„Women should lift weights“. Something we tend to hear or read a lot. Yet, we barely acknowledge how women who do lift (heavy) weights got started.
(Given, that there is little research on this, I speak my opinion from decade-long observation. Don’t feel like reading? Then watch the video Secret lifted why some women lift weights.)
Women & weight/resistance training
Some, many, women to this day fear heavy weights and resistance training, for various reasons.
- „I don’t want to get too big.“
- „I don’t want to look like a guy.“
- „Lifting weights is not sexy.“
- „I don’t know what to do.“
- …..these are just some „excuses“ I hear from women of all ages, although most of it is societal and gender based.
[Btw, based on my experiences, another, often unspoken, reason some women stay away from heavy training is due to the influence of some insecure or ignorant men telling their female friends (or girlfriends) that they don’t like it nor want it.]
Thus, women stay away from the ONE thing, yes, the ONE thing that’ll actually contribute to their body image satisfaction, that gives them strength and confidence, that supports their health and increases their motivation and sense of empowerment.
Women & lifting weights
Lifting weights might just be the solution to
women’s body image DISsatisfaction
The thought (Haines et al., 2008; Nazaruk et al., 2016) lifting heavy (!) weights will make a woman look bulky I will not even address here. It’s bogus. Unfortunately, however, in our society, muscular, strong women are at times considered fat (Scott-Dixon, 2008).
Btw, lifting weights, includes of course anything with changeable resistance and body weight training.
Okay, but this blog post isn’t about the benefits of lifting weights but rather why and how we (some of us women) get started.
Why some women start lifting weights
Of course, aspects such as personality and always having, perhaps, played sports shouldn’t be neglected but I believe there is ONE beautiful, empowering aspect we tend to overlook.
The answer lies, for many, in the beginning
& the person who is actually responsible
for a woman to start lifting weights
How women get started with weight & heavy resistance training
Well, for many of us (women), our relationship with weights, our introduction to weights comes from our boyfriend, brother or other male friends. Yes- the opposite gender! I know it was true for me.
It’s (one of) the good guy(s), in my case my first real boyfriend, who:
- shows us how to lift (although not always the right way)
- teaches us what they know
- pushes and motivates us
- and who takes our fear from feeling uncomfortable and out of place in a foreign man cave, like a weight room at a gym (Haines et al., 2008).
Perhaps because he knows,
“participation in sport, exercise, and physical activity can increase women’s
physical competence, perceptions of a competent self, and feelings of bodily connectedness… Women have described how engaging in physical activities has given them a more empowered experience of their bodies. Physical activity produced positive effects which can have an influence beyond their context.” (Liimakka, 2011)
Boyfriends or male friends: one big reason some of us (women) start lifting weights
The influence of our male (boy)friends
Perhaps it’s due to:
- many women complaining about the shape of their body.
- male friends acknowledging the effects of lifting weights on feeling strong and confident and want to share that with us/their female friend(s).
- their desire to share a hobby, to engage in something together.
Men & Weights:
- many guys, particularly at younger age, lift regularly with their friends/buddies.
- many guys, don’t like working out alone and thus take their girlfriend or other close female friend to the gym (when the male buddy is unavailable)
- men don’t like hearing women complain about their bodily flaws
- men, if they want to change the shape of their body, use lifting weights as main tool. They train for muscle and size while women work out for thinness (Wojtowicz & von Ranson, 2006).
- men combine lifting with social time with their bros
Women & Weights:
- weight room are filled with men, hence women feel out of place and uncomfortable in „male“ territory (Salvatore & Marecek, 2010; Cokorilo et al., 2012)
- women who lift with men are, often, pushed harder than women who lift with women or who work out alone. They engage in more weight lifting exercises and spend longer in the weight room than women training with other females or alone. (although longer is not always better)
- women who don’t lift might lack knowledge (Hristo & Arnold, 2012; Nazaruk et al., 2016) or not feel strong enough (Harne & Bixby, 2005), (while a boyfriend perhaps might motivate them or make them feel strong?)
- women who lift regularly with weights feel a sense of accomplishment, and see lifting as health behavior and as being fit (Scott-Dixon, 2008) but also as source of motivation to continue (Hege et al., 2016).
It seems possible that
Many men recognize* the benefits of lifting weights
beyond increasing muscle size
while women, perhaps, consider ONLY the effect
of lifting weights on muscle size.
If they (men) truly recognize it is questionable; it could be „unawareness“ or „subconscious awareness“.
Women without male support are less likely to start lifting intensely, are less likely to experience the true benefits of lifting weights, and will most likely remain in the „girly weight“ area of a gym.
Women without weight training experiences might also be more likely to experience body image and weight DISsatisfaction and diet for weight loss.
But, I am not saying every guy is a great teacher. Believe me, many aren’t. But, they (can) introduce us to weights and the weight room, support us in gaining comfort and experience. What we do with this knowledge and how we use it going forward is up to us. What I am saying, men can play a positive role in women starting to weight lift.
Guys, take your girlfriend, female friend or sister to the gym, especially if you enjoy lifting anyways.
Share your passion – in a healthy, supportive & patient way!
You will have a HUGE impact on her health, on her life, and on her body image satisfaction.
But, women, don’t despair
Not every woman has a boyfriend who also goes to the gym. Not everyone has a brother who enjoys lifting weights or who lives close enough or is kind enough. Many women might not have male friends to engage in this type of workout. Not every women desires to work out with men.
Thus, grab your girlfriends and get started together. Better yet, hire a qualified trainer to learn the ins and outs of weight and resistance training. Once you know what to do you’ll be that much more comfortable. Your body, mind, and health will thank you!
Women, let a trainer be the source of your empowerment:
A trainer (like me), unlike most male friends, truly (if qualified) teaches you what you need to know about exercise and the female body. A trainer can help you become comfortable in a weight room, feel confident executing weight or resistance exercises, and develop a greater sense for your strengths and abilities.
Woman’s body is different from a male’s;
let’s train our body according to our needs.
While our boyfriends or male friends often get us started with weight lifting learn to work out for your body and don’t neglect the many benefits provided by exercise beyond muscle building.
The reasons why women don’t lift are, of course, much deeper, more cultural and societal driven – unfortunately! But, as with anything, we can break that cycle. This is a great article on women & weight training.
Thank you for reading/watching. Feel free to like, comment, and share.
Cokorilo, N., Mikalacki, M., Rakic, D., & Radjo, I. (2012). Fat reduction without changing muscle mass of women as a result of exercising with weights. HealthMED, 6(7), 2525-2532.
Haines, J. N., Thrine, A. M., Titlebaum, P., & Daprano, C. M. (2008). Women and Weight Training: Education and demonstration make a difference. Applied Research In Coaching & Athletics; Annual, (23)237-254.
Harne, A. J., & Bixby, W. R. (2005). The benefits of and barriers to strength training among college-age women. Journal Of Sport Behavior, 28(2), 151-166.
Hege, H., Rustaden, A.M., Bø, K. , & Lene A. H. Haakstad, K.A.H. (2016). Effect of Regular Resistance Training on Motivation, Self-Perceived Health, and Quality of Life in Previously Inactive Overweight Women: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. BioMed Research International, 2016: 3815976.
Hristo, N., & Arnold, B. (2012). Machine learning methods for the automatic evaluation of exercises on sensor-equipped weight training machines. Procedia Engineering, 34, 562-567.
Liimakka, S. (2011). I am my body: Objectification, empowering embodiment, and physical activity in women’s studies students‘ accounts. Sociology of Sport Journal, 28(4), 441-460.
Nazaruk, D., Tedders, S.H., Alfonso, M.L., & Vogel, L.R. (2016). The Determinants of Strength Training in Rural Women, Ages 20-44 Years: A Qualitative Study. J Women’s Health Care 5:312.
Salvatore, J., & Marecek, J. (2010). Gender in the gym: Evaluation concerns as barriers to women’s weight lifting. Sex Roles, 63(7-8), 556-567.
Scott-Dixon, K. (2008). Big girls don’t cry: Fitness, fatness, and the production of feminist
knowledge. Sociology of Sport Journal, 25(1), 22-47.
Wojtowicz, A., & von Ranson, K. M. (2006). Weightlifting behaviors. Psychology Of Men & Masculinity, 7(1), 56-66.