Find a Winning Community: Spandex Optional. Why More Woman Should Consider Strength Training

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People tend to perform best and feel their best when they know they’re a part of a community.

Photo Credit: JD Hancock

This sentiment is true in almost any context whether referring to AA, drama club, team sports, galactic Empires, or hell, even one of those super secret societies, like in the movie Eyes Wide Shut. But it’s especially true within fitness circles.

It’s in fitness where people can commiserate in unison through a brutal squat session, conditioning circuit, or a random CrossFit WOD of muscles ups paired with running over your right arm with a Prowler for AMRAP.

In short: If you’re part of a (fitness) community you’re more likely to see things through, build an increased sense of perseverance and resiliency, and less likely to give up.

Too, you’re more likely to see the fruits of your labor; I.e., results!

I can attest to this phenomenon via my affiliation with Cressey Sports Performance for eight years, as well as my past experience training at South Side Barbell, a powerlifting gym formerly located in Stratford, CT.

When you train around like-minded individuals (or train with a purpose) great things happen.

CrossFit Gets All the Hype

There’s no denying the overwhelming sense of camaraderie and community that CrossFit has been able to establish amongst its fans and members in recent years. It’s something I commend with vigor.

Nothing has gotten the barbell in more people’s hands – especially women – than CrossFit.

However there’s another fitness “faction” that’s been doing the same thing for years, and one I feel is every bit as motivational and a champion of community as CrossFit.

Maybe even better in several ways.

And it’s a community I wish more people – especially women – would consider.

Drum roll please……..

Powerlifting (But Really, Strength Training In General)

Fear not ladies! I know the word “powerlifting” is often synonymous with “I’m not touching that with a ten foot pole.”

Besides, handstand push-ups and cartwheels look a helluva lot more fun than grinding out a heavy deadlift. I get it.

Plus, the word itself – powerlifting – reeks of intimidation and infers something only advanced lifters dabble in.

Relax. Deep breaths. There’s nothing advanced about it. At it’s base level..all powerlifting really means is strength training.

Besides, what follows assumes that you are equipped with some very basic tools: a working knowledge of gym lingo (you know the difference between a set and rep, can differentiate between a squat and a deadlift, and understand that the word “muscle confusion” is moronic). Also: if you recognize that this picture…..

 

…is of a dumbbell and not, say, a stapler…we’re good, and you can safely proceed knowing you’re not going to be over your head.

Why More Women Should Powerlift/Strength Train

Okay, I lied. There is a teeny tiny degree of intimidation tied to powerlifting. I mean, I felt it the first time I ever visited South Side Barbell with Eric Cressey back in 2006.

I had just moved to Connecticut (where Eric and I were working and living together) and I tagged along with Eric to South Side to get a lift in. Note: Eric was a competitive powerlifter at the time.

I remember walking through the doors the first time into a room full of 280+ lb giants warming up with my 1RM. Intimidation doesn’t begin to articulate what I was feeling. I was trying every trick in the book not to destroy the back of my pants.

Moreover, as the weeks passed, I had to “wear” the not-so-subtle ball-busting…you know, being the skinny, veiny guy and all. But it didn’t take long for me to be accepted and to feel as if I was part of the group; part of a team.

Likewise, it didn’t take long for me to understand that it was one of the most giving and educational experiences in my lifting career, despite not competing.

To reiterate, though, you don’t need to train AT a powerlifting gym in order to strength train. You can do it anywhere.

Also, on an aside: Spandex (those silly singlets) are only needed to compete.

1) Community

This is very much on par with CrossFit. The powerlifting community is a generous one, and one that will always give back (assuming you’re someone who will show up, do the work, and take a role as part of a team). Basically you need to give too, and not just take.

And like CrossFit, when you’re surrounded by like-minded individuals it’s pretty much impossible not to see results.

Cressey Sports Performance coach, Tony Bonvechio, started the CSP Women’s Powerlifting team a few months ago and when I was still there I saw firsthand how empowering and invigorating it was for the women who took part.

 

It was awesome to see them train as a team, and to watch them coach and cheer one another as they continued to hit PRs.

The “community” element can’t be understated, and I’d encourage anyone reading to seek out a facility or group to work with, even if it’s only 1x per week. It’s worth it.

2) Purpose

Admittedly, not everyone is going to have easy access to a facility or group of people who like to powerlift and/or strength train. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t reap the benefits.

Following a powerlifting/strength-centric program gives people PURPOSE in their training; a goal. It helps to take away the notion that progress (or results) is dictated by what the scale says or what the gossip magazines like to portray as the ideal body type.

Instead, powerlifting (like CrossFit) places higher credence on performance-based goals, which to me has a greater carryover to long-term, consistent progress than anything.

It’s funny: when things start to click and a woman latches on to strength as a positive thing – and not something to be condemned – many of the aesthetic markers she may have be working towards for years with little or no result begin to manifest.

It becomes less about “look at me, I’m hot. Do you think I’m hot? I’m hot, right?” and more about “look at me, and this deadlift PR I just smashed.”

3) Technique

By now some of you may be thinking:

“Well, it seems there’s not much difference between CrossFit and powerlifting in terms of advantages. So, why not just CrossFit?”

This third point is where I feel the two start to separate themselves.

Disclaimer: Yes, CrossFit, I know plenty of coaches and boxes you coach their athletes/clients up well, use intelligent programming, and take the time to properly ramp up or progress individuals based off ability level, goals, and limitations.

But lets be real: that’s the exception and not the rule. Because, CrossFit.

 

The overwhelming mentality is “lets do stuff because it looks cool and because it’s hard1” rather than “lets do stuff that will make people better, educate them, and allow them to build some semblance of fitness autonomy.”

As Dean Somerset noted recently:

“The benefits of learning technique for outweigh the benefits of simply doing an exercise. Using powerlifting principles to teach positioning, bracing, and organization to perform a lift helps to limit secondary movement from joints that shouldn’t be causing the movement, and helps reduce the likelihood of problems down the road.”

The principles of powerlifting help to build proficiency in the “big 3,” which makes the learning curve when introducing new movements much less of a barrier.

You learn to become your own coach.

Unapologetically Powerful

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Jennifer Blake and Jen Sinkler have constructed a resource – Unapologetically Powerful – I feel will help a lot of women understand the power behind powerlifting. <— See what I just did there. Clever, right?

I mean, why should you have to “apologize” or feel ostracized because you’re strong or want to be strong?

They help to make powerlifting more accessible to women and less intimidating. Here’s what’s in the program

  • A comprehensive training manual that includes Beginner and Early Intermediate 12-week powerlifting programs with a detailed introduction to biofeedback training.
  • An extensive guide on how to compete for first-time powerlifters who want to step onto the platform.
  • A complete exercise glossary with clear-cut written coaching cues and images.
  • A MASSIVE video library of more than 140 exercise demonstration videos. Every movement in the program is in the video library, with detailed coaching cues to walk you through each exercise step by step.
  • A revamped version of Lift Weights Faster geared specifically toward powerlifters.

Unapologetically Powerful is on sale for HALF OFF now through midnight Friday, December 11. For more info, click HERE.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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