A Q&A with Manon Bradley, Powerlifter and President of the British Drug Free Powerlifting Association

Have you heard about powerlifting and want to learn more? Are you already practicing the sport but can’t get enough information about it? Read on.

Manon Bradley has been powerlifting for more than a decade, and currently presides over the British Drug Free Powerlifting Association (BDFPA). She answered our questions via e-mail about powerlifting, her experiences in the sport, and drug use and powerlifting.

1. How were you introduced to the sport of powerlifting?

When I was 26 I joined a fancy health club in the centre of Manchester UK.  After a few weeks I was standing at the water fountain filling up my water bottle and I heard a voice behind me saying “you’ve got great legs for a bodybuilder”.  The voice belonged to Patrick an ex. Bodybuilder and would-be actor.  He taught me how to lift weights and instilled in me a love of lifting heavy things!  A decade later I met Neil Thomas (previous President of BDFPA).  He told me that lifting heavy things was an actual sport where I could win trophies!  I decided to have a go and within a month of joining the BDFPA I won the European under 70kg benchpress title – I was hooked.

2. What benefits are there in practicing powerlifting?

I have actually written a piece about this in my “passionate about powerlifting” blog: https://powerliftinglessonsforlife.wordpress.com/.

The benefits of powerlifting are physical, psychological and emotional:

  • 1 It teaches you that what your body does is more important than what it looks like.

As women we are taught from an early age that our looks count. If we are attractive we are more likely to have more friends, get a better job and earn more. But it won’t win you any prizes on a powerlifting platform. Pretty girls don’t lift more. In a powerlifting competition all that matters is the weight on the bar.

It’s an important lesson because it changes the relationship we have with our bodies.

When we only value them for how they look, those of us who don’t look like a movie star will start to find fault. When we value our bodies for what they do, for how much they lift or how fast they run, then we start to have a different, deeper relationship with ourselves.

We begin to learn that our bodies are for doing, not for being.

  • 2 You learn that it takes time to change your body – there are no quick fixes.

In the 12 years that I’ve been powerlifting competitively I have improved my bench press from 62.5kg to 82.5kg. It takes time to build strength and muscle, for your tiny supporting muscles to get used to the same pressures as the big muscles.

And it’s important to learn this because we are told time and time again in beauty magazines that it is possible to change ourselves in a week, with quick fix diets and exercise regimes. But it is not possible to make any real, lasting change in a short period of time. Powerlifting teaches us this.

  • 3 It’s easy to start but takes a lifetime to master.

I’m still learning and still improving even after 12 years. Powerlifting is a sport which can grow with you in ever-higher circles of mastery so that you always feel that you are moving forward. It gives you a sense of achievement year after year.

  • 4 You can start at any age and keep going well into your 80s.

The basics of powerlifting can be taught to anyone. I’ve seen powerlifters with no legs, powerlifters with only one arm, powerlifters with learning difficulties.  It is a sport which welcomes and embraces people of all types and all abilities and ages. And because there are layers and layers of ‘masters’ levels it is possible to remain competitive well into your 80s.

  • 5 All the worries of the world disappear.

Believe me, you can’t think about your troubles at work when you’re trying hard not to drop a heavy weight on your head! It’s called ‘being in a state of flow’, when you are concentrating so hard on the thing you’re doing that everything else falls away.

  • 6 You learn how to compete with other women.

I think that women aren’t very good at competing with other women. We’re discouraged from being competitive when we are young so that by the time we become adults we find it very upsetting when another women competes with us.

Powerlifting is competitive but it is also hugely supportive. It provides a warm and safe place to compete with people who become your friends. Last year, I watched another woman as she broke my world record and as soon as she got up off the bench the first person she came to for a celebratory hug was me. Because I was the only person in the room who truly understood what she had just achieved. It was a lesson in how to compete.

  • 7 It will help you to build muscle, bone and cardiovascular strength.

The low impactful nature of powerlifting and its increasing intensity are key factors in building strong muscles, bones and healthy heart and lungs.

  • 8 You can walk into any gym with confidence.

All this other stuff is great, but when you know your incline dumbbell presses from your good mornings, when you can choose your exercise with confidence, you can walk into any gym and know, deep in your bones, that the men won’t intimidate you.

3. Do you find that there are any misconceptions about the sport of powerlifting by a general public?

The main one is the confusion between powerlifting and weightlifting.  Weightlifting is Olympic lifting which is what you see in the Olympics!

4. Has being a woman, and according to your Twitter bio “passionate feminist”, helped shape your experiences in powerlifting? If so, how?

The world of powerlifting is the most equal and equitable environment I have ever encountered.  Everyone, men, women, large or small, are evaluated and celebrated for their ability and their effort.   As I have famously said many times before – you don’t get extra points for having great hair!

5. What advice would you give to women that are interested in starting to powerlift?

Find a gym with a proper squat rack

Seek advice from everyone – but don’t take it all as gospel – try your own way – change your stance, change the way you put your hands on the bar to find out what is best for you.

Write down what you do – if you don’t write it down how can you repeat it when it works well

Get technical help from someone who competes – competitive lifting is very different to the usual bodybuilding based lifting that most personal trainers know about

Don’t be intimidated by men in the gym – you probably know more than they do!

Join an online community such as the BDFPA Facebook group


Finally – don’t worry about looking terrible in your competition singlet!  Everyone does!

6. As President of the British Drug Free Powerlifting Association, how has the use of performance enhancing drugs evolved over time in the sport?

Drug users across sports as a whole have got more sophisticated.  In televised sports where there are large sponsorship deals to be had there is big money in taking drugs.  So the drug takers and drug makers have more money at their disposal in order to avoid capture.  So it is very hard as a drug testing organisation to keep up.

In powerlifting there are no big sponsorship deals (yet) so I hope that we avoid the worst off the excesses.

In BDFPA, I hope that our strong drug free ethos and rigorous testing regime means that we have fewer drug users than other federations or similar sports.


by Mariela S.M.

Image from allaboutpowerlifting.com



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