Strongest Woman in the Gym: Part 1

This weekend our very own Strongman guru Catherine Toniatti Yanulavich will be traveling to Las Vegas to compete in the 50thcat Joe Weider Olympia Fitness & Performance event. The Olympia Strongman Challenge is a major Strongman event. Cat will be performing on a national stage fighting for gold against quite literally some of the strongest women in the world. She will be attempting to pull massive weights off the floor, hoisting massive stones to her shoulder or performing other unreal feats of strength. Cat has been training hard so we have no doubt she will be excelling at whatever is thrown at her way tomorrow.


Cat, everyone at Albany CrossFit is extremely proud of you and wish you the best of luck!!

Below is part one of an interview we recently did to learn a little more about Coach Cat and her Strongman program.

1. What brought you to Albany CrossFit?
A craigslist ad for Albany Crossfit. I finished RPI in 2007, and with that went from Varsity Crew practice twice a day to working in a lab and having very little physical activity. I gained 100lbs and got really frustrated so I decided to look up personal training services. That led me to ACF’s ad which promised me I would learn how to lift weights and use a barbell. That sold me on the spot.

2. How long have you been at the gym?
I’ve been there since October 24th, 2008. So, just shy of 6 years. My first workout I went through the official CrossFit warm-up and I had to stop just before finishing my last set of jumping pull-ups- I was in bad shape! Jason thought he scared me away, but I LOVED it and the rest is history!

3. How were you introduced to Strongman?
There was a summer marathon of World’s Strongest Man Competitions on ESPN 14 years ago.  Yup. Thanks ESPN!  I watched 2 episodes and I was instantly hooked. I know teen girls today are into some kid called Justin Bieber, but back in my day I had my crazy school girl crushes on Strongman Champions Magnus Samuelsson, Jouko Ahola, and Svend Karlsen. I requested tickets to strongman competitions for my birthday and Christmas and my Dad became a fan as well.

4. When did you realize Strongman was something you could excel at?
Well, until 2010 I never even realized it was something anyone could excel at except giant men from Scandinavia. Once I realized women had opportunities, I knew this was my sport.  It all really began when Jason invited me to come to a new Strongman Certification Crossfit was offering that was introduced by Rob Orlando. That day was the turning point for me where I started to transition to training for Strongman instead of Crossfit.

5. Why didn’t you start doing Strongman/Lifting weights sooner? You waited 8 years to start. Why?  
A combination of fear and ignorance. Right away after finding strongman on ESPN I wanted to lift weights. My mom was against it because of course, “I would turn into a man and get bulky.” I had no idea who to ask or where to go. I tried hanging out in the weight room after school, but since I played other sports practice trumped the weight room once the seasons started. In college, I was just afraid to ask. Partly, because I had no idea who to ask and partly because I thought I might be laughed at since I was a woman. It wasn’t until 2008 and finding that ad on Craigslist that I felt like I knew where to go. And now Crossfit has become so friendly for everyone at any stage in their life to start lifting, when I look back I realize how much things have changed for women in in strength sports.
6. Tell us about your first competition? (feelings/emotions, where was it at?, how was the community there, how well did you do?, anything else that would be fun to know?)
Technically, my first competition was June 2010, about 2 months after I started training for Strongman. It was a local competition up in Perth, NY. I was super excited and super nervous – I had the cold sweats and I couldn’t eat. There were 6 girls in my division and I ended up winning the Women’s Heavyweight class – winning 6 of the 7 events! Angie Ahr and Katie Vallee, who took my strongman class, won the LW and Teen Girls division. ACF strongman class swept the ladies categories!

My first Official North American Strongman (NAS) contest was a different story.  NAS is North America’s official strongman federation that puts on shows around the country. You have to pay a membership fee and compete to be a NAS Strongman. This federation has qualifying events where the winners get spots at larger National competitions to compete for the big title of America’s Strongest Man/Woman. I took 3rd place at this event and actually qualified by that placing to compete at Nationals. I made A LOT of mistakes during that competition and in turn learned a lot about the sport and myself. The women there were amazing and they helped me through a lot of things I didn’t know about. One was how to get tacky off you hands. Tacky helps you grip an atlas stone and it’s basically pine tar – super sticky and does not come off with soap and water. They gave me some baby oil and helped me clean up or I would have had my hand glued to the steering wheel on my drive home.

7. Some people may not realize Strongman is a sport! (Tell us a little bit about it).
Strongman dates back over 100 years with the most famous strongman being the late Louis Cyr. He toured North America with his troupe performing acts of strength and competing against other strongmen. Strongman as we know it officially became a sport in 1977 when they had the first World’s Strongest Man contest. American weightlifter, Bruce Wilhelm took the title.  Since then we now have opportunities for men and women in different weight classes including novice and master’s athletes. At the heart of strongman and what separates it from powerlifting and weightlifting is the use of non-standard equipment and utilizing moving events in addition to static strength events. Strongman forces the athlete to lift things that are not designed to be lifted. A barbell is an efficient way to lift a lot of weight, but in strongman, we take away the barbell and replace it with sand bags, kegs, stones, cars, tires, logs, axles and anything else that isn’t bolted down. In fact, Strongman is a lot like Crossfit in many ways – the idea is to carry large loads, long distances, quickly.  The difference is that Strongman focuses on maximal lifts and short heavy medleys compared with the longer, lighter met-cons we see in crossfit.

To be continued…

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