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2019 Southwestern graduate competes at Las Vegas powerlifting event
Lexi Birkett
2019 Southwestern High School graduate Lexi Birkett attempts a deadlift at the 2022 USA Mega Nationals powerlifting event held in Las Vegas last month.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Athlete of the Week is a web-only feature that will publish each Thursday throughout the calendar year.

By A.J. Gates, Herald Independent/Tri-County Press

Lexi Birkett, 2019 Southwestern graduate, power lifting
HAZEL GREEN – Make no mistake about it, at 5’2” and 146 pounds, Lexi Birkett can more than handle her own in the weight room.

In fact, you might be surprised to know that her personal bests include a squat of 350 pounds, a bench press of 205 pounds and a deadlift of 353 pounds.

Birkett, 21, a 2019 graduate of Southwestern High School, has been a member of the powerlifting team at the University of Wisconsin–Madison for the past three years, where she has put together an impressive resume in a relatively short amount of time.

Competing in the open age division for women under 148 pounds, Birkett has qualified for the Collegiate Nationals for the past three consecutive years, and most recently participated in the 2022 USA Mega Nationals  held in Las Vegas last month.

It was at the Mega Nationals in Vegas where she hit her bench PR of 205 pounds and her squat PR of 350.

“It went really well,” said Birkett of the Mega Nationals. “My bench PR of 205 was a big, big thing for me to hit. I’ve been trying to bench 205 since last June.”

Over the past three years, Birkett has competed at the Collegiate Nationals where she has finished first at a meet in Detroit, and fourth at another held at Penn State University.

For those unfamiliar with how powerlifting competitions are scored, competitors get three lifts in each of three events (squat, bench press & deadlift) at a weight of their choosing. 

The goal is to max out on your final lift in each event, knowing that your final score is determined by adding up your heaviest weight in all three events.

Athletes typically start out with a lift under their personal best, then use their second left at their personal best, hoping to set a new personal best with their third lift.

“For me, I typically try to stay between 10 and 15-pound jumps,” said Birkett. “It all depends on a bunch of different things. If you had to cut (weight) going into the meet, how well it moves, and how well your training has been going.”

At the Mega Nationals in Vegas, Birkett started out in the squat with 325 pounds, then went to 341 and ended at 358. In the bench press she started at 193 pounds, moved to 198 and finished with 204. In the deadlift she started at 330 pounds, went to 341 and ended with an unsuccessful attempt at 352.

As one might expect, the day-to-day training for powerlifting is often times more strenuous than the competitions themselves.

“There is a lot that goes into it, diet especially,” said Birkett. “For the past couple of meets I’ve actually had to cut weight going into them. I was tracking all my food, weighing everything out and eating super clean.”

“The biggest thing is that you’re trying to hit your protein goals just because you’re trying to build muscle,” she said.

Birkett explained that most power lifters try to consume one gram of protein per pound of body weight each day. She shoots for about 150 grams of protein per day. 

Her caloric intake is less than 1,500 calories per day, eating a lot of lean turkey, Greek yogurt with granola, and a lot of Fairlife protein milk.

It’s really quite amazing how far Birkett has come in the sport of powerlifting since trying out for the team at UW three years ago as a freshman.

“It’s kind of interesting looking  back now at some of the things I never thought I’d be able to do when I tried out for the team,” said Birkett. “Now I’m doing a lot bigger numbers, and it’s just really cool to look back on all that.”

To think, it all started three years ago with an impulsive decision that led her to try out for a sport she really had no prior knowledge of.

“It was a complete whim thing. I thought it sounded kind of fun, but I didn’t really know much about the sport,” said Birkett of her initial interest in powerlifting. “I made the team and fell in love with the sport.

“What’s great about the team too, is that everyone is very welcoming. I obviously had tons of questions at my tryout, and they were more than happy to help, and let me use their equipment. It’s just a really great community.” 

While powerlifting is becoming more and more popular at the high school level, Birkett’s only experience in the weight room at Southwestern High School was as a member of the softball and basketball teams.

“Honestly, the skills that I learned through training for sports transferred over pretty well, but it was more of a mental thing,” said Birkett. “You’re lifting these really heavy weights, so it’s just getting over that mental barrier. When you’ve got 300 pounds on your back going for a squat, it’s more mental than anything, honestly.”

Birkett is currently one of only six females on the UW powerlifting team, which consists of approximately 40 to 50 members.

“We’re trying to make it easier for girls to join the team, because we feel that it is just a little bit intimidating,” added Birkett. “The girls on our team are all working together trying to get more girls involved.”

In a regular season, Birkett usually competes at two meets per year, knowing that too many meets would be taxing on her body and her schedule.

While she still has her senior year at UW to look forward to, Birkett also has her sights set on her future, which, as you might have expected, does include powerlifting.

“I plan to compete in the open division once I graduate from Madison,” said Birkett. “Honestly, I guess my next big goal would be to get my pro card. You have to go to Vegas and do very, very well there. If you get a pro card you can then go to special pro events. That’s kind of a distant goal, but I guess that’s the next thing to work for.”

Not knowing much about the sport three years ago, to possibly someday getting her pro card, Birkett is now an advocate for powerlifting, and anyone who might have the slightest interest in trying it out.

“I would just encourage anyone who is even slightly interested in it, to just check it out,” said Birkett. “Like I’ve said, I’ve made all my best friends in college from the team. When you go to a meet at any level, the community is just amazing.” 

“You’re competing against other people, but what’s really cool to see is that you’re competitors are there cheering you on,” she added. “It’s really, really cool to see, and that’s one thing I’ve never seen with the other sports I’ve been involved in.”