Even for the gym-savvy lady, those two words conjure images that range from uncomfortable to terrifying. Dozens of Vin Diesel knockoffs heaving and grunting around, monopolizing machines with such fervor you’d be forgiven for assuming they have to fight off wolves to reach their desk jobs. The smell is no particular lure either. Drugstore body sprays, chlorine and the must of gym shorts circulate under the dull breeze of utility fans. It’s more than enough to send any sensible woman hustling back to her elliptical.
But should it be?
The importance of weight training for women cannot be overstated. The benefits to the female body from even moderate lifting are very real. The common fear of “bulking up” is greatly overstated. With moderate weight training, you’ll not only lose more in fat than you’ll gain in muscle, but having more muscle on your limbs will have you burning even more calories while you’re at rest. While sitting down at the office, on the subway or even the couch, you’ll still be burning calories! And since weight training increases bone density, it’s a powerful weapon against osteoporosis. A Harvard study even found that strength training reduced symptoms of clinical depression with greater success than emotional counseling.
Are you convinced yet? Ladies, you need to hit the weight room. Technically everyone needs to be hitting it, but we’re the biggest group that’s underrepresented.
So let’s get back to that strange and slightly nightmarish place, to the meatheads, the smells and let’s strategize.
First things first, take an unapologetic stance on being in the weight room in the first place. While it’s a place usually dominated by men, now that you know women get equal benefits from weight training, you also know that we should be there in equal numbers.
Own your space. The space around you when you are working out is yours and yours alone. You don’t need to get out of anyone’s way who happens to be passing through. Much the opposite. If you are doing reps and someone comes too close to you, hit them. That’s right, rep your way right into them. And don’t say you’re sorry. Say either nothing or, “Oh, did you not see me here?”
Prioritize your workout over anybody else’s. That’s what everyone else is doing, after all. It might feel strange at first, but we need to get over the knee-jerk instinct to compromise with others. Don’t change your workout for other people. If someone walks up to you and tells you that they need the machine you’re using, don’t stop in the middle of your workout. If someone had the nerve to walk up to you while you were out at a busy restaurant and ask to sit in your seat for a little while so they could order something, would you hurry to finish what you were eating and get up? Of course not! So why would you let someone take your seat from you at the gym?
Take your time with what you need and don’t be afraid to put yourself first. Go for heavier weights and don’t be afraid to dip into weights that primarily men seem to be using. Weights aren't categorized into male and female. Again, working with heavier weights is important for women in the fight against osteoporosis. Don’t you want healthy joints and to help prevent knee injuries? If nothing else, where vanity goals are concerned, if you want to be toned then you have to weight train!
Remember that it’s ok not to have it all figured out right away! Even those that have been training for years still need time to get acquainted with new machines and workouts, so don’t feel embarrassed if you need to take your time at first. Like anything, practice makes perfect. Give yourself as long as you need to figure out which adjustments and settings are right for you. Remember, you know your body best! If you’re not sure about what weights and lifts to use, by all meansconsult a trainer. A great strategy is to hire a trainer for just one session and ask them to show you five great exercises for your weight room. Take your time working through the routine the trainer has showed you in your space and you’ll be more comfortable in no time!
Don’t be afraid to ask to be left alone. We’ve all seen it happen. A cute girl in spandex walks over to the leg press, and suddenly two different guys are offering to spot her or teach her how to use it. She’s frazzled. She wasn’t looking for a conversation, just a workout. If this happens to you, practice this phrase: “I’ve got it, thanks. I prefer to work with a trainer when I need help.” And if you do need help, I’ll reiterate that a trainer - even for a few sessions - is where you should turn. Having big pecs is no guarantee that his “help” won’t end up getting you hurt. I’ve seen this happen many times, and it’s a great way to let yourself get scared off.
It’s really just silly that most weight rooms are dominated by men. It’s just important, if not more so, for women to weight train. So get in there! Managing oneself in the weight room is really just a matter of becoming comfortable with lifting routines and new machines. Just own it and give it some time. Trust me, if the meatheads can do it, you can too!