My pal Peter, who is a Tampa-based personal trainer, wrote up this post to help women who are want to lift but feel intimidated by some of the judgmental bullshit that goes on in a lot of gyms. I thought it was great so I agreed to run it as a guest post on Fit and Feminist. (Also Peter gave me a bunch of advice that helped me finally achieve a long-standing goal of doing strict overhand pull-ups, so here’s some public props for that.)
This is the first part of a two-part series aimed at helping women who are gym newbies feel comfortable in the weight room. My part will follow soon.
Let me preface this: I am not a woman. But the bulk of my business has me training quite a bit of women. The reasons are many, though there is a pretty common thread. The women I encounter will often tell me that they are scared of being judged in the gym.
This judgment comes from two sources, more often than not. It comes from other more experienced women. The #instafit women. Or, it will come from men.
To add to the frustration, I was a bit alarmed when I read this. Though they are options, women shouldn’t have to inconvenience themselves. More over, women shouldn’t have to to make the old crowd feel good about themselves. Especially when that gym is open to the public.
No, there is a better way to get rid of the fear of someone’s judgment.
The better way is your way.
This is going to be general, but applicable to you.
Contrary to whatever movie star or magazine is en vogue tells you, strength training is a good thing for women. When you move against resistance, you are training your tissue. This isn’t just your muscle tissue. This involves your tendons, ligaments, and your bones. Since women get Osteoporosis more than men, training your bones to get strong too is a good investment of your time.
It’s also a good thing to work your heart muscle too. There are a variety of ways to do this, and most of them don’t involve hours and hours of your time. The goal here (and anywhere else in your fitness journey) is to do what you like.
Do you like to run? Then run. You do not have to run. It is not mandatory. If you like swinging kettlebells, do that. The options are endless. But do what you like, not what you think you need to do because you read it from a non reputable source. Since you are reading this blog, it is safe to assume you know how to root out decent information.
Next, there are a 6 basic movement patterns, according to Mel Siff in Supertraining. You have the squat, lunge, push, pull, twist and bend. The last one is also called a hinge, or a deadlift. If you can’t do some of those, they might constitute a good goal for you. If you can do them, focus on doing more, doing more in less time, or doing more weight. Over time, all those numbers will increase.
Things to remember
By the time the day comes for you to start gymming, here are some good things to remember.
When you get there and find the judgmental crowd, you will hear a lot of things.
“You need to wear a weight belt.”
“You need to fix your form to my standards,” but not in those words.
Sometimes they will look at your butt in silence.
How do you handle that? I have seen a few different ways from various female friends of mine. Keep in mind the response is influenced by the annoyance, disgust or discomfort you are facing.
And if you are in a situation where you are uncomfortable or in fear, tell the manager. Their job is to make the gym comfortable for you. And you don’t have to play that shit.
The Form Police
If you are in a situation where someone decides to critique your form, you have a few different responses at your disposal. Each of them will end the situation pretty well, and I have seen them first hand.
“Cool story, bro.”
“I don’t tell you how to lift, do I?”
“I wasn’t aware I had asked, but thanks.”
“Thanks” is always a good first option. Use the others if they persist. But whatever you do, don’t let it stop you from doing your own thing. Keep focused on you.
The Looky Loo
One incident implanted in me the idea that people who do this need to be confronted and called out. At the gym once, the most jacked guy was not hiding his glances toward a woman that he thought was attractive. This behavior persisted. He kept staring. So, this woman who was all of 5’2 goes up to the man who was at least a foot taller than she, and asks, “do we have a staring problem?” as she pointed her finger in his face.
After that, he didn’t stare at her again. Ever.
Not everyone is going to be so bold, but I think the spirit should be there. Staring for any length of time is downright creepy, and it will persist. Your methods might be different, but if this is happening to you, try to cut it off. The looky-loo might call you a bitch (I have seen it happen) but, are they lifting the weight for you? Are they going to impact your life in a meaningful way at all? If not, then move on.
The Ultimate Solution
I touched upon it at the beginning, but the ultimate solution to the judgment is to educate yourself. There’s a starting framework outlined. Use it to tailor your workouts to your own goals. A singular focus on you will start to keep your mind on the right things and away from anything else.
You will keep on growing and the people you worry about judging you will not progress much. At least that is how I have observed it.
Your strength (however you measure it) will grow as your concern for the opinions of others decreases.
In addition to being a fan of music and heavy metal, I am an avid player of table top RPGs, and I am a personal trainer in Tampa, FL as well as a graduate of the prestigious University of South Florida. I am available for fat loss consultations and pain relief as well, and I can be found at www.peterdbaker.com and on Facebook.
I could go on a long rant about The Form Police, but I don’t think anyone would be that interested. It’s enough to say that they’re the gym’s mansplainers, because let’s be honest, they’re almost always men, and what they say is of little value.
Dennis, I’m honestly surprised I have never ended up on a gym fail video because of the form in which I do things.
I’ve been charged by the form police (or was it the form secret police as he appeared out of nowhere – ha). The charge was not moving slowly enough. My issue is this – the old school gym crowd use the bodybuilding magazines as their bible – you know slow and steady, feel the burn, forced reps. Whereas I am a functional trainer (that’s a polite way of saying I just wanna be strong – ok, with the best bicep on the block too – ha). These magazine people feel they have the calling to go out and sermonise to us non-compliant masses. Anyway, doing squats, magazine disciple comes up and advises I should decrease the weight on the bar and blah, blah, blah. I manage to get out a sentence about fast up for power but he cuts off my talk of the devil. So I thank him and turn to lift. He asks if I need a spot (I think he already spotted me from across the room – ha). I decline and he walks off to save another soul.
Deanna, just think of it this way: you’ll get better at what you do and how you do it. So if you wanna be slow, go for slow. Most of the people described in the post won’t grasp this though.
I definitely attribute my failed attempt at working my way through the New Rules of Lifting for Women program to an encounter with the Form Police. While the guy’s (a guy, of course) feedback was actually valid (my attention had wandered so my form had lapsed a bit), it was the way he went about it that really stung and made me feel like I didn’t belong. Turds.
Thanks for this post! One day I’ll get back to lifting. I miss it.
You’re welcome. Let me know if there is anything else I can help with.