Most of the time Melanie Nocher can be found wearing her business suit, running one of Edinburgh’s most prominent and busy hotels and dealing with an endless stream of tourists.

But then there are the times when she’s at the gym, just casually lifting 130kg – the equivalent weight of a baby elephant.

She is one of a group of around 30 female powerlifters at her gym and part of a rising trend of women opting to shun the treadmill and the exercise class in favour of barbells and brute strength.

They’re not the only ones; across Scotland, women are embracing a sport traditionally associated with super-strong muscle men in unprecedented numbers.

According to sporting body Scottish Powerlifting, the number of women registered to take part in its competitions has ballooned from just 24 in 2014 to 149 this year, with dozens more training or powerlifting for enjoyment.

The soaring interest in the sport has led to a boom in the number of Scottish women taking part in international powerlifting competitions, while the soaring numbers span all age groups – there are women aged from 15 up to 66 years old registered with the organisation.

And while numbers of men taking part have also increased, the flood of women eager to challenge themselves to lift weights both competitively and for fun has astonished the sport’s organisers.

“We have seen a remarkable growth in the number of women taking part in powerlifting in recent years,” said Johanna Platt of Scottish Powerlifting, a 78kg category competitor who lifts 130kg from a squat, 65kg on the bench and can deadlift 145kg.

“There are a lot of reasons why women are becoming more interested,” she added. “For a start, they’re seeing other women powerlifters on social media and it’s helping them realise they don’t have to be afraid to shun social norms and show they are strong.

“They realise they don’t have to slog away on the treadmill for hours, that they can do something they enjoy and that it doesn’t matter what you look like when you’re doing it. Powerlifting is about what your body can do and how strong you can be.

“And that’s massively inspiring for women.”

The number of women registered to compete with Scottish Powerlifting is now almost on a par with the 180 men currently on the competitive books – an unprecedented situation in a sport traditionally seen as a display of masculine power.

But as well as muscling in on the men in numbers, the sport is said to be bringing a wide range of benefits to its female participants, from boosting body image to supporting mental health and helping build bone strength to offset osteoporosis.

Melanie, 37, hotel manager at Radisson Collection Hotel in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, recently collected a gold medal at the Scottish Push Pull Competition, a combination of deadlift and bench lifts, achieved just 18 months after she took up powerlifting.

She believes the sport has not only made her physically stronger but has boosted her mental health.

“Three years ago, I was diagnosed with depression and generalised anxiety disorder and prescribed medication,” she said. “I was working abroad on the launch of a new hotel brand and juggling that with commuting back and forth to Galway in Ireland to the home I share with my partner Ciaran.

“Ultimately, the lack of mental downtime took its toll and I burned out.

“Powerlifting has given me purpose and focus outside of work. It has definitely reduced my stress levels, made me a more motivated and productive employee and increased my self-confidence.

“The feeling of making progress and pushing yourself beyond what you ever thought you were capable of is so rewarding.”

Melanie competes in the under 63kg category, lifting 92.5kg from squat, 62.5kg bench and deadlifting 130kg.

She added: “I’m an average at best powerlifter – there are many women competing in this sport in Scotland who are shifting more tin than I ever will.

“And there are more and more women at competitions each time – probably as many as 30 at the last competition I did.”

She trains with Athena Powerlifting Sessions, a women’s group in Leith led by personal trainer and powerlifter Kim Wilson. In the last year she has seen 10 of the 30 women she trains – dubbed ‘Athena’s Army’ and including Melanie – enter powerlifting competitions.

Kim, 28, said there is a clear growing interest in the sport among women and a strong, supportive community which has led to friendships outside the gym.

“There is something very cathartic about powerlifting. It has a very healthy impact on the body and mind.

“You can liken it to a form of mindfulness. The focus it requires, the discipline, but also the reward of seeing your body change in an extremely positive way both inside and out.

“It’s very powerful when a woman realises what her body is capable of.”

Last year, University of Limerick researchers concluded that lifting weights is linked to a “significant reduction in depressive symptoms” and concluded that strength training could be used as an alternative or adjuvant therapy for depressive symptoms.

Training with weights is also recognised as a means of building bone density; women lose bone rapidly in the wake of the menopause, which can lead to osteoporosis and increased risk of broken bones.

Kim added: “I’ve struggled with mental health too and I know that as you get stronger physically, you get mentally stronger.

“Females are so often told they’re the weaker sex and not supposed to lift heavy weights which is completely untrue.

“It’s unbelievable how much of a change you can see in women when they find they can do this.”

Like Michelle, managing director of Edinburgh-based digital performance marketing agency iProspect, Anneli Ritari-Stewart, 45, is also in a high-pressure job with big name clients, a business presence spanning 50 countries and a role on the board of Scottish Women in Sport.

A powerlifter for the past six years, at last week’s 2019 Commonwealth Powerlifting Championships in Canada she shattered her previous personal best, lifting a total of 320kgs across the three lifts – 15kgs more than previous total – and earned her a bronze medal.

She wasn’t alone – five further Scottish women powerlifters came home with medals, bringing the national tally to three bronze and three gold.

She said: “There’s a real trend within exercise; it used to be all about cardio but now it’s shifted and people can see the benefits of lifting weights.

“As you get older, you get weaker – that’s just a biomarker of ageing. But if as you get older you do a lot of training with weights, you can turn back time a little bit.

“I feel stronger and fitter now at 45 then I have ever done, and I’ve done a lot of sports – football, marathons and ultra-marathons.

“But powerlifting actually makes you feel stronger.

“There’s a misconception that it will bulk up the body, but really you just get nicely toned.

“Most people wouldn’t know that I’m a powerlifter.”