Earlier this year British Weight Lifting (BWL) partnered with Women In Sport to create a campaign – Strong Is Not A Size – that used social media to explore women’s attitudes and experiences of lifting weights, with the ultimate aim of encouraging more women to lift weights as part of their exercise routine.

There were three hypotheses that the campaign was based on, writes BWL Partnership manager Kayleigh Richmond. The first stated that ‘society says weight lifting is for men and not women’. The second discussed whether ‘the environment is not welcoming’ and the third explored whether ‘women were not as knowledgeable as men in the act of weight lifting’.

It was agreed that the focus of the campaign should be around supporting women to gain the confidence to incorporate weight lifting into their routine and ask for help if they felt like they needed it. The hashtag #StrongIsNotASize felt appropriate and empowering.

During initial consultations prior to the campaign launch it became apparent that there was a general perception around the word ‘strong’. Those questioned said they thought of someone being strong as a bulky, muscly male gym goer.

We wanted to challenge the notion that ‘strong’ doesn’t have to look a particular way, it doesn’t have a criteria. Anybody can be strong and strong can mean different things to different people.

The campaign launched on 7th June via social media with a call to action asking women to share their interpretations of what strong meant to them and incorporate the hashtag #StrongIsNotASize into their post. Stories included women feeling strong and empowered at the gym, in everyday life and how they used exercise as an escape from daily life.

A common theme was mental health. Many women spoke of how the gym and lifting weights had helped them to overcome depression and anxiety. Whilst many highlighted that the gym had helped improve their health in general.

The stories were empowering and within 12 hours of the campaign going live we had reached over 1,500,000 impression on Twitter alone. Celebrities including actress Catherine Tyldesley and former PussyCat Doll Ashley Roberts supported the campaign sharing their perception of been strong.

Due to the success of the pilot we are now looking to expand Strong Is Not A Size nationally and open the conversation to both males and females and encourage individuals to share their stories about how strong isn’t necessarily a size to them, and how been strong comes in many different forms. 

Most recently the hashtag was widely used on World Mental Health Day with both men and women sharing their stories. 

Multiple British record holder Zoe Smith lends her support to the #StrongIsNotASize campaign

Multiple British record holder Zoe Smith lends her support to the #StrongIsNotASize campaign 

The benefits of strength training

Various studies have shown that exercise can increase cognitive function and increase functional strength, which can offset diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Incorporating strength training into routine exercise can challenge the neuromuscular system and help prevent degeneration of cognitive function.1

Increase in functional strength can help build on the foundations of everyday exercises such as pushing and pulling movements, picking up and putting down. It is important that this is maintained into later life as well so that the muscles can complete daily tasks and not degenerate over time.

In a recent study it was found that there was a correlation between strength training and the positive effects it had on individuals who suffered with depressive symptoms. The study tested 1877 participants, and the hypothesis tested whether strength or resistance exercise training would have anti-depressive effects on the individual and be an alternative to typical therapy sessions. The main findings concluded that strength/resistance exercise training significantly reduced depressive symptoms among adults regardless of health status.2

In many instances there has been a direct correlation between the benefits of general exercise and mental health with older adults that suffer from social isolation. Exercise can be used as a fun activity to socialise, and to help keep older adults fit. Four in ten of us (42%) have felt depressed because we felt alone.3 These statistics could support the notion that group exercise classes, or older adults engaging in exercise may feel positive mental health benefits as a direct result of the exercise carried out.

Dave Hembrough, a British Weightlifting Coach, from The Centre for Sport and Exercise Science at Sheffield Hallam runs a program called MindfullySTRONG. The program integrates mindfulness and strength training.

'Olympic Weightlifting, strength training and the lifting of weights is a great form of physical activity to support positive mental health,' says Dave. ‘It is accessible, scalable and social. All of which are key considerations for programmes that help people improve their mental well-being or to avoid mental health challenges.'

It is important for individuals to feel comfortable sharing their experiences and feeling confident that they can get support should they feel that they need it or want it. The stigma surrounding mental health is becoming increasingly minimised, but still exists. Addressing mental health issues and encouraging the conversation around mental health are steps in the right direction to help end the stigma.

British Weight Lifting will be continuing to promote the campaign and the notion that strength is personal, it can be physical or emotional and everyone finds it in their own way.

To support #StrongIsNotASize follow British Weight Lifting on social media, and post your own stories of support or personal experience of ‘strong’ means to you and include the hashtag.

Twitter: @GBWeightlifting  Instagram: britishwl

British Weight Lifting is the National Governing Body for the sport of Weight Lifting and Para-Powerlifting within the United Kingdom.

As the UK's recognised governing body our role is to inspire a nation of weight lifters by example of exceptional leadership and expertise.

We are involved in the growth and continued success of weight lifting at every level. We support a network of weight lifting clubs and gyms across the UK, as well as those actively involved in Olympic Weight Lifting and Paralympic powerlifting disciplines. We strive to deliver exceptional training programmes, educational structures and competitions that create opportunities for people to participate and excel in our sport. Whether you’re an aspiring weightlifter at your local club or an elite athlete competing on the international stage, we are here to help you fulfil your potential.

Figures provided by UK Active indicate that only 24% of women aged 19-65 and only 34% of men aged 19-65 meet the current strength training guidelines. The Chief Medical Officer for the UK recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and to do strength exercises on 2 or more days a week. Children aged 5-18 are advised to do at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day – this should range from moderate activity, such as cycling and playground activities, to vigorous activity, such as running and tennis. Adults over 65 are encouraged to do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or walking every week and strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).


1 Andy Pilides – More Than Muscle, Ten Benefits To Strength Training
2 Brett R. Gordon, MSc1; Cillian P. McDowell, BSc1; Mats Hallgren, PhD2; et al - Association of Efficacy of Resistance Exercise Training With Depressive Symptoms
3 https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/the_lonely_society_report.pdf

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