The Current

What heavy lifting taught Alyssa Ages about true strength

Toronto-based journalist Alyssa Ages first got hooked on strength athletics after some friends arranged to meet her at a strongman gym for a look around. Now, she's written about what lifting really heavy objects can teach us about ourselves.

Ages says the sport isn't about superhuman strength, 'but just about being more human'

A woman gets ready to lift a concrete Atlas stone.
Alyssa Ages gets ready to lift an Atlas stone. She lifted a similar stone weighing 90lbs in her first strongman gym session. (Geoff Fitzgerald)

When journalist Alyssa Ages first eyed the metal door of a global strongman gym in Manhattan, she nearly left the premises out of fear. But by the end of her first session, Ages was lifting a 90lb [40.8kg ] concrete Atlas stone over her shoulder.

"I just had this overwhelming sensation of powerful mass and invincibility," she told The Current's Matt Galloway. "I remember looking around the gym and just thinking, I think I could lift anything in here."

Ages had tried various sports as an adult, but the sport of strongman felt natural and has even helped her through some of the most difficult times of her life. Ages has even written a book about the sport: Secrets of Giants: A Journey to Uncover the True Meaning of Strength

"One of the things I discovered ... is that maybe lifting heavy things isn't about being superhuman, but just about being more human," she said.

A holds a rope as she pulls a semi-truck.
Alyssa Ages competes in a truck pull event in a strongman competition. (Jonathan Ages)

Since her first time heavy lifting in 2014, Ages has competed in several strongwoman competitions. She said her proudest moment was when she came in second at a national event, after holding two suitcases weighing 120lbs [54.4kgs] each.

"You have to go into this kind of pain cave," she said. "You have to zone out of everything else going on around you and just stand there and just dig in and hold on for dear life."

Turning weakness into strength

One of the first things Ages remembers learning during her initial strongman session was how to fail a lift.

It wasn't just to prevent injury; Ages said it also teaches lifters that failure is a "very accepted part" of the sport.

"Learning failure teaches you resilience," she said. "It teaches you that there are difficult things in life, but that doesn't mean that you are a failure."

This is something Ages learned when she suffered a miscarriage in 2016.

"It instantly took me from this place of feeling like the strongest, most invincible, powerful person that I had ever been, to feeling vulnerable and broken and weak," she said. 

On the left, a woman in a green button-up shirt smiles at the camera. On the right, the cover of Alyssa Ages' new book, Secrets of Giants, which depicts an illustration of a woman holding a giant circle.
Alyssa Ages is the author of Secrets of Giants, a new book that explores the true meaning of strength. (Submitted by Penguin Random House Canada)

Although other sports like running were "really cathartic," Age said strongman training after her miscarriage made her feel like her body was capable of doing hard things again, despite the trauma it went through. 

"I had to believe in that moment that this [body part] that felt like it had kind of betrayed me and that it was weak … I had to also believe that it was a place of strength," she said.

She also drew strength from her fellow lifters, some of whom were tackling their own vulnerabilities. 

"I spoke to people who went through abuse, neglect, losing community or family," she said. "This was a way to feel strong and to be strong, and to understand that there was a way that they could take themselves out of the way that they were feeling."

It helps that strongman gyms can be "incredibly welcoming," including to women, says Ages.

"The men in the sport that I have met want to see what the women can do. Women want to see what each other, what we can all do," she said.

"When you [heavy lift] with a community of people, there's this connection that forms where you're all trying something really, really difficult, and that really bonds people together." 


  • An earlier version of this story referred to the sport Alyssa Ages participates in as weightlifting. In fact, the correct term is strongwoman or strongman.
    Sep 15, 2023 2:49 PM ET


Mouhamad Rachini is a Canadian-Lebanese writer and producer for CBC Radio's digital team. He's worked for several CBC Radio shows including The Current, Day 6 and Cross Country Checkup. He's particularly passionate about stories from Muslim and Middle Eastern communities. He also writes about soccer on his website Between the Sticks. You can reach him at

Produced by Alison Masemann

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