Who run the world? Girls. Maybe Beyonce knew it all along. The rapid rise of strength sports like powerlifting, weightlifting and Strongman and CrossFit are all due —in large part— to the droves of females who are getting off the elliptical and experiencing how empowering it is to pick up heavy stuff.
Women are driving the market, turning up everywhere from Gatorade commercials—like the one centered around Serena Williams and her baby girl— to the 2017 Arnold Sports Festival, which hosted the first-ever Pro Strongwoman event (and commanded a minimum $10,000 prize).
“It’s no longer taboo for women to be strong,” said USA Powerlifting Coaching Committee Chairman Matt Gary, whose Supreme Sports Performance & Training (SSPT) gym has held women’s only powerlifting clinics. “So many times you have these seminars and clinics and training camps dominated by men. We wanted to bring in some rock star women. And it sold out in five hours.”
“I’ve been the coach of some women’s teams,” said Gary, whose wife, Suzanne, is a multi-time national and world champion powerlifter.
“They are way more coachable, they don’t have as many egos involved. Part of that comes from less testosterone. But there’s a lot more women becoming involved in the sport and that’s a really good thing.”
In weightlifting, women like Morghan King, Sarah Robles and Jenny Arthur —all members of the women’s Olympic team— took center stage in Rio to inspire a new group of females on social media. Slowly, they’re garnering sponsorships and notoriety that had once been reserved for males. Women want to be successful like Krissy Mae Cagney and want to lift as much as Charity Witt.
CrossFit, which broke major barriers when it held its inaugural CrossFit Games competition and paid men and women the exact same prizes, is one of the driving forces in the female shift.
In 2016, 136,360 female athletes registered for the CrossFit Open, a number up from 81,037 in 2014 and one that’s slowly shifting toward a 50-50 gender enrollment. The women made up 39% of the field in ’14 and were up to 42% last year.
“CrossFit will go down in history as the biggest gift it’s given to the world is not fitness and health. It’s going to go down in history as the thing that got us to understand that women are not equal to men, they are far more powerful than men can ever be,” said Deuce Gym owner Logan Gelbrich.
“It’s something we all relate to, watching the CrossFit Games and women and men are both awestruck and inspired and moved by what the ladies are doing. As they should be. The guys, maybe have their role model athlete [they like to watch], but they don’t tend to inspire both genders like women can. It’s empowering to watch women shoulder atlas stones and do all this stuff, and now we have throngs of female athletes wanting to do it.”
Gelbrich’s gym also hosts women-only Strongman events to encourage people to try it in a comfortable atmosphere. There’s hope that this year’s Arnold event could help give Strongwoman competitors more notoriety.
“CrossFit will go down in history as the biggest gift it’s given to the world is not fitness and health. It’s going to go down in history as the thing that got us to understand that women are not equal to men, they are far more powerful than men can ever be.”
“The men get to travel, they have a pro card, they get paid thousands of dollars,” Strongwoman competitor Kaitlin Burgess said.
“[With] women it hasn’t been a huge market. There’s enough women now to put a pro series together, to give out pro cards. It’s really awesome to see. There’s 100,000 people that walk through those doors (at the Arnold) and the women are on the main stage.”
As they should be. Gelbrich, who also teaches Strongman certification classes, believes female participation is the driving force behind any successful gym.
“It’s a big joke all the time people are like, ‘How do I get going on the gym?,” Gelbrich said.
“I say it starts with you and it starts with the women. Females have had a rough go, of fighting for equality in society. And luckily in modern times we are getting to a place where we are closer to more and more women having equal rights and acceptance.”
And that goes beyond the gym.
CrossFit Open statistics courtesy of CrossFit HQ.