Left to right: Matt Holden '18 trains lifters as director of online coaching for Gameday Barbell; powerlifter Daniel Clements after his third bench press attempt at the USA Powerlifting Raw Nationals in September; and powerlifter Julianna Iuorno after her record-setting bench press of 111 kilograms (244 pounds) at the USAPL Raw Nationals. (Photos courtesy of SBD Apparel and USA Powerlifting)

EMU alumnus Matt Holden ’18 coaches powerlifting champions

Less than a decade after starting the Royals Lifting club at EMU and graduating with a kinesiology degree, Matt Holden ’18 is coaching some of the nation’s best powerlifters to reach their full potential. 

At the USA Powerlifting (USAPL) Raw Nationals in September, two of Holden’s powerlifting proteges won their weight classes, while three other lifters placed in the top four of their weight classes. Eight of his athletes competed at the event, which was held in Memphis, Tennessee. Powerlifters from all over the country competed in squat, bench press and deadlift at the tournament.

Powerlifter Daniel Clements at USA Powerlifting Raw Nationals with a record-shattering deadlift of 323 kilograms (712 pounds) for a total of 745.5 kilograms (1,643 pounds). The previous American record total was 715 kilograms.

Daniel Clements, of Newport News, Virginia, Holden’s best friend since high school, won the open 67.5-kilogram (148-pound) weight class at the raw nationals. The term “raw” refers to lifting without the use of supportive equipment such as certain kinds of lifting suits. This marked Clements’ second championship title; he won one at the 2021 USAPL Raw Nationals. 

“He’s a generational talent,” Holden said. “He’s that far ahead of the curve.”

Another lifter that Holden trains, Julianna Iuorno, of Richmond, Virginia, won the open 52-kilogram (114-pound) weight class.  

Harrisonburg, Virginia, lifter Jude Kozel placed second in a teen division of the 110-kilogram (242-pound) weight class. Yash Pednekar, a lifter from Edison, New Jersey, placed third in the open 56-kilogram (123-pound) weight class. Luke McCain, of Rockingham County, Virginia, finished fourth in the open 67.5-kilogram (148-pound) weight class — the same weight class as Clements.

In addition to his athletes ranking high at nationals, Holden ranked among the top powerlifting coaches at the competition. 

Including the athletes who competed at nationals, Holden maintains a roster of about 45 competitive powerlifters virtually as director of online coaching for Austin, Texas-based gym Gameday Barbell. The lifters record video of themselves whenever they train, and Holden monitors their workouts and offers critiques. 

“I describe it to people as a personal trainer in a pocket,” he said. “I handle everything virtually and asynchronously, but the actual process of a person’s training session is pretty much the same.”

Sharpening his skills

Originally from Newport News, Virginia, Holden was recruited to play soccer for longtime EMU head coach Roger Mast, who would also serve as his academic adviser and as head of the kinesiology program. 

“Having everything so consolidated was appealing,” Holden said. 

As a sophomore, Holden helped start the Royals Lifting student club, which hosted lifting competitions, and began coaching other lifters on the Harrisonburg, Virginia, campus. 

“It was fun,” he said. “It was the first opportunity I had to be in a sort of leadership role in that context.”

Nicole Litwiller ’19, MA ’20, was among the first lifters that Holden coached at EMU. She said she respects his approach to coaching.

“He recognizes that athletes are whole human beings and cares for his athletes beyond just the numbers they’re hitting,” she said.

For his crosscultural, Holden spent a few weeks in Kenya, where he was connected to Lift4Life, a charity that provides financial support for lifting equipment in Africa, all built using local materials and local employment. At Lift4Life, Holden virtually coached lifters in Zimbabwe. 

He said EMU’s focus on the art of coaching and its emphasis on practicums and internships helped build experience and connections.

“While I was at EMU, I had to become part of the community,” Holden said. “That was really big, and a lot of that came from the curriculum of the kinesiology program at the time.”

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