10 Most Influential Women in the Strength and Conditioning World

10 Most Influential Women in the Strength and Conditioning World

Guest Post by Yael Grauer

When I saw that KickBackLife’s list of 65 most influential strength coaches didn’t include a single woman, I did what any self-respecting health and fitness writer would do. I ranted about it in the comments.

Chris promised me that he was not a member of the He-Man Woman Haters Club, and even offered to let me write a guest post with my own list. I jumped at the opportunity. In alphabetical order, here are ten female strength coaches, historians and industry pioneers who sing the strength mantra from the mountaintops.

Lists such as this one are always subjective, so feel free to add your own female fitness heroes in the comments.

1. Rachel Cosgrove is a total rock star in the fitness industry. An accomplished athlete in her own right, Cosgrove’s experience runs the gamut. She’s completed a full Ironman, set an American record in powerlifting with a 297.6 deadlift, and competed as a fitness competitor.

Cosgrove co-owns Results Fitness in California, named one of the top gyms in the U.S. by Men’s Health magazine, where she works with primarily female clients. She was named IDEA’s Personal Trainer of the Year in 2012.

Cosgrove’s bestselling book, The Female Body Breakthrough: The Revolutionary Strength-Training Plan for Losing Fat and Getting the Body You Want, is phenomenal. Instead of offering just another workout program, she delved into the strategies, mindset and attitude necessary for a lifetime of fitness. Rachel boldly delved into some of the murkiest territory for female athletes, including overcoming self-destructive food issues and dealing with fun things like hormones, bloating and cramps. Cosgrove also worked in a lot of prehab into her book, helping prevent some of the most common injuries women deal with.

“Most women have never really learned how to push themselves and really don’t know what they’re capable of, whereas men tend to be on the other side where they think they’re capable of more than they’re probably capable of,” Cosgrove told me in an interview for the Performance Menu a while back. “It’s a matter of realizing what they’re capable of and learning how to demand that of themselves and not being afraid to push themselves harder than they have before to get their body to change and to build that strength and to see themselves transform into what they want to look like. And believing in themselves. I think women are harder on themselves than men are. In general, I think probably more men need to lift less weight and more women need to lift more weight,” she added. Amen to that.

2. Tracy Fober is a physical therapist who developed a hexagonal training bar for rehabilitation, performance and fitness professionals. However, you probably know her because of her Kono Project DVD set, which contains footage from the 2007 World Team Qualifiers and 2008 Nationals. She captures and analyzes weightlifting footage with Dartfish video analysis software, and the videos allow viewers to scan weight classes for specific lifters, watch lifts with two views at half-speed, and really learn from studying these lifts. Fober also runs the Iron Maven blog, with beautiful photo sequences of exercises, as well as interviews with inspirational athletes like Aimee Anaya in the archives. Fober holds master’s degrees in both kinesiology and biomechanics, has coached people at the high school and collegiate levels, and is brilliant at using technology to help coaches and athletes alike. If her work isn’t highly influential yet, it should be.

3. Cassandra Forsythe-Pribanic an expert on nutrition (yes, she’s a registered dietitian with an MS in Human Nutrition and Metabolism, a certified sports nutritionist and the author of the Perfect Body Diet), Forsythe also co-wrote The New Rules of Lifting For Women: Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess. This book is the perfect antidote for women who are sick of being told to do bicep curls with pink 5-lb. dumbbells. It’s got squats and deadlifts in it. Forsythe-Pribanic holds a PhD in Kinesiology from the University of Connecticut (that’s the number one Kinesiology doctoral program in the country), and runs Fitness Revolution Vernon, a group fitness facility in Connecticut. Forsythe-Pribanic is a total brainiac (I mean that in the best way possible), with real-world experience to balance out her vast amount of academic knowledge.

She uses her superpowers for good, and not for evil, and has also spoken out publicly about how very low levels of body fat can negatively affect your mood, and sometimes avoiding those extremes can help preserve your sanity. In an industry that sometimes seems like being fashionable is valued over helping others, I for one, appreciate her honesty.

 4. Andrea Hudy – Known as the Kansas Jayhawks’ secret weapon, Andrea Hudy is a strength and conditioning coach for the D1 men’s basketball program. She’s coached nine national championships, and oversees the Anderson Strength and Conditioning Complex for all KU sports except football.

Hudy was a four-year letterwinner in volleyball at Maryland, and was a member of the 1990 Atlantic Coast Conference volleyball championship team her freshman season. She holds a masters of art and spot biomechanics degree from the University of Connecticut.

Hudy spent 9 years working with national champion men’s and women’s basketball teams at the University of Connecticut, and has worked with 25 former student-athletes who went on to play in the NBA.

“She had an intensity that rivaled all strength coaches,” strength and conditioning coach Gerard Martin told ESPN. “The athletes she worked with forgot about the fact that she’s a female and said, ‘This is our strength coach. She’s strong, she’s in shape, and she can probably kick our asses if we get out of line.’”

Dan Orlovsky, former Huskies football star who currently plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, described Hudy’s “punishment workouts” as “harder than anything we did on the football field” to ESPN.com.

When asked by Greatist writer Jordan Shakeshaft if male athletes were hesitant to take advice from her, Hudy said, “…I have a confidence in my abilities to coach strength and conditioning. I know that these 18-year-old boys have something to learn in the weight room. I’ve been doing this longer than they’ve been alive. So I’m going to take the lead; they’re not.”

Sing it, sister.

5. Sally Moss based in London,  runs the Women’s Strength Training Network on facebook, where she patiently answers questions about strength training and functional fitness.

Moss has competed in powerlifting, weightlifting and strongwoman, works out of Ultimate Performance …

…which Men’s Health called “the best personal training facility in London”

She teaches all sorts of workshops through her training company, Strength Ambassadors, including Ladies Who Lift, a women’s weight training course.

6. Ursula Garza Papandrea is the queen of Olympic weightlifting. She has too many accomplishments to list, but I’ll try. She’s the first and only woman to attain USA Weightlifting’s highest coaching level, an honor held by only 24 people. (She stands alongside Mike Burgener, Glenn Pendlay, Robert Takano, John Thrush and Joe Micela). Papandrea was an elite international athlete, a 5-time world team member, a two-time senior national champion and a two-time Olympic Festival champion.

She was a record holder in both the snatch (in the master’s division) and the clean and jerk. Papandrea has 20 years of coaching experience at both the national and international levels.


7. Krista Scott-Dixon is inspirational, to say the least. She’s the editor-in-chief of Spezzatino, a beautiful online food magazine that raises money for the Healthy Food Bank. She works alongside the equally amazing John Berardi at Precision Nutrition as a storyteller and program director of the Lean Eating coaching program. She holds a PhD in Women’s Studies and can write like nobody’s biz. Oh yeah, and she’s also a grappler and weightlifter in her own right.

Dr. Scott-Dixon’s blog, Stumptuous.com, is a one-stop shop for strength training n00bs and experts alike. It’s got it all: beginner programs, answers to the most pressing girly questions (weight training during and after pregnancy not least among them) and some of the best-written rants you can find online. Krista never tries to sell you anything, and is refreshingly anti-supplements (and anti-calorie counting, for that matter). Stumptuous has a ton of other resources, too: interviews, book reviews, nutrition tips, and oh-so-much more. Stumptuous is an extremely popular blog because it’s highly accessible without being dumbed down, has great information for people of all levels, and is ridiculously fun to read—even for people who have never found a fitness blog they didn’t hate.

8. Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton started lifting weights, doing calisthenics and teaching herself gymnastics moves (such as handstands and headstands) while working as a telephone operator. She worked on acrobatics and gymnastics at Muscle Beach, where she gained much publicity by performing handstands, headstands and lifts with various people—and proving that it was possible to lift weights and still look feminine.

Stockton wrote a column on women’s training, Barbelles, in Strength & Health magazine—back in 1944! It was the most influential fitness magazine of its time. She also helped to organize the first sanctioned women’s weightlifting contests, the first of which was held in 1947. (She competed in that competition, with a 100 lb. press, a 105-lb. snatch, and a 135-lb. clean and jerk, at the body weight of around 105. Stockton earned the “Miss Physical Culture Venus” title in 1948, and was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 2000. She died in 2006 at the age of 88.

9. Meg Stone a two-time Olympian competing in the discus for Great Britain, Meg Stone (formerly Meg Ritchie) holds the NCAA shot and discus collegiate record from her time competing for the University of Arizona. She was the first woman to hold the position of Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University  of Arizona, and later worked in the same position at Texas Tech. She also coached track and field at Appalachian State University, before moving back home to Scotland to work as the National Track and Field Coach.

Meg Stone has coached 4 Olympians (throwers, sprinters and jumpers) in the U.S. and UK, and also coached athletes which went on to play in the NFL, NBA and MLB. She currently works as the head of the Sports Performance Enhancement Consortium, and coaches throwers on the ETSU track and field team. The male throwers at ETSU have set new records in indoor shot, discus, hammer, 35-lb. weight and outdoor shot, and the women have broken 20-lb. weight throw and hammer throw records under Stone’s guidance.

Stone’s personal best throw was 67.48 meters, and her best shot put was 18.99 meters.

10. Jan Todd– I first heard about  Jan when Chip Conrad from BodyTribe recommended I read her book, Physical Culture and the Body Beautiful: Purposive Exercise in the Lives of American Women. The book, published in 1998, explores exercise in women’s lives between 1800 and 1875. (Todd’s other book, Lift Your Way To Youthful Fitness, was co-written with her husband and published in 1985.)

Todd spent many years as a competitive powerlifter, setting over 60 national and world records in five different weight classes during her career. She was included in the Guinness Book of World Records for over a decade, and was considered the strongest woman in the world by Sports Illustrated and other magazines. The first woman inducted into the International Powerlifting Halll of Fame, Todd also received the 2008 Oscar Heidenstam Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions in the field of physical fitness.

Dr. Todd is the co-editor of Iron Game History: The Journal of Physical Culture, and a co-founder of the H.J Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports. The center contains museum exhibits, a research library, and an archive of physical fitness and resistance training material.

A professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas in Austin, she teaches classes in sport and ethics, sport philosophy and sport history. The North American Society for Sport History named Todd the Seward Staley Honor Lecturer in 2008

Honorable Mentions: Becca Borawski, Debbie Schwarts Daminga, Neghar Fonooni, Allyson Goble, Jen Heath, Danny Johnson, Callie Marunde, Heather Mason, Mina Samuels, Rosi Sexton, Nia Shanks, Jen Sinkler, Vanessa Tib, Leigh Peele and Valerie Waters.

Yael Grauer is a health and fitness writer and the managing editor of the Performance Menu: Journal of Health and Athletic Excellence. Her work has appeared in Black Belt, Ultimate MMA, Sherdog.com, T-Nation, Guyspeed, Experience Life, and a handful of trade journals you’ve probably never heard of.

Yael just started working on Olympic weightlifting with the amazing Roger Sadecki about a month ago, and trains in Brazilian jiu-jitsu with the very patient coaches at Alliance MN in Minneapolis. Find her at http://yaelwrites.com/blog, or on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/yaelgrauerwrites

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Leave a Comment:

Jackie says October 16, 2012

Heck yeah!! Thanks for this, these women are inspirations.

Yael Grauer says October 16, 2012

So glad you liked it!

Dexter Tenison says October 16, 2012

No Disa Hatfield?? Lame!

jen says October 16, 2012

Amazing women! Thanks Yael!

Viva BodyTribe says October 17, 2012

Putting Allyson Goble in the same category as people like Callie Marunde and Neghar Fonooni is just downright disrespectful. The latter two inspire and accomplish. The former is takes the experiences of others (Chip Conrad) and passes them off as her own, while ruining and alienating people from one of the last pure gyms in the country.

Solid top 10 though, I would put Jan Todd a bit higher personally. And no Holley Mangold?????? (That was a joke)

Yael Grauer says October 17, 2012

Re: Disa Hatfield (and others have mentioned Diane Vives), I knew I’d miss some people! Unfortunately, I don’t know everyone or everything. That’s why I wrote “Lists such as this one are always subjective, so feel free to add your own female fitness heroes in the comments.”

Re: putting people a bit higher, this was in alphabetical order.

Re: anyone’s personal issues with specific people on the list, I don’t think this is worth addressing.

Thanks for reading!

Essex Personal Trainer says October 18, 2012

Rachel related to Alwyn?

Chip Conrad says October 18, 2012

Viva Bodytribe? You’re an idiot.

Big Chris McCombs says October 18, 2012

Essex, yes, Alwyn’s wife

DebbyK says October 19, 2012

Hi Miss Yael!
Great post as usual. I think you should have put yourself as an honorable mention. You are a great influence in the health and fitness blogosphere.
Keep up the great work!


Yael Grauer says October 21, 2012

Thanks, Debby! That’s so sweet! 🙂

Cara says October 22, 2012

Don’t forget what strength and conditioning IS: using strength training, conditioning, nutrition, etc for the sake of performance enhancement. Folks who use those same principles for the sake of looking a certain way are not the same and, in my opinion, not equal. This is also the difference between COACHES and personal trainers. Coaches coach for performance. Personal trainers train for appearance.

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