When Breaking Muscle announced that August would focus on women’s training I became fascinated with the idea of relating my journey through the early days of women’s weightlifting in the United States. This journey centered around one of the most significant athletes in my coaching career: Diana Fuhrman. Before I recount our adventure together, allow me to provide background about my approach to coaching.


After entering a few weightlifting meets, lifting became the most joyous activity I’d ever encountered. Before long, I was introducing others to the sport and saw no reason for any interested individual to be institutionally barred from participating. It was around 1974 when the first women entered a meet in Southern California since Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton had done it at Muscle Beach in the 1940s. Monette Driscoll lifted in several of our local events during the 1970s, and by the start of the 1980s, I was coaching three women who all wanted to enter weightlifting competitions.


The Early Years and Charlatanism

In those days weightlifting competitions were men’s events and the few women who dared to enter were considered novelties and were not regarded as serious athletes. But by 1981 there were enough women competing in the U.S. to support a national championship in Waterloo, Iowa by Joel Widdell.


With this growth came a sudden emergence of coaches claiming to be exclusively women’s coaches. They maintained that women were so anatomically and physiologically unique that only extraordinary training methods could be used to develop them. One even went so far as to claim that women should not perform any squats for three weeks before a competition as it would weaken their legs. This was done to create a unique market and a demand for coaches and was not in the best interests of the female athletes involved.


A number of talented female lifters were hoodwinked into training with these freshly minted gurus of weightlifting. Because the women’s nationals were held separately from the men’s, the charlatan coaches were never exposed to the majority of the best coaches in the country, as they only gathered for the men’s nationals. When the two genders were combined for the first time in 1989, the women’s-only charlatans seemed to vanish.


Diana Fuhrman

Diana Fuhrman, pictured in 1991, was recently inducted into the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame. [Photo credit: Breaking Muscle/Bruce Klemens]


We Become a Single Community

Up until 1989, men’s and women’s weightlifting in the U.S. existed as two separate communities, save for a few coaches and officials who enjoyed the sport so much and participated in both “clubs.” John Coffee, John Thrush, Jim Schmitz, Howard Cohen, and I had excellent men’s coaching resumes and saw no reason not to get involved with coaching women.


I saw Diana Fuhrman, a former tennis player turned weightlifter, as an excellent test-case for my hypothesis that there were far more similarities between men and women athletically than there were differences. At the time, the fastest female sprinter was faster than 95 percent of the men on the planet. Why train her differently than the slowest man?


The women’s world record for the +75 kg class clean and jerk is 193kg, a weight I’m sure 95 percent of the men on the planet could not begin to lift. Is this an argument to train all women differently from all men? Hardly.


When Diana started competing she was often one of a half dozen females in a competition with 25 to 30 men. She was a good technician and attractive, but most of the community considered her to be little more than a novelty. I encouraged her to seek results that would show the true potential of women weightlifters—to be a serious athlete.


I trained Diana with the same training methods I used with my male lifters. Since the intensities were expressed in percentages of maximum, she made progress at the same rate as the men when viewed as percentages. My planning and Diana’s efforts eventually paid off.


The Highlights of the Competitive Record

Diana fulfilled my expectations by training hard and learning how to compete effectively. She won four national championships, represented the U.S. at six World Championships, won two gold medals at the NACACI championships, three gold medals at the Olympic Festival, and set records in the 67.5kg class of 93.0 and 115 as well as a 205 total. When she set the 205 total record at the 1992 Nationals, only one woman in the entire competition, 119.8kg Carla Garrett, totaled more.


While I made some modifications in Diana’s training, they were more for individual reasons than for gender reasons. In the physical training realm, claims are made to create marketing strategies among certain target groups—youth, seniors, overweight, you name it. While some of the distinctions are valid, many are marketing ploys and are not supportable by empirical evidence. There is still far too much faith healing and not enough science in the fitness universe to well serve the needs of many clientele. It’s still a caveat emptor market.


A good coach is a good coach:

An Equal Playing Field: Female Olympic Weightlifting Coaches