Why I fired my coach.

by Rhaea Stinn

For those who don’t know, The World Games is a multi sport event held every four years, and is recognized by the International Olympic Committee.  For powerlifting, weight classes are combined to make four weight classes for men, and four for women.  For women, 72kg is left as its own class which is lucky for me as it provides a few additional wild card spots in that weight class.  This was actually the motivation for me to cut down to 72 for the first time in 2012 in attempts to qualify for The World Games 2013.  The 2017 World Games were held in Wroclaw, Poland, and I was fortunate to get a wild card spot from my placing at North American’s last summer.  This was my third time competing at The World Games (after 2009 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan and 2013 in Cali, Columbia).  It’s such a unique experience in that only forty male and forty female powerlifters are invited, and each division is placed on wilks rather than total.  As well, being a multi sport event, you’re able to watch other sports and are provided with accommodations, transportation, and catering that isn’t regularly offered at World Championships.  In 2009 we were able to walk in to the Closing Ceremonies which is still one of my favourite memories from this sport as its hard to explain what it’s like to walk into a stadium of 30,000 screaming fans.  As I see it, It is the closest to an Olympic Experience that I will ever get.   

The venue for the 2017 World Games.

The venue for powerlifting at The World Games 2017

Firing my coach

Since the qualifying criteria was released almost two years ago, I set myself up with the intention to get there by lifting at North American’s last summer and Open Worlds last November.  After Open Worlds, I spent about a month just going to the gym and ‘working out’ with no structure or program.  I would do what I felt like that day, which was very good for me mentally as 2016 had been a taxing year of training and competing with Nationals in February (Classic & Equipped), Classic Worlds in June, North American’s in August (Equipped), and Open Worlds in November (Equipped).  In December I had a minor surgery that didn’t let me do any real squat or deadlift workouts for about five weeks, which left me with only about eight weeks to get ready for Nationals 2017.  This time crunch left me feeling ill prepared for Nationals, and I just wanted to get through the meet uninjured so I could get back to training for The World Games.  For the last number of years, my husband, Ryan Stinn (an online powerlifting coach himself) has been doing my programming.  This has been a good thing because he has seen most of my training in person which makes it easy to adapt things on the fly and he knows what I respond well to.  It has also been a negative because when I didn’t feel like doing something, or modified the workout that day, he would typically not push me and just say okay because he didn’t want to fight about it.  In the few weeks leading up to Nationals, I was feeling quite discouraged by my lack of progress over the last ten years (another topic for another time), and just felt the need for a change.  If you ask Ryan he’ll say he fired me as a client, and I say I fired him as a coach, but really it was a mutual decision for the betterment of my lifting and our relationship.    

Ryan and I spent a lot of time discussing the possible change, and there were a number of factors that influenced my decision.  One of the most important influences was that the World Games is equipped, so whomever I chose I would have to trust with knowing how to train for this.  This quickly narrowed down my options of who to select.  I also wanted to work with someone from outside of my circle of influence to coach me to get a different perspective.  I’ve only ever had two people do my programming for me since I started in 2003 - Jeff Butt and Ryan Stinn, but both of whom I’ve trained with in person the majority of the time. The fact that I had a long training cycle (about 19 weeks) between Nationals and World Games was also important.  I knew if I started out with a new coach and it didn’t feel right in the first 4-8 weeks I would still have time to get a good length training cycle in going back to what I had done in the past.  I also knew I wanted someone that would provide me with feedback and not merely just a program.  I also didn’t want to be limited to one email a week or a few minutes of video once a week.  I think for online coaching to be effective there has to be a lot of communication between the coach and athlete.  

After considering who my options were, Blaine Sumner was at the top of the list.  I didn’t know anyone else he was coaching, but Ryan had purchased some of his training programs and books and based on those I knew it would be different from what I had been previously doing.  Not to mention he’s got the highest wills in IPF history so he obviously has a good idea of what he’s doing in equipment.  I emailed Blaine on the way to Nationals 2017 to see if he’d take me on as a client leading up to World Games and within 10 minutes of me sending the email he replied saying yes he’d love to, but didn’t want to discuss much more until after I competed so I didn’t lose focus.  For some reason, the fact that the wanted me to get through Nationals and then we would talk reassured me that I made the right decision. 


Don't worry Ryan still cares about my lifting.

Working with Blaine

I’ll be honest, I was a bit nervous when I first started working with Blaine because it felt like a huge change after so many years of doing the same sort of program and being able to influence and modify things as I saw fit.  I had decided that in order to give working with Blaine a fair shot, I would have to be open to his suggestions and try to make it work.  Working with a new coach brought more excitement to training again.  Given that I’ve been training and competing consistently since 2003, I’ve had some highs and lows of both training and competition.  Working with Blaine gave me a new set of eyes looking at my form which gave me new things to work on.  I also completely took my mind out of the programming side and looked at what work I had to do that day and got that work done.

Looking back, there were a number of significant changes to my programming and preparation that added up to the best meet I’ve had to date at The World Games.

  1. I didn’t do any beltless work in his program.  I had my belt on the first day after Nationals, and every squat or deadlift workout since.  In the past I’ve done tonnes of beltless work so have a very strong core but being used to it in training has been a good change. 
  2. I was in the gear much more frequently than I have been in the recent past.  This is something I’ve known would be good for me, but I have struggled to do because I haven’t been excited about the gear and would dread putting it on.  That being said, being in the gear frequently has made me that much more excited about it, and so much more knowledgeable about it.  Often in the past it would be programmed more than 8 weeks before a meet, but I’d find a way to weasel out of it by saying my bodyweight was too high, I wasn’t recovered enough, or some other excuse.  Ryan would rarely fight me on it because he didn’t want to deal with me being upset about it. 
  3. We changed the way I wear my gear.  Historically I've leaned towards wearing it 'comfortably' rather than in the most advantageous position.  It makes it a lot more uncomfortable and makes getting into position a struggle but can also have more reward that way.  
  4. The days I was in gear, I’d still do a lot of work after taking it off.  There were days that I’d do heavy singles and move weight I had never moved in training before, but at the end of the workout, that would have been the easiest thing I did because of the accessory movements I did after out of the gear.  There were days I felt exhausted and was angry at Blaine for programming what he did but I got through it.
  5. I’m videoing all my sets, and then editing them together to send to him, which forces me to watch them again.  This has made me much more aware of how things are moving, my positioning, etc.  In the past I would rarely video training since Ryan would see it in person and I just based things on how they felt versus how they looked.  
  6. There were a lot of technical changes that we worked on (and are still working on).  There were some significant changes in my set up and positioning in every lift.  He pointed out some things that I’ve never looked at before, but now are so obvious to me when I see myself fall into old habits or see someone else training in that movement pattern.  
  7. The workouts are taking longer than before (now averaging 2-3 hours), but I’m training one less day a week, so the average hours in the gym per week are likely about the same.
  8. I was reminded that training should be fun and I should be excited about what I was doing.  Blaine was frequently asking if I was excited about the programming and what I was doing, and if I wasn’t we would change it or do something to get me more excited.
  9. I got my bodyweight to 72 and was hovering around there for the last 6 weeks or so.  I find this especially important for equipped lifting so that the gear fits the same on competition day that it has in training, and saves the last minute stress of having to cut.
  10. I got myself in to the best mindset I’ve had in a while.  I did a lot of reading on mindset between Nationals and WG as I knew this was an area I could improve.  Between this and the encouragement I got from Blaine, my confidence was as high as it has ever been leading in to World Games.  


Gorilla Squad Programming

The World Games Experience

Being that this was my third World Games, I had a good understanding of what the environment would be like and what to expect.  I did my one final workout on Saturday after arriving on Friday and everything felt really good and was moving like it should.  My bodyweight was good, with me waking up under 72kg every day that we were there.  

The night before I lifted I had the best sleep I’ve ever had before I lifted.  I didn’t wake up until 9:30 and felt awesome.  Weigh in was at noon so I showered and got ready and ate a bit of food but didn’t drink since I wasn’t thirsty and wanted to weigh in as light as I could due to the competition being based on wilks.  I weighed in at 71.01 and felt great.  

The warm up room was the best I’ve ever seen with 10 platforms for 10 lifters, so you didn’t have to share.  It definitely eliminated some stress of warm ups because you didn’t have to time your warm ups with someone else. Warm ups for squats felt good, so we stuck with the planned opener of 230kg.  I was a bit tentative on this one and it didn’t move quite as fast as planned so we jumped to 237.5kg on my second attempt instead of the planned 240kg.  237.5kg moved better, so we went to 247.5kg for my third.  Unracking 247.5kg it crossed my mind that “this feels heavy” but I dismissed that and knew I just needed to hit it with confidence.  I was successful with this and happy with a 12.5kg competition PR.  I’m still waiting to see video to see how it actually looked.  

I was most nervous about bench going in to this meet.  Like I said I was in the shirt countless time in training, but I also struggled with it the most and had some less than ideal training sessions.  I had gotten good at hitting good attempts after missing reps, and felt a huge sigh of relief when I got my opener of 157.5kg.  We jumped to 165kg for my second.  I got called for my butt coming off the bench on my second, so repeated it on my third but couldn’t quite lock it out on my third attempt.  Still 157.5kg was my best bench in a 3 lift competition at 72kg. 

After missing two benches, I knew I’d have to have an amazing deadlift day if I wanted a shot at ending up on the podium.  Warm ups felt good and we opened with 200kg.  It was a bit slower than I’d have liked but I felt like it was just because I pulled it tentatively making sure I was balanced.  Went to 207.5 for my second and lockout was slow.  Went to 212.5kg on my third attempt which would have moved me into fourth for the time being and got it to my knees but couldn’t lock it out.

I finished the day in 5th place in the women’s heavyweight division with my 612.5kg total and 603.43 wilks.  This is the same placing I have finished at the last two World Games, but the happiest I have been with my lifting on a 6 for 9 day.  I finished with a 22.5kg total PR, and first 600kg total and 600 wilks.  Although not quite the day I had been hoping for, it’s hard to be disappointed in those improvements.  

Inner Strength Crew Posing for Photograph

My game day coaching crew. Between these three one of them has been at every meet I've ever done. 

What’s next? 

I have just started my training for the 2017 IPF Open World Championships that are being held in November in Pilsen, Czech Republic.  I’ll also be doing NAPF Bench Only in Hamilton in October, but treating it more as a training day rather than peaking for it.  I will be continuing working with Blaine, looking to improve on my performance form The World Games.  We’ll see what happens! 

My lifting: 

 Watch the entire session:

Rhaea Stinn is a co-owner of Inner Strength Products as well as a Registered Massage Therapist.  She started powerlifting in 2003, and has been competing internationally in the IPF since 2005.