Girls That Lift: Let’s break the stigma

I’d like to attempt to break the stigma that is too often associated with girls in the gym. I’ve been lifting weights in the ‘boy section’ for over three years now, and have experienced all the looks, the questions, and the awkwardness which helps create the division of the ‘boy section’ and the ‘girl section’.

Girls, unfortunately you have to take some blame here. I generally keep my gym activities to myself, and my main reason is because of people’s reactions (from girls in particular). Too many times I’ve heard, “wait, you mean proper weights?” or “aren’t you worried that you’ll get too big?” Put simply, yes ‘proper weights’ and no I’m not afraid of getting ‘too big’, mainly because if I wanted to get ‘big’ I’d have to up my game an excessive amount. Women are not made the same as men, we don’t have the same hormones, and therefore we don’t build muscle as easily. If we want to build big muscles, we can, but it means a clean diet, tonnes of protein and workouts not made for just ‘anybody’.

If you want to be toned and lose some weight girls, the best place for you is the weights section. My first ever personal training session was when I was a cardio-junkie, and nothing else. I was asked what I wanted to achieve, and I told him,“I want to get toned”. He replied, “So you want to build muscle, let’s go over to the weights”. Feeling very apprehensive, I followed him into the ‘boy section’ where he made me do the typical ‘male’ workouts. I was squatting with the bar, then I was bench pressing, he even had me doing pull ups! I felt awkward as I was the only girl in that section, but after a few weeks I felt more confident. More importantly, I started to see results! My arms, tummy and bum were so much more defined and I realised I wasn’t going to get ‘big’. With this my confidence grew and I really started to enjoy my ‘manly’ workouts.

However, for a lot of girls it’s not that simple, and this is for various reasons. The common denominator for these reasons is of course the men. Sorry boys, I know it’s not all of you, but there are some who make it very clear that you have entered ‘their section’. Countless times have I walked into the free weights area and been stared at as if they’re asking why I’m there or if I’m lost. It’s made worse if you’re like me, and instead of going for the squat rack – a popular exercise for the ladies – you pull up the bench and start working chest. Some men, not all, but some feel very uncomfortable when you they see a girl doing these types of exercise. I don’t know whether it’s because they want their gym to be a ‘man’s gym’ or if they feel intimidated by a girl that can actually lift. I’ve experienced this discomfort first hand, and it’s made me pretty uncomfortable too!

In a gym back home, an older man came up to me whilst I was searching for the correct weighted dumbbells and said, “You know, there is a girls gym down stairs”. By this he meant a room full of treadmills and an abs area. I was shocked and could barely find the words to reply. I told him I was fine where I was and tried to carry on as normal. As I began to warm up for my chest press, the same man remarked, “Are you trying to get massive?” He may have been joking, or even surprised, but it angered me that he felt the need to say anything to me at all. What I was doing was no different from anyone else in that gym, except of course I was a girl. It’s no wonder then that so many girls avoid the ‘men’s section’, but I have to say it’s slowly becoming less of an issue as I am seeing more women weight-lifting. In my opinion, strong is the new sexy!

However, even if every girl can ignore such comments from certain men, some still won’t lift weights because not all of them know exactly what to do. Girls are often made to feel stupid for not understanding an exercise or how a certain machine works, and they are afraid to ask because ‘this is the reason why girls shouldn’t be in gyms’ is often the thought that comes to mind from both the sexes. However, girls, there are plenty of personal trainers around who would be happy to help you and after all they’re qualified so you’ll get the right information. I’ve asked plenty of PT’s to just check my form or show me certain exercises and they’re always happy to help! Alternatively, classes such as Body Pump are a good way to get you a bit friendlier with the weights.

Finally, some women feel quite objectified in the gym. The majority of us are there to work out and shouldn’t be made to feel like that because of what we wear. I am certainly not ‘the hot girl in the gym’, but when I enter the weights section as the only girl, I do find myself watched, and worse still some men have worked their way to be so close to me that they’ve invaded my personal space. Some might like the attention, but generally it’s just very uncomfortable. I used to feel so awkward if I was squatting or deadlifting in front of anyone. I’d get to the gym at 6.00am just to avoid it being too busy so I felt less uncomfortable. Now, however, I’ve learnt to just ignore it. But boys, please don’t spend your session gawping at some poor girl, after all we’re in a room filled with mirrors, there aren’t many angles where you can get away with it without being caught.

Women are starting to feel more comfortable lifting weights, but there is still such a big stigma about what each sex ‘should’ be doing. Design your workout to your goals, and if that means lifting weights, then go for it, you’ll be thankful after you start seeing the results.

Josie Penfold

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