There are about a dozen power-lifters who work out regularly at Atkins Functional Fitness Facility, and two of them happen to be current New York state record holders.
Master Sgt. Brian Baumgartner, Best Ranger Competition noncommissioned officer in charge for the 10th Mountain Division (LI), and Melissa Loomis, Fort Drum spouse and personal trainer, achieved those accolades during a U.S. Powerlifting Association event Sept. 30 in Albany.
Loomis holds the record in the women’s open division for her age and weight class in all three lifts – a 303.10-pound squat, a 159.8-pound bench press and 364.9-pound deadlift. Baumgartner squatted 463 pounds, benched 330.7 pounds and recorded a 529.1-pound deadlift to top the master’s division in his age and weight class in the three lifts.
Baumgartner, who had never competed before in this sport, said that winning or losing didn’t matter as much as being introduced to this new powerlifting community.
"The worst that could happen was that I would fail at a lift, but it would still be a new experience for me," he said. "I wanted to see how everything worked, the rhythm of the event, because it was something I never did before. You almost want to be a spectator as much as a competitor, because you see all kinds of neat things."
Baumgartner said he spoke at length with another competitor, and he was amazed to see this 64-year-old powerlifter complete a 518-pound deadlift. It was fortunate, Baumgartner said, that he attended the competition with a group from Fort Drum, because they were able to give each other notice when they had to stop watching others perform and get ready for their own events.
"It was an amazing atmosphere to be a part of," he said. "I’m glad I did it, but in reality it was very spontaneous."
Baumgartner said that he had always lifted weights for exercise, but he became interested in powerlifting while on a deployment.
"I felt like I wasn’t getting what I wanted to out of my workouts, and I contacted a friend who is a strength coach and also powerlifts," Baumgartner said. "He kind of helped me set up a program, and that got me into powerlifting."
It wasn’t Baumgartner’s idea to compete. Loomis and Atkins Functional Fitness Facility manager Randy Gillette, two seasoned powerlifters, realized his potential and encouraged him to register.
"I knew from the first day I saw him lifting weights here that this was something he could do," Gillette said.
Baumgartner said that he only had a few weeks to prepare, and part of that was fighting off an illness, so he did not change much from his normal training routine. Typically his gym sessions last about an hour, or 90 minutes for heavier lift days when he allows himself longer breaks in between sets.
"It’s not even for the physical part of lifting heavy weights, but the mental," he said. "You have to get your mind right before you can lift that much weight."
He said that he fits in weight training during lunch breaks and after work. Baumgartner also schedules two solo runs during the week and a group conditioning session on Saturdays. He caps off the week with a long run or bike ride on Sunday.
"Soldiers are like hybrid athletes where you have to be strong, but you also want to be able to move fast and explosively," he said.
Many powerlifters work up to the maximum amount they can lift for one repetition, which is called the max effort method.
"I don’t do that," Baumgartner said. "I always just train in the three- to five-rep range, so I never really max out. I wasn’t really training in any way geared toward a competition. Melissa gave me the numbers I should shoot for, and I think we did a pretty good job."
Baumgartner also sought help from the staff at the Army Wellness Center and received advice from Capt. Ashley Carlson, U.S. Army Medical Department Activity nutritionist.
"I wanted to see how I could clean up my eating habits, but generally, I’m pretty good about eating well," he said. "I actually tend to eat less than I should, because I’m so busy during the day."
With one competition under his belt, Baumgartner said that he is better prepared to train for the next powerlifting challenge.
"Some of the appeal for me is that this is making me a stronger Soldier," he said. "I’m 41 and I have to look for smarter ways I can keep up with the younger Soldiers and maintain my edge. For me, powerlifting is about that."
Loomis said that, leading up to the competition, Baumgartner downplayed his abilities a little, and he was careful to work around injuries and the wear and tear sustained from being a career Army NCO.
"He was supposed to do a 275-pound bench press, and when we were warming up at the competition, he already did that twice," she said. "So, we decided to move up his opening weight."
They had planned his total combined weight for all three lifts to be close to 1,200 pounds, and Baumgartner finished at 1,322.8.
"I was kind of laughing during the meet, because it looked so easy for him," she said. "It looked like he was making zero effort to do the competition. I guess after 20 years in the Army and I don’t know how many deployments, Brian was just there to lift weights, no big deal. It was awesome to see him compete."
Loomis, originally from Los Angeles, said that her introduction to powerlifting was similar to what Baumgartner experienced.
"People I knew at the gym told me I was strong and that I should try powerlifting," she said. "I said, ‘OK, when’s the next competition? Ten days? Let’s do it.’ I went to my first meet without knowing anything about it, but I met a lot of people who would help me out."
Loomis said that she wasn’t bothered by the mistakes she made, and the experience was thrilling enough for her to continue powerlifting training over the next four years.
"They call it getting bit by the iron bug, where you just want to keep competing and challenging yourself," she said. "While you’re training, you say ‘I’m never going to do this again, this is my last one,’ and then once you do it, you want to compete again."
Loomis trained with powerlifters from around LA once a week, and through competition, she discovered the strong community spirit within this sport.
"I was definitely hooked by the community from the beginning – the way people cheer you on, even if they are competing directly against you," she said. "They still want you to be as good as you can possibly be."
Loomis said she was close to recording a state record in the squat while living in California, but it was after relocating to Fort Drum when she swept state records in Albany. She said that she didn’t train for this one as she would in the past.
"I have been doing different types of functional fitness training for a while," she said. "When I decided to compete, it was about a month of preparing my body for maximum effort. Typically, 12 weeks is ideal where you get into three four-week training cycles for max effort."
Loomis said she dedicates eight to 12 hours per week on powerlifting training in addition to other cross-training and conditioning activities at Atkins Functional Fitness Facility. Her current goal is to improve upon her Wilks number. Athletes use the Wilks formula to measure their strength against other powerlifters in a way that accounts for differing body weights.
"That’s how we compare males to females and people from different weight classes," she said. "I think right now I’m at a 375 Wilks and I want to get to 400 Wilks, which means I have to lift about 50 pounds more than I currently lift."
When Loomis and her husband moved here in August 2015, they became regulars at Magrath Sports Complex. One evening, she decided to tour the other facilities, but by the time she arrived at Atkins, the building was closed.
"I kind of peered through the windows and thought it was a cool-looking gym," she said. "I had to go back and check it out. It definitely had everything I was looking for."
Last year, she began offering her services there as a personal trainer to Fort Drum community members.
"It has been pretty awesome being able to work with Soldiers and Family Members," she said. "It is rewarding when you see Soldiers who are trying to get ready for a school or a PT test and they exceed their expectations. I also work with spouses who are trying to conceive and their doctors want them to get in better shape, and so this is something life-changing for them."
Baumgartner said that Atkins Functional Fitness Facility became his training grounds for powerlifting because he knows that the management and staff are committed to fostering the right atmosphere for his fitness goals.
"Everything about this place just works – the staff is friendly, the layout is great and there’s always great music," Baumgartner said. "I think Randy listens to Soldiers and what they want."
Atkins is designed to accommodate powerlifting training. It is the only facility on post with Eleiko lifting platforms – sound-dampening and shock-resistant rubber mats that protect the floors and weights from damage when dropped.
"That’s what makes Atkins so unique for functional fitness and powerlifting. We have more of the powerlifting equipment here and the right environment to do it properly," Gillette said.
Gillette said that the facility receives a diverse group of Soldiers, DOD Civilians and Family Members every day, and people who are unfamiliar with the equipment and functional fitness training can easily get assistance.
"There’s a camaraderie here. The Atkins staff and the people who come here to work out – we like to think we’re a Family," he said. "We were thrilled when we heard how Melissa and Brian did in competition. When someone reaches their goals, we want to celebrate that and let people know."