Women’s weightlifting is on the rise, with an increasing number of females of all age groups discovering the benefits of incorporating resistance training into their lives.
With role models like Spain’s Lydia Valentín, who scooped the Women’s 2017 Lifter of the Year award, women’s weightlifting is becoming more established in the grassroots, feeding an ever-expanding talent pool at an elite level across an unprecedented number of countries.
A 2011 survey found that only 0.9% of women used weight training for fitness. However, times are changing.
Although more recent figures are not available for comparison, it is worth noting that the #girlswholift trend has been posted an incredible 21.5 million times on Instagram alone, highlighting the irresistible momentum behind the movement.
It’s 35 years since the IWF opted to take women’s weightlifting under its wing, with the first international women’s tournament held three years later in Budapest, Hungary.
With the foundations put in place by the IWF, World and Continental Championships followed for all age groups, before women’s weightlifting finally secured a spot at the Olympic Games for the first time 18 years ago in Sydney, Australia.
Fast-forward to the present day and significant developments are still occurring that will pave the way for future generations of female weightlifters to take to the podium.
Last month, at the Asian Youth Championships, Iran, a long-time powerhouse of men’s weightlifting, fielded its first team of female athletes at an international weightlifting event in Urgench, Uzbekistan.
Despite having less experience at competing, the team performed impressively, and a fifth-place finish for Elnaz Bajalani in the 63kg division in the Youth Championships underlined the potential long-term impact of the move.
Iran’s national federation started training female athletes just over two years ago and in February the federation, with permission from the Ministry of Sports, held a competition to identify lifters who would represent the country at the championships.
The federation’s president, Ali Moradi, said that Iran’s female lifters should gain inspiration from Sara Ahmed, who became the first Arab woman to win a weightlifting medal at the Olympics – and the first Egyptian woman to secure a Games model in any sport – with a bronze in the 69kg category at Rio 2016.
Ahmed is only 20 years old and has already won gold medals at the Youth Olympic Games, World Junior Championships and World Youth Championships. Last month, Mohamed Eldib, the head coach of Egypt’s national weightlifting team, spoke of the impact of her victory on the sport in her country by describing how the number of registered female weightlifters had rocketed tenfold to more than 300 since Rio 2016.
Ahmed’s success may serve as an inspiration to female lifters across the Middle East and North Africa region, but the likes of superstar Valentin are already providing a high-profile platform for athletes in her home country and beyond.
The Spaniard first produced her trademark lift celebration – a beaming smile and ‘heart’ hand gesture – more than four years ago, and the charismatic 33-year-old is well aware of the importance of engaging with her supporters, of whom there are more than 180,000 on Instagram alone.
With more women than ever before experiencing the benefits and buzz of weightlifting, the future for female athletes in a sport that until only a generation ago was dominated by men has never looked brighter.