, GET IT OFF!!’ Your hamstrings and calves scream. But the next time isn’t as bad… and the time after that even better. Then with a little support, with squat suit briefs, you start feeling like maybe this could be cool. I do clearly remember though the first time with tight-ish wraps and straps up on the suit thinking ‘What? You want me to squat INTO the pain?’ But then I did, and it actually felt pretty sweet,” Sturm says.

Soon after, Sturm decided to try a meet in full gear, and entered the USAPL Women’s Nationals in May of 2013 in Orlando. “A week before the meet I strained an intercostal and it continued to worsen,” she says. “Three days before the meet I was a MESS and was ready to pull myself out. But I did what I could – including asking Kelly Starrett personally for advice – and I was able to get it almost back to normal before the meet. I set a National meet record for my squat at 347lb, bench pressed 185lb, and deadlifted 319lb. I took 3rd place in the Masters (40-49) 63kg weight division and took the podium next to powerlifting legends Jennifer Thompson (303lb raw bench!!) and Jennifer Gaudreau.”

“At the Women’s Nationals, I met the USA team captain for the Pan Am, Mike Zawlinski, and told him I was bummed that I was going back to raw lifting for the Pam Am. I felt like I was just learning to use the gear and it was fun. As it turns out, he had me on the equipped roster as well (for team placing) and took me off the classic roster. So I was all set to keep going with geared lifting, but it was only 5 or 6 more weeks out,” Sturm says.

Sturm says she learned that the hardest part about squatting over 350 pounds is getting the bar off the rack and walking it out to where you squat. “For the Pan Am, which happened to take place in the exact same hotel and even the same stage as the Women’s Nationals, I was able to clean up my walk-out and squatted 352lb. My bench press improved to 198lb with more in the tank, and my deadlift was 352lb.”

While training for the 2013 Pan Ams, Sturm changed her outlook to stay absorbed in the process rather than the outcome.  She decided to read Olympic Gold medalist Lanny Bassham’s book “With Winning In Mind,” which she says helped to keep her focused.

Sturm made all 9 out of 9 attempts at the Pan Ams and secured the Gold for Team USA in the Masters 63kg division.  She also won the women’s title of “Best Master’s Lifter.”

“Since then I decided to give myself to the “dark side” and continue to lift with gear, setting my sights on setting some more records and doing well at the USAPL Women’s Nationals in 2014. I have officially eaten my words, spoken after my first couple of raw meets that I believe were, ‘I’ll can never go geared, I’m a CrossFitter. I can’t do that!’ BUT, now that I have walked in the weightlifting shoes of a single-ply lifter, I can tell you something that Mike Zawlinski said to me once that stuck with me. He said: ‘There IS NOTHING like sitting at the bottom of a maximal squat with crazy-tight knee wraps and a squat suit.’ At the time, I didn’t know what he meant, but now I think he was right.”

Sturm recently found out that her bench press at the Women’s Nationals qualified her to represent Team USA in the 2014 IPF World Masters Bench Press Championships in Northumberland, Great Britian. Sturm says “I wanted to see Scotland with my husband and now I’ve got a really good excuse to get over that way.”

These days Sturm considers herself a powerlifter who came to the sport via CrossFit. The enthusiasm has spread to some of their members, who have also begun to compete.  In fact, CrossFit John’s Creek took 2nd place as a team in the last state championship and holds over 10 state records. Her husband, Dan, holds a state record in the squat and recently won a Silver medal at the USAPL Bench Nationals. Sturm has also helped Diane McKinney, a Masters CrossFit Games Competitor, to set two new American Records.

“Over the short time I have been involved in powerlifting I have been pleased to see the number of CrossFitters competing steadily increasing. I am very happy to see many CrossFitters among the lifters who are setting state and American records and making it to the podium at USAPL events,” Sturm says. Sturm continues to train at Quest Gym with Josh Rohr where another CrossFit affiliate owner and state-record holder, Lis Saunders, also now trains with his group.

In April of 2013 CrossFit John’s Creek hosted Powerlifting for Pink, a USAPL-sanctioned meet, in which Sturm was the Meet Director. The USAPL is the largest drug-tested Powerlifting federation in the United States. The meet was a fundraiser for Paint Georgia Pink, a local charity that helps breast cancer patients, and was geared for CrossFitters and first-time lifters. “We filled up the roster for a full day of lifting with 57 lifters; 45 of these were lifters competing in a powerlifting meet for the first time and 33 of the lifters were CrossFitters. As a fundraiser we were able to donate over $2,500 to PGP,” she says.

So how’s Sturm’s knee held up with all this lifting? “Squatting has made my knees pretty darn strong and I rarely have issues. Anyone who says squatting below parallel is bad for your knees should be shaken and slapped,” Sturm says.

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1 comment

  • Millie: April 11, 2015

    Finllay! This is just what I was looking for.

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