This Girl Will Crush You – Mari Asp in Kick Ass Interview #6

Hey guys, I’ve got another great interview lined up – this time with Mari Asp, one of the strongest women alive. Born in Norway, she now trains with the Marine Corp in Pendelton Beach near San Diego and is a 5 time national champion and holds the world record in bench press for her weight class (330 lbs lifted at 123 lbs). Wow – I’m very glad to have her on the blog. Here’s what I learned:

  • how she structures her workouts day by day
  • the person who inspired her to return to competition after a series of serious injuries
  • the one thing she’s secretly afraid of
  • what it’s like to train & compete with the Marines Corps

I loved this interview – hope you do too!

1) In your email to me, you said you’ve done 3 sports for 2 countries. It seems like you do powerlifting now, so tell me more about gymnastics and fitness and Norway. How did you get your start in sports? What did you like about gymnastics and fitness?

At the age of 5 my parents took me to gymnastics, since I already knew how to do cartwheels – it was something I picked up on my own just playing around. I was a very active kid, sitting still was difficult so gymnastics was perfect. I loved it from day 1 and still do to this day. Gymnastics is the sport closest to my heart. It’s a tough sport, with a high volume of intense training that requires talent, patients, and lots of guts. Knowing the difficulty of it all, I have the highest level of respect for those who chose to do this beautiful sport of ours.

2) Is doing sports different in Norway vs USA?

Doing sports as a kid in Norway vs USA is a bit different. Unlike in the US, Norway doesn’t have sport teams at school. There are no high school or college teams. In Norway we have sport clubs where you are a member – training for a specific sport is done after school hours at the facility of the sports club. One of the clubs I was doing gymnastics for was Oslo Gymnastics club. When Norway is a small country with only 4.7 million people, many kids grow up in places far from a big city and it is limited with sport clubs to choose from. A sport like gymnastics that requires having a facility with all the equipment etc is far in between. A sport like soccer, on the other hand you will find pretty much everywhere.

3) You can bench 330 and hold the world record! That’s awesome. And crazy. What got you interested in lifting?

I was on the Norwegian National Team for Gymnastics since I was 13 but decided to retire 4 years later due to injuries. The following day of my retirement, a friend of mine from school who was training at an Olympic and powerlifting club and told me I to come with him and try lifting weights.

I did, and I bench-pressed 110 lbs that day, my first time ever lifting weights. 3 months later I won the junior national powerlifting championship. Today at 36, I am still doing it, thanks to the gymnastics training that gave me the skills, strength and ability to train hard and never give up.

Mari Asp in 2008. Her final lift is a world record!

4) What’s a typical week of training like?

I work out 5 days a week with weights. I split my body in 5, and train one body part/muscle group a day. I work out Monday through Friday, and take the weekends off. Splitting my body this way allows me to train harder and heavier on each muscle group, and to recover 100% before I train this muscle group again.

Mondays I do Back, Tuesday Chest (my heavy bench press day), Wednesday Legs, Thursdays Arms, and Friday Shoulders. I do the biggest muscle group, and my heavy bench training early in the week, and finish my week with the smallest muscle group. This because I am more rested in the beginning of the week. I do my legs on Wednesdays so my upper body gets a day of rest before I do 2 days with upper body work, then days of rest.

This way of working out seems to be working very well for me.

5) Was it difficult to go from training at high level to  having the attitude that “I am training to be the best in the world”?

I wasn’t because there is only one level of training for me and that’s “I am training to be the best in the world”. It’s all or nothing. But as I get older, I do know the day will come where I can no longer can be at that level. I will have a lot of experiences and knowledge from training, competing, injuries, and from life as a world class athlete that I want to share this with young athletes to help them become  the best in the world.

6) You must have gone through periods where you weren’t improving or where you weren’t sure you could keep going – maybe at the end of the workout you are tired. Or you got an injury and you had to rehab. Can you tell me about how you focus mentally to recover from those tough situations?

Yes, there was a period where I was close to giving up. Here’s what happened:

In 2007 I tore my labrum in my shoulder, hurt my triceps, and injured my ankle. From February 07 to November 07 (in 8 months) I had 3 surgeries (2 on my shoulder 1 on my ankle) in the middle of all that I ended up with a severe kidney infection with an abscess, and almost didn’t make it.

I wasn’t able to workout for over 1 year. There was a time I couldn’t walk up and down the stairs to my apartment. Then in June 08 a friend of mine was doing his 1st pro boxing fight, and when he was walking out of that ring he had to go to prison for 10 years. Seeing him motivating himself, train hard and go through with this fight, and on top of that win it, inspired me; if he can do that, I can get off my butt, and start lifting again. At this time I couldn’t even bench press the bar (20 lbs), but I kept pushing myself, and pushing myself.

My father has also been a tremendous source of strength. He never quits or complains and so when he knows I’m injured or hurt, he asks me “Who’s daughter are you?” and I always reply “My Dad’s daughter!” That’s gotten me through a lot.

In November of 2008, five months after starting to lift again I won my first world bench press championship in my weight class (123 lbs class), won the best lifter award, and broke a new world record lifting 314lbs.

The many surgeries and hospital visits I’ve had from injuries and medical problems have sucked a lot out of me. But they hasn’t stopped me yet! Once a Viking, always a Viking ;)

7) You train with Marines in Camp Pendelton. Tell me about your teammates. What is like working with such an elite team of guys? What have you learned from them? What’s the dynamic like?

The Camp Pendleton Barbenders is the US Marine Corps Powerlifting team at Camp Pendleton. They’re a team I’m very proud and fortunate to be a part of. They are an inspiration to train, and train with. They work out hard, are motivated, and very interested in learning as much as possible about training so they can become better athletes. Being a Marine is a tough one; they work long hours, spend a lot of time out in the field, and away from their family and loved ones. Still they find the energy and time to lift, and to help each other on the road to win more championships, break more records, and show the world that the US Marine corps Powerlifting team, The Camp Pendleton Barbenders know the art ass kicking.

8] Now you spend some time as a personal trainer. What kind of people do you work with and what sort of training do you do with them?

I have been doing personal training for the past 9 years. I like to apply all the stuff I have learned from being an athlete for all these years, into training other athletes, and also regular people.

9) You seem so tough and strong! Is there anything you are afraid of or that you are working hard to improve?

Well, we all have something we are afraid of, and so do I. I am actually very shy Especially in places and situations where I don’t know people, and it can be very uncomfortable. A normal simple thing like going to a dinner where I don’t know anyone, and where I have to tell people who I am and what I do is difficult to me, unless I am asked a direct question. I don’t like to talk about myself, and I hate coming across as a bragging person. I like people to see the person I am, and the woman in me, but that goes out the window after I tell them I hold the world bench press record.

In sports I am much more comfortable. I know my body, I know what it can do and so my performance does the speaking for me. I guess I am working on my shyness, and to be more comfortable around crowds of people who I don’t know, and who don’t know me.

Mari Asp doing a double back – I’m so jealous!

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and advocate for Asian American men. He's written extensively and spoken all over the world about how individuals and organizations develop their competitive advantage. Follow him at @jasonshen.

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