Women and weightlifting

In a health and fitness obsessed society, women have come to learn that there is more to working out than just pilates and yoga classes. Through the help of social media influencers, and more general knowledge on weight training itself, women are getting down and dirty in the weights section and showing some men how it’s done.

One person to do this is 21-year-old International Events Management student, Joanne Tomaszewska who turned to weights following her battle with depression, anorexia and bulimia. Originally from Poland, at the age of 12 Jo was diagnosed with depression. Three years later, following a serious back injury causing her potential professional volleyball career come to a halt, her battle with anorexia and bulimia began.  

“The lowest weight I got to was around 45 kg [just over 7 stone],” said Jo. “After I moved to England from Poland I went through really bad depression and battled eating disorders for next three years. I couldn’t eat anything and found myself only drinking energy drinks and smoking cigarettes. I genuinely thought my life was over and that I no strength in me to carry on.”


According to the eating disorder charity, Beat, in 2015 over 725,000 people in the UK were battling with an eating disorder. Like Jo, around 40% of people in the UK suffering with an eating disorder are bulimic and 10% are anorexic.

Jo’s recovery began when she developed her love of the gym following her ex-boyfriend’s passion for bodybuilding where he encouraged her to come to the gym with him. She said, “When I started going to the gym every day I finally started to eat something. I saw how my body was changing and loved it. It made me want to start working harder until the point where I was back to being confident with myself again and strong enough take it on to the next level. I love the adrenaline of competing too; it keeps me going.”  

Another person to get into bodybuilding and weight training is 20-year-old personal trainer and Pursue Fitness brand ambassador, Elly Robertson. Initially, like most women, Elly was apprehensive about getting “bigger” and was paranoid about putting on fat and muscle. Eventually she overcame this worry and took on the challenge of making herself stronger.

“Even after one session women are starting to feel the benefit of weights.”

“Before I had started weight training, I actually liked my body and I didn’t purposely look to weight training to get bigger,” explained Elly. “Even after 6 months of weight training, I didn’t want to get any bigger because I was still in the ‘slim’ frame of mind. It wasn’t until a year later that I had started to look at women like Michelle Lewin and Paige Hathaway who I realised were both very muscular but feminine at the same time.”

Compared to Jo who wanted to put weight on, Elly struggled with the aspect of gaining weight to achieve more muscle. She said, “Once I had gotten over the initial worry of putting on weight, it made me realise how small I was before and how much muscle I actually wanted to put on. Once the weight (from the fat and muscle) started to creep up, I really wanted to get stronger and create more shape for myself.”

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 20.05.34
Image source: Elly’s Instagram @ellkr_

Social media, Instagram in particular, has been linked to body image issues as young people often compare themselves to those they see on the popular app. Research commissioned by the National Citizen Service this year found that of the 1,000 teenagers that took part, 40% of them admitted that social media influenced their appearance and 58% of them felt insecure due to what they see on it.

On the other hand, a positive element to social media – in this circumstance – is that it has changed perceptions of women being muscular. Many women have proven it is possible to be both strong and feminine. Jo said, “Women have finally stopped being afraid to be and look strong! There has been a change in perceptions where females can lift heavier whilst still keeping their femininity – they have realised they can train harder without looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

Elly also added, “I am so happy that it is becoming more common for women to train with weights. Being a personal trainer, I see a lot of women who want to build some shape and lose weight but they’re afraid of even stepping into the weight section.

“Even after one session they already feel the benefits of weights. They start to feel more confident about themselves and find that they can do a 30 minute workout and feel better than when they used to run for an hour on a treadmill.”

“Women have realised they can train harder without looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

As a personal trainer, Elly advises anyone who’s looking to start weight training to split their sessions up into lower body and upper body workouts so you can focus more on certain parts of your body at a time. She also emphasised the importance of having at least one or two rest days a week as weight training puts more pressure on your body than standard cardiovascular exercise does.

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