the joy of strength training


August 1st, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Women: please stop underestimating yourselves

This is a guest post by Josh Hanagarne of World’s Strongest Librarian and The Strength Rules. Josh is a heartfelt ambassador of strength and here he provides yet more positive ammunition in the war against weakness! Read on and be inspired.

Woman pressing a kettlebell overheadI live in America. I like it, but in my opinion, we do not pressure our women into being strong and confident.

When I scan the magazine racks at the grocery store or the dentist’s office, the pictures suggest that we value two things in our women: breasts and razor sharp clavicles. Well, three things: STDs seem to get a lot of press as well…good grief.

You might call it a wretched case of extremely backwards priorities. The heartbreaker for me is so many of the girls I know, including my own sisters, buy into the stereotypes. In fact, they aspire to them in some cases.

Tuesday night kettlebell class

Every Tuesday night I teach a kettlebell training for beginners class. (I also throw in a bunch of other stuff, but it’s called a kettlebell class.) It’s  basically a “get really strong” class. 90 per cent of my students are female. When they first meet me, we shake hands, exchange names, and then they immediately tell me how weak and out of shape they are. I show them the kettlebells and demonstrate movements with a light weight.

“Oh, I can’t do that.”

When I tell them that we’re going to do deadlifts they often say “Oh, I’m not in shape enough to do that” or “My back can’t handle that.” My response to these questions is always gentle, but pointed: “Says who?” Most of the time these lovely people can’t figure out where they got these silly notions. It’s because women are taught to underestimate themselves. It sinks in and they start to believe it.

Slowly my class has become – I don’t advertise it this way – my lab for the sole purpose of making women stronger without them realizing it.

Required pressing, required reading

Three months ago I began with a class of eight women. Every single one of them told me that they did not want to press overhead because it would give them big shoulders. In the second week I taught them the kettlebell press and the bottoms up press (turning the kettlebell upside down).

I now begin every class with everyone working on their favorite movement for ten minutes. Every single one of those women chooses the press nine times out of ten now. Some of them are pressing more than the men I see in the gym. Nothing makes me happier. There is nothing more fun for me than when the light flashes in their eyes and they realize I can do this. It’s the same process as the I’m-weak indoctrination, but in reverse: it sinks in and they start to believe it. And when they start to believe it, do not get in their way.

At the end of my classes, I write this URL on the board: It is all that I do for required reading. I even make the men read it, which they are usually happy to do, especially when they realize that Gubernatrix is way stronger than they are. Good information is good information. And that’s all I am trying to give these women.

The change doesn’t occur because I am a genius or because I know something about strength training for females that nobody else does: it’s simply because I say the opposite of what society usually says.

I say:

1. Gain 10 lbs of muscle and you will be sexier than you can imagine

2. Lift as heavy as you (safely) can and you will be more confident

3. You are stronger than you think

4. Ignore your clavicles (most men aren’t looking at them)

5. Being strong does not mean sacrificing femininity

6. I know a five-foot-nothing homecoming queen who deadlifts 315 [143kg]

7. When someone tells you what you “should” be doing, ask yourself why

8. If you are not getting the results you want, something needs to change

9. You are stronger than most men I know

10. Perceptions will only change if enough of us work together to change them

It won’t happen fast, but it can happen. Every time I step into my class there are more women in it. It is because word gets around that it is fun to be strong. That there are people out there who say that women aren’t supposed to be weak, submissive, and that clavicles are seriously overrated.

Go get ’em.

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  • 1

    We need more people like you out there.

    If you get to Maine, you’ll have to come give a talk at the group run I coach. It’s about 75% women, but I see the same thing.

    Blaine Moore on August 1st, 2010
  • 2

    Well said Josh! My favorite part was the “Says who?” line.

    Niel on August 2nd, 2010
  • 3

    Josh, I think your list of 10 things (suggestions? assertions? truths?) is brilliant! I am sure I will be referring to those again.

    gubernatrix on August 6th, 2010
  • 4

    Its Fun to be Strong-such a great byline.Love this absolutely.

    varsha on August 10th, 2010
  • 5

    Young women, girls, and older women need attitudes like this. Men certainly are not going to build them for us both literally and figuratively. Thanks for links. Karen Strait Nesbit

    Karen Nesbit on August 18th, 2010
  • 6

    […] Women, please stop underestimating yourselves (guest post by male trainer and author Josh […]

  • 7

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