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When Janet Martin’s granddaughter was asked to tell a story in school about someone she’s proud of, she told her classmates about Martin.
Martin, 60, is a St. John’s powerlifter.
She’s competed provincially, nationally and internationally in the strength sport that involves lifting heavy weight through squatting, bench pressing, and deadlifting.
Martin is part of a growing trend amongst women in this province who are lifting weights. Not everyone is powerlifting, but there are increasing numbers of women doing that, too.
Martin said of the 61 people from Newfoundland who attended the Canadian Powerlifting Union Nationals earlier this month, 31 were women.
Fellow powerlifter Wanda Lewis, 50, estimates the number of women powerlifting in the St. John’s area since she began six years ago has “quadrupled or even more”.
"I always say it takes a strong man to have a strong woman, and I think men feel like that more now than they ever did." — Wanda Lewis
The two women spoke with The Telegram at Reps Fitness on Elizabeth Avenue, where their powerlifting group Iron Body Works trains.
A chalkboard wall on one side of the room has a sketch of a woman lifting weights – that woman is their trainer, Steph Puddicome, who made headlines a few years ago when she deadlifted three times her body weight and broke five national records.
During their lifetime, Martin and Lewis say they’ve noticed a shift in society’s attitudes towards women lifting weights — a traditionally male-dominated sport.
“It’s definitely more acceptable,” said Lewis.
“And I always say it takes a strong man to have a strong woman, and I think men feel like that more now than they ever did. They’re proud and they’re happy to see women get stronger.”
While Martin also enjoys the traditionally female domains of cooking and sewing, she said powerlifting is the first hobby she’s ever “stuck with” — and she didn’t start until she was 54.
“For me, it’s been really empowering.
“One of the funny things is you go out in public, and nobody would ever look at me or look at most of us and say, ‘You must lift a lot of weight’. What happens to me is I go to the supermarket, I go to Costco, and they say, ‘Now, there’s guys out in the parking lot if you want a hand to get that bag of dog food out of your cart’,” she laughed.
“I could carry it on my shoulder and walk out with it, but it’s amusing because most people don’t expect you to be strong.”
Downtown at GoodLife in Atlantic Place, personal trainer Maria Htee said she’s noticed an increase in women welcoming weights into their workouts.
“When I moved to Canada in 2007, I started working out here and you didn’t see any woman in the weight room at all — but now, most of the squat racks are used by females, and it’s a good feeling because I remember I felt like I’m the only female alpha in the weight room, but now you will see the girls are squatting, deadlifting, bench pressing. People used to think that those are ‘the guy’s workout’, but now all the women are doing it, too.”
Like Lewis and Martin, Htee is also a powerlifter.
Won gold at nationals
She just got back from the Canadian Powerlifting Nationals where she won the gold medal in her weight class and the best lifter award.
In 11 weeks, she’s heading to Sweden for International Powerlifting World.
Htee said welcoming weights in her life has helped her “a lot.”
“I have to say, I was, like, nobody back then. Now I’m the best lifter in Canada and I’m one of the best lifters in the world, and that’s a big deal, right? And weight did that for me. It’s also made me feel independent and confident.”
Indicative of the increasing popularity of weight training, a GoodLife spokesperson said the gym’s strength training class BODYPUMP is “by far” its most popular class in this province.
What explains the increase in women lifting weights may be answered in Lewis and Martin’s reasons for getting involved later in their lives.
They say powerlifting makes them feel as if they can do anything.
“It gives you confidence in other areas of your life because you feel the fear when you’re walking out on the platform and there’s, like, 290 pounds on the bar and you’re feeling the fear, but you’re doing it. I can link it to other times in my life where I’ve wanted to make a move or do something and been able to do it just because of powerlifting. Because I know, OK, I’ve just got to feel afraid — but still do it.”
Martin also points to the health benefits of weights for women — both physically and mentally.
At 60, Martin has had bone density tests and her doctor said she’s at a very low risk for fractures or breaks.
But there’s another factor that keeps these women lifting.
“We’re always doing stuff for family, but this is just for us,” said Martin.
“This is your time to clear your head and to just do something to make you feel good.”