Lifting While Older, Female, and Overweight: If I Can Do It, So Can You
I didn’t find lifting when I was young. When I was a young woman I packed on as much weight as I could to feel safe. Finally, at 309 pounds with my doctor warning me I was pre-diabetic it seemed clear that continuing the path I was on was a recipe for disaster. Especially with my family history of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart problems. Seven years ago, when I was 41, I had never heard of powerlifting, had never considered working out, and certainly could not imagine that I would be the number one ranked female powerlifter in the state of Vermont in the USA Powerlifting Federation, but I am and damned proud of myself.
That’s me: a 48-year-old female powerlifter. I am one of the strongest people at my gym, male or female. I’m not saying that to brag, I don’t feel any need to brag. I am who I am, and I have worked hard to get where I am. It does seem that new gym members don’t really believe I can do what they’ve heard I can do. That doesn’t last very long when the barbell work begins. I don’t brag about what I do, nor do I inflate my numbers. I have never done what I do to impress anyone. I truly believe that my only competition is me. When I stand and wait my turn to step on the platform at a meet, my goal is only to perform better than I did the last time I competed. In all honesty, my competition lives in my head, that critical voice that points out and magnifies any flaw.
On Becoming a Lifter As An Older Woman
I am my own harshest critic and can find fault with everything I do. I study my lifts and pick apart my flaws and plan how to fix them. I have been told I am an inspiration, but I don’t see that. I see the woman who trips over her feet on the way to rack, the woman who rushes a squat because the weight on her back feels like too much, the woman who regularly walks into the rig because her mind is on what she’s about to do not her surroundings. That may just be a part of my personality, but I think at least some of it has to do with my age and recognizing there is always something I can improve upon.
I don’t think I am unique in my experiences lifting. I do think there are some differences in lifting when you aren’t in your 20’s or 30’s. I find I need a more recovery time between my heavy lifting sessions. This is a tough one for me: I am inherently impatient, and I want what I want when I want it.
I remember my very first deadlift: I was 42, new to the gym, scared, and searching desperately for one thing I could do well. My trainer at the time set me up in front of a barbell. I was one of four women chosen as a contestant in a 12-week transformation contest. It was our first week of work and the trainer was trying us with different things to get any idea of what our strengths might be. He gave a brief demo of what he expected us to do and then we each tried the deadlift. I can’t speak for the other three, but when I wrapped my hands around that bar and pulled, I felt like I was home. He added weight to the bar several more times for me, not telling me what I was pulling, just seeing what I could do. My last pull was 205 pounds and the trainer smiled and said, “I think we’ve found your strength”. On my very first time deadlifting I wound up with my name on the “200 Pound Club” deadlift board at the gym.
Fast forward 3 years. The gym I started in had changed hands and I was now working with my current coach, Coach T2. He has worked hard with me on my form, giving me feedback and cues. Don’t get me wrong, he cheers me on, encourages me, believes in me, but he steadfastly refuses to let me be lazy. He has kindly given me a place to display the medals and trophies I’ve won in the fourteen meets I have competed in. When I am at a meet, he answers my texts and checks in on me, even when he’s at a family event. He cares enough to consult with other colleagues to come up with the best program he can design for me.
Lifting is My Passion
Lifting heavy is something I love. It truly is my passion. I find it amusing to tell the men I work with how much I can pull, press and squat. There is nothing like telling a young man you are a powerlifter, have him know what that means and then have him ask for your numbers with a knowing smirk on his face. I’ve found that my numbers tend to wipe that smirk away rather quickly.
Just in case you are curious here are my current personal record lifts:
- Squat: 375 pounds (set at USA PL NH State Championships in 2018)
- Bench Press: 180 pounds (set at the gym)
- Deadlift: 430 pounds (set at the gym)
As I have progressed as a powerlifter, I have discovered that though I may be shy and quiet I am not weak. I have developed my physical strength and my emotional and mental strength. I may go down, but I will never stay down. Now, when I see former classmates, I don’t think we look the same age at all. When I tell people that I am 48, they are genuinely shocked. I’ve heard “No way. You can’t be that old” so many times it makes me laugh. I assure them as stiff as I feel when I wake up in the morning sometimes, I am absolutely 48 years old.
For all of the older women contemplating beginning a lifting program: just do it. You will not regret it, and likely, you will find a strength that you never knew that you had.