On most days during the school year, Mallory Smith can be found working as a school psychologist in South Dakota. In her professional attire, it’s hard to imagine the woman, who is just 5 feet tall, lifting nearly three times her body weight to break a competition record. Smith, who is the daughter of Paul and Debbie Peterson and Steve and Michelle Schefter, competed at the Xtreme Powerlifting Coalition (XPC) World Championships at the Arnold Classic in Columbus, Ohio, on March 1. The by invitation only competition had Smith competing against women within her weight category of 133-148 lbs.
By Melissa Anderson
The Arnold Classic has approximately 70,000 people in attendance per day, with many different sports being represented including bodybuilding, Strongman contests, dance, martial arts, etc. The XPC Competition Smith competed in had approximately 3,000 spectators, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, himself, along with television coverage.
The competition is comprised of three movements: the squat, bench, and deadlift. Each lifter receives three attempts at each lift with each lift having its own rules. Smith, weighing in at 145.7 lbs., finished with a 335 lb. squat, 240 lb. bench, and 415 lb. deadlift. Her total of 990 lbs. was the highest total for her bodyweight in the competition’s history and won her grand champion. Although the competition was non-tested, after placing first, Smith chose to test to show she does not use performance enhancing drugs.
“There were four of us that were neck-and-neck until the very end. It all came down to the final deadlift. If I executed the lift, I had won; if I didn’t, I lost. After I picked up the deadlift and was given the command to put it down, I looked at the board (for white lights) to see if it was a good lift. When I got the white lights, I immediately ran back and jumped on my coach, and we both began crying,” Smith recounted.
Smith is coached at a small gym by Charles Gillen in Spearfish, S.D. She had already been training hard for a year and a half with plans to slow down significantly when she received the invitation to compete at the Arnold Classic.
“When you receive an invitation like that, how do you say no? It had been a dream of mine since I started competing,”Smith said.
Smith has a history of strenuous training and competition. Prior to a career ending injury in running, Smith would spend roughly 40 hours a week training for marathons and the infamous Ironman competitions. After tearing her calf during the 2014 Wilderman race, running was no longer an option leaving Smith with a lot of time on her hands. Smith began joining a friend that weightlifted recreationally, and from there the desire to compete took over.
“I just got addicted, I guess. I started light, of course, and started competing about three years ago, and that was just for fun. I was getting my butt kicked,” Smith shared.
Working as a school psychologist in South Dakota, Smith shared that despite what people might think, her work schedule gives her the perfect amount of time to train. With her work day over at 4 p.m. during the school year and wide open summers, Smith has plenty of time to train at night and during the summer can really hit the weights hard for her training.
“I go to work; I dress very professionally; I do a very professional job. I go home after work and put my hair up, and my heads half-shaved, and I’ve got tattoos, and I’m going to go lift some heavy stuff,” Smith shared.
Working with middle schoolers has made Smith especially want young women to know that there is nothing wrong with being physically strong. Smith shared a story concerning a young woman in one of her schools who was being made fun of for being able to do more push ups than her male counterparts.
“I came over in my dress clothes, kicked off my high heels and did them with her. It was fun,” she said.
Smith believes that women can especially benefit from weightlifting and weight bearing exercises. A history of osteoporosis in her family had her lifting weights prior to her calf injury as part of her marathon and Ironman training. Now, she is a firm believer that women of all ages should consider adding weightlifting to their exercise routine.
“Studies are coming out that the actual weight bearing exercise is better for you then all of that cardio except for walking. That intense running actually wears down your body a lot harder than putting 400 lbs. on your back as crazy as that sounds,” Smith said.
One of the most common reasons women avoid weight training is because they are afraid of “bulking up”. This is a misconception as it physically impossible. Women simply don’t have the testosterone to build muscle like men, with 10 to 30 times less testosterone, and have a much harder time gaining size from strength training. Instead, women develop muscle definition and strength.
“I want more women to learn about it. Everybody gets this idea that they are going to be so huge if they get into powerlifting. I am big for being 5 feet tall, but I don’t have that manly look,” Smith explained.
Weight training not only strengthens muscles, it strengthens your bones. Weight training increases bone density, which reduces the risk of fractures and broken bones. Research has also shown weight training can increase spinal bone density to create a strong and healthy spine. It isn’t just bones that benefit either as connective tissues and joints can be strengthened. Strong joints, ligaments, and tendons are important to prevent injury and can even relieve pain from osteoarthritis.
“Everybody wants to think the opposite, but weight lifting and weight bearing exercise is really good for bone density,” Smith said.
The season and when the next competition takes place dictates the amount of hours Smith spends training for powerlifting. Leading up to a competition, Smith will train over 10 hours a week just on weights and as the competition gets closer the training “will amp up and then right before competition you stop training.” For The Arnold, Smith had intense training sessions for approximately 20 hours a week for the six months prior the competition. On top of those hours training hard, Smith also stresses the importance of the time spent stretching, mobility, and light workouts as well as the recovery.
“If you don’t be careful with that you are going to break,” Smith said. “There is so much work behind the scenes of competitive weightlifting. You don’t just go to the gym and lift weights. You spend hours stretching, doing mobility work, cardio, and recovery techniques.”
Smith’s recovery regimen includes cryotherapy, massage, chiropractic services, saunas, and ice baths. With a history of epilepsy, sleep and proper nutrition were also vital components to the training. Smith notes without any trepidation that she could not have competed in competition without the support of family, friends and her boyfriend.
“It’s an ‘everybody’ thing. Everybody in your life has to really support you and try to understand what you are doing. It’s important to note that it takes just a whole lot of family and friend support. Everybody wants to congratulate me and tell me good job…. but it’s hard on everyone,” Smith shared.
Before going into the powerlifting, Smith made sure that she would do just as well at her profession and working with the kids as she did before the training started. Smith explained that everything else in your life falls second from having time with friends and enjoying life as well as visiting family.
When asked what was next, Smith stated that she was not sure at this point. Powerlifting runs a high rate of injuries, and she has had some in the past, so she will be taking some downtime to allow her body to heal… for real this time. She will receive an automatic invitation to The Arnold in 2020. As a result of her competition record-breaking total lift weight, if Smith decides to compete in The Arnold 2020, she must do so at the pro level rather than the Elite. For now, Smith will recover from her aggressive training regimen until July. Should Smith choose to return to The Arnold and compete at the pro level, she will have to decide by October.