Whether it was pre-corona when I was lifting six times a week, or now, in the midst of COVID-19, when I go to the gym whenever I can, every time I step foot into the gym, it looks the same: predominantly women on the ab mats and treadmills and men in the weight room.
This was the case last year when I went to Lehigh’s Taylor gym, this past semester at Syracuse’s Barnes Center, and for the past four years at my hometown gym.
When I go down to the weights and machines there are, at most, three other women there with me. Although I wish this wasn’t the case, I can’t say I don’t know why this is because I once designated myself to the cardio machines too.
About four years ago, my brother and I decided to get gym memberships. I remember going together everyday, and as he would strength train in the weight room, I would torturously run on the treadmill for half an hour and then do an ab workout on a yoga mat for ten minutes. This got old quick; it felt like a chore and it became very easy to feel unmotivated to go. Although my brother consistently encouraged me to lift with him, I continued to force myself to do cardio because I was scared.
It was intimidating to enter the weight room full of huge, muscular men and perform exercises I had never tried before. Even with my brother guiding me through the motions, it was always in my head that people were watching me – were they judging my form? Were they amused by the fact that I couldn’t lift more?
Although completely rational to feel when entering a new territory, looking back, these were some of my most ridiculous thoughts. However, it is the reason many girls give me as to why they won’t lift. Women will comment on how impressive it is that I lift, but cannot picture themselves, or even give themselves the chance, doing the same.
However, what I wish people who hold these concerns understood is that everyone starts somewhere. Yes, even that beefcake staring at himself in the mirror curling 40 lbs weights – trust me, he couldn’t always do that. Also, the gym is a place of self-improvement – no one is watching you because they are occupied with their own health.
Even if I can get other girls to look past these insecurities, sometimes they still won’t lift because they are scared of getting big and bulky. This couldn’t be farther from the truth – you will not look like Arnold Schwarzenegger from deadlifting or benching.
Your physique is the result of a combination of factors: physical activity, nutrition, genetics, etc. This part is just science: you will lose mass if you are in a calorie deficit (meaning you are expending more calories than you are intaking) and you will gain mass in a calorie surplus (meaning you are consuming more calories than you are expending). Further, if you are working out you will use and tear your muscles, which will repair, with the help of protein intake, and become bigger and stronger.
Some of my favorite female powerlifters and strength trainers, such as Martha Salaya, Nikki Blackketter, Robin Gallant and Whitney Simmons, are quite small people. They have wide developed backs, small waists, wider hips and bigger glutes and they are strong as hell, but they are not built like tanks.
It’s very encouraging to meet other women who share this common interest and who understand the struggles that come with participating in an activity that is dominated by men.
It is also inspiring to see these women come together – it is the main reason why I love brands like Alani Nu, Women’s Best and Gymshark who give these women a platform to share their love and encouragement for weight lifting.
There is nothing that makes me feel more confident than lifting. I live for the rush of endorphins, happiness, and sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a lifting session. I can only hope that this community of female powerlifters expands.