Our nation’s capital. The home of our parliament and where all our major decisions are made. The meeting place of politicians who wear Akubra hats, say ‘please explain’ and where Prime Ministers are sworn in and out on an almost regular basis whether we like it or not.
I’ve heard the urban myth that Canberra is also the home of the most roundabouts in Australia. I don’t know if this is true but I do know this: I used the GPS function on my phone to get from my hotel to the Australian Institute of Sport three days in a row and each day I was given a different route. And all three of those different routes took me past Parliament House. On Friday I saw the front. On Saturday I saw the back. And on Sunday I got a little confused on the hundredth roundabout I had to go through and I saw it from both angles twice.
Do all roads in Canberra lead to Parliament House? I refuse to visit it until they reinstate the old rule that allowed every primary school student visiting to roll down the grass hill.
Canberra is also unique because it is the host city of an event almost more exciting than the Winter Olympics and all things figure skating – The Barbelle Club’s Strength Camp II. This second iteration of the Strength Camp began on Friday 2nd March. More than forty ladies descended on the AIS to be inundated with knowledge and power and the excitement was palpable. When I first walked into the combat room where the camp would commence and our first session was held, I was so happy to see so many women already chatting excitedly. Some obviously knew each other and others were exchanging smiles and names as we sat on the mats, not sure what to expect but certain we were going to enjoy these next few days.
Anna, our fearless leader who grew her vision for the original Strength Camp into the powerhouse it is today, greeted everyone with a welcoming speech. One of the many things that stood out to me while Anna spoke was how much emphasis was on this camp being put on by women for women. It is so important for women in the strength community, whether you do Crossfit or powerlifting or strongman, to have other strong women around you. We need them to support us, direct us, listen to us and encourage us. And yet, so many of us train and work in environments dominated by men. Men can be great. Some of my best trainers and coaches have been men and I wouldn’t know most of things I know if it weren’t for them. It is, however, supremely important to have women who understand what you are going through when you endeavour to become stronger.
This sentiment, that women have so much wisdom to share and knowledge to impart, is the backbone of The Barbelle Club and, by extension, the Strength Camp. What an amazing opportunity to have some of Australia’s best female coaches (we can just drop the ‘female’ from that title, really) come together to train other women. And not only did these women coach, they also participated in sessions outside of their own and took advantage of being surrounded by women they could also learn from.
Another sentiment that ran strong throughout the entire weekend was this: When women come together, wonderful things happen. This was evident all weekend, and initially reared its head in our first session. The lovely Merryn and Ciel from Strength and Mobility Australia were our first teachers, working the group through some activation and posture movements which sounded easy at first but I can guarantee were not a breeze. Throughout this session we discovered our posterior chain, moved our wrists in ways they have never moved before and activated muscles that have long been dormant (in my case, at least).
I firmly believe there is no better way to get to know a stranger or two than by helping to stretch their hamstrings and glutes, and doing push ups on their backs while they plank. The smiles and laughter grew throughout the group as we all got to know each other quite well. I never thought I would see the day where I held a plank for longer than a few seconds, let alone did so while laughing and telling someone to put their entire weight on me. This is bonding!
Lunch was the next opportunity for us all to get to know each other better. This may not have been a scheduled ‘session’ but if you put forty-plus women in a room with food, things are going to get interesting. I love women who still eat carbs and as I looked around the room, I knew these were my people.
The lovely Women of Treign were our next coaches. If you don’t already follow the Women of Treign on any platform, I strongly suggest you change that right now. Their gym, ethos and method of coaching is really something to be admired. In a world saturated with ‘beast’ mentalities and ideas that you need to come close to killing yourself in the gym in order to love yourself, it is utterly refreshing to see the way they train and coach and, most importantly, the difference it makes. Mel, Rhian and Nic opened up with some fun games to get the lungs open and the mind clear. You’re never too old to play an almost aggressive game of ‘tag’! Once we had all screamed ourselves into laughter and were red-faced from exertion, we did a pretty great, but rough, team work out that involved a lot (and I mean a lot) of dead ball cleans and over-the-shoulder throws, dead ball squats, burpees and planks. I say it’s great now that I’ve had time to recover but at the time I did not love it. I don’t like burpees. Women of Treign, I really admire you and like you a lot. But I don’t like burpees. I’m sorry.
Following the workout we all sat and got down to the nitty gritty. We talked about intention, about our why in regards to life and training, and we discussed setting an example by being the example. So many of the women in attendance had a story to tell about how they found themselves in their respective strength sport and how their ‘why’ had shaped not only themselves but those around them. A common theme was women wanting to get stronger so their children could see a positive role model in their lives. Some of us spoke of initially moving towards strength from a negative space and I was saddened by how many of us came from a place where we were told, and we believed, that we were taking up too much space in the world. We looked at training as something that could make us better for everyone else but never ourselves. But I was so happy to hear how many women in that room now felt like they were the best version of themselves because of their strength. It was inspiring to hear so many women varying in age, background, culture and lifestyle agree that deciding to be strong was the best decision they had ever made. Not just for themselves but for everyone around them, too.
There were over forty women in that room, which means forty strong and powerful women are out in the world every day showing those around them, both near and far, that strong women are a force to be reckoned with. That’s forty strong women teaching young boys and girls that you have every right to see what your body is capable of doing. That’s forty strong women telling the world that we are here to change the world. Having so many powerful women in one room made something incredibly clear. We were all strong in our own way and yet none of us looked alike. Not even remotely. We all had different bodies, different shapes and different minds. If that isn’t the most wonderful way to smash one thousand stereotypes then I don’t know what is.
It is almost apt that our last session for the day was with Harriet Walker, nutrition extraordinaire. A number of strongwomen I know have sought Harriet’s help with nutrition, for both competition and general lifestyle, and all have raved about her methods. Harriet is one of those wonderful people who not only knows that there are different bodies in the world, she lives by her methods as she is a competitor herself. Harriet spoke to the group about nutrition in an accessible way and gave the ‘why’ along with the ‘how’.
Day One drew to a close and I, personally, was exhausted. It was that good exhaustion though. The type that makes you want to write down everything you have learnt before you sleep, eagerly awaiting what tomorrow will bring. On paper, we all knew what tomorrow held for us. We knew we would be divided in two and would work through sessions covering Powerlifting, Strongman and Olympic lifting. But if Day One was anything to go by, what we expected to learn was not so much about the weights and the movements but about ourselves. Day Two was coming…
Ashley Maree Collis is a writer and lifter of all of the things. You can read more of her brilliant work on her blog Meet Me at the Barbelle The Barbelle Club were incredibly lucky to have her attend The Strength Camp and share her thoughts with us. Thank you Ashley xx Photographs by Barbell Media