Ariel Stephens, 5'3" and 154 lbs., is a 24-year-old (celebrated her birthday August 15) Olympic weightlifter who competed at the National Championships in weightlifting held in Salt Lake City, Utah, July 18-20, 2014. Let's learn more about this Team MDUSA lifter!
Q: What weight class do you compete in?
A: I train at 70-71kg and compete at 69kg.
Q: Where do you reside?
A: I'm currently in Seaside, California. However at the end of September, I will be making a cross country move to join Team MDUSA in South Carolina.
Q: Can you share any info regarding your training, degrees, and occupation?
A: I have a Bachelor's of Science Degree in Family Resources and a Certification in Spanish. I am also a certified nursing assistant, but am currently not working as one. After I graduated from college in 2012, I moved home to Sacramento, California and began working for a non-profit organization that was contracted with Child Protective Services.
I was a Case Manager for high risk families and provided community resources to alleviate family stressors. This was a rewarding, but extremely mentally demanding job.
After a year, I decided to make the move to Seaside, California and dedicate my life training. I am currently working as CrossFit, Weightlifting and Swim coach. Once I am finished weightlifting, I want to go back to school to get my Registered Nursing License.
Q: Where do you train?
A: While I was working as a Case Manager, I was training at any gym I could. I trained in multiple CrossFit gyms who were extremely welcoming. I also had my fair share of experiences at a 24-hour gym. I currently train at CrossFit Monterey, but was recently invited to join Team MDUSA. I will be moving September 30, 2014.
Q: How did you discover Olympic weightlifting events?
A: I started swimming competitively at 11 years old (2001) and finished my swim career at the University of Hawai'i in 2012. During the summer of 2011, I began CrossFitting to stay in shape for my senior swim season. This was when I was introduced to weightlifting.
A coach from CrossFit Davis in Northern California told me that I'd be a good weightlifter, even though I had no idea what weightlifting was. This coach proceeded to sign me up for a weightlifting competition and said that I might like it. He quickly taught me the snatch and clean and jerk in 3-weeks' time, and I competed in the 2011 Tommy Kono in Sacramento, California.
One of my most memorable moments was created at this competition. First of all, I placed 3rd in my weight class. Second, I had the most unique competition outfit. I wasn't sure what exactly I was supposed to wear. However, I knew that I didn't want to "waste" money on a singlet since I would never be a weightlifter.
I competed in a racing swim suit with spandex to cover and my shoes were the toes shoes. Despite my outfit, I had multiple people tell me that I was talented. The coach of Monterey Bay Barbell, Jacob Tyspkin, came up to me and said that if I ever wanted to lift competitively, he would be happy to have me join.
I brushed the compliments aside, assuring everyone that I was a competitive swimmer and still had 1 more year of college swimming to complete. Before I left that competition, I decided to buy weightlifting shoes... JUST in case I decided later that I wanted to compete.
Once I finished my senior swim career in February 2012, I messaged my current coach, Jacob Tyspkin, and asked him if he would be willing to program for me. Without hesitation, he has been my coach ever since and I began my weightlifting journey.
Q: Did anyone influence you or serve as a mentor?
A: So many people have been involved in my development as a lifter, and I have genuinely appreciated every one of those people. However, up to this point in my career, my biggest and most influential mentor has been the coach of Monterey Bay Barbell Club, Jacob Tyspkin. A lot of people give him a hard time about his coaching style and internet antics, but without his guidance I wouldn't even have the opportunity to realize my full potential as a weightlifter.
He has really helped keep me balanced, improve my technique, put up with my attitude, made me harness my potential, and pushed me when I've needed it most.
Q: What motivates you?
A: The biggest thing that motivates me is assuring myself that I haven't even come close to realizing and grasping my full potential as a weightlifter. During training, I have really been focusing on things that are in and out of my control. A lot of people are motivated by things that they can't control, such as beating another person.
Instead of focusing on something like that, I tell myself that I want to win. I want to be better than I was yesterday. Keeping my focus on what is in my control and my purpose for lifting helps me stay motivated on the hardest days.
Q: What activities do you do outside of weightlifting?
A: Hmmm... whenever someone asks me this question, I always have a hard time answering. There are tons of things that I enjoy doing, but don't have a lot of extra time for. If I am not too tired, I like to go for hikes on the weekends, see a movie or go shopping (when I have extra money). On the more exciting side of things, I recently tried horseback riding and had a blast. I also hope to learn how to salsa dance soon.
Q: What kind of advice would you give to beginners who are looking to become better lifters?
A: The best advice I can give to a beginner lifter, that I heard from someone recently, is that if you trust and believe in your coach, training environment and programming then you'll get better. Remembering to keep things in perspective is also incredibly important. I feel like I am still considered a "beginner" since I am so new to the sport, and I am constantly reminding myself that weightlifting is a marathon, not a sprint.
Q: What about nutrition? How much do you eat, grams of protein per day? Do you count grams, macros, etc.?
A: Nutrition is something I've been struggling with over the past year and a half. Since I was a swimmer, I used to eat anything and everything and not gain weight. As I've gotten further into weightlifting, I have gained more muscle mass and realized that this sport is not supported by the amount of carb intake that swimming requires. I have basically tried everything (Counting Macros, Carb Back Loading, Restricting Specific Foods, etc.).
Within the last month, I started the Renaissance Periodization diet. I now have a nutritionist to tell me exactly what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat based on my current training, work and sleep schedule. It's been amazing and I feel more stable, I'm losing weight while maintaining my strength and am leaner than ever.
Q: Do you use supplements or do you favor solid food?
A: I definitely favor solid foods outside of training, but I drink protein and Gatorade while I train. The other important supplement that I take in pill form is iron and glucosamine. Being a female who doesn't eat enough red meat, it's crucial that I keep my iron levels stable. I take glucosamine for joint support.
Q: If you supplement, do you recommend any particular brand or specific supplements?
A: I'm all over the place with recommendations. I've tried Muscle Milk, Muscle Pharm, Advocare and NutriForce. I recently tried GoGnarly whey protein and thought it was pretty good. I will probably be transitioning to this protein since it's the supplement company that sponsors Team MDUSA. As for casein protein, my favorite is Gold Standard.
Q: How much sleep do you get each day?
A: I try to get anywhere between 8 and 10 hours of sleep each night. If I don't get enough sleep, then you definitely don't want to be around me that day because I'll be grumpy.
Q: Do you do anything specific for injury prevention or rehab?
A: I do a ton of stuff for injury prevention. My coach has been big on accessory work for my upper body. Since I have had major shoulder injuries, I am always doing prefab exercises with bands, dumbbells and kettlebells. I also try and do a lot of glute and core activation / strengthening exercises to prevent hip, hamstring and low back injuries.
Q: In which weight classes have you competed?
A: 69kg and 75kg. However, 69kg is my National level competition weight. The few times I competed as a 75kg lifter was following shoulder surgery, and I wasn't concerned about my weight. I have never weighed in more than 72.5kg.
Q: What is your favorite event, the snatch or the clean and jerk?
A: My favorite training lift is the snatch and my favorite competition lift is the clean and jerk.
Photo Credit : HookGrip - Celebrating 82kg Comp PR Snatch @ 2014 Nationals
Q: Do you have an overall training philosophy?
A: Like I mentioned earlier, as long as you believe in the training you're doing and putting in the hard work to execute the plan, then the results will come.
Q: How long have you been training seriously?
A: I have been training since March 2012, but 10 months of that time was recovering from left shoulder surgery.
Q: What are some of the lifts you are most proud of?
A: One of the lifts I am most proud of is my 102kg clean and jerk during a local competition at Midtown Strength and Conditioning in Sacramento, California. It was my first competition, 10 months after shoulder, and it was a competition PR. I had a really hard time with the mental part of shoulder recovery and this lift made everything worth it and was the start of a new beginning in the sport.
Q: What are the contests you are most proud of?
A: The competition I am currently most proud of is my 2014 Nationals performance. This was my first nationals and I placed 4th overall in my weight class with a silver medal in the clean and jerk. I went 5/6 and snatched a competition PR and finished with a total PR. Not only did I have a successful performance, I felt like I had a strong mental attitude. Even under pressure, I was able to remain calm, relaxed, focused on myself and enjoy the moment.
Q: What are the three most important movements for people trying to build strength?
A: Squats, Pulls, and Push Movements (Push Press, Strict Press, etc.)
Q: Or what is the most important physical characteristic or attribute for a weightlifter, speed, strength, coordination?
A: All of the above!
Q: What is the worst competitive experience you've had (injury, etc.)?
A: The worst competitive-related experience I have had would be two shoulder surgeries. I had one on my right shoulder during my junior year of college, and one about 1.5 years ago on my left shoulder.
The last surgery I had in February 2013, on my left shoulder, was one of the most difficult things to persevere. Since I started weightlifting immediately after 11 years of swimming, my shoulders were very lax. This was definitely not good for supporting large amounts of weight overhead. I am almost positive that the labral tear in my left shoulder occurred during my senior year of college swimming and was amplified when I began lifting. The surgeon stitched my labrum back together and anchored it back down to the bone.
The physical aspect of surgery was challenging, but it was the mental aspect that made me second-guess my choice to make weightlifting my career focus. At the time of surgery I was a decent lifter, but had not had any breakout performances. People told me I was talented, but I was still skeptical. I was always doubting if I was good enough to be attempting this comeback. However, with the help of my physical therapist at Results Physical Therapy, in Sacramento, California, and my coach, I was able to return to weightlifting stronger than ever. Although I still find myself eager to make my statement in the sport of weightlifting, I no longer question my potential to do it.
Q: Any shout-outs?
A: I have had so many people support me on my continuing journey to become the best weightlifter I can be and I feel like I'm just getting started. CrossFit Monterey, CrossFit Rocklin, CrossFit Davis (All California Boxes), Pacific Weightlifting Association and Midtown Strength and Conditioning have all played a huge role in my development.
Juggernaut Training Systems and Team MDUSA have recently given me financial opportunities that make my life much easier as a full-time athlete. I've also been lucky enough to have a team of people to keep me physically and mentally healthy. My physical therapist, Dan McClean from Results Physical Therapy, my chiropractor, Aaron Gaily, and my sports psychologist, Adam Saucedo, have been the best at preparing me for success.
Lastly, my parents. Although skeptical at first, of my decision to pursue my weightlifting goals, they have done nothing but support me and believe in me and for that I'm thankful.
"Free time hike with my dog, Putter."
Q: How can people contact you (email, social media, etc.)?
A: Check out my latest training videos and blogs at jtsstrength.com. Starting in October 2014, I can also be found on MuscleDriverUSA's Facebook Page or Instagram account @muscledriverusa.
Follow me on Instagram @ a_m_strong or search for me on Facebook, Ariel Stephens.
Thank you for sharing part of your story, Ariel. Wishing you continued success in the sport and in life!
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