How Do You Define a Strong Woman?

Women should be strong because we are capable of great physical strength. Too often, women limit themselves by thinking strength training is for men, or that it will make them look like men. I am here to tell you that is not the case. Get over this fear; we have been fooled for far too long.

Once I got out of the mindset that I needed high reps and low weights, guess what happened? I achieved greater strength gains than I ever thought possible. Many women would rather not try, out of fear of failure. Women need to realize that when they focus on being strong first, they will achieve so much more. Why not be able to lift and move things that need to be moved, instead of having to wait for a man to assist you?

A strong woman performing the get-up

How Do You Define a Strong Woman?

As a woman in leadership for StrongFirst, I have a mission to help other women see that they can be strong. There are many answers to the question, “How strong is strong?”

StrongFirst sets strength standards that are achievable with practice and consistent training. A woman attending SFG Level I will need to military press a16kg kettlebell for 5 reps (if she weighs over 123.5lb) with each arm. Women who choose to advance to SFG Level II will need to meet our standard one-third bodyweight single-arm military press.

In my opinion, a strong woman should also be able to do a pullup and deadlift at least 1-1.5x her body weight. Women can become very strong, so stop making excuses and start lifting something heavy!

Tips for Becoming a Strong Woman

  • Don’t fear bulking, it is not going to happen!
  • Find a trainer or instructor who understands strength program design.
  • Set a strength goal.
  • Strength gains come from low reps and heavy weights.
  • Get used to longer rest periods between heavy sets.
  • Get on the pullup bar often.
  • Find other women who are serious about getting strong.
  • Find a trainer who inspires you and lives what the trainer preaches regarding strength.
  • Stop making excuses!
  • Think of your strength training as a never-ending journey.
  • Age should not limit you from starting strength training.
  • Do not let fear of failure keep you from trying.

Women’s Beginning Strength Program:

The program to become a strong woman
Click on the image to enlarge.
Karen Smith
Karen Smith is a StrongFirst Certified Master Instructor, and the fourth woman to claim the Iron Maiden title. She has been personal training students of all fitness levels from beginners to elite US military forces since 2000. Karen specializes in kettlebell and bodyweight strength training. She is a certified SFG, SFB, FMS, and Battling Ropes instructor.

Karen currently resides in Dallas where she is available for private and group sessions. She is also available worldwide for distance coaching and program design. She travels regularly instructing workshops and StrongFirst Courses and Certifications.

She can be reached at or at her blog, Coach Karen Smith.
Karen Smith on Email

25 thoughts on “How Do You Define a Strong Woman?

  • I’m fairly new to weight lifting and am wondering what TGU 1/1, 5/5 or 3/3 is? I’m thinking it’s a Turkish Get-up but not sure what the numbers mean? Thanks for your help!

  • Thank you for writing this!!!! I am a personal trainer/strength coach and most of my clients are women who have all experienced the FEAR of weights! We need more awareness like this! Stay strong!

  • Hi Karen,

    Your philosophy regarding strong women is spot on. Many of my female patients are “scared” of the weights section of the gym for various reason…thus they are relegated to the cardio kingdom…sigh! It’s VERY hard to convince a woman that maybe cardio is not the best way to get the body she desires. Great article!

    Quick question for you though: On your video showing the single leg deep squat with the KB…I need to ask what the point of such an exercise is. Is it impressive? YES! But it looks and probably is really quite dangerous..You are loading the knee in extreme flexion with the added weight of the KB. And you are also going into a lot of knee valgus to get yourself out of the deep squat. This screams meniscal tear to me. As a manual physiotherapist, this an an arthokinemeatically dangerous exercise because it’s forcing maximal tibial anterior translation or inversely femoral posterior translation with weight, which stresses the ACL and medial meniscus. I guess I just want to know what criteria such as exercise fulfills and if you believe the risk-reward ratio is in favor of it?

    Thanks for writing this!

    Jesse Awenus, P.T

    • Jesse –
      From the video – I can see where you might feel this is dangerous. However,I do not feel that it is dangerous at all when you train with proper form and technique. I agree that this was not my best or normal form for a pistol. I normally train this on a flat surface. During this challenge, I was not sure of the feel of the turf so I decided at the last minute to add a mat. In hind site, the turf would have been better. The padding caused me to be unstable and that is where you saw the Valgus collaps. This was my most unstable Pistol under load, and just happen to be the video of choice beacuse it was taken during the challenge.

      This is an advanced exercise and is great for gaining strength, mobility, flexibitly and balance. I feel the benefits are great and not dangerous as you started. As for the Flexion of the ankle and knee, this also accurs during a Goblet or Front Squat….and is exactly how you would see a baby squat. We are born to squat this way, but we seem to grow up and become disfunctional. There is no need to fear this deep squat movement.
      I would be happy to send you a video of a BW pistol and another video of a loaded pistol done during training.

      The load of the bell you see in this video was for the Iron Maiden Challenge. This was a weight I trained very carefully for over a long period of time. This isn’t just my go to weight for every day. Think about the PowerLifters at a meet…came concept.

      Hope this helps answer some of your questions.

  • Hi Karen,

    Your video and blog is extremely motivating! I said at the start of the year in my kb class that my goal was to press the 24kg. After watching your video I am more than certain I can make it happen. I absolutely love being strong and the continuous journey it takes you on.

    Thanks for the encouragement!

    • Thank you Beth. I love motivating others while I am continually motivated by this amazing Strong community. Keep your focus on your goal and I look forward to seeing you post a video when you reach it!

      Train smart 🙂

  • Karen,
    Do you have a book or anything with your training protocol you used to perform the pull up, pistol and press with 53 lbs? If you do, where do I order it? thank you!

    • Samy –
      I do not have a book out but will be doing a Iron Maiden/ Beast Tamer workshop where I will be teaching these skills and progressions for each. And I will be teaching program design to reach your true strength potential.

      IM/BT workshop schedule:
      OHIO – June 29
      ATLANTA – Aug25
      CALI – date pending

      Feel free to send me an email if you are interested in more details.

  • Karen, we have never met but I have a 16 year old daughter who is a 3 sport athlete in high school I am RKC/SFG certified. I have used you as an example of a model of strength and grace for my daughter to emulate. Abby and I do lots of swings and get ups together. She can press sixteens and get up with 20 . She can 2 hand swing the 32. We train only twice per week due to her sport schedule. I just wanted to touch base and say thank you for being such a wonderful model for young women to look up to!

    • Thank you Steve, that is very sweet. I am happy to help and would love to meet her some day. 🙂 It is great that she is already so strong. I always say ” If only I knew about kbs when I was young”. Just remind her that the sky is the limit as long as she believes in herself.

  • Thank you, Karen, for tackling this topic with a simple message that still seems difficult for many women to absorb and implement. As a female fitness pro, I find it essential to live the lifestyle in order to be credible when telling women that they need to lift heavy, which results in increased independence, confidence, and self-reliance. You have beautifully demonstrated what it means to be a strong woman. Bravo!

  • Great article Karen. 🙂 I’ve been working out with Kettlebells for about 18 months now and have gone from being incredibly unfit (6kg was a huge challenge at the start!) to regularly using 16kg for most excercises. I am still struggling to press 16kg but I’m getting to the stage now where I feel I should move on to 18kg for most of the other excercises. I wasn’t very heavy to start with but have lost about 6kg and am a lot more toned than when I started out. Like you say, it is having the belief system in place – I CAN lift heavier and I CANNOT bulk out. If women get to grips with those two thoughts, the sky is the limit.

    • Olivia – Great Job, you are getting strong and have the right mindset. The sky is the limit and I look forward to hearing more about your journey. Keep up the hard work.

  • When I worked in a Gym what a battle it was to try and convince females that its good to lift heavy weights. They had this silly misconception that they would turn into the incredible hulk embedded in the Psyche if they lifted heavy and it was very difficult to dispell.
    Still today in leisure centres I still see females doing the sets of 12 to 15 rubbish in the hope of ” getting toned.”

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