Interview With Suzanne Mikolay of Tampa Barbell Interviewed By Ben Tatar of CriticalBench.com - June 2009
This is Ben Tatar from Critical Bench and I am here with Suzanne right now. Suzanne is new to powerlifting but quickly becoming a force in the sport.
CRITICAL BENCH: Suzanne, thanks for the interview opportunity, we're fired up to get started. Please give us some background information about yourself.
I grew up in Sleepy Hollow, NY 30 miles outside of NYC. I lived there for 18 years and came down to Florida to attend the University of Tampa, where I studied biology. I graduated in 2006 and there was no way I was leaving this beautiful weather to go back to the snow. As far as my athletic background, I started swimming competitively at the age of six and swam thru my senior year of college. That's 16 long years! Currently I am back in school getting my bachelors in nursing. I have a Rat Terrier named Misty and she is quite crazy. I currently live in St. Petersburg, FL and train at Tampa Barbell and Lifestyles.
CRITICAL BENCH: What was your childhood like?
I was always very active and loved being outdoors. I lived in NY with my parents and younger twin sisters. My parents could not get me to sit still. Like most children I hated school. I joined a swim team, which took up most of my free time. By the time I finished high school I was swimming double practices six days a week. All my friends were from my team because I never had the time to hang out at the mall or go to the movies like every other normal teenager did. It never seemed to bother me much because I got such a thrill out of competing and trying to improve. I also figure skated for about 8 years and played softball in high school for fun.
CRITICAL BENCH: Sounds like you had a very active childhood. How did you get involved in powerlifting?
In college I started lifting weights in hopes of getting stronger and becoming a faster swimmer. After I graduated from school I continued to workout at Lifestyles to stay in shape and to look good of course. I missed competing a lot though, especially the motivation you receive when you train with others who are trying to reach similar goals.
When I met my boyfriend Mike Schwanke he introduced me to a whole other world of competition. I attended my first powerlifting meet and pretty much fell in love with the sport. I started training at Tampa Barbell with Mike and about fifteen other helpful and motivating guys. Tommy Fannon was nice enough to let me train at his gym. In October 2008 I did my first meet. I did really well and hit 8 out of my 9 lifts and had a lot of fun. Since the first meet I have competed in a total of 5 meets. I did well in all of my meets and they were a lot of fun and I very much enjoy them whether competing or watching others do well. Too bad there are not more meets in my area!
Training with Mike is like no other experience in my background of athletics. He has taught me everything I know about power lifting and benching. From proper form, how to wear the equipment, breathing techniques, and how a meet is run. I love training with him because I push myself a lot harder and train for a longer period of time. Sometimes it is hard to keep up and by the end of the workout I am so drained that I feel sick to my stomach. As far as competitions go it is nice to have the Tampa Barbell team there to help me out and coach me through warm up and the entire meet so I am ready to lift my absolute best. Watching others on the team compete is extremely motivating and it is a privilege to compete with them at meets.
CRITICAL BENCH: It seems like you have learned so much and so fast. Suzanne, what are the 10 most important things that you have learned when it comes to getting a bigger bench press?
10-Push through your heels because it will help to drive the bar up
9-Do plenty of tricep work to help with lockout
8-The bigger the arch in your back the better, the distance is shortened
7-Feet position under the bench need to be on point
6-Wrist wraps can help you hold more weight but you have to make very tight to the point where you can't feel your hand
5-Bands are a really good training technique to help you get stronger
4-"The pause" at the bottom of the lift, I never knew about that. I thought I could bounce it off my chest
3-A shirt when worn correctly really has the potential to add about 100lbs to your bench
2-Believe in yourself and you can achieve more then u think
And the #1 most important thing I have learned when it comes to getting a bigger bench is:
1- REST REST REST!!!-------don't do anything too strenuous the week before the meet, take it easy and allow your body to rest and recover.
CRITICAL BENCH: Great advice. How do you like powerlifting compared to the other sports that you have participated in like figure skating or swimming?
I really like powerlifting a lot! It sure beats having your head under water for 2 hours straight or dieting and doing 2 hours cardio a day for 3 months. It's fun being able to train with a team that is extremely supportive but at the same time when I compete I am on my own and I control my own destiny. Powerlifting is quite different then anything I have tried before. It does not matter how fast you do the lift, what matters is lifting more weight and doing the lift correctly. I look forward to the days I train at Tampa Barbell. When I lift heavy in practice or in meets I get a thrill and something makes me want to keep pushing harder. Hitting a personal record is the icing on the cake that makes all the hard training worth while. Powerlifting also helps motivate me to eat right and stay in shape.
CRITICAL BENCH: What a powerlifting story! I love it! You and Mike Schwanke are one of the "World's Strongest Couples," how do you like that for a nickname? Anyways, away from being the one of the strongest couples in the world, what do you and Mike like doing away from powerlifting?
Lots and lots of massages! Lifting all those heavy weights really takes a toll on your body and causes all that lactic acid build up. We also take a lot of Epsom salt baths; they really help out on sore muscles. On a more serious note we like to go out to dinner or catch a movie. We go shopping at Walmart and Target or figure out what meet to sign up for next. A lot of our time together is spent at the gym and on off days we are both exhausted so we just hang out and relax.
CRITICAL BENCH: What are your best lifts thus far and what are your future goals?
My best competition lifts are squat 450lbs, bench is 250lbs, and my dead lift is 353lbs, giving me and 1050lbs total.
My future goals are squat 475, bench 265, pull 375, and total 1100. I hope to accomplish those at my next meet. As far as long term goals 500 squat, 275 bench, and just to become really good.
For long term I would like to get the American Junior Bench press record. Outside of lifting I would like to finish nursing school, eventually get my Master's and become a nurse practitioner.
CRITICAL BENCH: Wow, you are young, yet so mature and humble. What is your favorite and least favorite thing about powerlifting?
My least favorite thing has to be all those marks the equipment leaves all over my body. The bench shirt is the absolute worst. I leave the gym with bruises and burns on the back of my arms from where the shirt rubbed my skin raw. Sometimes it hurts to put my arms down after a workout. But the pain is well worth it being the shirt added about 80lbs to my bench.
My favorite thing about powerlifting is being able to lift a lot more weight then most guys. I also enjoy training with an awesome, motivating, and encouraging group of guys that are all concerned about my success.
CRITICAL BENCH: What was your first impression when you found out what a bench press shirt was? How were you taught to get it on? How have you liked using the shirt compared to not using the shirt?
When I found out what a bench shirt was and that just learning to use it would help improve my bench tremendously I was anxious to buy one. The only way to get it on is to have someone very strong pull it from behind at the same time you kick your arms backwards. The shirt is definitely better then no shirt, of course because it helps you lift more. The shirt changes your form a lot though and you are forced to bench correctly. Shirts help to keep everything tight and even though they are extremely painful at the bottom of the lift it gives you all the more reason to push the weight up off your chest to make that pain go away.
CRITICAL BENCH: That's awesome, love your description. What's your diet like? Do you eat a lot so that you have energy for your strenuous workouts?
I eat lots of protein, since that is what the muscles need to recover and repair. Steak and ribs are probably my favorite. Also you got to have carbohydrates, they are yummy and give you energy. I try not to eat too much sugar and saturated fats, but every now and then I like to indulge in some Publix cake. I eat a lot more then most guys I know, guys that don't workout that is. Also, I always eat 6-8 meals per day everyday.
CRITICAL BENCH: What makes you happy? What are your fears? What is your favorite thing about yourself?
Power lifting makes me happy, meets especially. Whether watching or competing they are very motivation. I also enjoy watching other people on my team succeed and do well. It only motivates me more. I also look forward to all of my training days. The atmosphere at Tampa Barbell is just incredible and I love training there. My family, friends, and rat terrier Misty also make me happy. Of course, my boyfriend Mike always brings a smile to my face and makes a bad day better.
My fears are: not succeeding and becoming a failure both in life and in the sport of powerlifting.
My favorite thing about myself is that I don't give up with whatever it is I am trying to achieve and I respect people and would never use anyone.
CRITICAL BENCH: You know yourself well. What supplements do you take and who do you look up to in the Iron Game?
Before bed most nights I take GABA, my FAVORITE supplement!
In the Iron Game I look up to Margaret Kirkland. I competed with her in several my meets. She is lighter then me and so much stronger. It is amazing to watch her lift the amount of weight she does.
CRITICAL BENCH: So far what has been the most intense moment that you have experienced in powerlifting and seen in powerlifting?
Well the most intense moments away from myself would have to be seeing a spotter getting his hand crushed by about 600lbs. I was sick to stomach and happy I was not lifting after that. And one other would have to be watching my boyfriend Mike squat 1003lbs, I think that is a tremendous amount of weight and it is amazing how anyone could even hold that never mind go down and break parallel.
My most intense moment was when I benched 231lbs in my last meet. I had never even held that much in my hands and that fact that I was able to push the weight up and lock it was amazing.
CRITICAL BENCH: Feats of strength and injuries are always intense! When you lift as much as you do, do you shock yourself? What goes through your mind?
Well lately I have been shocking myself with my improvements. It's funny how proper form and the right equipment can really add on pounds to your lifts. When I lift I think about my technique and how bad I want to lift the weight. I just think about how excited and happy I will be getting it and that drive makes me push especially hard in meets.!
CRITICAL BENCH: How do you see your future in powerlifting? What types of unequipped and equipped benches do you foresee?
My future in powerlifting looks good right now. I really enjoy and do not see myself every getting tired of it. As long as I have Mike to encourage me and others to help me out and coach I will continue to compete. I would like to bench 275lbs in the next year. For raw bench 200lbs would be nice.
CRITICAL BENCH: I'm sure your support staff will be right there behind you to see some amazing things happen. Tell us about the gym you train at and how do you like training there?
I train at Tampa Barbell and it is AWESOME! Everyone there is so nice and always offering to help me in many ways. They are great to train with and very motivating. Everyone is there for the same reason, to lift more and achieve your goals. I look forward to the two days per week I train there.
CRITICAL BENCH: How would you compare the comradery in powerlifting with that of other sports you've played?
Well the people are all nice and supportive and my teammates and complete strangers alike want me to succeed. I enjoy having a complete stranger cheering me on during one of my lifts. I also compete in a figure competition September 2008 and I felt as though the only one that cared about my success was in the entire crowd was Mike. Figure was less of a team sport and more of an "every man for themselves." I definitely enjoy powerlifting and the support I receive a lot more! . It is pretty similar to other sports.
CRITICAL BENCH: Well it has been great talking to you. Any message you would like to give out to other female lifters or lifters in general? Any thanks?
Just that we need more female lifters so we can start competing in weight classes instead of coefficients.
I would like to thank Critical Bench for interviewing me considering I am still very new to the bench and powerlifting world. I would like to thank Tommy Fannon for letting my train at his gym and all his help. And I would still not know what a bench shirt was if I hadn't met Mike and if he had helped me get started. Also want to thank Sam, Trent, Mike W., Gearman, Tom, Dave, Corey and cannot forget my training partner Sara, for going out of there way to spot, coach, and help me out in the gym.
CRITICAL BENCH: Thank you so much for the awesome interview, Suzanne. May 2009 bring you much success, strength and health!
Video's of Suzanne
Suzanne Mikolay Competing at the 2007 APF Southern States