Julie Makin and her trainer Frankie Rongo workout at the Seattle Gym. Makin recently set new national and state records for squat and deadlift weightlifting. Photo by Sarah Radmer
Julie Makin and her trainer Frankie Rongo workout at the Seattle Gym. Makin recently set new national and state records for squat and deadlift weightlifting. Photo by Sarah Radmer

At 5 feet tall and 102 pounds, Julie Makin, 49, might not be what you’d expect a record-setting weightlifter to look like. The Queen Anne resident set a new state and American records.

She made her medal-winning performance on Feb. 22 at the Washington State Powerlifting Championship in Columbia City. Makin lifted a record-setting 264.5 pounds in the deadlift and 182 pounds in the squat.

She has trained three times a week for nearly a decade with Seattle Gym (1530 Queen Anne Ave. N.) trainer and weightlifter Frankie Rongo.

Makin has always worked out, but it was watching strongman competitions with her three sons and meeting a petite, feminine weightlifter that inspired her to try the workout herself. It became her sport when she did her first meet, with Rongo’s encouragement, and performed well.

“That just encouraged me to want to do it again,” she said.

Her small stature makes it shocking when she steps up to lift massive weights at competitions. The crowd’s reaction is one of her favorite parts.

“You can hear all the people [gasp],” she said.

It’s especially fun for Makin when she does the same weight as someone much bigger.

Still, Makin is surprised by how far she’s come. “I remember when I broke 200 [pounds], and I thought that was just the culmination,” she said.

Everyone was really excited with her recent win, Makin said. But she feels like she may have been able to push it a little harder, lift a little more.

“That’s OK because that just makes me want to keep at it,” she said. “I know there’s still some more left to do — I haven’t reached my limit yet.”

Finding the motivation

Makin trains with Rongo for a half-hour three days a week, focusing on benching, squats and deadlifts. Then, once a week, she does a triceps, biceps and shoulder workout on her own.

While she’s gearing up for a meet, she just does the heaving lifting, but the rest of the year, she throws some cardio into the mix. Even though it’s good for her health, she’d much rather lift.

For about six weeks before a competition, Makin and Rongo will train hard, trying to meet a new, higher number to lift.

When she makes her numbers, it makes her whole day, she said, and she’ll usually send her husband a text, letting him know “I made 245 today!” At the same time, if she has an off-day and doesn’t make her numbers, she gets a little bummed out.

Her husband is very proud of her, Makin said, admitting she could probably lift more weights than him. “But I still make him carry my suitcase when we go on vacation,” she joked.

Working up to this latest competition, Makin said she felt really good. She wasn’t dealing with any injuries and was on an “upward trend all the way to the meet,” she said.

That hasn’t always been the case going into competitions. Last summer, when she did a competition at Alki, she felt she had trained too long and had a hip-flexor and wrist injury. But she still managed to do well at the competition.

“Everyone is staring at you so that can give you an extra 10 pounds,” she said.

Getting in shape

Rongo has about 30 clients whom he trains each week; about three-quarter are women. About five people from the Seattle Gym, including Rongo and Makin, compete in weightlifting competitions.

Rongo was thrilled when Makin won. He’s trained Makin through about eight competitions since 2006. It’s typical to do about two competitions a year, with time to fix areas of weakness in between, he said.

Now that the competition is over, Rongo has Makin doing long sets with light weights. She squats and lunges, taking breaks to catch her breath. Rongo counts and encourages Makin as she goes.

“One more round here, Julie — hit ‘em,” he said. “One of the top-five dead-lifts in the country, Julie — that’s it!”

Even at her slight, 102 pounds, Makin is bigger than she used to be and much more muscular, which she is proud of.

“It’s odd that women get paranoid about getting muscular,” she said.

Lifting weights helps keep everything where it’s supposed to be, which is especially important for women who are fighting gravity as they age, Makin said. The effect of that hard work is visible, Rongo said, saying Makin is in the best shape when she’s doing short sets of heavy lifting.

As with any sport, there’s a mental component. Makin has gotten a lot more confident through her weightlifting. And as a busy mom who attends all of her sons’ different sports events, it’s nice to have her own thing, she said.

Makin has three sons: 16-year-old twins and an 18-year-old. They come to all her meets to cheer her on, which she appreciates, especially since weightlifting can be a difficult sport for spectators, with so much time between the lifts.

“I can hear them in the background yelling for me,” she said, “so that’s really nice.”

Makin is different from Rongo’s other clients because she’s willing to fully commit, he said. She’s willing to train hard and eat the proper way, too. Most people reward themselves after a hard workout, instead of sticking to a strict diet.

“Most people don’t go all out,” he said.

Up next

Makin and Rongo both plan to compete again at the Alki Classic in August.

Rongo has a goal for Makin to lift 300 pounds, three times her body weight. She’s not sure she’ll ever get there but likes to have the goal set.

“I can appreciate that, as I’ve been doing this, I’ve gotten older and stronger, and that seems so phenomenal to me because it seems like it should be the opposite,” she said.

People have asked Makin if she wants to pursue lifting at Nationals, but she’s not sure and is still thinking it over. In the meantime: “I do appreciate setting American records and seeing my name in the record books — I like seeing that,” she said.

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