I remember the first day I stepped into a gym with the intention of learning how to lift weights. I was home from college for the summer and charged with newfound inspiration to get into shape. At the time, I had no idea what this really meant because fitness, aside from the occasional jog on the treadmill, was completely foreign to me. I never thought that in a few years, I would become the exercise professional I am today. It’s amazing how far a little curiosity and willingness to learn can take you.
I was fortunate in that I knew many of the members at this gym I joined, so I felt very comfortable approaching them with questions about how to use various pieces of equipment, as well as asking for help with different exercises to target separate muscle groups. Luckily, I was able to quickly grasp and execute concepts such as form and strong movement patterns from my years as a dancer, so my transition into strength training was rather seamless. As my toolbox of exercises expanded, I grew increasingly confident in my ability to work out safely and efficiently on my own, and it felt incredibly liberating.
Throughout the first few months of my own assimilation into the weightlifting culture, one particular commonality existed among every single one of my trips to the gym: there were very few women present. This bothered me because, even though I enjoyed my independence at the gym, I was missing a sense of companionship and support. This is not to say I was being shunned by the male population, but I was excited by the idea of women supporting other women, especially in a potentially vulnerable environment. I wanted to foster relationships with people who were living similar experiences to my own, from battling the burden of societal pressures to look a certain way, to recognizing that women and girls have just as much of a place in fitness as their male counterparts, no matter the modality.
I began pondering reasons why so many of my female peers were absent, and if they were present, how could I feel more connected to them throughout my own fitness journey? What were some hindrances we could work to overcome? I realized there were many women out there who already found supportive communities in exercise settings, but for those who hadn’t, myself included, I wanted to understand how to create them. It wasn’t until I became a certified personal trainer that I actually sat down with other women to discuss their desires and concerns, and how it impacted their experiences in fitness.
These are some of the points that came up:
- As stated before, many women feel overwhelmed and insecure due to society’s warped perception of beauty and how our bodies should look.
- Some women feel pressure to compete with other women, and not necessarily in a healthy way.
- Others do not feel confident in their ability to use strength training equipment, which could account for the disparity between the number of men and women in the weight room.
- Many women do not understand how our bodies respond to exercise, and fear that certain training methods will make them look too “bulky” or masculine.
- They do not feel supported in the pursuit of their goals.
Again, these were only some of the topics mentioned, but probably the most prevalent. I believe these points further demonstrate the need for supportive fitness communities among women, whether these groups exist in physical spaces, or are simply there for mental and emotional encouragement.
Here are some ways in which women can become allies in the fitness industry and create a positive community if they are seeking one:
1. Let go of your ego.
One of the first steps to forming an uplifting exercise environment is leaving any feelings of superiority, entitlement, or judgment at the door. No two individuals are alike, therefore everyone will need something different out of their fitness journey. It is not anyone’s job to make others feel inadequate- we were all beginners at some point, and there is always more to learn.
2.) Discover what each other’s goals consist of.
It is important to understand what your peers are striving for if they so choose to share this information, why they want to achieve these goals, and if they have a plan in place. Perhaps the “why” is the most critical, because it offers an opportunity for women to be receptive to one another and acknowledge individual needs and desires.
3.) It’s my body, therefore I can choose how I want it to look and feel.
As previously mentioned, I have spoken to other women who fear that lifting weights will make them look masculine, and this could not be further from the truth. A woman has to follow a very specific diet and exercise regimen in order to significantly increase the size of her muscles, but guess what? Even if this is someone’s goal, she has every right to work towards that; all women should have ownership over their bodies. The same goes for someone who wishes to lose weight, gain weight, increase strength, decrease muscle mass, build a butt, develop better endurance, etc. If it makes you happy and keeps you healthy in both mind and body, do it!
4.) Ask questions.
The training world is constantly evolving and expanding, and even as a fitness professional, I find it is hard to keep up at times! If you are feeling lost in your workouts, unsure of how to do something, or want to explore a new training method, try reaching out to other women for advice. These women can be fitness professionals, friends that have more exercise experience, or simply someone you trust. It could open up a dialogue and introduce you to a new confidant.
5.) Work out together.
Want to take your dialogue a step further? Reach out to a fellow female friend, or even a group of women and plan a day and time to train together. You will have the opportunity to challenge and encourage each other, and most importantly, de-stress and have fun.
6.) Create healthy competition.
If society is going to try to compare us and decide what “kind” of woman is “better” or more “worthy,” perhaps it is our duty to crush these oppressive attitudes. Exercise and our overall health shouldn’t be about arranging women on some kind of totem pole, but recognizing we all exist on equal ground. If we are creating competitive settings, they should be ones in which we are pushing each other to be the best versions of ourselves, and realizing that that’s enough.
7.) Uplift each other.
...because this world can be fraught with negativity and hate, and we need more tolerance and kindness, love and respect.