England’s Strongest Woman competition runs annually, and it combines both powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting techniques. The sport primarily tests participants’ strength, but also assesses endurance through cardiovascular conditioning training.
What’s the difference between powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting we hear you cry? Well, powerlifting is made up of three main techniques: Squat, Deadlift and Bench press. The emphasis is on lifting the most weight. Olympic weightlifting involves lifting a barbell with weight plates. Competition lifts are split into ‘snatch’, a wide-grip single move lift, and ‘clean and jerk’, a close-grip double move lift.
We talk to Gemma about her journey from beginning strength training to becoming England’s Strongest Woman (under 82kg).
Q&A With Gemma Ferguson
Q. Where did your fitness journey start?
A. My journey started when I joined the army. I joined in 2005 and I began weightlifting when I left, in 2012. It wasn’t until four years later I discovered the World’s Strongest Woman competition.
Q. Did you always enjoy sport?
A. I’ve always been good at sports but didn’t really start to enjoy them until I hit my 20’s.
Q. You have competed in strength competitions around the world, what are they like?
A. They are incredible! Strength sport is so empowering as a woman. I’ve competed in the World’s Strongest Woman competition in 2018, held in North Carolina. It was so surreal; the women are all amazing.
Q. You competed in this year’s (2019) finals for England’s Strongest Woman. How did you do? Did you enjoy it?
A. Well, I’m pleased to say I am now England’s Strongest Woman, 2019 in the under 82kg weight category. The event was run seamlessly by Andy Brown and his team, from Rhinos Gym in Tamworth. It was the best experience of my life and it hasn’t quite sunk in yet that I’ve done it.
Q. What advice would you have for someone wanting to start strength training?
A. Get to a gym and get yourself a good personal trainer or coach. It’s worth finding someone that specialises in strength and conditioning or the area of strength you want to peruse.
Q. Would you say that training helped with other aspects of your life?
A. Yes having the routine and structure helped me a lot. It keeps me very grounded and has helped with personal issues such as anxiety.
Q. You regularly post inspirational quotes and your own anecdotes about how women in strength sports should, and do, encourage each other. Can you share your experiences of competing and training both negative and positive with us?
A. I believe that as women we should help to build each other up, not tear each other down. I have had a lot of negative comments in the past. I find the ‘kill them with kindness’ approach works well!
I will continue to support women, push them to keep believing in themselves and show them, through my own journey, that we can achieve anything we want to!
Q. Have you had any experience with negativity towards your chosen sport and if so, how do you deal with this?
A. Yes mainly from men (but sometimes women) that call me butch and manly. As my confidence has grown, I have been able to drown those voices out and I no longer allow it to phase me. I just continue to show people what I do, and I love how strong my body is. I’m proud of what it can do.
Q. What would you tell someone who didn’t feel confident in trying strength training?
A. Please don’t be afraid. Find a gym where you can go and try it. I promise you will fall in love. Be brave, you can do it!
Q. What made you decide to progress from training yourself to training others?
A. I love my newfound confidence which I attribute to strength training. If I can give that to someone else, why not! I find it so rewarding when people come to me with their personal bests on lifts or milestones with weight loss.
Q. If you could only play one song on repeat when training, what would it be?
A. My new favourite, and the one that got me through England’s Strongest Woman, is Hypersonic missiles by Sam Fender.
Q. What food is your guilty pleasure?
A. Cookies and cake.
Q. How do you relax and unwind after a busy day?
A. A walk with my two Springer spaniels Murphy and Jackson.
Q. What is your number one fitness tip?
A. Consistency is key.
Q. What does a typical day look like for you?
A. I walk my dogs every morning, then I set off to work (I’m an Openreach engineer) After work I walk them again, train, food prep and then finally bed (very regimented but it works for me)!
Q. What type of meal would you suggest for fuelling a great workout?
A. Everyone’s different I like something light. I usually choose rice cakes with peanut butter and jam, a protein shake and a black coffee.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? Upcoming events? Any advice?
A. My next competition is Britain’s Strongest Woman. If you’re interested in beginning Strongwoman, please give me a follow on Instagram gemma_strongwoman_fergie.
If you feel inspired to start strength training, but aren't sure where to start, why not try a group exercise class that incorporates strength training. Click here to find a local BODYPUMP, Kettlebell or Boxercise class near you today.