My former running partner has decided she wants to start lifting now that we’ve run our 5K race and retired from our running careers. I have tried to lift with her a few times, but the dynamic doesn’t seem to work very well: I end up coaching her instead of focusing on my own workout, and we spend about 50% of our workout just swapping plates. I’ve still been encouraging her to get on a program and take up lifting on her own, and so armed with Jamie Eason’s LiveFit program she has ventured forth into the weight room.
From what I can tell, she is progressing well thus far. I know she is sticking to her routine because every time she goes to lift, I get inundated with a series of text messages. “Where do I do this exercise?” “I can’t find this machine.” “I squatted 75lbs (including the weight of the bar).” Generally, I am entertained for an hour and do my best to coach her from afar, but inevitably the hour always ends with the same text message: “I still feel very lost.”
She is not alone in this sentiment. In fact, I dare say that most women are intimidated in some way or another by the weight section in the gym. I’ve read and responded to enough of these threads on reddit to know that there are women who run for hours on the treadmill each week, but they shirk away from the mere thought of some serious strength training. To demonstrate my point, I’ll pull one of these rabbits out of my top hat:
And if you enjoyed that act, I will be happy to repeat my trick ad nauseum for your entertainment and a small fee of $5. There’s a nearly infinite supply of similar posts floating around on the internet. I know there is because I experienced all of these feelings of doubt when I first started lifting and there are like 3.5 billion women out there who are just like me. Somewhere in the archives of the internet there is a message from myself to my future strength coach: “I read the book you gave me. I am still hesitant to start lifting. I feel scared. I don’t really know what I’m doing and I think I’m just going to look and feel like a circus elephant. I can’t do it.”
And now it’s 9 months later and I can deadlift more than twice my bodyweight. What the hell happened?
It’s easy for me to scoff at women who are afraid of the gym, because I see the gym as something harmless. Fear of iron is on par with being afraid of the dark: totally and completely irrational. But at some point someone had to say to me: “You’re being ridiculous. Whats the worst that could happen? ” I could be eaten by the monsters under my bed if I go to sleep. The worst that could happen in the gym is positively tame in comparison. You could show up and look like you have no clue what you’re doing. Guys might approach you and try to tell you how to improve. More likely: You will go to the gym and it will be totally anti-climactic. You will pick some shit up. You will realize how pathetically weak you are. You will return home and wake up sore the next day. Congratulations, you’ve successfully lifted weights. And survived.
I keep telling the baby lifter that I’m nurturing that the feeling of being lost in the weight room will fade as she continues going back to the gym. Exploring the weight room is a lot like moving into a new neighbourhood: the longer you live there, the more familiar your surroundings become until you feel like you’re at home. When you first start lifting, you’ll have all these questions about how much weight to use and whether your elbows should stick out and whether or not your hands should be shoulder width apart, but you’ll answer these questions as you progress down the path of becoming a certifiable beast.
Now, it is possible that when you start squatting the bar (or less) with atrocious form for the first time, some dude might feel the need to rescue a damsel in distress. I’m going to let you in on a little secret, ladies: most of the guys in the weight room of a commercial gym have no idea what they’re doing. They’re probably just doing what their buddies said they should do, which is usually a case of the blind leading the blinder. Or they do know what they’re doing and they’re too self-involved to notice anyone else. Or they’re a nice guy who has insightful advice that will produce immediate results, although this case is rare in my experience. Please excuse my casual sexism (which is nonetheless true).
I would be a blatant liar if I said that at some point I became oblivious to the fact that I am usually the only woman in the weight room. I’m often conscious of the fact that I’ve got the only pair of boobs but the smallest rack in a room full of jacked dudes. The difference is that I’m no longer intimidated by this fact; I’m too busy focusing on how badass I am. There is this funny correlation that I’ve noticed: working to improve my physical strength has also increased my confidence and mental strength. Initially, I just had to buck up and force myself to confront my fears. Looking back, I realize that even though the weight area seemed terrifying, stepping inside was a very low risk move with some of the biggest payoff I’ve ever received: now I’m smaller, stronger, hotter and simply happier than I’ve ever been and who doesn’t want that?
So what’s stopping you from conquering your fear of the weight room? We’re women: we’re mentally and physically strong. Channel that strength into your first act of strength training: step outside of your comfort zone and overcome the first hurdle on the path towards true hotness.