Strongman athletics: not just for strong men

12654272_10205919541809411_8165835954699245365_n By: Dillon Koon

When one thinks about the strongest human being on the planet, one of the male gender comes to mind. After all, the most recent World’s Strongest Man as of 2015 is just that, a man. When one thinks of lifting Atlas stones, throwing kegs, pressing logs overhead, and deadlifting vehicles, it seems that a man almost always comes to mind. However, some of the strongest humans pound for pound are comprised of a large number of females that often go overlooked in one of the “manliest” sports that have stood the test of time. Having seen a number of competitions from past years online, it is easy to see why females might shy away from the idea of lifting heavy objects. It’s just a manly thing to do, and girls have no place trying this, right? This is absolutely, 100% dead wrong. In today’s society with gender roles becoming more and more blurred, the world of sports has begun to see changes in how athletes of both genders participate, whether its females as college football coaches or players, or women participating in strongman competitions, sports are changing, and it’s about time.

So why exactly do many spectators and outsiders assume that women can’t and shouldn’t compete in strongman? Is it simply the name of the sport? Is it the idea that feminine women shouldn’t test their brute strength for personal achievement? Or is it just because the men that participate are intimidating and should be left to gloat their manliness? The answer to all of these is yes, but each comes from nothing more than assumption and conjecture based on the negative stigma associated with women in the sport of strongmen. While women do not naturally have the testosterone associated with strength found in male athletes, they can still accomplish incredible personal feats both in competition and in the gym with proper training and more importantly, encouragement from other athletes of both sexes. Women have just as much of a place in strongmen competitions as do men, and I believe that women should be included in the reactions of those who hear the term “strongman” all the same.

People seem to assume that you must meet certain criteria to be considered a strongman athlete. These assumptions include, but are not limited to; you must be a man, you must be a large man, and you must be allowed into a strongman-specific gym to train as a strongman athlete. Clearly gender doesn’t matter when it comes to picking up, throwing, or pulling any type of objects, and since the objective of strongman training is to lift odd objects, one can train with nearly anything. Overall weight lifted may have some bearing on how well you are rated as a strongman athlete, but the whole idea of the training and competition is to include the strength of an individual based on weight lifted, either for repetitions or max effort lifts, relative to the body weight of that individual. Weight and sex class divisions give each class just as fair of a chance as anyone else competition in that class, allowing females to achieve a sense of accomplishment and sheer strength compared to similarly sized peers. Do you see this gender inclusion in other professional sports? Perhaps one day in professional basketball, but as of yet, strongman (and powerlifting) is the only type of sport to include athletes of both genders the chance to compete in the same building, performing the same activities, and earn a victory amongst other athletes.

Nobody is perfect, and everyone has their own issues in their personal lives. Both women and men can have hectic work lives, families to provide for, bills to pay, and with any luck, a social life to maintain. Some people get to the point where everything becomes too much, and they need an outlet. Therapy is an option, but is often expensive and can be ineffective. So why then should strongmen athletes not include women? The therapeutic relief associated with expelling pent-up aggression and stress is easier to achieve when pushing your body to the limit in something such as strongman training. To me, this sounds an awful lot like expensive therapies that might not even work, with the added benefit of actual improved body image. Should women be excluded from this phenomenon? I didn’t think so.

“They’ve overcome depression, recovered from bad relationships, improved their body image and somehow translated that sense of accomplishment to other facets of their lives.” 

As a whole, our society seems to believe that females should remain completely feminine, and that getting skinny is the way to get healthy. Even in the realm of sports, women who maintain a muscular physique are often criticized for looking masculine, despite the fact that their musculature is what helps make them great at what they do. Even the widely read Sports Illustrated magazine displays moderately “athletic” women, often with a hefty dose of Photoshop and breast enhancement, neither of which is natural. What makes this acceptable and sought after, while women who train 5 days a week to be as strong as they can and building a naturally muscular physique are seen as inappropriate?

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with women having a bit of muscle and being strong and if anything, people’s comments make me want to do it more”

Says Katherine Bartlett, sitting at a lean 137lbs at 5’6” is a mother and a hairdresser. What makes her different than women of similar stature is the fact that she is one of the strongest women in Britain. She works during the day, takes care of her children when they’re not in school, and lives a normal, happy life. Over the course of her strongman training, she has received much criticism pertaining to her musculature. “I have been called some awful things in the past and people think I am disgusting for my body looking the way it is when I am a woman,” said Bartlett. So why then is it unacceptable for a woman to be strong and muscular while being respectfully lean while some male strongmen competitors can be 25-35% body fat at nearly 400lbs, and nobody thinks twice about it?

The idea that men should be bulky and strong while women should be dainty and timid is a notion that has been crafted through years of media that pushes the “ideal body image”  on women, making them feel that becoming strong is a cultural taboo. Hegemonic masculinity shines bright in the world of sports but as with absolutely any norm within a society, there will always be those that are “abnormal”. In this case, the abnormal are the women who ignore the pressures of media and criticism for their choices and decide to be a flat-out badass. Women work just as hard as men in their careers (or slack just as much, we’re all guilty of it from time to time), and their personal lives, so what they decide to do with their free time should be completely up to them. If this happens to be something that makes them both physically and emotionally stronger, then who has a right to tell them that what they’re doing is wrong? And besides, who says you can’t still wear pink and throw kegs across the room?  Brittany Diamond wears her pink to intimidate her opponents, and is a self-proclaimed “girly girl”.  If that’s not having your cake and eating it too, I don’t know what is.

“It’s different with women. We’re proving ourselves wrong, doing stuff we never ever thought we could do — doing things that no one ever thought we could do.”

All in all, it seems that society has shaped what most see is acceptable for women to look like physically. This oppression is outdated, and is thankfully slowly but surely coming to an end. We are all human, and should be free to do as we please. If that happens to be hanging out with friends at a bar, your pets and children at home, or kicking ass in the gym, then do it, regardless of gender. Women are just as strong as men, and have just as much of a place in strongman as anyone else.


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