“You don’t want to get too big, though, and start to look masculine”, was one of the completely unwelcome responses I received around three years ago when I was discussing having recently started lifting weights.
It’s odd how people take ownership of your body, isn’t it? How strangers hold very defined expectations and assume you’ll stick to them so that you remain acceptable in their eyes.
As women and girls, we are the recipients of a barrage of expectations and I often felt heavy with it. I was tired of feeling ‘less than’ or ‘not good enough’ and something needed to change. So I joined a gym and I got a personal trainer and I started lifting weights.
For the first time in my life, I began to feel powerful. I started light and before long, weights that seemed impossible to lift in those first few weeks began to feel easy. My posture improved and I stood up tall for the first time in my life. I even started to stride into the men-centric weights room without a second thought.
With every extra kilogram I could lift, I gained an extra level of appreciation for what my body could do. It wasn’t just there for hanging clothes on or looking nice, it could shift big hunks of metal off the floor. That in turn meant I could lug my suitcase onto luggage racks without any help, carry the heaviest bags of shopping and, essentially, handle my own business. No assistance needed, thanks, me and my muscles have got this covered.
So if gaining strength did all that and more for me, why do people still insist it’s so terribly unladylike? Unfortunately it’s all to do with gender stereotypes. The ones society is supposedly leaving in its wake.
While I’d love to tell you that everyone thinks that girls and women can be whatever they want to be, some people don’t. Those people think all women should be dainty and delicate. They believe in outdated forms of masculinity and femininity and, in their eyes, strength and muscles are inherently masculine. Pfft.
I have a few things to say to those people and I’m not alone. For every misinformed, shouty, sexist internet person shouting about how muscles are for men, you’ll find a totally cool woman who knows that strength, health and fitness are for everyone, actually.
Enter: GirlGains. GirlGains started life as a hashtag, launched by three inspiring women; Zanna Van Dijk, Tally Rye and Victoria Spence. But it soon blossomed into something bigger as girls identified with the message of strength, capability and confidence that came with it. The GirlGains hashtag quickly passed the 50,000 post mark and transformed into a community backed up by monthly events.
The success of the movement is testament to just how many women and girls are feeling the benefit of strength training, not just physically but mentally and socially too. I asked the GirlGains founders about why it’s just so great:
“One of our favourite forms of exercise is lifting weights. Not only does it have a multitude of health benefits, including increasing bone density (especially important for us ladies), but it makes us feel empowered. There is nothing better than lifting a challenging weight and pushing your body to become stronger than ever before!”
It’s not about getting that perfect body or punishing yourself with hours on the treadmill, it’s about challenging yourself, testing your limits and finding a new found sense of positivity and determination.
If I’m ever feeling down, I know I can go to the gym and remind myself exactly how strong I am. I might turn up feeling stressed, useless or a bit lost but I’ll leave feeling accomplished and powerful.
And as for those ‘manly’ muscles? Well, I’m no Arnold Schwarzenegger but I do have a sly flex in the mirror every so often and I love that my biceps look defined and that my shoulders look strong. There’s no shame in building muscle; your body is yours to make exactly what you want of it.
Feeling inspired to start lifting weights? Follow these tips…
As tempting as it is, don’t try and lift the equivalent of your own body weight over your head on the first try! It can be frustrating when the person next to you is throwing 100kg around like it’s nothing but take your time and build up sensibly.
It’s all too easy to injure yourself if you don’t practice proper form, so make sure you get some advice before you start. Luckily, this doesn’t have to mean shelling out for a personal trainer. Take advantage of free taster sessions, get a few pointers from a professional who works at your gym, ask a PE teacher or check out some YouTube videos and practice with no weight first.
Use a mirror
Seriously. Mirrors aren’t just for bros to check out their biceps in or for post-workout selfies, they’re there so you can make sure you’re using the correct technique. Find a spot in front of a mirror and watch out for anything you need to improve.
Don’t overdo it
Muscles need rest as much as they need training. Don’t go overboard and start lifting weights seven days a week. Make sure your schedule includes enough rest days, too.
Ready to go? Here’s to girls with muscles!
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Image: Bring It On