Powerlifting is a subdivision of lifting weights that focuses on the three big lifts: squat, bench, and deadlift. It’s about having good technique, strength, and killer perseverance. Powerlifting has cultivated a community of both men and women who are all trying to become as strong as they can, and who encourage others in the same community to become equally, if not stronger than them.
It’s all about support – spotting a friend, slapping them on the back before a heavy lift, shouting at them when they’re struggling to finish the lift, and watching their form and telling them where it breaks down. There’s competition of course, such as breaking state, American, and world records at competitions, but overall it’s a very encouraging and supportive community, one that I am lucky to be a part of.
Powerlifting, in general, is thought of as a gendered hobby. People usually equate heavy lifting with males; adding women to the powerlifting equation is where things get tricky. This is because gender is a social construct, and unfortunately this social construct dictates the type of people we grow up to be, as well as the expectations we put on each gender.
Take women for example. Women are taught how to act and feel both inadvertently and advertently through school, friends, movies, parents, extended family, etc. Women are taught that they, among many things, are vessels for biological reproduction and are inherently maternal figures, that they should strive to achieve the perfect Victoria’s Secret model body, and, of course, that they should leave the heavy lifting to the guys.
So what happens when powerlifting women break the stereotype?
“That’s not very ladylike of you”
“Don’t get too bulky”
“Do you really want to grow muscles like guys? That’s gross”
“Why not just do cardio? What’s wrong with that?”
“You just want attention”
“What are you trying to prove? That you can hang with guys?”
And, my personal favorite, “You’re going to mess things up inside and have trouble getting pregnant”
Those are just some of the many responses I received upon starting my fitness journey. Walking into a weight room filled with predominately males is a scary thing, in and of itself. However, not knowing how to lift, not having the necessary support, and clearly being the odd one out in compression shorts and a tank top just adds to the intensity of fear I felt that first day. Now that I am almost three years into heavy lifting, let me clear up some misconceptions women have about it:
- You won’t get bulky (you have to work hard to grow muscle, it’s not going to pop up overnight)
- Your body is going to change, and you are going to grow in places you didn’t know possible (I’m talking about going from a pancake butt to a peach emoji butt)
- If you’re anything like me (pretty shy), then yes, you are going to feel completely out of your element when you step into the weight room for the first time
- Guys are actually helpful – not all, but a hefty chunk are willing to help you out
- You will be patronized at some point, there’s no way around it
- You will learn the ropes and your confidence will sky rocket
- You will grow to both love and accept yourself and your body
- You are going to have an insatiable hunger to become stronger
- You are going to push yourself and persevere in order to achieve your goals
- You will become part of a community of strong, confident, and encouraging women
I would even go so far as to say that lifting weights makes you a happier and better person, because it teaches you what it’s like to struggle, to persevere, to fail and fail again, to achieve your goals, to support others, and, arguably most importantly, to take care of yourself. As cliché as it sounds, powerlifting isn’t a hobby, it’s an incredibly fun and rewarding lifestyle, if you let it become so.