Girls Gone Strong

I bet its safe to say that if you are a woman who doesn’t have a background in strength and conditioning and you are reading this you have fallen victim to the stigma that lifting weights makes women big and bulky.  Now I’m not going to lie to you and say it doesn’t but that all depends on how you train, what your definition of bulky is and whether or not you take male hormones.

In actuality there is a HUGE limitation for women when it comes to getting jacked like like a dude and that is testosterone.  It is what keeps men naturally leaner and more muscular.  Coincidentally, strength training has been shown to slightly raise testosterone levels in women which is just enough to help you get leaner and stronger but NOT ginormous muscles.

Honestly I could talk for days and spout off study after study that shows the benefits for of strength training for women with moderate to heavy weights.  The only problem is that at the end of the day I am still a guy and all I know is what I read and the anecdotal evidence from training hundreds of women for the past 5 years.

Instead of taking my word for it, I want to introduce you to some of my friends who happen to be some of the strongest women I know.  They all know how to crush some huge weights and look damn sexy doing it.  So to finally squash the myth that lifting heavy(er) weights is bad for women, they formed a Facebook group called Girls Gone Strong.  Their mission is to show women that being strong is sexy and redefining what it means to train like a woman.

Alli McKee

Alli is a strength coach, professional figure competitor, and co-founder of Girls Gone Strong.  Check out her blog at www.allimckee.com.

I began strength training at age 15. I took a bit of a break from the gym while I was in college and got heavily into running and long distance races. Post college I stepped back into the gym and have since programmed my training for performance, strength and body composition optimization. I trained with great partners for a few years and have spent the last year training solo with the programming designed by a phenomenal coach. I have enjoyed both styles. I enjoy the solitude during training but also enjoy the social aspect, bonding and external push when training with others. 

These days, I continue to train strength & conditioning 2-3 days per week, hit a full conditioning day 1 time per week and get an outdoor run of 3-7 miles a few times per week. I make sure I have one day completely off during the week for added recovery.  

Among the psychological benefits, strength training benefits women from the physiological responses, physical developments and body composition as well. Women by nature, tend to take care of so many others, I firmly believe it’s a great way women can give back to themselves. To me, whether social or individual, training is a time women can spend on themselves, it’s an investment they make in the longevity of their health and their physical ability. I have found that every woman who trains strength also builds a sense of pride and confidence in herself.  

As for female athletes, it is IMPERATIVE that they train smart and hard. Females NEED to train as hard as they are going to play or compete. One can not have a watered down training program and expect to run with the other elite athletes. Female athletes must develop strength, power, speed and agility or they will fall short. Even if they are a genetic studette, they risk falling short of their PERSONAL POTENTIAL if not training appropriately. Simply put, strength and conditioning is not just for the big boys. Injury prevention is equally important as females tend to have a higher risk in knee injuries. Females need to learn how to lift and move properly. If a sport is their passion and it’s their aspiration to be at the top of their game, then they need all components to get there which includes smart, effective and hard training.  

Unfortunately, too many girls / women find themselves conflicted by the fear of losing their tiny, feminine build. It is not likely that training will make you “bulky”. Of course, who am I to define someone’s perception of “bulky”. That said, body fat is what makes you look bulky. When you are lean, you look muscular, or “toned.” It takes a lot of time, hard training, the right nutrition and the right program for anyone (male or female) to put on muscle / lean body mass. Some may have genetic advantages, but it’s still not an easy accomplishment. Women are not likely to put on a ton of mass. Not to mention, lean body mass is great for your metabolism, your strength / performance and your definition / “tone”. Aside from your smile, muscle tone is a beautiful curve. I think the fear of “bulky” has become such a buzz word and too many women are misinformed. Again, if you want to be lean and avoid the “bulky” look, you need to dial in your nutrition – as you should be anyway for all the many other health benefits with regards to the fitness enthusiast female and the vital benefits for the elite athlete.”

Nia Shanks

Nia is an elite personal trainer and contributor for Experience Life MagazineFit Girl WorldBodyBuilding.com, EliteFTSMuscle and Strength, and TMuscle.  Her book/program: Beautiful Badass has helped women (and men) of all ages achieve their their strength and fitness goals.  She is also co-founder of Girls Gone Strong.  Check out her blog at www.niashanks.com.

“When I first started lifting weights over 10 years ago, my sole reason for doing so was to look better. However, as the years went past and I learned more and more about fitness and nutrition, my reasons for lifting heavy weights gradually changed.

Strength training has been a major part of my lift for over a decade – not just because it’s my career, but it’s helped shape me as an individual. You learn a tremendous amount about yourself when you spend a lot of time under a heavy barbell and challenging yourself with various feats of strength.

I encourage every woman to start strength training (squats, deadlifts, push-ups, rows, chin-ups, presses, etc) and consistently challenge yourself and focus on getting stronger. Your only concern at this moment may just be to look better, but I guarantee you’ll learn a great deal about yourself along the way and discover the additional amazing benefits strength training has to offer you, mentally and physically.”

Marianne Kane

Marianne is a Staff Nurse in a busy Cardiac Surgery ward, personal trainer and Kettlebell Instructor, writer and co-founder of Girls Gone Strong.  Visit her site for great fitness info and kettlebell workouts at myomytv.com.

“Basically, I started training to help relieve the symptoms of my inflammatory Arthritis. I later started Strength Training as a way to get leaner about 3 (ish) years ago. However since then, my opinion of weight training has changed dramatically; from seeing it as a way to assist fat loss and ONLY to look “better”, to a way that I can DO MORE, do it BETTER and feel confident in myself. Looking leaner turns out to be a pretty nifty byproduct anyway!! 

Without Strength Training and my Kettlebell / Body Weight Workouts, I would NOT have achieved half of what I have today. On the back of this love for training hard, I started Myomytv and, 2 years later, it has become a community of otherwise normal people who now push themselves to perform better and get stronger, at home! I am also super lucky to be part of the Girls Gone Strong movement and “our” Community, which is helping dispel the myths of female strength (training and otherwise).

My advice to any woman out there who is hesitating on how they “should” train or being intimidated by the weights room is to start increasing your expectations of yourself, because you can do more than you know. Once you start progressing in those exercises and adding more weight, your body AND MIND will change for the better!”

Julia Ladewski

Julia is a Sports Performance Coach and former Division I Strength Coach, athlete, mom, expert on all things women’s fitness and co-founder of the movement Girls Gone Strong.  Check out her blog at JuliaLadewski.com.

“I first got into weight training in high school. It was a 1 credit course my sophomore year and I fell in love with it. Mostly because as I watched the 3 other girls in that class moan and groan about the weights being too heavy, my best friend and I were box squatting 200 pounds and benching 115. I felt accomplished… I could see my successes on a daily basis. Something that I was putting a lot of hard work into was paying off.

I saw the carry-over to my athletic career of volleyball and track. And when my collegiate track career was over, you could still find me in the weight room. I wasn’t about to walk away from something that changed my life in more ways than one.

To me, training is more than just trying to look better. Training is more than just getting stronger or faster. It’s a bond that my family, including my two young kids, will have forever. It brings a level of empowerment that i can’t really put into words. Training has given me the confidence to literally do anything I put my mind to… If want to run a marathon or do a powerlifting competition or even a figure show… I know I could do it. Sure, I’d have to train for it, but now I know that my body is capable of so much more… And I’ve trained my mind to go beyond what I think I can do.”

Molly Galbraith

Molly is co-owner of Red Point Fitness, an online nutrition and training company, co-owner of J&M Strength and Conditioning, a studio gym that offers private, semi-private and group personal training classes, and a co-founder of Girls Gone Strong.  Check out her blog at www.MollyGalbraith.com.

“I was a competitive gymnast and cheerleader growing up and I got away with my horrible eating habits for almost 10 years because of my constant activity. My weight fluctuated quite a bit after that and I ended up quite heavy and miserable in 2004 at age 19. I got very frustrated with myself at that point. I was working 2 jobs, taking 18 hours in school, had a lot of friends, a great social life and to be honest, I was really kicking butt in every aspect of my life except my health and physique. The reason this frustrated me so much is because the two things you have control of in your life are what you eat and what you do with your body. You can’t always have control over your boss or your family or your teacher or your friends, but you can absolutely take control of your nutrition and exercise.

At that point I decided to hire a trainer and start working out and cleaning up my diet. Of course, at the time that meant going from McDonald’s 3 times a day to turkey sandwiches and Gatorade, so it wasn’t ideal but at least I was trying. Over the next year I absolutely fell in love with training and nutrition and started reading everything I could get my hands on as well as spending as much time as possible around people who also felt passionately about those subjects.

Here are 12 simple but important reasons I love strength training:

  1. It’s just awesome, plain and simple. 
  2. It is one of the best and most efficient ways to get lean. 
  3. It’s an amazing confidence builder, especially for women. 
  4. It gets better results in less time than just doing cardio or lifting light dumbbells. 
  5. It teaches discipline, focus, determination, goal-setting, and persistence. 
  6. It not only gives you a strong body, but it encourages a strong mind as well. 
  7. It gives you curves in all the right places. 
  8. It helps build bone tissue and will help keep your bones healthy and strong as you age. 
  9. It also helps build muscle tissue that will increase your metabolism and keep it from declining as you age, allowing you to continue eating lots of yummy, clean food while staying lean. 
  10. It helps prevent injury and promotes good posture (when done correctly).
  11. It’s makes you a great role model for young girls as it allows you to show them that being active and strong is cool, as opposed to being unhealthy and starving yourself for an unnaturally thin look.
  12. It can be a great stress reliever! (Just don’t use it as your sole source of stress management. You can easily burn out that way).

Almost every woman I know who has started strength training correctly has fallen in love with it! Their clothes fit better, they confidence increases, their sex lives get better, their relationships improve (probably from an improved attitude and sense of self) and it makes them feel more alive! Whether you are 17 or 70, strength training will benefit your entire life immensely. Oh, and did I mention you can actually eat MORE and get LEANER when you strength train regularly? ‘Nuff said.”

Neghar Fonooni

Neghar is a performance training specialist, RKCII instructor, writer, athlete, nutrition enthusiast, mother and U.S. veteran.  She is also a co-founder of Girls Gone Strong.  Check out her blog at www.negharfonooni.com.

“I’ve been an athlete as long as I can remember. I’ve always enjoyed being active and playing sports, particularly softball which I played competitively for 10 years. I never minded getting dirty or being uncomfortable; in fact, I found it to be quite fun. Training, however, was not something that was inherently a part of my life. I grew up being the only person in my family who was ever fitness oriented, and without that active influence in my home the gym was a very foreign place. I emerged in the weight room at 16 years old, with no guidance, no education and the sole intention of looking better in a bikini. Let’s just say the genetic cards I was dealt weren’t the absolute best. I was always the “thick girl” in the group, unable to share clothes with my “skinny” friends and living in fear of what my father proclaimed: that one day, I’d have to be greased through a doorway. I love food and I have a dense build, so exercise was definitely in order. I exercised regularly, never hating it but never truly loving it either. I had no way of knowing that what began as an act of desperation and insecurity would grow to be a source of passion and extreme self worth.

Upon graduating from high school, I decided that I enjoyed working out enough to teach other people. I took a job as a personal trainer at Bally Total Fitness and tried to find my way in the training world. I grew to truly love exercising, but still lacked direction. Of course I didn’t know it then, but looking back I really had no idea what I was doing.

I spent the next few years as a misguided trainer and lackluster athlete, until 9/11, at which point I made a decision to join the military, where I spent the next four years. In 2006, I’d just gotten out of the Air Force, and had just had a baby, gaining 50 pounds during my pregnancy. Struggling to feel like my old self again, my confidence was low and my body fat was high. At this time, I began training clients again part time at a local gym, casually lifting light weights and spending excessive amounts of time on cardio machines. I soon met a fellow trainer there who would help shift my paradigm, and send me on a journey of strength; a journey which would lead to self discovery. He showed me what it was to really train as opposed to exercise, teaching me compound movements and challenging me to put more weight on the bar every week. Bottom line-he believed in me more than I believed in myself. I soon realized that I had strength waiting in the wings; that my dense build could be used to my advantage. I learned to embrace my body for what it could do instead of how it looked. I learned to love my “thunder thighs” as they had been (endearingly?) called in my youth. I stopped caring about being skinny, stopped comparing myself to other women, and in return I earned a body that I could be truly proud of. 

Through this journey I have grown to love myself. I’ve gained immeasurable confidence and self worth through training-more than I ever could have envisioned the first time I stepped into that weight room so many years ago. Today, I am consumed by lifting heavy. I am constantly challenging myself, setting new goals and working towards improving movement, strength and power. As a single mother who runs her own business, strength is an integral component to success-both extrinsically and intrinsically. My physical strength allows me to run my household efficiently without a man, giving me the ability to move and lift heavy objects, and do minor handy work. The mental and emotional strength I have gained through training allows me to get through the toughest of times. I’ve endured more in the last six years than I care to discuss, but training has always been my rock. I can hold my head up, rise above and carry on, all because I believe that I am strong in every way.”

Jen Comas Keck

Jen is an author and contributor to the world’s #1 strength training site, EliteFTS.com, and she also writes a successful health blog at www.JenComasKeck.com. Jen has been published in Muscle & Fitness and has an article coming out in Men’s Fitness this summer. By day, Jen is part owner of a middle market Mergers Acquisitions firm and also does nutrition coaching for a select few. Jen is a co-founder of Girls Gone Strong.

“I was an extremely lazy teenager. At 14 years old I subsisted off of Mountain Dew, Wendy’s and chocolate donuts. I absolutely loathed the idea of physical activity… as a matter of fact I failed gym class not once in junior high school… but twice! My boyfriend looked me in the eyes one day and said to me, as serious as can be, “You know, you’re getting kinda fat.”

It changed my life.

I cried for 3 days and then took action. I joined the gym and haven’t looked back. I spun my wheels for years and years wasting time doing way too much cardio. Always wanting to push myself to the next level, I decided to do a Figure show and that is where my love of the iron was born.

My body changed more in a few months of lifting than it had in 7 years of cardio and aerobics and I was hooked! Lifting is a unique challenge unlike any other; it pits me against my #1 competition – myself. I love working diligently towards what only seems to be an impossible goal, like a huge deadlift or unassisted pull-ups, and the feeling of elation I get when I reach it. 

Lifting weights is therapeutic for me. It gives me something to work for that is all for me. It makes me stronger both physically and mentally. Of course, reaping the reward of a bangin’ bod from eating clean and lifting heavy is nice too!

While I love being strong and looking good, I also feel like I was put on this Earth to be an excellent role model and to help others achieve their goals by spreading knowledge about training and nutrition. I feel very passionately about setting a great example and showing women (and men) that training smart and eating right will enhance their health and enable them to lead a happier, more fulfilling life.”

I have to say that these are some of the most inspiring women I have ever met not only in the strength and conditioning field but just in general.  It takes a lot of focus and determination to take control of your life and fitness and strive for constant improvement in all areas.  They are truly badass and I hope this inspired you to take charge!
Here is one last clip of the girls training together last fall.  Incredible.  BOOM.


6 Responses to Girls Gone Strong

  1. all of you ladies are so awesome, and would not be pulling my pants back up , if it was not for you lovely ladies.

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  2. I loved your reading your articles…you ladies all ROCK!

    [Reply]

    fab Reply:

    ops…wrote your 2x

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  3. Thank you for finding time to be an inspiration :)

    As for questions: what is your best advice for a newbie? How to stay motivated and to keep going when results don’t lineup with ‘the dream’ right away?

    O :)

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  4. Olessia-

    If you’re a beginner, I recommend you check out this recent article I wrote: http://www.niashanks.com/blog/11-beginner-strength-training-tips-women

    That should help you out!

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  5. Awesome article! I work with young athletes and a lot of them are young females. Every time one of my girls tells me she doesn’t want to bulk up I send them a link to GGS. You ladies are making an impact on young females and making my job to motivate them a lot easier. My 8 year old daughter told me the other day that “strong girls win!”
    Thanks again and Stay Strong!
    Coach Rick

    [Reply]

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