Building Emotional Strength through StrongWoman Training

In January of 2013 I bravely stepped into a CrossFit box and faced my fears to start the sport of fitness. For nearly a year I WOD’d with the unadulterated support and encouragement of everyone in my life. Although I enjoyed many aspects of CrossFit, including the community and especially the lifting of heavy things, I really struggled with the lengthy metabolic conditioning (metcons). I struggled physically and emotionally. No matter how long I crossfitted I wasn’t seeing significant improvement in my conditioning. My running sucked. In fact, before I transitioned to StrongMan ( strongwoman ) training I had shinsplints and still could not maintain a jogging pace for more than 300 meters. I was experiencing anxiety attacks through long WODs either caused by or resulting in being short of breath.

Beaming with my first heavy dead lift in early 2013

I was desperate to do more of the things I loved, lifting heavy, while not doing the things that caused my body pain. That’s when I decided I Wanted to be Strong. So I started training with a StrongMan coach who had inspired the change in focus. I started coming in for the adhoc open gym times, attending CrossFit less often and focused on building strength. At the beginning of this year formal classes for StrongMan were formed and I was the first to sign-up and attend, this is when I officially quit CrossFit and started training to be a Strong(wo)Man athlete that resulted in my first StrongWoman title win, in the heavy weight women novice division.

Then something weird happened.

Despite no longer hurting emotionally and physically from being unsuccessful at the metcons and running in CrossFit and feeling great and proud, some of that wonderful support and encouragement suddenly became words of concern about my new sport. I started getting comments about “being careful”, the sport being dangerous, and random passive aggressive notes regarding potential injuries. Wait, what?

I’ve never had better form than with the dedicated support of the trainers that have taught the StrongMan classes. I’ve become more in shape with better athletic conditioning in a few months with StrongMan than I obtained over the course of a year of CrossFitting – in fact, the few CrossFit WODs I’ve done since training StrongMan have all had me coming in top on the leader-board, something I never saw when I was CrossFitting. The fact is, when I’m stronger, when I’m using better form, when I’m more in shape – there’s less risk when working out.

Deadlift Diva on PaleoParentsInterestingly, my deadlift PR celebration dance appears to be consistent

I am a woman, maybe that’s the problem?

Honestly, it’s pretty silly for me. I know, without a shadow of doubt in my mind, that I am happier, more fit, more strong, and more safe than I was after CrossFitting for a year. Is that the case for everyone? Absolutely not! For lots of people CrossFit is perfect for them, and that’s great. But StrongMan is what I’m built for, it’s what I’m personally interested in and connected to. But because there were “prescribed women’s weights” and popular, attractive, feminine women in CrossFit I think it made people less uncomfortable than my participating in the sport of StrongMan.

So I’m ready to breakdown the barriers and call the passive aggressive nay-sayers out of the shadows. Mine is a legitimate sport. And if I don’t go to Nationals in 2014 I most certainly will in 2015.  I am an athlete. I can lift hundreds of pounds and move it across a room in mere seconds. This sport is no more dangerous than driving a car and certainly less so than when I was performing less than subpar form in high rep workouts when I was CrossFitting.

Honestly, I look at this from 2013 and am just baffled.
Am I cleaning or dead lifting that bar. Clearly, I have no idea.
Also, holy new leg and arm definition, man. That is certainly the
old me.

But I’m a woman. And I think a lot of men out there are really uncomfortable that I am able to now lift more weight than them. I’d like to give people more credit than that, considering my husband is my biggest fan and I surpassed his lifts months ago (except pull-ups, he will forever have me on those). And my two trainers and most of the people I work out with are men and they are the most supportive, encouraging people I’ve ever had the privilege to be surrounded by. I guess those guys aren’t plagued with insecurity?

If it’s not that, then what else could it be that makes people uncomfortable? My honesty? My willingness to be completely open about everything within this sport? My pride about my “strong woman problems”, otherwise known as bumps and bruises that come with thrusting hundreds of pounds against your body over and over again?

StrongWoman Bruises on PaleoParents

I had been afraid to post this picture, which told me it was something I need to do (since blogging has always been a personal outlet for me). And when I did, Instagram responded the likes of which I haven’t ever seen before:

Several people have recently told me I’ve taken my #strongman training too far, that it’s too much and I’m going to get hurt or even worse, the ignorant “it’s bad for you.” For anyone willing to actually read before they speak, strength training is incredibly wonderful for the body, especially women. Osteoporosis is rampant in this country because women are afraid to lift heavy things. But not me. I know it regulates hormones, helps my metabolism, and makes me feel great! Do some of the people in my sport injure themselves? Sure. But I refuse to live my life afraid. I beam with pride from being able to hit lifts I didn’t think possible. Lifting heavy improves serotonin, leptin, and all kinds of awesome stuff inside the body.

So while you may see me post about my #strongwomanproblems they’re actually me bragging about conquering my fear, fighting through pain to do the impossible.Like yesterday, when I finally mastered the continental axle clean after months of practicing and have this epic stomach bruise to show for it as well as ankle bruises from keeping it tight on the repick. Or those forearm bruises because I’m strong enough to use the men’s log and get a good, deep pressing form. Or those tire tracks on my chest from adding two sandbags to the heaviest tire at my gym in order to challenge myself. All these physical marks are a sign I’m doing it right, giving it my all and investing everything I have into being strong. All of these things are things I’m proud of. All of these things are things I love about my sport. About myself. My skills. My strength. If it makes you uncomfortable, then I suggest not following me anymore because I’m only going to get more bruised up as I become the strongest me I can be – mentally and physically. Thank you to all my inspirations and partners in lifting for helping me find the confidence to love myself enough to gain strength and not be afraid along the way! #strongman #sorryfortheboobagebutitistotallyPG

And I’m so glad I posted that photo, because it gave me such clarity and understanding about so many of the emotional struggles I’ve had since starting to be athletic in general. It allowed me to voice how I felt in a way I hadn’t preivously admitted to myself. And most importantly, it brought out into the open that which hadn’t yet been spoken – that I am proud. I’m proud of the emotional strength this sport has built for me. There is an unblieveable amount of confidence that comes in knowing exactly how strong you are, how much you can surprise even yourself and how much support and encouragement can come from it all.

** By the way, since so many of you have asked, I love Panache Bras that are especially wonderful for big chested women, like myself**

30-Reasons-Women-Should-Strength-TrainIn case you need a visual, here’s 30 Reasons for Women to Strength Train.  I don’t know about you, but if I can:

  1. Reduce my risk of alzheimers
  2. Improve my mood
  3. Get smarter
  4. Decrease my risk of injury
  5. Sleep more soundly
  6. Decrease my risk of osteoporosis
  7. Relieve stress
  8. Burn more calories
  9. Banish belly fat
  10. Reduce my risk of diabetes
  11. Lower my blood pressure
  12. Carry my groceries with ease
  13. Reduce my risk of heart disease
  14. Open my own jars
  15. Feel more confident
  16. Relieve lower back pain
  17. Relieve neck pain
  18. Breathe easier
  19. Improve my balance
  20. Lower my cholesterol
  21. Run faster
  22. Boost my libido
  23. Curb cravings
  24. Reduce my risk of cancer
  25. Boost my metabolism
  26. Look more toned
  27. Smooth celulite
  28. Stand taller
  29. Improve my body image, and
  30. Explore new parts of the gym

You better bet the farm on the fact that I sure as heck am gonna do it, love it, and not give a flying monkey about what anyone thinks about me doing it.

I am living the dream

I know a lot of people come to Paleo because they want to lose weight. They want to look thin. Not me. Even now I have to remind myself of this. I came to Paleo because I was sick. My goal was to be healthy. At 336lbs I wanted to lose 20-25% of my body weight, as that’s what doctors indicated would be a very healthy weight loss for me. I wanted to be able to have energy to play with my kids. Seriously. That was my life goal.

I never in my wildest dreams thought I could be an athlete. And now, look at me. I run multiple businesses, I am a competitive athlete with plans to go to Nationals in my sport. I write books, podcast, train, perform my day job extremely well, and at the end of the day am always thrilled to pick each and every one of my children up off the ground and wrestle and play with them – I have achieved and surpassed any goal I could have imagined for myself.

I significantly passed that 25% body weight goal, after all I weighed my current weight in high school, even with adding muscle mass back on after my unhealthy low in 2012. My goal with Paleo was to be healthy. And now I am. I am incredibly healthy. And I know it makes some people uncomfortable that my body doesn’t look the way that society perceives health to look. And that’s OK with me. Of course I’d like to have less body fat! But I’d also like to have less saggy skin, and less scars from the birth of my children and gallbladder removal, and I’d like perkier breasts from breastfeeding… oh, we’re we not talking fantasies? Because the likelihood of all of those others things happening is about what it is for me to be lean. I broke my body from a lifetime of morbid obesity that started before puberty. But here I am, 4 years later, still 100+lbs lighter and a whole hell of a lot healthier.

What I’ve learned

What all of this has taught me is that I do this for me. I don’t do this for the random strangers on the internet who gasp out of fear and say judgmental things behind my back. I don’t do it for the accolades of friends and family, some of whom have gone from being cheerleaders to concerned naysayers. I do this because it makes me feel good. It gives me health, confidence, and a sense of purpose and pride.

Recently a fellow Strong(wo)Man posted that she was coining the word gymotions for all those extra feelings you have when you are picking up and putting down heavy things. It’s a genius term for something so many of us feel, and hopefully now we all have can take comfort in knowing we’re not the only ones. The good news is, the longer I train the less the gymotions hurt and the more StrongMan gives me emotional strength gains, too.

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  • SunGryphon

    You have always been an epic inspiration to me, Stacy! I’m just waiting for the go-ahead from my doctor to begin crossfitting myself. MY thing that I loved doing back when I was working out was leg-pressing 500+ pounds. I hope to be able to get to that again. Keep it up!!

  • Amy

    Bravo Stacy! Thank you for this article, you are an amazing inspiration!

  • Shannon Ann Kollerer

    Forget the negative nancies!!

  • AmThorn

    LOVE your story! LOVE your style! LOVE your smile! LOVE those for handsome {young} men who support you fully! DO PLEASE CREATE A POST ABOUT YOUR EXERCISE CLOTHES! I would love to see where I can buy such pretty REAL WOMAN size {not XS} exercise tops, skirts, leggins. You go, Strong Woman! <3 🙂 <3

  • AmThorn

    Oh, hi. And by “for” I mean “FOUR.” The 4 men who support you!! Go get ’em!

  • Alethea W

    You are awesome!!!!

  • Christy

    I love you!

  • Jessica Bahny

    Go Stacy, go! You will make it to the Nationals, I know it! Your fans are all incredibly proud of you. You inspire me every day. You’re just freakin’ awesome!

  • Amanda

    Go Stacy! I have nothing but respect for everything that you are doing and thank you for sharing your goals, feelings, and recipes ;). Best of luck to you!

  • Veronica Hummel

    Thanks for this Stacy. You inspire me every day. Keep it up lady. I want to be strong too!

  • Aura

    Hi Stacy, totally off topic, but would you please tell me what bra you’re wearing? As a large chested woman myself, it’s so challenging to find a good sports bra and that one looks good!

  • Angela

    Go Stacy! You are so inspirational in your fitness! Also, I second the post about gym clothes. I struggle to find cute ones that are not made for tiny women.

  • Kim Arnold

    You are AMAZING!!! Keep it up, girl!! 🙂

  • JP

    I lift heavy and love it!! When I saw your pic on pinterest. I was like yeah!! She’s working it!! it’s difficult for some people, men and women, to accept that women, mothers, can just freaking like lifting weights!! I love it!!
    Don’t stop, I am googling Strong Man now to see if I can do that at my box. You know you are so nice to even write a post about this. I say lift heavy, lift often and have fun. Crossfit isn’t the end all and be all of fitness (though I do love/hate it). I’ll take weights everyday all day. Keep rocking Stacy!!! Bravissimo is a great bra!!

  • leslie

    People were saying negative things about you doing this!? It’s such ridiculous nonsense. I think you’re right, people in our society are made uncomfy by strong women. I’ve been following your blog for awhile and am constantly inspired by your stories and jealous of your bruises! I’ve never been attracted to crossfit, but I’m becoming more and more interested in the strong woman stuff. I’m moving and have a baby to have in the fall, but I’ve been thinking more and more about finding a place in our new town to do this next year as I recover from baby body. I may just totally convince myself yet! Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Beverly Achterhof

    Stacy, you’re amazing. These posts are always so inspiring, especially the bit in today’s about refusing to live life afraid. The haters gonna hate, you just have to keep doing what brings you joy!

  • jessica kenney

    Stacy, that is so awesome. I love that part about fantasies. People think you have to be think to be healthy, but I am honestly more comfortable in my skin when I was unhealthy and skinnier. Would I like my post two-baby body to be less jiggly? Sure, but it is a sign that I carried them. A badge of pride, so to speak.

  • Melissa

    I just love you Stacy! You inspire all of us! I’m one of those women with a big chest, some excess body fat and don’t look exactly like what society thinks is “normal” for a healthy person, but I am honestly the healthiest person I know. Posts like yours help me remember that I’m not living to fulfill anyone’s expectations but my own. I have to be the best “me” and mom that I can be and as long as I’m happy and healthy and my children and my husband are happy and healthy, that’s all that matters.

  • Susan Knause

    Great Article Stacy! I saw you at Capital Classic and didn’t realize you were one in the same as ‘Paleo Parent’! I too did crossfit for a year after being a back of the packer overweight, 6′-0″ tall mid 40’s woman and I finally decided to give it up and opt for what my body was built for and loved and I have never looked back! I think all of the forms of excercise have their place and some people really thrive at Crossfit, Marathons, etc. but Strongwomen and the community are my place!! I too follow a mostly Paleo diet allowing for some rice and oats. KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON!! Hopefeully we’ll meet up again – maybe even at NOVA!

    • Absolutely! I didn’t realize you were paleo – so that makes two of us 🙂 Hope to Conan’s Wheel with ya soon at NOVA!

  • Andrea

    You have become my personal hero. Everytime I read one of your inspiring articles, it motivates me!!!

  • Thank you for posting and not being afraid of negative people. You have definitely inspired me, in fact I just went to my first “pick up heavy stuff” fitness class. Although the only thing I could deadlift was the empty bar, I never thought I would even WANT to be a girl that picks up heavy stuff. So thanks for all you do!! 🙂

  • Heidi Jo

    SO AMAZED by your willingness to be vulnerable and overshare. we should all be so bold and confident! thank you for setting a precedent of honesty. i love how genuine and real you are… and that you can shut out the naysayers and move forward with strength, confidence, hope, and courage! you cheer us all on when you stay the course. well done.

  • GilliBean

    Pure awesomeness!!! much respect…i am working toward being my strongest self too. Love it

  • Lew

    People have said the same things to me about CrossFit and roller derby, but I’ve never been fitter or happier. Continue to kill it – you’re a real inspiration to lots of people. P.S. I could give you a run for your money on sports related bruises, but I wouldn’t trade them for the world 😉

  • Stacy, I’m so happy for you! You’ve found what works well for you, and you’re not letting anyone else hold you back. I so badly miss doing heavy workouts – though they were nothing like yours! I also built my own house with my own two hands, and boy – what that a workout! But my autoimmune disease has left my hands badly damaged, and I can’t safely lift heavy weights any more. I really miss it! I always felt so fantastic after doing hard work. I look forward to hearing more about your experiences!

  • Janet Greenslade

    Hi Stacy, I think if it makes you happy healthy and strong how can it ever be wrong. I’ve known people who would moan and complain about paint drying on a wall, they need to get a life because YOU, already have a damned fine one 😉 I would love to strength train, I have always loved lifting heavy things. Does anyone know how to start it for ladies with arthritic hands? Keep smiling Stacy you’re awesome =)

  • A friend of mine has been inviting me to the box she goes to for months now and I think you sold it to me. Don’t know if I should thank you or not for that 🙂

  • Dawn

    I’m a bit embaressed to say this but you are my hero, Stacy. When you first wrote what Matt told you about how some people are built strong I immediately posted it on my wall. I am beginning weight training with StrongWoman as my goal, in part because your honesty and bravery has given me permission to do the same in my life. Thank you for being a shining beacon just by being yourself!

  • Astrologic

    Perhaps the warnings about women lifting heavy things has to do with the vulnerability of our internal organ structures. I worked in the post office one Christmas season, throwing around (sorting) heavy magazine bundles many hours a day. Now I have prolapsed uterus, fallen cervix. Men don’t have to worry about anything like that. Or maybe being extremely fit would prevent that? Just not sure about women lifting heavy things…

    • I’m sorry you are having that experience! I think for me this is why it’s essential to train in a gym with programming and accessory work to tighten and strengthen all the supporting muscles and learn to lift properly.

      The risk isn’t only for women, men experience hernia’s very often as well – they’re bodies are build differently but the same area of their body is also week if not taken care of properly.

    • Kristen (mightymorphinmama)

      Strengthening our pelvic floor is so important, and it doesn’t just happen, we have to be purposeful about it. Deep squats are one exercise that help, but it is important to see a women’s health physical therapist, experienced in pelvic floor health. Then running and heavy lifting will not be a problem.

  • Ami M. Lee

    I know that I get wrapped up sometimes in what other people think. We’ve been paleo (including my three kiddos) since March. Not a single person in the family really understands why we’re doing it, why our kids can’t have normal food, why my kids go on walks, and why my little girl does DDP Yoga. She thinks it’s fun! And me, I have to repair. Like you said, so many years of damage to work through. Whether I get down to a 15 or a 5, I’m just looking to be healthier and teach my kids better so that they don’t go through these same things. I’m considering looking into crossfit. I’ve found that I haven’t really lost weight since I started working out nearly six weeks ago. I’m gaining plenty of muscle. People keep telling me if I complain about a headache or not feeling well…Maybe you should add something back to your diet! I’m only off gluten, dairy, sugar, and coffee and caffeine. Yep…I learned the hardway…. Coffee actually affects me differently than caffeine. I tried decaf and it didn’t work. But anyways, too long of a comment…Thank you so much for posting! It’s so encouraging! <3

  • Annette Holbrook

    I am so proud and impressed with your transformation. Not only that, but the level of honesty and vulnerability you’re willing to share with your readers. I say kudos to you! Thank you for showing us women that there are other alternatives to spinning and zumba, neither of which were a good fit for me. I’m even heavier than you were at your heaviest and at 42, have a LOOOOONG way to go to get “healthy”. I am looking forward to exploring new, but charted territory. 🙂

    • Thank you for the kind words! And good luck with journey!

  • Bethany

    So just want you to know, YOU ROCK, INSPIRE, LEAD, and share your your knowledge and wisdom so kindly. Thank you.

  • Audrey V

    You go girl! I watched your interview with Neely Quinn this weekend for the Womens Weight Loss
    Summit. You are so amazing, smart and full of grace. Thanks for the inspiration! More than anything else, I admire you for following your own path, often against the current tide. Just think about how you have improved the lives of your children through good nutrition, everyone thought you were a nut at first, and now, so many more of us parents have a guide to do the same thing. Thank you.

  • thethriftress

    Like you, I started out doing Soldierfit workouts (similar to Crossfit) before adding lifting twice a week. I get up at 5AM to make those lifting classes and I absolutely love them! I completely understand your love of the sport as well as the admonishments from other people! My Mom is always warning me not to get too “big”. I keep telling her to lift heavy at the gym and ward off osteoporosis but she refuses to listen. My trainer has called me athletic – no one has ever said that to me in my entire life! I am jealous of how strong you are and hope to be there too one day!

  • Laura

    Stacy can you tell me how to go about finding a place to do training like yours? There are tons of crossfit places by me- but like you, I am really mostly interested in lifting heavy thing. Thanks!

  • Elizabeth Villa

    You are amazing Stacy! Thank you for lighting a fire under my ass and inspiring me to be strong!