Choosing strong over skinny - the rise of powerful women
If the turnout for the recent amateur powerlifting competition in Canterbury is anything to go by, there's a quiet but definite growth in the number of women pumping iron.
An expected contingent of 20 became more than 40 for the organisers of the event held at Atlas Gymnasium earlier this month, with more than half of that number female competitors.
The high turnout didn't surprise emcee and importer of powerlifting gear, Matt McLean, who started Strongheld Equipment and Apparel six months ago.
"I'd say 85% of my clients are women," McLean said. "Put it down to social media or whatever, there are definitely more women lifting weights than ever before."
Ciara Corrigan from Unbreakable Training said the high turnout showed there was an increasing demand for such events for a growing sport.
"It's more accessible now, with social media particularly."
Gyms like Unbreakable and Atlas focus on powerlifting, but more commercial gyms are beginning to present the discipline as an option.
Lifter Ro Graveston, who is a business manager for Westpac by day, has been powerlifting for less than four months and already has her eyes on a national title.
"I started training with Zach a year ago, just body composition and stuff, and he would talk about powerlifting so I got into it. It's definitely been a full change – I just want to spend all my time doing it."
Graveston came from a sporty background and had ambitions of being a silver fern.
"But I've never been as passionate about anything as I am about [powerlifting]. I can't wait to get to the gym, I'm knackered when I leave, and half an hour later I want to go back again."
Graveston puts much of the motivation down to seeing almost continual progress. "People get over the gym because they're going to exercise, not train. They don't really have a goal while they're there. This allows me to aim for something, and every session there's a reason for being there. It gives you focus."
Trainer Zach Trusler said the myth that women would 'bulk up' if they lifted weights was slowly being dispelled.
"Women are neither genetically nor hormonally disposed to growing massive muscles. There's also a bit of confusion around what's powerlifting and what is weight lifting - they're quite different."
Weight lifting (think Precious McKenzie) features the snatch, and the clean and jerk. Powerlifting focuses on the squat, the bench press and the deadlift.
"They are completely different movements," Trusler said.
Trusler is a personal trainer with Snap Fitness in Rangiora and Kaiapoi, and while most of his clients are 'traditional' clients looking for circuit or HIIT workouts, he's noticed an increase in the interest in powerlifting.
"There's a bit of a stigma around powerlifting, that it's only dudes that lift. But at the world champs, you've got 48kg lifters deadlifting 160kg. Literally anyone can do it."
Ideally you want to combine lifting with good nutrition and some interval training, but the draw for Graveston was the lack of cardio.
"In powerlifting, we joke that any more than five reps is cardio."
The other major drawcard, according to Graveston, is the community that comes with the sport.
"It's a solo sport, but you're not alone. It's competitive, but you get over that wanting to outlift someone else pretty quick, and just compete against yourself, always wanting to do better."
Lizzie Bracken found her way to the sport through a friend who is an Olympic lifter. She'd gone to the gym to lose weight, as so many women do, and the treadmill just wasn't doing it for her.
"Lifting just fit me better - I feel totally bad-ass."
Through training and a change in diet, Bracken said she lost 20kg in a year.
"You just get really obsessed. You start upping the weights and see the muscles come through and you want more muscle. It's really empowering, and a nice feeling, to feel strong. It makes you love your body so much more."
Bracken also spends a lot of time outside the gym with powerlifting women. "There's a group of us who go to dinner once a month and go bowling and stuff. It's a real community.
"I would absolutely recommend it to anyone - just give it a go."