In my post about my US Open Prep, I explained the value of multiple perspectives, and my coach, Jacob Cloud, weighed in on what he thought about my prep. This guest post is in the same spirit. Last week, I wrote about some of my takeaways from the June UGSS at Elitefts, and this week, my girlfriend Staci shares her take on the event. Got an idea for your own guest post? Leave it in the comments!

Staci's UGSS Lessons

A few weeks ago, I was given the amazing opportunity to head to the Elitefts compound, alongside Ben, and train with team Elitefts at the Underground Strength Session. I’m a huge fan of any opportunity to learn, and have always loved going to seminars run by lifters or fitness professionals. But this was different: no formal education, just training alongside some of the most respected lifters in the sport. I had no idea what to expect - and ended up walking away with way more than I could have ever hoped.

Today I’d like to talk about the main takeaways I had as a visitor at the Underground Strength Session.

Going in, I found myself putting a lot of pressure on myself. I still consider myself very much a beginner in the sport of powerlifting - I only have two sanctioned meets under my belt, and still feel like there is an entire world of information to learn. But with that, my fulltime job is coaching and creating content for a fitness site, and like Dani [Overcash] wrote about, Imposter Syndrome is a real thing. I had this fear looming that I’d be found out to be a fraud.

Also, as Ben’s girlfriend, I felt as if I needed to present a certain level of strength, powerlifting competency, and above all, perfect technique. As if I didn’t lift perfectly it would present poorly on Ben.

But as the day went on I realized I didn’t need to be perfect. Every single person, regardless of level, brought their own unique set of strengths to the table, and was there to learn, become a better version of themselves, and to help everyone around them do the same.

It’s very easy to forget that what you see on social media is really just a highlight reel - the best of the best. It’s so easy to just assume that these lifters are always perfect and always get things right. What you don’t see is the day to day struggle, the grind, the failures, pushing through all of the metal aspects of training. No one posts every time they try something and they fail - only when they succeed.

It’s so easy to see someone constantly succeeding and posting PR’s to feel like you should be able to do that too. But what you’re not seeing in those posts is the months (and years) of hard work that went into that success.

Seeing so many successful lifters in the same room, all focusing on getting better and not on that highlight reel was eye opening to me. This all really is about the process, and the success comes from that constant drive to learn how to get better.

A post shared by Staci Ardison (@staciardison) on


Ben wrote in his blog about how powerlifting has turned into something we do on our own, and how moving further away from it being a team sport is a mistake.

And I’m guilty of this. As a high anxiety introvert, I’m completely turned off from the types of powerlifting hype videos you see on the internet, where when you go for a PR there’s a person standing 2 inches from your ear screaming at you to make the lift. And those types of videos have always convinced me that team training is just not for me.

With my job, I spend so much of my day focusing on other people and their training, that my training time is my time to focus 100% on me. I put my headphones on, blast my music, and I find I lift better and can feel my body and technique better when I can instill a sense of calm and stay in the moment instead of hyping myself up about the lift. If I hype myself up too much, I get anxious and my technique goes out the window.

So I’ve always just assumed that lifting on my own is what I need to do. But this requires me to do a lot of reading and watching videos ahead of time, and then filming every workset and trying to compare how my body feels to how the video looks. It’s exhausting.

Getting cues during the lift, instead of watching the video and noting what I should do different next time, was huge. And in addition to that, I learned so much watching everyone else and listening to everything else that was going on. Whenever someone was helping someone else change up a lift I tried to watch and soak up as much of the knowledge as possible. Why are they using that cue? How is the lifter responding? Can I use that cue myself or with one of my clients?

I constantly took notes throughout the day of things I wanted to ask about, look into, or try when I got home. While I think that I’ll always love my days training on my own, I’m definitely going to be looking for more opportunities to train with other powerlifters in the area in the future.


To finish up, I want to talk about how absolutely incredible it was for me to walk into a room and be surrounded by women who were all significantly stronger than me. While it’s nice to be the strongest person in the room (especially at a meet!), my strength levels are intermediate level, and in order to move up to that elite level, having that push from women stronger than you is is a huge help even just mentally.

For a while, I tried to compare my lifts to Ben’s, as he’s the closest thing I have to a powerlifting training partner, and would set goals like trying to stay within 50% of his s quat, or 300lb less than his deadlift, but it’s just not the same as training around people who have similar strength levels as you to give you that extra little push.

To do my workset on deadlift at 385 and have a woman who is 30lb lighter than me ask for 50lb heavier for her next set, and then to share a pullup with bar with women who are doing sets of 10 on pullups while you do 3’s is insanely inspiring.

To continue the community discussion from above, while I love working out with men, and have no problem being a minority in the gym, being surrounded by women who have achieved what you’re working for, hearing them talk and be open about some of the struggles that you’re having, and what they did to get through them is something I haven’t had the opportunity to be around before. Their openness and willingness to welcome me and share their knowledge was extremely appreciated and this is truly what we mean when we talk about women building up and empowering other women.

In addition, being a female in powerlifting is not always easy. Dealing with internet coaches, people telling us what our bodies are supposed to look like, that we should stick with more “female friendly” sports like dancing or swimming, or that in order to get anywhere in fitness we need to “show more booty” are all things you just get used to. It’s beyond frustrating to post an article or video and have all of the comments be about your body and not about the content of the video.

I’m extremely lucky to have some great powerlifting gyms here in Austin where this attitude is kept to a minimum, but I have never been in a situation where I’ve felt like the women were treated 100% like we belonged, that our lifting mattered too, and were respected completely as equals. So thank you, Elitefts - the experience was insanely refreshing and gives me hope that we’re headed in the right direction as more females enter this sport.

What’s Next?

My next steps are to take everything that I learned from the weekend and try to slowly implement it into my training, and then maybe come off of my year and a half hiatus from competing and pick out a meet!

Huge thank you to everyone at Elitefts and Dave Tate for putting this weekend together, allowing me to tag along, and welcoming me so warmly.