As I watched Hidilyn Diaz lift a combined weight of 224 kilograms, set new Olympic weightlifting records by lifting 127kg in the Clean and Jerk, and win the country’s first Olympic gold medal, I was emotional.
I am no stranger to the strength of women. Every day, the women in my life embody admirable fortitude with their acts of kindness.
This week, Hidilyn did the heavy lifting of inspiring a nation bogged down by incompetence and machismo on top of a raging pandemic. She herself won over sexist criticism about her sport. To behold great physical strength that has mostly been associated with men — I couldn’t be prouder that the world’s strongest woman is a Filipina.
Hidilyn explains why she wears lipstick when she competes: ‘I want to represent the women in sports. Just because I do weightlifting, it doesn't mean I can't wear lipstick. I can be strong and beautiful, and be an Olympic champion and a woman, too!’
I will always think of Hidilyn's words in Winning Still, a book where she is one of 27 athletes reflecting on their lives beyond their sport. In her essay, “Si Malakas at si Maganda,” Hidilyn explains why she wears lipstick when she competes: “I want to represent the women in sports. Just because I do weightlifting, it doesn't mean I can't wear lipstick. I can be strong and beautiful, and be an Olympic champion and a woman, too!”
To be strong and a woman are not mutually exclusive. It’s exciting to imagine a world where more women are empowered to own up to their strength — to not be turned off by “bulking up” and instead to be eager to take up space. (If most of us can even get there; bulking up takes time and dedication.) Instead of the endless pursuit to be less and less when we weigh and measure ourselves, we can be more.
Now, about the workout. It is dangerous to go from nothing but tree poses on my yoga mat straight to lifting two six-liter gallons of water hooked on a stick of bamboo over my shoulders — the latter is how Hidilyn got creative during the lockdown as she worked around a lack of support and funding on her road to the Olympics — so, if you’re like me, let’s keep it safe at home and start with only dumbbells.
I’m using the exercise app Rebel, a resource that provides access to some of the country’s top fitness experts, right on my phone. I found an easy-to-follow, foundational workout by fitness trainer Cam Lagmay to tone the entire body under the app’s seven-day plan to gain muscle. The app recommends starting light and increasing weight only when I perfect my movement.
Weight training is an excellent way to burn fat and build muscle mass (no shame in wanting to shape up your butt area for your bikinis), all at the same time. I also find that it effectively quiets the mind; that’s what happens when you have to focus on how your body bears the weight.
As a woman lifting something heavy, it is inherently empowering to know that I’m taking agency of my body, becoming stronger, more powerful, and defying society’s expectations. To have just a fraction of Hidilyn power one day — now, that’s something to aspire to!