I couldn’t help but start to hum the old folk tune from the 60s “where have all the young girls (flowers) gone” today while working out at the gym. It is not a new observation, but one that continues to baffle me: today at my temporary gym in Phoenix, there was a noticeable lack of estrogen in the gym: at least 100 men lifting/grunting/swaggering around and including myself, one girl. It could be easy to blame any undesirable sociologically phenomena on the “Phoenix factor” but in truth it is the same story at my gym in Kelowna and pretty much any facility I visit while on the road.
Aside from high performance / professional female athletes, it is exceptionally rare to see a woman lifting free weights. Occasionally I may spot a cute girl doing some arm toning lifts in the corner, but I have yet to see any other girl approach the real 45 lb bar, plates and rack (sorry machines do not count). And I just don’t get it because I do not think it is unfeminine to be strong and lift weights, especially in a day and age where women are doing all sorts of traditionally male dominated activities and sports.
I love doing weights and would love to get more women working out with iron and steel. Sometimes I feel tempted to go up to a woman desperately clutching the sidebars of a stair-master, bent in two while staring at the latest fashion magazine, and literally pull her into the “no girls zone” aka free-weight section of the gym.
Studies show that weight loaded exercises burn fat, increased metabolisms, and strengthens bones, so why is half the population scared to death to give it a try? Plus it is guaranteed to make you feel like a bad ass when you out-squat the dude at the rack beside you (I think it has happened once…). Nevertheless, aren’t those some of the most compelling reasons - weight control, health, fun, self-esteem – why women work out in the first place?
I realize it is kind of intimidating for many women to walk into the free-weight section and to be surrounded by a bunch of big, strong, sweaty grunting men, but I just hold my head high and head straight to business. Quality over quantity, peeps and just because the bar looks pretty pathetic with its little plates (no shame in working with just the bar either!), proper form is more important that muscling your way through a poorly executed lift.
The most amazing thing with strength training is the tangible outcome and the sense of accomplishment. With consistency and dedication, it is really easy to see massive improvements in a short period of time. For example, I have been able to add 10 pounds a week to my squat over the last five weeks – I am up 50 pounds! Considering that a 1-2 second improvement in my 400m repeats is considered an accomplishment, fifty pounds feels like a revelation! I am no body builder, but I was pretty excited when I was finally able to squat my body weight a few weeks ago.
As my (female) running friend and I were discussing this morning on our run, one of the best reasons to lift weights is that it is actually fun. Maybe it is just because logging miles and miles every day does get a bit boring and this is an interruption to the typical training (running) session. Each exercise takes intensive concentration and effort, followed by a nice long water break: it is basically the opposite of an auto-pilot long run.
In any case, I am curious…is there some way to get more women lifting weights? I personally hope I continue to find time to lift after I am done being an “athlete” because of the reasons previously mentioned. In the meantime, I do encourage women – runners and non – to challenge themselves to becoming more comfortable and keen in the weight room and to try something new. Who knows, you might even get stronger, faster, fitter, leaner and more confident!!!
PS To my single girlfriends: don’t forget that 1:100 ratio I mentioned…I’m just sayin’…