Girls who lift

Still described by mainstream publications as the latest fitness trend, #strongwomen are all over gyms everywhere. It’s more and more common for women to focus their training on strength and weightlifting rather than cardio, which is mostly great. When I first started using commercial gyms, 14 or so years ago, the free weights sections were dominated by men & I would not have set foot in there. These days, I’m rarely the only woman in the free weights section & split training is my favourite kind.

I do neglect arm training

I say mostly great. There’s a lot of discussion about how strong not skinny can promote a body shape just as unattainable. A lot of women, especially on Instagram, seem to do a lot of lower body work & there’s still a cultural apprehension around looking too masculine. A PT friend of mine has lots of female clients who are worried about ‘big shoulders’.

baby got back

Despite the marathons, I am more of a lifter than a runner. I first got into BodyPump around 2006, then kettlebell classes around 2012 and proper functional weightlifting in 2015 or thereabouts. These are my favourite gym sessions. I love being strong, I love how a positive mindset and a roar of triumph can assist to get that extra 5kg on the bar for a new pb.

I love deadlifts because they are the heaviest. I love squats because they have made my legs what they are.

I love bench press because it makes me feel like an absolute bro.

Olympic weightlifting is more challenging – it’s dynamic movements, with lower weights (mostly) & you need a good sense of balance and perfect form, as well as getting used to grips that shred your palms way more than standard power lifts. I’ve been training these lifts for about a year now & my form is improving slowly. Before marathon training kicked in, I was raising some decent weight for a beginner – slightly over half my body weight for clean & jerk, slightly under that for snatch (least favourite…)

Right now, after maintenance training for 4-5 months to fit in with running, I can comfortably (5×5) deadlift my own bodyweight, squat 75 percent of my bodyweight & bench half my bodyweight. Olympic lifts are a bit less because my form needs work after so much time out, but I’m incorporating a few snatch & clean reps into training sessions & it’s improving.

Looking back at my training diary from the last few months of 2018, I was training well & consistently & lifting quite a bit heavier than this. I can get that back one day, & I can’t wait.

Lifting goals can stay in place for a long time, more so than running goals. Incremental gains are good, & the most important thing for me is the enjoyment – I always feel amazing after training. It’s a full body workout & even if I don’t get the full 5/8/10 reps, a 10 second pause is usually enough to get there. Running’s not the same. Marathon training was great, & I have learned so much about my strength & stamina, but now I’m fully back on board with a strength-focused training programme & it’s fantastic.

lift lift lift

This week sees a cut in mileage and an extra day’s rest, which has let me pick up the lifting sessions again & cemented my feelings that, on average, strength training is better than running.

  • takes place entirely indoors
  • doesn’t really matter if you aren’t feeling 100%
  • can still lift if you forget to pack your trainers/sports bra/socks/hair ties
  • Can drink coffee during the session if you want
  • muscles are good

Seriously, I love weight training. I am much better at it than running, although I still sulk if I’m not having a good session.

peaking a few months ago, currently struggling to lift less than this

My body type is much more ‘powerlifter’ than ‘runner’, so no real surprise how much I love it. I have been following specific strength programmes for a few years now. Initially following a split strength push/pull/leg programme, I’ve got more into Olympic lifting recently so my programme is more focused on improving the snatch, clean and jerk movements and each training day involves a combination legs, back and upper body in some way. I prefer this to the split session, as the full-body DOMS is still relatively light. I used to do leg days where running afterwards was nearly impossible, which wasn’t always great but has given me quads & calves that are sometimes a bit of a talking point:

QUADS

There is still a bit of a divide between strength & cardio amongst the committed ones, although more and more people are seeing the benefits of complementary training types, & HIIT, CrossFit & other mixed method workouts are popular. The level of strength training that I do when I am not marathon training is difficult to maintain alongside this much running – I am looking forward to the strength goals I’m going to focus on after the marathons. But strength training is so good for running form – improved core, less fatigue, stronger leg muscles, & lifting is still good for your cardio fitness. It’s good to see so many runners incorporating strength sessions into their training plans, & occasionally too when weightlifters see the benefit of an easy 5km every now & then.

#juststrongteam

I do like being strong, & I am thrilled that more & more women are getting into serious lifting. It’s really important for long term health, as well as functional strength & looking awesome.

I’ve been wearing Just Strong clothing for a few months now & am really pleased with how comfortable it is & how good it looks – & best of all it’s a women-run business. If you fancy some new gym gear, treat yourself here!

Achieving goals makes me feel good & powerful, & running goals are awesome, but picking up nearly double your own body weight is a thrill like no other. I hope I keep getting stronger & those gains keep coming.