You’re at the gym. You want to feel strong and healthy in 2018, so you’ve resolved to work out more this year. As you climb up onto the elliptical machine, you glance over at the free weights section. It’s full of muscled dudes doing barbell back squats and bicep curls. Maybe you’ve thought about taking up weightlifting, but you wouldn’t have the slightest idea where to start.
Sound familiar? Well, it does to me. For two solid years, I trained (and overtrained) on cardio machines in an effort to “get healthy.” Instead of getting progressively stronger, feeling better, or developing my muscles, I only developed an unhealthy obsession with my body and diet. Working out was a chore, one I would punish myself with or abstain from entirely.
Weightlifting is not just for men. (Getty Images)
Then I found weightlifting.
My moderate, three-days-per-week lifting routine has me feeling (and looking) better than I ever have in my life. I try to nourish my body with healthy foods but I don’t obsess over what I eat and I help myself to dessert, movie popcorn, and pizza on the regular. I feel strong and confident and proud to be in the body I’m in.
But it took me years to get to this place — years of thinking weightlifting wasn’t for me, that it was “masculine,” that I would never be capable of bench-pressing or back-squatting my body weight.
Lifting is a practice shrouded in myth and mystery for most women, keeping us confined to cardio machines. It doesn’t have to be that way: That free weights section is just as open to us as it is to Mr. Bro McMuscletank, who is hogging the squat rack right now and seriously getting on my nerves.
Here are the weightlifting myths women should forget in 2018.
Weight lifting will make you bulky
“I don’t want to get, like, big,” was a phrase I’d uttered far too many times while considering taking up weightlifting. I wasn’t alone: getting too “bulky” is a fear that keeps many women from ever touching a weight.
“I hear the line ‘I don’t want to get bulky’ nearly every day,” Blake Robinson, a gym owner and certified nutritionist who coaches clients online, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Women fear they’ll walk into a gym, touch a set of dumbbells or a barbell for the first time, and instantly have huge, bulging muscles.”
Thanks to science, we know this simply isn’t true. Research shows lifting weights builds lean muscle mass (that “toned” look you’re going for), burns fat, and helps you burn more calories — among a host of other benefits.
“Women naturally don’t have enough testosterone to allow for this type of muscle increase. The myth that women will ‘bulk’ makes women avoid the very thing that will help them change and improve,” health coach and personal trainer Megan Smith tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “In order for a muscle to change, it has to be challenged. … This happens by lifting heavier weights. I always have to help my female clients get over the thought that they’ll get ‘bulky’ and get excited about lifting heavier weights. It’s always so exciting to see this transformation in them as they trust the process and put in the work.”
Weightlifting is unfeminine
We get it: Men hang out in the free weights section more than women.
“It can be intimidating. The space is usually occupied by men. Sometimes men will comment on how a woman could lift better and try to give her pointers, while she’s just there to focus on herself and her strength,” says Robinson, who teaches both women and men to lift in his Salt Lake City gym. “It’s such a strong stigma. At the beginning, many woman I work with think lifting anything over 10 pounds will make her unfeminine, but women will have toned, lean, strong, fit, confident, mobile bodies when they lift.”
Denver family physician Dr. Brittney Tages, who documents her journey lifting heavy weights via her Instagram page, believes this stigma is slowly fading — thanks in part to social media.
More than 19 million photos on Instagram are accompanied by the hashtag #GirlsWhoLift, featuring everything from weightlifting tutorials to proud gym selfies.
“[Lifting among women] is way more common and more widely accepted these days, and honestly I think the Instagram fitness community has been a big part of that,” Tages tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Myth: You’ll look ridiculous
Unfortunately, fear of looking like a fool keeps many women as far from the weight racks as possible.
“I always hate when women tell me that they feel dumb or out of place in the free weights section,” says Smith, who trains a primarily female client base. “One of my goals is to help women have material to execute in the gym, so they feel like they know what they are doing, and how to do it. This helps them to realize that they belong in the free weights section too.”
Having “material to execute” is the key to busting this gym myth wide open. Go into the gym with a plan to save yourself the stress of not knowing what to do next.
“The weight room can be a superdaunting and intimidating place when you’re first starting out,” says Tages. “Don’t get discouraged. The more time you spend there, the more comfortable you’ll get.”
Ready to get started?
If you’re not already convinced weightlifting is the right next step for you — or if you’re feeling lost about where to start — don’t worry. Here are some steps that’ll help you get started lifting heavy weights.
1. Find a plan
The first step is to find a workout plan to follow in the gym so you’re not going in blind. You’ll want to find one that’s properly suited to your needs, so here are things to consider: How many days do you want to work out each week? What is your current fitness level? Where are you going to train?
Both Bodybuilding and Muscle & Strength have free, three-days-per-week, beginner weightlifting plans. “Bodybuilding.com has a huge exercise database that outlines how to perform almost every exercise out there,” Tages says.
2. Learn the form
“I am such a stickler on proper form with my clients. Not only does it make a huge difference in the way that you develop your muscles, but it can literally make or break your workouts,” Smith says.
Proper form is crucial for safe, injury-free, effective workouts. Take the time to watch videos to learn proper form for each exercise you try. If you’re unsure about your form, work out with a partner or professional you trust to monitor and correct your form.
3. When in doubt, seek professional help
If you’re feeling unsure, there’s nothing wrong with enlisting a little outside help to make sure you’re being safe and doing the work that will give you the results you’re looking for.
“If you are wanting to start lifting weights, and you have never done so before, I would recommend you seek out the help of a professional,” Smith continues, encouraging would-be weightlifters to vet their trainers and take advice from people they trust. “There are a lot of people out there claiming to be fitness professionals, just because they like to work out, or because they look good. These are not the right credentials you should be looking for. Just because they look good or can lift a lot of weight doesn’t mean they know how to help you reach your goals in a correct and safe manner.”
Bottom line? Weightlifting is certainly not just for the guys.
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