the joy of strength training


November 24th, 2009 at 10:02 pm

Ladies who lift

One of the nice things about going to national or international drug free powerlifting meets is that I get to catch up with the other female lifters. There aren’t many of us and we are scattered around the country. It’s mainly at competitions where we can renew our acquaintance and watch each other lift.

Louise Fox deadlifting more than 3 times her bodyweight

Louise Fox deadlifting more than 3 times her bodyweight

I am always enormously impressed by the ladies who compete. Not only are they awesomely (and naturally) strong – some with strength I can only dream about – but they are all lovely and inspirational people.

Meet some of the girls

There’s Louise Fox, the petit powerhouse with a triple bodyweight deadlift; champion Patricia Kim who has a smile for everybody; Mel Golding who always looks fabulous with great hair and nails even when pulling 150kg; Helen Isaac who when she’s not lifting is taking all the official photos for the event; the incredibly strong Mary Anderson, who warms up with your max deadlift; young Kirstie Freeman and Gaby Bennett, teenagers who are in the gym pulling big weights instead of trying to imitate the latest train wreck celeb; and the amazing Pat Reeves who at 64 and with bone cancer which is currently in remission, still turns up and lifts at every competition. And many more I haven’t space to mention!

See some of the girls in action:
World Single Lift Championships 2009 – Patricia Kim is interviewed and Mary Anderson goes for yet another record deadlift
Louise Fox makes a world record deadlift of 165kg
Mary Anderson TV spot – by day a manager at Macdonalds, by night (well, afternoon) a world champion powerlifter

I’m in awe of these girls but it is great to compete alongside them and learn something every time.  The ladies’ contingent is also very supportive – we always cheer each other on, even our closest competitors.

Most of us train with or alongside men, so getting to lift alongside other strong girls is good fun. In fact it’s a pity that the nature of a competition event means that we don’t get to see as much of each other’s lifts as we’d like, since we’re often warming up or getting into the zone when others are lifting.

Getting into lifting

Like a lot of guys, many of us migrated into powerlifting from bodybuilding-style training or just from being in the gym. We discovered that we were kinda strong and that we liked it. Some of us were encouraged to start lifting or competing by someone else. I got into lifting on my own but it didn’t occur to me to enter a competition until the owner of the gym I was training in suggested it.

18-year-old Kirstie benches at the European Championships

18-year-old Kirstie benches at the European Championships

If you give more women the opportunity or the encouragement to get into serious lifting, you might be surprised at what you start. Leaving women to the machines or the treadmill isn’t going to light that spark.

Women won’t necessarily jump at the chance to ‘do powerlifting’. The two women interviewed in the video clips above, Patricia Kim and Mary Anderson, both say that they weren’t particularly keen to get involved in lifting when they first started going to the gym. It’s not something most women see themselves doing at first.

I read posts from anguished boyfriends online bemoaning the fact that their women don’t want to train the same way as they do. And I have some sympathy – it’s hard to find the role models, it’s tricky to find pictures of ordinary but healthy-looking women lifting.

However, show a woman some real pictures, start talking about the kind of weights that girls like them are lifting and you may find the curiosity piqued, the competitive hackles rising.

Many of us girls are interested in finding out how strong we are, how strong we could be, how far we can push ourselves. If this quest leads us to the sport of powerlifting, or any other strength sport, that’s a bonus. The bug can take hold surprisingly quickly.

Gubes flips tyre during strongman event

Gubes flips tyre during strongman event


I’ve started doing strongman-inspired events (more on this in my next post) not because I harbour an ambition to ‘do strongman’ as such but because I want to continue to challenge myself in different ways and this seems to be a route that is fun and rewarding – to my twisted mind anyway.

One thing that I notice is that all the female lifters I meet have a quiet confidence about them. This goes for all sportswomen, actually, but we’ve chosen the path of strength.

I am wary of trying to speak for the other girls but I think most would agree that we’re not trying to be like guys, nor are we trying to be overly girly. We’re just being ourselves, but a stronger, more confident version of ourselves.

More from gubernatrix

I can’t let this post go by without a shout out to my e-friends at Bodytribe, who hosted a powerlifting meet on the very same day that us UK girls were competing at the World Drug Free Championships. Out of 37 lifters at the meet, 17 were women, a very encouraging number. Read about it here.

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  • 1

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  • 2

    Ladies that lift heavy are bad-ass!

    I train with a few ladies … and they all do the same kind of strength sessions as the dudes …

    Deadlifts and squats are for everybody 🙂

    KIra on November 25th, 2009
  • 3

    an inspiring,Hear! Hear! kind of post.I wanted to put it on my facebook page so all my non-lifting female friends could read.But no facebook icon?

    varsha on November 26th, 2009
  • 4

    What is this facebook icon of which you speak? I have a facebook fan page but I guess that’s not what you mean.

    gubernatrix on November 26th, 2009
  • 5

    There’s a huge misconception about training out there. Your exercise alone doesn’t dictate how big your body gets. I’ve been pounding this point for as long as I’ve blogged. You get big based on the food that you eat (or the steroids that you take). Pretty simple: to get big, you have to eat big and lift heavy/do really hard BW stuff.

    If anyone’s dealing with women afraid of getting bulky or man-like by lifting big stuff, tell them this. Women don’t turn into Melissa Dettwiller by touching 100 lbs of weight on a barbell.

    Nice article.

    Justin_P on November 26th, 2009
  • 6

    You have a yellow RSS button and a stumble it button.Do add a Facebook button I mean.

    Varsha on November 28th, 2009
  • 7

    @ Kira: so true!

    @ varsha: good idea – I’ve added a Facebook icon to posts now

    @ Justin: well said, mate.

    gubernatrix on November 29th, 2009
  • 8

    at what point did you realize you where stronger than average, in 9 months of training my GF has a 50kg bench, 90kg dead, 70kg back sqauat and a 60kg front squat. I think this is well over average for a woman but theres not a whole lot of girls to compare against………. so how did you know?

    Craig on January 18th, 2010
  • 9

    It’s a difficult question because, as you point out, there are very few women to compare against because most women don’t train these movements. The issue is, what would most women achieve if they trained? I would say that decent ‘achievable’ standards are: bodyweight bench, double bodyweight deadlift and 1.5 bodyweight squat. Some people will get a bit more, some a bit less. Although these numbers seem unusual, they would be commonplace if women trained in these lifts as much as men did. Those numbers represent a decent level of strength that you can achieve with consistent training. After you reach this point, the increases generally come a lot more slowly (or so I am finding!).

    gubernatrix on January 18th, 2010
  • 10

    […] Ladies who lift […]

  • 11

    I’ve been powerlifting for almost 2 years and I find I am one of a very few women in the gym who do any kind of strength training. I used to hate working out, until I found powerlifting, and now I am happily in the gym 4-5 times per week. I have achieved a level of strength I never could have imagined and my goal is to get even stronger. I feel happier and more confident in myself and my body than I did before I found this wonderful sport. I am thrilled to have found your website with such great articles and information. Thanks for giving strong women a good name!

    Micah on September 3rd, 2010
  • 12

    Thanks Micah! You sound like a great role model yourself.

    gubernatrix on September 3rd, 2010
  • 13

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