11x IPF World Powerlifting Champion Jen Thompson discusses breaking barriers in the sport and drug testing in attempt to be included in the Olympics.

Known as “132 Pounds of Power,” Jen Thompson is a legendary world champion and multi-world record holding powerlifter. She has been competing since 1999, and at 50 years old shows no signs of stopping. In addition to all of this – she is still a high school math teacher. This week, Jen Thompson joins Brandon Lirio on the U-Natty States Of America podcast to discuss her powerlifting origins, the complicated grey area around WADA drug testing in the sport, and her powerlifting plans at 50 years old (spoiler alert – it’s not retirement).

Unlike strongman’s focus on incredible feats of strength such as lifting atlas stones or pulling a car – powerlifting is a sport that focuses on a singular heavy lift. It’s a sport that is rife for setting world records. Which brings us to our podcast guest today. Jen Thompson is not only a 11x IPF world champion, she also holds multiple world records throughout her 20+ year history in the sport.

Brandon Lirio sits down with Jen Thompson to talk about her rise in the powerlifting world – and to discuss the inside realities of powerlifting leagues that many causal fans may not be aware of. Let’s jump into it.


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Setting the Mold With Raw Lifts

There was a time when powerlifting was more about equipped lifts rather than raw lifts. Raw lifting is far more popular now in powerlifting but when Jen Thompson started – equipped lifts were the main way to compete. Thompson hated the specifics of equipped lifts and the rules that came along with it.

So she decided to start competing in raw lift competitions. This was relatively unheard of in the sport – especially for female competitors. Thompson forged the path with not only competing in raw – but setting world records as she continued through the sport.

Thompson holds no ill will towards athletes who excel or enjoy equipped lifts. She understands there is a separate skill and talent behind succeeding in such events. But for Thompson, the joy came from raw lifting. If she wasn’t able to make that transition – there’s no telling if she would still be competing as she does today.

This is the same mentality she takes towards her day job of teaching at a high school. Despite her success, she still dedicates her time to teaching. The reason? Because it’s what she loves. Powerlifting may be a major joy in her life – but if it was to become her only passion, she believes that she would lose interest.

It’s the sort of honest awareness that makes Jen Thompson such a talented and memorable athlete. The massive record-breaking lifts also help.

The Realities of Drug Testing in Powerlifting and the IPF’s Attempt to Bring it into the Olympics

During their conversation, the topic of drug testing in powerlifting gets a major focus. In case you did not know, many competitors in this sport are taking much more than just protein powders and pre-workouts, and in some leagues these substances are not allowed at all.

In an attempt to bring powerlifting into the Olympics, the federation changed the required demands for drug testing across powerlifting leagues. This put a large financial pressure on the USAPL – one of the most notable powerlifting leagues in the sport.

The argument was that the changed drug testing demands put far too much of a financial strain on the league, and drug testing certainly is not cheap. The league had already ensured that athletes were tested before competitions and felt that this was enough. This caused a clash between the IPF and the USAPL.

This clash is a perfect example of the challenges behind effective drug testing in professional sports. We all know now that PED usage has made its way into the Olympics – most notably the Russian national team and the ban that followed. This is just one example of how hard it is to truly have 100% effective drug testing.

The World Anti Doping Agency (WADA for short) is a drug testing agency that is supported by the Olympics. This is the same agency that the IPF and the INBA/PNBA use for competitions. So these drug testing standards are very familiar to both Brandon Lirio and Jen Thompson.

Jen Thompson discusses the inherent problems behind the drug testing scrutiny in powerlifting. The goal ends up being this – testing more often to generates more failed drug tests. This makes the federation “look bad” in the eyes of organizations such as the Olympics. However, the reality is current USAPL system of drug testing is effective – and provides a solid option for a fair competition.

The changed rules don’t fix the potential for cheaters. It simply forces the leagues to spend more money on a different series of tests to prove further how few athletes are actually using PEDs. While also testing less to show less failed results. It’s an unfortunate cycle for leagues that, compared to major sports such as the NFL, NBA, or MBL – would struggle to meet the demand.

Jen Thompson Wrap Up

Jen Thompson is a powerlifter who is far from being done competing. At 50 years old, she has no plans to retire. In fact, she hopes to set new standards for what a 50 year old woman can accomplish. She wants to inspire middle aged women to stay motivated and pursue strength sports if it is their passion.

You can watch Jen Thompson’s full interview with Brandon Lirio in our latest episode of the U-Natty States Of America podcast. Don’t forget to check back every Wednesday for new episodes only on the Generation Iron Fitness Network or wherever podcasts are downloaded.

Jacob Ladon is a staff writer and former amateur bodybuilder. He has been passionate about bodybuilding since he was 15 years old and discovered the joys of training in the gym. He reports and comments on all bodybuilding related matters.