Jo Ann Aita has lived a heavy metal life, starting her career booking punk and metal bands and later becoming a world champion powerlifter and coach.
She has always been athletic, running track for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), but she did not discover her love for weightlifting and powerlifting until later in her thirties.
Jo Ann started weightlifting at 33 and has been competing at a high level for 19 years.
“I really love that feeling of being strong,” Jo Ann says. “Getting into weightlifting and powerlifting has been empowering from both a physical and a mental standpoint, and spiritually as well. Going into the gym is one of my forms of therapy.”
Jo Ann is also a mother and had her son Asher in 2006. A year later, she competed in her first national weightlifting competition.
Juggling family life with a career can be tough for many, and Jo Ann was able to make it work with help from people around her. Because she and Asher’s biological dad separated when Asher was little, Jo Ann always tried to make sure she scheduled her hardest training days when Asher was at his dad’s so that she had more quality time with him while he was with her.
Jo Ann says her son has grown to be artistic and musical, teaching himself different instruments. Over time, the two have been able to bond over their love for music.
“My son actually listens to almost identical genres and similar bands [to the bands I worked with],” Jo Ann says. “We can go to the same shows and enjoy the same music. [After] all that time I spent working with bands, I get to connect with my son now.”
In the midst of her competitive lifting, Jo Ann became interested in coaching in 2009 as she
was recovering from shoulder injuries. Her husband Max had encouraged her to start coaching to help others learn, and much of her coaching philosophy has been based around injury prevention and proper technique.
“I definitely pride myself on keeping my athletes injury-free, as much as possible,” she says.
She began coaching Olympic weightlifting at various crossfit gyms until she and her husband opened their own gym, Max’s Gym, in Oakland, California in 2012. This year is the gym’s 10-year anniversary.
At her gym, Jo Ann created her Women’s Strong School Program to help women become stronger and improve confidence. She says she has worked with both competitive weightlifters and women who have never touched a barbell before.
Jo Ann loves helping clients achieve their goals and improve their quality of life. She and Max have launched two mobile apps as a way for clients to be a part of their gym from around the world. Their Team Aita App offers a subscription to a variety of lifting programs and the Weightlifting AI App uses artificial intelligence to provide an individualized training program.
Over the past few years, Jo Ann has had opportunities to compete at the Olympic level, participating in the 2017 World Masters Games in New Zealand for Team USA, where she set world records for her age and weight class.
During that time, she was in her late-forties, an advanced age to be breaking world records. Jo Ann was not ready to retire from competitions or to be injured out of her sport. So, she decided to switch to powerlifting, which involves squat, bench press and deadlift movements. This was a good switch for her, as it allowed her to keep lifting with less chance of injury.
Jo Ann competed in the 2018 International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) World Championship, where she won a bronze model.
Her goal was to win an IPF World Championship, and that is exactly what she did just last year. At 51, she won gold at the 2021 competition in Sweden, breaking records for the squat and deadlift categories for her age group.
As much as she loves to win, Jo Ann has learned that being the best is not everything to her.
“I was raised in a way where my accomplishments were tied into my self-worth,” Jo Ann says. “When I was young, that was what drove me — fear of not being good enough. As I grew wiser, I learned how to be lovingly accepting of myself no matter what, and that actually helped me become a better competitor anyway.”
For Jo Ann, strength does not mean she is the strongest in the world. She finds strength in doing the best she can with what she has.
“Any workout is better than no workout,” she says.
A struggle for Jo Ann has been setting boundaries between work and self-care. She has found herself often running on empty and realized how important it is to prioritize her own well-being and rest.
There is no shame in asking for help, and Jo Ann recommends hiring a business or life coach for anyone who has the resources to do so.
Jo Ann looks forward to traveling to more lifting seminars, workshops and competitions in the near future. In October, she will be attending the Asian Weightlifting Championships in Bahrain.
Check out Jo Ann’s Instagram!