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Women take to powerlifting

Powerlifting_Alex_Seonaid Espiner
Powerlift: Seonaid Espiner makes squats look easy. PHOTO: Alex Lim.

More women are powerlifting as many follow their male partners into the traditionally male-dominated sport that comprises bench press, squat and deadlift.

Canterbury Powerlifting Association committee member Leighton Best said female participants in New Zealand Powerlifting Federation national championships increased from about one in five in 2012 to one in three in 2015.

The female juniors category, aged between 19 and 23 years old, had the biggest increase.

Best attributed the rise in awareness of powerlifting to social media.

“When I started in 2006, there was no website or Facebook and I only found out through meeting someone involved,” Best said.

The rising trend might also be due to more partners competing in powerlifting, making it a common workout for couples.

University of Canterbury Women’s Weightlifters (UCWW) Society president Seonaid Espiner attempted powerlifting when her partner introduced her to it. Powerlifting was not about getting the perfect body or becoming slim.

“It’s just about … presenting myself as someone who is strong and as a woman as a whole,” Espiner said.

Being strong empowered women and strength was not necessarily related to gender.

“The woman who broke the new European record deadlifted 235kg while she was only 72kg. How many men that weight can lift that much? It has to do with the liberation aspect. Women have slowly pushed their way to do more physical activities and it has been difficult. It has been a struggle but we’re slowly getting there.”

University of Canterbury physical trainer Chevy Rendell said the women tended to be running and cycling but they were gradually migrating to the weights area.

“The barrier is coming down, so it’s no longer just a masculine space,” Rendell said.

Anytime Fitness trainer Sam Jecentho said the rise of CrossFit, a high intensity workout based on weightlifting and other cardiovascular exercises, played a part in breaking down this barrier.

National Powerlifting Championship competitor Ashley Lester said women, not exclusively from CrossFit gyms, started out supporting their peers in powerlifting competitions.

“They realise the whole thing is really fun and want to join in. The next thing you know you’ve got most of the CrossFit clubs in the competition,” Lester said.

“Social media has provided a level of education to women.”

It corrected the perception that lifting weights made women bulky with female powerlifters.

_By Alex Lim for the Christchurch Mail