When I started my training business I really had no direction. I knew what I believed in and how I wanted to train clients but I had a serious bout of imposter syndrome. I felt like a total fraud and wouldn’t even advertise my services with any real enthusiasm because it really felt like I was lying. Even though people were approaching me to train them, I thought people in the industry would just look and say ‘who the fuck does she think she is?’ ‘What has she ever done?’ I was hobbling my own career. I ran a few boot camps and had a handful of clients and I stayed out of sight. The clients I did have were mostly general trainers with a smattering of figure competitors. I was pretty much a jack of all trades trying appeal to anyone and everyone.
I had started powerlifting competitively with relative success and was very much in love with the sport and the process. One particular day a female acquaintance said to me ‘You will have to only train men Tania because no woman really wants to look like you. It’s only men that want to be strong and muscular’ I shit you not and for a while I believed that. I really took that on board. So I just did diets for mainly female clients and ‘helped’ them with their weight loss goals. I fed into their insecurities and their constant battle with self image because I felt that was the only way to keep my business going. After all we all have bills to pay right?
I can’t even pinpoint when it all changed. Change it did though. I must have read something, seen something or heard something because all of a sudden I knew that if I wanted to carry on training people, particularly women then it had to be on my terms. I think I may have stumbled upon the term ‘Strong Is The New Skinny’ and it really resonated with me. I wasn’t a lean lithe body beautiful. I was a growing like a fucking weed powerlifter.
When I did my one and only bodybuilding competition a few things became apparent to me. One was that I had become unhealthily obsessed with food. I knew the thought processes I was having towards food were totally irrational and pretty much on par with an eating disorder and I remember thinking ‘I am 40 years old and I have never had any food issues and I am certainly not about to start now.’ The second thing was I hated feeling weak when I trained. I loved being strong. Yes I looked great….and felt like shit. For me that pay off wasn’t worth a tin pot. For others I know it is and that is fine.
With all that in mind I decided to start up powerlifting classes for women and I called them ‘Strong is The New Skinny.’ I decided to trial it for a couple of months to see how it went. The premise was simple; the class would focus on performance not appearance. It would teach women to be confident in the gym with weights and focus on the squat, bench & deadlift. We would just get stronger. Diet was not part of the program. Our sizes weren’t discussed. The only weight were we interested in was the weight on the bar.
The classes took off like a rocket! I was pretty gobsmacked to be honest. We had women of every shape and size ranging from 16 – 55 who would take over the platform, bench & squat rack twice a week. They learned how to load bars, spot, work as a group, put their weights away. They learned that they had just as much right to be in the gym as their male counterparts.
All the classes took place in the main gym, not a sectioned off area for ‘women only’. Fuck that shit! I have never seen a ‘women’s area’ of a gym with a squat rack, bench and platform have you? All you get is a plethora of cardio equipment, a handful of machines, dumbbells in pastel colours and every size ball you can think of. When you walk in there you are being told ‘this’ is all you are capable of. Some fuckwit has decided what us delicate flowers can and can’t do in the gym. You are being handicapped before you even start. You are not here to be strong, you are here to be pretty and could you please do it out of the way and leave the real training to the men!
As the classes progressed the change in confidence was just incredible. I know it sounds like a cliché but I watched these women grow in so many different ways. The support they gave each other was so uplifting (pardon the pun). We cultured a competitive positivity. We encouraged focused aggression. We learned that you couldn’t move something heavy with a ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ mindset. We expected to be congratulated when we hit PBs. Negative reinforcement was banned. Self deprecation was not allowed. The only criticism was constructive. And we laughed A LOT!
I know there were ladies who came to this class who would otherwise never have stepped in a gym and particularly not a gym like ours for all the tea in China. The fear of ridicule because of their appearance or looking stupid because they didn’t know what they were doing would have been more than enough to keep them away. I suppose they had a good bout of imposter syndrome much like my own. I never anticipated the classes would be such a roaring success. Some of our ladies went on to do bodybuilding, some did lose weight as a result of starting training and altering their eating habits, others competed and still compete as powerlifters, some crossfit and some do olympic lifting. Some didn’t carry on once they dabbled but I know they made friends and tried something they never would have done otherwise. Each one took from it what they wanted or needed.
I learned that I really loved coaching complete beginners how to powerlift. I had to think on my feet and adjust my teaching to suit each person’s abilities. I had to learnt o break down each lift into very simple terms and constantly come up with ways of adapting. I certainly developed my own teaching style along with some pretty unique teaching points. These women taught me so much. They made me a much better teacher and just as their confidence grew so did mine. You know what I realised? I am pretty damn good at what I do and I love doing it and if anyone else had a problem with that well…fuck em!
Strong is the New Skinny is a term that got high jacked by the fitness industry and bastardised like most things. It has appeared on countless Memes usually with the image of an oiled up airbrushed fitness model looking smoking hot. So NOW not only do you want us to look like a sex goddess but also now we have to be super human strong AND hot enough to put one in the wank bank!!!! FFS give us a break will you!!! For me these five words are words of total empowerment. It isn’t anti skinny as has been claimed. It is pro performance. My success and popularity should not be dependent on how I look but on what I can do. This is what I LOVE about powerlifting. On the score sheet all that matters is what you did on platform not how you looked doing it.