Is strong the new sexy? Well, Lorraine Morrison certainly thinks so. And when it comes to super-human feats of strength, the slim and slender 27-year-old tax consultant would put most men to shame.
Her high-intensity Crossfit workouts, which mix gymnastics and weightlifting, have not only changed her body, but have helped transform her life.
"I have been doing Crossfit for two-and-a-half years now," says Lorraine. "Before I started I had never touched a barbell or a dumbbell in my life. I had no experience at all and had only been doing a little bit of yoga and swimming to try and keep in shape. But now I could not imagine life without a barbell!"
The fitness phenomenon, which originated in the US in 2000, has been rapidly gaining traction in Ireland over the last number of years. The training includes running, jumping, pull-ups and weightlifting, with almost all of the exercises requiring the entire body to become involved.
"We do some Olympic barbell lifts such as the squat," says Lorraine. "I remember my first class and I was doing squats for the first time. I started with an empty bar and squatted back on to a box to learn and practice the correct technique. Each movement and the quality of that movement is first and foremost when you are learning the different exercises."
Now Lorraine, who weighs 50kg, is squatting 75kg. And unlike what you see in most gyms around the country, this is performed squatting down as low as possible (known as "ass-to-the-grass).
"My body has changed quite a bit," she says. "As have my outlook and passion. A lot of people don't really understand until they actually experience it. It makes you want to eat and sleep better. The quality of your food and sleep definitely improves. My energy levels are way up and I feel stronger, healthier and fitter. And when I am changing the big bottle for the water cooler at work I don't have to ask for help anymore!"
While gyms are crowded with machines that isolate various body parts, Crossfit uses compound exercises, such as the squat and deadlift, that target the whole body.
"Every month we have set goals and constantly work to improve," says Lorraine. "I remember doing my first pull up and my first hand stand push up – it was like Christmas and Easter coming together! I never thought my body was capable of doing these things."
And for those who think weightlifting will make your body look more Schwarzenegger than Scarlett Johansson, Lorraine is proof that lifting heavy does not turn you into the Incredible Hulk.
"You certainly don't get bulky and won't end up looking like Jodie Marsh," says Lorraine. "But you will get a more athletic build. Now my legs, arms and back are so much stronger and more defined. My upper body is also strong now. I love that. I would have laughed in your face if you had asked me to do a pull up before I started two-and-a-half years ago. And even though it took me a year to do my first proper pull up, it is scary what my body is now capable of doing."
The number of Crossfit gyms has rapidly increased around Ireland over the past few years, but don't expect a plush and polished gym experience.
The average Crossfit gym is as raw as the workouts, and full of people grunting and yelling to the sound of fully loaded barbells frequently hitting the floor. But while this hardcore workout regime may not be for the faint hearted, it does come with benefits.
"I started when I was 25 and I have only one regret – I wish I had started earlier," says Lorraine.
"They are shocked when you tell them but it is always a positive thing," says Lorraine.
"The whole thing around 'strong is the new sexy' has changed the way women perceive their body image and how they should look at their body."
CrossFit for dummies