Why? How many times have I heard that question? Why? Why do I want to put myself through the ordeal of hard training & probable injury just so I can lift awkward shaped, seemingly inhumanly heavy weights?
If anyone knows the answer please tell me, because I have no bloody idea!
I can pinpoint the moment my life, or at least my lifestyle changed. 12th February 2014 at 4pm. When the ophthalmologic consultant told me to go straight into A&E, because he feared I had a serious problem with my head and needed an urgent CT scan. To this day, we’re all still slightly befuddled about what the problem really was (it’s a very long story, and one for another day) but the CT & MRI scans found nothing. I never did ask them if they at least found a brain in there. Maybe I don’t want to know the answer to that particular question…
Having had a fairly serious shoulder injury in a car accident 2 years before, I was at the worst level of fitness I’d ever been in my life. Overweight, a pretty heavy smoker and unable to do much in the way of exercise, as everything aggravated my right shoulder.
Cut to early 2015, after giving up smoking, starting to get fit, taking up obstacle running and recovering from yet another injury I joined a gym, with the intention of making some sort of effort to look after myself a bit more. After trying a few places all of whom assumed I wanted to lose weight and pointed me in the direction of the treadmill, it was during the induction to my current gym that one of the coaches turned to me and said ‘Wow, you’ve got the potential to be a real beast!’ She said this in such a positive way, it made me realise that my strength (‘scuse the pun) has always been my ability to lift relatively heavy stuff.
I’ll save the whole journey through the physical & mental challenges of getting fit-ish for another day, but I’m still training at the gym that’s become my 2nd home. I’m still on the curvy side, but I’m fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been.
After taking Olympic lifting classes for a few months, I became interested in powerlifting and discovered amateur strongman. Olympic lifting isn’t for me (waaay too much co-ordination required) but I was drawn to the circus-like appeal of strongman events – lifting massive stones, oversized dumbbells and pulling trucks. Hell yeah I’ll have a go at that!!
I signed up for my first competition recently. It was only £25 and all entrants get a t-shirt. I’ll take part in almost anything if there’s a t-shirt or medal involved. Then it struck me. Hard. Like being hit over the head with one of those giant dumbbells. I NEED TO TRAIN FOR THIS!!! I’ve managed to ‘wing’ a triathlon, 2 long distance swims, several obstacle races and a half marathon. I came pretty much last in all of them and most were for charity, but I can’t just rock up to a strongwoman comp, expecting to lift huge weights over my head without at least putting a bit of effort in beforehand.
So here I am, 4 and a bit months away from competition, 3 and a half weeks into my ‘get Claire strong’ training plan. Thankfully I was already pretty strong to begin with, but in the last few weeks I’ve smashed through all of my previous PB’s, developed a level of muscle mass I’ve never had before and I’m loving every minute. Even if I do occasionally wonder if my coach is trying to kill me.
Claire is a 30-something strongwoman-in-training with a love of obstacle running, target shooting and anything outdoors. She started weightlifting in early 2016, becoming interested in strongwoman and powerlifting later that year, with her first competitions in both disciplines taking place later this year.
By day she works in project management & consultancy and dedicates most of her spare time to training, eating or running through mud!
Karen has been a Crossfit athlete for 2 years after falling in love with lifting and pushing herself to her limits. Since starting Crossfit she's wanted to compete and is always on the lookout for the next competition to get involved in. She's so excited to be contributing to So She Lifts & is a great member of our online community. You can follow her Crossfit story on her Instagram account.
Injury sucks. I’m hope I’m not being melodramatic here, ask any athlete and I’m pretty sure they’d agree. I’ve been a CrossFit athlete for 2 years now, and despite constant warnings that it’s the most dangerous sport going (yes even more dangerous than diving with sharks) the worst injury I’ve had was a blood blister under my nail after trapping my thumb between 2 plates (it hurt like a bitch!). The worst injury I’ve had happened 8 weeks ago and had nothing to do with Crossfit at all. I decided it would be a fantastic idea to go trampolining for my birthday in June and for about 30 minutes it absolutely was a fantastic idea! Then I got cocky and whilst my boyfriend was filming me I went bouncing from one end of the room to the other until I landed on my ankle with my foot at a right angle and a resulting nasty sprain, happy birthday to me! It has to be the high point of my life, being carried off the trampolines with 8 year olds parting the way so the injured old lady could get off. And yes, the video still exists, I’m sure I’ll be able to watch it with glee soon(!).
I wish I could say I’ve dealt with my injury with the composure and grace of Julie Foucher after her Achilles injury at Regionals last year. But I haven’t. In writing this I’ve realised I’ve gone through 5 stages; amusement, despair, anger, irritation and in the past couple weeks I’ve accepted it and starting to move forward. For the first few days I thought it was the funniest thing on the planet, here’s me training 12 hours a week and I manage to do this trampolining! I really thought I’d be back on my feet in a few days and I’d be back to my full training regime in no time. I even went to the gym a couple of times to train upper body trying to ignore the pain in my ankle.
I came to a realisation when a week after the injury my manager told me to leave work and get to A&E because I was in so much pain. Apparently winching through meetings isn’t professional! A&E promptly told me to rest. Full rest. No training. Little walking. Basically stay in bed for a few days.
I realised this was bad, and I wouldn’t be back training in a week, or even a month. I was absolutely crushed. I was signed up for a partner competition in July, a team one in August and an individual in October. To let down my teammates was such a blow, and I’d been so looking forward to competing.
I stayed in bed for 3 days. 3 days watching Instagram videos of other people lifting and crying. I really thought this was the end to my competing plans. I’d messed up all the goals me and my coach had for this year and for next. I gave up.
Once I was back at work I came out of the despair stage and went into anger. How could I be so stupid?! People often tell me I have to schedule fun and spontaneity (4pm on a Tuesday, just FYI) and this is exactly why I don’t go outside my routine! Bad juju happens if you leave your set routine! I was so pissed, I couldn’t train, I couldn’t even go for a walk on my lunch. This was SHIT.
3 weeks in, I was a bit more stable so went back to the place I love most, my box. I still couldn’t train so I helped coach. It sounds twee but helping our new members, and those struggling with a particular movement was really fulfilling and I felt I was back where I belong. It was also nice just to catch up with everyone and have their support.
So where am I now? 8 weeks in and with the help of my coach I’m back training and have been for the past two weeks. I can do pretty much every movement now, and I’m starting to build up the weights and I’ve got my nutrition sorted which is helping me focus so much more.
I do feel I’ve lost a bit of me somewhere along the way. I’ve always been the girl in the corner doing double and triple sessions, preparing for one competition or another, using my lunch breaks to do a bit more training, and always trying to better my last time or weight. For now, I’m just an ordinary CrossFitter and it’s not something that sits comfortably with me, I’ve always wanted to be better than average. I’m scaling most WODs which isn’t something I’m used to, but I know its all part of the bigger picture, and scaling now will mean I’m back to RX that bit quicker.
If I could impart any advice it would be the following;
By Alicia Woods
So, you’ve just found out you’re pregnant. Exciting, right?! But also terrifying, not to mention, totally life changing.. There’s 1 million tabs open in your head - am I ready for this? How will my life change? What about my body? Can I still do that? What about my fitness goals? - These are just a few questions you might be asking yourself if, like myself, training is a huge part of your life, and you no longer know where you stand with it. If this sounds familiar, you are not alone! Maybe you’re reading this, looking for inspiration or guidance for your own pregnancy. Well, I hope I can provide that, by sharing my fit pregnancy journey with you. But first, CONGRATULATIONS.
Since documenting my fitness journey into pregnancy on Instagram, many women have DMed me, confided in me and seeking guidance in the early days of their own pregnancies. Being told by a complete stranger, that you have inspired them, is an incredibly empowering thing, so I hope to inspire more women, as they enter this new and exciting chapter. So finally, at 39+5weeks pregnant, I’m going to share my personal experiences of training during pregnancy, and how I was mostly able to maintain the active lifestyle I’d grown to love! Before I begin, I’d like to make it clear that I am not telling anyone what they should or should not do during pregnancy. Every pregnancy is different; what works for one woman, may not work for another. Some are able to continue training, where as others simply are not! Your midwife/consultant is the professional, and what they say, goes!
First Trimester Training
In the early days, in terms of training, I lacked confidence, entering unfamiliar territory, and not knowing what the boundaries were. Fatigue and sickness made curling up on the sofa, seem far more appealing than going to the gym after a long day in work. I would settle for 30 minutes of incline walk, or 30-45 minutes of mixed weight sessions, as I became nervous of the weights, worrying they’d cause harm. So, I started to research weight training in pregnancy, reading articles written by fitness fanatics, and following high profile pregnant fit women, to see what was working for them (@carlynewson, @reviejane @anniepfit). It inspired me, showing me that I could continue to lift, with an understanding of what I’d need to change, in order to feed my passion for lifting, whilst keeping our baby safe.
The first 12-14 weeks, are really fragile, so don’t push yourself. Personal bests and getting lean can wait. Our bodies are doing an incredible thing, and need to be respected. Believe me, this first trimester is by FAR the hardest! Don’t put any unrealistic expectations on yourself during this period. The second trimester, AKA ‘the happy trimester’, often brings a new found lease of life, and it really does get easier from here! Finally, LISTEN to YOUR body, set YOUR OWN boundaries, and most importantly, do NOT put any unnecessary pressure on yourself!
Stay tuned for my next installment of ‘Bump, Barbells & Biceps’ where I will talk you through the developments I was able to make to my training, in the 2nd trimester, as well as the changes to my nutrition.
By Laura Porter
Laura has been powerlifting since 2009 under the auspices of coach Martin Bass. She has competed in the past 3 GBPF Women's Classics and is a GBPF divisional referee. She has also been working in the software industry since 1999, and is a passionate believer in increasing diversity in both tech and lifting. She blogs at lauralifts.com.
When I first walked into Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club in 2009 I had no idea what powerlifting really was, or that it would become such a big part of my life. Back then I was one of maybe 2 or 3 female powerlifters there, plus maybe 2 or 3 female weightlifters. In the 7 years since, powerlifting has exploded in popularity among women. In 2011 I was one of three women who took part in the British Powerlifting's (then known as the GBPF) All-England Championships; in 2016 the women's event is being held separately to the men's as there just isn't enough room & time to host both over the same weekend.
I've seen a lot of parallels in the explosion of popularity of powerlifting among women, with what I do for my day job. Since 1999 I've worked in the tech industry as a developer. While there have always been female developers (in fact the first programmers were almost exclusively women) the software industry became progressively more male-dominated in the 80s and 90s. Similarly, powerlifting since its inception in the 1970s has been very male-dominated. From the 00s onwards female developers have become more commonplace, and there have been concrete attempts to foster more female-friendly communities in tech and software development. So when I noticed a surge in popularity in powerlifting amongst women at the powerlifting gym I train at, and at GBPF competitions, it felt like similar forces were at work.
I have a lot anecdotal experience of how the tech & software industry has attempted to attract more women. As a veteran female developer I've been asked more than once by my employers how they can get more women to apply for jobs (and, admittedly, I do resent the fact that this seems to be a task given to women, when correcting the gender imbalance in the workplace is <i>everyone's</i> responsibility). But what about powerlifting? After seven years of lifting and six years of competing, I suppose I am something of a veteran (at least compared to some). Obviously many women are attracted to powerlifting already, but how can you encourage more women to take up the sport and - more importantly - keep coming back?
I have to add a disclaimer here that while I am heavily involved in my gym, I am not the gym owner nor a member of the board. BGWLC is an unusual gym in that is it not a business; instead it is a charity run by a committee of members and I don't actually sit on the committee (through choice). So while I do have a hand in what goes on at the gym, I'm not in any way solely responsible - the gym is a team effort, and all credit has to go to the board of trustees, members and volunteers who make great things happen there.
But whether you're a gym business owner, a volunteer for a sports charity or group, or just someone who attends a gym and has an interest in what goes on there - if you care about having a more diverse group of people lifting then maybe this article can give you some hints and ideas.
Encouraging diversity is everyone's responsibility
When I asked the women at BGWLC what makes the gym a great place for women, they all mentioned the attitude of the male members of the gym. Encouraging diversity is everyone's job, not just that of the minorities you're targeting.
There are lots of things everyone can do to make the gym a more welcoming and inclusive environment. An easy one is to tone down sexualised comments and actions. Leering at women in the gym is not acceptable - people are here to learn and train, not hook up. You don't need to call your buddy a "pussy" for not making that lift (<a href="http://anthrocentric.tumblr.com/post/81621685922/pussy-is-not-short-for-pusillanimous">no, "pussy" is not short for "pusillanimous"</a>). If you can't deal with not calling other people a pussy at the gym, then maybe this gym isn't for you.
If you think someone needs tips or advice on how to lift, <i>ask</i> before advising. A simple "Hey, can I give you a tip?" takes a second; and if the person don't want advice, <i>take it graciously</i>. Be open to giving spots, especially if it's for a weight you might think is "too light" to need spotting - that 30kg squat might be a huge amount for them!
It's not only about women supporting women. The boys are really supportive too. They spot me with my poverty bench!
- RS, BGWLC member
Making a space more diverse is all about reasonable adjustments, and these are things everyone can do. If a member can't bring themselves to make adjustments like this, then maybe your gym is not for them. And if you're running the gym but don't want to make these changes, then that's OK - but running a gym for you and people like you isn't a long-term business plan. A successful business has a wide reach and a diverse set of clients.
Your social media presence is key
It's 2016 so most people are going to find out about your gym via your website and social media. In fact I'd say media like Facebook and Instagram are overtaking a website in terms of importance. So it's essential that your social media presence projects a friendly and inclusive image.
It might seems like a small thing, but the colours you use for website can be really important. How many gym websites have you seen that are black/red/silver and feature images of snarling wolves or bulldogs? Some people might think they look cool, but to others aggressive images can be off-putting. When I was building the BGWLC website I was keen to use a more "neutral" colour (I used the signature BGWLC green) and feature equal numbers of male & female lifters in the main banner image.
There was a picture of Anna [Macnab, GBPF British powerlifting team member] on the website, so I knew there would be some women there!
- KT, BGWLC member
On our Instagram account we try to feature women and men equally, and we make an effort to feature plenty of beginners and lifters of all shapes and sizes, not just the strongest and most swole. You might think only featuring the strongest and leanest lifters makes your gym look like it's the best around, but it can make also less confident & newer lifters think your gym is not a place for them. At the end of the day, your gym needs new members to survive and grow, so you don't want to discourage anyone.
Stay away from gym memes in your professional presence. Memes are hugely popular but they can also be hugely problematic. If you must use them, consider them carefully. Never use memes which feature women with their heads cut out of the picture - instead show women as whole people, not objectified bodies. You can read more on this here.
Finally, be reactive on social media. People who are curious about trying your gym might feel too shy to pop in & talk to you about it, or even to talk on the phone. Answer emails or messages on social media promptly, and in a friendly manner. This goes extra if you're responding publicly comments on social media - don't mock or belittle people, and if someone posts a negative comment on one of your pictures or statuses, react in a dignified manner.
I loved the [Facebook] video that was used to promote the event. I also loved the amount of noticeably male non-lifters commenting with "is her form right?", and the calm dignified responses from the club!
- RT, BGWLC member
Have decent facilities for women
This might seem like the most basic thing to say but... have women's changing facilities available! I have taken part in powerlifting competitions in venues where there is a men's changing room, but none for women. I also know of one female lifter who is the only woman at her club, and has to change in a Portakabin. It's so simple: have women's facilities. They don't have to be fancy, they just have to exist on a par with the men's facilities.
Provide sanitary supplies, or set up a Tampon Club among the women at your gym. Hang a mirror in the changing rooms. Put up some hooks for people to hang their gear on. Little things make the biggest differences.
Consider running women-only sessions for new (and new to your gym) lifters
At BGWLC we have been running a series of women-only introduction sessions for women interested in giving lifting a try. They have been very successful, averaging 7-9 people in each session. Providing women-only sessions was one of the conditions of us receiving council funding, but it's also been good for business. Many women out there are interested in giving barbell training a try, but can feel shy about walking into a gym if they don't know where to start.
The aim of these sessions is to give women the ability to talk into a weights room (whether our os another gym's) and feel confident they know what they're doing. The ultimate aim is not to segregate women into their own classes. So far the sessions have been very well-received and we've gained some new regular attendees. Plus, most importantly, lots of fun was had and new friends made!
Don't make assumptions about why women want to try lifting
There are lots of reasons for taking up weight training, and there are lots of benefits to doing it. But it's safer not to assume you know why a woman wants to give it a try. Don't assume that everyone wants to lose weight or get a sexy butt. If someone asks you about those things, then by all means go ahead and give the right advice! But it's safest to only assume a woman is lifting because she wants to get stronger.
For our Introduction to Strength Training sessions at BGWLC, we kept the message really simple - You are stronger than you think. We didn't want to tie the sessions in with weight loss, nutrition, appearance etc. All those things are totally valid reasons to want to lift weights, but they're not everyone's reasons.
Additionally, be careful with food and nutrition talk. Many women suffer from disordered eating patterns and may find unwanted nutrition advice difficult to handle. Again, if someone asks for nutrition advice then by all means go ahead & give it, but never give that sort of advice out unprompted. Additionally you should never assume you can tell what someone does or doesn't eat by their appearance.
Have measures in place if things go wrong
For people to feel safe & supported at your gym it's really important to have measures in place if things go wrong. Have a system where if - for example - someone feels uncomfortable with another member's behaviour, they know they will be listened to and the matter investigated. Dismissing behaviour or attitudes as "just horseplay" or "just how they are" isn't good enough. Consider making a basic code of conduct part of your membership sign-up process, and make it clear what will happen if the code of conduct is not adhered to.
Even more diversity
The ideas above are for fostering a more women-friendly space, but ultimately having a diverse environment means being open to all. Many strength gyms can not only seem intimidating to women, but also LGBT people (especially trans people, who also face discrimination in the competitive sporting world). I hope that by presenting an image of our gym as open to women of all abilities and backgrounds, we will start to attract more members from other marginalised groups. At the risk of sounding mercenary: not only is this great for social equality, but more reach is good for business!
A big thank you has to go to all the members of Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club for helping me write this article (and making the gym a great place).
Find out more about Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club via our website, Instagram and Facebook page.
By Nia Kaye
Nia Kaye (who goes under the name of benchpressingbaubles on Instagram and Wordpress) is a British expat, living in Tampa, Florida. She has been lifting weights for about 4 years, but became incredibly focused on both lifting and nutrition in May, 2015 when she began preparation for a fitness photoshoot. Nia is aiming to compete in a bikini competition in 2017. You can follow her and her meal inspirations on Instagram and Wordpress.
In 2009, I signed up for the Cardiff half marathon (more like coerced into it after a few vodkas!). I loved the feeling of seeing my body change, as well as becoming visibly fitter. I loved doing the half marathon and completed 2 more in Cardiff subsequently. In 2011, my boyfriend of the time persuaded me to join a new low cost gym. I gave him my debit card details and told him to sign me up, as I am guilty of ‘bookmarking’ such things and then never following through! We signed up for a Friday evening class with a very enthusiastic but friendly trainer and we loved it! I became a bit of a class attending-aholic, and loved the atmosphere and the friendliness of the personal trainers and the post workout endorphins.
After several months, I decided to approach the personal trainer I had met on my first day for private training sessions. When he first took me into the weights room, I thought he was nuts and I refused to go in there unless personally escorted! I can’t pretend I enjoyed my first few experiences of using real weights as opposed to lurid coloured dumbbells that look like cat toys. I didn’t like the feeling that I was stepping into testosterone territory and the looks that I received from men when in there. I also am a neat freak, and seeing weights littering the floor was incredibly off putting.
Seeing my body change and becoming noticeably stronger was empowering, and eventually I plucked up the courage to follow a training plan that involved me entering the weights room 4–5 times a week. I still felt uncomfortable within the this area of my gym as manners and gym etiquette were often non-existent. Being an average height female, I felt incredibly little and lacked confidence to ask people how many sets they had left, so would often spend many minutes waiting for various pieces of equipment. Despite this, I became friendly with some of the other personal trainers in the gym – I think they enjoyed interacting with a ‘girl who lifts’ – and they would always help me out in getting squat racks!
By the time I left the UK (July, 2015), the proportion of women lifting weights in the gym was significantly higher than when I started. It was so much more comforting to see more females in the weights room and I made some great friendships with these girls too!
My first time walking into the weights room at the gym in Florida I am a member of, I was instantly both inspired and intimidated. For a gym that is not overly large, it was pretty busy, exceptionally tidy and the ratio of personal trainers to gym-goers was high! All around me were people working out of all ages, with both men and women lifting weights and working out hard. There is a 55-year-old woman in my gym that can do 3 sets of 6 reps weighted dips; a 70-year-old man who can do 5 pull ups and a 10-year-old child who can do 10 banded pull ups.
After about two weeks of working out there, personal trainers began to approach me – not with the ulterior motive of trying to persuade me to pay for their services – but because they were interested in who I was. With it being a relatively small gym, it was evident that having a sense of community was important to them and I soon realised that this was important to the other members too. The emphasis on fitness where I live is incredibly high. It is not only the norm to work-out, it is expected. Whenever I go into the gym, I see the same people day in, day out. Over the year, I have developed some lovely friendships with personal trainers and gym goers alike. People think nothing of coming over to me whilst I am exercising to chat about their day; correct my form or spot me. They shout at me for encouragement, ask me to demonstrate certain exercises, give me a kick up the backside when I need it and generally bring a smile to my face.
I recently visited the UK for a couple of weeks and trained in my old gym. I think of it as ‘home’ and it will always bring back such lovely memories as the place that I fell in love with lifting weights. But, similarly to moving away from home, I was incredibly excited to get back to my Floridian gym. Whilst perceptions of women lifting weights has undeniably changed in the UK, training in Florida is about so much more than that. It has been my safe place, my source of inspiration, friendship and has a massive place in my heart.
Hollie is a competitive IPF powerlifter in the -63kg division, with a background in parkour and circus arts. She holds regional records in benchpress and total, and won Silver at the 2015 Commonwealth Benchpress Championships, and Bronze at the 2016 World Benchpress Championships. She is currently studying for a PhD in Statistics and loves going on adventures.
For any IPF powerlifter in the UK, the British Classic is pretty much the highlight of the competitive year. It is the main opportunity to get on a platform and lift alongside the very best powerlifters in the country, whilst testing yourself under strict competition conditions.
From the moment I stepped off the platform at my first British Classic in September last year, I knew I wanted to return this year with bigger numbers. After all, that’s what every powerlifter aims for! In the past year I have trained as hard and as smart as I could manage, always keeping this competition in the back of my mind. I have added a decent amount of muscle to my frame and my understanding of the way I respond to training, nutrition and recovery has increased significantly. I have done a number of other competitions in the past year, from regionals to internationals, and have gained so much from the experiences.
Through all this, I have learned three main lessons which guide me as I enter the last eight weeks of preparation.
1) The little things add up
As a fan of cycling, I have seen the incredible successes of British Cycling in recent years, particularly under the leadership of current coach and ex Performance Director, Sir Dave Brailsford. Brailsford strongly believed in the idea that if you could improve everything you do by just 1%, those ‘marginal gains’ would add up to a significant improvement in performance. Bringing this into the context of powerlifting, this can include nutrition, hydration, injury and illness prevention, sleep...the list goes on. The concept applies throughout your usual training but especially so in the lead up to a competition.
For example, something as simple as ensuring you get enough sleep, enabling you to recover properly and get the most out of your training sessions. Or making an extra effort to avoid any illnesses or injuries that could impact your peaking cycle (we all know that gyms can be pretty bad places for picking up bugs!)
All these small actions add up. Although alone, they may not make a noticeable difference, the sum of them all might be the difference between getting that PB total or not!
2) Stick to the plan
I am a worrier. I am an overthinker. I get caught up in every little detail. This can be a good thing, as I discussed above, these little details are actually quite important. The issue arises, however, when the plan changes every day. I used to be very guilty of this - the more important the goal, the more I would want to constantly alter and fine tune my training and nutrition. But we all know, consistency is key.
At a competition earlier this year, I was certain I wasn’t going to be able to make weight. I decided to give it my best shot, and put together a plan to do a serious water cut. In the week and a half before the competition, I had no faith I was going to make it, in fact I was pretty certain I wouldn’t, but was keen to see how close I could get. At 4pm the evening before the competition, I weighed 66.2kg. It was tempting to give up, but I stuck with it. By 9pm I was 63.75kg, and in the morning I weighed in at 62.6kg. The water cut actually worked!
Now i make a plan and stick to it, especially when it comes to competition prep. I learned the importance of having confidence in my past decisions and not wasting energy trying to double think everything along the way.
3) Do it because you enjoy it
I have talked about how to improve performance and maximise achievement. We all want to be the best we can be. But it is also important to remember why we began the journey in the first place. I love lifting, I love training but mostly I love competing and the preparation involved.
Talk to people, make friends, make mistakes, learn new things and most of all, enjoy the journey.
Yesterday was legs day; or it was supposed to be anyway. Sunday had been a day off and I’d scheduled a new evening yoga class for today, which left yesterday evening as prime booty burn time. Generally, with a 40 minute commute to the office, AM gym is a no go so weekdays mean I’m limited to training after work.
For a Monday the day had started pretty positively, but by 6pm I’d been thoroughly attacked from all angles. Some highlights? I’d smashed my phone screen, spent the day trying (and failing) to make a piece of design software do what I want and got caught in an epic M4 traffic jam en route home. By the time I crawled into the house, the only movement I could muster was dragging myself to the sofa to promptly fall asleep. I reluctantly woke up after about an hour and had to make the call – to gym, or not to gym?
Since starting up So She Lifts I can’t help but be inspired; I’ve had amazing messages saying how motivated it’s making you feel and how you can’t wait to see the community grow. The UK is small, and having an Instagram news feed full of ladies lifting across our little island always just makes me want to train all the damn time.
That said, I don’t fall asleep on the sofa like that often so I knew that perhaps nature was trying to tell me something. I’ve been at it hard in the past couple of weeks with the reintroduction of cardio (which was a serious enough shock to the system) and only had a rest day Sunday because it dawned on me I’d trained every day since the previous weekend.
I was so drained I could barely lift my own head, let alone anything greater like my body weight, so why do did I still end up feeling so bloody guilty about missing a workout?
Why wasn’t listening to my body - which was obviously screaming no - quite enough to outweigh that feeling that I’d somehow failed by skipping a day’s training? Any strength I have wasn’t going to mysteriously evaporate; I didn’t wake up this morning suddenly unfit and out of shape, but I still could shake the nagging feeling all evening that I ‘should’ have gone at the gym.
There’s so much hype at the moment about ‘health and fitness stars’ on Instagram doing more harm than good, but on principal, I don’t believe in that for a second. What I DO believe is that it’s all mind games. We all work under our own steam, and we have full control of our own bodies. Seeing people work out and lift heavy can be INCREDIBLE inspiration, but it’s still so important to remember your own limits.
I was tired. I was aching. Whilst I’ll never know, there’s a distinct possibility that if I’d gone to the gym regardless without feeling on form, I could have ended up doing more harm than good. Just recently I was chatting to a friend who slipped a disc a couple of years ago. How? He thought he’d get a quick gym sesh in before a Friday night out, was a bit tired and not really fully focussed and did some serious damage with a single deadlift.
You know, the whole #nevermissamonday? Yeh…well…just no. Don’t get me wrong, I use the hashtag and as a general principle that’s great, but don’t let it override your own warning bells. If you’re missing all of your workouts, that might be a different story, but the odd skipped session to get an early night, do something social or frankly just curl up with Netflix should be embraced. By all means scroll through your news feed but instead of letting it be a guilt trip, be inspired by those women who were in a position to train that night, and let them motivate you to smash your workout tomorrow.
So no…I didn’t do legs day, but I’d still got up early that morning to do a yoga practice, followed a food plan successfully all day and been for a walk in the evening to get my steps up. All wasn’t lost, and the world has officially not ended.
We beat ourselves up about enough things on a daily basis, don’t let a single missed work out be another thing to add to the list.
By Anna Cummings MSc BSc
Anna Cummings BSc(hons), MSc, is a Functional Nutritionist, Health Coach and Women’s Exercise Specialist, who practices in Brighton and London, UK. A geek for physiology, with a background in Sport and Exercise Science, she loves lifting, and is practically in love with her Magimix. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or to read more of her blog posts and get in touch visit www.annacummings.co.uk.
So you’re one of those people who likes a little bit extra. Maybe it’s for health reasons, maybe it’s to assist with recovery from exercise or maybe you don’t know why the hell you take it, but you read something, somewhere, some time that it could help with… to be honest, you don’t even remember, and now it’s gathering dust behind that detox tea, in the ever-filling random supplements cupboard.
Taking protein supplements can be helpful for a whole range of physiological reasons – but that is a whole different article. If you are choosing alone, how do you go about navigating the overwhelming plethora of options out there? Do you choose the hemp protein, the whey protein, the soy protein, the pea protein, the egg protein, the egg white protein, the free-range egg protein, the organic whey protein, the vegan mixed protein with raw dehydrated sprouted superfluous sunflower seeds or do you ‘GOMAD’ and drink a litre of milk after every workout, to the point where even your sweat has a slight dairy-like odour… Yeah, maybe not.
The choices do seem to be endless, as well as sometimes bamboozling, for want of a better word. So for simplicity’s sake, let’s check out one of the best absorbed, bioavailable and most popular products in the protein market: the humble whey (1). This form of protein powder exceeds the biological value of egg protein by 15% and is a rich source of all the essential amino acids (2).
[Vegan side note – Apologies, to my vegan friends at his point, someday I will write another article especially for you on the best sources of plant-based protein – promise – but you’ll probably find this interesting too.]
One day you wake up, you wander down to that well-known supplement store, pick yourself up a choco-flavoured-super-whey-bargain, pop it in your dedicated protein shaker (which you remember to wash straight away) and knock it back. Did you think about what was in the mix, what type of udder it came from, the overall quality of the protein? Probably not, because we learn to trust what it says on the tin, but not all wheys are liken to Ronseal, my friends, and these are the types of considerations to make before you supplement…
Firstly, let’s return to the udder of origin. Whey was once discarded as waste, a useless by-product of cheese production. But, into the modern age it has become a nutritious commodity, bulking out foods and bagged up as a supplement (2).
Logically, the quality of the milk from whence the whey came, leads directly onto the quality of the powder. Conventional dairy farms, where the focus is on productivity, use a much higher quantity of pesticides, fertiliser, antibiotics and hormone treatment, compared to organic husbandry (3).
Within the Organic industry, animal welfare is prioritised over productivity, with typically lower yields (4). Antibiotic use is limited, with a longer ‘washout’ period post-treatment, it must be supervised by a vet, and if an animal is treated more than three times in one year, it is no longer an organically classified specimen (3). Within conventional farms, antibiotics are often used as a preventative method, meaning farmers have largely unrestricted use of antibiotics, and therefore don’t have to be as fastidious with living conditions to encourage health (3).
Cows on an organic farms are typically healthier, with better living conditions and lower incidences of mastitis (5). In some European countries, even alternative treatments are used, such as phytotherapy and homeopathy (3); I can’t speak to the effectiveness of these, but think it’s kind of awesome that people are thinking outside the traditional antibiotic ‘box’.
Pesticide and inorganic pesticide use in the fields and feed production (which is only allowed to be 40% of an organic cow’s diet), is banned, as is the use of hormonal treatments to encourage reproduction. A controversial paper was recently published by the University of Nottingham suggesting a hormonal treatment to reduce global warming, by getting more cows, pregnant, faster (3,6)… Probably not the best solution for us consumers, or the poor cows.
I should add though, giving cows hormones consistently to produce milk is illegal, now a myth in the present day, as is the presence of puss. There are no such thing as ‘puss cells’, and what is looked at really, is the ‘Somatic Cell Count’ – the presence of white blood cells – which if too high, indicates infection, and the cow is treated accordingly (7).
The hoo-hah about these foreign synthetic substances, xenobiotics, entering a cow’s system, is that milk can act as an exit mechanism. As with humans – quoted in one of the best-named papers of all time ‘Breast Fed at Tiffany’s’ – milk can be treated as a ‘waste basket’, with the potential to contain pesticides, synthetic additives, residues from inorganic fertilisers such as heavy metals, hormones and antibiotics, among other things (8,9).
Exposure to certain xenobiotics in humans can cause altered gene expression, hormonal disruption, increase the risk of certain cancers, being carcinogens, and other pathophysiologies (10). Switching to organic milk may even reduce eczema in children under two and hypospadias in boys, according to a recent review (3)… These xenobiotics clearly pose real concern.
Although European bodies maintain that there is no risk from pesticides in foods, the Environmental Working Group disagrees (www.ewg.org), as does select literature, which points out the potentially persistent and bio-accumulative dangers that certain substances present to our tissues long term (11). Even if our body is reasonably effective at dealing with short-term challenges, there are questions surrounding the long-term damage and build up in our tissues of these substances.
Nutritionally, likely due to the organic-bovine diet being largely based on grazing and natural foraging, there are higher concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acids present, particularly the anti-inflammatory Omega-3 (4). I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of this delightful little fatty acid, and the importance of the Omega 3:Omega 6 ratio, which is higher in organic milk, than conventional, as well as increased antioxidants, vitamins, including alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), and minerals (3–5).
There is more selenium (Se) present in conventional milk, probably due to the increased presence of it in their feed formulation, which is heavily synthetically manipulated to encourage yield (3). Se is vital to human metabolism and thyroid health, however, high levels can be toxic to baby calves (12)… So, arguably, perhaps high Se isn’t a natural product of cows milk, and we should stick to 2-3 Brazil nuts/day to get our fill of it instead. There is indeed nutrition outside of dairy, after all!
Hopefully, you’re developing an awareness of the importance of choosing an organic and sound quality whey, over the alternative. If you care about your long-term health, it may be something that you already do, or will implement after the well runs dry on your current batch.
A couple of my favourite organic whey proteins, available to a British market, are:
The Organic Protein Company – This stuff tastes creamy and amazing. It is pure whey – no additives or preservatives . Super clean, and they have run heavy metals tests with an external company, as proof of it’s purity – the results are reassuringly low.
Motion Nutrition – These guys contacted me a while back, as being a nutritionist and exercise specialist, they were interested in my opinion on their products.
Founded by two great guys, frustrated with the chemically laden, synthetic sport supplement industry, they set out to make a change by providing the athletic world with clean, superfood-based options. After all, if you care enough about your body to strive for health and fitness, you should be fuelling it with the best – that, it deserves.
Nestled amongst a whole range of superfood-stacked-supps, their whey is organic, grass-fed, amazing tasting and comes in two different flavours – raw cacao or medium-chain-fatty-acid-full coconut yumminess. The coconut I am yet to try, but the cacao was a 10/10 for flavour, lovely and creamy, with just a hint of chocotastic lovely.
What I found particularly innovative, was their Post-Workout Recovery Shake. Another whey-based supplement, with a 2:1 Carbohydrate:Protein ratio, to optimise protein uptake and recovery after a hard session. The carbohydrate quantity is provided by a mixture of powdered organic red banana, pomegranate juice and maqui berry, which is stacked full of vitamins and minerals. The addition of wheatgrass and maitake mushroom extract, cleverly supports the immune system post-session, which is often initially compromised post-sesh – particularly when you’ve been working quite hard.
The taste is a natural mixture of berry-like, banana. No nasty lingering twangs of synthetic flavourings, no need for stevia, just straight-up-superfoods. Sometimes I needed a little more protein per scoop, with my ideal intake sitting at around 10-20g post-exercise, depending on the session type. To combat this, I just used a little extra whey when necessary. Remember guys, protein percentage uptake it optimized when consumed in small amounts – maximally at 10-20g per feed (13).
This is my favourite post-exercise supplement – big claim.
Disclaimer: Anna Cummings always advises talking to you doctor, dietician or registered nutritionist prior to embarking on any programme of supplementation
1. Tang JE, Moore DR, Kujbida GW, Tarnopolsky M a, Phillips SM. Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men. J Appl Physiol [Internet]. 2009;107(3):987–92. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19589961
2. Smithers G. Whey-ing up the Options: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow Yesterday – Medicinal and Menacing Whey. International Whey Conference. 2014;1–16.
3. Vaarst M, Bennedsgaard TW. Reduced Medication in Organic Farming with Emphasis on Organic Dairy Production. Acta Vet Scand [Internet]. 2002;43(1):1–7. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1751-0147-43-S1-S51
4. Średnicka-Tober D, Barański M, Seal CJ, Sanderson R, Benbrook C, Steinshamn H, et al. Higher PUFA and n-3 PUFA, conjugated linoleic acid, α-tocopherol and iron, but lower iodine and selenium concentrations in organic milk: a systematic literature review and meta-and redundancy analyses. Br J N. 2016;7:1043–60.
5. Blanco-Penedo I, Lundh T, Holtenius K, Fall N, Emanuelson U. The status of essential elements and associations with milk yield and the occurrence of mastitis in organic and conventional dairy herds. Livest Sci [Internet]. 2014 Oct;168:120–7. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1871141314003643
6. Archer SC, Hudson CD, Green MJ. Use of Stochastic Simulation to Evaluate the Reduction in Methane Emissions and Improvement in Reproductive Efficiency from Routine Hormonal Interventions in Dairy Herds. PLoS One. 2015;1–18.
7. Hamadani H, Khan AA, Banday MT, Ashraf I, Handoo N, Bashir A, et al. Bovine Mastitis - A Disease of Serious Concern for Dairy Farmers. Int J Livest Res. 2010;3(1):42–55.
8. Hennet T, Borsig L. Breastfed at Tiffany’s. Trends Biochem Sci [Internet]. Elsevier Ltd; 2016;1–11. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tibs.2016.02.008
9. Kühn-institut J, Baumann D, Schaefer I. Assessment of ABCG2-mediated transport of xenobiotics across the blood-milk barrier of dairy animals using a new MDCKII in vitro model. Toxicokinet Metab. 2013;(May).
10. Darbre PD. Environmental contaminants in milk: the problem of organochlorine xenobiotics. Pre Post-Partum Nutr Metab. 2001;26(1995):37–43.
11. Tsakiris IN, Kokkinakis E, Dumanov JM, Tzatzarakis MN, Flouris AD, Vlachou M, et al. Comparitive Evaluation of Xenobiotics in Human and Dietary Milk: Persistant Organic Pollutants and Mycotoxins. Cell Mol Biol. 2013;59(1):58–66.
12. Panter KE, James LF. Natural plant toxicants in milk: a review. J Anim Sci [Internet]. Madison, WI; 1990;68:892–904. Available from: http://dx.doi.org//1990.683892x
13. Moore DR, Areta J, Coffey VG, Stellingwerff T, Phillips SM, Burke LM, et al. Daytime pattern of post-exercise protein intake affects whole-body protein turnover in resistance-trained males. Nutr Metab. 2012;9(91):1–5.
Sally has been lifting for about a year now after a year of struggling to find focus at the gym for a year before that. She started at Forest Green gym but now trains at Anytime Fitness in Stroud and Nailsworth Strength and Fitness. In the past year, she has competed in two novice strongman competitions at Nailsworth Strength and Fitness and one not so novice competition for the British Heart Foundation in Southampton earlier this month. You can follow her on Instagram where she’s always happy to chat and help out where she can!
Day 3 in the caribbean and day 3 of pre-7am HIIT training complete. Whilst I sat looking out over the lake eating breakfast (1 piece of brown toast, eggs and bacon with a few slices of pineapple for good measure) I realised how much lifting weights has changed my life.
When I was here 2 years ago I was never up before 7am; breakfast was multiple mini pastries and pancakes with syrup. (Just to clarify – I’ll still be having those pancakes and pastries at some point because they’re awesome, just not huge piles and not every day!).I started my weight loss journey the same was as many other girls do; I joined Slimming World and ‘weight loss’ programme on the cross trainer, always followed by some kind of 30 day challenge….how dull! After that stopped working, I moved onto the next stereotypical step – cutting out carbs. Thank God I’m over that stage, carbs = life!! Luckily a male friend in the gym introduced me to the weights area and I started some lifting. I attended a few bootcampy at the local strongman gym and realised I had found my calling. I had a few personal training sessions to get some decent workout programmes and one year on, I have dropped 10% body fat, competed in 2 novice strongman competitions and struggle going a day without getting to the gym! I have an awesome trainer and the best training partner in the world – my best friend!
As great as it sound, there has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears along the way. I am fortunate that I am strong and confident, so entering a male dominated weights room was never a problem for me; I lift heavier weights than some of them anyway! That said, I know a lot of girls would be nervous at the thought of being in this situation. My advice here would be to get yourself a training partner and do it together – trust me, it will be worth it!
Unfortunately, you are always going to come across people who don’t understand why girls would want to lift weights. “Don’t get too big” is something I hear all the time. My arms are actually smaller that a lot of my friends who don’t life (when I’m not flexing…), they are just a different shape. You just have to ignore those comments. Unless you’re pumping yourself full of steroids you won’t get too big, and you most definitely won’t end up looking like a man. The second thing I always hear is “your muscles are gross!” and I have a friend that always says this to me. Basically, you just need to tell these people to fuck off! Responding that their physical appearance is disgusting is socially unacceptable (I said it once, the whole room went quiet…) so just ignore them.
“Don’t get too big” is something I hear all the time
Onto competing..! I love to compete because I love the buzz! I have been asked a few times if I would do bikini comps and my answer is always the same – no. I love food too much! Strongman competitions are great; you get to eat all day, push yourself as hard as you can and the buzz is like nothing else I have experienced before. The other aspect I love about strongman is the community. The support from the other competitors at comps is insane and something I have never seen before. Each competition as the NSF gym feels more like a group of people trying to hit PB’s together rather than being in direct competition.
Training isn’t just about getting big muscles and competing for me though, the effect it’s had on the rest of my life is huge. I recently moved house which was much easier now that I can carry heavy boxes, and I can run around with the kids for longer as I’m far healthier and fitter than I have been before (I do cardio every day but we don’t need to talk about that…). I’m just all round happier with myself.
Also, I have an amazing bum…you don’t get that following a rubbish programme on the cross trainer and not eating carbs!
Being a beginner is scary but everyone has to start somewhere. Surround yourself with a strong lifting community – even if it’s not real life, connect with people on social media. Everyone is so friendly that people are normally happy to give advice on anything. Lifting is now my life. I have made so many friends through training and it has changed me so much!
Ice skater turned Hammer thrower turned Commonwealth Games Weightlifter for Wales. Steph Owens is 25 and has been participating in Weightlifting for over 6 years. She has represented Wales on many occasions including the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and Commonwealth Championships in India 2015 where she picked up a bronze medal. Along side this she does modelling and acting - how does she fit it all in?
Congratulations on winning your category at the British Weightlifting Championships last month! How are you feeling after your success?
I'm feeling fantastic! Its great to be able to say Im British Champion but now its about getting back in the gym and pushing onwards and upwards.
Your sporting career is pretty varied, from ice skating to hammer throw, and even ending up as a Gladiator semi-finalist! How have you now ended up in competitive weightlifting?
It is quite an extensive list and there is a long story to it but in short I was taking a year out from Hammer Throwing so was planning on doing other sports in the mean time for a bit of fun and to keep my strength up. I started competing in Powerlifting for this reason and when I went to see my Physio as I had picked up a little niggle he recommended giving Olympic Weightlifting a go and about a week later the Welsh National Coach called me to organise trying a session. As they say the rest is history!
When it comes to competition time, how do you step up your training in the run up to an event? Any pre-comp rituals?
I try to cut down my time in work and get over to my coach in Leeds a lot more from about 6 weeks to go. I havent really got any pre comp rituals I dont think. There is probably some annoying habit that I do but I just havent noticed .
You’re not unaccustomed to the more glamorous side of life after previously competing in Miss Wales – have you been tempted to go down the physique route, competing as a figure athlete rather than on the strength side?
Competing in Miss Wales was a lot of fun but although like weightlifting you are on stage it is a lot different. Firstly weightlifting all your muscles ache after a competition, after a pageant you are mainly hurting in your face from smiling so much :) I dont think I could be as strict as a Physique model in regards to the food control - I like food too much!
So many women still see any form of weight lifting as a male dominated environment, what advice would you give to encourage more girls to see past this and give it a go?
The question you have to ask is 'Why?' Why is it male dominated? Because it used to be just males that lifted weights but now more females are giving it a go. The more that participate, the less wierd it will be to see a girl in a weights room and the less intimidating it will be for the girls in the weights room. I admit I have felt intimidated at times in a couple of gyms I have randomly trained in but always think ' I have as much right to be here as the next person, everyone is just here to train hard, regardless of gender.'
You’re living and breathing sport and fitness at the moment, not only as a competitive weight lifter but as a qualified personal trainer. What’s a typical day like for you?
Generally I wake up at around 7, have breakfast, I work from around 8am - 12 midday, get home and have some food, train then back to work 3 - 8pm then food and then bed. I train 5 times a week with thursday and sunday off so I try not to work weekends and have sunday as a complete 'do nothing' day.
Are there any sacrifices you have had to make to get to the level you’re at?
My Social life! Around 6 weeks before a competition I go into 'hermit' mode. I completely focus on training and giving my body the best chance constantly asking myself am I doing everything possible to perform at my best. My friends all understand this which is great as they all support me but it can be hard sometimes when you miss out on family gatherings etc because they are going out for meals and you cant go as you have 1 week before a comp and are cutting weight etc. Its all worth it though :)
Have you had any injuries that you’ve had to overcome? How did you find training around them?
My First 3 years of lifting were plagued by injury! I had a really good first year going from a 108kg total to a 138kg in just 10 months. Then the injuries came. I had a rotator cuff injury that took me out for the first 2/3 months of 2011 then just when I Got back to fitness and around a 140kg total I pulled my Hip Flexor in the August. This meant I couldnt lift for 2 months and then had to start from an empty bar again. It took me to the February 2012 before I was back up to around a 140kg total and then in the June I started experiencing some back pain which took me out for another couple of months. Since September 2013 I have had a pretty good run and although I have had the off niggle there has been nothing too serious. It is hard as you have to do the things you can and avoid the things that hurt. That can be really disheartening especially if the things you cant do are the main part of lifting ie bar overhead. You have to just keep at the training and do what you can no matter how insignificant you may find them as its all strengthening somewhere and will help in the long run.
What is the best advice you've been given in your fitness career to date?
Probably off my old Hammer Coach which was to train harder than you think your opponent can by doing things you know they wont be or cant be bothered to do. In the winter season he would have me running 400m as part of my first 6 week conditioning and that season I threw a welsh record. How many hammer throwers do you know that run 400m?! It made me come up with a quote ' do the unthinkable to achieve the unbelievable,' and I firmly stand by that.
What’s on the cards for you over this next year?
I'm hoping to qualify for the Commonwealth Championships in November as I'm currently writing this from a hotel in Tenerife a couple of days before I Compete in the Womens Eleiko International for Wales.After this weekend I have a 2 week holiday (will still be training dont worry) and then back to the gym to start pushing up my total further. No time to rest for me.
Quick Fire Questions
Go-to pre-workout snack?
Coffee and a Cookie - if im not cutting weight :)
Clean and jerk
Dream training partner?
Current top power song to get you motivated?
We Own it - 2 chains & Wiz Khalifa
Favourite cheat meal?
Cake and chocolate - thats a meal right?!
Do the unthinkable to achieve the unbelievable - Steph Owens