The Real Testosterone Vixen

An interview with Mariam Power


We get requests every week here at T-mag to provide more information geared towards women. Too bad! This is Man Land, baby, go read Good Housekeeping and fetch me a Sam Adams while you're up. No, no, I'm just kidding! We like women; heck, most of our mothers are women. Still, we're not about to post some frilly article aimed at a bunch of Oprah-watching Jenny Craig rejects. No, if we post something for the fairer sex, it's going to be geared toward our kind of woman.

See, there're two basic categories of women these days and you can differentiate the two quite easily in the gym. The first type of woman doesn't even call it a gym. It's a "fitness studio." She doesn't want to get "too big" so she doesn't lift heavy weights. She sticks to machines because her personal trainer told her free weights are only for men and are dangerous to boot. She attends jazzercise and yoga classes. This type of female seems to be allergic to sweat, especially her own. If you were to overhear her conversations in the gym, you wouldn't hear about sets, reps or TUT, instead you'd hear about little Bobby's soccer game or those darling earrings shaped like Christmas trees she picked up at the craft show. Sure enough, she never seems to be making much progress.

When the second type of woman walks into the gym, you'd better hope your spotter doesn't see her. If he does, then not even your gurgling death rattle will break her hypnotic spell long enough so that he'll remove the bar from across your throat. Who could blame him? She's a total hardbody: tight and tan, sexy and strong. She'll likely head straight for the squat rack, causing every man she passes to lose count of his reps. If you watch her train (and you know you will), you'll notice she doesn't play around. She lifts with focused intensity as delicate droplets of sweat run down her tanned belly until they slow and catch on her navel ring, dancing there, glistening, glimmering, beckoning sorry, got distracted there for a minute.

We're not talking about a nasty female pro bodybuilder either. No way, this type of woman is the epitome of feminine beauty. What you're seeing is a genuine alpha female, the quintessential Testosterone Vixen. Now you may be thinking that this species of female is not only rare, but perhaps even extinct. You'd be wrong. We found one. We not only found a real life T-Vixen, we may have found their leader.

Mariam Power is Canada's pound-for-pound top female powerlifter, but she's also a bikini model, fitness competitor, actress, a certified teacher and martial artist. Beauty, brains, and a 400-pound squat — definite T-Vixen material. If you're a guy, then this is the article you'll want to print out for your wife or girlfriend. If you're a female type person, then listen up as Mariam tells you how to get on the real path to Babedom.

T: First things first. Just to prove to our readers that you've got the brawn to back up the beauty, let's hear the numbers.

MP: Well, I'm 27 years old, 148 pounds. I bench 250, squat 400, and deadlift 406.

T: You also practice Kenpo, right?

MP: I'm at my purple belt right now and plan on getting a black belt before I'm through.

T: So basically, you could kick my ass, huh?

MP: Most likely [laughing, but only a little bit].

T: Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in weight training and powerlifting?

MP: I was born in Stephenville, Newfoundland, in 1973. Ever since I was a little girl, I would always go to the gym with my father. He's been my personal coach ever since I was small and all through high school. I remember watching him compete in powerlifting for years, when I was a kid.

T: Does your dad still compete?

MP: 1981 is when he says he retired from the sport, competition wise. In Newfoundland, this was when all the drugs were coming onto the scene really heavy and that's when he quit. He held all the records for years and then one day the big drug users showed up and wiped them all out.

T: Dr. Kinakin told us in a past interview that Canada had to go back and throw out a lot of records because the steroids were so prevalent.

MP: That's correct. At the time, my father had two kids and he and my mother always went to church. He admits he had thought about taking steroids several times and going to the Worlds and beating everybody. That's what everybody else was doing. But he says something always told him not to do it. Now he's 47, about 245 pounds, and not only does he look better than most of the younger guys in the gym, he can beat them in most every lift. He's always been natural and he's instilled that belief in me.

T: Did you play other sports?

MP: Yes, at 19 I went to college and played soccer on scholarship, but I wanted to do something more for my body. I remember coming home at age 21 and asking my dad to put me on the same program he was on. At this point I wasn't thinking of competing; I just wanted to stay in shape. I started training with my dad and three weeks later I entered my first powerlifting competition. It became my favorite sport. I was hooked. Before that I had played everything — hockey, Canadian ringette (a game sort of like hockey), track and field, and soccer.

T: I read on your web site that you played on the boy's team. Is that right?

MP: Yes, I always played sports with the boys, right up until grade 12. I never played with girls in soccer until college. When I was 14, I played with the under 16 boys all star team. I've also played on the provincial soccer men's team. I never played rugby, because that was a new thing when I first moved to B.C., but they did call me out to be their kicker.

T: Did your dad work with you on these sports as well?

MP: When I was 15 I remember him taking me down to the basement and having me do squats with 135 pounds. I wasn't powerlifting then, just getting my legs stronger for soccer. I'd do ten to twelve sets of 22 reps with about 30 seconds in between sets. Then I'd do as many push-ups as I could do in a minute, rest 10 seconds, and then do sit-ups. Then my dad would get in his truck and I'd run beside it. Sometimes we'd do wind sprints together, too, just all around conditioning for sports.

T: That's a tough program for a 15 year old girl!

MP: Yeah, but he's a really good dad. I still talk to him every single day. All we talk about is powerlifting and steroids — who's doing what and how we can beat them.

T: You have a very strong drug-free stance and always advertise that fact. I'm guessing people assume you use steroids?

MP: Some people do. Even a few powerlifting friends of mine assume I'm using something. Some will come right out and ask and I can tell them no. One friend of mine, a top powerlifter in the 165-lb class, couldn't believe the progress I had made in two years. I think he assumed I was using drugs but didn't come right out and say it. Of course, I could bench the same weight he could, so maybe that had something to do with it! Actually, my lifts had improved so much because I was training with my dad again where I had been training by myself for a time.

T: How bad is the drug scene? We hear the "natural" competitions are a big joke.

MP: To tell you the truth, Canada is probably not as bad as the States for steroids, but when you go to the Worlds that's what it is, a drug world. But I know people that compete in "natural" bodybuilding shows put on by the World Natural Sports organization who are far from natural. I competed in the Ms. Figure competition just for fun myself and while I can't prove it, I think it's all drugs. I read newspaper articles where these people are claiming to be drug free, but I know these people, and I know it's a bunch of crap. It makes me sick.

I know one female powerlifter who was caught in the States, but was allowed to lift anyway here in Canada. It caused a huge stink and many BC athletes, including myself, didn't lift for two years because of it. She came back this year in my weight class and couldn't even squat 225. She bombed. As my dad says, she's can't do anything without her shit.

T: Is the dishonesty in the sport depressing to you as a natural competitor?

MP: You know, I don't care if another woman wants to do it, but it's not for me. I don't want to look like that. Even when you look closely at some of the Ms. Fitness Olympia ladies, they don't really look good.

T: I've always thought Monica Brant looks better out of competition.

MP: You're seeing more and more signs of drug use like the protruding jaw. Think about it, Rachel McLish wouldn't stand a chance against today's fitness girls!

T: Our readers, for the most part, tell us they hate the pro bodybuilder look. Now the fitness girls are starting to look unnatural. It seems like the judges aren't listening to the public. Look what happened to Monica this year.

MP: I'm really proud of Monica Brant this year, actually. I have a tape of the 98 Fitness Olympia where she won and there's just no way she's clean. She obviously went overboard, but the thing is she won. This year she toned down a lot and was the sexiest, most-fit person up there, yet she didn't win. In my mind she wasn't fourth, she was first.

T: What's the trend there? Are we going to see fitness competitions self destruct with drugs?

MP: I think it's going to crash pretty soon. It's not going to go the other direction and become drug free, though. It'll never clean up completely. Today, the fitness girls look like bodybuilders from the early 80s and when you look at the top female pro bodybuilders Well, you look at Kim Chizevsky. That's scary. How much further are they going to go?

Here's the really sad part. When I competed in the Ms. Figure competition, they told me the drug tests were going to cost 50 bucks. I thought, great, that's quite cheap! I paid $175 for my drug test at the Canadians. It turned out to be nothing but a money maker. No one had to pee. All you did was sit down at a desk and answer a questionnaire. It asked, "Have you ever done steroids before? Yes or no?" It was a joke.

T: That was the drug test?

MP: That was it!

T: No urine test, no lie detector or anything?

MP: Nope, 50 bucks and answer this question.

T: I suppose they advertised that this was a drug-tested competition?

MP: Yes! The word "natural" in these sports is sort of a joke.

T: You've said flat out that you plan to set a new standard in the sport. Being an actual drug-free champion is almost a crusade with you, huh?

MP: You know what, Chris, in a year you're going to say, "Hey, Mariam said she was going to do this and she's doing it." When I started competing at 21 years old, I set the goal of breaking every record in my province. Then I wanted to place first at the Canadians. Then I wanted to go to the Worlds some day have a crack at the record. But, I didn't want to do it with steroids and I wanted to do it looking sexy.

T: So far, so good, but you must be tempted to use steroids.

MP: Sure, I've been tempted and I've been curious about steroids. Luckily, my "dream team," consisting of Dr. Sal Arria of ISSA, Fred Hatfield and Charles Staley, would steer me away every time. They would remind me that I can't become a champion overnight and that it was going to take years. Dr. Sal helped me to see that I could set a new standard in this sport and I could do it naturally.

T: Your next goal is to set a bench press record, right?

MP: Yes, in fact, I just missed 258 at the Canadians. So right now I'm not going to enter any more Ms. Fitness or Ms. Figure competitions or any of that crap. For a full year I'm just going to train powerlifting to keep my base up. Before the Worlds in December, with a bench shirt, I should be cracking a 280 "touch and go" in the gym. The record that's been standing for 14 years in my weight class is 264, so I'm very close. Now, there is another record pending in my weight class, but I'm not sure if it's gone through or not. It's a 319-lb bench press, which I'll never be able to touch. That's crazy; it's nothing but juice really.

T: Tell me about your training. How does it differ when you're training for a meet and training for a Ms. Figure? Don't tell me you use a powerlifting routine to prepare for a bikini contest.

MP: For the most part, I do! I made the mistake last year of getting off my powerlifting program in preparation for a Ms. Figure competition. I trained lighter, used lots of lunges, didn't squat as much etc. Oh my God, I lost my bum, I lost my legs I'll never do that again! It took away from my physique. From now on I'll stay on my powerlifting program.

If I were going to enter a fitness contest, I'll still use my deadlift, squat and bench at about 80 to 90 percent of max, but on my assistance work I'd probably go to sets of 10 to 12 instead of six like I usually do. My goal is to look like a fitness competitor, but be one of the top powerlifters in the world.

T: How about cardio? Powerlifting and cardio don't mix for most people.

MP: I do cardio everyday.

T: Really?

MP: Yes, but not for very long. For example, the other day we did heavy bench, back, and then arms. Then Dad got me on the treadmill for 12 minutes. I do sort of a fast power walk and then I bust into a hard sprint for 30 seconds. Then I walk for a minute and do another hard sprint. If I just jog on the treadmill my dad tells me I'm wasting my time and just going through the motions. He's hardcore, even on the treadmill!

T: Alright, let's talk diet.

MP: Right now I'm trying to stay within my weight class and look good for some upcoming photo shoots. I'm getting about six small meals a day. Each meal consists of protein and complex carbs from brown rice or a small potato. I also eat a lot of fruits and veggies. One day a week I'll have a cheat day and eat what I want, but the rest of the week I'll eat healthy about every three hours.

T: Do you use supplements?

MP: Yeah, I use a variety of vitamins and minerals, primrose oil, and protein powder. I only recently tried creatine and I really responded well to it.

Note: After the interview, we sent Mariam a box of Biotest stuff. She describes her results so far as "wonderful" and says Grow! tastes awesome. Of course, we'd love it if she set a new record with a little Power Drive coursing through her body!

T: Now you have a lot of non-powerlifting things in the works, too, right?

MP: Well, I'm taking acting lessons right now and I'm scheduled to do two movies.
Also, you know how Pamela Anderson first got noticed by LaBatt Blue beer, right?

T: Of course. Any self-respecting man knows his Pam Anderson history. [Pam is actually from Comox, where Mariam currently trains and resides.]

MP: Well, I'm sponsored now by Molsen Canadian beer, so I'll be sort of a Canadian "Bud girl" for the next year as they sponsor me through the next two World Championships. I think this will be a great chance to show the world that a natural, strong woman can be sexy. I hope to be a healthy role model. Sometimes, when people think of a strong women, they think of Chyna from WWF. But to me she's not a role model. This crank-monkey look just isn't sexy for women and ultimately isn't healthy.

T: What do you think of the waif look and the wave of skinniness that is washing over Hollywood?

MP: I think they all look sick. I think Pamela Anderson looked sexy, but even she is starting to look coked out, like she doesn't eat.

T: How about breast implants and fitness competitors? Everyone is buying a pair these days.

MP: I think it's a personal thing. Some of the fitness competitors get so lean they get the implants to look more voluptuous and usually they look better.

T: Do people accuse you of having implants?

MP: It's funny, my agent phoned up the other day and said, "Mariam, you swear to God you're 100% natural, everything is natural, right?"

T: He was referring to your breasts?

MP: He was referring to everything, but yes, I get that a lot. If you were to see me in person you'd know that they're real. That also runs in the family. My grandmother had to have two reductions, actually.

T: Well, at least you can get really lean without going Mia Finnegan on us!

MP: Yes, definitely.

T: Many of the fitness chicks are also doing some nude work now. Have you ever been approached to do something like that?

MP: Yes, in fact, since January I've received three or four offers, one with Playboy's Hardbodies magazine. Right now, though, I'm not going to do that kind of stuff. It's just not for me at this time. I'm just starting out and I feel I have so many other things to do right now. It's an honor that people are interested in that kind of stuff and I'm not saying I wouldn't want to do some work for Playboy, but at this point I'm just being really careful.

T: Do guys ever get intimidated by you? Does the fact that you can out lift most guys affect your relationships?

MP: Actually, I just left a four-year relationship for that very reason. I was engaged in fact. My ex was a strongman competitor, 260 pounds, so it wasn't like he had to worry about competing with a woman, but he did. He felt we were always in competition and if he wasn't competing with me, it was like he had no drive in life to do anything for himself. He also tried to tell my dad what do with my attempts at the Canadians and I almost bombed on squats. Finally, I just thought, hey, I don't need this shit and said addios.

T: How would you respond to women who want to get in shape, but are scared to lift weights because they think they're going to get "too big" or "bulky".

MP: Two things. First, they need realistic, drug free role models. Although I realize it's not a completely natural publication, I would recommend they read Oxygen magazine. They'll be doing an article on me in the summer, by the way. Men always write me asking how they can get their wives into training. I would tell them to maybe get their wives or girlfriends to pick up the magazine or go to my web site. Second, the everyday woman just needs to be educated about steroids. They think they're going to look big weight training because they don't realize that many of the women in muscle magazines are using steroids. You just don't look that way without them.

T: What bugs me is these women think they're going to wake up and accidentally be huge one morning. You know, like putting on massive amounts of muscle is easy.

MP: Yeah, I get women coming into the gym all the time saying they want to look like me. When I tell them how I train they say, "No, if I did that I would get twice as big as you." And these are just genetically average, non-athletic women! We've got to educate them and give them natural, realistic role models to look up to.

T: How would you start a woman out if you were her trainer?

MP: Every woman I train, beginner or not, I get them to do your three basic movements that work 90% of the body — bench, squat, and deadlift. The basic movements are so important. If she'll eat to a "t" (except for that one cheat day) and use these big compound movements, she'll make progress and look better. As I said, if I start to neglect these movements, I lose everything.

T: So you're saying that when you train like the normal women we see in the gym everyday, you start to lose that bod?

MP: You know what I was doing when I started losing my muscle tone? I was doing those stupid things other women were doing: getting on the treadmill for a bloody hour, using cable crossovers etc. These are things I call "stupid exercises." Women need to stick to basic free weight movements, work up a sweat and put some intensity into it.

T: Okay, let's say you've convinced a woman reading this to adopt your style of training. Give us a Mariam-style program.

MP: Sure, here's how I train women who want that sexy, hard look:


Deadlifts, Back, Biceps: This is a tough workout, so I'd have my clients do it on Monday when they're the freshest. Also, we always stretch 10 to 15 minutes before every session.

Deadlifts: 5x6 ( I see no need to do over 6 to 8, maximum.)
Lat pulldowns: 3x8
Barbell rows: 3x8
One arm rows: 3x8
Straight barbell curls: 3x8
Hammer curls: 3x6
Seated dumbbell curls: 3x10


25 minutes of cardio. Walk one minute on the treadmill and then run 30 seconds, repeat. We'd also do ab work on this day- side bends, sit-ups or crunches. Ab work not only makes you look good, but I believe it's very important in preventing injury.


Chest and Triceps:

  • Bench Press: 1x8, 1x8, 1x5, 1x5, 1x3, 1x1
  • Incline barbell press: 3x6-8
  • Incline dumbbell flyes: 3x8-10
  • Close grip bench: 4x6
  • Tricep pushdowns: 3x8-10
  • Dips: 3x15-20


Cardio and abs again.


Legs and Shoulders:

  • Squats: 1x8, 1x8 1x5, 1x5, 1x3, 1x3 1x1
  • Leg press: 3x22
  • Leg curls: 3x10
  • Seated calf raises: 4x10
  • Behind-the-neck press: 3x6-8
  • Dumbbell laterals : 3x8
  • Dumbbell raises: 3x8
  • Barbell shrugs: 2x12-15


REST, REST, REST! Sometimes we'll do more cardio and abs after a regular workout, depending on the person.

T: Give us a rough idea of the kind of training you're doing now.

MP: My training revolves around an eight week program. If I feel I'm not in condition, though, I'll do about the same program but I'll use higher reps. Once I'm conditioned, I'll bench twice a week — Monday and Thursday. Mondays are always 80% and Thursdays are done at 90%. I try to work up five pounds every week. That's the idea of the conditioning phase. We can start off at a high base and work from there. This program works every time.

On our 80% day, with squats it's all sets of eight. With bench, it's two sets of eight, two sets of five, and two sets of three. On heavy day, it's two sets of eight, two sets of five, two sets of three, and a single. Then we do barbell inclines on both days right after. On 80% day, my incline will always be done to sets of eight because I want to bodybuild a little and get some hard muscle mass going.

T: How many sets of inclines?

MP: Three sets. On our heavy day, we smoke up the inclines and do heavier reps of six during the first month. Then we go to reps of five. I always hit five reps but I'll add weight to bar each set, always trying to get that fifth rep. The next week I'll do the same thing, but I'll start out heavier. After that I'll usually do some dumbbell bench presses to work on my stabilizers. I usually do three sets of six reps with 70 pound dumbbells.

T: Give us one of your bench press secrets. We won't tell anybody.

MP: Here's one that I've always found effective. To get your bench up, try doing barbell rows using the same width grip you'd use when benching. I do these on light and heavy days, after benching, for reps of six. Since I've been doing these I feel better on the bench. I have some muscle to push into the pad with. I'll usually follow rows with pull downs, either to the front or to the back. Finally, for a finisher, I'll do some one arm dumbbell rows for reps of eight and then throw in some biceps.

T: Do you use any gadgets like Swiss balls or the Full Speed Device?

MP: I never use anything like that. Actually, one of the best things I've done to improve my lifts, especially my squat, is to improve my flexibility. Charles Staley showed me a few techniques that really helped me out.

T: Do you use a belt?

MP: We're trying to eliminate the belt on squats. For example, on my light squat day I'm not wearing a belt. On heavy day I won't start wearing a belt until after 250.

T: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Mariam. I think you have a lot to teach women and are a great role model for them.

MP: Hopefully we've helped change a few women's minds about hard and heavy training.

To me, Mariam is unique. Her pictures alone are enough to get women into the free weight section of the gym, but she also epitomizes the kind of work ethic we should all adopt. For all those that "don't have time" to hit the weights, I challenge you to spend a day in Mariam's deadlifting shoes. To top it all off, she donates a large portion of her earnings to a children's hospital in her community. That leaves only two questions:

1. Will she break the world's record and become the new ideal for the female physique?

2. Will she agree to have my children?

My bets are on number one.

Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram