10 Questions with Carli Dillen
Updated: Mar 5
10 questions is a blog series hosted by North Shore Barbell aimed at giving exposure to some of New Zealand's top powerlifters & coaches.
* This edition of "10 Questions" was written during Level 3 lockdowns in New Zealand.
Carli has been one of New Zealand's top powerlifters, regardless of weight class for a number of years and is the current NZ record holder in the 63kg class for squat and total. Representing New Zealand a number of times, including 4 raw world championships, Carli most recently placed 8th at the 2019 Classic World Championships in Helsingborg Sweden - a class absolutely stacked with talent.
As well as being a great competitor, Carli works with and coaches a number of lifters herself and can often be seen with a large contingent of athletes at meets around Auckland.
Best lifts in competition:
145kg Squat / 80kg Bench / 177.5kg Deadlift | 402.5kg Total at 57kg
160kg Squat / 90kg Bench / 185kg Deadlift | 435kg Total at 62.6kg
Visit Carli's OpenPowerlifting profile for more information on his lifting history.
Tell us a bit about yourself
Hi my name is Carolina, but most people call me Carli. I was born in the Netherlands, but NZ has been my home since 1990.
I’m 37 years old… It sounds a lot older than I feel or act to be honest. Powerlifting keeps you young! I’ve convinced myself that my best years are still to come (when I finally enter Masters) so I’m even a bit excited about getting older.
I’m a full time in-person and online coach, focusing mainly on Powerlifting, Strength & Conditioning and Nutrition.
How did you start lifting weights, at what age and why?
My background before Powerlifting was 17 years in a martial art called Taekwon-Do, with lots of flying kicks, fast-paced stand up sparring and more. We did bodyweight conditioning but gym training was not yet a regular thing. In 2005 I had my first ACL reconstruction and rehab was not going well. I actually packed up my bags and flew to Europe after one very frustrating year of unsuccessful rehab. I needed a change of scenery and to try and fix my knee to be able to get back into training let alone the National Team. A good friend of mine was shocked we had no strength and conditioning in our training programme and taught me how to lift. I vividly remember my first ever deadlift session with him, December 2005 at the University of Limerick.
What drew you to Powerlifting specifically?
Fast forward a few years to 2013, I’d represented NZ at 4 World Champs for Taekwon-Do and won Gold Medals at 3 of them, but I was literally having knee surgery at a frequency of every 2 years… I’d also been doing CrossFit since late 2008, so I’d been training squats and deadlifts, not so much bench. I also got into Olympic lifting and competed in that for 2 years, but the impact forces of Taekwon-Do, CrossFit and Oly lifting was too much. I was spending more time taking anti-inflammatories and sitting with bags of ice on my knee than actually training.
My orthopedic specialist told me enough was enough and that my life in competitive sports was done. My knee couldn't handle more impact and at the height of my career I was told I would spend my 30s in a wheelchair waiting for a knee replacement if I didn’t stop what I was doing. He recommended taking up a paddling sport like kayaking.
Around this time, friends of mine from Olympic Lifting, told me about the sport of Powerlifting. I knew what the lifts were, but I didn’t know it was a competitive sport in its own right. I had to strengthen my knee to rehab from my last surgery and to prepare for the next one, and the Powerlifting movements were low impact, so I figured I might as well do a bit of training and enter a novice Powerlifting meet for fun.
My next surgery in 2014 was a high tibial osteotomy, they call it a young person's knee replacement. They literally cut my leg in half, took out a wedge of bone and realigned my knee joint where I had no articular cartilage or meniscus.
I can honestly say, training bench press kept me sane during the first months while I was in that wheelchair, as well as the hope that I might be able to return to squatting and deadlifting one day… there were no guarantee, but after re-learning to walk on my newly aligned joint and a lot of rehab, I eventually got there and the rest is history!
Carli competing at NZ Record Breakers 2018 - One of her competitions as a 57kg competitor.
Who or what are your biggest influences when it comes to lifting and anything related to it?
I have so much respect for people who have achieved long lifting careers and those who share their passion and knowledge with others i.e. by coaching. Lifters I admire who have achieved both, from NZ include Brett Gibbs, John Strachan, Rosalie Watson and of course there are many others.
To be able to train, compete and enjoy a sport long term I think is truly amazing. It means you have a genuine love and passion for the sport. Motivation changes over the course of your career and you need to keep reinventing yourself as a lifter and as a coach. In addition, remaining injury free long term requires training smart and really listening to your body and looking after yourself.
What’s your best lifting memory or moment?
In competition, there’s nothing quite like winning a medal at a World Champs, so I guess my pull for the bronze in Deadlift at the 2017 IPF World Champs in Belarus was one of my best ever lifting memories. Equally, I loved my most recent competition, IPF Worlds in 2019 was such a personal victory for me with a 9/9 performance, new PBs and NZ Records on the world stage feels pretty amazing.
Carli taking 8th place at the 2019 IPF World Championships in Sweden.
What has been your biggest lifting fail?
My biggest lifting fail was probably squats at the 2017 IPF World Champs. I’d been to two IPF Worlds before, but this was the first time I was really in contention for medals and it changed the game in many ways. I made mistakes that really cost me; for example I had too many squat warm-ups and we were behind schedule, then I opened too heavy. I did get my opening lift, but then failed my 2nd and 3rd attempts with 2 red lights for depth. I had never in my life had a single red light for depth before. The mistakes made in that lift that year probably cost me a squat medal which I know I was capable of. I did however learn from every single mistake and had a completely different plan and mindset at my next World Champs, to achieve my own PBs and I’m proud of that.
What’s the best gym you’ve ever been to and/or trained at?
I love gyms and I’ve trained at so many, it would be impossible to pick the best because they all have something special about them. IT was really fun training at GetStrength in my early Powerlifting days, back when GetStrength was one corner screened off from a fabrication warehouse. It’s awesome being able to visit and attend events at NorthShore Barbell Club and of course in a past life, I owned my own 3 gyms and poured my heart and soul into those. I know people will be reading this while we are still in Level 3 lockdown here in NZ, so rather than pick the best gym, I want to encourage people to support their gym and gym owner any way they can. Every gym owner I have ever met is passionate about helping people and creating an amazing space and community for their members. It’s not an easy job. Support your local gym, their social media, their products and services, recommend them to other people, all these things can make a big difference.
Carli about to hit a squat at the 2019 IPF World Championships.
What are your top 3 songs to lift to?
If I have an amazing training session, I tend to take the song I was listening to at the time and add it to my competition play list to get myself back to that place again. This is a small sample of songs that have had that effect for me in the past: Beast (Rob Bailey), Whatever it takes (Imagine Dragons), Walk on water (Thirty Seconds to Mars).
What is your “guilty pleasure” exercise?
After a big competition I love getting back into some of my former sports even though I’m not really meant to; CrossFit, Oly lifting, kicking pads etc.
Kiss, marry, kill - Squat, Bench & Deadlift and why?
Kiss - Bench press for all its done for me over the years when I couldn’t use my legs
Marry - Deadlift, the best exercise in the world
Kill - Squats! I appreciate them, but I love to hate them.
If you want to get in touch with Carli about coaching, you can visit her website at www.teamcarlidillen.com
Alternatively, if you want to keep up with her lifting you can follow her on Instagram.
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