Trail Ridge Wellness Director Jona Leo Breaks World Record

Posted on: December 4, 2013
Trail Ridge Director of Wellness Jona Leo receives the Gold Medal for his World Champion Bench Press

By Bob Hamar
Article originally appeared in the Grand Island Independent

A couple of years ago, Jona Leo never dreamed he would a world record holder.

But that’s just what the Director of Wellness at Trail Ridge is now after bench pressing 360.5 kilograms to set an International Powerlifting Federation record last weekend at the world bench press championships in Lithuania.

Still not impressed? If you convert that 360.5 kilograms, you get roughly 794 pounds.

“It’s a privilege,” Leo said. “I guess I never would have fathomed being up on the stage at the awards banquet two years ago and it happened.”

Leo, a 1995 graduate of St. Paul High School who now lives in Sioux Falls, S.D., benched a state record 405 pounds as a high school athlete. He continued lifting after high school, and is now at age 36 just hitting his prime as a lifter.

“I feel and I’ve been told by many that I’m just now coming into my prime,” Leo said. “I’ll probably get to my prime in my late 30s or early 40s.”
Leo also checks in at 330-plus pounds.

“Weight pushes weight,” Leo said. “That’s what it boils down to. There is a linear progression to your strength and how much you weigh. As you gain weight, the strength is coming up.”

The IPF world record was held by Viktor Testov of Ukraine at 357.5 kilograms. Earlier in the competition, Leo benched 347.5 kilograms on his first attempt, then broke Testov’s record with a 358.5 lift on his second.
Shinji Ueda of Japan then benched 359 kilograms to break Leo’s record, but Leo responded with his second world record of the day to win the competition.

“I had a few people on the team tell me that was the most clutch lifting they’ve ever seen in their life,” Leo said.

Leo, who works as a personal trainer and wellness director for a retirement community in Sioux Falls, could see a lift like this coming.
At an IPF meet this past March in Columbus, Ohio, he lifted 789 pounds but judges ruled it was an illegal lift.

“I kind of knew it was there,” Leo said. “It was just a matter of getting it on the right day on the platform.”

Leo said his good health is one of the big reasons for his recent success.

“This has been the first year in a long time I’ve been healthy,” Leo said. “Last year I had a sinus infection for three months. The year before I had a partial pec injury. It’s been a combination of staying healthy and just the coaching I’ve received since I’ve been on the world team in 2011 is really starting to take affect.

“I’ve been able to rub shoulders with some of the best coaches, the best strength athletes in the nation. Just being around that upper echelon of lifters and coaches, I can attribute probably 10 percent at least on them.”
Now Leo is in a race to get to 800 pounds. He said he’s sure Testov would love to get there first.

“He is a strong, strong guy and he’s pretty young,” Leo said. “I think he’ll be chomping at the bit to get that 800, so it will just be a matter of finding an IPF or international meet that has the judging in place to go break it.”
Leo actually finished second overall out of 321 lifters at the meet in Lithuania. A pound-for-pound formula is used to compare lifters of different weights.

Last year at a national meet in Palm Springs, he had a picture taken with Dr. Anton Reel, a 91-year-old bench presser who is still competing. Leo said Reel had other lifters help him get on and off the stage where he benched 71.6 pounds.

“Honestly he’s an inspiration,” Leo said. “Everyone gives him a standing ovation. So you can pretty much do it at any age as long as you want to and your body is prepped and you’re able to do it physically.”

For more information about Jona, click here to visit his website: