The personal stories about women and men alike finding empowerment through strength sports, as well as, CrossFit, has been told numerous times. Each time, there is a new twist and perspective, but quite often, the same type of emotions and feelings.

Gratitude. Excitement. Fulfillment. Sometimes Regret (i.e.: wishing we had found it sooner). Happiness and quite often outright Joy.

Not only is performance-based competition and training helping people value their bodies for what they can do, and giving them confidence they never had, it is giving people passion and purpose outside of their day job and family life.

My own personal experience is nothing too earth shattering, but meaningful to me, nonetheless. As an athlete, I have had the opportunity to go from dealing with a severe injury to doing things I never thought possible thanks to strength training and CrossFit.

After a university basketball career cut short due to chronic compartment syndrome in both shins, I decided to get myself certified as a personal trainer. I worked for an extremely accomplished bodybuilder who eventually got me to try a fitness modeling competition.

I know that bodybuilders can get a lot of flack from other fitness communities, but I think there is value in any sport. Yes, their sport is based on aesthetics, but that does not mean that bodybuilders are not strong, dedicated, and incredibly disciplined in their preparation.

I worked my way down to 137lb at 5’10” and placed 4th in my competition. It was a good experience, but I decided it wasn’t for me. I can’t speak for other fitness competitors, and this is at no fault of the trainer helping me, but at the time, I remember thinking how odd it was that no one cared about my process to get on stage.

I am sure that all of the judges would hope that all of the competitors were healthy, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. But in my category at least, we did not have to do anything outside of a bit of posing. I was about a size 2-4, and could barely squat the barbell or do quality push-ups. In my pursuit for this lean frame, I had lost sight of staying functional and strong.

Jen, 2nd from the left, competing in a natural fitness modeling competition in 2007.

I think to say that only being strong is beautiful is maybe not fair, as that is a relative thing. I personally believe that strong is beautiful, and I love the look of women and men with some hard-earned muscle! But I know that is not everyone’s cup of tea, and that there are many different forms of beautiful.

For me, becoming strong through strength training, whether it be powerlifting or weightlifting or CrossFit, showed how useful my body could be again. Six years after that fitness modeling competition, I was almost 20lb heavier, but so much more capable.

Things that seemed impossible before, especially at my height, like strict handstand push-ups and ring dips, as well as, weighted strict pull-ups, were now possible. Instead of obsessing about numbers on the scale and following a very strict meal plan, I was channeling that focus into goal setting for my squats and snatches, and eating for performance.

While coaching, I have overheard a few seemingly small, but actually huge things that our members have noticed since coming to the gym. Not only are they working out consistently, but they are making lifestyle changes and starting to notice improvements in their quality of life.

They are sleeping better, having improved digestion, and no longer suffering from heartburn. As well as, gardening all day without back pain, developing better eating habits, and making new friends at the gym. For myself, I really noticed it when I was able to lift heavy furniture with my fiancé while moving, and finding it easier to pass my military fitness tests.

So, yes, for some, strong is beautiful. But, strong is so many things: empowering, fulfilling, exciting, but more importantly, being strong is useful! And I wouldn’t trade being a size 2 for being able to deadlift a few hundred pounds any day!

Jen in her Bells of Steel t-shirt, pretty excited about doing waiter’s walks, 2013.

Jen Anderberg is a Level 1 CrossFit Trainer at Titanium CrossFit in Courtenay, BC. An ex-university basketball player, she enjoys exploring the competitive side of CrossFit, weightlifting, and powerlifting. Jen is also the owner of Raido Coaching, a devoted dog mom, food and fitness geek, and closet cowgirl. She believes that lifelong learning and humor will keep that childlike enthusiasm alive in all of us.

How has lifting empowered you in your everyday life?