10 Truths from a Strongwoman

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  1. You get stronger than you ever knew you could.  Last June was the first time I  legitimately started lifting heavy.  When I started training everyone asked me how I was doing.  Answer seems obvious, you get stronger when you train for strongwoman, otherwise you’re probably doing something wrong.
Tracy Stankavage had a great victory at the 2012 NAS Nationals in the lightweight division.
Tracy Stankavage had a great victory at the 2012 NAS Nationals in the lightweight division.
  1. Most people don’t know your sport exists.  No really, they have no idea.  Half the time when I say I compete in strongwoman, they say oh right the ironman triathlon…My default answer is I compete in strongwoman comps, like pulling trucks, flipping 500lb tires and atlas stones.  The other part is people don’t realize that when they see WSM on TV, that women can do the same events.  On a side note, once they know what you do, they might think you’re crazy.  I’ve fully accepted that I am.
  1. 90% of the people you meet will not believe you are one until they see proof. I went on a local news channel to pull a truck, the hosts came out and say, “we were expecting someone a lot bigger” I look like a female athlete, a tom boy from the start.  I was a semi-professional soccer player in 2009 and when I’m wearing sleeves, most people still ask me how soccer is going.  People are still under the notion that when I say strongwoman, then I must be the size of a refrigerator.
  2. You get some weird scars/bruises that only a handful of people in the country will ever understand.  So many implements leave their mark.  When log pressing, I used to not really care how I brought the log down from a press, and I’d get matching bruises on my collarbone, which is hard to cover up when it’s about 100 degrees out.  For a while I wouldn’t wear sleeves for atlas stones and that leaves some pretty solid bruises on your forearms, which are hard to explain (it looks like somebody beat your forearms with a scratched hammer).  Last but not least tire flips tear into your shoulders, even when wearing a t-shirt.  People have come up to me out of the blue asking if everything was ok when I come in the next day after training events and there are bruises everywhere.


  1. I LOVE atlas stones and pulling trucks.  I struggled with atlas stones like most beginners (which I still consider myself to be).  I started training last June for Northern Nevada’s Strongest Man held in late August, and I never loaded a 175lb atlas stone to even a 42” platform before the competition.  I love atlas stones because it was the one event I thought I would zero.  In my first comp I got the stone over the bar at 48” for the first time ever. The technique for me just clicked and mentally I tell myself it’s not an option to not get this.  Ron Strahan was my judge for this event and he told me if I zeroed then I couldn’t go to nationals.  You have to be aggressive and just take a deep breath and never linger with the stone.  It weighs more than you so the longer you hold it, the more tired you’re making your muscles. Ironically this was the only event I won at nationals.  Now I have to give truck pulling the full credit for getting me hooked/addicted to strongwoman.  My coach Gary Montoya brought me out to American Iron and I met some amazing ladies that also trained strongwoman and I thought there is no way that I could pull the Dodge Ram 1500.  One of the ladies told me it was the most fun thing she’s done.  So I took my turn and she was completely right, it is cool to think the only thing moving the truck is you.
  1. Not many gyms have the equipment to train strongwoman events. You have to get pretty creative and practice as best you can.  I’ve found it normally makes the event harder when you train so that when you compete, it’s a little bit easier. Until I bought some equipment myself, I didn’t have any events to train with at my gym.  I would only get to train events on every other Saturday.  So during the week to train for the hussafell stone I would use a punching bag we had at the gym.  The bag was around 100 lbs, so I would pick it up and just carry it around in front of me without my hands touching because they normally don’t when carrying a hussafell. When training for the yoke, I would load up a bar in the squat rack and just hold it, to get used to holding a lot of weight.  For truck pulls to get started I would train with prowlers or sleds and bear crawl with it attached to a harness.  For circus dumbbell you can buy some grips that attach and it makes it so you have a 2 in. grip on the dumbbell.  Stones are tough to replicate, because of tacky and all, but kegs are a bit easier to get a hold of.  You can practice with various weights and load them onto plyo boxes if there aren’t platforms available.
  1. The community of people that do strongman/woman is what makes the sport for me.  Where I live there are two guys that do strongman, otherwise I have to travel 2-5 hours to train with other people who compete.  So I call and text and use social media to keep me going.  It’s hard to explain to people what it takes for strongman/woman competitors to train. It’s a tough balance of strength and conditioning. Luckily strongman/women are the nicest people I have ever met.  Going to nationals was one of the best experiences I had because every woman cheered for every other woman.  This sport is unique in that your competitors cheer for you. Nobody wants you to fail. They want you to hit personal records and do your best.  I have made some of the best friendships through strongwoman and it’s what keeps me going in the sport.  These people are amazing.  I am truly a beginner and love learning how other people train; you get to learn a little bit every time you compete. On a personal note- I’m impressed with every woman that is also a mother and makes time to train for herself.  There were a couple at nationals and I’m still in awe of them.
From college soccer star to champion strongwoman!
From college soccer star to champion strongwoman!
  1. Mentally more challenging than anything I’ve ever done. Growing up I was never a big lifter.  I learned to olympic lift when I was a senior in high school, which is where I learned some techniques.  There is a HUGE difference in learning how to lift, and learning how to lift heavy on a consistent basis.  This is not a sport that you can just jump into.  I had a hard time getting past a 315 deadlift because that’s a lot of weight, and it was very intimidating to look at a bar with three plates on each side. The first time I pulled it was in my first comp and my mindset was just right.  Don’t look at it, and psych yourself out.  When you compete it’s not the time to question your technique, just do what you’ve been doing for the past weeks of training.  You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable, not everything in strongwoman is ‘conventional’.  However you also have to know when to give your body a break.  I didn’t give my body enough of a break after nationals, I took a week or two off and then started back training heavy. I ended up breaking a rib. It sucks to be used to lifting four days a week and then taking it down, not being able to hold a bar for at least two months.  Mentally I faltered thinking; I don’t have to keep doing this sport.  Which is completely true, I don’t have to.  But I love it; it’s fun to get stronger, so for the past month, I’ve been doing legs, abs, and some supplemental arms.  Almost always there’s something you can do, and try to keep a routine.
  1. Money.  There is no professional avenue for women in this sport.  A lot of people think, you won; you must’ve made a lot of money.  Not true at all, this sport is a sport where you compete because you love to compete, not for the money.  There are some sponsors out there, but you have to work for them, you don’t just win and people come up to you saying hey I want to sponsor you.
  1. I have only gained 10 lbs since I started.  Going from soccer and ultimate frisbee training to strongwoman training was a huge adjustment.  I was used to running for miles and doing a lot of intervals.  Everyone I talked to said you’re gonna get huge.  That didn’t really happen.  I competed at soccer at 135 and in heavy training I’m comfortable at 145.  I mean I am 100 times stronger than what I was a year ago.  I have only been training since June 2012.  I do eat a lot more and make sure to never forget my post workout coconut water.  But here’s the way I think.  If you’re doing strongwoman you’re gonna get stronger, which inadvertently means you’ll probably gain weight.  Self-consciousness is a problem that I struggle with, because I’m a lot bigger and they don’t make clothing for strongwomen.  With t-shirts my arms get their circulation cut off, or if you go for a bigger size, you’re swimming in it.  I’m lucky that I work at a gym so I can wear athletic clothing all the time.  Jeans are borderline impossible to fit into unless there’s a heaping amount of spandex in them.

Think you can’t do it?  You can.  The cool thing about strongwoman is that it’s not just for elite athletes.  It’s something that you can do.   A year ago if you asked anybody that knew me if they thought I’d be doing strongwoman, they would probably say first, what the hell is that, and then say no way.  I couldn’t do 2 pull ups last year.  Nor did I do much weight lifting. My advice is to just start small.  Deadlifting is a good start because most gyms have this readily available, all you need is a bar.  You don’t have to go for 300 lbs off the bat but just try to push yourself. Single arm dumbbell press is pretty easy to find as well. Don’t let the fear of not being able to do it scare you. Think about it this way, it may seem like a lot of weight, but if you’ve never tried, then how do you really know what you can and can’t lift? You will surprise yourself at how strong you really are!  Sandbags are fun to train with and can be homemade, these help a lot in training, and the weight is adjustable.  I’ve met plenty of women who are just starting and really, I can’t tell you how awesome it feels to get stronger.  You just have to start!

Photos by Kicia Sears

Tracy Stankavage is a strength and conditioning coach at Strength in Motion, in upstate New York.  Tracy competed in soccer in college and was conference player of the year at William Smith College(Geneva, NY) before playing semi-professional soccer. Tracy won the 2012 National Strongwoman Championship in the Lightweight Division. Tracy has trained athletes at all levels:  youth, high school, collegiate and Olympic.  
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