When people think of strength training the most common image that springs to mind is of fat guys, covered in chalk lifting big weights and making noises similar to a farm animal. An image less associated with strength training and maximal weights is small, feminine women with ridiculous levels of strength that would put most men to shame.
What is strength training?
Strength training is about getting as physically and mentally strong as possible. To lift maximal weights you need to be strong and have good lifting technique. Good technique requires good mobility and flexibility. There’s an illusion that strong people are physically rigid, but those who train for strength correctly will also develop good mobility and flexibility.
Every woman should perform some type of strength training a few times per week (deadlifts, squats, bench presses, rows). There is simply no downside to being strong! Building strength will do wonders for health and appearance. Not only does lifting heavy weights build muscle, burn fat and develop an athletic physique, it’s also great for building bone density, preventing osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes, and skyrocketing confidence. Even though the core of my clients’ training sessions is strength, I suggested to some of my female clients to compete in a powerlifting meet as a way to test their strength levels and stay motivated.
Anyone can build up their base strength fairly quickly. I have older female clients who can deadlift more than their body-weight, and can walk up a flight of stairs or lift a box without developing a hernia. Building a basic base level of strength normally takes around 3-6 months of consistent training. The stronger you get, the more you have to work for every kilogram you add to the bar. There’s sometimes an assumption that there is a magic supplement, steroid, or just good genetics that make people strong. However, being one of the strongest people in the country takes a seriously large amount of work and time. Most of the women have been training 2-5 years without any Christmas or summer breaks from the barbell. They show up for training even if they they don’t feel like hitting the gym that day. In fact most of them haven’t been on a holiday since starting powerlifting. That may sound sad to some people, but it is just one of the sacrifices necessary when there’s a desire to excel at something. Time away from the gym is progress lost on the platform.
Another prevailing misconception around weight lifting is that women will become bulky and over muscular. This fantasy couldn’t be any further from the truth! Strength training will only make a woman look more athletic and feminine. Most women who come to me for training say similar things; “I want to become toned, flatten my stomach and lose the bingo wings”. Lifting weights and performing strength training is the only way this will happen. All the running and aerobics in the world will do nothing for developing your physique like strength training does.
The only risk these women have of looking like the Hulk is if they overeat and/or take steroids. Over eating makes anyone look bulkier and bigger regardless of whether muscle is being added or not. The problem isn’t the muscle, it’s the fat on top. Taking steroids leads to an increase in testosterone which then leads to large amounts of muscle growth. Simply not taking steroids and and not overeating will avoid a “bulky” physique. This rule applies to women and men.
In January of this year, two of the women in the gym entered their first powerlifting competition, They both did well and their involvement created a buzz and interest in competing from other women. Eight months later there is now a group of seven women in the gym who qualified and competed in the World Drug Free Powerlifting Championships in Glasgow at the beginning of November. Their journeys were not plain sailing. Whilst friends and family went out, partied and ate food that added inches to the waist line, they had to restrict certain foods, keep their waistlines in check, skip the weekend drinking sessions and turn up for training four days per week, every week. Some had to miss out on holidays to pay for competition costs, whilst others had to train after the school run or a 60 hour work week. When people (who haven’t competed in the sport themselves) see these women on the platform, they don’t really have an understanding of the level of commitment and sacrifice that has gone on in the background to get to where they are today. Powerlifting isn’t the easiest sport out there but it’s honest. The bar will never lie to you. If you haven’t put the work in you will be found out on the day. There is no luck in powerlifting. You either lift the weight or you don’t. The reward you get from lifting a weight that you have never lifted before and being in that 1% of the human population that could do it is extremely rewarding and satisfying. The girl’s hard work and sacrifices showed on the day. They broke seven national records, a world record and won world titles in individual weight categories.
If any woman or man wants to improve not only their physical appearance, but their mental toughness, whilst also getting healthy – start lifting a barbell and building some strength.
Warning. This type of training can become addictive, like most good things in life, you may develop a hunger to be the best you can be and push yourself to your maximum potential.