Not just for men, the CrossFit Strongman Seminar gives women the strength and confidence to work outside their comfort zones.

When you hear the words “CrossFit Strongman,” what images come to mind?

Are you picturing 300-pound bald men wear­ing muscle tanks and pulling cars with chains? Sledgehammers? Heavy log clean jerks? Big dudes running with kegs hoisted above their heads or demolishing cheese­burgers and milkshakes?

I did.

However, like many activities in CrossFit (such as a 21-15-9 rep scheme of thrusters and pull-ups), sights and sounds can be deceiving.

The CrossFit Strongman Seminar is designed for everyone, from 300-pound balding men to 66-year-old women, and everyone else in between.

The premise? To help you get stronger while having fun.

I walked into the CrossFit Strongman Seminar, hosted at CrossFit Central in Austin, Texas, not knowing what to expect. In fact, I was pretty intimidated.

CrossFit Strongman Seminar Out of the 55 total attendees at the seminar, [highlight color=”yellow”]12 were female and 43 were male[/highlight]. I felt like the odds were already against my 5’4,” 110-pound frame. I wanted so badly to be strong, but here? These people are going to blow me away, or I am going to embarrass myself trying to flip one of those tires we are all sitting on, I quietly thought.

“One of the most common misconceptions about CrossFit Strongman is that, in order to do strongman movements, you need to look like a strong man,” says Rob Orlando, the founder of the CrossFit Strongman Seminar, and former Games competitor. “Another one — along the same lines — is that if you do strongman movements, you’ll end up looking like the guys on ESPN2. That’s simply not the case. Women who participate in strongman exercises will get stronger and they will continue to look like women unless they opt to take performance enhancing drugs; case closed,” explains Orlando.

The morning began with a friendly lecture, led by Coach Tim Burke, Orlando’s partner in the mission to make people stronger. “Strength takes a lifetime to acquire,” Burke said. “It’s not about following a program, doing squats four times per week for weeks on end to get your squat up, or calculating all these percentages. You just have to lift more weight. It’s as simple as that.”

Hmm…that is pretty simple, I thought.

After 20 minutes of lecture, the class was ordered to “get down to business.”

“This is going to be a hands-on seminar,” Burke said. “We are not going to take notes for hours on end or make you sit here and listen to me lecture at the whiteboard. We are going to learn by doing,” Burke said.

Up first? Tire flips.

The crew of seven coaches rolled out the massive 18-wheeler tires of weights ranging from 250 to 800 pounds.

Gulp. I had only flipped maybe a 150-pound tire before, and I can’t even deadlift 200 pounds yet. After the coaches guided us through the proper techniques for getting those tires up and over, we went at it, and I surprised myself.

To calm the intimidated fears of many first-timers, Orlando assured us, “We’ve made the equipment light enough that anyone could use it. We’ve also made the equipment tough enough so that stronger guys in the world won’t break it,” he added. “For example, the first set of farmer’s handles that I owned weighed 200 pounds per hand — empty. The ones we produce with Rogue now weigh 21 pounds per hand. We have created a point of entry that the sport has never seen before. Anyone can play, just like CrossFit.”

And the tire flips were only the beginning.

The jam-packed day ensued with the famous Atlas stone ground-to-shoulder movement, then squats and jerks with a keg the rest of the morning, followed by a lunch break to quell our stimulated appetites. Then, we received a lecture on programming strongman into CrossFit WODs, and yoke carries and log clean-and-jerks finished off the day.

Lauryn with an Atlas stoneHad anyone told me prior to the seminar that I would walk with 240 pounds on my back across the gym, or clean a log that was definitely not my typical “girl bar” grip, I would have been skeptical. I would have thought to myself, me?

“Women tend to walk into our seminar scared to death. They don’t know what they’ve signed up for and they’re usually nervous. Our coaching staff always includes one woman because they make an immediate connection to the other ladies in the course. By the end of the day, that scared, deer-in-headlights woman is tossing around Atlas stones, flipping tires, and carrying twice her bodyweight on a yoke and she’s usually doing it to the cheers of 40-plus males. The truth is that women gain more from our seminars than most of the men who attend. It often changes their perspective and empowers them with confidence,” Orlando says.

Several of the women alongside me were living proof to this, and I was too.

Lan Tran, a 44-year-old dentist from San Antonio, showed up to the course eager to learn but was intimidated out of her mind. The 4-foot, 11-inch Tran says she’s been doing CrossFit for a little more than two years, and she would have never imagined she would have attended the Strongman Seminar a few years ago.

“When I turned 40, I knew it was time to make a change. I wasn’t doing anything before — I was pretty sedentary. So I started doing boot camps, and then found a Groupon for a CrossFit box really far away from my part of town. I tried it, and I loved it! I have taken all but three of the CrossFit seminar courses for just more education — I love them. I signed up for this one, but I was actually really scared and had no idea what it was going to be like.”

One of her top goals is to get stronger. “I want to be able to do the WODs at Rx…I am typically about 10 pounds shy of Rx most days,” she says.

She arrived to the seminar eager to learn but not expecting to hoist an Atlas stone onto her shoulder or carry a fully loaded yoke across the gym. “The seminar teaches people — especially women — that you can do many things you don’t think you can do,” Tran says.

Participant Karin Jung agrees. She says the seminar course was a confidence booster. “I signed up for the course primarily because I was a little afraid of it,” Jung says. “I’ve been doing CrossFit for about two years, but was by no means confident in doing strongman movements. Things like this force you out of your comfort zone. I think we should do things that scare us; it’s not until you push yourself further that you give yourself opportunity to grow.”

strongman-strongwoman2Like Tran, Jung did not wake up Saturday morning thinking she would carry a yoke on her back, much less 325 pounds on that yoke. “I feel pretty powerful and I surprised myself — picking up that much weight, having it on my shoulders — it was pretty cool. Before I started CrossFit two years ago and even attempted things like this seminar, my ideal revolved around being skinny. Now I want to be strong. We as women carry the weight of the world on our shoulders every day; to tangibly come to the gym and carry some heavy weight, it really just proves we can push boundaries and do things we don’t think we are capable of,” Jung adds.

Even the women with previous experience carrying kegs and jerking logs overhead discovered newfound strength at the seminar.

Danielle Hawkins, 29, was by far one of the more experienced women at the seminar, not afraid to add more weight to the movements she attempted. Hawkins first discovered strongman at the same time she first discovered CrossFit at Rainier CrossFit in Seattle, Wash., five years ago. She recently moved to Arkansas with her husband and has since opened up the first CrossFit gym in the city of El Dorado. She drove seven hours from Arkansas to attend the seven-hour course.

“I knew I had to come to this seminar because lifting heavy has given me so much confidence, and I want to continue to grow not only as an athlete, but also as a coach and the movement I am starting in my town in Arkansas. [When I first started CrossFit] I couldn’t do pull-ups — now I can string muscle-ups together. I was doing PVC pipe overhead squats for a year and a half; now I am up to 140 pounds. It’s just changed my life, and I think every woman can benefit from lifting heavy — not only for self-esteem, but also to be able to age well and do things on our own as we age — from carrying your groceries, to squatting, to sitting on a toilet. The seminar was awesome and you can incorporate this stuff in your everyday workouts. They are short and intense. Being able to move a large load over distance — it’s pretty amazing,” Hawkins says.

Orlando is passionate about reaching athletes like these women, from all different backgrounds and walks of life. His hope is that those who attend the seminar discover they are stronger — and capable of more — than they initially believe.

“There are so many success stories from the seminar, especially from women. For instance, at a recent seminar in Hawaii, a 66-year-old woman came into the gym for a regular class and didn’t realize there was a seminar about to start,” Orlando said. “I convinced her to stay through the opening comments. She stayed the entire day and she blew everyone away with her grit and determination. She carried 240 pounds on the yoke, 100 pounds per hand on the farmers, partner-flipped a 500-pound tire and almost shouldered the 65-pound stone. She had never touched any of the gear beforehand, and she had no idea what she was getting into when she woke up that morning. She told me at the end of the day that the seminar changed her life…she also told me she had just had a knee replacement and that her doctor had told her never to squat again. She is the reason I travel around the world in the hopes of exposing people to these valuable movements.”

So ladies, do you think you have what it takes to try CrossFit Strongman? You don’t? Perfect. You are the ideal candidate to give it a shot. Stand back and watch you roar.

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