By: Brittany Snyder, SSOC Intern
“I had become so used to the confines of my environment that I had neglected the full potential of my own body. My problem wasn’t the motivation to work hard. That’s not a problem for any women in my gym—and for most women pursuing strength and fitness. We train hard. We work hard. We’re driven. The problem is that we don’t all have someone to rock our worldview and shatter our self-inflicted limitations.”
The Influence of Role Models in our Quest for Strength
“People seldom improve when they have no other role model but themselves to copy.” – Oliver Goldsmith.
Only a few short years ago, I was an ambitious 30-year-old Crossfitter, hitting the gym 6 days a week and crushing the occasional 1-rep max back squat at my own bodyweight of 165 pounds. I was getting sweaty, hot, and tired on the daily. So I was convinced I was training to my full potential. Certainly, I had to be one of the strongest ladies on the block, I was sure of it! Maybe I could focus on maintenance now and not work so hard, I thought.
Then one day Nicole showed up. She had moved here from out of state, joined our gym, and casually squatted 215 during her second workout with us. Wait…WHAT? Women can do that?! It hadn’t even occurred to me that I could be striving for a 200-pound squat. Because, who can do THAT? Surely only people on Instagram.
I had become so used to the confines of my environment that I had neglected the full potential of my own body.
My problem wasn’t the motivation to work hard. That’s not a problem for any women in my gym—and for most women pursuing strength and fitness. We train hard. We work hard. We’re driven. The problem is that we don’t all have a Nicole, someone to rock our worldview and shatter our self-inflicted limitations. You see, somewhere along the way, fitness became more about how you looked than what you could do. This is true for men and women, but while male icons of fitness are still considered strong—the Schwartzeneggers and Rambos—women didn’t have the same exposure to strong and capable role models, at least not in the mainstream. Men were ripped and women were willowy. For a long time, all I knew was the goal of a trimmer waist and more thigh gap. The message was, “it’s ok to get a little toned..but be careful not to go overboard, ladies.”
Today, I like to think that we’re evolving.
In my early fitness days, I had super conservative end-goals, which were molded by guess-work and what “felt heavy” to me. Now let me be clear, there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with aiming for a 165-pound back squat or squatting your own body weight. Squatting your body weight is a terrific benchmark! But looking back, it didn’t have to be my ceiling. I just didn’t know any different.
In my 20’s and part of my 30’s, the only strong role models I had exposure to were professionals on TV: Crossfit Games athletes, World’s Strongest Man competitors, and Olympic-level lifters. Not an average strand of DNA in that bunch. Their feats, while amazing and real, seemed unattainable. I certainly didn’t identify with them. I’m just average. I shouldn’t expect too much.
But here’s a secret… Average people can get REALLY F*CKING STRONG. That’s right. Even people like myself, whose genotype is 81% built for endurance (according to my Helix DNA results). Strength is not reserved for the gifted few. It’s for all of us.
Most people are walking around weak, far away from their genetic potential for strength. And why not? Today’s world doesn’t demand much strength for us to survive in it. In fact, you need to train just to combat the side effects of excess leisure and the ease of technology.
But we come with this primal, built-in capacity for strength. IF we force our bodies to get stronger, they will. It just takes a little bit of knowledge and some hard work.
In 2017, I discovered Starting Strength and started putting myself through a linear progression. I started in without any goals or expectations. No one else I knew was doing it, but I liked the emphasis on barbells. I put the pen to paper and started doing my fahves. On countless workouts, I would think, “This is it, I don’t know how I can possibly climb anymore. Surely I’ve hit my full potential and this is as good as it gets for me.” I’m sure many folks on linear progression have experienced those thoughts at some point during their training, just to be amazed when we actually grind out the rep, finish it, and continue adding weight to the bar for weeks, if not months.
This is a simple, mind-blowing process. Simple because it makes perfect sense. Actualize what you can do today and do a little bit more the next time. Then a little bit more than that. Repeat until you can’t anymore, and suddenly, you look back and realize you have adapted to be stronger than you ever thought you could be. There is no better process for building strength and there is no better process for breaking through your own closely held limitations.
It wasn’t until Strength Con 2018 that I actually physically shook hands with women who had loaded up a barbell with over 300 pounds and squatted it. I was being exposed to Starting Strength coaches and clients who were funny, feminine, hard-working, shockingly strong and…normal. Moms. Women working 60-hour-a-week jobs. They were real-life ladies who had just worked really, really hard. Many were my height, my age, and drank the same beer I liked. It opened up my world and offered me perspective, which I greatly needed at that point in my training.
Iron sharpens iron, as they say, and I found my Iron in the Starting Strength community. I have a coach who believes me when I say I want a 300-pound back squat and 350-pound deadlift. And it feels achievable because there is an incredible tribe of women who have shown that it can be done. The real women of Starting Strength have become my heroes and role models, and less so the pro-level athletes featured on ESPN with the product sponsorship deals. I hope to have the opportunity to foster a culture of strength at a local level for the generation of lifters coming up behind me. Perhaps I can lead by example and offer some perspective.
My strength and fitness is always going to be a work in progress. While I’m proud of my lifts, I know I’m not hot shit. Maybe if I’d had more strong, “average” women role models, I would’ve aimed higher a little sooner, but I’m happy to be here now. I’m a wife and mom who works 65+ hours a week, unwinds by drinking red wine and watching The Office, and I WILL one day soon reach that 350-pound deadlift. I’m an average athlete, who just happened to find strong female role models, a willingness to suffer under the bar, and a stellar Starting Strength coach to guide me on my strength journey.
(To date I’ve reached a 270-pound squat, 309-pound deadlift, 145 bench and 102.5 press)