A Strong Woman and Her Endless Possibilities

I think I knew I wanted to be strong when I threw a boy for distance for the first time.

It was June of 1997, in a little basement of a little farmhouse in a little farming town, out in the middle of the sprawling fields of Iowa. A handful of ten-year-old boys—plus one girl and her little brother—had infiltrated the sweltering subterranean space to secretly watch the Holyfield versus Tyson fight. It was to be a battle of immense proportions—who would want to miss that? Yet, there was time to kill—inferior mortals were in the ring, delaying the battle between the lords of the boxing world.

And what do ten-year-old boys (and one girl) tend to do when left restless, unsupervised, and with access to glorified violence? They wage their own epic battle, of course.

Amid the tussling and screeching that filled the basement, one shrill squeal rang out from the aforementioned little brother as he was helplessly pinned by one of the older boys. So ten-year-old me walked over, picked the boy up off of my little brother, and tossed the boy across the room. The boy turned to look at me, wide-eyed, and said, “Wow! I was just picked up and thrown by a girl!”

You bet your booty you were, buddy.

A Strong Woman Has Endless Possibilities

An Appreciation for Strength—In All Forms

While we all left with our ears intact that day, I think I left with something equally as valuable: an appreciation of being able to handle myself. An appreciation for being strong. (Although, I may have been equally inspired upon hearing my Israeli cousin’s profound statement, “Be strong like cow.”)

Like all things worth understanding and integrating into our lives, strength is a multifaceted concept. There is the nearly unfathomable strength we witness in extraordinary situations—the bravery of a five-year-old girl fighting for her life against acute leukemia who is able to thank God for being her healer as she lies on a table receiving full-body radiation (my sister fought and won that battle, and continues to be one of my greatest inspirations). More often, we witness strength in its more subtle forms—in the quiet displays of willpower and accountability we consciously instill in our everyday choices when no one is watching.

And, more notably, I feel, is our ability to push past our own inertia. Inertia is grounding, safe, known. To breach that barrier and push past our comforts, to begin the process of surpassing our own expectations of ourselves, is the most difficult step. But you start to find that it was the first step that was the hardest. The potential of—or rather, the fear of— failure, is no longer so insurmountable. You have the momentum of your bravery, of your strength, to carry you forth. And when you hit that inevitable bump on your path that could slow you down, the foundation of strength you’ve nurtured will help you to maneuver that obstacle—or, you know, totally crush it into oblivion because you’re just that strong.

The Expectation and Promise of the Iron

Women, enter the most honest and least prejudiced judge of strength you’ll ever meet—iron. Iron will never lie to you, never coddle you. You will love it, spend a great deal of time with it, and occasionally become angry or frustrated with it. But it will not waver, and it will always hold you accountable. When you clean a kettlebell to the rack position with the intention to press it or set up to deadlift a loaded barbell off the ground, the iron expects you to push past its inertia. It expects you to be strong. It demands it.

In a society that doesn’t have a history of lauding the physical strength and prowess of women, our collective inertia is substantial. We are told from a young age that girls can’t do push-ups or pull-ups, that full-contact physical activities weren’t meant for us, and that we are generally weaker in relation to men. Standards are set lower for us, and so collectively, our general inclination is to aim low, or to maybe reach that silly, low-slung standard.

Because to go beyond that would be to push through our own inertia, and that’s just freakin’ hard. It takes internal reformation of the way we perceive ourselves, a complete restructuring of the way we view strength in relation to ourselves as individuals, and a strong sense of self in a society that doesn’t tend to celebrate us when we achieve something iron-strong.

In other words, it takes a lot of the strength mentioned earlier, a lot of mental toughness (see Master SFG Instructor Mark Reifkind’s impressive blog on this topic, applicable to all), a passion for self-betterment—and maybe a little desire to squish those silly, predetermined limits that we women have allowed ourselves to be yoked into. It is also immensely helpful to have a community of like-minded brothers and sisters in iron to learn from, inspire you, and help you along the way. StrongFirst is that for me, as well as for a plethora of incredibly gifted, talented individuals.

A Strong Woman and Her Possibilities

When a woman takes her first conscious step toward being physically capable and more—past her inertia—she immediately expands her limits of possibilities. Because really, if you’re going to contradict what society (and yourself, up until now) has told you you’re capable of, what other awesome stuff can you accomplish? Not to mention that being strong will make many other pursuits of the physical variety significantly easier and more enjoyable. Train hard to play hard.

You may not start strong: you may not be able to do that full push-up (death to the so-called “girl push-ups,”—I hereby decree the demise of that belittling name!), complete a bodyweight pull-up, press a 12kg kettlebell, or deadlift your bodyweight—but barring extraneous, isolated scenarios involving medical maladies, if you put in the time and effort, hone your focus, and apply the StrongFirst concepts to your training, you can get there.

As one of my favorite authors, Paulo Coelho, profoundly stated, “In order for us to liberate the energy of our strength, our weakness must first have a chance to reveal itself.” You can only be strong if you know where your weakness lies—so acknowledge your weakness, thank it for showing you the way to the new, improved you, and then surpass it. Do not simply seek to meet the standard set before you—strive to crush it. If only for the thrill of the chase and the inevitable self-betterment, self-empowerment, and all-around increase in physical health and holistic well-being, do not aim for less for yourself! You will look good, feel great, and be strong as hell.

The only thing stopping you from pursuing and achieving this is fear, laziness, or apathy—none of which, in my most humble opinion, should be acceptable qualities that you nurture in yourself.

At StrongFirst, We Know What Women Are Capable Of

The bar is not set low for men, and it certainly isn’t for women, either. Once you have made the commitment to embrace and pursue your strength, what is the standard you should strive to reach, or for the exceptionally strong or ambitious, to surpass? What makes a woman “strong”?

A strong woman might be able to successfully complete some, if not all, of the following:

  • Three bodyweight pull-ups
  • 1/3 bodyweight military press
  • 1.75 bodyweight barbell deadlift
  • 1/2 bodyweight get-up
  • 1/2 bodyweight swings for reps

Why strive to be strong as hell? Because being physically strong is incredibly liberating, very healthy, and immensely empowering. When you train smart and train strong, you add longevity to your quality of life, make every other physical task easier, and gain an intense, burning curiosity to discover what you’re capable of.

At first, you may look at a weight you deem too heavy and shy away from it. Once you have whetted your appetite with the taste of success, you will begin to look at that same weight and think to yourself, “I bet I can do that.” When this happens, and you have attained a strong understanding and mastery over the skills and techniques of strength and safe training that StrongFirst teaches, you are well on your way to becoming strong. Nurture that ambitious curiosity. It will also will transfer to other parts of your life.

To some, the above numbers may seem unreasonable or too excessive. I feel they’re an honest representation of what women are capable of, knowing there are many very strong women out there that can surpass these numbers.

Yes, minus the extraneous mutants that are out there, getting strong is hard. It takes intense commitment, time, focus, and a hunger to learn. Many women have a misguided understanding of what training heavy does to the female body (we only have so much testosterone at our disposal, ladies—a huge, Schwarzenegger-type physique is not an option for us without supplemental assistance), and a skewed perspective of what a high-volume, low weight protocol can do for their physique (there is no such thing as a “toned” muscle or a “long” muscle—your muscles are the length they are based on the skeleton they’re attached to, and a low body fat percentage will give you that sought-after sculpted look, which lifting heavy effectively helps with).

Educating ourselves and nurturing the necessary fortitude it takes to be strong are the first steps. There are many women out there who have yet to embrace and forge their own strength for fear of failure. Ladies, we must all start somewhere.

Women: Where to Start

First, I would strongly recommend you seek out a certified StrongFirst instructor to assist you with your technique and to help enforce the principles of strength we effectively utilize. There is no substitute for good coaching done face-to-face. If that is not an option for you, that’s okay—the StrongFirst forum is a great way to get some feedback on your training.

Ideally, you will have access to kettlebells and a pull-up bar. If you are a bit more advanced in your training, access to a barbell would be ideal, as well. Pull-up practice, swings, get-ups, and military presses are a good place to begin, with the addition of barbell deadlifts for those who are a bit more advanced.

The Pull-up

If you have a difficult time completing a pull-up, do the following:

  1. Install a pull-up bar in the doorway to your living room, bedroom, or another frequented room (mine is in the kitchen).
  2. Whenever you walk into that room, jump up to the pull-up bar so either your neck or chest is touching the bar, and then slowly lower yourself through the negative portion of the rep. Just one rep is enough, as you will be walking into this room more than once a day.

If you are unable to perform this without assistance, have someone push your mid-back with just enough pressure to help you to the top. If you don’t have a training partner, you might find the use of a stretch-band to be helpful. If you do use stretch-bands, be sure to place a foot in and stand on the band, versus kneeling in it. The kneeling position tends to promote lumbar extension, making the ideal hollow position impossible to
achieve.

Though stretch-bands have a tendency to offer assistance in the part of the pull-up that isn’t most people’s sticking point, it does enable you to get to the top of the pull-up and work this position. Within a few weeks, you will notice this is much easier than it was when you started.

The Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing is an excellent option for conditioning, as well as for all-around strength. If you are starting out, depending on your athletic background you may want to use an 8kg or 12kg kettlebell. Eventually, these weights will feel too light for you.

At first, keep the reps low—you want each repetition to be explosive, powerful, and strong. When you feel your form start to slip, stop. Perform sets of no more than twenty swings. If that feels too easy, then up the weight, if you can do so and maintain proper form.

Doing powerful swings, and eventually heavier ones, will condition you, strengthen your grip and abdominals, and give you a strong, shapely posterior. Eventually, doing heavy swings alone will make your barbell deadlift much stronger. My own barbell deadlift 1RM increased by thirty pounds after a three-month hiatus from deadlifts by swinging nothing lighter than a 32kg during my workouts. So remove thyself from the disgrace of frequenting the hamster wheel, and swing a badass ‘bell instead.

The Get-Up

The get-up is a strong way to work the shoulder stabilizers and effectively target many muscles groups in one movement. The get-up should be performed with no weight at all until proficiency of the movement is achieved, and should be done with careful intention, without the utilization of momentum—this is a grinding movement, requiring strength and focus.

Perform 3 sets of 3 repetitions, right and left, with no weight at all to start, or a weight that is moderately difficult when your skill level has deemed the use of a weight to be safe.

The Military Press

Military presses are a good counterbalance to your pulling practice—and the practice of both will make the other skill stronger. Use a weight you can press three to five times without turning the movement into a push-press, and perform two to three sets in a workout.

When you get bitten by the strength bug, you will want to up your weight. As Pavel has been known to say, “To press a lot, you must press a lot.” So press frequently, using a weight that is moderately difficult.

The Barbell Deadlift

If you are a bit more advanced and have access to a barbell, I highly recommend doing deadlifts. Pavel has outlined numerous times the benefits of the deadlift for strength gains, its ability to transfer to many other lifts and everyday activities, and its ability to target so many muscle groups at once. Plus, there’s nothing quite so satisfying as lifting a lot of iron off the ground.

Be sure to keep the weight light until you are able to complete the movement correctly—without using your low back, keeping your abdominals and lats connected and engaged, and pulling from the hips. (Many find it useful to envision pushing the feet down into the ground, as though you’re attempting to push the earth way from you.) With the deadlift, as with other grinds, you don’t want to do too many repetitions in a workout. So keep the reps low and the weight at least moderately challenging to achieve the greatest benefits of the lift.

Women’s Liberation—Through Strength

This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, my sisters. We all start somewhere, and I believe this is a good place to start. But of course, this isn’t actually where you start—that first step is yours to take. Before you can press, pull, or manipulate iron past its own inertia, you must conquer your own.

It is just the start of an invigorating, glorious, epic journey, that first step. And that’s what strength is—a journey. So surround yourself with those who are stronger, more educated, more advanced, and listen. There is no excuse not to start now, no reason to fear your strength. Embrace it: the time has come to liberate the energy of your strength.

Related Articles

Women’s Fire Academy Training Program While I have a reputation of being a decently strong woman, this was not the initial goal in my training. As a firefighter, I work in a field that is ...
Strength for Women After 40: My Plan and Perspective There comes a time in our lives, almost as if by surprise, when we realize we’re not as young as we used to be. Aging can be a difficult and uncomfort...
How to Build Physical Strength While Hardly Trying Over the last few months, I have performed some lifts I previously didn’t think could be done by a gal my size. After exchanging some emails with Pave...
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, ...
Laura Nepodal
Laura Nepodal has been a strength enthusiast all of her life, and became certified under Pavel as a kettlebell instructor in 2009. Since then, she has assisted at several national kettlebell user courses, as well as at national and international kettlebell instructor certifications, and is actively teaching kettlebell classes and private sessions.

Laura is also currently a student pursuing a degree in kinesiology with intent to become a Physical Therapist.

You may reach her by email at lauramnep@gmail.com or visit her website at Classic Iron Kettlebells.
Laura Nepodal on Facebook

40 thoughts on “A Strong Woman and Her Endless Possibilities

  • Excellent article. Very well written on two levels, entertaining and informative. Thanks.

  • Hi, my girlfriend has been focusing on back squats recently. She worked up to a 1 rep max of 120 lbs and then restarted at a lower weight (around 60% of her max). She has worked her way back up to now being able to do 3 sets of 3 reps at 115lbs after 2 months, but I’m wondering if these low reps aren’t very beneficial as the weight is so low. Should women focus on high volume training for squats (e.g. 5×5) or are low volume, high intensity workouts just as beneficial for women as they are for men at the end of a cycle?

  • Nice article. Got the pull ups nailed, working towards the rest.

    I assume you mean military pressing a KB with one arm for a third bodyweight? Rather than a bar – because that would be disproportionately easy compared to the rest.

    Thanks.

    • Lynn – Thank you, and nice work on the pull ups. Yes, one-arm kettlebell military press is what I meant. Good assumption – sorry for the lack of clarity!

  • Loved this post. I strive to get stronger and one thing I have not conquered is the Pull up. 3 days ago I wanted to change this and made a simple pull up plan. I have a pull up bar in my basement and everyvtime I go downstairs I have to do a pull up. I could not do one the first time. Negative thoughts took over, and wanted to give up as I felt weak. Next trip downstairs I changed my attitude and didn’t give up and just about brought my chin over the bar. By the final Then next day full pull up! Only can do one each time but it is a start! I will conquer this ! My goal is 4 pullups in a row! Thanks for such an amazing post!

    • That is awesome, Nancy! Well done! Consistency is so key, which you clearly understand. Thank you so much for sharing! I have no doubt you’ll get your four pull ups 🙂

  • Hi Laura, that’s make sense, don’t have any idea of how many ” ladies ” are SF in USA and worldwide. I think I am the only one in Australia ( RKC recognition ).
    I feel alone on the forum !!!
    What a nice reply Matt !!! Not usual, thanks.

    • Christine,

      At the very least, on the forums you are always amongst like-minded, strong people who are behind you and your strength goals utterly and completely – and who understand our unusual, brutish mindset. 😉

  • Shift happens! Strong Ladies inspire me. Pursuing goals in defiance of convention. I’m proud to lift like a girl.

  • Beeing strong is the best way for me to be respected and trusted, at getting older, it is an everyday challenge.
    I want to die on my feet.
    Not a lot of ” ladies ” posts on the forum, do you know why ?

    • Christine – Unfortunately we are still the minority by a landslide (women who train to be strong, that is). The lack of quantity of women that post on the forum is at least largely made up for by the exceptional quality of the dedicated women whom pursue strength. In time though, I think more will come… We just need to encourage that shift to happen. 🙂

  • Love this post. Laura- thank you for sharing a bit of yourself & for writing such an empowering piece on women’s strength. So many awesome nuggets in here but I love the paragraph that starts with the quote from Paulo Coelho. Great stuff.

    • Thank you so much, Valerie! You embody SO many of the qualities I included in is article – to have you share such kind thoughts truly means a lot. Thank you. 🙂

    • Thank you, Mark! I love that both men and women are able to take someone away from the article… Thank you for your support!

  • “but oh, barring extraneous, isolated scenarios involving medical maladies, if you put in the time and effort, hone your focus, and apply the StrongFirst concepts to your training, you CAN get there.” Absofreakinglutely

  • Great article. I have a difficult time getting women to understand the importance of strength. On a side note, you’re from Iowa? I grew up in Sloan and live currently in Cherokee, where are you from? Iowans are a strong breed!

    • Thank you, Travis! I appreciate your support.

      My mother grew up in Clarinda, Iowa, and I still have family back in those parts. Iowans ARE a strong breed; a bunch of that from my mother, plus Polish/Israeli blood from my father’s side – I was destined to lift heavy things. 😉

    • Such kind words, coming from one as incredibly lovely and immensely strong as you, Karen! Thank you… 🙂

  • Strongly written, Laura!

    ” … that first step is yours to take. Before you can press, pull, or manipulate iron past its own inertia, you must conquer your own.”

    Absolutely!

    -S-

    • Thank you, Rif – that means a great deal coming from you. Your articles and insight are always a highlight and an inspiration to me.

  • This is a great article and I will pass it along to my ‘sister’. Your ‘Schwarzenegger-type physique is not an option for us’ comment is spot on. Keep up the excellent writing and look forward to more info from you and the rest of the fine folks at StrongFirst.

    • Thank you kindly for your words and support, Jayson! There will be more coming from the StrongFirst crew, absolutely.

    • Thank YOU, Cole! I so, so appreciate it, and I’m so glad you got something out of it.

This article is now closed for comments, but please visit our forum, where you may start a thread for your comments and questions or participate in an existing one.

Thank you.