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USAPL Collegiate Nationals, Recap

This past weekend I had the privilege of competing at the USAPL Collegiate Nationals meet in Baton Rouge, Louisiana as a part of the University of Pittsburgh Powerlifting team. Unfortunately, it was both my first and last Collegiate National meet as I will be graduating in a few short weeks, but I can confidently say this weekend was in the top 5 of my favorite weekends since getting to college. As a team we spent 4 days together, and competed during 3 of those days, based on our weight classes. The majority of the team that competed trains here at Union so it was great to all get to prepare for this meet together and then watch each person compete after weeks and weeks of hard work. 


I competed on Friday afternoon in the 83kg (183lbs) weight class. Overall this was the most fun I have had competing even though I didn’t do as well as I had hoped. I finished the day 5/9 with a 652.5kg/1438 total. I wound up squatting 237.5kg, which to say the least, was my absolute max on the day. On bench I only ended up hitting my opener at 145kg and same with deadlifts at 270kg. I ended up failing 152.5(337) on bench for my second and third attempt, just didn’t have it on bench that day. Deadlifts I failed 282.5(623) on my second attempt due to not setting my grip and then came within inches of finishing the lift on my third attempt but was just too gassed at that point. My main goal coming into this meet was to total over 1500lbs, which while I didn’t accomplish this goal this time around, I know that I am capable of it, I just need to execute better. 


I have a few takeaways I’d like to share from this experience.


  1. Have multiple plans… this one applies to both powerlifting and just about anything in life. I came into the day with a plan that, had everything gone the way I had planned would have worked out great I believe. However, as always, nothing ever goes the way you plan it to. I should have had multiple plans for the day as opposed to just one so that I could more easily adapt to the situations that arose. I still may not have hit my goal with those plans but would have come much closer to them. 
  2. Adapt… this one goes along with the previous. The biggest thing I had to adapt to during this meet was getting accidentally skipped during weigh-ins. This caused me to have almost an hour less to rehydrate and get some food in me. Because of this when it came time to squat I didn’t have enough time for my food and water to digest so I was very bloated, and it made bracing for squats pretty uncomfortable. I should have lowered my attempt selections to equate for this and save some more energy for bench and deadlifts. I was so set on the plan I had for the day that I stuck with it, when in the long run, had I adapted to the situation at hand I may have performed a bit better on bench and deadlifts. 
  3. Weight cut vs water cut… personally I had never done a water cut before so I was questionable on doing one, so I chose to go with a weight cut. Looking at how I performed compared to those who did a water cut instead, I should have water cut. By doing a weight cut, I likely lost some strength due to the lack of food I was eating. Most people who did water cuts were able to rehydrate in the 2 hours before stepping on the platform. This is definitely something I will be taking into consideration for the next time I compete.
  4. Have fun and take the time to meet new people, especially at national level events… I had the opportunity to meet so many individuals this weekend, some of which I’m sure I will keep in contact with. The day after I competed, I was handling one of my teammates the next morning and saw one of the guys I competed against the day before. We started talking and it turns out he goes to Cornell University and is in Army ROTC as well. We talked a lot the rest of the day and I’m sure we will keep in contact. 


This was definitely an experience I will remember for a long time, and I’m glad I was able to experience the entire weekend with my teammates. Everyone performed well and I’m excited for some of the younger people on the team to get to experience this again next year. 

Let’s Celebrate Our Women

March is women’s history month and we here at UF are home to many strong and awesome women. I would like to take a few minutes to highlight just a few of our awesome female members. This is a very short and incomplete list, but please take a moment and celebrate these (and all the other women of UF and all other places in our world).


Kelsey Garonzik– If you have not met Kelsey you should. She is the superhero of UF female lifters. She is one of the finest lifters and a very nice person. One warning is Kelsey has one of the best dry sense of humors in the gym.


Madison Fitzgibbons– Our own west coast transplant. Madison shows her hard work through her consistency at UF.


Ashley Koltonski– Ashley brings a ton of positive energy every time she arrives at UF. She is our own bad ass, yoga, weightlifting lady. We are better for having Ashley at the gym.


Isabella Mustane– Try to keep up with Isabella, I doubt you can. Isabella is business in the gym. She could be outside doing handstand push ups or squatting big weight, either way she is probably outworking me.


Emily Twargowski- Emily is the model of consistency at UF. Emily never misses a class and we are always impressed by how she is always willing to try new things.


Diane Johnson– I am kind of nervous typing this as if I mess up Diane might fight me. In all seriousness Diane comes in daily to work hard and is committed to improvement daily.


Rachel Davis– Rachel is one our hardest working cardio members at UF. Coming back from Covid shut downs cardiolab classes have not been busy. We have all seen Rachel in there taking a class by herself and working hard.


Give each of these ladies a hand and your respect for showing strength and dedication daily. I personally thank each of you as without you UF would not be what it is.

Hamer’s List of Gym Essentials

Change is the only guarantee in life. Today I sit inside a gym that was once a fast food restaurant. This is movement for a better tomorow isn’t it? Knowing that lifting, life, and all of us will keep changing and growing here is my half-hearted look at gym essentials and how they have changed over the years.


  1. Shoes. Some people live and die with the olympic shoes (not a bad choice depending on stance, mobility, and depth of your squat). I came of age during the Chuck Taylor craze, I realize most have moved to Vans and I can dig this. I do ask that you don’t call your shoes “lifters” as it is dumb.
  2. Short shorts. I can admit that the length of shorts got out of control in the 1990’s and early 2000’s yet we don’t need to swing the pendulum as far as we have now (this is mostly directed at the guys in the room). Ward keeps telling me that Magnum PI had it right. I just say shouldn’t be past the knee yet mid thigh is fine, no need for shorter.
  3. Training shirt with the properly cut off sleeves. There are a multitude of ways to cut sleeves off. CeJ chews his off prior to training. My advice cut the sleeves off at the armpit, don’t be the homemade string tank top dude.
  4. Your special belt. We all know a good lifting belt can make a huge difference yet when your special belt is necessary for curls maybe your belt isn’t that great.
  5. All the mobility devices. I won’t lie I fell into the foam rolling craze 15 years ago and it’s great, yet if you carry your foam roller, tennis ball, buffer, theragun and three golf balls then maybe it’s time to cut back.
  6. Headphones. If you know me you know this is a pet peeve of mine. I try to be in the world as much as possible and I do have my favorite music yet I implore everyone to be in the moment with those around you. Building a better community takes communication.
  7. Deodorant. We have all had that training partner who didn’t do a great job with hygiene. One of the beauties of UF is that we have deodorant for you to use. A caveat to this there is no need to use the entire bottle of cologne prior to training.


This is just a short list of what we need and don’t need at the gym. I hope you understand that while this is a light hearted look (with maybe some truth).


Stay Strong,


Todd Hamer

Member Spotlight; Jacki Temple


  • Grew up: near Charleston, SC, as a Navy and Air Force brat; Moved to Pittsburgh in 2004
  • Career: First as a graphic designer (15 years); currently a full-time artist (paintings and drawings)
  • Volunteer: (a lot) with Team Rubicon, a veteran-based disaster response organization
  • Sports: Runner for 29 years, hiker for 20 years, curler for 14 years
  • Trivia: I drink black tea from the British Isles (mostly Welsh and Irish) like a fiend. Seriously, I can’t survive without it. Must have milk and honey. Accompanied by toast is even better.




I started competing in cross-country and track in 1989, at the age of 13. As I was graduating from high school, I was awarded a cross-country and track scholarship to Wofford College (Spartanburg, SC), which at the time was a NCAA-Div II school in the Southern Conference. One season into my scholarship, Wofford became a Division I school. After college, I kept running for enjoyment, health, and mental health, often competing in local and regional 5k, 10k, and half-marathon races. In total, I ran for 29 years, until 2018.


In 2004, I moved to Pittsburgh with my first husband, who is Canadian. In 2006 and again in 2010, we hiked 80 miles across the highlands in Scotland. In 2007, when he found a local ice rink that offered men’s league hockey, he noticed curling rings painted into the ice. Having grown up in Canada, he knew all about curling and thought it would be hilarious to get his Southern wife out on the ice. I fell in love with the game, and it turns out I’m a better curler than he is. After our divorce in 2010, he stopped playing, but I have continued to play and regularly travel to regional and national competitions. In 2016, I led a team of fairly green curlers to a bronze medal in nationals.


In 2011, I met and start dating Thad Fields, who is also a UF member. In January 2013, he became interested in Olympic weightlifting, and asked me if I’d be interested in training alongside him. By April, we found a coach and started training. By the end of April, my back had gotten too big for my wedding dress, and with the wedding upcoming in June, I had to quit Oly and just stick to running and jumping rope so I could lose enough bulk to fit into my dress.


In spring 2015, a close friend asked if I’d train with him for the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge. I was hooked after finishing the whole thing, and I trained for and attempted it each year through 2018. Unfortunately, starting in 2015, unknown underlying knee problems started making themselves known, and the saga with my knees started. For the first couple of years, my orthopedic doctor at the time just prescribed cortisone shots and physical therapy because he didn’t think the issues were serious. By the training season of 2018, however, I could barely walk and running was out of the question. By this time, I’d begun seeing a new orthopedic doc, and he identified the real issues. My kneecaps had been so out of alignment for so long, the cartilage on the back had been worn down to bone, and I needed surgery. The first of 4 surgeries on my knees occurred in June 2018, and my most recent one took place in January of this year. 


Constantly going through surgery and recovery for the past 2.5 years has been brutal. Being sidelined as a lifelong athlete is an emotional, physical, and mental challenge unlike anything else I’ve ever faced. That’s ultimately why I chose Union Fitness. I knew I needed more than just physical therapy twice a week if I wanted to get back to being an athlete. I knew I needed a trainer who understood my goals and ambitions, but who also understood the mental struggle that goes along with this journey I’m on. By the summer of 2019, Thad had already been a member of UF and training with Ethan Raese for over a year. I knew how much Thad loved UF, so when I went in for my consultation to get set up with a trainer, the person interviewing me recommended Ethan be my trainer as well. Working with him for the past almost 2 years has been incredible. He tailors my workouts with the things I’m doing in physical therapy, and I’ve recovered from my surgeries faster than expected because of the work I do with him. And he’s great at encouraging me or pushing me when I need it.

I’m old and I Love it.

I have now competed in powerlifting for over 20 years. I was supposed to compete in 2020 but my meet was cancelled. I am so old in this sport that some of my shoes are older than some of the lifters we have here at UF. I remember meeting JM Blakley at one of my first meets. He was there to sell his VHS (I told you I’m old). So let me give you some thoughts from a guy who’s been doing this for a long time.




Prince always knew that we could one day party like it’s 1999 and let me tell you we did. Inzer bench shirts and marathon deadlift suits are all we knew. Raw lifting was something that we did to prepare for putting our gear on. When I look back on it now the absurdity of it amazes me. Gear was too much, and lifters were too heavy. But, we did have some fun and I don’t regret any of it.


This brings me to yesterday when I was scrolling da gram. I saw JM Blakley came back into my life. He has a post reminding us that today is the youngest we will ever be for the rest of our lives. This one hit me and reminded me that I ain’t dead yet and I know I have some more fight and lifts still in me. So with that here is a short list to help me grow and have fun as you age.


  1. Don’t be a knucklehead (my dad always used this phrase as he didn’t swear).
  2. Try something new (you will only regret what you didn’t try).
  3. Risk it (nothing is guaranteed so roll the dice).
  4. Help the ‘others’ (look around the gym and see the lifters who is clueless? Give them a hand and help them find their way).
  5. Know that you don’t know (knowledge and wisdom are not the same thing).
  6. Read more diverse topics (we will get new ideas from outside of or bubble).
  7. Reach out to those you disagree with (our society needs this).


And remember we are all floating down the same river of life. Every time you make wake it affects everyone around you. So have some fun, rock some tunes, and try to respect the others floating around you.


Peace and Love,


Wyatt’s Intern Experience at UF

My name is Wyatt and I am one of the interns at UF and as I am sure some of you know me by now, I go to school at Robert Morris University. I am majoring in Psychology with a concentration in Sports and a minor in Education. I have been here a little over a month now, and I feel like a stormtrooper that decided to try and become a Jedi master. I am sitting here trying to figure out how to turn the lightsaber on while everyone else is using the force to throw people around. 


The staff all know that exercise science is not my background, so they make sure they simplify things for me to understand (turn that lightsaber on). Some of you might be wondering, “Then why are you here?” Well, psychology and exercise science kind of go hand in hand. I say that because not too long ago I learned to increase maximum force and velocity; psychological techniques can help increase both. The psychological techniques that enhance motivation also increase effort, and effort is closely linked to motor unit recruitment. Another example of this is most people know that anxiety also plays a factor in performance. If you are going to hit a PR you will most likely experience cognitive and/or somatic state anxiety. By learning arousal regulation techniques, you can help keep anxiety at a level where you perform your best, and you can go on hitting those PRs. 


I plan to become a sports psychologist to help athletes mentally but learning the exercise science background gives me a whole other set of tools to use. When dealing with a team’s lack of progress, instead of a mental aspect creating the challenge, it could come down to the program they are on. This internship is very hands-on, so this experience is helping me come out of my introverted shell and become comfortable with coaching people. During the week, Anthony and I get to help out with training sessions, sometimes with college athletes or other times with a powerful class. Training athletes is a great opportunity for me because that is the area I want to start off working with: high school to college-age athletes. 


Since interning here, there has never been a dull moment. I wake up looking forward to coming in, learning, and hanging out with everyone. The staff here really knows their stuff and are diverse in the field of exercise science. I have never heard of a gym having former college strength and conditioning coaches, a physical therapist, a soon-to-be physician, a massage therapist, and someone who does research in exercise science. On top of that, they are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. Union Fitness needs to adapt the old slogan from Olive Garden- “When you’re here, you’re family.” Since the start of my internship here, I feel that I have been accepted into a family of people motivated to help others and better their knowledge of exercise science. I feel lucky to be a part of it. If you ever want to talk and you do not find me in the office, I am probably doing the splits, hanging upside down, or swinging across the monkey bars. 

Happy B Day to THE WIZARD

Today let’s all take a moment and wish the happiest of birthday’s to our own CeJ.


I have been working in the strength industry for over two decades now and very few people have had as much of an impact on me as CeJ (you can decide for yourself if he is a good or a bad impact).


Seriously though I want to take a few minutes today and make sure that we celebrate our one and only CeJ, The Wizard. CeJ and first became friends over a decade ago when he was just a young college student looking to cut his teeth in strength and conditioning. He has been a presence in my life ever since. When I was given the oppurtunity to take over Union Fitness as the general manager I knew we had to increase CeJ’s presence here. At the time he was running his own class. Powerful with CeJ was a different version of Powerful as CeJ does everything his own way, and it seems to work.


Now CeJ is here at UF full time and my biggest complaint is that the guy spends too much time at work. There are many days that he is here for morning classes and evening classes, he has helped grow our college training program from zero to where it is today (we train almost 100 collegiate student-athletes). In addition to what he brings to work his positive attitude is what truly makes CeJ such a special part of UF.


So today take a moment and text, DM, or just stop CeJ and sing Happy B Day to this (not so young) fella.


Member Spotlight

Union, we love our members so much it’s time we show you off and have CeJ climb the incline like King Kong, and shout your presence from atop of the highest point of Mt. Washington!


This week we’d like to shout out Josh Conroy .


Ladies & Gents, here is the what is about, Conroy in his own words.


“What’s up everyone! My name is Josh, I’m 34 and I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and currently live in Oakdale. I work for Colussy Chevrolet in Bridgeville (which is the oldest Chevy dealership in the country) where I work in the service department.


Why I started training is like most people, I found my health declining due to being extremely lazy with poor eating habits. Shortly after turning 30 I thought I had a heart attack, thankfully I didn’t but it was what I needed to light a fire and make a change.


My father was really the reason behind me getting into lifting. He was as strict as you can be with nutrition and training. He always wanted me to better myself and always looked out for my health. So I joined the gym down from his house so we could train together and I could follow his guidance, unfortunately he passed away too soon due to cancer. He always told me to find something I’m passionate about and I did that with powerlifting.


After about a year of weight training, I stumbled into powerlifting. I started to bench press, squat then deadlift. I really enjoyed it. I became more serious with wanting to progress and I joined a dedicated powerlifting gym in Pittsburgh at Celli’s Fitness. I learned to love training, being strong and seeing what the human body is capable of. After they closed to move to a new location I found myself looking for a place to train as I was prepping for USPA Nationals and I decided Union was the place for me. Since joining Union I feel like I found a home, everyone here welcomed me with open arms and that was greatly appreciated as I’m someone who hates change. While I love training and competing, I have met some of the best people in the gym and consider many of them family.


My favorite lift is forever changing and really depends on the day, currently I’d say deadlifts would be my favorite. Some lifts I’ll never forget are my first 3 plate bench and first 600 pound squat and deadlift. Some of my training goals would be 405 bench, 650 squat and 700 deadlift. But the main goal is to stay healthy and continue making progress so I can get back on the platform later this year.


If I were to build my ultimate celebrity training crew I think I’d definitely have Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Rock, and Hulk Hogan brother!


My friends would describe be as someone who is loyal, sarcastic, personable and selfless.


Being a bigger guy it’s obvious I like to eat. If I could eat one type of food for the rest of my life it would definitely be hibachi!


Since I’m a larger dude I’d say if I were any piece of equipment at Union I’d be the leg press, monolift or belt squat.


My PR song would be BMF by Rick Ross! This song always gets me hyped.


If you ever see me in the gym come say hi and feel free to reach out if you need a hand!”


Thank you Big Josh Conroy for being a great member of our gym community!




Training Update and the Benefit of Just Showing Up

Earlier this week, our General Manager Todd Hamer wrote a blog about his good friend who recently passed away and the importance of showing up, even at times when you may not feel like it. This can help those close to you in more ways than you might know. If you haven’t read it, be sure to slide over and give it a quick read. It may be just what you need to hear right now. Today, going along with what Todd touched on, I am going to discuss the importance of showing up for yourself. More specifically, the importance of just showing up to train, even when you don’t feel motivated.


If you’ve been training for any decent amount of time, then you have certainly experienced your share of a lack of motivation. When you were new to training, motivation was something that was much easier to come by. You had this vision in your head of what you wanted to accomplish, and woke up every day just waiting to be able to walk into the gym. Over time you realized that this is a very challenging journey filled with many ups, downs, and crossroads along the way. 


In today’s world, it can be easy to believe that if you aren’t moving forward then you aren’t making progress. Well I’m here to tell you that just showing up can lead to much progress and success. As humans, we cannot be full throttle at all times. Imagine driving your car as fast as it will go at all times. It won’t last very long. We are no different. If we are constantly pushing forward without pulling back on occasion, bad things will happen, and we may inhibit our ability to see through the road ahead. This is where it can be necessary to simply “just show up”. 


Being in cruise control at times is not a bad thing. It can help you reset, refocus, gain a new perspective, and analyze your current situation. This can all provide an opportunity for growth and progression in the future. Recently, I’ve just been showing up. Part of this is to help my training partners, members, and friends at the gym, and some of it is for me and my mental health. Although my routine is a bit different from what it typically would be, it is what I need for the time being in order to reset and rebuild for future opportunities and progress. Not just with lifting, but life as well.


Sample training week:


Day 1:

Pit shark goblet squat: 5×8 w/ 2 second pause

Leg press: 7x 20, 15, 12, 10, 12, 15, 20

Bulgarian split squat: 4×10 each leg w/3 second eccentric

GHR back extension: 4×15 w/2 second pause

Hanging leg raises: 4×15 (strict)


Day 2:

Bench press: 5×5 w/2 chains per side

Incline DB press: 3×20

Barbell tricep extension: 5×10 

Single arm rows: 5×10 each arm

TRX face pulls: 4×15 (slow and controlled)


Day 3:

SSB good mornings: 5×5

Banded RDL: 4×10 w/band around hips (3 second eccentric)

Bent over barbell rows: 5×10

Hammer curls: 5×12

Ab rollouts: 4×12


Day 4: Optional

Fatbell bench press: 10×10 w/60 seconds rest

Weighted dips: 5x 20, 15, 12, 10, 8

DB OH press: 4×10

Lat pulldowns: 5×12

Lying fatbell tricep extensions: 5×10

Let’s get loud!

I found an assortment of 7 songs that have been really hittin it hard while I train. Let me drop them on you and see what you think.


The Sword “Freya”- Hailing from Austin Texas and formed in 2003, this song jams about Freya, the Goddess of Love and Fertility.


Priestess “Lay Down”- Influenced by Black Sabbath & AC/DC this Montreal band was formed in 2002 and this song rocks out to moving on and living your life.


Red Fang “Prehistoric Dog”-  From out way on the West Coast this Portland Oregon band begun in 2005 and this song blasts about aliens, zombies and prehistoric dogs.


Killer Be Killed “Deconstructing Self-Destruction” – This 2011 Supergroup of Soulfly, Mastodon, Converge and Dillinger Escape Plan just dropped a new album in November and this opening track really gets things going.


Quicksand “Fazer”- Throw it back to 1990 for this New York City post hardcore band and their song about making a positive change in your life.


HIM “Soul On Fire”- This 1991 Helsinki band that if you are a CKY/Viva La Bam Fan, you already know what’s up.


Nekrogoblikon “No One Survives”- This band has a Goblin in there group…enough said.


These have been the 7 song running in my mind while I have been training these last few weeks. Give them a listen and let me know what you think. Drop a line and let us know the songs that have been running in your head while you train.


Turn the volume to 11 and let’s get bumpy!