Grab yo’ damn snacks because I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview the lovely Katie Anne Rutherford. A figure competitor, elite level powerlifter, brownie master, dog-lover, coach, and all round inspiring human being – Katie was one of the first females in the health and fitness industry I came across who was not only successful as ‘dual athlete’, but was, and still is, using her voice and experiences to help and encourage others in this industry.
I hope ya’ll enjoy this interview as much as I did. And thank you again, Katie. You are well and truly setting an amazing standard for female lifters.
Schae: As both a competitive powerlifter and figure competitor, I imagine there would be times where you are switching between an extreme focus on fat-loss, to then strength being your number one priority. Was that hard to adjust to in the beginning? And mentally how did you/do you deal with the physical changes that are necessary to add significant strength across all lifts after having such a focus on being ‘lean’ for a large chunk of time?
Katie: Interestingly, my first prep for figure and my first prep for powerlifting were at the same time and a week apart. I competed in a figure show and my first powerlifting meet the next weekend. I think I was lucky in that regard. From the beginning of my powerlifting and bodybuilding career, I learned through my own experience that strength and aesthetics are not necessarily mutually exclusive. I came from a bodybuilding background and being able to focus on something other than solely my “looks” and physique was refreshing (with the addition of powerlifting training) as I prepped for my first figure show. Throughout that period, I was able to discover a love for the main lifts that I did not realize was there. I was formerly a track athlete and always have a had a competitive drive – mainly with myself and trying to improve upon my previous marks. I love pushing myself and seeing what my body is capable. Bodybuilding has allowed me that to a certain extent. However, the objective nature of powerlifting has given me that satisfaction to an even greater measure.
That being said, there are definite times when excessive leanness needs to take a back seat if gaining strength is your primary focus. Throughout the first year or so of my powerlifting and bodybuilding career, I maintained stage weight pretty consistently. Although my lifts were going up bits at a time, they were not improving to the extent that they could have. During 2014 and 2015, I had the desire to compete in figure so powerlifting was not my primary focus.
Over the past 6 months, I have been focusing more on my powerlifting career and pushing my limits in that regard. I have put on weight, my lifts have skyrocketed, and I am at a much healthier state this year vs. 2015. If you want to be good at powerlifting and see what you are capable of, staying at the lowest body weight you can is not a good move. Injuries will follow and energy levels will likely plummet. I learned this the hard way last year as I suffered an injury and had a very difficult recovery following my figure shows and leading up to Raw Nationals. The transition and the physical changes needed in order to be at a higher body weight have not come without their struggles. I truly do love my physique and have learned to embrace my strength and beauty at all stages – but that does not mean I am immune to doubts and insecurities that come along with changes in body composition. I do have to remember the bigger picture. Sure, being stage lean is cool for awhile. But I would rather be a more pleasant human, push my strength limits, work on putting solid mass in the off season, and put my health first. Stage lean is not a place that is realistic for females to be at for extended periods of time without long term health consequences. I would encourage other female athletes to find an outlet that is not just physique focused as they make that transition. It is exhausting when the only measure of success comes from the mirror and what judges say about you. Find a way to empower yourself.
S: You are breaking stereotypes left, right and center when it comes to societies views on women in regards to their training style, body ideals, and also ‘femininity’. What are some of the common misconceptions and opinions that you frequently come across in reference to the above? And how do you embrace and balance being both an absolute badass that lifts more than most guys in the gym, and a body-positive female with an amazing manicure 99% of the time?
K: I think that there is something so beautiful about a woman who is not afraid to push her physical and mental limits. This is not just isolated to powerlifting – in school, careers, endeavors – women are no longer waiting for an opportunity, they are taking it. For me, powerlifting is just an external representation of who I see myself as. I am not afraid of taking chances, being vulnerable, and testing my limits. The confidence I have developed under the weight is something that has transcended into other aspects of my life. I do not see athletics and femininity as mutually exclusive. Stereotypes exist in anything we do and it really is of no concern to me. Everyone has an opinion and I do not need someone else’s approval to be content with my path. I want to help others find the same empowerment I have experienced through my journey of physical and mental strength maturity. I have always been inspired by other female athletes who do what they want and start a new wave of female empowerment. Serena Williams was one of my biggest inspirations growing up. She is not only an athlete, but an entrepreneur who has set a new standard for what femininity can look like.
S: In my opinion, strength training has got to be one of the most empowering things for women because it teaches one to see the capability of their body instead of just how it looks aesthetically all the time. What has this type of training added to your life? And why would you encourage females to give this training style a go?
K: As I mentioned above, training for strength has been one of the most empowering paths I have chosen as I have made the transition to powerlifting from bodybuilding. I was a track runner in previous years; I loved track because it was simply who was the fastest runner and objective in nature. Bodybuilding was enjoyable for me as I saw physical changes resulting from my hard work. However, after competing in several competitions, it became exhausting to solely focus on my outside appearance. Having found powerlifting, it truly feels like going back to my track days where performance was the focus. Aesthetics are still important to me and I still love making improvements to my body through my hard work, but I feel much more well rounded as a performance athlete. There is nothing quite like lifting a weight that you never imagined possible and saying “I did that!”. I think it is easy for many females to get trapped in the never ending cycle of trying to be thin and fit society’s mold of what a woman “should be” or “should look like”. I find so much empowerment by being strong and breaking barriers of what I used to think was capable. It is an added bonus of feeling like a badass too 😉
S: There has recently been a big boom with women in powerlifting and it’s become common to see a large amount of female lifters at meets. Why do you think this is and do you think the sport will continue to grow within the female community?
K: I believe that the boom in powerlifting has resulted from the empowerment that women have found from the sport. As I mentioned previously, solely focusing on one’s outside appearance is exhausting and frankly unfulfilling a lot of times. Feeling strong, looking strong, and breaking your own personal limits is something exhilarating that really cannot be described without experiencing it yourself.
I do believe that the sport will continue to grow as more and more women discover the joy of competing and breaking through society’s barriers of what a beautiful woman truly is. A woman is beautiful when she is doing what she loves, empowering herself, and gaining confidence in the woman she was made to be.
S: You have openly spoken about your history with binge eating and I wanted to take a moment to thank you for putting your story out there. You were one of the first females in the fitness industry that I came across that acknowledged your past struggles, but would also share your experiences with moving forward. Why do you think that binge eating and other eating disorders are so prevalent within the health and fitness industry? And how do you suggest we make an impact so future generations move away from that?
K: Thank you Schae! At first, sharing my story was anything but easy. Whenever you share a past struggle, it can be easy to believe that others with judge you. Automatically, you are in a vulnerable place. However, once I witnessed and realized for myself how many girls go through exactly what I went through, I knew that I needed to share my story. I HAVE been there, and I want other girls to know that is it possible to overcome. I looked to other success stories at my ultimate lows for inspiration – and I hope that my story of struggle and finding a better way of living can help a few people find hope in their own life. Every single person on this earth struggles in some way. It is simply the way the struggle manifests itself that is different for each individual. I believe that authenticity and honesty are two characteristics people look for when seeking other girls to look up to. I feel a sense of responsibility to be a role model for young girls who may come across my journey online.
I can only speak from my past experiences and why binge eating, anorexia, and disordered eating has been such an issue for myself. There is enormous pressure on young females to the fit a certain mold and look a certain way. Talking to young girls, it is evident how early of an age this starts. Aesthetics and appearance are obviously a high priority for athletes and those in the fitness industry. The mixed signals from the media combined with a heavy focus on appearance can be a recipe for disaster for many involved in the bodybuilding and fitness community. Extremes are the name of the game. Less carbs, more cardio, fewer calories, and quick fixes. I can speak from experience that resulting to extremes can lead to a rebound effect in terms of diet. When I resorted to an extreme diet, I found myself rebounding even harder. As a community and industry, we need to focus more on sustainability and consistency. Even though it may not be the most exciting solution, it is truly the key for success. If someone cannot see themselves on a plan for the long term because of its extremity and severity, then it is likely doomed to fail. We need to focus more on empowerment, enjoyment, and health. NOT quick fixes, extremes, and short cuts. Life is so much more than just the outside shell.
S: If you could rewind back to a few years ago, what is the one thing you would tell Katie Anne in regards to body image and self-love?
K: If I could rewind, I would tell the younger version of myself to accept my strong legs (ha – I used to hate them!) and appreciate my capabilities, instead of trying to fit a mold that was not realistic. Self love does take time. Therefore, I am appreciative of every peak and valley I have gone through. It has molded me into the person I am today. Without the lows, I could not appreciate the journey and what it has taken to get me to the point I am at today.
S: You have decided to take a step back from the figure stage and focus on Powerlifting for the time-being, but I imagine there would still be crossover into your aesthetic goals as well. How do you try to incorporate both when one is on the forefront? And do you see yourself going between the two long-term?
K: For the time being, I have decided for both my powerlifting career potential and my health to take a step back from figure. However, I am still working towards my figure goals each day. I do incorporate accessory work accordingly to make sure that I am still progressing my physique for the day that I step on stage again.
Over the past two years, I was stage lean for an extended period of time and it did have health consequences. Right now, I am focused on progressing my strength while remaining at a more appropriate level of body fat. I have realized that my potential for powerlifting is even greater than I knew, mainly because I have never focused solely on my powerlifting performance without being less than 10 percent body fat. It is exciting for me to see what my body is capable of and what my strength potential may be.
As far as figure is concerned, the main lifts do have carry-over to the physique I desire for the next time I step on stage. I also need to add in quite a bit of other bodybuilding work into my program, but that is something I truly enjoy. I plan on competing in figure within the next several years after I take time off to put on more size and maintain a healthier level of body fat for an extended period of time.
I would not do it if I did not love it. I think that is a big part of my mission – to encourage other women to find what they LOVE to do. I do not think that everyone should powerlift and I do not think that everyone should body build. Find what you love to do and what brings you passion in your pursuits.
S: Having the following you do and recognizing how much power there is in that, what are some of the messages you consistently try to communicate across to those who follow your journey?
K: I think that the main message I want to get across is that every single person has more potential in them than they know. Each of us is capable of incredible things. I want others to know that you CAN overcome difficulties in your life and you can find an enjoyable and sustainable fitness plan without extremes. Beauty comes from the confidence that an individual exudes when they do what they love. Find what you love and have passion for your pursuits.
S: You are currently a sponsored athlete of De Novo Nutrition and have made some insane progress since joining the team. What changes have you made since becoming one of their athletes? And what does it mean to be a part of a ‘team’ to you?
K: I have to say that De Novo Nutrition has been one of the best teams that I have been blessed to be apart of. It is more than just a group of individuals – it truly is a family and I cannot say how much I appreciate their support. Even before I was sponsored by them, I was a long-time customer and loyal to their products, message, and culture. Simplicity and honesty are core values in the company. Having the support of others who share similar passions and outlooks on life is irreplaceable to me.
Since starting under Jacob Ormes (my coach since last year), we have really pushed my powerlifting capabilities. He encouraged me to stop worrying about being excessively lean and focus on what I can do on the platform. He has given me incredible programming, support, and guidance as I was able to set all new PRs at the Arnold and make insane progress that I never anticipated being able to happen. We are now working towards my goals for nationals.
S: What is your favorite quote and what does it mean to you?
K: My favorite quote is:
“do not become so busy making a living that you forget to have a life”.
I previously worked a career in finance and felt as though I was constantly on the treadmill of life. I was always looking to the future, looking to the weekend, looking for the next opportunity. What so many forget to appreciate is the beauty of living in the present. I still find it difficult myself – but it is something I am working on each day. I feel passionate about what I do but I do not want to be so preoccupied with my future endeavors that I forget to enjoy the life I have now.
Do not focus so much on monetary wealth and an uncertain future that you pass up opportunities to enjoy the life you are blessed with today.
Photo Credits: Brandon Wells, 9for9 Media, Katie Anne Iphoneographer (lol).