Female Strength Manifesto

by Josh Hanagarne on August 20, 2010

Update: I had a wonderful reader’s response to this post. When you’re done here, please read this response to female strength.

The majority of my kettlebell students are women. They come to class for what they pretend are many different reasons, but the fact is that they are all there because they want to look better. But the reason they want to look better is usually perhaps because they think they need to look better, usually for someone else. Or perhaps because there are some very skewed norms out there that determine what “better” actually means, when applied to the female body.

I grew up with two beautiful sisters, and I have a lovely wife, but I have never been able to convince any of them that they are anything but fat monsters. It is like they can’t hear me. My life sometimes feels like an endless pep talk as I try to convince the women in my life that they are beautiful enough. That they are strong and desirable and worth so much more than any magazine might suggest. Honestly, I’d probably feel like they do if I was a woman.

They have been taught that female strength is not as desirable as jutting clavicles and pouty lips.

In a recent personal training session, a stunning young woman told me that she is feeling extremely frustrated because she can’t figure out how to lose fat. I would be astonished if this girl has bodyfat above 7%, I am not joking. But it’s not a joke to her.

Because I am a librarian, I usually ask people what they like to read. I can’t help it. Would it surprise you to know that this student of mine says she primarily reads magazines?

Yep, magazines full of those razor sharp clavicles and weak-looking women.

Permission to be strong

I require everyone in my classes to have a strength training goal. It has to be about lifting more weight in an exercise, I don’t care which, but they have to be gaining strength in something that I can measure, not just spinning their wheels and sweating so their damned clavicles will stick out more.

strong woman

My friend Sally from the UK - Strong and Beautiful

And without fail, once a woman realizes that she can deadlift and not turn into a man, or that she can bottoms up press a kettlebell without breaking into a million pieces, or that she can clean and jerk a loaded barbell without sacrificing any femininity, a light comes on. That’s a lazy-sounding trite comparison, but I think it’s the most accurate.

Once they get bitten by the strength bug, they pursue their strength training with a ferocity and dedication I can’t even begin to replicate in many of my male students.

Based on what I have seen, I believe that the best thing most women could do for their confidence is to put on ten pounds of muscle. Nothing looks better. And maybe I’m an oddball, but few things are as attractive to me as female strength.

Ladies, if I could snap my fingers and change the world, you would all be lifting heavy, living happy, and ignoring the unreasonable expectations from the nonsensical world of magazines, movies, and television.

Men and women worth knowing will not be intimidated or terrified of your strength and confidence.

Josh

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

AmyJ August 20, 2010 at 2:30 pm

And everybody said “Amen!”

The stronger I get, the more confident I get. The more confident I get, the better I look. How a woman carries herself is what determines her attractiveness, in my opinion. When I am confident, I carry myself more upright; I look people in the eye; I move with purpose.

No one notices my butt jiggle if they are looking at my face.

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The Naked Redhead August 20, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Love it! I always want to go up to the ladies in the gym who are doing a million reps with the three pound weight and be like, “It’s time for pull-ups, friend.” But, on the other hand, I do enjoy often being the only lady in the free weight section! :)

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Chris B August 20, 2010 at 3:10 pm

For a short wonderful time I worked out at a very small gym (if you wanted a shower when you were done, you told Coach on the way in so he would turn the water heater on for you) where EVERYONE had a bodybuilding/strength focus. No room for treadmills or stationary bikes so no cardio unless you went out running on the road and OUT OF OUR WAY. You could get a spot from anyone whether you were buddies or not and everyone supported everyone else – no posturing (no mirrors). I didn’t realize just how special that place was until I tried to go into the free weight area in a regular corporate-type fitness center as a “girl” (I was 30 fer chrissake!) without a “male escort”. I have never been that STRONG since.

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Rose August 20, 2010 at 3:21 pm

A very good friend about 3 decades ago told me that if I didn’t do pushups, my tits would sag. The pec muscles were part of what were keeping them “perky” as it were. I believed her, and have done pushups ever since.

I didn’t really do any weight training until about 2 years ago. Then I started with a personal trainer. I found I *loved* bench press. And weighted squats. Not so much pull ups, but I’m working on it. That feeling of being strong is like nothing else in the world. I had to overcome a bit of fear, though — not that I’d bulk up, but that I’d drop the bar and hurt myself. I still have a touch of it with the weighted squats. But everything else I throw myself into with gusto.

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Amy August 20, 2010 at 5:26 pm

I love strength training! I am a genetic freak, thanks to the high level of exposure to Agent Orange my father had during Vietnam. I have abnormally high levels of testosterone for a female and when I lift heavy weights I get muscular. I love it though, not only knowing that I’m strong, but seeing all that muscle.

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Andrew Lowry August 20, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Amen brother. I am guy and I love to see muscle flex on a lean female body. Just look at Rosie the Riveter from the War years, she is hot.

Being strong should be the objective of everyone including women.

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cinderkeys August 21, 2010 at 2:33 am

Makes me wish I hadn’t given up working out with free weights. Felt good to do, but such a time suck, and I already have too many demands on my time.

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Heather August 23, 2010 at 5:09 pm

@ cinderkeys—have you tried kettlebells yet? Kettlebells rock! No time suck, it’s fun, and if there’s any chub on your body, it just shplorks off and hits the floor in, like, a month. Josh, please help cinderkeys find some rockin’ kettlebells.

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cinderkeys August 23, 2010 at 5:16 pm

I confess that after all this time on Josh’s blog, I still have no idea what kettlebells are. How are these different from freeweights, and why don’t they suck up as much time?

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Heather August 24, 2010 at 5:20 pm

Baby, baby, baby. . . .you need to check out DragonDoor.com. Here:

http://www.dragondoor.com

A kettlebell looks like a cannon ball with a suitcase handle. It incorporates your whole body and is not only a strength thing, but an aerobic thing too. Ask Josh and he’ll tell ya. Just e-mail him. He’ll help ya. Kettlebells ROCK!

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Ruth October 11, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Look into CrossFit. There are Gyms for it in a lot of places and basically it is SHORT intense workout sessions using mostly freeweights and/or your own body resistance.
I don’t have time to spend hours in the gym either but a good cross fit workout can be 5-15 minutes a lot of the time and occasionally runs 20-30 minutes. So check it out!

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Mark October 15, 2010 at 2:00 pm

+1 on CrossFit. CrossFit ROCKS!!!
I’ve never felt so good and I’m almost 40!

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Todd August 21, 2010 at 9:30 am

Josh, I couldn’t have said it better myself, although I’m working on a post for PhitZone that will compliment your post. I’ll be sure to link to this one. Now, if we could just get more women to understand that the stick figure that they’ve been taught is the roll model, is not what we, as men, want.

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Hillary August 21, 2010 at 9:45 am

love this. the women in your life are lucky to have you for support.

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Mich August 21, 2010 at 11:04 am

I’ve found that some (ok, many) fitness industry folks have yet to wrap their head around the idea that a woman would want to simply lift and get strong but NOT lose weight. I’ve had this exchange with a trainer more than once:
Trainer: “What are your goals?”
Me: “To get stronger and lift more weight.”
Trainer: “Great. I can write a great program for you to lose some weight. I had a lady lose fifty pounds with me.”
Me: *sigh*

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ami August 23, 2010 at 6:54 am

When I trained in martial arts, I got into the best shape of my life – and gained 10 lbs (of muscle). I stopped training when I got pregnant, but while I was training, I loved the feeling of confidence that came from being strong and knowing you could handle any situation. We had to break a concrete block to get our black belts – and when I remember that, I feel like nothing can stop me.

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Heather August 23, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Josh, I work out with weights because I dig lifting heavy things and because I want to look like those women Boris Vallejo draws for all those cheesy sci-fi book covers! I also do it because I have to lift heavy old IBM computer monitors. I also have a huge fear of breaking bones as I age, and muscle aids in bone strength and health. I guess as someone who always had muscular legs, because of dance class, I wanted the rest of me to be muscle-y and totally hot too! I ain’t backin’ off the iro for NUTHIN’ MAN! Western society should ignore those sticks with hair and put more strength models and muscle women on their covers. I’ll take poppin’ delts and a rockin’ v-taper over Kate Moss any day! :)

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MarcoB September 2, 2010 at 4:43 am

I start my female clients off very slowly. I use basic machines because I find it easier to program them on non technical lifts. Getting them in the mindset to lift heavier or try to beat previous bests is what I am after initially. The exercise does not really concern me. It gets them motivated and within a month they are asking me about the big movements.

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Josh Hanagarne September 2, 2010 at 10:26 am

Agreed and agreed, Marco.

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Jenn September 3, 2010 at 9:33 am

I’ve been catching up and just read this post. I love it. It’s so nice to hear this from a man. I quit reading those damn magazines a few years ago and it has done wonders for my confidence. That’s not to say I don’t still struggle when I look in the mirror I do but now I occasionally find myself flexing instead of just picking myself a part. :-) Thank you for this post, Josh.

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Marsha October 11, 2010 at 6:24 am

I love this! It is an interesting thing for me, because I have been on both sides of the fence. I am a Crossfit trainer and co-partner of the “Strong is the new skinny” page on Facebook. I preach strength and I too work hard to get women to see that they will not turn into a man if they lift heavy weight. I lift weight and feel and look better at almost 41 than I ever have. Unfortunately, at times I fall prey to the media as well and I worry that I look “fat” because my arms are not sticks and my legs are not skinny. It’s very difficult in the world we live in, and so I remind myself of these things everyday and I try to see MYSELF the same way I see the women I work with. Thank you for writing this, and thank you for being one of those men that helps empower women! Kudos!

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Louise October 11, 2010 at 9:25 am

Great article, and I love the idea about goals for lifting more weight! What a great idea!! Ok, gotta go share this with all my friends on Facebook!

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Alex October 11, 2010 at 7:45 pm

RIGHT ON. wish I could snap my fingers and change the distortion too, but since I can’t, I’ll change the world one deadlift at a time :)

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