UP’s Daniella Got Strong and Lean to Take on the World

Strongman is a sport that attracts global attention with behemoths like Eddie Hall, Hafthor Bjornsson and Brian Shaw competing for the World’s Strongest Man title.

It’s the phenomenal feats of strength from these giant athletes in events like Atlas stones, Hercules hold and yoke walk that fascinate mere mortals. 

But it’s not just strongmen who can achieve these awesome feats – strongwoman is a sport that’s growing massively, with legions of ladies who lift proving incredible strength and power aren’t just the preserve of men.

Ultimate Performance boasts an elite strength competitor in Daniella May Lee Means who is set to test herself against some of the strongest competitors in the world at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus Ohio.

UP Project Manager Daniella only weighs 61kg and will compete in the lightweight category – but she packs an incredible punch. 

Rugby player-turned-powerlifter, Daniella can deadlift an incredible 150kg and has a squat almost double her body weight.

She has made these incredible strength gains with the expert guidance of UP’s world-class personal trainers. 

Not only has she got stronger with UP’s training programming, but changes in her nutrition have allowed her to shred her body fat down to a lean 13%.

She says that’s she’s not just smashing PBs in the gym, but also smashing gender stereotypes for anyone who thinks women can’t lift, be strong or achieve these incredible feats. 

She talks to us about how she trains for strongwoman, the diet and training programme at UP that helped get her strong and lean, and how anyone, man or woman, can develop strength alongside the physique they want with the right training plan…

If you’re inspired to get strong, fit and lean like Daniella, see how UP can help you achieve your goals with our UP Personal Training Plans

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and the competition you’re about to do?

I’m American/Malaysian-Chinese, born and raised in Hong Kong and I studied in England. I was a gymnast for eight years, before trying out rugby, and played for the Hong Kong national team in both 7’s and 15’s. I’ve since hung up my rugby boots, and persisted competing in powerlifting, and strongman.

I heard about the Arnold Classic coming to Asia last year, and instantly wanted to be a part of such a big event!  After scanning the different sports on the website, and not seeing powerlifting, I decided to try competing in the amateur strongman. 

Little did I know there would be a scout at the competition who would be there to invite a select number of participants to the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio, from March 2nd to 5th!

A total of 20 people per category have qualified; hailing from the USA, South America, Australia, Africa, and Europe to compete against each other on a global stage. 


Find out what our other female clients have to say about training at UP Fitness and learn how you can get your first chin up and pull up.

How have you developed your strength to get to this level? 

I credit a lot of my basic strength, coordination, and core balance to the gymnastics training I started at the age of six. Playing rugby at a competitive level introduced me to weight training, and I became increasingly fixated on seeing the weights I could lift increase.  

Now my training is largely based around the three big lifts – squat, bench press and deadlift, and then practicing equipment-specific lifts two or three times per week (keg press, yoke carry, atlas stones, logs). 

I’ve also had to eat my share of humble pie and review my technique with certain basic movements, namely my squat. 

This meant that I had to decrease the weight and almost start over! UP Manager Jon Bond has been instrumental in helping me build my strength back up – identifying weak areas, overactive muscles, and which accessory exercises I should be doing to assist my the big lifts. Thanks to his programming and technical knowledge, as well as being consistent with training, I’m as strong as I’ve ever been. At 61kgs, my deadlift has gone from 135kg with awful form, to 150kg; at 61kg, my squat has gone from 80kg to 115kg, and my bench press has gone from 65kg to 80kg.

What are the most important elements of training for a sport like this?

More is not necessarily better – learn to rest and recover because it’s all about quality.

The lifts in strongman are extremely taxing on your central nervous system simply because it involves whole body movements that require a lot of explosiveness. Then if you factor in that you’re moving very heavy, awkward shaped objects, and getting increasingly fatigued – it’s the perfect recipe for an injury.

Many of the competition events involve lifting some object in a one-minute time frame for as many reps as possible. This means you are more likely to be reckless with the lifts, especially in the heat of the competition with adrenaline pumping through your veins.

This is why strongman training involves short bursts of intensity followed by long rest periods spread over about 90 minutes, or even two hours for training. It’s all about quality reps and good technique – otherwise you’ll pay the price with an injury.


Take a look at how a UP Personal Trainer demonstrates the Farmer Walks

How has Ultimate Performance helped you get to where you are with your strength training and diet? 

Training programming has been a massive area that Ultimate Performance has helped me. I hit a plateau a while ago where I just couldn’t seem to get any stronger, despite how much I was training, and couldn’t figure out what was wrong!

Learning how frequently to train, when to rest, when to de-load, and when to change training programme has been SO important. Ultimate Performance helped me by periodising my training properly to gain overall strength, but also make sure I was in tip-top condition in the lead up to my competitions.

In terms of diet, in the past, I have been scared of carbohydrates and basically avoided them completely – event fruit. 

With Ultimate Performance, I’ve learnt which carbs to eat, when to eat them, and just generally have a much healthier relationship with food. This, in turn, has helped fuel my training, help make me stronger, and build muscle and burn fat. What has been even better is getting down to 13.5% body fat, when I haven’t even been training specifically for fat loss! I’ve been able to make weight very easily – for the lightweight women’s category it is generally under 63kg, and I’m 61kg without restrictive dieting or water cutting or anything. 

If you’re inspired to get strong, fit and lean like Daniella, see how UP can help you achieve your goals with our UP Personal Training Plans

What has motivated you to keep getting stronger and progressing? What is it that you love about the sport? 

I have always been competitive, but I love being able to do something that I previously thought was impossible, or that I could “never” do. 

It’s so motivating being able to see the numbers go up and learn the various techniques to most efficiently lift different types of objects. I also LOVE breaking the gender stereotype – why can’t a girl be just as strong, if not stronger than a guy? I really want to try pulling a truck, or lifting a car – how awesome would that feel!?

What are the secrets to your success in this regard? 

I know a lot of women don’t like training with men, but to be honest, it helps push me harder; whether that means trying to beat them or keep up with them. 

UP Personal Trainer Jacky Fan has been a fantastic training partner, he keeps me accountable, consistent, and pushes me harder every session. Each and every training session I give it my all and leave it all on the floor, because otherwise what’s the point? No regrets, no excuses, and get competitive with yourself first and foremost. Then, surround yourself with people who will ALSO push you.

Take a look at how we demonstrate the 300 workout.

What are your thoughts on strongwoman as a sport and your thoughts on people who think women shouldn’t be strong and lift weights? 

I don’t really see why there should be any sport that is exclusively for just men, and being a “strongwoman” is the epitome of breaking the female gender stereotype. 

That’s what makes strongwoman awesome – it shows that us women can do whatever men can do, pound for pound. I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t waste my time with people who tell me “you have too much muscle” or “be as strong as I want to be, and screw the standards”. Do what makes you happy and forget what others think!

What would your advice be to any other women who want to get stronger and improve in the gym?  

There is no “perfect time” to get stuck into the gym. I’ve met women who don’t want to train with me because they want to “get fit” or “get stronger” first, and THEN come and train. 

Starting is the hardest part because it means finally facing whatever fear is lurking in your head – whether it’s not being strong enough, fit enough, or thin enough. So just carpe the hell out of that diem, and seize the day!

Then, to make sure you keep going and keep getting stronger, you surround yourself with those who are on the same mission as you, people who bring you up and make you better – and who could be better than Ultimate Performance?

If you’re inspired to get strong, fit and lean like Daniella, see how UP can help you achieve your goals with our UP Personal Training Plans or by simply clicking ‘get in touch’ below…

Find out how Jonelle made a nine-week body transformation at UP that got her stronger and fitter than ever.