That Badass Broad

Inspiration and info for midlife women who lift—or want to start

Strength is a Superpower

Why do I lift? Why is strength training important to me?

As a competitive powerlifter, I never lack for reasons to train. When you compete and have performance goals (plus a coach to whom you’re accountable), motivation tends to get baked into the process.

Every training session provides an opportunity to move yourself a little closer to those goals. You really don’t feel a need to look for other reasons to keep going.

Still, every now and then, the universe serves up a perfect reason on a silver platter. That happened today. I’m not a big believer in fate, but days like this make me think twice.

An unexpected encounter

It was a rest day, and my training program requires at least 10,000 steps daily. The forecast called for serious heat, so I decided to make a good dent in that number in the cool of the morning, before things got too crazy.

There’s a loop that I walk quite often, usually in the same direction. But today, for no particular reason, I decided to reverse it and do it backwards from my usual routine.

That turned out to be a significant decision.

I’d barely walked 100 yards when a woman waved me down and asked if I could give her a hand. She introduced herself as Sheri. Then she pointed to an older gentleman who was sitting on the ground at the base of a large tree. He had apparently stumbled, fallen, and found himself unable to stand up.

Sheri had found him sitting there, but didn’t have the strength to help him to his feet. She was a slight woman, and he was a pretty stocky fellow who probably weighed at least 200 lbs.

The man, who said his name was Michael, was very sweet and also clearly very embarrassed. I shook his hand and said hi, reassured him this could happen to anyone, then assessed the situation. I decided our best bet was for me to simply get behind him and lift him high enough to (hopefully) get his legs under him.

We didn’t know yet if he’d have the strength or balance to hold his own weight, but he didn’t seem ill or otherwise injured, and we had to start somewhere.

Real-world strength

I wedged myself between Michael’s back and the tree and got him in a bear hug. Then I adapted the same movements I’ve done hundreds of times before with a barbell. I half squatted, half deadlifted him up to a near-standing position. Then I held him there for about a minute so he could get his footing.

As he worked to get to his feet, he said, “I can’t believe how strong you are!” I explained that I lift weights as a hobby.

Michael was able to remain standing, but he was a bit shaky, so I kept hold of him just in case. No surprise he was a little unstable; he told us he’d been sitting at the base of that tree for nearly an hour before Sheri came along. I happened to walk by shortly after that.

We wondered if perhaps we should call an ambulance, but he insisted he was fine and lived nearby with his wife. He did seem to be doing better by then. In fact, he wanted to walk home, but Sheri convinced him to let us drive him. She pulled her car up, and we helped Michael lower himself into the passenger seat, drove to his house a couple of minutes away, then got him back up out of the car and escorted him to his door. Happy to see that he seemed much more surefooted now, Sheri and I said our goodbyes, and I resumed my walk.

The bigger picture

I spent the rest of the morning in a state of profound gratitude. Whether through fate or simple luck, I’d been in the right place at the right time. And I’d been able to make a difference, thanks to eight years of strength training.

This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself in this kind of situation. Years ago, soon after I started lifting weights, I was at a movie when a woman tripped in the aisle. She went down hard, and was, like Michael, unable to get to her feet.

Along with some other theater-goers, I stepped in to help. However, I was considerably less strong at that point, and she was quite heavy. We collectively got her up, but I had a much harder time managing that lift and had a sore back for a few days afterwards because I hadn’t been able to maintain safe form in the process.

Credit: Angelica Soave

When you spend hours in the gym every week, it’s easy to forget how all that time and work transfers to real-life situations. Strength gains take months and years, so you don’t really notice day-to-day changes, like how much easier it’s gotten to move furniture or put away heavy pots or hoist your bag into the overhead compartment.

Finding that I’d actually gotten strong enough to help Michael up with relative ease was a wonderful and welcome surprise. It was like not noticing how much taller your kids are getting from day to day, then being shocked to discover they’ve grown an inch in a month.

I do occasionally question why I spend so much time pulling heavy barbells off the floor. Moments like this put those questions to rest.

Strength today, strength tomorrow

We know the long-term benefits of weight training. Barring unforeseen circumstances, being strong will help us live a longer and better life. The work I’m doing now is a long-term investment that will pay returns in 20 years.

But I’m only 57. While I’m aware of those benefits, they still feel rather far off and theoretical.

So it was a wonderful feeling to discover, when faced with an opportunity NOW to help someone, that I was actually capable of doing it.

Gravity rules our lives every minute of every day. The ability to loosen its grip when it really counts is the closest thing I’ve ever felt to having a superpower.

If you lift, you know what I mean.

If you don’t, I hope you’ll give it a try and find out for yourself!

A gym or warmup room for a powerlifting meet with lots of equipment. Photo by Ambitious Studio* - Rick Barrett via Unsplash.

Powerlifting Warm-Up Rooms: Rules We Learned in Kindergarten

Someone on Instagram suggested I do a post about powerlifting warm-up room etiquette.

I loved this idea. After competing in 14 meets, including some big ones (and judging many as well) I’m pretty familiar with warm-up rooms. They tend to get quite chaotic, especially at larger competitions.

First Time Going to the Gym? We Were All New Once

The new year is here, and thousands of people all over the world are facing their first time going to the gym. 

You may be one of these folks. Maybe you’ve decided this is the year you’re finally going to get started with strength training. You may be preparing to pick up dumbbells or a barbell for the very first time. 

If so, way to effing GO! I’m so proud of you!!

On the other hand, maybe you’re an old hand who practically lives in the gym. If so, you may be dreading the impending onslaught of new members, because you’ve been here before. You’ve watched newcomers wander around aimlessly, overwhelmed and unsure what to do, looking baffled as they try to figure out what this machine is for and how to adjust the seat on that one. 

Whichever you are, I’m talking to you: veteran and newb alike. There are some things we all need to remember at this time of year.

Let me tell you a story. 

Woman with insomnia, maybe suffering with menopause, lying in bed with a pillow over her head, anxious and upset because she can't sleep.

My Insomnia Battle

Hello, dear reader. You may (or may not) have noticed that I haven’t posted any new content here for quite a while… much longer than I intended or wanted.

This has not been due to lack of desire to post. Quite the opposite, in fact.

It’s been the result of hitting a metaphorical brick wall: wicked and at times intractable insomnia.

Older woman holding smartphone in the gym, smiling because she knew how to get motivated and stay consistent.

How Do I Get Motivated and Stay Consistent?

I may earn a small commission for purchases made using links in this post. I only recommend items I know, use myself, or have otherwise vetted.

I’ve been going to the gym on and off for five years. I go from fully committed, getting great results, great diet, etc. to falling off and starting again. I can’t figure out how to get motivated and stay consistent.

If this is a priority for you, stop allowing training and good nutrition to be a choice based on how you feel, or on motivation. 

Build habits. 

Female athlete using foam roller to alleviate muscle soreness, DOMS

I’m Not Sore—Do I Need To Work Harder?

My question is, how come I haven’t been getting sore? I’ve been lifting heavier, getting my protein in, but the last few weeks I only feel sore or tender sometimes. Makes me wonder if I’m not working hard enough, but it feels like I am when I’m in the gym!

Soreness is absolutely NOT the measure of how hard you’ve worked!

The underlying biology of delayed onset muscle soreness, which typically hits 12-18 hours after exercise and is often called “DOMS” by lifters) is not very well understood, but we do know it’s the result of microscopic muscle damage (which is how we get muscles to grow) and that a few specific scenarios tend to cause it.

Airplane high above the clouds, traveling to a powerlifting meet

Tips for Traveling to a Powerlifting Meet

I recently returned from competing at WRPF Nationals in Las Vegas, a five-plus-hour flight away from my home. (It went well!) This was something like the sixth large meet to which I’ve had to travel a long distance (including a couple internationally). Through all of those trips, plus hearing stories from fellow lifters, I’ve picked up a few pointers you may find useful if you’re new to the experience of traveling to a powerlifting meet.

Surfer on a big wave at Jaws in Maui, Hawaii, as an example of overcoming fear when dealing with a heavy barbell in strength training.

How Do I Psych Myself Up Before Heavy Lifts?

Do you have any tips for mindset and overcoming fear before heavy lifts? My issue is when I step up to a big lift I try to psych myself up but there’s always a voice telling me “you’re gonna fail this.” How do I shut that voice up?!

This is a common problem and one I deal with myself sometimes. I jokingly apologized to my coach recently for being a head case—my self-talk has been pretty poor as I struggle to come back from a back injury—and he kindly referred to me as a “psychological athlete” 😂 and said he’s going to tell me to just shut my brain off for the entire day at Nationals in a couple of weeks.

But, how do we shut our brain off? How do we stop thinking so much and just DO the damned thing? 

Older woman in superhero cape flexing biceps on a mountaintop.

Recovery: The Unsung Hero to Build Muscle

Ask most people what they’re doing to build muscle and they’ll tell you all about which training program they’re on, which exercises they’re doing, how much protein they’re eating and how many hours they spend in the gym every week. They may even brag about their dedication and “no days off” mentality.

Unfortunately, most lifters don’t understand a key principle:

If you want to build muscle, the real secret is outside the gym.

It’s called recovery, and it’s the unsung hero of gains.

Set of dumbbells increasing in size to illustrate the importance of progressive overload in building muscle.

Progressive Overload: The Key to Building Muscle

New lifters often spin their wheels because they don’t understand one of the most important principles of building muscle: progressive overload. 

I hear from so many beginners who say “I’ve been working out for months but I’m not seeing any changes.” Leaving aside other factors–for example, sometimes not eating enough protein–a big reason for this when we start digging into their routine is a lack of progressive overload.

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