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Strong is Beautiful!

Strong is Beautiful! 960 595 Janie

I lift weights. I don’t mean using machines in a gym, or light dumbbells on a swiss ball, or moving up and down under a smith machine. I mean I REALLY lift weights. Right now I can squat with an 80kg barbell on my back, deadlift 120kg off the ground, bench press 40kg and press 30kg above my head. I can do 30 push ups on my toes and about 6 unassisted full chin ups. This is not world-record breaking standard for a 45 year old woman by any means but I am very proud of what I achieved. A few years ago I was complaining about how a 60kg deadlift was “too heavy” and I couldn’t lift the empty 20kg bar above my head. And I thought it was impossible to ever be able to do a single chin up.

Many women look at me and say there is no way they could do what I do, many can’t even understand why I do it, and many think lifting weights is something ‘regular’ women simply don’t do. But this is just cultural conditioning that needs to be changed. It seems normal and natural for men to want to be strong, but women are worried about getting bulky or looking masculine. Western women are instead focused on attaining a perfect body or a thigh gap, but what they don’t realise is that these culture-created goals are not only simply unattainable, but are actually damaging to health. So it’s time to have some physical goals that improve health!

Being strong is being healthy.

The human body is designed and adapted to move and do stuff. Prior to half a century ago, life was physically hard – whether it was doing physical work to find or grow food, light a fire with 2 sticks or build somewhere to live. Or more recently whether it was carrying buckets of water to bathe in, wash clothes by hand or carry babies around. Existence was a physical one and the human body has adapted to moving and bearing weight over millions of years.

Consider this. The cells in the human body are programmed to die by default. Once reproductive age is reached, the body starts to die one cell at a time. The only way to keep dying cells being replaced with new cells is to keep the body challenged. Physical adaptation produces hormones which turn on cellular healing and replication. It’s all part of natural selection – a strong useful person contributes to life and is therefore protected by nature with new cells being created to extend their life. The body is truly amazing and will respond with life-force when we push it the way it is designed to be pushed.

Getting stronger has massive physical health benefits – increased muscle mass is anti-aging, makes us leaner, prevents osteoporosis, gives us stronger tendons and ligaments, promotes healing, raises metabolic rate, improves posture and balance, and can also improve cognition (And no, you will never look like a body-builder – you need artificial help for that!). Getting stronger is like putting money in the health bank account – the more you put into health “savings” account the better long-term health you will have and the more improved your quality of life will be.

There is no pill or diet that can promise this.

Side view of fit young woman lifting barbell in fitness boxBut that’s just the physical aspects – getting stronger gives you confidence, makes you feel better about yourself and is empowering. And there are mental aspects to getting stronger that are mirrored in your everyday life. When you can lift something off the ground that you never thought you would be able to lift – something that requires mental toughness because it is HARD to do – you take that skill into the rest of your life. You learn that getting out of your comfort zone and achieving unthinkable goals is possible and is in fact the stuff life is made of. Struggling to lift a heavy barbell and eventually achieving it – if not the first time you try, then the second , third or even the tenth time – is no different to what happens in life. Yes, there is the disappointment of a failed rep and battling mental blocks, but if you keep trying with determination and don’t give up, then yes, you will succeed. There is the joy of achieving a personal best when the impossible becomes possible.

I think that the way women think about strength training is often a mirror of the way they think about life:

  • Are you afraid of trying to lift something heavy? Then perhaps you are afraid of life…
  • Are you afraid of what people will think of you because you lift weights? Then perhaps you lack confidence…
  • Are you worried about what you will look like? Then perhaps you have poor self-esteem…
  • Are you worried it will be hard? Then perhaps everything in your life seems hard…

Imagine if you could turn around the way you think about life and yourself just by lifting something heavy. Lift something heavy and stop being afraid. Be strong and be confident. Gain muscle and your body will flourish no matter what it looks like. Do something really hard and the rest of life will seem easier. The barbell is a tool to improve your life in so many ways. When you can squat more than your body weight you feel like you can do ANYTHING. Life seems so easy compared to standing under that weight feeling terrified and finding the courage and determination to lift it. To make that lift you have to be ALL IN – every bit of your mind and body has to be there, fully focused and in the zone. Imagine the possibilities of taking that skill into the rest of your life?

Women usually have such low expectations of themselves and have no real understanding of their true potential. We are taught to leave the tough things to men and think of ourselves as incapable. But we can be so much stronger than we ever imagined – physically and mentally – and face seemingly impossible challenges. Here is what some other women have to say about the impact of strength training on their life:

“Training makes me feel tired, sore, strong, excited, thrilled, scared and passionate. It is an amazing feeling to be able to put a barbell over your head, or to put more than your body weight on your back and squat!”

“Lifting has completely changed my life. I’m a teenage girl. I no longer admire thigh gaps, which I’ve never had and was always self-conscious about. Society gives you an image of perfection that teenage girls are obsessed with. Lifting has shown me that being strong and fit is more admirable, powerful and beautiful than being a size zero.”

Lifting a barbell is for any age and any ability. You can start anywhere, at any weight. I know women who have taken it up in their sixties and have seen extraordinary changes in their quality of life. Body aches and pains disappear, walking becomes easier, arthritis eases, back pain resolves. There are stories of women in their 80’s and 90’s taking up strength training and throwing away their walkers and canes. Truly that is how powerful this type of training is. And the old recommendation that strength training is bad for adolescents has been well and truly debunked by the latest scientific research.

Everybody of every age should be strength training because our sedentary lives are now mismatched with our body’s need for physical adaptation.

Being strong is awesome, desirable and beautiful. There is no perfect body shape. Just get stronger and let your body do whatever it needs to do to become its “best self”.

References:

Fran Mason (2013), “How to Talk About Lifting to Novice Adult Women”

Gillian Mounsey Ward (2013), “The Women of Strength at Crystal Coast Strength and Conditioning”