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 working directly with Mike, the 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 winning the title of NOVA’s Strongest Woman 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 NOVA has 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 @mikelusbystrongman and @carolinemmmhm and all my other 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.

About Stacy

Stacy Toth has written 362 post in this blog.

Stacy is the matriarch of the Paleo Parents family. After beginning a paleo diet and founding PaleoParents.com in 2010, she lost 135 pounds and found health and happiness for the whole family. The following three years have been a progressive journey with a mission to educate people about nourishing their bodies by eating real foods. Stacy can be found on all forms of social media as @PaleoParents as well as the top-rated The Paleo View Podcast and her two cookbooks, Eat Like a Dinosaur and Beyond Bacon.