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Operation Get Strong and Sexy: Week 1

I’m very excited to have convinced my clients Erin McComb and Sammie Cohn to compete in their first powerlifting contest in early November! They’re both well-experienced in bikini competition and now wish to broaden their training repertoire. I’ve been training Erin for just over a month now and I just started training Sammie again this week. If you’ve been reading my blog for some time now, you’ll know that she was part of the Glute Squad last year (see HERE and HERE to read about the glute squad – we trained out of my 6th floor condo for six months haha). We have 6 weeks to prepare!


They’ll be training with me twice per week so we’ll be doing lots of squatting, lots of deadlifting, lots of hip thrusting, and lots of benching. I’ll document their strength gains via video footage each week so you can watch them progress and follow their journey.


I want to show my female readership that heavy lifting plus healthy eating equals an excellent physique. I’m also hoping to inspire more women to make the leap and actually compete in a powerlifting competition.

When I first asked my girlfriend if she wanted to compete, she was under the impression that powerlifting training “made you huge” and was fearful of the notion. I assured her that this was far from the truth and that if she didn’t up her calories, she wouldn’t gain any weight or become too muscular. When she competed (see HERE for video footage – she squatted 225 and won the state record for her weight class), she was both surprised and delighted to find plenty of other strong and sexy female competitors that were thin and far from “bulky.” I’m sure that many other women share this misconception and it’s far from the truth.


Here are the two training videos for the week:



The girls are learning the form quickly and progressing very well. People typically struggle at first to transition to powerlifting style training as they’re usually accustomed to squatting and bench pressing differently. Learning to squat to proper depth and pause on the chest during the bench takes time getting used to, but Erin and Sammie are quick learners. In 6 weeks their form and coordination will be much better.

Right now, Erin weighs around 100 lbs and can squat 115 lbs (up 20 lbs already from when she started), bench press 85 lbs, and deadlift 155 lbs. I’m hoping that she’ll hit a 135 lb squat, 100 lb bench press, and 185 lb deadlift at the meet.

Right now, Sammie weighs around 130 lbs and can squat 175 lbs, bench press 90 lbs, and deadlift 245 lbs. I’m hoping that she’ll hit a 225 lb squat, 110 lb bench press, and 300 lb deadlift at the meet. What’s crazy is that Sammie hasn’t lifted weights in 6 months except for performing solely hip thrusts with only around 185 lbs on a regular basis. The fact that she somehow built squat and deadlift strength over the past six months by just hip thrusting with submaximal effort blows my mind!

We’ll see where the chips fall!

Follow our journey on Instagram if you’d like as we’ll make sure to post pictures and videos, but I’ll also post updates on the blog each week.





  • Heather K says:

    Wow, Erin and Sammie are awesome! I wish I had a trainer that gave a crap when I was back in my prime….it’s cool to see how proud you are of them. They will go far! Thanks for sharing Brett!

    • Bret says:

      Thanks Heather! Glad you like it 🙂

    • Joan says:

      I enjoy all of your information and videos! Have any suggestions or trainers with your philosophy in the Pennsylvania area? I am a woman 54 years young! I’d love to train to get stronger. Up until now I’ve been mostly cardio. Thanks for your time. Joan

  • Kim says:

    I’ve always been one of those women who’s afraid to lift heavy for fear of bulking up. Now that I’m trying it though, I’m realizing that it’s difficult to get stronger without a caloric surplus. How do you actually get stronger and build the muscle to lift heavier if you don’t take in more calories?

    • Bret says:

      There are neural aspects to strength develpment, and the workouts drive muscle protein synthesis themselves. So you don’t have to go crazy on the calories or protein to get stronger.

  • Mike Simmons says:

    I would seriously look into other exercises for Sammie until the butt-wink is corrected.. That is an injury waiting to happen.. regardless of how strong you think she is.. would just be a matter of time before shit get’s snapped-up!. Otherwise looking good and strong girls!

    • Bret says:

      Mike, she squatted this way for years and has been okay somehow, so I’m gonna let her keep squatting while really hammering ankle and hip mobility and motor control. If she ever complains of pain then of course adjustments will be made. But I’m not going to be strict with depth and hopefully things start to click.

  • Karen Page says:

    Great video Bret! I’ve been doing hip thrusts since my former trainer told me to follow you to help with my glute goals. The crazy thing is I never see anyone at my gym doing hip thrusts and I always get strange looks from people …but I love the way it makes my glutes feel! I’ve only been doing them for 5 weeks and I’m thrusting with 110lbs.
    I look forward to more posts, you always have great info to share 🙂

    • Bret says:

      Awesome Karen, and tell your trainer he or she is awesome too!

    • Connie Ross says:

      HI Karen,

      I am the only one that does any kind of hip thrust too… people used to laugh, now I demonstrate it to them (even the PT’s!!) and they see it as normal now. Doesn’t raise an eyebrow. I don’t mind the strange looks though, I just keep going! They also stopped laughing when I reached 130kg 1RM – women i have demonstrated it to get it and do it alot more naturally than the men… the men like to gyrate it up!! lol!!!

    • Evy says:

      I recently received two emails from other trainers and found YouTube videos in which they are now recommending banded hip thrusts. Seems like the word is getting out, but not with Bret’s expertise. At least it is a start and maybe you’ll be seeing more individuals at your gym realizing the immense benefits of the exercise.

      I got the same advice from my trainer when I mentioned Bret. She’s a professional competitor and absolutely loves his work.

  • Lynn says:

    I do lift heavy and in just two weeks your 30 Glute Challenge and Abs for Bada$$es has made noticeable differences. Any plans to create an ab program for women? I am switching to a Strong Curves program in two weeks.

  • Angelina says:

    WOW!! Very INSPIRING videos! Can’t wait to see how these girls do 🙂

  • Polina says:

    Hi Bret!
    It’s nice to see girls who really train and not just pass their time at the gym.
    I was wondering about the powerlifring competitions, what are the creterias that one should have in order to compete in them?
    Is it a culculation of weight
    that you can handle relatively to your bodyweight?
    I wanted to ask you few questions
    Do the girls follow a specific nutrition plan prior to the competition?or some kind of supplementation?
    I assume that since they are going to compete they make the big lifts a priority, but are there other exercises that you incorporate in their programs?

    • Bret says:

      Hi Polina, there are weight classes at the meets. Different federations have different rules as per form. The strongest squat, bench, deadlift, and total get recognized. Strength relative to bodyweight is factored into your Wilks coefficient but this is complicated and you don’t need to worry about it for now. Yes, I have them on a particular plan. Stay tuned for more info on that next month. – BC

  • Rochelle says:

    Hi Bret!

    I am very appreciative of your work and am a huge fan. I enjoy how you cater most of your work to your audience and even take the time to take a poll and adjust your pictures. I’m loving it!

    I was wondering if you can do a video on high bar squats vs. low bar squats or at least explain the technical differences. I’ve heard that low bar squats place more of an emphasis on the posterior chain and thus have a high glute activation? I’ve been doing high bad squats and going ATG but only feel them on the quads. What is the most effective squat and your opinion on high bar vs low bar?

    Thank you Bret!

  • Olivia says:

    Girls, not only you look amazing but you are damn strong! Great job Bret for documenting this.

  • Kasper says:

    Hey Bret
    Nice to see women trying out powerlifting – the benefits are way to overlooked.
    On the other hand it hurts my eyes seeing the two lovely girls squat:
    – Lack of corestrength
    – Valgus knee in concentric loading.
    The weight just seems to heavy?

    Anyway – keep up the good job and thanks for an inspiring blog.

    Greetings from Denmark.

    • Bret says:

      Kasper, Erin’s squat is beautiful with submaximal loads. When she reaches failure she caves in a bit but it’s not near enough to cause damage – nearly all Olympic weighlifters do this as do many powerlifters. Her squat has come a long way in the past month but we will continue to improve it.

      Sammie’s squat is the best it can possibly be for her physique – she has limited hip mobility that we’re working on. This is also her first week doing real squatting. She will gain much coordination as time goes on. I’m very happy with their form considering how new they are to this. Grooving powerlifting form with heavier weights takes time and patience. – BC

  • Jos says:

    Very inspiring! 🙂 I can’t wait to get strong like them, especially Erin since her physique is quite similar to mine. I’ve been loving hip thrusting (so far could only do 100lbs with 4 risers) and 125-135lbs glute bridging. Still working on my deadlift and front squats. My form tend to break when I start added more weight.

  • Jen says:

    How old are these badasses? I’m looking forward to following this! So inspiring. I also loved the title of the post, since I’m on week one of the Strong Curves program… I couldn’t help but click through from Facebook!

    • Bret says:

      Not sure, I’ll ask. I think Erin is around 25 and Sammie is 22 or so. I’ll ask them next time I train them – you’d think I’d know this haha!

  • Sharon says:

    Wow, this is fantastic! Very inspiring!
    Bret, would love to know what bands you’re using for the seated hip abduction – or if anyone else happens to know? Really want to get a hold of some as I’ve tried to do it with therabands but they cut into my legs quite badly.
    Can’t wait to see each week’s progress! Thanks so much for sharing and awesome effort ladies!

  • Kyla says:

    Ya us women should watch what we eat and be careful to keep our calories low when powerlifting so our muscles don’t get big and bulky! Because girls who aren’t thin aren’t “sexy”. Thanks for cracking the misconception Bret.

    • Bret says:

      Not what I meant Kyla. I’m saying that you can be strong and sexy and that not all powerlifters are bulky. What is “sexy” anyway – we all have our own definitions so just go by what you think as not everyone is going to agree on what constitutes sexy. And by the way, I was in Vegas yesterday for a world-class powerlifting competition and many of the female competitors looked more like men than they did women. I’m not saying this to be rude, but their jaws are huge, they have receding hairlines, facial hair, giant pecs, quads, and backs, their physiques look more like that of a man than a woman. I’d love to train these ladies and it would be a huge honor and I’d treat them like a million bucks. But their looks would scare off many aspiring ladies to compete in powerlifting as many women assume that heavy lifting would make them look that way. What women don’t realize is that these women are using anabolic steroids which have masculinization effects. This is not what my followers are typically going for. If this offends you, then my apologies, it’s not my intent to be brutish.

      • Kyla says:

        Hey Bret,

        Almost everything you posted is great and I am not offended but i just dont agree with everything you say. I agree that many women do not want to take steroids just to be strong and have side effects of an undesirable physique. But this is the extreme of what you touched on in this blog. I guess as a women I think that a man giving women advice to get a big bum but keep their legs thin, start powerlifting but don’t eat more, you can still be thin and powerlift is fine advice for some women who just want to look whatever they think sexy is. But what about being an athlete? Athletes don’t do this. I am proud to be strong and I am lucky my husband thinks im sexy even though my back is “thick” from pull-ups and swimming 5 days a week. I think those girls are doing a great job but im not sure about inpirational…the way you talk about purposely trying to stay thin and powerlifting to me seems backwards. Like something I would read out of shape magazine. I am not trying to be crazy feminist or anything but the reason there are comment sections is to say what we want right? I say nice things too 🙂 sometimes

        • Bret says:

          Fair enough Kyla! I completely see your point. I agree, athletes should not do this (I know of a softball player I used to train who would purposely “sandbag” her workouts by not pushing it hard as she didn’t want “big legs” or “big arms,” and I always tried to convince her that she’s an athlete and should train for performance and let the chips fall where they may). I really do want people to love their bodies and be proud of their hard work regardless of their genetic limitations or training preferences. And trust me, I’m trying to pack some meat on Erin – she’ll love the way it looks but she has trouble taking in sufficient calories as she’s a vegan (don’t get me wrong I think she’s gorgeous as is). But if she loves the way she looks and if you love the way you look then that makes me happy. Hard to convey this online. Cheers, BC

  • Ondřej says:

    Hello Bret,
    after reading Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy, I am a bit confused. How do I achieve progressive overload being so “loose” in terms of number of reps and intensity/intensiveness etc.? Or are you on board with Matt Perryman that it doesn’t matter much and it’s all about frequent less intense training? With what “intensiveness” (subjective level of fatique at the end of each set) am I supposed to train? Should I decide this on daily basis using “autoregulation” and not track anything or do you recommend having some kind of a workout chart? Is it all up to me?:-)

  • Irene says:

    I need to forward this article to all the girls I know how give me the, “But won’t you get all big & bulky?” question when I tell them I powerlift! Ladies, you won’t. Don’t worry. It takes a lot to get that way. Good article, Bret & good luck ladies!

  • Heather P says:

    This is so inspiring! I appreciate very much that you post the ladies doing real training, and not just a short video of the perfect PR’s, which is what I see on a lot of sites.
    I just got myself an olympic bar and some plates to use at home because I love my gym, but there is no space for me to do hip thrusts, and I feel like they were really starting to help me when I was doing them at my old gym.
    My first meet is Saturday and I’m so nervous. I keep trying to remind myself the only person I’m competing with is me, and being my first meet, just getting out there will be a win. (but I will likely be the only person in my weight and age class, so I probably *will* only be competing with myself. =) )
    My squat is weak getting out of the hole, but my lockout is very strong. Do you have any quick tips you can pass along?
    Keep up the great work and thank you so much for everything you share!

  • Wynter says:

    Hi Bret,

    Do you utilize any specific form cues on the thrusters, esp. with these ladies? i.e. does it matter that their toes are pointing out and their range of motion seems limited?

  • Laura Kline says:

    Any recommendations with how to get started with coaching in Charlotte, NC?

  • bert says:

    I am asking myself in this article…. : “Is this what these girls need in their life” ? ” Is this what these girls need in their life”???

    Going to lift max-loads in competition.. Loading a brden on their NOW, still, Helathy bodies ???

    You can be an enthousiastic max-lift seeking enthousiast Brett. But do these girl need to be convinced by you to enter the “more danger damaging zone” of powerlifting… !!!

    That’s the first question. You can be enthousiasted by convincing them they need it.. I think it’s not what these girls need !

    • Bret says:

      Bert, I was training them when this comment came in today and read it to them. They were both pissed and insisted that they’ve been wanting to do a PL comp for around a year each and were very happy when I brought up the possibility to them. But don’t worry, their form is improving and we’re training intelligently, so I don’t think that injury is immanent. Thanks for your concern though.

      • bert says:

        Okay, as the girl say so.. It is.

        And I misinterpret your first lines in the article… As I read that you had convinced… You meant convincing them to do it in november.. And I read it in speed as you had convinced them to ‘start with powerlifting’. Sorry my mistake.

        But, anyway.. I will stay concerned… Powerlifting is sport at the edge.. In bad form and in good form evenly so. Putting your body at front of risk for only,…… fun and ego. You don’t need it as a girl to be sexy. I can understand that they will flow easily with someone you in the going as infectiouss enthousiastic trainer.

        I even have to control my enthousiasm influenced by your writings. I stay away from the edge.. max.

  • Amanda Laird says:

    I am just starting to get involved in power lifting. I have done tons of research on this subject but I still have some questions. What competitions should I be looking for as a beginner? Do I look for a competition first then join the federation that is hosting it?

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