Courtney Norris - Powerlifter

Author: Jonathan. L, owner - Models Observer
November 2017

1. Tell us about yourself and how long you have been powerlifting.

I began powerlifting in April/May 2015 and had my first competition in July of 2015.

2. How did you get into it?

Since I was a freshman in high school, I loved lifting weights. I took weight lifting classes each year 9-12th grade and LOVED being one of the strongest women in our classes. I would arm wrestle guys, play football, and I absolutely loved a challenge. I knew I wanted to do something like this for a living. I started personal training and teaching aerobics as a senior in high school and did this throughout college. If I had known about powerlifting then, I would have been sold from the start.
After graduating from school for Occupational Therapy, I decided it was time for me to be competitive again, I missed playing sports, and as an adult who had no chance of being a professional athlete, I joined Crossfit to see if there was any potential there. I had been going to crossfit for about 1.5 years and playing roller derby. During a bout, I tore a ligament in my thumb making it difficult to do any type of olympic lift or movements that required a lot of thumb strength. I had met my husband a couple months prior to the injury and he was into powerlifting. I decided to do some workouts with him while my thumb was healing. I noticed my strength was improving after I had been stuck at the same weights for an extended period of time. I decided my ultimate goal was to get stronger and that was all I cared about. I decided to convert over to powerlifting and I haven’t looked back since.

A post shared by Courtney Norris (@fueledbyiron) on

3. What are your best lifts?

I will list personal best, followed by meet best at 132 weight class:
Squat- 465/440
Bench- 243/243
Deadlift- 425/407
Total- 1133/1119

4. What is your lifting technique like and how did you develop it?

I believe in doing everything right the first time so you do not learn bad habits. I do things methodically and controlled; I record warm ups and watch them before going to the next set to ensure proper form, and I make corrections while in the moment rather than waiting and realizing I have to “unlearn” something. I want to be proactive, not reactive. Considering my background of weight classes in high school, strength and conditioning for softball and tennis in college, and majoring in strength and conditioning/PE in my undergraduate course, I know about safety and form. Powerlifting has some different techniques, and I utilize a coach to ensure I am doing everything to the best of my ability. I am grateful to have a husband who has experience and has taught me a lot of the differences between basic strength training (my background) and the tweaks for powerlifting. It is always evolving, never the same. You will always have some area that is weak and you will fix it, and then move on to the next. Adaptability at its finest.

5. How do you utilize your diet as a way to maintain your weight while increasing strength? What is your caloric intake?

I will admit nutrition is and has always been the most difficult aspect of being a competitive athlete. When I am not close to a meet, I eat what I want and could live like a college kid, Ramen Noodles and Campbells soups, take out, and just enjoying all the wonderful foods. When I am cutting for a meet, I basically track my foods at around 1400-1700 calories and lean out, and my strength normally improves because my protein intake is appropriate for what I am doing, and I don’t go into such a deficit that it hinders my performance. If I need to decrease more weight, It is usually through water manipulation the week of the meet. My goal is to become more consistent throughout the year so the weight cuts come to a halt.

A post shared by Courtney Norris (@fueledbyiron) on

6. Please describe your daily/weekly training. Which muscles do you target to improve lifting?

We utilize a periodization/hybrid technique for our programming. Depending on the timing, we will do more max effort and 85+% for fewer reps closer to the meet. We continue to utilize accessory work to strengthen our weaknesses or enhance the musculature used during the lifts we are addressing that day.

When in “off season” (really, there is no off season, there is always work to do), we work more with hypertrophy training, 60-85% and more volume. We always incorporate the three main lifts in each workout and then use different types of bars and accessories to maximize those lifts. This is my least favorite phase. My body has fast twitch fibers all the way, it hates endurance type exercises. I can do singles at heavy weight and recover faster than doing 50% for 10 reps. I am pretty sure this is why I was not so great at crossfit and wanted to max out all the time. haha

We usually do more volume further out from our powerlifting meets, but we always incorporate a few weeks in between for some heavier loads and comp lifts to ensure we keep the correct patterning when we return to our strength phase.

The most commonly target muscle groups to target are:
a.) Lats-you need these in all three lifts, the stronger they are, the stronger all three lifts will be.
b.) Quads/Hamstrings/Glutes/lower back with a complex movement like RDLs, good mornings, hack squats, safety bar squats, etc.

7. How do you monitor your strength building process in squat, bench and deadlift?

I keep a log of all workouts in my phone, stating the weights I use, if I failed any reps, dropped weights, or anything significant in the work out that needs to be noted. I also post videos of the main lifts on instagram as a way to look back over time and see how my form has improved, if the weights are moving easier, if I hit any PRs, and it is a great way to reference things to measure my progress. For accessories, If I feel like a weight was not challenging enough, I will note it in the workout and the next week when I do similar movements, I will use a heavier weight. If I am curious if I am not pushing myself hard enough, I will use a heavier weight for a few sets, and then I won’t allow myself to drop back down unless I have had a change in sleep or diet that may increase my injury risk. Strength changes on a daily basis, the number one goal is to never go to failure.

8. Which lift is easier for you, and why?

I would say the bench is one of the easier lifts for me because I feel the safest. I have injured my back squatting and deadlifting, which really effects my mental game. I also know that it takes less time to recover from benching so I am not afraid to push myself on this lift. While training, I like to play it on the conservative side and save any extravagant lifts for the platform.

9. Tell us about some of your most memorable moments in powerlifting so far.

My most memorable moments in powerlifting have happened this year. I got to compete in the CETC US Open alongside my husband and some of the strongest, motivating, bad ass women in the sport. I got meet one of my role models, Gracie Davis, and hit numbers on the platform that I had never hit before. I wanted to prove I belonged on that stage and this was the first meet I competed in following my back injury.

The next moment was when I finally hit 407 on deadlift. I had a really difficult cut, the meet conditions were horrific, but I managed to still PR on every lift that day. I had been struggling with my deadlift for over a year because of the back injury. I attempted 385 at the Open, I missed it. I attempted 385 three weeks out from this meet, and missed it yet again. I was feeling very discouraged, but the stars aligned and I hit 385 on my third attempt, my husband told me to go ahead and try 405, but I was too conservative and doubted myself and ignored him. The federation record was broken by me and because it was another record, I was allowed a 4th attempt. I put 407 on the bar and pulled the weight faster than I would have every imagined that weight coming off the ground. It was amazing, I might have even cried afterwards.

Last deadlift session before the meet, 315 for five singles. I'm really trying to focus on keeping the lats engaged and bracing while keeping the bar close. Things aren't moving as easily as I wanted them today. I'll just accept the fact that this is my poverty lift and I need to be able to represent with bench and squats. #jaffestrength #norsefitness #rockhillnutrition #leaningout #deadlifttillimdead #almostgotime #norrisstrong

A post shared by Courtney Norris (@fueledbyiron) on

10. How do you successfully grow your mental strength in addition to physical strength?

Mental strength is very similar to physical strength. It is never linear. As previously stated, the last thing I want to do is fail or get injured. I always try to be on the conservative side, proactive, and hope for the best but know that sometimes it just doesn’t happen. I am not the type that says “I know I got this, I WILL do this, there’s no doubt in my mind.” I know that conditions are never perfect, judges make bad calls, I make mistakes, the press command can be longer than I hoped, my strength isn’t there for that day, so many factors play into powerlifting. I go into each day thinking, this is what I want to do, but if I don’t get it, I know I put everything out there to get it, if it doesn’t happen, it just doesn’t happen. One day at a time, one lift at a time, one PR at a time. If I continue to be consistent, so will my numbers. If I continue to perfect my techniques, and listen and never stop learning from others, I can always improve.

11. What do you like doing away from powerlifting?

I do not have any other hobbies outside of powerlifting. Outside of working full time as an Occupational Therapist, powerlifting is like a second job for me. I love to help others learn, get better, stronger, and build their confidence. The only other things I like to do are travel and spend time with the family and with friends.

12. What is your favorite motto/quote in life?

“If it is important, you will find the time. If it isn’t, you will find an excuse.”

“Replace ‘I didn’t have time to,’ with ‘it is not my priority to,’ and see how different your perspective is.”

These statements are hard ones to admit to. When it comes to weight loss, meal prep, exercise, quality time with friends and family, or anything that you would consider “priorities,” you are in control of it all. If it is a priority, you will make it happen. I had to ask myself this question very often when I was cutting weight for the Open. I wanted doughnuts, cookies, cheat meals galore, and if I gave in, I knew it was my fault. When I didn’t take the time to meal prep and was starving and wanted to go for the first thing I could grab, I had to stop myself and ask, “is it your priority to lose weight, or indulge in this bag of chips?” When I realized what my main priority was, and I focused on it, those choices became much easier and I stayed on track with my goals. If I was okay with saying something wasn’t a priority, then I was okay at accepting the results of not making it a priority. This has helped a lot with body image as well. I accept the way I look because it is my choice to look this way, when I am not accepting, I know what to do to fix it and have to rearrange my priorities.

13. Future goals?

My goal this year was to be in top 5 of 132 weight class, now that I have met it, my next goal is to be in top 3 of 132 weight class with the hopes of getting a world record lift.

I would like to be a positive influence for women, someone a person would have a difficult time saying anything negative about. If you can spread positivity instead of negativity the world would be a better place. Why make someone feel bad when you have every opportunity to lift them up? The worst thing I see in the powerlifting world is lifters attacking other lifters. We all have common goals: lift heavy, feel good, do good, and better ourselves. Help each other accomplish those, don’t degrade someone else because they don’t put in as much work as you, because they lift in a different federation, because a judge made a bad call, because they look different than you, because they are newer to the sport than you. Appreciate that someone else shares a similar interest and spread good vibes and uplift each other! My goal is to comment on someones page each day to tell them that they are doing awesome, they looks great, their lifts are amazing, or something to build up another individual putting forth effort towards a positive change in their life.

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