I am extremely grateful that through powerlifting over the past year I have had the opportunity to meet and connect with a lot of people who have helped influence my approach to both fitness and life that I have today.
Karina Baymiller is at the top of the list.
In my own transition from bodybuilding to powerlifting, she not only inspired me to pick up a heavy barbell, but quickly became one of my biggest role models due to her down-to-earth character, and ability to communicate the importance of life away from ‘fitness’ and the all-or-nothing approach that sometimes comes with this industry.
Today we speak about all things body-image, trends within powerlifting itself, and instagram ‘fame’ – all with the running theme of caring less about what others think, which has made a significant difference in Karina’s life over the past few years.
I hope you guys enjoy this interview and her as much as I have and do.
Schae: When I came across you on Instagram a while ago, I instantly admired your attitude in regards to body-image and how open you remained about it despite changes in your fitness goals. Can we touch a little on the shift, both mentally and physically, from being a bikini competitor to an elite level powerlifter. What has changed and what do you attribute to your current realistic outlook on body-image and self-love?
Karina: The most obvious change would of course be the physical. Going from about 125lbs on stage to now maintaining right around 160lbs was something difficult for me to accept at first, but it was the even more important mental changes that occurred during this transition that allowed me to be okay with the physical component. While I was in recovery for my eating disorders, I found powerlifting to be an outlet for me. Something I could put my energy into that wasn’t my appearance. It was this emphasis on physical strength that truly had a profound effect on my mental strength. I was able to care less and less about what other people thought and fitting the fitness industry “mold”, and instead focused on what I truly enjoyed. To this day, not caring what others think of me or what I do has had the greatest impact on my ability to love myself and the way my body looks. It’s truly refreshing when you’re able to remove the outside noise and focus solely on what makes you happy.
S: In an industry that celebrates the ‘all or nothing’ mindset, you have always voiced that a lot of the time your powerlifting goals actually come second to enjoying your life and all that comes with it. Do you preach a healthier balance because you have been on the other side of the sea-saw? And if so, what steps did you take to reach that nice middle-ground between achieving your goals, yet making the most out of life with your loved ones?
K: I am very open about my love for being a competitive powerlifter, but also my love for craft beer, vacations, and lazy days outside of the gym. I’m okay with being “mediocre” in an industry full of “all or nothing”, again crediting much of that to not caring what people think or if I fit in. I’ve been the girl in the gym 6-7 days a week, eating solely for aesthetics and not enjoyment. The girl whose life revolved around fitness. The girl who cared about nothing more than being lean enough for her next photoshoot. It’s for these exact reasons that I have found the joy in mediocracy. I’ve been that “all or nothing” girl, and it’s with that experience that I can tell you, the grass is so much greener on the middle ground.
S: Powerlifting has made leaps and bounds in the past year or so, and especially within the female community. Why do you think there has been such a jump in interest? And do you think this will maintain over the coming years?
K: I think the surge in powerlifting has been due in large to the increased popularity of social media in recent years. A quick search under #powerlifting and you’ll see tens of thousands of men and women lifting heavy weights. These largely “average” looking individuals, along with social media influencers who powerlift like you and I, have debunked the old myth that all powerlifters are 280lb+ beer-bellied, hairy chested men, yelling profanities while the lift. Along with this, I think the self-love movement that has taken social media by storm has played a large part in allowing women to feel more comfortable and confident being part of the online fitness community without needing to be a bikini competitor. Crossfit definitely got the ball rolling several years ago with their acceptance of strength and strong bodied women, and just as Crossfit had it’s insanely popular rise to fame followed by a leveling out of sorts, I think powerlifting will do the same. There will always be something “newer” and “cooler” on the horizon (my money is on Weightlifting next), that’s just how these things work, but powerlifting certainly is not going to disappear anytime soon (if ever)!
S: Along with that rise and crossover from bikini and sometimes even crossfit athletes, I see a lot of disagreements and opinions about mixing powerlifting with aesthetics. Essentially, what is argued is that powerlifting should be strictly lifting, and the abs and ‘booty’ should be kept for bodybuilding. From my experience, although I didn’t get into powerlifting for the body composition changes I have seen and celebrate currently; I have found the two to actually come hand-in-hand and not be as mutually exclusive as people imagine. What is your take on it? Can you have both? And also can you CELEBRATE both simultaneously?
K: Like you, I didn’t get into powerlifting for aesthetic reasons. Actually it was much the opposite as my goal was to focus on strength instead of my appearance for ED recovery. That being said, with consistent training 4-5x a week, I have seen significant changes in my body since the first days of my powerlifting journey. The 160lbs I am today is not the same 160lbs I was when I first took an interest in powerlifting almost three years ago. I have put on a fairly significant amount of muscle mass and filled out the much desirable booty, legs, and shoulders. Based on the strangers that stop me in public and ask me what kind of workouts I do, I must look like I lift! Do aesthetics and strength need to be separate? Absolutely not! But I do think that if your first priority is a 6-pack, powerlifting probably isn’t sport for you. From my personal experience, when you put your physical and mental strength ahead of your aesthetics, somehow, the aesthetic part still has a way of falling in line right where you want it to be.
S: You get to tell your 20 year old self three things. What do you tell her?
K: 1. “Even though you think you know everything with your 20 years of life experience, you actually know nothing.” It’s a funny thing looking back on the last 10 years of my life. I experienced the most self-growth by far from 24-28 years old, but at 20 I thought I knew everything the world had to offer. Now here I am at (almost) 29 years old, and I’m still learning something new every single day – something I expect to do for the rest of my life. Be open to experiences, differing opinions, and new information. You never know what value it may add to your life.
2. I feel like this is a common theme throughout this interview, but it’s made such an impact on my life: “The best thing you can do for your happiness is to stop caring what other people think.” Quite simply, the less you give a shit, the happier you’ll be. Early 20’s are all about impressing others, fitting in, and doing what’s “cool” at the moment, but if you put too much stock in what other’s think and say, you start to lose what should be your primary focus… yourself. Caring less about the opinions of others means more self-confidence, more self-love, and more overall happiness.
3. “Life has a funny way of teaching you to grow as a person. If something feels impossible to handle now, you’ll be thankful it happened in a few years.” I think the two best examples I have for this are in love, and in my experience with eating disorders. When I was deep into my EDs, it felt like something I would never overcome, something almost impossible to handle. Now here I am several years later, thankful for having gone through what I did. It sounds crazy to say that I’m thankful for my experience with eating disorders, but I truly wouldn’t be who I am today without it. I know myself 110%, inside and out, because of this terrible experience I had. I know what makes me happy, I know what makes me healthy, and I know what’s important in life.
With love, everyone goes through a world ending, earth shattering, terrible break-up. Something impossible to handle. You don’t understand how you’ll gone on. What you find out years later is that a) you do survive, b) you come out stronger on the other side, and c) you discover what you want, what you don’t want, and what you need from your future relationships. I wouldn’t be in the relationship I am today with Gabe if I hadn’t experienced those break-ups where I thought I would never recover. They taught me that everything I want, need, and deserve is in him.
S: You own your own business, Knox Strength and Performance, and coach athletes around the globe. What are a few things you consider essential when it comes to coaching? What is something you look for in a coach that you try to encompass?
K: The relationship and experience that I have with my coach (Jon Stewart, owner of Great North Training Systems), is the type of coach-client relationship I try to build with each of my clients. Everything I know about being a great coach I’ve learned from him, and he’s become one of my best friends over the last (almost) three years that we’ve been together. He’s passionate about what he does, is willing to pick me up when I’m having a “world is ending” training session, and always goes the extra mile to explain in depth the answers to questions I have. All of these things are essential when it comes to being a great coach. You’re not hired to just write a program and send someone on their way. For some this will work, but for most, encouragement, explanation, and feedback is vital to making progress. A great coach is being as “hands-on” as possible, even when you’re thousands of miles away.
S: I have been following you for a while now and one thing I have noticed is that you aren’t afraid to call out things in the fitness industry you just simply don’t support. If you were to name one thing that you wish wasn’t so encouraged within the industry, what would it be? And on the other hand, what is something you wish were encouraged more?
K: I think the most unfortunate thing I see in the fitness community is unqualified “fitspos” who become “coaches” because their 100k+ following will buy into their popularity. It makes my career, education, and experience look like a joke. I have a degree in Kinesiology, a certification through ACSM, a certification through USAPL, and I’m working on my CSCS. To see a 20-something-year-old girl with no education pertaining to health/fitness and no experience other than a bikini show (if that) be able to scam hundreds or even thousands of girls because she posts her butt on the internet, is really mind-boggling to me. I think these individuals see online coaching as an easy way out with easy money – you work from home, you’re your own boss, no 9-5 or commute hassle – it sounds like a dream. But when done correctly, running and continually building your own business is one of the most difficult jobs there is. I’m constantly doing work that I’m not getting paid for, just to better my business. I pour myself into providing new content, information, and programs for my clients, with the goal of making their experience with Knox Strength and myself the best it can be. So with that being said, it’s frustrating for me (and all other qualified coaches out there) to have built a legitimate coaching business, only to have potential clients snatched up by an unqualified someone’s popularity. Until there is a way to regulate coaching online like there is in-person (i.e. gyms requiring certifications/experience), this will be something we continue to see. It’s important that we get the message out there to those looking for an online coach that just because someone has a large online following, competes a couple times, or posts a client before/after, does not mean they are qualified to coach you. Always do your research, ask for credentials, and trust your intuition!
Something I wish was encouraged more is individuality and originality. So much of the fitness community is a one carbon copy individual after another. Much of this of course will happen naturally based on interests: powerlifters post lifting videos, bikini competitors post progress shots, yogis post yoga poses, etc. However recently, I see more and more people trying to fit the mold of what may be considered the “perfect fitspo” instead of promoting originality. A laundry list of discount codes, fake lashes/lips/boobs (not knocking my ladies who have them!), extremely distorted booty pop poses, ridiculously expensive selfie cameras, and the promotion of “balance”. Have all of these? You can make it to the top of the fitness community! While fitting in really is a part of our culture and human nature, I wish that I would see more people break this mold, rather than try to fit in it. Hopefully as the community continues to evolve, we’ll see more people who choose to be unique and promote individuality with original posts and refreshing content.
S: Lastly, before we finish up this interview I just wanted to say a big thank you for not only taking part in it, but for just sharing the perspective you do on your social media platforms. This one is open to your interpretation and it doesn’t necessarily have to be fitness related – what is one thing you would encourage people to do daily that you believe would add to their life?
K: I’m not sure that this qualifies as daily, but something I’ve found myself doing more and more of is taking a step back from social media, and in turn being more present with what’s around me. There is absolutely a place for social media – it’s how I met you, how PL rose to fame, and it’s how I get quite a few of my clients – but I think that it’s overwhelming presence in everyday life is having a negative impact on many. Just a quick glance on a Twitter or Instagram feed and you’ll see multiple arguments, name-calling, even flat out attacks on individuals. Differing opinions are a normal part of life, but being exposed to the excessive and sometimes extreme bashing and negativity that can occur on social media, is not. Now on the opposite end of the spectrum, because social media becomes a highlight reel for many, comparison to “perfection” becomes very real. “I’m doing what she’s doing, why don’t I look as good?”. “Why isn’t my relationship as perfect as hers?”. “I’m not as strong as her.” “I’m not as happy her.” “I’m not as popular her.” “Relationship goals, booty goals, life goals.” Sound familiar? All of these are thoughts are direct quotes I’ve heard from the mouths of friends and clients in the recent years alongside the growth of social media. Comparison truly is the thief of all joy, and whether we are trying to or not, I think we all subconsciously compare ourselves to what they see online. Obviously the negative side of social media affects some more so than others (which is largely dependent on personality and mental state), but I think the more we can reduce the comparisons and the exposure to negativity, the happier we will be. With just few days of being more present in my surroundings and spending less time on my phone, I notice less stress, anxiety, and pessimism. I’m more clear-headed, confident, and content. I would absolutely recommend that everyone give it a try.
You can find Karina here:
Facebook: Karina Baymiller – Sportsperson