The evolution of female powerlifting resides in our own demographic in that the very act of participation helps promote the sport. A positive connection in the relationships between the older generation and newer generation of this sport is vital in the growth of female powerlifting. Although women have broken through many barriers and overcome many obstacles to take the stage and platform in sports, our social mindset defaults us back to a purely masculine association with feats of strength. Although the exposure of female athletics particularly female strength sports has never been more prominent, the continuity of growth depends on propelling the sports momentum.
Perspective and Opportunity
To understand any experience or how one comes into their own passion, I reflect on my own personal journey into the world of strength sports; particularly powerlifting. I grew up in what I would call a time of “transition” in that legislators finally realized the need for male and female equality in the realm of sports, but the social acceptance still lagged behind. Although legislation equalized the playing field with the enactment of title IX in 1972, many schools did not provide equal athletic opportunities to female athletes until near the turn of the century. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, middle and high schools were forced to move toward compliance. This compliance including providing equal access to athletic opportunities and funding to both male and female athletics.
Crossing the Bridge
Recognition and opportunity for females in strength sports plays an important role toward appealing to younger generations of potential lifters and strength athletes. Admiration of others is the bridge between something we are not and something we want to be. In many cases, the reality of crossing that bridge diminishes with the differences we observe from what we are and those we admire. Potential female strength competitors cannot relate to a male powerlifter who squats more than seems humanly possible. This potential female strength competitor may find difficulty in believing she is capable of participating in such a sport because she doesn’t see the same level of opportunity or recognition. This potential female athlete’s assumption is correct. Young women and girls quickly become discouraged upon discovering that opportunities and recognition are granted in favor of a gender they are not.
When I look back during the time I realized my own athletic abilities (around 1996 or so), I wonder how I found this sport as a female athlete. The answer is simple, I had coaches and mentors who recognized a strength in me that surpassed not only women, but the average man. Before the information super highway known as the internet became prevalent in every home and portable device, I could only admire the female strength athlete in VHS training videos and training books. My first real exposure to female strength athletes came from my father who was a football coach and personal trainer. I grew up in gyms surrounded by the smell of sports cream and rustic gyms. But for many young ladies, this is not a typical upbringing; however, we now live in an age of social media and instant networking
The feminine identity rediscovered
The good, bad, and ugly of female strength sports from CrossFit to female powerlifting has helped promote the awareness of the sport. What I believe will aid in the successful growth of female powerlifting starts in our youth and positive mentors. As a teenage girl on the high school track team, I started reading different training techniques of the throws. I flipped to a page in a
training book my father had given me that pictured a female Russian discus thrower. I noticed her body looked strong. She didn’t have the muscular definition of the typical body builders I saw in all the magazines, she simply looked strong. She looked like me. I knew, as a 16-year-old girl that I could not only emulate her, I could surpass her strength potentially; but, this was a venture I would suppress until I came to love myself in my early 30’s for all I knew was a picture of a woman who looked strong.
Personally, I struggled to find my place in a world that designated my strength to be a contradiction to my femininity. Other than pictures of a strong woman in a discus training book, I had no other women to guide me. As encouraging as my coaches were, even my female coaches offered as much advice as they could, I had no one who could relate to me and my ability as a strength athlete. The conflict between my strength and feminine identity created enough inner turmoil that I suppressed the desire to develop my gift until much later in life. My internal question of conflict of “how can I be feminine and strong” stopped me from exploring my potential. When strength becomes synonymous with beauty, women become empowered by taking ownership of their body, the ability of their body, and the way they use their body.
The influence of female strength athletes on the younger generations of female strength athletes will have a tremendous impact on the future of the sport. Social media and networking is the most important platform to reach future female strength athletes
The instant world of social networking definitely has a significant impact on promoting female powerlifting. Unfortunately, negative depictions of female powerlifting circulate as much as the positives. In my experience, I have had the displeasure of conversations with individuals who completely reject women in powerlifting. Most motivational movements in powerlifting feature the strongest men in the world, but rarely do they feature women. Powerlifting promoters often fail to see that young women are not only watching the public stage of strength competitors, they are inspired by women who demonstrate a seemingly unobtainable strength.
I think our motivating influences start at a young age. For example, when I worked in law enforcement, I was a guest speaker for a young troop of Girl Scouts. I arrived to the gathering in uniform, described my profession, and allowed the young girls to ask me questions. To the parent’s surprise, most of their daughters had no idea women could be law enforcement officers. The young ladies made assumptions based on their limited observations and experiences. The girl’s lack of exposure to women in law enforcement encourage their assumption; however, the lack of women in law enforcement decreased the changes that these young girls would encounter a female officer. This same concept applies to women in powerlifting and their influence on young women and girls.
Strong IS Beautiful
The lack of women in strength sports eludes to the same assumptions in our
young girls and women. The growth of Female powerlifting depends on how well we can reach young girls, teenagers, and women and spark their interest.
Specifically, clinics, classes, competitions, and sponsorships geared toward young female athletes will attract female strength athletes who wish to develop their ability. Making female powerlifting more mainstream will encourage young girls and women to participate, compete, and expand the sport. The sisterhood and support in female powerlifting is just as important to this growth as the ever rising standards we are currently setting.
Samantha Coleman has the highest sub-master total in raw female powerlifting and recently acquired the highest squat of all time in raw female PL. Her world record squat of 655lbs contributed to her a combined all time raw total of 1520. She is only the second female to total 1500 in the history of raw female powerlifting. She trains at the popular Grit House gym in Cleveland, TN and when the weather’s nice, at Dustin Reed’s local garage gym. You can follow her training on: Facebook Instagram Periscope: @colemanstrong. You can also shoot her an email using the contact form below: