Powerlifter Becci Holcomb wears a red
Becci Holcomb coaches Carinne Tzurdecker's squat movement during a powerlifting practice for Kennesaw Barbell at the Owl's Nest in Kennesaw, Georgia. (Narda Sigala/Fresh Take Georgia)

At first glance, powerlifting may seem like a sport largely dominated by men. However, it may come as a surprise to many that there is a growing presence of female athletes in the field. Despite this, the ratio of male to female competitors remains more than two to one.

One of the women experiencing this trend firsthand is Becci Holcomb, an internationally-ranked powerlifting athlete and coach. 

Holcomb discovered the world of powerlifting when she was a student. One of her classmates told her she looked strong and should consider giving the sport a try. Holcomb said she had never heard of powerlifting outside of weight training for other sports.  

“But after trying it out and taking an intro class, I was hooked,” Holcomb said. “That day, it wasn’t even a bar. It was just a PVC pipe and that was what got me into it.”

Powerlifting is a sport that consists of focusing on the three main lifts: the squat, the bench and the deadlift. At a powerlifting meet, the lifters compete against others in their weight class and age division to accumulate a total based on the weights of the plates they lift.

In the meet, the competitors get three attempts at each of the main lifts. Each successful lift contributes to the lifter’s total score. The lifter with the highest total score within their weight class wins.

Holcomb’s powerlifting career began when she competed in her first national powerlifting competition in 2014. She placed first in her weight class. She has since won several regional and international competitions, earning spots in the top three at each one. Holcomb even competed with Team USA.

As a female in powerlifting, Holcomb advocates for other women and serves as a reminder of why they belong in the sport. 

Holcomb has progressed to compete in the 185+ lbs. weight class in both raw and single-ply equipment. She broke American deadlift records for both categories. Holcomb notably won the USA Powerlifting (USAPL) Open Nationals in 2017. She also won the Bodybuilding.com Pro Deadlift Challenge with the most weight ever lifted by a woman. 

Reflecting on her personal experiences, Holcomb said there is a stigma around women in powerlifting and the gym.

“We didn’t have women in sports, and I think it shows,” Holcomb said. “Just seeing what our moms and grandmas were exposed to and then we were exposed to, is not something that I will expose my girls to. Growing up, I think I was on my first diet when I was 10, because both of my parents wanted me to not be the person that I was.”

Holcomb has two children and is certified in prenatal and postnatal strength training. Growing up, she said her mother placed a lot of pressure on her to lose weight, which led to her introduction into the fitness world.  

“My mom is tiny, and when I was a 10-year-old and already 5 feet tall and bigger, I was introduced to yo-yo dieting and [the] Atkins diet at such a young age,” she said. “But in reality, looking back at pictures, I was a normal looking, slightly chubby kid and didn’t gain weight until puberty.”

For the past couple of years, she has coached powerlifting athletes to their desired skill levels. Throughout her career, she competed or trained with many athletes from all walks of life. One of those lifters was Jay Withers, her now husband.   

“The women who powerlift are more often seeing it intellectually and taking the full process to see the sport as a whole,” Withers said. “I see a lot more women with technique than men.” 

Withers competes and volunteers at powerlifting meets.  

“Becci could watch me squat, and I would hit full depth and even lower, and she could still identify my heel coming up in the movement,” he said. “It’s those details that I feel women coaches tend to offer more about the sport.”

Satisfied with her successful powerlifting career, Holcomb now focuses on coaching collegiate-level athletes. She is one of the team coaches for Kennesaw Barbell, a team of students from Kennesaw State University, and will accompany them as they compete at Collegiate Nationals in April 2024.

Carson Merritt, a senior at KSU, is one of her clients and will be competing at both Collegiate and Raw Nationals in April and September 2024. 

“Her experience spans wider than many other coaches,” Merritt said. “She’s done both equipped and raw and has trained both styles to great extents, so there’s not much she doesn’t have at least some knowledge in. She is also a coach that understands that life gets in the way and encourages input from clients. From finding something that I want to try to working around any pains, she always tries to find a way to work around it. It’s amazing considering how much the gym means to me.” 

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