Ladies Guide to the Weight Room, Pt. 1: Why lift?

(Photo/gubernatrix) Louise Fox deadlifting more than 3 times her bodyweight

I am a pretty avid weight-lifter.  Actually “avid” is kind of an understatement.  How about, I really really love to lift weights.  How about, it’s one of my favorite things to do.

I can see you scrunching up your nose as you read this.  I can hear you thinking, “Weight-lifting? With all those sweaty jughead guys?  All that grunting and groaning?  Really?”  Yes, really.

I’ve been lifting consistently for about five years now, and I am always learning new moves and working to increase my weight and designing different programs for myself.  I suppose you could say it’s a hobby of mine.  I weight-train the way some ladies scrapbook or play guitar.

But one thing has been consistent throughout my years of lifting, whether it was in the university gym or at the cheap-o gym I used for a while or the super-nice “wellness center” I go to now – the weight room is almost always a lady-desert!  Most of the time, I find myself lifting side-by-side with six or seven guys, and nary a pony tail in sight!  The times when I do see other women in the weight room are glorious, glorious moments, and I have to restrain myself from running over and telling them how badass they are and pledging my undying devotion.  (I don’t, because that would be creepy, and the gym is the last place anyone needs to be creeped all over.)

Meanwhile, where are the majority of the women?  On the cardio machines, of course!  Step, step, stepping away for hours while they flip through magazines or watch re-runs of “Everybody Loves Raymond.”  The self-imposed gender segregation would be hilarious if it wasn’t so heart-breaking.

(Seriously, the ideal way to use a gym is to weight train AND to do cardio.  But instead you end up with dudes who spend hours training the various bumps and curves of their upper arms yet can’t run an eighth of a mile without falling over and puking, and ladies who can do high-intensity cardio for an hour yet haven’t a lick of muscle tone on their bodies.  The answer to good health and wellness, as in all things, is a middle path between the two extremes, you dig?)

So I am on a one-woman crusade to smash the boy-only aura of the weight room and to bring more ladies within its steel-gripped, rubber-floored folds.  I do not want to be excited every time I see a lady in the weight room.  I want it to be so commonplace I barely even notice it.

“But Caitlin,” you ask, “Why?  It looks hard and I’ll probably suck at it.  What’s the point of embarrassing myself like that?”  (Actually, I have no idea if you are actually asking me that, but bear with me and my clumsy rhetorical devices.)

I could rattle off a whole list of personal trainer-approved reasons why:  more muscle means a faster metabolism, increases bone density, decreases likelihood of injury in later years, etc.  These things are available in almost every fitness magazine and book about weight-lifting out there.

Instead, I’ll share the non-personal trainer-approved reasons why I like it so much:

1. It feels good.

Yes, you read that right.  It feels good. I’m not talking about during, though – sometimes, especially when I am trying to increase my weights, it can be downright grueling.  But after a good lifting session, the part of my body that I worked will feel a bit tingly and woozy, almost like I’ve got a good beer buzz on (except without the intoxication).  That feeling usually goes away within a couple of hours – sooner if I drink a protein shake – but I enjoy it while it lasts.

But this is the other thing – the soreness feels good, too, but in this weird psychological way, like I am happy because I worked hard and pushed myself and my body is carrying the evidence of that.  I often get sore after a long run or a hard race – for instance, I set a personal record of 23:08 in the 5K last weekend, and my legs hurt for two days after that – but rather than freaking out over it, I take pride in knowing that I worked hard.

Obviously you don’t want to go too far lest you hurt yourself.  So definitely be on the look-out for that.  But you’ll find that the more you engage in a particular activity, the more aware of your body’s limits you become, which means you are better-equipped to know when you can crush them.

2. It makes me happy!

I often have stressful days at work – who doesn’t?  Everything from chaos to boredom to workloads so massive they could crush a semi…it’s enough to leave a person feeling like they could implode from the stress of it all.

So I regularly hit the gym on my lunch break – I’m lucky enough that it is in the same corporate park as my office – and smash some weights together for thirty minutes.  By the time I’m done, I feel relaxed and refreshed, having left all of my  frustration on the benches in the weight room.

Plus, it actually turns out there is some research behind this!  In the book “Strength Training for Women,” Lori Incledon writes about a few theories, including:

  • the thermogenic theory posits exercises increases body temperature and thus reduces muscular tension;
  • the endorphin theory says the body releases endogenous opiates during exercise;
  • the monoamine theory, which says the body releases more norepinephrine and serotonin during exercise.

Whatever the case is, all I can say is that I have yet to complete a workout and say to myself, “Man, that sucked!”  However, many times I have started a workout in a pissy mood, only to have it dissipate like the proverbial rain cloud by the time I’ve finished.

3.  It makes me feel like a bad ass.

I love to watch myself while lifting weights, and not because I am vain and in love with my appearance – on the contrary, when I am lifting weights I imagine I don’t look all that different than when I am experiencing some GI distress – but because I like to watch the way my muscles flex and strain and move and I like to see the striations of my delts and my quads and my biceps.

I spent most of my life feeling pretty weak and vulnerable – I mean, I was so skinny I made string beans seem substantial in comparison – and so having this kind of physical strength is almost intoxicating at times.  I can almost understand the guys who spend a lot of time flexing and checking themselves out.  (Almost.  I do have some dignity, you know.)

But beyond the pleasures of physical strength, lifting requires you bring mental toughness and fearlessness to the weight room.  It expects you to be willing to push yourself past your limits and to refuse to shy away from discomfort and pain.  It demands focus and discipline.  Which brings me to…

4.  It has made me more confident.

The qualities developed in the weight room – which I mentioned in the paragraph above – can be carried over into all other aspects of your life.  At least this has been true in my own life.   Weight training coupled with running has transformed my personality, making me less timid, less afraid to speak my mind and more willing to rise to challenges that have been laid in front of me. I no longer flee from difficult tasks.  Instead I run toward them, fists in the air, screaming, “BRING IT ON!”

Because this is the thing – the physical benefits of weight training are only part of the equation.  It’s what you learn about yourself in the process that is truly transformative.


So have I convinced you to give weight training a shot yet?  I hope I have, if only because I want every able-bodied woman to experience the kind of power that comes along with developing her innate physical strength.

Stay tuned for Part II – survival tips for the weight room.


6 responses to “Ladies Guide to the Weight Room, Pt. 1: Why lift?

  1. Have you ever looked at stumptuous? She is fabulous (not totally HAES/body fat percentage), but has SO much good information and inspiring stories on her site.

    • Yes! It’s funny you mention Stumptuous, because I had read pretty much her entire site a few years back but it drifted off my radar after that. And then last night, while I was searching for a photo to illustrate this post, her site came up in my search and I was so happy to see that she’d set up an RSS feed for it. I spent a good hour last night reading recent posts and also browsing the facebook group, and now I am all inspired to hit the weights hard later today.

  2. Pingback: Ladies Guide to the Weight Room Pt. 3: Starting out « Fit and Feminist·

  3. I had to smile at this one. I’ve often lamented to my husband that at our gym all the women are on the cardio machines and the men are lifting (we actually have two separate rooms for the two so the gender divide is pretty clear). Ironically my husband is a cardio man (although he’ll do the occasional pull-up and push-ups) and I’m the lifter (but I swim too).

    There’s one other female in our gym who lifts heavy (the rest seem to be addicted to the 1-2kg weights) and I have to resist the temptation to run up and hug her. 🙂

  4. I have been in the weights room for months now and had no problem at all from the men. i noticed that the women are always on the cardio machines and it shows on their mediocre physiques!

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