No Girls Allowed!

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’…

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13 Responses to “No Girls Allowed!”

  1. Malindi — I’ve found, along with several friends, that CrossFit is a great program to get girls lifting. For some women, simply not knowing what to do, or how much to weight to use, can be the barrier to lifting, so this program gets around it. Not only is the workout laid out for you every day, but rarely do you have two days in a week where you’re doing the same type of workout. I enjoy that it’s so varied and I also have noticed how much stronger I feel when I’m running.

    I will say, though, that one needs to be cautious with CrossFit – if you’re not doing the Olympic lifting with proper form, you’re bound to get injured.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on lifting!

    • Malindi Elmore says:

      Thanks for the good point Alyson…I actually don’t know much about Cross Fit except that it has become very popular…maybe that’s where the girls are! I have heard people get really into it but that the risk of injury can be a draw back – obviously needs proper instruction / supervision. In any case I would like to try it sometime!

  2. Yo home slice. You know who loves to get her lift on who isn’t a pro athlete? Jazzy Cetrone! That girl loves to lift with the boys and she approaches it just like you do. She told me that a lot of girls tell her they don’t lift because they are afraid of getting bulky, but she proves that you can get leaner and sexier. Love ya chickadee.

  3. John Lofranco says:

    Our club lifts weights, and the girls are probably more consistent than the guys. I think one key is opportunity: we gave them a program to do. Another key is that they go in pairs. It is always better with a friend. Also, our gym environment is already quite mixed. The head trainer is a woman, and several of the personal trainers are women. It’s a very open place: you can ask any staff member for help at any time, male or female. I am useless at weights, so when I started back last week, I had to ask trainers for help. I was getting my instruction from a woman half my size (and, being a runner, I’m not that big!)

    So, I’d say, a plan, a friend, and a good gym environment are the keys to getting women involved in weights!

    • Malindi Elmore says:

      Having a program is key – for many reasons! For me it also helps curb some OCD tendencies. I used to feel like going to the weight room as going to the library at exam time – how do you not try to do everything??? Glad to hear you are back doing weights…1 week in – feeling sore yet?

      • John Lofranco says:

        I started on Tuesday. I was ok Wednesday, sore Thursday but did day 2. Was a little sore on Friday, but no problems by Saturday. Muscles are fine now, but my lower back is sore. I suspect that may have more to do with the road race I ran yesterday, however…

  4. I got into lifting more after an injury a few years ago. All of the guys at my gym knew me by name and especially by sight as I lifted while pregnant until about 10 days before I gave birth in Jan. 2011 (and only stopped because my OB forced me to because of a blood pressure issue :) I ended up having a C section and I know I had an easier recovery because of my strength–the nurses all commented about how I was able to use my arms to support myself when trying to take the pressure off my incision, etc. Now that I have a little one I do most of my lifting at home and I miss the camaraderie of my fellow lifters–even if they were all men!

    • Malindi Elmore says:

      Wow that’s pretty amazing that you lifted until 10 days before giving birth – I imagine you had to adapt some things? How did it effect your strength? Its a good way to get ready for carryin a growing baby around!

      • I probably should have been more specific w/my doctor about what “lifting” meant…but I know that they err on the side of (extreme) caution, so I erred on the side of not asking :) I stopped bench pressing and other lying on my back things, but mostly I felt strong throughout! However, because I kept doing my ab circuit, I also ended up with abs that separated and did not close after birth. I recently had to close them by wearing a splint and learning new core exercises! As a friend said, maybe it would have been better to be lazy during pregnancy…

        • Malindi Elmore says:

          Sorry for the late response – I didn’t see your latest comment. The abs separation sounds kind of rough. Mental note to not do abs during pregnancy. Abs have never been my forte though, I get too bored. I hope they are healed up now and you can get back into the weight room.

  5. I rarely if ever (maybe once quarterly) venture into free weights. I guess in my post-collegiate competitive life I’ve tried to fit in with the “other girls.” I have yet to get an entire lululemon outfit or master the reading magazine while running thing, but I think I’ll get there some day.

    Your post actually made me realize that I’m becoming one of “those girls.” Not that I used to shy away from that area. The place I worked out in high school had a guy to girl ratio of about 10:1. It was awesome.

  6. I love, love, love to lift weights and cannot understand why more women do not do it. I have seen major improvements in my running and have tapped into muscles that I did not know I had to push through an extra hard run.

    A lady asked me the other day if I “was in a sport” because she wanted to know “if I was training for anything.” I appreciated her interest but was just a bit confused. Why can’t women lift weights because they enjoy it? And that is exactly what I told her, “I just really like it!”

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