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The World's Strongest Woman?

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Feb. 2, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Carrie Boudreau could almost be called petite -- especially considering what she can accomplish. Although she weighs in around 125 pounds, researchers at the University of Dayton in Ohio say she's "arguably" the world's strongest woman overall.

How strong is strong? Boudreau holds the world record in her weight class of 56 kg (about 124 pounds) for lifting a mere 1,154.72 pounds. Granted, that's a total sum of three lifts: the dead lift, the bench press, and the squat lift. But in the dead lift alone, where the athlete bends at the waist and lifts the weight off the ground, Boudreau lifted 491.72 pounds.

There are women who have lifted more, but no one of lighter body weight has lifted more. The researchers wanted to find out, through statistical analysis, who is the world's strongest woman pound-for pound. The subjects in the study, published in the January issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, were the 36 current world record holders according to the International Powerlifting Federation.

"We know that bigger people tend to be stronger, so when we're trying to compare people of different sizes, it sounds easy. You'd think all you'd have to do is take what they lift and divide by how heavy they are. But it turns out that's actually not a good way to do it because of the laws of biology, and the [fact] that when animals get bigger they don't get proportionately stronger," lead author Paul M. Vanderburgh, EdD, associate professor in exercise science at the University of Dayton, tells WebMD.

In order to factor in the influence of body size correctly, Vanderburgh says, results were compared using two different statistical formulas, which have been published before in similar studies. "The reason we stuck with the two models we used [was that] those are the only ones that have any theoretical basis," he tells WebMD.

After all the numbers were run, using both statistical models, Boudreau came out on top -- even though she was in the more competitive middleweight classes. "That's really how remarkable she is, because even if you don't take into account that she's up against much more competition, she's still the strongest. It's quite remarkable," Vanderburgh tells WebMD.


Powerlifting is not the same as Olympic lifting, which, Vanderburgh says, uses more technique to "snatch" and "clean and jerk" the weight off the ground. Powerlifting is more a feat of pure strength -- of muscle defying gravity. Beyond even that, though, Vanderburgh says they were trying to do more than just find the world's strongest woman; they were trying to show a way to use the statistical models to get at the 'truth.' "It's not just the world's strongest woman," Vanderburgh says. "The more global application is: Let's get at the truth and find out who's the strongest -- [or] the fastest -- ... but do it correctly."

He says it's important to accurately measure fitness. "Often times we tend to find that smaller people are more fit, but part of the problem is how we measure fitness. Instead of measuring it correctly, we measure it based on maybe how fast they run, or what their oxygen consumed per body mass is. But the problem is, we don't take into account the influence of body size correctly," Vanderburgh tells WebMD. "So we're using a technique that has an interesting finding when applied to women powerlifters. That's a specific finding, but the general application of the finding is: We've got to be careful about how we think about body size differences and what effect that should have."

He says that kind of information can apply to military information testing, and even to medicine in terms of proper dosage for a person. Next on the agenda is the comparison of women to men -- to find the world's strongest person. But that is not cut-and-dried, either.

"Men to women is not a fair comparison because male powerlifters have been around for a long time. World records have been constantly changing and increasing by ever smaller increments for years for men, [but] for women it's a relatively new sport," Vanderburgh says. "So what we're dealing with is apples and oranges. ... I don't think we're near the physiological extreme of what women are capable of; for men, I'm pretty confident that we are."

Vital Information:

  • Using statistical methods that take body size into account, researchers have determined that Carrie Boudreau is the strongest woman in the world.
  • Researchers often find that smaller people are more fit, but this is partly due to the way fitness is measured.
  • Better understanding of body size differences could be applicable to military information testing or proper dosing of medication.
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