The Myth of Women and Weightlifting NASM Master Trainer Joseph Lee

Weightlifting and Women: How to Integrate into Fitness Classes and Training

The Myth

“Women shouldn’t lift weights.”

I don’t know who started this myth. Or why. But no single fallacy has set women’s fitness back more than this awful piece of misinformation.

“If I lift I’ll bulk up and look manly.”

Too many women still believe this. In many circles, a lot of women have been sold the notion that if they handle weights, they will immediately become hulking Amazons and lose every trace of their femininity. As health and fitness professionals, we know that nothing could be further from the truth. Those of us “in the know” understand the numerous health benefits of weight training and how it transcends gender. We have an obligation to dispel this myth and allow all people, regardless of gender, to enjoy weightlifting.

The Reality

Women deserve to be able enjoy the benefits of weightlifting. The rise of CrossFit and other similar HIIT workouts has exposed a sizable segment of the female population to weightlifting that was previously left in the dark. Of course, there has always been a small portion of the female population that bucked the norm and still pursued weightlifting. Female fitness enthusiasts, athletes and competitive bodybuilders have long understood the benefits of weight training and faced the challenge head-on. But fear and misinformation has kept countless women away from weightlifting. It is our job as health and fitness professionals to squash this misinformation with scientific facts and drown these fears.

In my own experience, I’ve found that a gradual, progressive approach to weightlifting and women is the best way to overcome the fear and misinformation campaign. One of the certifications I hold from NASM is a Women’s Fitness Specialist. It has provided me with countless resources to tackle this very issue and has been an extremely useful specialization overall. In my own women’s group exercise class, I made it a requirement for women to start bringing two five-pound dumbbells to class. Previously, we had only used bodyweight exercises for resistance training. But I used that time of “bodyweight-only training” to talk to my class members and educate them about the benefits of weight training. I used the countless hours of burpees, mountain climbers and other exercise to let them know that lifting weights at their gym would not make them bulk up. Nor would it promote unsightly hair growth or cause any of the other false side effects that scare women away from weights. I had plenty of women resist the idea still, but I was able to direct the doubters to reputable sources of research and information that supported my claims.

Gaining Strength, Endurance and Confidence

Once I had “educated” the women in my class, it was time to put the theory into practice. The five-pound dumbbells were easy for most of the women to manipulate and not intimidating. The women were able to learn a variety of curling, pressing and rowing techniques with them. As they gained strength and endurance, they also, more importantly, gained confidence. I was then able to graduate my class to heavier weights. We replaced the five-pound weights with seven pounders. Some women have even graduated from those on up to eight- and ten-pound weights. Now overhead presses, bicep curls, plank rows and other dumbbell exercises are mainstays of our exercise class. I’m proud to look at my class – a class comprised exclusively of women – and see them lift weights like professionals.

We still get some sideways looks from passers-by at the park who haven’t been exposed to weight training. Women can be intimidated by the prospect of weight training. I would be too if I was told some of the horrible lies women are told about weightlifting. But we always welcome these skeptical participants into our class and show them that there’s nothing to fear. Seeing and feeling is believing, after all. The class members encourage each other and celebrate their weightlifting victories together. It’s a slow process, but we’re winning women over one weightlifter at a time.

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