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Strongwoman: Strength, Pro Competition and the Future of a Growing Sport

As they clashed against one another, the 10 competitors in the Arnold Sports Festival’s first-ever Pro Strongwoman contest also took pride in challenging the misconception that women’s sports aren’t interesting, or that women and extreme strength don’t mix.
“Arnold’s Strongwoman contest proves powerful women can pack a crowd,” Alissa Widman Neese,
The Columbus Dispatch, March 5, 2017

History was made the first weekend in March at the 2017 Arnold Classic. The first All-Pro division of Strongwomen battled it out in Columbus, Ohio. The history of women in strongman dates back to the 1880s. But pioneers in modern Strongwoman – like Jill Mills, Kristin Danielson Rhodes and Donna Moore – have helped push the sport to a new level of awareness and entertainment.

We talked to five modern pro Strongwomen, and the legendary Jill Mills, to get their take on the new spotlight on and the progress of Strongwoman competition. Here’s their inside story.

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Jamie Popp Christenson, California’s Strongest Woman, Lightweight Division, 2016: I’m pretty new to the sport, but it’s easy to see that Strongwoman if growing so fast that opportunities just keep coming faster and faster – it’s getting just badass. CrossFit athletes and powerlifters are crossing over – and the weights just keep getting heavier. Like every other Strongwoman, I compete with the heavyweight lifters – so conditioning is becoming more important. Since the strategy is to compete more often, it’s important for me to find ways to get stronger.

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Brittany Diamond, Middleweight Pro Strongwoman: Women are competing in pro shows for the first time. There are more opportunities, and the competition is fierce. There are no more weight classes – so it gets interesting at 170 pounds. The question for me: Do I want to get bigger, or stay lean and fast? Also – the gym I go to has more women than men training on some days – and the novice classes are growing. For the first time, people are finally starting to let go of the stigma that Strongwomen are “manly” – I can be a Strongwoman, compete, and celebrate my femininity.

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Britteny Cornelius, Strongest Woman in the World 2016: One thing that has changed recently is the structure of a lot of big competitions, such as the Arnold, and even Nationals. Before the focus was mainly on the heavyweight men. But there has been a shift of focus, where the women are becoming more of the attraction. People are seeing that the Strongwomen can be just as entertaining, if not more so than the men. More contests are becoming heavier, allowing the women to really show what they can do in this sport. We don’t need super light baby weights just because we’re women. Women are realizing how empowering weight training can be. With the growing numbers, comes the rising caliber of athletes in the sport. We have yet to find the limit of the female competitor, and continue to push the boundaries.

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Donna Moore, World’s Strongest Woman 2016: The sport of Strongwoman is evolving and growing rapidly. The introduction of the Pro class and the return of the World’s Strongest Woman prove this.The weights are going up and up. Woman are no longer scared to step into the weight room. They enjoy seeing what their bodies can really do, and see how strong they really are. It’s empowering and so much fun.

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Kristen Danielson Rhodes, America’s Strongest Woman 2015: For so long, women in society and Strongman have been overlooked. But now we’re being believed in, and we’re delivering! We strongwomen are amazing to watch. In the last 3 or 4 years, CrossFit has played a big role in changing our sport, along with our elevation at the Olympia, the Arnold and Europa events. Public perception of what strong looks like has changed. Strongwoman is fun – training and competing is really for everyone.

And finally, Strongwoman icon Jill Mills has this vital perspective to share.

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Jill Mills, Strongwoman legend and World’s Strongest Woman: After nearly 2 decades of beating myself up at world-level powerlifting and strongwoman competitions, I came back and set all-time world powerlifting records in the open 165’s and 181’s in my final 3 years (age 40 to 43), while working around spine and joint issues. Strongwoman is in the middle of a big revolution, with much more demanding weights. The wear and tear on women’s bodies will be greater than ever. These athletes need to be really proactive to stay healthy for the length of their careers.

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