What Really Happens When Women Lift Heavy Weights

By Giuliana Zegarra
Apr 06 2020

What Really Happens When Women Lift Heavy Weights

We can’t deny that women who lift heavy weights have become more visible in the past decade or so. And even if female participation in Olympic weightlifting is blowing up (47 percent of USA Weightlifting members are now women), we still have tons of misleading ideas and wrong concepts about the real effects that this sport has on women’s bodies.  

I wish I was a person who wasn’t concerned with my body and other people’s opinions about how I look, but most people are. Before becoming passionate about lifting weights, I had to overcome some things mentally. It was clear to me that by practicing this activity I would benefit greatly, but it took me time at the gym before I could understand that beauty is not a standardized concept. Beauty is health. Beauty is power. Beauty is determination and discipline. This is how I see it now and all thanks to CrossFit and it’s philosophy of mixing weightlifting with conditioning.

But I’m not the only one feeling this attraction to barbells and reaping the benefits of weightlifting. There are a lot of women around the world who feel the same way. Many of them are CrossFitters and ahead you will learn from their experiences. The objective is for you to stop listening to the media and paying attention to judgements, falsehoods and misinformation. We hope the testimony of these female weightlifters help you sort fact from fiction.

Science about weightlifting and cases from women who do it.

Here we will see what the science says about the benefits of weightlifting. We will look at the physical and mental benefits and give example testimonies from some of our Barbell Beauties members.

Physical health benefits of strength training 

The Science: 

When we strength train, our muscles go through a process of breaking down and then rebuilding in the next 24 to 48 hours after working out. This process is commonly known as the “afterburn effect”. This means that your metabolism keeps operating and even does it at a faster pace when you are resting after a workout. In short, the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn.

The Facts:

Heather Knapp started CrossFit in February of 2019. She was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis in 2001. For Heather, losing weight has never been easy until she was introduced to weightlifting at Blue Ridge CrossFit. The Head Coach told her one day to “stay off the scale, lift heavy and eat clean, the rest will take care of itself.” Heather followed this advice and so far she has lost 35 lbs, she feels stronger than ever before (even as a college athlete) and she claims being in a better place mentally than I she was in her entire life.

Dr. Crezetta Guess has always been active and losing weight wasn’t really a concern for her. After her husband passed away, and pushed by her daughter, Dr. Guess started CrossFit when she was 52 years old. She says “once I started CrossFit and lifting heavy, I started seeing amazing changes in my body, my energy level, strength, confidence. At 55, I’m in the best shape of my life. And the best side effect, I’ve lost over 30 lbs and I’ve found something that I love. The photo she shared with us is February 2017 vs February 2020.

Courtney Michelle Ryan states “I was always heavy. Teetering between 230-250 lbs pretty much all throughout my twenties. On a 5’1” frame, I knew I needed to lose weight but didn’t really understand how. With no knowledge of exercise or nutrition, I just figured you eat way less and exercise more. I put myself on a strict 1200 calorie diet and began over exercising using only cardio modalities. I dropped weight fast but was absolutely miserable.

I counted every morsel of food that went into my mouth. I would panic about meals and social events. I also got so frail and skinny that I lost my menstrual cycle. I met my now husband and, together, we worked to correct my mindset about food and exercise. I began to put on weight again and was much healthier but still battled my negative perspective on food.

Then I got pregnant with our daughter. I gained 50 lbs with that pregnancy. Five months into her life, I got pregnant with our son. By the time I had him, I was back on the scale at 218. Once he was four months, I knew I needed to take care of myself and I also knew I needed to learn about food and exercise in order to make a lifestyle change that was sustainable. That’s when I discovered weightlifting.

I am the strongest, and healthiest I’ve ever been. I don’t count calories, I eat to perform, and I genuinely have fun every time I enter the gym. I am BLESSED to have a body that is capable of all that it’s done”.

Ashley Kirk started Crossfit when her third son was 9 months old. She said she had never taken a weightlifting class in her life before starting CrossFit. She has struggled with an eating disorder since she was 12 years old, so losing weight was always a struggle for her. In December 2018, she started strength training and since then she has lost over 40 lbs. Ashley says “there are definitely things I’m still working on but I can deadlift 200 lbs which I never thought was possible!! Embrace the beauty ladies-we are all strong and incredibly beautiful.”

Maggie K Slater shares with us: “This is my story and I myself was over 80 pounds overweight. I understand the struggles and frustration in losing weight. One day, I made the decision to lose weight and make getting healthier a priority. I wanted to be around for my family. I discovered CrossFit and with the help of my coach I began strength training. I wanted to know it all. I started getting certification after certification. I set out to get my body back after two pregnancies in rapid succession. I set out to be the best me I could achieve. I had no idea just how good that would be, in my early 40s”.

Mental health benefits of strength training

The Science:

Lifting eases depression: this study shows that resistance exercise training significantly reduced depression symptoms among adults regardless of health status.

Lifting reduces anxiety.

Weight training raises self-esteem. Given the effects of strength training on muscle mass and body definition, people had better body image and beliefs in their physical capabilities – all of which falls under the banner of ‘physical self-esteem’.

The results of SMART (Study of Mental and Resistance Training) study showed that weight training helps cognitive function.

The facts:

Sarah Jayne Thompson started CrossFit in October 2018. It took her more than one year to take it seriously. Sarah fell in love with the progress of CrossFit and the focus soon shifted from losing weight to just wanting to get strong and better in the movements. Sarah feels that strength training it’s also an escape from all the life responsibilities, she explains that “for that hour a day, I can just be Sarah, not mom or wife or vet nurse, just me. I love the feeling you get from lifting and the buzz with every pb and every solid lift”. 

Charisse Douget states “when women lift heavy weights, it lifts our spirits and emotions! CrossFit is my therapy. As a 42 year old middle school teacher, I am on no anxiety meds or on meds of any kind and I really believe that it’s because of CrossFit!”

Cassie Stockdale is almost 2 years in to lifting heavy. Cassie says “I have no “diet” just being mostly mindful of what goes in my mouth. I started at 208 lbs and sit around 165 lbs right now. I can bench my body weight and squat over 1 1/2 times this weight. I always thought I wanted to be skinny but, wanting to be strong has taken me so much farther. I wouldn’t trade my muscles for the world. They’ve added so much shape to my body! But, lifting heavy goes beyond the body for me. It’s my outlet, my therapy. The one place that’s always me vs me. It’s helped me become more patient, turning me into a better mother, friend, and partner. I get growly now if someone asks if I’ve been to the gym lately.”

Emily Coulter started CrossFit/strength training in 2016 in a search for more energy. Emily shared that she did it because she was tired of never having enough energy to play with her then 5 year old. Emily mentioned that she never actually thought she would stick with it but now she is still moving forward… “I’m 41 years old and most days I have more energy than my daughter. I’m a powerlifter and I’m trying for my first Strongman event in March!”

Macey Barnes has Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and insulin resistance due to the PCOS. Macey says “losing weight is incredibly difficult for me, and loving my body has been even harder. I began lifting weights in October of 2018 and started Crossfit in January of 2020. Lifting weights/doing Crossfit has not only helped me lose weight, but has helped me learn to love myself and appreciate my body for what it can do instead of what it can’t or why it doesn’t look like everyone else’s. I weigh exactly the same in the middle and right picture, but inches lost and more confidence gained.

lifting has helped me manage my anxiety without medication, which in and of itself is worth it to me. I sleep through the night (finally), have increased my confidence and ability to do things on my own in public, and it likely has strengthened my relationship because I’m not so much of a raging B at home.

Aiden Shankland


Massive thanks to all the ladies who bravely shared with us their experiences in weightlifting. Each one of these testimonies are truly valuable. These ladies have felt it necessary to challenge the misconception about women and weightlifting by sharing their personal stories. They have helped us reveal the real effects of strength training on a woman’s body and mind. And great news for us! They all agree on the excellent benefits that this training provides to their lives. Think about their stories as an invitation to start your own journey in weightlifting. Are you ready to be part of this powerful group of ladies who are fighting for a healthier version of themselves? Don’t hesitate anymore and start lifting weights now!  See you at the gym barbell beauties.

4 thoughts on “What Really Happens When Women Lift Heavy Weights”

  1. I’ve been doing Crossfit for 12 years. I started at 196lb, and now I weigh 218. I was doing Triathlon to lose weight for 6 years before I found CrossFit. I am clearly doing something different from these women. But on the plus side, I am working on Getting 200+ on my bench, 300 BS, 375 DL. I can do 1 strict pull up, and 5 kipping pull ups. Don’t ask about aerobic capacity, though. That is still my nemesis.

  2. I’ve been lifting for over 40 years. I was the crazy young woman in the 70’s who approached the owners of my gym and asked them to provide heavier dumbbells (the highest weight was 8 lb.) on the “women’s side of the gym….yes, there was a woman’s and a men’s side. They denied my request saying that more than a 8 lb.. weight would make women bulk up. I laughed and said: “Well then, I’m moving to the men’s side and I’ll take my chances with those heavier weights.” I’ve never looked back. I just joined CrossFit in January, 2023 and I love everything about it!

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