Female Powerlifters Are Real-Life Supergirls!

female powerliftersCara Schaeper, Athens High School, Troy, Michigan (2016). Family photo.

Who said weightlifting is just man’s sport?  Well, he (or she!) was wrong. Powerlifting is on the upswing in women’s fitness. Long gone are the days of females being viewed as the weaker sex, not strong enough to lift heavy items or open jars by themselves. Women with bulky, protruding muscles was once seen as unattractive or too masculine. Today, a toned and fit female physique is desirable and possible with consistent strength training. The fastest growing sport for women is powerlifting, and it’s quickly becoming more popular among teenage girls who are eager to join the trend.

Powerlifting involves the ultimate test of upper body strength and can sometimes see athletes lift more than three times their body weight. Tim Hewett, director of research in the department of sports medicine at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says that a woman’s upper body is only about 50 to 60 percent as strong as a man’s. Lucky for us women, we have more endurance and as much strength in our lower body as any guy (even you, Hafþór Björnsson!).

Women participating in competitive sports has been controversial or unacceptable for far too many years, but many women were either not interested in sports like weightlifting, powerlifting, or bodybuilding for fear of not being seen as “feminine.”

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Females first began to enter weightlifting competitions in the 1970s, according to breakingmuscle.com. These were female athletes from other sports who were already weight trained and decided weightlifting would give them a competitive edge in their off-season. In contrast to weightlifting competitions where meets are judged on overhead lifts, powerlifting competitions are judged on three events — squat, bench press, and deadlift.

One of my 11th-grade students, Cara Schaeper, is a first-time lifter. She is a self-confessed “drama geek” born into a very athletic family. During high school, she was never involved in team sports. She realized that this year it was time for a change … but she wanted to do something different. She longed for something that would make her feel powerful and strong and transform her entire body. Cara found powerlifting as the perfect club sport to try.

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Things have been going great so far as Schaeper says that lifting has made her stronger in body, mind, and spirit. No typical teen bullying going on here as she says her friends and classmates are very supportive of her training. Schaeper says she likes to arm wrestle boys for fun because she always wins!  She plans on attending Ohio State University after high school. “I’ll be doing Crossfit on the side and it would be nice to be able to compete in the Crossfit Games,” Schaeper says.

The 2000 Olympic Games saw the first official women’s weightlifting competition. Hopefully, sometime soon, powerlifting will also be recognized by the Olympics. By the time Cara Schaeper gets done with her training, she may even be the first female to win a gold medal in powerlifting for the USA Olympic Team.


Cara Schaeper, Athens High School, Troy, Michigan (2016).