The Lifting Librarian: An Interview with Kaitlin Montague
Kaitlin Montague is strong. Really strong. Don’t let her lovely bespectacled face and demure smile fool you; underneath it all she’s got brains and brawn—and is redefining the librarian cliché while simultaneously turning the lifting world upside down.
Her rise in the sport has been meteoric, and after lifting seriously for only a year and a half she won six gold medals at the Under 25 and University National Championships. Last year she was sidelined from the University World Nationals due to an injury, but that hasn’t slowed her down and she is on the road to recovery with her sights set on the Olympic Games. She says lifting has changed her life—just like a good book is able to do for the soul—and her journey has been an extraordinary one that Kaitlin describes as challenging but incredibly worthwhile. Recently she sat down with your humble correspondent over pizza (carb loading!) to discuss her health challenges, the world of lifting, and much more.
- 1. I would love to know how you started off on this journey! Tell me how you got into lifting. What piqued your interest?
Like most weightlifters these days, I started my weightlifting career after being introduced to the Olympic lifts through CrossFit. I did CrossFit for two and a half years before I entered into my first “mock” weightlifting meet. This was just for fun, it was held as a fundraiser for one of the coaches who had passed away at our gym. He was a weightlifter. “Mock” means unsanctioned by USA Weightlifting. I thoroughly enjoyed that meet. Four months later, in September 2015, I entered into my first USAW sanctioned meet, where I qualified for the American Open as a 48kg (105 pound) lifter. I’ve been hooked ever since.
What I found most fascinating as I started my journey was that every day in the gym was about being the best you could be for that given day. It’s motivation for striving to be better than yesterday in strength and in technique. I’ve learned so much about myself as a person since this journey began.
2. What’s something the average person looking from the outside in doesn’t know about lifting? How is it different than just hitting the gym?
Weightlifting attracts a certain type of person: the perfectionist, the dedicated, the quirky, the intelligent, the persistent. It takes a certain kind of person to pay such close attention to detail, almost like an artist. Weightlifting, is essentially, an art. The definition of art is “a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artworks, expressing the author’s imaginative or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotion power.” That’s weightlifting; it’s emotional, it’s technical, it becomes a part of you. Ask any weightlifter, they will have a similar response. It’s so much more than a sport or a hobby. It’s like reading. When you read something that changes you—the way you think or feel about a specific topic—it’s like that. The process has changed my life.
3. What is a challenge specific to women lifters?
Weightlifting, as a female in our society, is going against the grain. And all my life, I’ve been proud to do that. My parents raised me to do what I enjoy and to be the best version of myself regardless of what it may look like to someone else. It’s for me. For a bit, I was ashamed of my muscles, ashamed that my hard work could literally be projected, though that’s not why I do this. I’ll be in public and other women would look at me a bit funny. Clothes don’t fit properly. But none of that matters. It’s such an incredible thing to know that I’m a woman and I’m strong. I can say that all of us females in this sport are proud to do what we do. We’re exceeding expectations daily and nobody can touch that.
4. Tell me about how you fuel yourself. What’s your day to day diet look like? When do you cheat? 🙂
So I regularly sit at about 50 kilos, which is 110 pounds. I compete at 48, which is 105. Diet is a huge part of the sport. I train heavier to give myself room to gain muscle and stay healthy. The cut is a slow process that I’ll start two months out from competition. I work with an awesome nutritionist, Jaclyn Sklaver, and she makes sure that I can eat a good amount of food and lose in a healthy way.
On lifting day, I eat more carbs and less fat, and on rest days, I eat less carbs and more fat. My macro nutrient breakdown will look something like this on a lifting day: 112 grams of fat, 168 grams of carbs, and 53 grams of fat. These numbers are a bit lower as I’m just starting my cut.
For breakfast, I often do a half of a cup steel cut oats, two egg whites, one to two scoops of collagen protein, 2 tbsp of chia seeds, a touch of maple syrup or agave and some cinnamon. I’ll throw that in the microwave and I’ve got protein pack oatmeal. Egg whites and veggies get old really quickly. I don’t recommend it.
For lunch, I’ll have four ounces of whatever meat I have whether it’s chicken, steak, or tuna, at least a cup of veggies, and some rice or sweet potatoes. Sometimes, I’ll switch things up and have tuna salad with avocado on the days I get a bit more fats.
Dinner, depending on the day, is usually smaller. I usually eat dinner on the way to gym from work. I’ll do some grilled chicken in a fiber wrap for protein and carbs. I’l usually throw veggies in there too.
Post workout, I’ll have protein powder and a snack when I get home. Usually yogurt and chia seeds, the natural casein in the yogurt helps recovery during sleep.
I don’t think of it as cheating, I think of it as “celebrating.” I earn that! If I’m sitting pretty steady, as I am right now, either Saturday or Sunday I’ll have some fun. Ice cream is my downfall and doughnuts, and waffles…should I go on? The good thing is that there are healthy alternatives to each of these foods; I utilize those often. After “celebrating,” I usually feel pretty crappy and I’m excited to get back on track. The question for me is usually “Is it worth it?”
5. In our society, there’s an emphasis on looking a certain way as being the motivation for hitting the gym–especially for women. I’d love to hear what you have to say about confidence and how training to be strong and functional is different than training to “look hot.”
As most of my friends are weightlifters and CrossFitters, the goal is never to “look hot.” It’s honestly just a nice side effect. A side effect of squatting is a nice butt, I definitely was not born with a butt, but I did work hard for it. If you’re going to the gym to look good and lose weight, it’s important that you find something active that you enjoy. It takes off a tremendous amount of pressure. Working out then becomes more than something you have to do. You find yourself scheduling your life around working out. It’s something that you love and enjoy; it becomes something you do for you, like eating and breathing. It’s a priority.
I’m a different person now than I was before I started lifting weights. There’s something magical that occurs when you hand a woman a barbell and some weights. She’s invincible because it doesn’t take long for her to understand that she is a force. That, I think, is something that some women are discounted for–we’re just as strong and dedicated as men. We have work ethic to at least match, if not exceed the work ethic of a man. Weightlifting allows women to empower themselves. It’s different than going to the gym and using a machine. When you have a barbell and you’re performing the Olympic lifts, the only thing doing the work is you—you’re the machine. And that is powerful and empowering.
6. Describe the competition process. Take us through the moment you wake up through the event itself.
Before I describe the process, I’m going to explain competition first. In competition, you have two lifts: the snatch and the clean and jerk.
[Quick note on lifting terminology: The snatch starts with the barbell on the floor and the lifter in a squat with a wide grip on the barbell. The lifter then lifts the bar from the ground to overhead in one motion. The clean and jerk, on the contrary, consists of two motions. The clean starts with the barbell on the floor and the lifter in a squat position, like the snatch, but with a narrower grip. In one motion, the lifter lifts the bar from the floor to the front rack position on the shoulders. From there, in another motion, the lifter lifts the bar overhead.Both lifts are only considered “good lifts” if the lifter locks out their elbows appropriately, showing control and stabilization of the barbell. The clean and jerk is usually able to be performed with more weight than the snatch as the snatch is the most technical lift of the three.]
You have three one minute attempts for each lift (one minute to complete a single lift); the snatch is always first. There is a ten minutes break and the clean and jerk follows. The goal is to acquire the your highest total possible. And your total is your max weight, in kilos, combined. All of the training that you do is for six minutes: three for the snatch and three for the clean and jerk. A total isn’t posted when the lifter either misses all three snatches or clean and jerks. The goal is to total, lift well, and have fun.
On competition day, it’s important to stay relaxed and visualize. You have to literally visualize yourself on the stage, lifting alone, making lifts. On competition day, all the physical work is done, competition day is all mental. It’s you against you; it’s doing your best and knowing and believing that you can. Mental strength, for this sport, is just as important—if not more—than physical strength.
Most competition mornings, you’re hungry and dehydrated as you have a specific weigh-in time. Two hours after you weigh in, it’s competition time. In those two hours, you have to eat, hydrate, and warm up. This is why diet is an important factor in the sport, the better your nutrition, the better your recovery after weigh-ins, the better you’ll lift.
I like to listen to calm, but fun music throughout the day. I think about having fun, I know that I’m prepared. I can’t stand in my own way, I have to let things unfold. Once it’s competition time, I’m focused, I do what I’m told and we let it roll. I say we because in the back at competition, I usually have at least three other people with me: my main coach and two other coaches or a friend. It’s a joint effort. Nothing that I do, I do alone.
I have a certain amount of warm up attempts, and then we decide which weight I’ll open with. From there, I have three attempts to lift as much as I can. Then you can only go up in weight—you can’t miss and go down. It’s important to stay focused and remain positive whether you’re missing or making lifts.
7. I know there is a health issue close to your heart involving women’s lifting that you want to talk about. Tell the readers what you’ve discovered on your health journey.
A weak pelvic floor is—unfortunately—common among women; but just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s normal or healthy. At fourteen years old, I was peeing my pants while running track. I didn’t know any better, I was told it was common for female athletes, so it became my norm. I was never told I was unhealthy or I should get help. At 22, I started peeing in the bottom of heavy cleans and front squats. I didn’t know how to brace properly. I couldn’t feel my pelvic floor muscles, let alone use them. I had been a dancer most of my life, learning to move, but not to brace. In August of 2016, my pelvic floor gave out, leaving me confused as to what was happening with my body. It wasn’t until I found my physical therapist, Tamra Wroblesky, co-founder of Inner Dynamics Physical Therapy, that I knew what was going on. What had happened was that I was sitting at a really low body weight–47.5–and lifting heavy daily. I didn’t have the body weight to support muscle growth, the proper muscular development imperative to weightlifting, the core strength, or the technique to perform the lifts safely. This was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.
After a year of working with Tamra, I not only feel my pelvic floor getting stronger, but I know how to properly use it. The pelvic floor is a muscle just like any other. When you use it and exercise it, it gets stronger. I’ve peed during lifts less than a handful of times since working with Tamra and my core is stronger than it’s ever been.
I think it’s important to be aware of incontinence in females and while it may seem normal, it’s neither normal nor is it healthy. It’s important to reach out to a professional and get help.
8. And finally, as the official Lifting Librarian, what are some books people can pick up to check out the world of lifting? Also, any advice for beginners who are thinking of trying it out but might be nervous to do so?
Catalyst Athletics is the world’s largest source of Olympic weightlifting education material including articles, videos, photos, workouts, training programs, books, and podcasts. If anyone is interested, I recommend their content.
However, I think that weightlifting is about experience. It’s like reading books about mountains, but never truly experiencing their magnificence and once you do, no book or photo could ever do it justice. If anyone is interested in weightlifting, I’d recommend looking for the closest gym or CrossFit gym that offers weightlifting classes. Or you can contact me, I’m starting a new coaching gig at Monmouth CrossFit in Shrewsbury and I love spreading the weightlifting love.
What is impressive about Kaitlin is her optimistic enthusiasm for the future and the competitions that lie ahead. Whatever the outcome, she is more than happy to hit the gym and continue to test herself athletically—joyfully following her passion for lifting wherever it may lead.
In other news, after a two month hiatus, your humble correspondent is headed back to the gym. 😉
Also: visit her excellent blog here.