We started working together just over 7-months ago and in that time frame Emily has completely transformed her body, strength, and mind. In her article, Emily offers phenomenal insight into the world of powerlifting, female powerlifters, and why every woman should try powerlifting at some point in their life. Enjoy! -J
If you told me a few years ago that I would be competing in a powerlifting competition, I would have laughed in your face.
I was an avid weightlifter and I loved feeling strong and setting new personal records in the gym, but the concept of prioritizing strength gains in my training would have seemed like too much of a sacrifice.
I just wanted to look good, be healthy, and feel like a badass on occasion… surely my well-rounded training plan was ideal for accomplishing these goals, right?
I mean, sure. It worked fine.
Here I am back in 2011. I was doing a lot of spinning, road biking and upper body strength training at the time and I was perfectly happy with (and even proud of) the way I looked.
At some point, though, I got tired of going to the gym day after day just for the sake of maintaining my physique. Shouldn’t all the hard work I was putting in amount to something more?
I thought so.
I needed a way to channel my passion.
I had been starting to see that a lot of physique-focused and recreational lifters in the fitness blogosphere were also competing in powerlifting competitions. Kellie Davis and Erin and Sammie from Bret Contreras’ “Operation Get Strong and Sexy” series come to mind.
To say that I was inspired by these women would be the understatement of the century… I mean, look at them! They’re crazy strong!
I wanted in.
There was only one problem… I was scared.
It’s not that I was scared that powerlifting would make me bulky… I had done enough weightlifting to understand that it takes years of hard work for women to put on even a little bit of muscle. But I had never before committed to trying to improve just one aspect of my fitness (strength), and I wasn’t entirely sure what would happen to my physique if I did.
Competing in a powerlifting competition was WAY outside my comfort zone. Which, frankly, made it just the kind of personal challenge I needed.
After seven months of training, I just competed in my first competition and the experience was nothing like what I expected it to be (hint: It was SO MUCH BETTER!)
I learned a lot about myself as a woman, an athlete, and in general, and I think that other women could benefit from hearing about my experience.
Here are five reasons that women should consider giving powerlifting a shot:
1) It’s A Huge Relief To Stop Thinking About Your Physique For 5 Seconds
I trained with a focus on physique improvement for most of my adult life, and I will undoubtedly do so again in the future.
There is NOTHING wrong with this.
I don’t subscribe to the attitude that sometimes surfaces in the female strength training media (whether it’s intentional or not) that just wanting to look good naked is somehow a lesser goal than pursuing strength.
But I have to say… one of my favorite things about powerlifting was that focusing so intently on my performance allowed me to completely forget about my physique for months on end. After my workouts, I found myself basking in my new personal records rather than scoping myself out in the mirror to see if my butt was finally getting bigger.
It was a nice change of pace.
But with that being said…
2) Your Physique Will Not Suffer (It Will Probably Improve)
When I embarked on my powerlifting journey, I did so with the understanding that I might not like the way it changed my body (from an aesthetic standpoint). And I was ok with this… whatever changes might occur seemed like a small price to pay for what could ultimately be an opportunity for personal growth.
After about three months of training, I was relieved to see that my clothes still fit. (For the record, I wasn’t relieved about not gaining weight, I was relieved because shopping for clothes is my least favorite activity on the planet).
Five months into training, I noticed all sorts of cool new muscles appearing in my legs.
And since I started powerlifting I’ve lost about 4 lbs of fat, 0.5 inch from each thigh, and 0.5 inch from my waist.
This probably seems insignificant, but for someone who was pretty lean to begin with, it’s not.
Here I am on the day of the meet. You can’t tell from the pictures that I look much different than I did back in 2011, but that’s exactly the point. I don’t look worse.
[Note from Jordan: Emily is strong. Really strong. She regularly lifts close to 300lbs, type of strong. I mention this because she isn’t a big, bulky, viking like some fitness “gurus” tell women they’ll become if they lift anything heavier than 3lbs. To the contrary, even with all of her heavy lifting, she’s still a very small, petite woman who also happens to lift more than most dudes at your gym. My point? Lifting heavy won’t make women bulky – it’ll actually help you get leaner and more defined.]
Losing body fat is the LAST thing I expected to happen when I started powerlifting. My legs are leaner than they’ve ever been and I’m not going to pretend that I’m not totally psyched about it.
Here’s the bottom line:
Powerlifting + Shitty Diet = “Powerlifting makes you fat”
Powerlifting + Sound Nutrition = Hot
3) It Will Improve Your Relationship With Food
I went through a period of disordered eating habits in my early 20s.
Since moving past them, I’ve made it a priority to maintain a good relationship with food, even if it came at the expense of my physique or my performance in the gym.
So, while I had a good relationship with food before I started powerlifting, there’s something inherently different about the way you see food when you’re training to look good compared to when you’re training to set personal records.
At least there was for me. (Cue me scarfing down large quantities of carbs on the way to the gym so that I could survive whatever torture session Jordan had planned for me).
I really liked that powerlifting reinforced the message “food is a fuel that can help your body perform” and not just a means to an end to make you look a certain way.
4) You Will Feel Like A Total F*cking Badass
Here are the videos of my two best lifts from my powerlifting competition.
Bench Press (143 lbs)
Deadlift (275 lbs)
I realize that in the grand scheme of things there are much stronger women out there in the world, but never in a million years did I think I would be able to put up numbers like this.
And. It. Feels. AWESOME. It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you just keep plugging away at something day after day.
If, however, feeling an incredible sense of accomplishment is just not your thing… then you probably shouldn’t powerlift.
5) You ARE Strong Enough
Have you ever heard somebody say, “Oh, I can’t run that road race because I’m not fast enough”?
People are always running road races “just to have something to train for”, or “just to get in shape” and with no particular goal other than “just to finish.”
You can do that with powerlifting too, and (in my very biased opinion) you’ll have a lot more fun!
I went to a powerlifting competition once where there was a tiny 18 year old girl benching just the bar, and a 65 year old woman deadlifting 135 lbs.
It’s not important that you’re strong compared to other people, only that you’re strong for you. One of my favorite things about powerlifting is that it truly is a competition against yourself and your own personal records. You might find though, that by the time the meet comes around you ended up a lot stronger than you thought you would.
Ok, I lied. There is one more reason, and it’s a very important one…
Bonus Reason: It Will Inspire Other Women
I wanted to title this one “It will be good for all of women-kind!!” but my editor told me to take the sensationalism down a notch.
But my point still stands… I never would have considered powerlifting if I hadn’t seen other women (particularly other recreational or physique focused lifters, since that’s who I could relate to at the time) do it first.
Powerlifting has been a great thing for me for all of the reasons I listed above, and I think it could be a great thing for a lot of women (men too, I suppose, but that’s not the point of this article) if only they’d give it a shot.
The more women there are who powerlift, the more women there will be who realize that THEY TOO can do it.
And, wouldn’t the world be a better place with more super strong chicks in it???
Clearly that was a rhetorical question.
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