Building a World Record Holder

AUTHOR’S NOTE- The following will be quite flippant towards powerlifting. Those familiar with my work will no that no disrespect is meant and those familiar with the writing will know that I can be flippant towards other sports as well if it suits the writing. So please bear this in mind before your triple ply panties get too bunched up.


So Donna just went and broke the world record in the Back Squat, Deadlift, and Total. Pretty good going I’d say.

So I didn’t build Donna, I was lucky that she came into my gym. When Ross O’Carroll Kelly’s son told him he wanted to play soccer he supported him. It was much like this when Donna told me she wanted to be a powerlifter. At first, I thought she was confused with weightlifting and tried to correct her. But no, she wanted to do powerlifting. One of the exercises they even lie down to do! Crazy, right? She wanted to do it. I supported her. And turns out she was pretty good. She won a World Championships last year!

At the start of this year Donna had her sights set on the single lifts, and was doing the deadlift and bench. Which means it was the double lifts, I guess? Firstly, we had to make sure she wasn’t back squatting, because then she’d want to take a bite at the back squat as well. And all three lifts take their toll.

I took to the internet and found this program, which wasn’t specifically for the front squat. But it worked incredibly well. I’ve put a few others through this all with good responses so I’d highly recommend it. Plus, the front squat is pretty cool.

At the Single Lifts, Donna benched 65Kg and PR’d her deadlift with 145Kg, agonising missing out on 150Kg.

After Single Lifts, rather than take a week off, which we like to do, we’d to go straight into prep for Euros. A key part of remote coaching is you have to anticipate problems ahead of time. Unlike in person coaching where you can see that the day is off for someone, or a slightly technical adjustment will mean the difference between miss and make, with remote coaching you’ve to design it in a way that’s all but fail proof. (I’m not calling it foolproof, as my athletes are no fools. And yes, I did use the word “technical” to describe powerlifting. I feel a little dirty too.)

So the following account of her programming had to take into account the limited time we’d have together, the fact that she didn’t have free rein of a normal affiliate, and I couldn’t get her to drag a sled in all the fun ways I could think of. Sled work in 2014, I’m convinced, helped her recover stronger and win World’s last year.


This was the first time ever I’ve completely made up a squat cycle by myself. Good old Prilepin’s table was used that as my basis for the program. Considering we’d 6 weeks I decided to start with 6 x 6, then 5 x 5, then 4 x 4. I know, I’m incredibly imaginative.


My reasoning, as it were, was to start with high volume, maybe get some hypertrophy up here, and then transfer that quickly to pure maximal strength. Donna had two squat days, both of which were 6 x 6, with the aim being the second day we could go heavier. Donna was also given a range, rather than an exact number. This was another first and gave her more scope of self determination.

After week one, Donna hated me. This happens frequently. It’s probably a good thing if you can illicit an emotional response from your athlete. But was making her lifts and things were going to plan, so I’ll take the hate!

After her 3 x 3 @ 90%, Donna wanted to max out. Ideally I wouldn’t have. But, I know that there’s a large psychological component to knowing what you can hit, and it’s all about that balance between what you think is best and what they think is best, what they want and what they need.

So I allowed Donna to go for a 103% lift. I guess that’s influenced by Hatch. Now, this required I go to Flyefit because I know what Donna, and particularly her training partner are like!

As predicted, on the day Donna asked me could she go past 103% if it looked good. You see, I believe that the coach at times has to be less passionate than the athlete, and this is one of those times. The aim is your competition, not a training PR.

But I’m convinced Donna squatted her 130Kg squat high that day, and made it look easy, so I’d load 132.5Kg for her. She smashed that of course! PR in the bag!

World Champion Donna with a 10Kg PR 2 weeks out from Euros! #tallaghtstrong #welfareweights #powerlifting

A video posted by Colm O'Reilly (@oreillycolm) on

Oh and by the way, we worked off a theoretical 1RM that was higher than her actual 1RM. Never underestimate the power of working off “good for” numbers!


This was by far our weakest of the lifts. There’s technical things to clean up, and I’m far from a bench press expert. Most, if not all, of what I know I got from a James Hanley PT on the bench. He first got me to stretch my hips and I was like “brah, this is upper body shizzle” but according to him you use your whole body. I personally haven’t coordinated the leg drive into my bench yet but I understand the lift in theory.

Donna tends to worry at higher repetitions, the aim of this program was higher numbers at higher percentages. A lot of her days were Max Effort repetitions at 80% plus. These gave me a gauge of where to go in the subsequent week.

Females especially need more work on their pressing so we pressed at least three days a week. Monday was Max Effort benching. Please don’t blame Louie and Westside on this. This was not Conjugate anything, so the failures are on me, not him. We’re talking 3 x ME @ 85% here!

Wednesday was initially sets of 3 on the paused bench, to give her that drive. They wait a really long time to tell you to press in IDFPA! Couldn’t they just take our word for it?

Friday was dumbbell bench press 5 x 5, to get extra volume in and address imbalances. To balance out this pressing you need a lot of pulling work. Without having an affiliate to train her out of we were more limited that I’d like to be. Really, we were trying to engrain a pattern and build some hypertrophy there as well for the bench.

This article I thought was quite good, so I’m including it here.


For the deadlift, although this sounds pretty dumb, we’d two issues: Pulling from the floor, and lockout.

The first one we knew about, that pulling from the floor was where Donna was weakest, or certainly felt the weakest. If we look at her 150Kg miss from the Single Lifts, she makes if off the floor but then runs out. This could suggest that she needs to work on her midrange, or she needs to have more momentum during the sticking point. First things first, let’s look at speed from the floor.

I like to think of the analogy of driving your car through mud. If you enter with enough speed, you’ll get through. So I prescribed deficit pulls for our hero. As an aside, I’m not mad on pulls for weightlifting (you know, that real sport). I find that bar path and/or tempo don’t match the actual lift, so they run the risk of creating an interference pattern with the real lift. Standing people up on 20Kg plates seems to fix all this. But we’ll talk about Oly Lifting programming at a later date.

Week one, I got this:

20150303 071725 from Colm O'Reilly on Vimeo.

I was all “you don’t look like you’re standing on anything there?” Lesson learnt – ALWAYS make sure you’re athlete has understood you correctly! But it wasn’t all bad, as I could see Donna’s hips weren’t coming in as aggressively to meet the bar as I’d like. I HATE the super leanback deadlift, you know, this one.

Fuck those erectors, bro!

Fuck those erectors, bro!

So we worked a lot on glute bridges and single leg glute bridges to get Donna’s glutes more active. Considering how much she hated these, I think they were a welcome addition. An imperfect solution, but a working one

Much like the squat, I took the numbers from Prilepin, and adjusted them based off my gut. Would this be too much loading for her? What would illicit the response without killing her? Not killing a world record holder is kind of a big deal.

Two weeks out from competition, we reduced the plates to 10Kg plates, and then to the floor. It worked too.

If you look at Donna’s 150.5Kg you can really see she’s a great drive from the floor through the feet. The front squat cycle beforehand would have helped with this.


Our now traditional day before strategy meeting took place over breakfast and coffee where Donna and I politely argued over openers and strategy.

Donna was petrified of missing her first squat so wanted 125Kg. I knew she’d 130Kg no bother, but we settled on 125Kg. Which she then missed 😛 BUT, then she came back and nailed 130Kg for a European Record and 135Kg for the world record.

DonnaSquat from Colm O'Reilly on Vimeo.

I arrived down well after the squats and just in time to throw Donna enough that she missed her 67.5Kg bench. I was not having a great debut as a powerlifting platform coach! I believe Donna has this in her today, just one of those misses that I’m not going to read too much into. I still believe there’s a lot of technical improvements she can make as well.

Finally we had the deadlift. Really all we wanted was the 150.5Kg (you’re allowed go up by .5Kg if you’re breaking a World Record, so that was the plan.) The debate centred around an opener that was balanced between being heavy enough to get Donna’s CNS ready, and not exhausting her. 140Kg was decided as the number. She’d hit this before on the platform and now being much stronger it was likely to work as well.

140Kg didn’t fly up, and I think this is a good thing. I explained to our heroine that if it had felt too easy she wouldn’t pull enough from the floor on the WR attempt.

Platform coaching, in my opinion, should be very simple. Calm and positive. The athlete is already hyped up enough and we should be their anchor. They’re going to have weird doubts, and want to try new things instead of trusting the plan. This isn’t the time to go over all the cues they’ve used in training before. All was said, “Squeeze and Pull.”



Finally, flesh matters more than iron. The relationship itself is more important than the programming. Having said that, there still needs to be some reasoning behind the programming, and not just “ummmm, I saw this online and it looked cool!”

Above all else we got this far because Donna trusted me, and that trust made me shit my pants worry enough that I researched methods to make her stronger without killing her. It helps that she’s incredibly tough. They build them like that out that direction anyway. Because Donna trusted me to follow the program, AND come back and give me honest feedback and ask for 1RM attempts, we were able to find out what gave us the best gains.

At the end of the day, the numbers aren’t really important. The journey and the sense of accomplishment is. During our pre game meeting this was our chat:

-“Did you train as well as you possibly could have, given all the life circumstances that happen?”
-“Are you going to do your best on the day?”
-“Of Course!!”
-“Then, in that case it’s already decided. Whatever happens, happens, and you’re already a success.”

I believe that too!

Well done Donna. You’ve made me very proud. AND you’ve made me exceptionally happy with your decision to come back CrossFitting!!!!

Click on the image to download Donna's complete training program.

Click on the image to download Donna’s complete training program.

We'll be selling these t-shirts shortly to sponsor Donna for World's :)

We’ll be selling these t-shirts shortly to sponsor Donna for World’s :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *