Strong Women of Sai Wan
Today, we are celebrating womanhood!
You might have heard of some pretty amazing women in the business and more generally the professional world, it’s not often that women are highlighted for dominating in the world of strength. To mark this year’s international women’s day, we would like to introduce to you three inspiring women who are raising the bar for health and fitness on top of their 9-5 workdays!
Strength and conditioning exercises can used purely in competitions or as extra strength training in a huge range of different sports. For those who are new to these strength sports, here is a rough breakdown:
Powerlifting - Involves 3 types of lifts; Squats, bench press and deadlift. The goal is a lifting as much as you can on a barbell loaded with weight plates in 3 attempts. These lifts are also often used as training in other strength sports.
Olympic lifting - Similar idea to powerlifting with a goal of lifting a maximum weight in 3 attempts in the snatch and clean and jerk. Movements in these lifts are quicker and require lifting the barbell above the head.
Strongman - Takes strength to a functional level with dynamic movements. Lifting heavy, oddly shaped which are more common in everyday life. Events include lifting Atlas stones, walking with weighted yokes or bars, flipping tyres, throwing kegs, pulling trucks.
Crossfit - Combines elements from powerlifting, olympic lifting and strongman as well as body weight exercises and climbing eg. handstand walks and rope climbing. Usually workouts are designed in sets and repeated for multiple rounds within a time limit.
The benefits of weight training is often underestimated, particularly by women, who believe that lifting weights will lead to a ‘bulky’ physique. Ladies, it is simply not true! But don't take our word for it.
Let us introduce you to some of the awesome ladies in the hood to find out what motivates them and why they choose strength training.
Co-owner of Ursus Fitness, Personal Trainer, Competes in Strongman events
Meeting Santina for the first time, we sat down on the gym floor for the interview to the sound of upbeat music and clanging of heavy weights being dropped. She is so laid back and friendly, feeling completely at home on the rubber flooring, with massive tyres sitting at the back of the room. Continuous training over the past 5 years has taken her to local and international strongman competitions along side being a personal trainer and running classes at Ursus.
Why do you like strongman?
‘It’s a fun way to train’ and feels it is ‘way more focused on what I could lift over what I look like’. She loves the challenging, all-in high energy workouts involved and diversity that strongman exercises encompass.
Santina: Women highly underestimate how strength training can change your body and how
beneficial it is.
Satina loves to feel challenged and get stronger. That s her mojo. Bonding with other lifters and seeing people’s true personality come out when training. ‘It can be surprising the sorts of people who push themselves and don’t quit, It in turn motivates you.'
Are there many women doing weight training?
At Ursus, the community has been about 70-80% female, since it started. People from all levels and ages enjoy getting involved. It’s a very encouraging environment with a good sense of community. Being able to lift heavy weights, being fitter and stronger, also builds confidence and gives a sense of empowerment which extends beyond the gym environment.
What is the best part of strength training?
Apart from being able to lift heavy [weights], the nature of being goal oriented and pushing yourself to find your limits.
Head of Marketing, Competes in Powerlifting events, Spartan Race Champion
Our next strong lady is Jen McCombie. We sat down with her to find out how how she fits two daily training sessions around her full time job and still manages to spend time with her family and 5 pets! Transitioning from running to strength, she has now got 3 Spartan race titles under her belt, along with a first place in the bench press powerlifting event. How does she do it all?
How do you manage to do it all?
Waking up around 6am to get her son ready for school, she leaves for the gym when he goes to school. Then goes to work. Generally after work she will do another 1-2 hour session around 7pm. After training, she will go home to put her son to bed. ‘I am lucky to have the support of family, friends and extra help that allows me to balance my family, work, social and fitness life.
Knowing about things in advance and planning is key. ‘It’s important to make time for things which are important: family, health, and self-care, so we can take care of those who need us
A well balanced life also involves taking time for work, life and health. They are connected.
Jen: Anything is possible with passion and hard work; we can get there from zero to reach our goals.
How do you motivate yourself to train?
Connecting to a community with like-minded goals is important, you can find motivation to push your limits. It is inspiring to see others do well and motivates you to chase down your own goals.
On those cold, rainy mornings, when it is tough to leave the warmth of your bed, she does think ‘Is it a rest day? Should it be a rest day?’, but mentally plans out her week to see if she can swap around activities to include rest.
What skills have you learnt through your training?
Like most people starting out, Jen had to learn the lifting techniques. ‘I had never done a deadlift or a bench press’. Since then she noted her progression from walking into a gym thinking ‘there’s no way I would be able to do any of those moves’ to signing up for her first powerlifting competition for bench press which she went on to win within the year.
Nutrition makes all the difference to reaching training goals. Moderation is important. ‘Allowing yourself a treat every now and then’ will make for a more sustainable lifestyle long term, following the 80/20 rule.
The importance of rest and stretching after workouts to give our muscles time to recover.
She enjoys spending her rest days with her son and walking the dogs.
What benefits have you found through strength training?
Jen has been following her fitness journey through regular scans to measure bone density and body fat composition. The results showed that since ‘doing strength training my bone density has increased’, which lowers risk of osteoporosis. The scans helped to reaffirm her fitness decisions. Instead of focusing on just weight, it’s about being healthy and strong!
Strength training has also helped to provide a supportive community and become a ‘mental outlet’ for her during tough times.
Professional Muay Thai Fighter, Competes in Crossfit and Strongman events , Works in Finance
Born and raised in France, Chali has lived in Hong Kong for 5 years now where she found a love of Muay Thai as relief from her stressful job in finance. Speaking to Chali and hearing her journey into fitness to become one of the strongest female lifters in Hong Kong is truly inspiring. She radiates positivity which she attributes to her love of fitness and has led to her taking many podium finishes.
How did you get started in powerlifting/ strength training?
Originally a professional Muay Thai fighter, Chali trained at a gym shared with Crossfit. Muay Thai is a highly demanding sport which requires a lot of physical strength. Looking at the people training Crossfit, she thought ’this is what I need’ to supplement my training. ‘I was so impressed how everyone was so strong’.
What motivates you in Crossfit and Strongman?
With Crossfit, it’s a mental game, ‘everything happens between your ears’. You are competing against yourself, ‘I became addicted to all the things you can do’ and trying new things. It’s about being adaptable and being present. ‘You learn to let go of what you don’t have control over’.
Strongman man is about working towards maximum loads. It is empowering to be able to lift heavy weights as, evolutionarily, ‘we are the weak ones’.
How do you feel before a big competition?
Generally, I only gets nervous on the day, about 1 hour before the competition; ‘I question life’.. but as soon as the whistle blows, it becomes about the present. ‘I try to train hard to give it all on the floor’.
Chali encourages everyone, ‘regardless of what sport you do, try to compete at least once’, just to test yourself. Going into a competition gives you a goal to focus on, you train harder and in the end it is ‘something you can be proud of’.
What benefits does strength training give you?
She sees the hard work she puts in as an investment for being healthy in old age and the overall fitness useful to live a good life and to ‘keep up with kids’.
Strength training gives you resilience and mental fortitude and sees it as a ‘redemption from daily life’. She emphasises the mental benefits of being able to make goals for self improvement.
Through consistency and discipline, Chali has found confidence and awareness of her body. Her weight is more balanced. Out of competition her regular training, 4-6 times a week, allows her diet to be more flexible, although she still keeps to the healthy options and away from processed foods.
Chali: Everyone should do something for oneself, something that makes you improve, it may not be easy.
Interested? Want to read more about the world of strength?
Here are some useful links to continue your research!