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2017 was a bit of a fur-ball, as far as years go: messy, a little gross, and completely unnecessary.
This meant that I was no longer inclined to work out at home, with no motivation to roll out my yoga mat and listen to inspirational speeches about loving myself and worshipping my spirit. Both of which are absolutely valid, and everyone reading this should know that they are valued and precious and beautiful. And if you decide to go to the gym to improve your health or change something about your appearance, remember that your start point is just as smart and important and beautiful as your goal. Make this a journey about yourself and blessing your body, and your body will thank you for it.
Now for the more topical part of this article.
During 2017, there was a shift for me, from wanting to be leaner and elfish, to wanting to be strong and athletic. I had never had great love for cardio (you know those girls who can run on the treadmill for hours? Not me), so I had to find a way to get the results I wanted - specifically the booty lift - while also not going for four-hour runs in the rain. Because it always rains here.
Enter Whitney Simmons. I have mentioned her before in my Halo Top review article, but she has truly been a mentor and an inspiration on this journey. I recommend everyone go follow her Youtube here if you are interested in weightlifting as a woman after reading this article.
She has specific workouts targeted to specific muscle groups, with reps, sets, circuits, and everything else you might want to know. So I got myself a notebook, planned some workouts, and headed out.
Here are the things I have learnt as a girl who is now into weightlifting.
1. Get a gym diary.
This is hands-down the most important thing I have learnt. It has been a life-saver to get myself a workout journal, and jot down what I want to be doing every day that I go.
The one below is the particular one that I use, but I also can absolutely recommend the Train journal by Rachel Aust, as well as just getting a day-by-day notebook and jotting down what you want to be doing every day. Use an app if that's more your style!
There are two main reasons that getting a gym journal has been revolutionary:
- Keeping my head in the game.
Even just knowing that you're doing leg day on Monday, and knowing that it'll be squats, hip thrusts, and deadlifts, will be so helpful for to keep your head in the game while at the gym.
I have low-key anxiety and get quite worked up when in a new space with new people, which there inevitably are at the gym. But I will go in with a specific set of things to do and it will be so much easier for me to focus on getting my thing done. Furthermore, sometimes the unexpected happens, like today, when the squat rack was busy when I walked in and I was supposed to start with three sets of ten pause-squats. But I had my little notebook, and I saw that I could come back to the squat rack later if I started with my lunges. Had I not had a schedule, I probably would have turned tail right then.
- Progress tracking is a real thing.
Being able to see in black and white that you are getting stronger is so motivational. I don't recommend doing this every week, but every once in a while it is so empowering to go back and see what you lifted a few weeks ago for arm day, and see how far you've come.
For example, yesterday I did cable pull downs with 40 lbs. A few weeks ago I could barely manage three sets with 20 lbs. And knowing that gives me the push to not feel discouraged. Everyone starts somewhere, and seriously don't give up because you've got this.
2. You will probably be the only girl in the weights room.
My gym is not one of those fancy ones where there's a separate room with a rack full of free weights. My gym is set up like so: you walk in and are immediately pestered by the cardiovascular machines. There's two rowing machines that I use on arm days, and two stair masters that I spend about five minutes on, on leg day. Other than that, there's a bunch of treadmills and ellipticals and other fancy machinery that I inevitably leave to the gym bunnies. If there are girls to be found at my gym, 120 percent of the time they will be on the treadmill. Some girls like to run, and that's fine, I've been there. It's just not for me anymore, so they can keep their cardio machines.
To the left, you have a mirror wall with a dumbbell rack that goes from about 2.5 kg to something ridiculous that probably weighs more than I do. On the far wall you have the cable machines. And to the right there are three squat racks and a bench press thing. This is usually where I can be found. And every single time, I will be the only girl lifting anything.
There's a lot of stigma still attached to lifting weights for women, thinking that you'll get bulky or manly or lose your curves. The truth is, women simply don't make enough testosterone to bodybuild like men, and the women who do are real athletes. So no, weightlifting (even heavy) isn't going to turn you into the Hulk.
This does mean that you get some weird looks from time to time. But mostly everyone is intent on their own workout, and they'll get used to having you around. Just like you'll get used to "the guys".
3. All the stereotypes are real.
Those funny Youtube videos you watch where the guy spends 20 minutes on his phone between sets? True. The ones where they stand by the squat rack chatting but when you go up to them to ask if they're almost done they're not? True. The guy who makes the grunting and moaning sounds as he lifts more than is sensible? True.
The gym is also full of sensible, smart men just trying to get their workout in, but I have stopped a few times to have a giggle.
4. People are polite.
As a general rule, I have never been harassed at the gym.
Considering that the current state of affairs for a woman anywhere is that you will get harassed on the street, at the store, and everywhere in between, this was a point that I felt needed to be included.
I have never been cat-called or accosted while lifting. The "guys" will generally give you a wide berth when you're picking up a new weight or a new attachment for the cable machine. They will generally wait until you're done with your set to ask if you are indeed done with your set. Nobody will offer to mansplain a machine or exercise to you, unless you go and ask.
Speaking of which, do go ask for help. If you are not comfortable, or need a spotter because you're scared you'll drop that barbell on your face, or just can't seem to find the clips to secure the weights, ask one of "the guys". Chances are, they'll know, and they'll be polite and unassuming about it. It will not be a way for them to start a conversation with you, because they just want to get back to their workout.
If you don't want to ask one of "the guys" there are always personal trainers around (my gym has an office/staff room, but obviously reception is always manned) and most gyms will have at least one female personal trainer.
5. You will be sore.
This is the inevitable truth of any new workout, be it yoga or crossfit. It'll take a while for your body to get used to the new movements and the new ways of using those muscles. If you're weightlifting, you're adding weight to things that your body is already used to doing, like bending over to pick up something, also known as the deadlift. This doesn't mean that your muscles aren't going to feel the strain.
This is especially true if your goal is to build muscle, because you'll be lifting heavier to cause those microtears in your muscles, which will then repair and grow bigger. This takes time. Rest is important.
Start light. Remember that you'll likely be doing three sets of ten of a single exercise, so where that 5 kg dumbbell might not feel that heavy after three reps, it absolutely will after 27 reps, if it's not something you've done before.
I hope this has been informational as well as motivational, and I wish you all happy lifting.