All women should lift, and heavy. Really, lifting things up and putting them back down is one of the best things for both our bodies and minds. It’s the key to building some serious muscle, burning fat, feeling good and increasing energy levels.
But as we dedicate ourselves to our boxes, the barbell, and the #gains, the people around us might struggle… especially when we become more confident, redefine our values, and learn to trust in our own power and strength. Suddenly, we find ourselves faced with a lot of questions, comments, and general confusion from people who can’t understand how good lifting weights makes us feel. So while lifting may make us look and feel like total badasses, being a woman in the weight-room does involve some serious (and ridiculous) struggles:
1. People Are Always Asking If We’re Going To Get “Bulky”
For women, there’s a lot of looming fear about what could happen if they exchanged their spin class for squats and deadlifts and their 2-pound dumbbells for something actually heavier than their purses (which weigh on average, 10-pounds). While one of the fears some women cite is the idea of “getting huge” or “bulky” from lifting weights (a fear which is largely the result of arbitrary beauty standards) those of us doing it five-six days a week all understand: weightlifting actually doesn’t make women “bulky”.
While we may be “bulky”, or just simply, “strong”, many people do not understand how much time and effort it actually takes to get as strong as we are. “No, I did not get these pecs by accident or develop these quads without dedicating hours each week to the weight-rack over an extended period of time”. While having to constantly ease other people’s concerns, “No, lifting weights is not going to make you bulky. No, you will not turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger with a ponytail. No, you will not become mannish” can get frustrating, and the questions can often feel like passive-aggressive jabs, there isn’t a lot helpful (aka non-cautionary) information out there about women hitting the weights.
Both trainers and the health sections of women’s magazines send contradictory messages. As they argue that “lifting weights won’t make you bulky” and “women can’t gain too much muscle, they don’t have the genetics or testosterone for it”, they also encourage women, “don’t worry about the scale, the number is going down because you’ve lost fat but gained muscle”. Of course women are confused: the messages they are receiving from the sources they trust are conflicting! As women who lift, we embody the media’s failure of addressing women who lift, and thus are faced with a lot of (ignorant) questions.
2. Men At The Gym Constantly Offer Unsolicited Advice
Whether we’re adding a 25 pound plate on either side of the barbell and getting ready to bench, or adding 45 pound plates as we prepare to deadlift, we all know that as soon as we prepare to lift more than an empty bar, men at the gym (especially men at the gym who haven’t seen us lift before) assume we need a spotter. Sorry, bro, times have changed. Maybe ten years ago, women wouldn’t dare set foot in the weight section at the gym because it was “a man’s domain”, but us bad b!tches are taking over!
While as we load up the bar and prepare to push it off our chests it’s nice to know that so many men would be willing to spot if we decide to try to beat our one rep max, getting asked too early (SO EARLY) in a weightlifting session if we need a spot is low-key insulting and it messes with our gym-flow. So, we shake our heads, “No, thank you” and think to ourselves: “Random guy offering advice, the relationship between a spotter and the spottee (i.e. person doing the heavy lifting) is one based on trust and encouragement. And I only just met you. While getting up close and personal with you while you spot me is tempting, how about I come find you when I get some actual weight on that bar.
3. We Eat SO Much More Than Our Non-Lifting Friends
While our non-lifting friends are drinking lemon water for weight-loss and cutting carbs for summer bods, we’re eating chicken, more chicken, and bacon, egg, bagel sandwiches with hopes of putting on some muscle-weight. Maybe we could explain to our friends that 1 pound of muscle looks different than 1 pound of fat, but we’re too busy refueling from our latest sweat-sesh and trying to find the perfect filter for our deadlift 3-rep PR video on Instagram.
It’s not easy being the only lifting friend in the group: we always come “last” when our friends are comparing BMI or winter-pounds shed, we order twice (or three times!) as much food as our non-lifting buddies when we’re out to dinner, and some of them just don’t get it! But that’s okay, because while they might not understand why we lift and eat as many burgers and protein cookies as we do, we don’t understand why they haven’t taken to the squat racks and protein shakes like we have.
4. Finding Non-Workout Clothes That Fit Is Hard AF
With all the pulling, pushing, and lifting that we do, it’s not a surprise that our bodies would adapt lower body fat percentages, more muscle mass, slimmer waists, more noticeable quads, lats, and traps (and a butt that looks like it came straight from the emoji keyboard). And no matter how much we love the way our bodies move, sweat, and look naked, finding non-workout clothes that fit can be a challenge.
Finding a non-sports bra that doesn’t squeeze our traps and leave track marks around ribs? Nope. Finding skinny jeans that fit over our quads let alone our ass? No way. Work-appropriate dresses that accommodate the breadth of our back and the slimness of our waists? Now we’re dreaming. How about heels that don’t make the veins in our calves uncharacteristically large? Or jean-shorts that don’t cut off the circulation in our legs and threaten to rip every time we sit? Um, no.
TG we’ve gotten so addicted to multi-colored sports bras and leggings that there’s no time to think about all the dresses, jeans, and blazers we’re missing out on …
5. We Constantly Have To Explain WHY We Lift
No amount of explaining about how good it is for our health, confidence, and bodies will satisfy the utterly confused. While an answer as simple as “because it makes me happy” may not satisfy an on-looker, it tells the whole story.
Featured image: @ice.nyc on Instagram
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.