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Weights are Not Just for Guys: How to Make Weight Lifting Less Intimidating

I can’t be the only girl who every time is walking past the weight section of a gym, feels her entire body tense up in fear. It feels like the weights have eyes and they are all staring at me, daring me to lift them (or at least try). A few months ago, I wouldn’t have stepped a foot into the weight room of my gym, let alone pick up a dumbbell. Yet, today it’s a different story. 

For years the stereotype that weights are just for guys, and girls should just stick to cardio, yoga and pilates has continued to deter women from picking up a weight. The looming cloud of anxiety that comes with lifting weights as a woman isn’t far behind. I wouldn’t even know what to do. I feel like I would just get stared at. It’s all guys in there, that freaks me out. Whatever the reason may be, weight lifting as a woman can be a terrifying concept. 

With dozens of machines that have cables and handles galore and seemingly endless racks of weights, it honestly looks like an assembly line for a transformer robot. As scary as those machines may seem, they’re actually quite simple. It’s like an introduction to a person: you walk up to them, get to know them by what they tell you about themselves and then you guys can be friends. The same goes for weight machines with the small printed instruction stickers that most of them have. But I’m just scared to walk in there to begin with! Let me put your mind at ease and tell you that everyone pretty much keeps to themselves and minds their own lifts. 

I started taking lifting seriously back in June. With only a summer job to worry about, the rest of my free time revolved around lifting exploration. I would go into the gym with my RBF on full display, with only one intention: to figure out what the heck I’m supposed to do. And now with almost four months of lifting knowledge under my belt, it’s safe to say I know the in’s and out’s of a weight room and what it has to offer. So, let’s break it down to ease the intimidation so you can begin to rub elbows with your gym’s weight room. 

“So where do I even start?”

Well, that’s a loaded question, because there are many avenues you can travel down in a weight room. It all comes down to what muscle group you want to target. Say you want to target your legs. Well, the most commonly known exercise for targeting legs is squats, so start there. Most gyms are equipped with squat racks, which are composed of the rack itself, a barbell (the long bar that rests on the rack) and weight plates.

 My advice to you is to get to know the exercise of squatting itself. Take to the internet to learn about form, weight plates and how to properly set up and disassemble the rack. Better yet, bring a friend to tackle the task with you. Watch others around you and see how they do it to get a feel for what’s commonly done. 

This advice can be applied to not only squats and squat racks, but almost every other exercise and machine that can be done. Research and observation is your friend when you’re starting out. Utilize social media to learn from popular trainers and fitness instructors on different exercises, how to execute them and any other helpful tips. TikTok has become my holy grail for exercise ideas/routines and lifting information. Once you get on the exercise side of TikTok, you may never want to leave. 

Start to compile a list of common exercises for beginners that utilize lightweight. Pick exercises that all target the same hemisphere of the body. What I mean by this is pick a collection of exercises that target the lower body, the upper body, etc. The commonly used phrase, “We all start somewhere,” really is true when it comes to weight lifting. I am here to tell you, you don’t need to be perfect right away. Exercise form and targeting specific muscles comes with time. Pick a few exercises, and try them out! Set aside a few days a week to go and try new exercises and find the ones you like. 

“Ok I have my list of exercises. Now what?”

Alright so now that you have your list of exercises, you’re going to want to break down those exercises into sets and reps. What the heck are a set and rep? One set is a certain number of repetitions of a singular exercise. The target repetition range for an exercise is usually 8-12 repetitions. Once you’ve completed those 8-12, that’s one set down! A good amount of sets to start out with is 3-4 depending on how much time you want to spend on the exercise. You can also go up or down in weight after each set, but more on that later. 

“How do I even find the right machines and weights?”

This all comes back to taking the time to observe and getting to know the machines and weights. For starters, just walk around! Take some time to casually stroll around and look at the machines. If you find an exercise on social media that you want to try, walk around to scope it out and get a feel for where everything is located. I know it may sound weird to just walk around and look at everything, but trust me it helps so much. Watch how other people use them and how they complete the exercises. Sounds creepy, but it’s all for your benefit. If something looks confusing, circle back to it later.

“Do I use the free weights or the machines?” 

It all depends on what you want your lifts to look like and what your goals are. A good way to figure out which one you should utilize more is to set a list of goals for yourself. Do you want super defined muscles in certain groups? I would lean more towards free weights. Do you want to kill two birds with one stone and target a multitude of muscles? Give the machines a try. Both are extremely useful and have great benefits and can be switched between in one workout. 

“When do I add more weight?”

Take time when adding more weight. Gauge how easy or hard it is to finish reps within your sets with your starting weight. If it feels light and you can do 12 reps no problem, kick it up a few pounds! If it is still feeling pretty heavy and you’re feeling the burn, keep it where it’s at for another workout or two. Adding too much weight too quickly can cause injury and extreme soreness to the point where it’s hard to move, trust me I’ve been there. Take your time.

This is where form comes in. As your journey of lifting progresses, you’ll start to learn more and more about proper form and realize that form is more important than hitting big numbers in weight. 

“I’m terrified that if I lift too much it will make me look manly!”

This is definitely something that could cross your mind when thinking of lifting or in the beginning of your lifting journey. I was terrified of having huge arms and big shoulders if I lifted weights in those areas. The truth is, it takes a lot, and I mean a lot, to bulk up your muscles to the point of looking manly. Besides, women have different hormones than men that make our muscle profiles completely different, which means the odds of you looking like a man are low.

Everyone’s goals are different, and if you want to build lean muscle mass to look “toned,” that’s great. If you want to look absolutely ripped and have huge muscles, that’s also great. Just know that women are built completely differently than men and everything you target when you lift is for your benefit and can help support you in other lifts. Now that I’m starting to develop larger arms and shoulders, I’m actually in love with them. 

“I just got done with my workout. What do I do now?”

EAT! The biggest thing that comes with the weightlifting world is food consumption. It depends on what your goals are yet again, such as if you want to lose weight, maintain your weight or gain weight. Either way, eating is definitely my top recommended task to do after your workout. Picture this: you’ve just spent an hour lifting and burning a ton of calories and now you feel completely void of energy and achy. EAT!

The best thing to eat when trying to hit your goal of building muscle, no matter how much muscle, is protein. Lean meats, cheeses, protein oats, protein bars and shakes, nuts, etc. All of these are great options for replenishing your muscles and giving you an energy boost. 

If you’re feeling a little sore after your workout, give your body a little stretch and take a rest. If you keep up with lifting, after a while the soreness frequency will subside as your body gets used to the strain of the weights.  

The world of weightlifting can be terrifying from the outside. I once stood in the same spot and wanted nothing to do with weights or muscles. But from the inside looking out, weight lifting has completely changed my life. I can proudly say that my day revolves around what time I’m going to the gym, and my bank account revolves around Gymshark and Alphalete shorts and leggings. 

When it comes to starting out in the weight room, tell yourself it’s OK that you’re there and you deserve to be there just like everybody else. No one is excluded from this lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle that builds confidence, patience, discipline and can even bring you happiness if you choose to pursue it. As scary as it may be to start, all you can do is just start. Now get out there and tackle weight lifting like the boss that you are.  

Sydney Scalia is a junior at the University of Missouri studying Journalism with a minor in Italian. She specializes in writing pieces about fashion and style, fitness, lifestyle, and culture such as travel, entertainment, and social media.
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