Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Delivering science and technology to protect our nation and promote world stability

Maura Shuttleworth— Pumping serious iron

A veteran of more than 70 competitions, powerlifter Maura Shuttleworth holds more than 20 records, 12 of which are New Mexico State Records. For Maura, powerlifting is more than competition-it's a journey where every day is a chance to get stronger and better.
January 31, 2018
  • Maura Shuttleworth
  • Maura Shuttleworth
  • Maura Shuttleworth
  • Maura Shuttleworth
"I've always been an athlete. In my family, both sports and intellectual pursuits are high priority. I feel fortunate to have been given this foundation to value health and physical activity. I am also a big believer in the mind-body connection. Sound body, sound mind."

Pumping serious iron

There’s nothing quite like achieving an incredible feat of strength, and in many gyms around the world men and women gather to see just how much weight they can lift. Such strength-based competitions go as far back as the birth of humanity, but the Greeks and Romans were likely the first to engage in formalized strength competitions.

The sport of powerlifting is a relatively modern one, officially sanctioned in the United States since the late 1950s. Powerlifting grew out of Olympic weightlifting and its companion bodybuilding. For Maura Shuttleworth, group leader of Employee Relations (HR-ER), the sport offered a physical challenge after she had finished competing in gymnastics.

“I was a junior in high school,” Maura recounts, “and I thought I could improve my overall strength to make better gains in gymnastics. Like everyone who starts in strength training, I could barely bench the bar (laughs). I progressed pretty quickly, however, and found that I had an affinity for the bench press in particular. This was something I really enjoyed, so I started training frequently.”

Maura Shuttleworth presses 231 pounds
Maura Shuttleworth presses 231 pounds (image courtesy of monsterpixel.net).

Strength training leads to powerlifting

After high school Maura went to college, where she earned an undergraduate degree in political science and later would earn a law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School. While her days were filled with studies and college life, quite a few of Maura’s evenings were spent at the gym, where she continued to grow in strength.

“I was working out one evening when one of the trainers at my gym came over,” remembers Maura. “He said that I was really strong and that I should consider getting into powerlifting. I said, ‘what’s that?’ He then asked if I wanted to compete in a local bench press competition. I decided to try it out, and that was pretty much it—from that point on I was hooked on powerlifting.”

In powerlifting, athletes attempt to lift maximum weight in three lifts: squat, bench press and deadlift. An athlete is given three attempts at each lift. All three lifts are then totaled, and the one who lifts the most in all three wins the competition. Like boxing and mixed martial arts, competitors are grouped by weight class.

For Maura, training is more than just “pumping iron.” “For me, training encompasses more than just the lifting, although it does play an integral part in my weekly activities. I also like to do other things, like ninja training (laughs), as on the television show American Ninja Warrior. There’s a great ninja park in Albuquerque, and I love to go and train there when I can. I also sometimes go to a circus school in Santa Fe—Wise Fool—where I can practice aerial disciplines, such as the trapeze, which requires overall body strength.”

Maura notes that such diversified activities are designed to keep her body in the best shape possible. “The idea is to challenge my body so that it remains strong, flexible and adaptable as I age. If there’s a tip I would give to anyone starting out in any type of lifting, I would say that it is important to maintain your mobility, as you can lose it very quickly.”

ninja training

Maura uses activities such as ninja training to augment her powerlifting regime.

Shattering records

In early 2017, Maura competed at the annual invitational event Titan Pro Bench Bash, as part of the Arnold Sports Festival held in Columbus, Ohio. Maura placed fifth overall in the women’s portion of the international event. She also smashed two New Mexico State Records in the process. Maura successfully benched 107.5 kilograms (236 pounds), breaking the state records for the 57-kilogram (125-pound) weight class in Women’s Open and Masters 1A. To date, Maura holds two American Records, 12 New Mexico State Records and nine records in her previous home base of competition in Minnesota.

“As powerlifters, we work hard at the gym, usually for nothing more than the satisfaction of pushing our personal limits,” says Maura. “I consider it a ‘slow’ sport because it takes a long time to get good at it. Competition winners are typically in their thirties and forties, so if you think you are going to be a ‘star’ after a few training sessions you are setting yourself up for some disappointment. And even though a lot of what we do is repetitive and can become mundane, there’s nothing like seeing your strength blossom over time, to the point you can lift your body weight and then go beyond even what you thought was possible. It truly is a passion.”

For Maura, powerlifting is also a great way to relieve everyday stress. “I’ve worked in some high-stress jobs during my career,” she says, “and it’s great to step out of that life, walk into a gym—and once you have the weight on your back or in your hands, there’s no way you’re thinking about work! It’s a totally different world, one where you can leave stress behind.”

 Maura Shuttleworth prepares to squat 292 pounds
Maura Shuttleworth prepares to squat 292 pounds.

Maura Shuttleworth works as a group leader for Employee Relations (HR-ER).


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the Employee Spotlight articles are solely those of the featured employees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Los Alamos National Laboratory.