MY DREAM fitness goal is to be able to lift an adult man over my head. It's basically a joke among friends that's gone way too far, but it's also the definition of a power fantasy. When you're a compact woman, people who are larger than you often like to pick you up, perhaps as an impromptu test of strength, or maybe just as the worst party trick ever—in my early 20s, I had a friend who, despite being a bookish 5'5", would, after a few drinks, invariably try to lift up the nearest, smallest person available. But wouldn't a better trick have been if I could lift him?
Unfortunately, "being able to lift a man above your head" isn't likely to be offered at gyms alongside CrossFit and Zumba, so I had to look elsewhere. Last year, writer and weightlifter Hieu Truong drafted a comprehensive workout plan with this very goal in mind for the women's general-interest website the Toast, co-opting both 2014's trendy ironic misandry and workout spreads in mainstream ladymags. But knowing nothing about weightlifting, I found it too full of sporty jargon to parse—what is a sandbag clean?—much less adapt to my current (nonexistent) strength-training regimen.
My next thought? Portland Fire and Rescue. After all, women firefighters have to carry a tremendous amount of weight day to day, and they've got perhaps the only job where carrying people around is required. "Upper body strength is a challenge for women who want to become firefighters," says Kim Kosmas, a spokeswoman for Portland Fire and Rescue. She told me that aspiring firefighters often show up for training with cardiovascular strength, but need additional training to be able to safely perform key parts of the job, including raising a ladder by themselves, carrying heavy equipment, or "carry[ing] heavy things over their heads."
Heavy things... like people? Kosmas wouldn't say, exactly. So I called up Alta Acosta-Carter, personal trainer and director of Northwest Women's Fitness, whose game response to my question made me think it might not have been the first time she'd heard it. She echoed the importance of upper body workouts, but also stressed core strengthening as a necessary prerequisite to "pull[ing] and press[ing] something over your head." Her suggested regimen? Overhead presses, bicep curls, core work (like planks), and kettle bell swings, which in particular "work that momentum" to help you swing something (or someone) over your head.
I ended up attending my first man-lifting workout (not actually called that) at the gym Acosta-Carter runs: a strength- and core-training circuit for women, where such planks and bicep curls could be had, with supervision from a trainer so I wouldn't unwittingly hurt myself. Years of running and the attendant physique—a noodly upper body on legs of steel—doesn't particularly lend itself to brute strength, so this was a mildly horrifying prospect. I lifted the daintiest weights and struggled through my planks. As of this printing, I am probably still in pain. It's going to be a while before I can lift a grown man over my head, if indeed I ever can. Still, while Acosta-Carter and Kosmas seemed surprised by my question, what struck me was the one thing they didn't say: neither told me it couldn't be done.