10 Tips For Introducing Yourself to the Weight Room

The last time I was in the weight room at my local gym, I was one of only a few girls in a sea of grunting, sweaty men. There were plenty of girls in the gym itself, toiling away on the ellipticals or doing tiny crunches on yoga mats or puttering out 1,000 reps with a two pound weight in an attempt to spot-tone their triceps, but there were very few women actually lifting heavy weights. Why is this? What keeps us, as a lady populace, out of the weight room?

If you have the time and the means to belong to a gym, you really probably ought to be lifting weights (says Rob Lowe's character on Parks & Recreation). But going into a room full of men who know what they're doing when you feel like a novice can be intimidating. It might be difficult to overcome one or more fears- the fear of being bulky, the fear of male judgement, the fear of not knowing how to lift- but those fears are infinitely surmountable.

I spoke with Caitlin Constantine at Fit & Feminist and Marina Tronin, a professional weight lifter and trainer, about ways to get over the hump and into the weight room.

10 Tips For Introducing Yourself to the Weight Room


1. Stop thinking that lifting weights will make you look like the cast of The Expendables.
Women's magazines tell us that we're at our prettiest when we're at our tiniest. The ideal of ladydom is to be bony and birdlike, and to be bulky is to be masculine. Many women shy away from the weight room because they're afraid that tearing themselves away from the elliptical will ruin everything and instantly make you into the Jolly Green Giantess. Not true. Both Caitlin and Marina were pretty adamant about this.
Caitlin says,

Women's physiology generally does not allow for us to put on that kind of muscle - at least, not without some injectable help. And those women you see who are bodybuilders and who do have a lot of muscle? They didn't get that way by picking up a ten-pound dumbbell and flailing around with it a few times. Those women have put in several years of serious training, coupled with strict nutrition and supplements. To point to them as a concern for not doing "guy" exercises is like saying you don't run because you don't want to be an Olympic sprinter.

Adds Marina,

This will not make you bulky. The basic deadlift, squat, bench and military presses WILL NOT MAKE YOU LOOK LIKE ARNOLD! I cannot stress this enough.

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10 Tips For Introducing Yourself to the Weight Room


2. Get a program, and commit to following it.
Marina says,

The worst thing you can do is show up to the weight room without a plan. Aimlessly wandering around and doing 8 - 10 reps of what you've seen some trainer do before is not going to cut it if you're hoping to see any progress. Some excellent strength training resources on the topic of building raw strength and good technique come from Jim Wendler of the 5/3/1 fame, Dave Tate of EliteFTS and Mark Rippetoe who wrote Starting Strength .... All of the above programs are excellent for a novice lifter.

Once you have a program, Marina says you should give it six months to work. If you flit from program to program when you don't feel the results you want right away, you do yourself a disservice.
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10 Tips For Introducing Yourself to the Weight Room


3. Don't pay attention to the sweaty grunting men giving you side eye.
First of all, they're probably not giving you side eye, anyway. Do you pay attention to what you're looking at when you work out? I'm usually zoning out and staring off into space or paying attention to my form. Since it's the gym, there's a good chance that a dude giving you The Eye might actually be aiming it at another dude.

And even if they are trying to glare you out of there, fuck that. Repeat after me: You have just as much right to be there as they do, and you have nothing to prove to them.
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10 Tips For Introducing Yourself to the Weight Room


4. Feed your muscles.
Marina is very adamant about this-

Stop thinking that exercise is calories in, calories out. Stop it immediately. Once you start lifting heavy you will need to eat more.

Eat well, take care of your body, and for the love of brown rice, don't starve yourself. Working out when you haven't eaten properly is like driving a car without oil. Trust me on this, as someone who once tried to run 8 miles after spending the day eating leftover birthday cake (I did it, but I threw up on the sidewalk along North Avenue after I finished, and I was also routinely doing runs of longer than 10 miles at the time. No one saw me puke because it was at about 10:30 pm. Don't do that.)
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10 Tips For Introducing Yourself to the Weight Room


5. Work with a personal trainer to develop a routine.
Trying new things, especially new, intimidating looking equipment, can be uncomfortable at first. In fact, you'd be a lucky and exalted person if your first few times trying something new didn't result in even a little self consciousness. You're going to be uncomfortable for awhile, and the guidance of an expert can set you on the right path if you're not comfortable independently developing your own plan. Marina says that it always helps to have a seasoned professional with weight lifting experience look over your form.
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10 Tips For Introducing Yourself to the Weight Room


6. Fill your ears with a playlist face explodingly awesome enough that you feel like you could bend the bar. But don't actually bend the bar.
Caitlin says,

Headphones are your best friend. They serve two purposes. The obvious one is to engulf you in your own little zone of bad-assery by setting your workout to whatever music makes you feel like a pissed-off Greek goddess, and hence, more capable of powering your way through those last few reps. The less-obvious, but no less important, purpose is that headphones effectively tell everyone around you to leave you alone.

Make sure to use headphones that are secure enough that they won't just drop out of your ears as you get sweaty. I use the kind that hook behind my ears.
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10 Tips For Introducing Yourself to the Weight Room


7. School thyself.
Learn how to use proper form on the exercises you're doing, and don't deviate from proper form. Caitlin says,

Form is so, so, so important. Not only will proper form keep you from getting hurt, but it will also help you get the most out of your workout. It is so much better to do a proper squat with no weight then do an improper squat with tons of weight. Remember, the only person you are competing against when you lift is a former version of yourself. There is no need to push yourself beyond your limits and possibly hurt yourself, just because you don't want to look weak.

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10 Tips For Introducing Yourself to the Weight Room


8. Don't overdo it.
Your muscles need time to recover between workouts, and you're not doing yourself any good by not giving them a break. Don't give into temptation to work out on your designated rest days. Watch some crappy TV or something.
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10 Tips For Introducing Yourself to the Weight Room


9. Set a goal.
How strong do you want to be? How much do you want to lift? If you aim at nothing, you'll probably hit it.
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10 Tips For Introducing Yourself to the Weight Room


10. Give yourself a rest.
One of the cool things about working out is that it tires you out. Never have I had more babylike sleep than after a hard workout. You're going to need a good amount of sleep, and your sleep is going to be awesome. So sleep.
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See? That wasn't so hard.