How Powerlifter Emily Adams Optimizes Her Mind & Body For Peak Performance

For every negative thought or belief that you have about yourself write a positive one and start changing your channel. This, not an easy task and it can be overwhelming at times but if you stick to it and you keep working at it slowly you will see your thoughts change, and slowly your life will change.

As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Adams.

Emily is a single mom of two boys and competes competitively in powerlifting. She is very passionate about sharing her story and helping others see their full potential as they change their perception and find true happiness in life.

Born and raised in the Amish culture Emily always wondered if there was more to life and if there was ever any possibility of finding true happiness. At the age of seventeen, she made the decision to leave the culture and chase after her dream of finding true happiness. She longed to go to college one day to become a successful businesswoman and be an athlete.

Pregnant at the age of eighteen and married at nineteen she realized that she needed to get out of the abusive marriage but felt stuck since she was pregnant with her youngest son. After two years she finally filed for a divorce and left the marriage.

The divorce made her realize she needed to make some life changes. She joined a gym and enrolled in college. She lost sixty-five pounds and started running Spartan races where she ran a double trifecta. She was then introduced to powerlifting which turned her into the athlete she is today. Powerlifting gave her the confidence she needed in her life and showed her how much strength she had mentally and physically.

She was able to graduate from Purdue University with a Bachelor’s degree in four years as a single mom working full-time. She landed the corporate job she always dreamed of having when she realized that she had a bigger purpose in life, to make a bigger impact in the world. She left the corporate world to be a life coach, public speaker and writer where she can share her story and inspire others to find their true happiness in life.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Emily! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born and raised in the Amish culture in central Indiana. I have three brothers and two sisters. I was not your typical Amish girl who wanted to learn how to cook, clean, sew or do anything girly. I was playing outside and training horses whenever I had free time.

I loved playing softball, basketball, volleyball and rollerblading. The Amish culture doesn’t participate in competitive sports, they only played to have fun. Anytime I played sports even for fun I was out to win. I was competitive in everything I did and I always wondered what it would be like to have an opportunity be an athlete.

I went to school until I was fourteen where I graduated at an eighth grade education (which is actually a sixth grade education when compared to public schools.) After graduating school I helped my dad with his business and trained horses. The older I got the more I realized this was not the lifestyle for me. I started questioning different things and had a longing to learn more and be more in life. I was tired of all the rules and restrictions in my life. I wasn’t allowed to go to college and the next steps for me was to date an Amish man, get married and have children.

At the age of seventeen, I made the decision to leave the culture and everything I had ever known my entire life to chase after something bigger and find happiness. I knew leaving the culture meant turning my back on my family and friends but I was to the point where it didn’t matter and I knew I wanted more out of life.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.

After my divorce, I needed an outlet. I was overweight from having two children so I joined a gym to lose weight and to be able to keep up with my boys. When I first started working out I would work out in the morning when no one was in the gym and I would only do cardio since lifting weights intimidated me. A few months into working out I dropped some weight and decided to start training for a Spartan race. After completing the first race I realized that I enjoyed being pushed mentally and physically. I completed a double trifecta before I was introduced to powerlifting.

I went to Arnold in Columbus, Ohio and while I was there I decided to buy some knee sleeves at the USPA booth (which at the time I had no idea that it was a powerlifting federation). I asked the man that was at the booth what size knee sleeves he would recommend and we started talking about lifting and he asked me if I power lift. I told him I had no idea what powerlifting was and I didn’t even know the sport existed. He gave me some contacts in my area so I could go see what a competition was like. After going to watch the competition I decided to start training to compete in one. At the time I had no idea what I was getting into and the amount of training it would take and how much I would enjoy the sport.

My first competition was fun and I got an adrenaline rush from being on the platform. It gave me a high, I felt strong, confident and the community around the sport was so welcoming. I didn’t have to worry about being a certain size or looking a certain way, as long as I could follow the commands and lift the weight it didn’t matter. I loved the way I was challenged mentally and physically when I competed.

When I first competed, my overall goal was to get a one thousand pound total. After training for three years I was finally able to hit a thousand and thirteen total and at the moment I realized that not only had I reached my all-time goal but I also realized I had much more potential and I was stronger than what I gave myself credit for. I qualified to go to Drug Tested Nationals in 2020.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

The one person that has helped me the most in powerlifting and continues to coach me is one of my best friends Melissa Gustafson. From the first time I competed, we became friends and she has been there every step of the way. In 2019 she started writing all my programming and coaching me on all the lifts which led to a big jump in all my lifts. She helped me through all the times that I wanted to quit and give up, through the times that I plateaued on a lift, to mentally preparing on competition day. She has this special talent of watching you lift and being able to tell you what needs to be changed to improve the lift and get stronger at it.

The day that I hit over one thousand pounds total she called all my numbers. I had no idea what was on the bar when I was competing. We strategically did this so I wouldn’t know how heavy it was and mentally psych myself out before I got to the platform. It worked very well and I was able to zone out while competing which led to an increase in all my lifts.

Without having her by my side through the support I don’t know if I would have stayed with the sport. I know I would not be where I am today on all my lifts if she wasn’t coaching me. I am grateful to have her as one of my best friends and as my coach.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

The funniest mistake I made was misloading the weight on the bar. I didn’t realize that the bar on the one side was off by five pounds and I felt like it was off when I started to squat but didn’t pay any attention to it, finished my reps, and then realized that one side wasn’t loaded properly. I learned to double-check the bar since even five pounds can throw you off when it comes to lifting.

What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?

To anyone that is looking to get into powerlifting, I would advise you to learn form and technique when lifting. This is important and it can make you or break you. If you don’t know how to have good form or technique then invest in a coach that knows how to teach you.

If the odds seem stacked against you don’t worry you can get there, you are never too young or too old to start a lifting career.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I am currently working on creating a coaching program to help others find true happiness in their life. I am also writing a book and launching a podcast. This is exciting for me as I think about the amount of impact I can have on other people’s lives as they change their perception and change their life so they can be happy and live a full-filled life.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

The block out the strategy I use while competing and in real life. I look at the things that cause me doubt or fear and I block them out. I block them out by reminding myself how far I have come and what I want in life. I focus on the end picture and the more I block out the noise of my mind and other people the more focused I become which then helps me reach my end goal.

Self-talk is huge when it comes to dealing with pressure and stress. If you get really good at self-talk you can talk yourself into doing anything. When you have a goal or a project that you are working on and it scares you each time that you hear the fear in your mind acknowledge that it is there and then release it, don’t dwell on it, and replace the fearful thought with a better thought. The more you replace the thoughts that you don’t want the more powerful your self-talk will become.

Utilizing meditation to get focused and clear on what I want has been really helpful. I will visualize all the lifts prior to competition. You can use meditation for anything in your life.

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?

I use different breathing techniques while I am lifting. I do this so I can stay tight and brace my core while lifting to avoid injuries. For example if I am getting ready to squat I will get under the bar, pull on the bar to get tight, take a deep breathe in and start to squat and then when I am coming up from the squat I slowly release it and then at the top of the squat I will take another breath before I do my next rep.

For my bench press I take a deep breath in, make sure my hands are gripping the bar tight and then lift it. If I am doing light weight I will do three to four reps before taking another breath and getting tight again. This helps me stay tight and engage the muscles I need to in order to lift the weight.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

On competition day I start my day off with meditation and visualizing all the lifts that I want to lift. At the competition, I listen to music and the person that is handling me for my competition knows that I won’t speak until I am done lifting. I don’t scroll on social media, text, or call anyone when I am competing so I can stay focused.

Once I get on the platform I run all the commands that I need to follow through my head, remind myself to stay tight and visualize myself completing the lift.

If I am not competing and I need to focus on something in my life I will block out alone time in order to deal with whatever is going on. I don’t get on social media or have anything else that distracts me. I utilize mediation and different mediation music to get super focused on any task that I am working on.

How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?

Listening to my body has been the biggest benefit that I learned. I always felt like I had to work out six or seven days a week and not take any rest days in order to get strong. In all reality I wasn’t allowing my body to recover and my lifts weren’t getting stronger while I was lifting 7 days a week. It’s one thing to push through a difficult work out but you also have to understand when you need to have a rest day or take a week of lifting lighter to give your body a break.

Nutrition is another thing that will make you or break you while competing. If you eat a lot of unhealthy food you’re not going to feel like working out let alone lifting heavy and your energy is going to below. Pre and post-workout meals are really important and I always try to have a balanced meal pre and post-workout.

Being flexible and utilizing stretching and foam rolling is so important to help the recovery process whether you are lifting, running, or doing any kind of exercise. Taking the time to stretch and cool down is never a waste of time.

These ideas are excellent, but for most of us in order for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become ‘second nature’. Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?

This has been very true in my life. I have had to create a lot of habits to be successful and I continue to create habits as I grow into an even better athlete and person. When I started working out I didn’t have the habit to work out a few days a week and there were times that I didn’t want to work out but the more I did it the more it became a habit. When it becomes a habit and it is second nature, you don’t think twice about not doing it. The days I didn’t want to work out I still do it because I had built the habit of doing so.

Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

When you have an idea of whether it is fitness or business-related, get really clear on why you want it. If you aren’t clear on why you want it then you are going to struggle with sticking with it. When I joined the gym I was clear on what I wanted and why I wanted it. I wanted weight loss and to be able to keep up with my boys. When I started college as a single mom I knew I wanted a bachelor’s degree in four years and I wanted it to get a better job.

Once you understand why you want it then it becomes easier to develop habits. When you don’t feel motivated to go to the gym or go to a class and you remember your why then it becomes clear you need to show up for yourself.

As a high performance athlete, you likely experience times when things are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a mind state of Flow more often in our lives?

When you are in the flow everything seems to consistently work out with ease. Visualize what you want, how it’s going to make you feel and believe that you can have it. Take the time to be still, breathe and listen to what you are being guided towards.

Staying in the flow is easy when you learn to listen to yourself and be the person that you are meant to be. When you try to be someone that you’re not you will not be in flow and everything will seem much harder. Being true to who you are, what you desire, and not worrying about other people’s opinions, judgment, or thoughts is one of the best ways to stay inflow.

If you feel like you’re not in flow you can always get back in it by going back to who you are and what you desire. If you have never been in a flow in your life then take the time to do some deep soul searching and figure out who you are, what you want and what your purpose is.

Meditation will always get me back in flow as I connect to a higher power and I ask for guidance when I am out of flow.

Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.

I meditate on a daily basis, some days its more than once. I use different types of music as I meditate. I like to find a quiet place to sit and I start by visualizing myself being filled with a bright white light as I connect to God and then ground myself.

I do some guided meditations at times, it depends on how I am feeling. I don’t time my meditation I just go with the flow on what feels right in that moment. After meditation, I always journal any feelings, emotions or thoughts that came up while meditating so I have this for self-reflection.

Many of us are limited by our self talk, or by negative mind chatter, such as regrets, and feelings of inferiority. Do you have any suggestions about how to “change the channel” of our thoughts? What is the best way to change our thoughts?

The first thing you need to do in order to “change the channel” is to be aware of what your thoughts are and how you are talking to yourself. When you recognize that the negative thoughts and self-talk are there you can start by reprogramming them. For example, say you keep thinking over and over that you are a failure and it keeps running through your thoughts and you think you can’t do anything since you are a failure. Look for evidence in your life of all the things that you have been successful at even if it is as small as finishing a grade in school, this provides evidence that you are not a failure and you have been successful at something. After you make the list of things that you have been successful at then you can see that it’s not true that you’re a failure. You will also see that some beliefs that you picked up or that were engrained in you as a child may no longer serve you and you may need to let go of them in order to change the channel.

For every negative thought or belief that you have about yourself write a positive one and start changing your channel. This, not an easy task and it can be overwhelming at times but if you stick to it and you keep working at it slowly you will see your thoughts change, and slowly your life will change.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

By being an inspiration to others and showing them that anything is possible. We all have potential, we just need to know how to tap into it and follow what our heart desires. By educating and showing people that it is possible this makes the world a better place.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

Your past doesn’t equal your future by Tony Robbins. This quote resonates with me since I came from a different culture and background I always thought I wasn’t capable of doing things in my future due to my past. I realized this wasn’t true as I started making changes in my life and making an impact around me.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Gaby Bernstein would be the one person that I would love to have breakfast or lunch with. She has impacted my life so much with her books and videos she has created. Reading her books and implementing the things that she teaches has been a part of my transformation and has helped me become the person that I am today.

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