Even before the world of social media influencers and #fitspo, women have been inundated with bad fitness advice and given the message that working out is about how we look — that how we look is our greatest value.
Now don’t get me wrong, looking strong is great, but when the focus is constantly on aesthetics, we lose the inherent value of why we train and who we’re really training for. You are so much more than how you look.
It’s not just the messaging of why women need to “tone” and “tighten” that can be harmful but also the junk workouts that coincide. This includes endless HIIT sessions, using the lightest weights so you don’t get “bulky” and making sure you’re “confusing” your muscles to keep them guessing.
There is a reason that progressive strength training has been around for ages and personal workouts your trainer does are probably repetitive, progressive and fairly simple. Strength training works for building physical strength, mental endurance, emotional health and confidence. The aesthetics become a secondary focus, one that naturally happens with the increase in strength.
The weight room can be intimidating for any new lifter but especially for women. With all of the progress in breaking down gender roles over the last few generations, the gym can still feel unwelcoming to women.
Start small, and if you don’t know where to go for help, any good gym will have an owner or manager who can walk you through how to use their equipment. A quick tour of the space before your first workout can help ease anxiety. If you’re really uncertain, a personal trainer is a great asset to help you program workouts and coach you through them.
Setting specific strength goals, especially when you’re starting out, is helpful in refocusing on why you’re hitting the gym. This can be anything from learning a big lift, increasing weights or reps on a familiar movement, or progressing to a new variation of a movement that’s challenging for you. Setting goals that aren’t focused on the number on the scale or how you look will motivate you in a much healthier way and retrain your brain.
Women hitting the gym with strength training goals in mind have a starting point to create a great session with primary and supplemental movements to help them achieve that goal, one step at a time. Celebrating progress feels like even more of a win when that progress is focused on what your body can do, not on what you look like.
In having to deal with a lifetime of unrealistic and constantly changing beauty standards, women are taught that, somehow, we should all have the same ideal body. Strength training is a way for you to work with what you’ve got and use it to your advantage to do some cool things.
Petite? You’re probably going to crush bodyweight movements like pullups and pushups with a little training. Short and thick? Girl, lift a barbell — you were built for it. Tall and lanky? You’ve got a great base to build some strong muscle.
Once you realize how many challenging, amazing things your body is capable of in the gym, you’ll start to carry that confidence over into other aspects of your life. You’ll walk taller knowing that you can do hard things — that you are strong and capable.
The mental and emotional endurance required to progress in a strength training program teaches you to be resilient, as does having the knowledge that your body is not fragile, but adaptable, and you’re running the show.
Women are not fragile creatures, and we should take up just as much space in the gym as everyone else — fearlessly and intentionally being our strongest self, entirely on purpose.
About the Author
Sarah Leahy is a Minneapolis transplant in East Austin, certified personal trainer, award-winning interior designer and former gym owner. She offers in-person and online training with an emphasis on strength training and building confidence in and out of the gym. Leahy’s passion for strength extends to your business, with a full offering of gym design and business consulting services.