It was 7am in Toronto, an early Tuesday morning with one of my clients. We had a great strength portion to our training session and we were wrapping up with prowler pushes – a crowd favourite.
At the end of the pushes, my client, a full grown profressional woman, asked me “Hey! Can I sit on the sled while you push it back?” like an excited child asking for someone to push them on a swing.
I am 100% pro-fun and I like a challenge, so I gather all my strength and pushed her as quickly as I could down the lane. It felt like 30 seconds of the schoolyard recesses of my childhood.
Laughing, my client jokingly said “Maja, you are awesome! You’re so strong – I feel like one of the girls that got to sit on Andre the Giant’s arms.” I was flattered and had a good chuckle.
Andre the Giant was rad.
Unfortunately, strong women aren’t always as well-received or understood like in the story I just told you.
A few months later, I was visiting and training at the previous gym where I worked, a nice quiet boutique studio that has everything you need to get strong and a lot of open space. I set up shop in one of the power racks to get to work on the first day of my new 5×5 program.
My first series was 5×5 superset of the back squat and prone leg curl, with a 5-0-1-0 tempo working at 82% of my 1RM. I’m not here to brag, but I consider my prone leg curl to be pretty strong – my working weight was 130lbs – which is equivalent to be able to move another human being solely using my hamstrings.
As I was working between my exercises two other women began doing a ciruit of all the leg machines and started working in on the prone leg curl with me. Their working weight was 10lbs.
Having taken note of the weight I was using to do my leg curls, one of the women started talking to her friend as she lay down on the machine: “Oh my god, look at that, that’s not normal! Who does that?”
She proceeds to try and see if she can move it “I’m using my whole body and all my force and I can’t even move it an inch!” The look on their faces was one of terror and befuddlement.
Somehow my strength was confusing to them, and that was confusing to me. I was a bull that came stomping into their china shop.
The reality is that I mostly live in a bubble – I work and spend most of my days in a gym in the heart of Toronto that is filled with part-time strength athletes and full-time aesthetic kings and queens (a combination of bodybuilders and exotic dancers.) A lot of the people I talk to are very fit and quite often stronger than me, both men and women. Many of us have athletic backgrounds and goals and are continually trying to be stronger, faster, better versions of ourselves which sometimes actually leads to getting stronger than the norm.
Sometimes in my strength-bubble of quadzillas, I often forget that in this country, 50.3% of the female population fall into the category of being “inactive” (according to Statistics Canada. )
When you add on top of that a subconscious acceptance of patriarchy that continually reinforces harmful gender stereotypes (“men should be strong, durable, leaders – women should be small, soft, delicate flowers for the men to protect, blahblahblahblah”) combined with what seems to be a never-ending parade of “celebrity trainers” and so-called experts spewing offensive and wrong information like this:
1) A wide grip doesn’t make you grow wider. 2) I decide what is and what is not feminine to me, not you, silly magazine.
…yeah, I’d be scared and confused too if I saw a woman lifting anything heavier than her bodyweight and she had legs that are thicker than a fashion-model’s waist.
But I’m not scared. I am THAT woman. And I don’t think you should be afraid or confused by me. I am just another person in this world who is doing my utmost best to strive for excellence both physically and mentally while enjoying my life.
By regularly embracing, accepting, and creating my own strength – I empower myself physically and mentally. I’ve created habits that allow me to live free of physical pain and chronic lifestyle diseases like obesity, cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, and osteoporosis. I can confidently say that I can walk up several flights of stairs without having to worry about breaking a sweat or becoming short of breath. I can walk my groceries home by carrying them with my hands because I have awesome grip. I can put together, take apart, and move my own furntiture without being put out of commission for the following week. I have a strong immune system that allows me to contribute to society and allows me to work and take leave when I want to – not because I have to.
I have these things because I am strong and I nourish my body to be strong.
I work hard for all of these thing. I have been consistenly dedicated to making my life as easy as possible through making myself stronger than the things that life throws at me. In addition to having increased physical strength, being dedicated to the training process has helped me cultivate a stronger sense of self and help me achieve healthy self-esteem.
Not only am I capable, but I’m feelin’ myself *Beyonce voice.*
I personally want to live in a world where women (and men too) like themselves and are confident in their abilities because they embrace, cultivate, and use their strength.
And I think it’s time for all of us to embrace our own strength. It’s time to think for yourself, to define what it is you need to live with the quality of life you want to have. And honestly, I think most of you would find being physically strong has a lot of carryover in terms of helping you achieve a lot of those things.
At the end of it all, it’s survival of the fittest, and I’d rather be the bull than be the china.