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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tamara Cohen, Unicorn Power and Controversy

In weightlifting  there are two major routes form which someone may become a weightlifter -  they tried Olympic lifting in some dude's garage, or they started as a CrossFitter.  With in CrossFit, there are the Crossfitters who realize they are better at lifting, and there are some that love the strength aspects, many even going down the "Starting Strength" route. Tamara Cohen is emblematic of the latter.

I met Tamara Cohen through my BWFF, Nick Horton, the Iron Samuari.  It's not every day I meet someone who was kicked off the CrossFit.com forum, or perhaps excommunicated by CrossFit HQ.  Quite the contrary, most of the CrossFitters I know have almost a religious dedication to CrossFit, and seek me out to get an edge on their CrossFitting.   So, Tamara strikes me as someone fascinating. As we will learn about Tamara, there's much more beyond the anti-HQ label.

Tamara just turned 37, and she just qualified for the America Open.  She has only been lifting for about two years, so she's pretty ecstatic when I 'm interviewing her over the phone.  Her journey to qualifying shows other 30-something weightlifting converts what's possible, from the point of view of someone who does not think they are even built for weightlifting.   Whereas, Tamara constantly reminds me how old she is and how bad her technique was, and how physically inflexible she used to be.


A few years ago, Tamara would have described herself as "fat".  A former soccer player, Tamara was now a mom of two in her 30's and hadn't been at the gym or on a field for quite some time.  In an effort to reconnect with physical activity, Tamara went back to the gym, first, running a 5K which just killed her knees.  Then, at her local YMCA, she started doing hang power cleans and lifting with dumbells. Seeing that she really liked strength training, her personal trainer recommended that she check out her local CrossFit.

Quickly, Tamara saw that she needed to get much stronger to do the CrossFit WODs.  She felt at her particular gym, she was not adequately prepared to take the WODs.  For example, at her first CrossFit competition, the Durham Carolina Fitness Challenge, she lifted 95 lbs in the Clean and Jerk overhead, 27 times, in 10 minutes-this is a weight she had never lifted that before --ever. Eventually, she injured her shoulder and could not do the WODs.


Perhaps, her injury was serendipitous, as it would lead to her conversion to a weightlifter. As she was too injured to do anythign involving significant upper body work, all she could do was squat and deadlift. Once, her shoulder healed, she set a whole bunch of Personal Records in the Olympic lifts with her new Strength. And, that is when she worked with Pete Haaf of Crossfit Downtown Winston Salem to focus on weightlifting.

She later decided to become an Olympic lifter after attending a Pendlay seminar.    She also trained with Mark Rippetoe, visited Podium Gold with Krychev, and is now being coached full time by Jim Moser.

When Tamara first started lifting, she could barely break parallel in a front squat.  Her first meet total was 110kg; her best total in 2011 was 118kg.  After encouragement form her weightlifting mentors, she set the audacious goal of qualifying for American Open.  Doing a 150kg total as a 75kg lifter, seemed hardly possible for the mid-30's newbie lifter.  As a CrossFitter, lifting 100lbs (45kgs) seemed huge, let alone snatching almost 50 lbs more than that.

Along with her weightlifting dream, Tamara also did something equally audacious-- she opened her own gym, Asheville Strength and Conditioning, a starting strength gym.  Her new gym served as a place where members could do power lifting, strength and conditioning, or Olympic weightlifting. And, she started coaching athletes herself.  Sure, she drew criticism from her local Olympic weightlifting community as it's a sport that takes years to master.  Still, she considers herself a developmental coach and, perpetually, seizes opportunities to learn about lifting.  This included attending or helping out at local and National meets and going to seminars and training with different coaches.

Tamara's training was programmed by Jim Moser.  I would describe it as an American high intensity training, where she is doing a lot of heavy singles and doubles in the Olympic lifts and squats, and sets of 1-5 reps for anything with a barbell.

As far as CrossFit's influence on her training philosophy,  she sees, "Doing 30 of anything for time with barbell does not lead to anything good". She also feels that people who are training for fitness should have distinctly different programming than those training for competitive sport. Hence, in her words "recreational Crossfitters are doing things that they are being told are for fitness, but the risk-reward is out of whack". She points out that high repetition box jumps have "risk that is not worth it" for someone just wanting to be fit. She also felt that the CrossFit level 1 was "a waste of time", and that "too many affiliates don’t know what [they're] doing". Being outspoken about what she saw as improvement areas for CrossFit got Tamara Kicked-off the CrossFit Forum.

In closing, I ask her, "how do you see your training evolving as you become a more experienced lifter?" . In my mind, I'm referring to the difference in the training of someone who has been lifting for 2 years vs 5 yrs. Interestingly, her answer focuses on some anticipation that aging will force changes in her training. Well, I think Tamara pretty much proved not to let age be a barrier while training, way more is possible than you can imagine.

Set your goals and never sell yourself short.

2 comments:

Sullydog................................ said...

Tamara rocks. Nothing stops her.

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