INTRODUCTION: When I picture world champion powerlifters, I imagine gargantuan men and women with pants-defying quads, double-wide chests and triangular necks. I think of men like the Man Mountain, and bar-bending men like Eddie Hall, the deadlifting record-breaker. But I’m wrong. Or at least, a little wrong. Not all powerlifters look like that – in fact, some of the most impressive lifters are diminutive, but can lift a few times their own body weight. The perfect example: the petit-but-powerful Lil Bianchi. She’s the World Champ in her weight category, and while some guys will have ego issues about being taught how to deadlift, squat and benchpress by a woman – they shouldn’t, as she is a brilliant coach. Her muscle-making mecca reflects that, there are no gimmicks or gadgets – just racks of metal, cast iron, and simple weapons of mass conditioning shoehorned into a compact, but hard-working gym. “OTG is a far cry from the average commercial gym, I’ve equipped our space with high quality tools to help anyone with their pursuit for physical evolution,” says Bianchi, owner and head coach at OTG. “With 3 resident strength and conditioning coaches we have a wealth of knowledge. We’re not just a room filled with equipment, we’re driven by the determination to not only coach and train our clients to meet their goals, but to educate them on the why and how when it comes to training and nutrition.” There are no shortcuts here, Lil and her talented coaches focus on the proven fundamentals. “We base our training on the methods that have worked for centuries, whether your goal is weight loss, athleticism, brute strength or being stage ready in fitness modelling, we use the basics: bodyweight training, hard style kettlebell conditioning, free weight training and the compound lifts used in powerlifting (squat, bench press and deadlift). There are no candy-coated fitness delusions at OTG, we’re geared towards hard work, whether you’re a pro athlete, fitness enthusiast, soccer mom, weekend warrior or bodybuilder.”
HER BACKGROUND: Bianchi has an impressive powerlifting CV, and has the medals to show for it. She’s the deadlift world record holder in her weight category, and has a gold medal from the World Powerlifting Champs, and a gold from the World Bench Press Champs too. The numbers – her weight: 47kg. Her three lift powerlifting total: 310kg. But besides her incredible strength-to-weight ratio, she’s also a successful coach with plenty of fiercely loyal clients. She’s a qualified strength and conditioning coach and IKFF certified kettlebell teacher, has studied nutrition for sports performance, and has spent four years interning with various training coaches before starting her own training brands. “I’m driven by performance,” says Lil. “Working with athletes daily, and then watching their performance improve on the field, on the track, in the water, or in the hexagon is paramount. Watching them beat their previous bests, whether it’s a 10km run or deadlift PR, it’s empowering. Witnessing them overcome a challenge, and be enthralled by their accomplishment is what job satisfaction is truly about.”
THE CLASS: After getting lost in the new maze of Umhlanga near Meridian drive, I found this old-school lifting HQ and immediately, I was impressed with the set up. There are no bright colours or fancy mirrors. It’s a stripped down venue where every single inch has a purpose, whether it’s for gains or building up a better cardio engine. After a very firm handshake with head coach Lil, she introduced me to the skilled Shilo Ramdin, one of the other coaches at OTG (and a SA Champion powerlifter in his weight class), and we got discussing my proposed workout so they could customise it to my needs. Lil was emphatic about setting up a session that was tailored to my specific goals (which was fantastic), but also obviously one where she could help share her expertise. At OTG, as a client you either have private, one-on-one sessions or you choose semi-private, where you’ll share the gym with one or two other clients. “OTG offers you your own exclusive training plan built around your needs and goals and tailored to fit your objectives, much like you would receive ‘one-on-one’ with a personal trainer except you are managed by 3 highly qualified strength and conditioning coaches and able to train at your own pace alongside your peers.” After a quick warm-up, I did some strength work (shoulder presses) and then a long, hard conditioning circuit filled with 100m sprints, skipping, farmer’s carry, pull-ups and the toughest move of all – sets of 50 single arm battle rope waves while the other hand gripping a weight plate. It was a tough workout that was a perfect example of OTG theory: challenging, old-school training that was also educational. Both Lil and Shilo taught me the value of having a strong grip – it transfers into everything that you do, and not just in the gym, but in life. It’s one of the necessities of being a good powerlifter, and it’s one of areas you can learn from the best at OTG. One of their gym rules said it best: “If you can’t grip it – you can’t rip it.”
THE BENEFITS OF POWERLIFTING: “Powerlifting can definitely be for everyone, provided you are driven by the pursuit of strength. It has no limitations, if you love to lift and you love the raw bluntness of it, then powerlifting can be perfect for you, no matter how strong or how weak you think you are – everyone starts somewhere. It’s empowering and humbling all at the same time, and it’s integral to developing strength, building strong bones and increasing muscle size.”
PARTING ADVICE: “Ultimately at OTG we want to be recognised as a high-performance facility that’s built for sportsmen and women, one that produces results, regardless if you’re a mixed martial artist or high school rugby player. We put in the same raw skill and knowledge into our athletes as we do our fitness enthusiasts, soccer moms and weekend warriors. If you love to train and love the honesty of it, then OTG is for you.”
“If you’re going to wear gloves, make sure they match your purse.”
Rule 1 from the House Rules.