There is a long list of workouts marketed specifically toward women: pilates, Zumba, barre, yoga, etc. None of these are bad workouts necessarily, but if you ask me, there's one exercise style that really shines for women: powerlifting.
Powerlifting is a sport where competitors try to lift the heaviest weight possible in three different lifts: the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Previously a male-dominated workout, women are discovering powerlifting and fueling an explosion of participation in the sport. In fact, in the last competition I attended, half of the athletes were women.
Here are five reasons why powerlifting is an awesome pursuit—and workout style—for women:
1. While most women have plenty of flexibility, few have adequate strength.
Yoga is great for stretching, and Zumba is terrific for cardio, but powerlifting will make you STRONG. Yes, it really is possible to strengthen your entire body with just three lifts. The squat works your legs, butt, abs, and back; the bench press hits your chest, shoulders, and arms; the deadlift works your legs, butt, and abs again, but also your back, shoulders, and arms.
Even better: building up strength makes everything else more effective. Adding strength to your body supercharges your stretching and cardio — even your metabolism! That means you can actually eat more calories while maintaining a healthy weight.
2. It satisfies your competitive drive.
Many of the women I've trained have talked about how they enjoy competition, but don't always like it in the gym. They don't want to look at the person next to them in a workout and feel like a drag racer revving their engine. Powerlifting is a competitive outlet, but the competition is truly within yourself. You're working to be the strongest version of yourself, and you might just win a gnarly trophy while you're at it.
3. It is quantifiably empowering.
I've heard from my female friends that they get very frustrated when they don't have a reliable sense of whether they're making progress toward their fitness goals. That leaves only subjectivity, which is problematic because the way you perceive your body can change day-to-day and can ultimately lead you on a roller coaster of emotions.
Powerlifting training is very concerned with hard data — easily trackable numbers, indicators of your strength — that you can see improve dramatically over a short period of time. A woman might start out deadlifting 50-70 pounds, and after a few months, can safely and easily deadlift 200 pounds. If that seems like an extreme number to you, you probably don't realize how strong women really are. I've lost track of how many women in my gym can deadlift over 200 pounds. It's an extraordinary feeling to see those abilities increase. If you start out being able to squat 65 pounds for five reps, then you can do 95 pounds for 10 reps, there can be no mistake: you are stronger. The numbers don't lie.
4. It offers an athletic physique.
I wasn't going to include this one because, frankly, I'm tired of how fitness products and services are marketed to women almost exclusively on the basis of how they'll make you look. (And, more specifically, how they'll make you look smaller.) But that said, I don't want to imply that there's anything wrong with training for looks. Even though I love being strong, I certainly like the way I look, too, and I'd be lying if I said that didn't factor into my training.
Powerlifting gives women athletic legs, buoyant buttocks, sculpted shoulders, and toned arms. Plus, the supercharged metabolism makes it easier to burn fat, should you want to do that, too. Whatever your goal for your physique, powerlifting training can help move you in the right direction.
5. You can start TODAY!
You don't need any special equipment, other than what your gym already has. It doesn't matter how in- or out-of-shape you are. With just a little instruction in how to do the lifts properly and a beginner's template, you can begin training for powerlifting today.
Powerlifting is flexible; you can focus on your strength for a few months, then take those gains and apply them to other workouts, or, if you really catch the bug, you can keep powerlifting indefinitely. You will never run out of weight to lift, and you will never tire of growing stronger.
Marshall Roy is the 2014 Best of Philly personal trainer and owner of RISE gym in King of Prussia, a strength training facility where men and women use barbells and kettlebells to get strong and have fun. The RISE powerlifting team's next competition is June 11.