The Final Frontier: Rec Center Weight Room

Most of us are painfully aware of the glass ceiling, but lately the greatest obstacle for the women in my life has become the second floor of the Rec Center, here on the UMass campus. Somehow this section of the gym comes off as uncharted territory for the average Collegiette: so uncharted, in fact, that some women avoid it like the plague (the bubonic plague, not the UMass plague—no one seems to avoid that.) Unfortunately, a lot of ladies walk up the stairs to the third floor cardio section, scampering past the entrance to the weight room.

Maybe it’s because my mother taught me how to use weights early on, or maybe it’s the training I received from coaches in high school, but the idea that anyone—male or female—would avoid this section entirely and never get bored of their workout routine seems bizarre to me. 

Not only that, but science and personal experiences assure me that those on a fitness journey probably haven’t seen many results. And if they have, they might have plateaued much earlier than they should have. Cardio is important, cardio is great, but it's not the only kind of training that your body needs. It's hard to reach optimal fitness without the proper use of weight training. Not all of us are heading to the gym simply because we want to keep a competitive 40-yard dash, but the familiarity with lifting weights is still critical.

However, I understand that there are many reasons why some women avoid this area: not only at UMass, but at nearly every other kind of training facility, as well.

As women, we are sometimes susceptible to being forcibly sexualized within such a testosterone-fueled environment. Just by walking onto the second floor, it's not uncommon that we inadvertently attract a number of questioning glances. I don’t even want to describe the occasional looks, ranging from one-sided lust to judgement, that occur once you reach a machine. 

While that might be enough to scare some of us away, it shouldn’t be. If you have the right music on, you can almost drown out the uncomfortable feeling that someone is watching you (even if they're not!) Since music isn’t always enough, though, there are other helpful tips for the weary.

First and foremost, lift with a friend—it can be less daunting when you have someone to talk to. You can also switch off and help each other lift. That way, there’s no bulky Michelin Man-type asking you how many more sets you have (along with the glare that informs you that your answer should be “I’m done”.) 

Make an effort to go early. I know it’s hard, but anyone who takes the time to hit the gym before 9 a.m. is serious. They aren’t there to bother anyone (and neither are the majority of gym-goers), they're just trying to make some serious and well-deserved gains.

Pro tip: If you can’t go early, at least try not to go at night if you feel daunted by a lot of people at the gym (unless it’s Friday or Saturday), because that’s when every muscleman and his brother do their workouts. 

Lastly, maybe consider taking a good look in the mirror and practice your resting b*tch face. All jokes aside, nothing seems to work quite like a stern “don’t mess with me" face. Better yet, take off all your makeup before you leave. I know most of us usually do this anyway for proper skin care, but personally, if I’m really not in the mood to get messed with, I make sure I don’t even have mascara on my classic are-they-blonde-or-just-not-there eyelashes.

If all else fails, my friends, go to Target and buy a set of cheap weights to use with any of the numerous workout videos on YouTube. 

While I have hopefully given you some useful advice, I want you to know that the weight room isn’t the obstacle you need to conquer. You are strong and independent! You can lift those weights just as well as any ol' boy—the real challenge is the gender standards so embedded in our society. They tell us that we shouldn’t lift weights because we’ll get too big, and that’s "unattractive" (and if I ever hear such a profanity come out of another mouth, you’re going to eat some soap.) It tells men that they’re entitled to making us feel like foreigners in the weight room, and to making us uncomfortable in our own skin. That's what you need to overcome: it’s not the weights themselves, but the weight of gender stereotypes holding us back. 

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