Today I chat with Laura Phelps Stackhouse. Laura is the strongest female powerlifter in history, currently holding 8 All-Time World Records. She is a personal trainer and the founder of Queen Bee Power, which is aimed at training others in the Conjugate Method she learned from Louis Simmons.
We chat about the pressures surrounding being the strongest woman in the world, harnessing nerves, dealing with haters and carving a legacy for women in the strength arena.
Note: This episode was recorded prior to Simmons’ passing on March 24, 2022.
1:32 – Training at Westside Barbell
4:47 – Lessons from Louis
6:18 – Working through nerves
9:50 – Dealing with pressure
12:23 – Leaving competition
15:53 – Coaching women
17:03 – Strength training benefits for women
19:00 – Strong women in pop culture
21:45 – Social media haters and overcoming negativity
27:00 – The future of QBP
Welcome to Women In Fitness Business. Today, I chat with Laura Phelps Stackhouse. Laura is the strongest female powerlifter in history, currently holding eight all time world records. She is a personal trainer and the founder of Queen Bee Power, which is aimed at training others in the Conjugate Method she learned from Louie Simmons. We chat about the pressure surrounding being the strongest woman in the world, harnessing nerves, dealing with haters and carving a legacy for women in the strength arena. Laura, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
So you trained with Louis Simmons at Westside Barbell, as a woman in an environment packed with like alpha males, did he treat you differently? Like, what was your experience like there?
I trained there at a time, especially when there weren’t a lot of women in powerlifting. There were, a lot of times I would go to competitions or, things like that. And I’d be, probably the only female competing or, one or two other females. So it wasn’t like it is now. So even training at Westside, it was like training with a bunch of guys, Amy Weisberger was at the time probably the only active female Westside lifter. snd I had like different schedules, like we trained at different times. I trained in like either kind of like by myself, like with the guys, but on my own like piece of equipment, because they’re lifting so much more than me or whatever, or are just literally working in with them. So it was just kinda like getting thrown into the mix and, but Louie was definitely like more gentle with me, you know what I mean? The guys, he definitely is, more rowdy with and, talks a lot of crap to them and stuff like that, but he is definitely more sensitive with women, you know? So I definitely, when people ask me, like, they’ll ask me questions about like different drama, if I experienced at Westside and stuff. And I’m like, my stories are all good. Like they’re all good experiences with Louis. And he’s always been really generous and, just really caring with me.
So, I really have nothing to say, no, drama or anything like that, but it was definitely a very male dominated atmosphere otherwise, as far as, training. But, I was really lucky in the sense that like, everybody was really good to me. Like I didn’t ever feel like I was, like pushed to the side or anything like that, you know?
Were you intimidated at all initially, like the first time you walked in there and like, how did you.
For sure. People just like, know what they’re doing, they’ve got this like rhythm and this flow, this schedule that they have and, I’m just coming in. I’m just like, I don’t wanna get in the way, like that. I definitely had that feeling like, yeah.
I don’t wanna like get anybody’s way or take anybody’s equipment, make anybody mad, or have somebody throw a plate at me or something like that, you know? But after I got to know everybody, it was just like, like it’s you start realize that like most of those people, even like the biggest and, burliest of guys, they’re pretty sweet, when it comes, just when you take them out of that lifting atmosphere, they’re pretty sweet. So like, I think, I don’t know if they treated me differently because, I came in, I basically came there with world records. I mean, I had, quickly, from the time I started powerlifting, I quickly got my first world records. So I went in there with world records. So I think maybe my experience would’ve been different if I was just, a female that just came in that like, I don’t know if they would’ve taken me seriously or respected me as much, but since I came there with I think, yeah, two world records at the time, I think that they were like, OK, she’s not gonna like waste our time.
Or, and not that I think that they don’t respect people that don’t have world records. I just think that like, when they see me and they’re like, she has a world record, she obviously is here to work hard and gonna be a good teammate. You know.
Were there any lessons that you took away from that, from working with Louie that you use with your own clients in terms of your approach?
I’d say the biggest one is like Louie never was he’s a coach, but he’s not, he doesn’t, he’s not there to like literally coach up every single person on every single lift or move that they’re doing. He’s not creating all of their workouts. He developed a system he has taught his lifters how to coach themselves and coach each other.
I’m not saying he is totally uninvolved at all. Like, he’s definitely there, just one person can’t do it all. Like, they can’t, especially in a environment like that, where every person kinda needs something different and everybody’s got different weight classes, things like that, different strengths and weaknesses. So that’s something that I’ve kind of adapted from him is that like I’m there and I’ve got a lot of different athletes that I coach, but I’m my goal is to make each athlete self-sufficient like, they shouldn’t need me forever, like, right. I wanna coach people to be able to coach themselves and be good coaches to other people so they can, cause I believe in what I do in the system, the Westside, the conjugate system.
So, if I can coach people, the way I feel is, a good way then it’s like, I’m just paying it forward, for future athletes and future generations.
So you have the framework, you’re just passing it on. You said in an interview that nerves and a kind of a love of performing propelled you when you were powerlifting, what was the mechanism you used to kind of harness those nerves? Was there like a process to that or was it automatic?
it might have been somewhat automatic just because I grew up doing individual sports. So, I was used to doing gymnastics and being out on the floor or whatever by myself, so I really, I’m just more of an introvert, so I’m just not, I didn’t really do a whole lot of team sports.
I was always used to like, just, I only wanna count on myself, so for me it was just, that was, that felt good to be out there knowing that like, like I only had myself to count on as far as like, or I was only gonna let myself down, not anybody else, it’s just me. So I kind of fed off of that. I loved being nervous. I use that as like, sort of like, adrenaline or like some people love like caffeine or pre-workout or whatever, but like for me, like those nerves of, those kind of that’s what fueled me. So I kinda looked at it like, and I tell athletes now, like when they get nervous about doing their first meet or just any meet in general, that those people that are out in the audience, that they’re so nervous about watching them.
It’s like, those people are literally rooting for you, even if they’re there to watch their grandson or something like that, what you’ll find at a powerlifting meet is that like the crowd, like I said, is made up of people that are there to watch like completely different people. But when someone else is on the platform, they’re cheering for that person on the platform, they wanna see them do good. They’re not, they’re not thinking like, oh, I hope that person fails this lift or something like that. They wanna see people do well. and they love to see when people are genuinely, genuinely excited when someone hits like a personal record or something like that, know. So that’s kind of motivating, and I think once people like actually get out there and do it and experience that and see how, oh my gosh, like all these people that are total strangers, were cheering for me when I was, halfway through my lift or something like that, you know?
And I think that’s why people get so hooked on powerlifting, like their first competition. They usually come out and they’re like this amazing, like not only like just the empowering feeling, of, lifting something they’ve never lifted before or whatever, but just the support of people around them. So that’s what made me feel good. And like, I, like, I really enjoyed like, almost like putting on a show. And again, that could be literally like just my experience doing gymnastics, it was just like, I’ve worked really hard. I’m trying to do something that no female in my weight class has ever done. So I really wanna like put on a show for these people. So I fed off of that, that felt good to me. Like when I would come out to the platform and they would load, like, let’s say 700 pounds on the bar for a squat.
And like everybody wanted to see that. So they would, everybody would be standing up trying to like, get a good view of it, you know? And yeah. so then it just became, yeah, like a challenge to me, it’s just like, these people are supporting me and they wanna see me do something really special. So tthat’s what gives me those nerves and that excitement, you know? And so I would always like kind of search for that feeling. And I had a handful of competitions where I, I don’t know, maybe I just went in fatigued or something like that, and I just didn’t have that feeling, and it never really went well. The competition was never really good.
You’re arguably one of the like strongest women, if not the strongest woman in the world, like, do you feel a pressure with that when it comes to that label or has that ever gotten in your head when you’re competing?
Not really. Like, I that’s what I like kind of, was striving towards and I, so it felt good to always be pushing for that and trying to, defend that as well, and try to maintain that through my whole career. but at some point, like later in my career it did become hard, because then it’s like, these numbers are few and far between, at first it was great. It was just like, every time I stepped on the platform, it was big PRS, records here and there, and then as you go along, it’s like, not every single year would I get like a new world record or break a PR it was like, they became, like I said, few and far between, so towards the end of my career, it was just, it was a lot of pressure, you know what I mean?
Like a lot of pressure, every time I would come out there to do something better than I had done before. And like I said, it was just, it wasn’t always happening, you know? There wasn’t a time when I was like, oh, this specific competition is going to, be my last competition or anything like that. It wasn’t anything like that. It just kind of came to a point where it was just like the pressure. I just am, I’m tired, like the pressure is a lot. And I, just kinda had to be realistic with myself. It was like, do I wanna keep putting my body through this? And, sacrificing my time and all these things, to, maybe whatever percentage it was of success to not being successful.
it just was like, I wanna start focusing my efforts towards other things, which at the time was just naturally coaching. My training group was starting to grow. I was start starting to find myself just more invested in what they were doing and getting to competition and doing well. And I just was like, this is what I would like, this will keep me involved and keep me, kind of having that same feeling and that same drive, but in a different way for other people. Right. And it has proven to definitely be like more fulfilling, honestly, in a lot of ways. when, I’m coaching someone who, and not necessarily they break a world record, but, tthat they would, just hit some sort of big milestone or big personal records, something like that.
Do you ever miss competing?
No. I mean, people ask me that a lot. I definitely, I miss it in some ways, I do miss thst feeling of like, like I said, being on the platform and having people stand and rise, to see me try to achieve something that no female in my weight class has ever done. But at the same time, I don’t miss like the, like I said, that pressure to like constantly perform. And also just that pressure of like constantly having to compete, like, because there’s a totally different mindset, there’s training, which is, is awesome. It’s fun. I love to work out. but then there’s this different mindset that happens when you get into like meet prep, which is, typically, a few months out for a competition.
And then it’s just like, then there’s this, all this, like everything, in your whole life kind of revolves around, peaking for this one day. So it’s just like, right. It just kind of became exhausting to like, just like go in and out of meet prep, you know? So in a lot of ways, I know I don’t miss it. I love watching it now. I love being a part of it. but being someone that, I just tried to like, do what I can to give back to the sport now and not have to be the one, doing all the work as far as being on the platform.
So when it comes to coaching now, do you predominantly coach women or men?
Actually, I mean, not by like choice necessarily, but it’s happened to be more women. I definitely have plenty of male people that I coach for sure. I think just naturally it just happened that like, I, just attract like more females to, to coach, you know? So that’s been pretty cool, a lot of successful females and, it’s definitely different coaching men and women for sure.
Do you have to deal with a lot of mansplaining as a coach?
Luckily not, not really. Like, fortunately the men that like come to me for coaching are all, I think they’re all like, not in that way because, and I think it’s mostly because like, if they’re already taking a step to hire a female coach and not one of these other male coaches or these popular dudes that, might have less knowledge, but are, popular.
And it’s just, the fact that they’re willing to like set their ego aside and hire a female coach, I think just kind of weeds out those type of people anyway.
Do you prefer coaching women or men?
I mean, no bias here, but I mean, I probably women just because I mean, probably cuz I can relate a little better and a lot of the women that I coach definitely they take the program and they do everything that they’re supposed to do. I don’t know if it’s that they have more to prove or they just are genuinely just so pumped about the opportunity to that they have to do this, a little less ego, like, so they they’re more inclined to pick good attempts in training or on the platform, so they don’t tend to think like, oh, I can do this enormous number and it’s totally unrealistic, and right.
So they tend to be a lot more thoughtful and with selections that they choose and stuff, so therefore they end up being a little more successful on the platform. And I don’t mean successful as far as like ranking. I just mean like, they tend to make a lot of their lifts in competition because they are, a little more calm and thoughtful in that way, you know? So sometimes yeah, it can be like guess a little more fun to coach people. Cause I don’t know, I want people to be happy. The worst thing is when people are disappointed and and especially when I can see from an outside, view looking in, it’s like, you wanna be able to tell them like, it, it wasn’t anything to do with strength or anything like that.
It’ little technical things or, not the right attempts, things like that, you know? So it’s just, it sucks when people are disappointed and not in a way where I’m like, oh, it looks bad on me or anything, nothing like that. I just want people to be happy and feel like they’re successful.
What does building strength do for women mentally like specifically for women? Because I know that a strength building obviously has its benefits for all humans, but I think it has a bit more significance for women because we’re not typically, encouraged to be strong.
Right. Yeah. I mean it definitely, I mean, I’ve just seen a lot of women like get into powerlifting, whether it’s just off the streets or via CrossFit or something like that. I dunno, the confidence that it gives women, especially like to, to lift something that they’ve never lifted before or, lift a weight that they literally just, would’ve never dreamt that they could do. I just think it really more than anything builds confidence in all areas of their life. I mean, it also, with lifting weights, it obviously changes your physique. And I find that a lot of women myself included, like, I mean, I remember growing up and thinking like I was, I see photos now where I was like super skinny and I’m just like thought I was just so fat or whatever, I’m just like, oh my gosh, like now what like 50 pounds heavier and just like so much happier, you know? So you see that lot, the women, especially their mindset changes from like, thinking that they need to be a certain way that, or that society expects ’em to look a certain way.
And then all now all of a sudden their physique is changing. they’re building more muscle and feeling better about having a strong body and a body that looks like, I’m capable of doing hard things, you know?
Exactly. Yeah. You’ve built a platform with Queen Bee Power that a large part celebrates women’s strength. Do you find that media representations of strong women are shifting at all or what what’s been your sense of it?
So you’re saying ike media, like the way it –
I guess, first in like popular media and then maybe we’ll go into like social media. So for example, like in, I don’t know if, you watch Disney movies at all. I have a three year old daughter who loves the Luisa character on Encanto, which is a strong woman who can lift, entire buildings and stuff, stuff like that. And that’s her favorite character. And I wouldn’t have of a conceived of a character like that being around when I was growing up. I just feel like there’s been this a sort of a shift for sure.
Yeah. It definitely like, it’s hard to kinda like think of some examples, but that’s a great one, about, you’re seeing more, charactera that look strong, like female characters that look strong, can lift things and aren’t a circus side show or something like that. It’s definitely a lot more women are just lifting weights in general, even if they’re not lifting weights to do like, strength sports, powerlifting or strong man or something like that. A lot more women are now like, realizing the benefit health wise to, lifting weights.
So, whether it’s for, like I said, sport or not, it’s becoming a lot more accepted and I see like a lot of like older women and like, like even in their, like, let’s say seventies or eighties or whatever, and when they see like, if they see me, like if I have my arms, or whatever, they see a strong woman, they’re just like, that is so awesome. I think they feel like really proud that like it’s OK now, cause it just wasn’t something that they could have ever done, but they wish that they could have, been part of something like that to like have a strong body and that just wasn’t available to them. So it’s pretty cool to see how they’re just like how they appreciate it.
And aren’t really necessarily like looking down on it, even if they, maybe can’t necessarily do it now, you know? Yeah.
What role do you think, like social media and platforms like Instagram and Facebook have had when it comes to that? The shifting view. Cause it can definitely be a place of like a lot of hate and toxicity when it comes to this. Like I know, I dunno if you’ve seen the Instagram account, you look like a man, but like there’s, how do you view that sort of landscape? And is it something you like to involve yourself in?
It’s mostly men, I mean, are actually gonna still have like a few women that for some reason, just, aren’t on board or whatever, but it seems to be the men that still have the negative things to say, and that’s obviously just, based on being insecure and and all these reasons why like a guy would say things like that.
But, yeah, I think for the most part, social media, like has been helpful because there’s so much, so many resources. Like you can literally like a woman could decide she wants to do strength training. And like back in the day before social media, like how would you, you could go if you had the money, you could go hire a personal trainer, but otherwise, like you would just really, like, you maybe could go like to the library and look up some books, but now you can just go on Instagram and find some people that if they’re, trustworthy influencers and you can just follow their page different exercise recommendations and, that’s kind of why I like to do a lot of like posts with on my team QBP page about like different accessory movements cuz it’s, yeah.
I do do programs for people that cost money, but I also wanna like just have, free access for people to like learn some exercises and, learn how to put things together in their own program. So there’s just a lot of information out there just it’s so easily accessible now. So I do think in that regard, like social media is really good. but it’s also like, the negativity is nothing new. Back when I was competing early on the only real, platform to like post your videos and stuff like that was YouTube. So a lot of my old, old videos are on YouTube. And I was trying to like show some of my newer lifters cause they got like upset about one comment, one pretty small comment, let’s say that’s made on one of the videos.
And I’m like, oh my gosh, like, it was just like a one comment out of like, there, it never really happens on their videos, but this one comment they were fixated on. I was like, I put together this whole collage of terrible comments on my YouTube videos from men, put it all together and there it’s just like mind blowing. And I was just like, this is just a fraction of the terrible things that were said, you know what I mean? So I think, I don’t think it’s anything new, if anything, it might be a little bit better, like, cuz now it’s like, you just have one weird, rude comment or a couple out of, the percentage is so, so small. But like, I mean, I’d say it was a much bigger percentage of people that were commenting saying negative things back there and it wasn’t that long ago.
I mean, I’m talking like 2000, let’s see. That was probably like 2007 to 2010, before, before like Instagram and Facebook were really big.
Did that get to you? Like I know you can get like a hundred positive comments on a post and then that one negative comment usually rises out above, like how do you deal with that?
It was hard at first. I was just like, yeah, totally fixated on like the one or, there could be like one or two bad ones out of like a hundred good ones, but you’re just thinking, oh my gosh, like, do I look like a dude? How am I giving this one person so much power, like, right.
I mean, luckily, just with the support of like good people around me, they were able to keep my head straight and to realize that like there’s so much more support, like, obviously that if there’s one or two people out of all these people that are saying something negative, it’s obviously their own issues that they have their own problems that they have that they’re projecting on me, you know? So, I was able to kinda keep that straight and keep that in perspective.
I talked to Stefi Cohen a few weeks ago about, like her posting and more specifically her like experimenting with posting, like sexy images on Instagram. Have you ever felt a pressure to do that? Or how do you try to present yourself?
I do. Like, I definitely know that if I like was like a different kind of person that was wanted to post more like sexy things, I would probably get a lot more followers, which would be a lot more business, which would be more money in my pocket, you know?
But I just, that’s just not who I am. I would be so uncomfortable keeping up that image, you know? Right. so it just is like one of those things, it’s like, this is who I am, this is what I can maintain, and in feeling authentic, and this is, that’s just what it, just try to treat people really good and like, hope that like that’s what will you know? And it’s been pretty good. It’s, it’s not, like I said, I know I can make, but II pay my bills. I’m fine. I don’t feel like I am like in the desperate to like to get, it just wouldn’t feel right to me.
So where do you see your, your what’s your sort of vision for the next five? Like where do you see Queen Bee growing?
I definitely like, I have my own, I do personal training, like in person. So like, I used to do a lot, like before I did a lot more remote coaching, it was just full-time personal training. But like so many things, I switched to remote, like, so I, yeah, I started doing like remote training back in 2013. It’s been almost 10 years. Oh, wow. OK. Yeah. Yeah. It was, it’s been a really long time, so that’s grown a lot. So I do hope to grow that more and try to get more, this program out there to more people I’m always trying to evolve the program, and I think that, I’ve done a good job of like trying to like, not keep it the same and, evolve that like the program itself.
And then I’m trying to like get into more things, different avenues of like, cuz I did have a background in body building, so I’ve been trying to like kind of like do a little bit more body building programming for people. And not that I want, that’s not gonna be a big thing, but like, I’m like doing that a little bit for a few people. So I’m like maybe that’ll be another subscription. Cause I do, I have like individual clients that I do that I train remotely, but I also like have a subscription on train heroic, yeah. Team QBP on train heroic. So it’s sort of one of those things it’s like, trying to come up with more programs, to offer people on there, cause for a long time it was just like two, there was like a CrossFit style strength training program that I have and then powerlifting.
And it’s just, it’s grown into all these different ones. Some people don’t have all the same equipment access and, and so I have to do like modified programs. So, trying to grow that, I do seminars like, well they’re, I would call it like a clinic just cuz they’re like five hour, five to six hour clinics where I work do mostly hands on work with people on technique for the squat, the bench press and deadlift and different accessory movements. So a little bit more of that, I do enjoy doing those, and traveling and seeing different parts of the country, to do that. So, more seminars, just basically kind of what I’m doing now, but just refining it and give people a little bit more access to different parts of that.
Do you prefer the in person stuff to the remote stuff or what is your preference?
I actually like the way I’m doing it now, a little bit of both, it’s literally, I have like personal training clients, but then there’s also powerlifters at the gym that I coach. so that’s a lot of the in person stuff. And then, remote training is really cool too. Like, that challenge of not being able to be there with them in person, but still try to help. So that’s pretty cool when, if I do have like a remote client that, does something enormous, I had aa girl that I trained, remotely who broke my world record. Back in August. Yeah. She broke my total world record. So I was just, and we actually didn’t even realize that it had happened.
And we were just so focused on those individual lists and her winning the meet, which she did, that like later that night or maybe the next morning when I was at breakfast, I literally was like thinking about her total and I’m like, wait, wait, that was in the 181 class. Like she beat my total by like 20 pounds. So she didn’t know it either. I saw her that day and I told her, I was like, guess, guess what happened? So, it was pretty cool. So she is pretty close to, I think she’ll end up breaking my squat record and in that weight class, in the 181 class and my bench record. so that’s really, that’s that to me is, is really exciting, you know? I’m not even there with her in person, but she’s following the same style of training that I did and she’s, breaking my records. So it’s pretty cool.
You’re kind of passing Louie’s legacy on in this one.
Yeah. I mean, Louie that’s what he wanted was everybody to just be so much better than he ever was and that’s, what he really, really enjoyed for sure. So that’s another thing that I learned from Louie.
Thanks a lot for chatting me with me today. It was a pleasure.
Yeah, no problem. It was very fun.
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