As a world champion powerlifter, I know the enormous benefits this discipline can bring, both physically and mentally.
But then I would say that wouldn’t I? I’m a world champion, world record holder and President of the British Drug Free Powerlifting Association (BDFPA).
But believe me when I say that the benefits of powerlifting are not limited to those who excel at it. It is a sport which is warm and welcoming, fully inclusive and hugely rewarding.
So what’s so great about it? Here are my eight reasons every woman should try powerlifting.
1. It teaches you that what your body does is more important than what it looks like.
As women we are taught from an early age that our looks count. If we are attractive we are more likely to have more friends, get a better job and earn more. But it won’t win you any prizes on a powerlifting platform. Pretty girls don’t lift more. In a powerlifting competition all that matters is the weight on the bar.
It’s an important lesson because it changes the relationship we have with our bodies.
When we only value them for how they look, those of us who don’t look like a movie star will start to find fault. When we value our bodies for what they do, for how much they lift or how fast they run, then we start to have a different, deeper relationship with ourselves.
We begin to learn that our bodies are for doing, not for being.
2. You learn that it takes time to change your body – there are no quick fixes.
In the 12 years that I’ve been powerlifting competitively I have improved my bench press from 62.5kg to 82.5kg.
It takes time to build strength and muscle, for your tiny supporting muscles to get used to the same pressures as the big muscles.
And it’s important to learn this because we are told time and time again in beauty magazines that it is possible to change ourselves in a week, with quick fix diets and exercise regimes.
But it is not possible to make any real, lasting change in a short period of time. Powerlifting teaches us this.
3. It’s easy to start but takes a lifetime to master.
I’m still learning and still improving even after 12 years. Powerlifting is a sport which can grow with you in ever-higher circles of mastery so that you always feel that you are moving forward. It gives you a sense of achievement year after year.
4. You can start at any age and keep going well into your 80s.
The basics of powerlifting can be taught to anyone. I’ve seen powerlifters with no legs, powerlifters with only one arm, powerlifters with learning difficulties. It is a sport which welcomes and embraces people of all types and all abilities and ages.
And because there are layers and layers of ‘masters’ levels it is possible to remain competitive well into your 80s.
5. All the worries of the world disappear.
Believe me, you can’t think about your troubles at work when you’re trying hard not to drop a heavy weight on your head! It’s called ‘being in a state of flow’, when you are concentrating so hard on the thing you’re doing that everything else falls away.
6. You learn how to compete with other women.
I think that women aren’t very good at competing with other women. We’re discouraged from being competitive when we are young so that by the time we become adults we find it very upsetting when another women competes with us.
Powerlifting is competitive but it is also hugely supportive. It provides a warm and safe place to compete with people who become your friends.
Last year, I watched another woman as she broke my world record and as soon as she got up off the bench the first person she came to for a celebratory hug was me. Because I was the only person in the room who truly understood what she had just achieved. It was a lesson in how to compete.
7. It will help you to build muscle, bone and cardiovascular strength.
The low impactful nature of powerlifting and its increasing intensity are key factors in building strong muscles, bones and healthy heart and lungs.
8. You can walk into any gym with confidence.
All this other stuff is great, but when you know your incline dumbbell presses from your good mornings, when you can choose your exercise with confidence, you can walk into any gym and know, deep in your bones, that the men won’t intimidate you.