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Two weekends ago, senior Alice Zheng, a member of Princeton’s Powerlifting Club, earned first place at the 2017 USAPL Collegiate Nationals. A veteran of the sport, Zheng took the top spot with an impressive performance, squatting 160 kg, benching 91 kg, and deadlifting 188 kg.

The competition featured hundreds of contestants covering over a dozen weight classes. Zheng competed in the 72 kg division. Contestants were awarded points based on the sum of their three heaviest lifts in squatting, benching, and deadlifting. Each athlete was given three attempts in each discipline. Zheng’s cumulative score of 439kg (449.98 Wilks points) was more than enough to grab the top spot; second place finished with a sum of 397.5 kg (384.89 Wilks points).

Zheng discovered powerlifting when a colleague invited her to the gym in the summer of 2012. “I always wanted to get stronger, but I didn’t know how to without hurting myself. So, when he offered I jumped on the opportunity,” Zheng recalled.

A year later, Zheng was ready to compete in her first competition. There she met Kimberly Walford, a world champion powerlifter and one of Zheng’s future mentors. “She helped hold my hand through things because I was very nervous and we kept in touch after and she started me on competitive powerlifting,” said Zheng.

Since then Zheng has gone on to compete in several competitions. Her resume includes several National Championships, North American competitions, and even an Arnold Sports Festival —named after the Great One himself. But perhaps most notably, Zheng represented Team USA in 2015, competing at the International Powerlifting Federation World Classics in Finland. Zheng made a huge splash, taking home the gold in her division.

“It was really amazing for me to be on an international platform competing for my country. That was also the first time I had a nine-for-nine performance, which is where you make every single one of your lifts,” Zheng stated. “It was really cool, going neck-and-neck the whole time, and I pulled through. And I felt really good about executing on all my lifts.”

Growing up, Zheng never imagined she would develop a passion for athletics. “I grew up as a couch potato – never really worked out. I was always the last person picked for PE class when we played ball games,” Zheng stated. “I remember this one time we were playing touch rugby and somebody passed me the ball. I just freaked out so much that I just threw it at the first person that I could see.”

However, now Zheng cannot imagine her life without powerlifting. “I feel like in general it has had a powerful impact on me in terms of the way I see being competitive with other people and my self-confidence,” said Zheng. “The thing that attracted me to powerlifting in the first place was going back to the gym and being able to put more weight on the bar and that I had gotten stronger. So just having this thing in my life [that] whenever I invest my time, effort, and energy into it I see the payoff has been really powerful for me”.

For Zheng, this commitment means frequent practices at Dillon Gym, where works Zheng works with her coaches, Andrey Grebenetsky and Chelsea Savit from Beefpuff Barbell. The focus of here training is on compound barbell movements like squats, benches, deadlifts, and other variations including high bar squats, pause benches, and Romanian deadlifts. Additionally, Zheng does accessory movements to build and maintain muscle, especially focusing on the upper back and glutes.

When Zheng is not finishing her own workouts, she also serves as co-captain of Princeton Powerlifting. The club features a wide spread of experience levels, from international competitors to beginners looking to get started. The team has also given Zheng a community that shares her interest in powerlifting and a venue to share her experience with other students.

“We try to get everyone training together. We have a practice schedule and we always try to have a couple of the club officers at the practices to check everyone’s form and to make sure the newbies are not hurting themselves. Sometimes we do social events, like all you can eat sushi to get our protein in,” said Zheng.

Looking forward, Zheng hopes to continue to pursue powerlifting after her time at Princeton. In fact, she cannot imagine stopping. “I’ve never really understood what it meant to be passionate about something until powerlifting. It’s really the first thing I found where instead of being really into it for a year or half a year it’s been something I can’t leave,” commented Zheng. “I’ve tried to stop powerlifting for a while and I just ended up back in the gym hitting the same lifts. So, it’s really important to me.”

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