Lifting as a woman is never a casual subject among my circle of female friends. It’s a pretty avoided subject--almost like politics. When it does come up, I notice that many friends become guarded. It’s like they’re getting ready to swallow a pill they know will help them in the long run, but never goes down right. Food, travel, fashion, culture, even sports all flow as easy conversation topics, but never lifting. Why is this, I wonder?
Barbells: Not just for men!
I’ve considered myself a casual lifter since 2013. It was the first time I got off the machine weights and managed to work up to 100 lb squats and even heavier deadlifts. It’s something I feel I’ve been fairly inconsistent with, and have averaged 10ish sessions a month since mid 2015. I want to be better, and that makes me feel like since I’m still working on it, I don’t deserve more than a status of casual. I actually had a conversation about this label with the founder of Gravitus recently, during which he quickly corrected me and upgraded me to “more than casual,” whatever that may be.
I think women, or at least among many that I have met through the years, are fairly quick to place limitations on themselves and downplay any achievements they make outside of their comfort zone. I don’t know as much about lifting as I perceive some guys at the gym I frequent do, and even though I’ve worked with a couple of trainers I still have a residual insecurity surrounding lifting that I just haven’t managed to shake.
As the marketing consultant for Gravitus, the lifting app, it’s very disheartening to know that none of my good friends who are female lift. Why, though? They’re not so out of the loop that they think it will make them bulky. That’s so 90s to worry about that as a female. My generation knows better, I’d like to think. They can make the time for an occasional Sunday brunch, so I know if it was a priority they could squeeze in a lifting session here and there. So why are they so averse to even the topic of lifting if they have the time and know it’s beneficial?
I can’t speak for all women, but I can speak for myself. Prior to 2013 I was aware that lifting was good for more than just guys. I knew that it was supposed to be good for bone density and that it could help with weight loss if coupled with eating intelligently. Beyond that, it was intimidating and seemed like a very testosterone filled and stressful activity. I saw cardio machines and machine weights as the way to go because they made sense to me. They weren’t these ominous things without instructions that just looked like a herniated disc waiting to happen. Instead, I saw both as welcoming, instruction included equipment categories that were unintimidating and so easy to use that I could zone out and focus on other things while on them.
Cardio machines made sense to me. They weren't intimidating like free weights were.
I would head to the gym and spend an hour on the elliptical, swaying back and forth getting through a nice chunk of reading. I’d wipe the machine down, put my book in the locker room, and quickly run through some machine weights in the weight room, then clean up and leave. This was my workout routine all the way through college. Whenever I coupled this with a more sensible diet and ramped up the gym visits to more than a couple times a week, I’d drop pounds, but be frustrated with the results. Instead of getting toned, as so many girls would throw around as their goal, I’d just shrink in a constant ratio of muscle to fat. I became skinny fat and didn’t know why. I did the things that the magazines recommended, and I was doing enough cardio, so why was I not seeing definition? I just saw a smaller version of my old self that was equally “fluffy.” I never got the fitness model abs that I felt after hours a week doing cardio and eating salads that I deserved. I thought, based on everything that I’d been reading about in magazines targeted to women, that this was how to get toned. When I thought about it more, though, I didn’t really know what toned was.
In 2013 I started working with a trainer who also competed in physique competitions and really started to think deeper into the cultural meaning of what it meant to tone. Toning, as women in my circle put it, means no more desserts for a while, coupled with jumping on the treadmill and picking up a few very light weights in the hopes they’ll see abs for the summer or more definition in their thighs and upper arms. The goal of toning is pretty synonymous with the goal of cutting in the competitive world. The goal during a cut is to retain muscle mass by shifting to higher volume lifting, adding in more steady state cardio, and carefully tracking the diet down to the grams of each macronutrient. The goal of getting toned is the same, but how many women do you encounter having achieved their dream toned body?
I don’t like the word toned. Toned has a history with women as something that is achieved through jazzercise, zumba, or long sessions on the treadmill. After several months, women that have subscribed to this way of going about things look at themselves in the mirror and feel just like I did: deflated that they just made themselves skinny fat. Cardio is ONE piece of the puzzle, though. I hear “I’m trying to tone up.” and I immediately cringe inside. Let’s say it how it is, ok? You’re trying to lose fat and retain your muscle. You’re doing a cut. To do this, you need to hit the weights and reel in your diet. Cardio is not an enemy here, but it can’t be what you rely on 100% to get that beach body we’re sold every day as a society at the checkout line.
Cardio isn't the enemy here, but you can't rely on it 100% for body recomposition. Women, just like men, need to lift as well for best results.
Gravitus can help you. Even if you have no idea what you’re doing and you are worried about form, we have vines and tips for that. We have top trainers from all over the United States along with many amazing users who’ve submitted vines that show you how to perform exercises. Utilize these. There are times I rely on them for accessory work that I haven’t hit in a while and want a refresher on form. There are other times when I want to try a variation on an exercise and I can go in and look up a vine for that too. It takes the mystery out of those exercise names completely, which really helps me feel more secure in the weight room. I know Gravitus always has my back.
Don’t know where to start regarding workouts? Check out what others are logging for leg or back and biceps or chest and triceps day, or any workout, and play around with them. Know that the key movements in the weight room are never going to vary:
- Row (back)
- Squat (quads and glutes)
- Deadlift (hamstrings and lower back)
- Bench Press (chest)
Yes you can argue that others belong in this list, but to me, these are the core movements you’ll see in the weight room. Start here, get comfortable with form, start adding more weight, and then work out the details from there. There is no one “best” way to do this. Honestly, the best way to get to the finish line is to follow down a path that’s sustainable.
Women: we want to see you on the app. We want you to get stronger. We want you to compete with us. We want to see you hit new PRs. And of course, we need more women on the leaderboard! Come over to the Gravitus side, women, and let’s show ourselves and the men what we’re made of when we pick up the weights.