Why Don’t More Women Lift Weights? Part I

I remember the first time I entered a weight room. It was in high school, and I had just paid $10 to use the gym for a semester. I walked into the gym, saw a bunch of guys lifting iron, and walked right back out.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, both women and men should include muscle-strengthening activities several times a week as part of their exercise regime. The more muscle a person has, the greater their life expectancy. Yet, only 7% of women lift free weights. Why?

It’s not that women aren’t active. More than half of marathon runners are female, and women dominate group classes like yoga and zumba.

So, what’s the problem?

Reason #1: “I’ll bulk up and look like a man.”

For every time that I’ve heard that….from both women and men!

There’s a stereotype about the kind of women that lift weights. Namely, that they look like this:

And if you lift weights, you’ll look like that, too.

Ok, maybe you’ll look like that if you have extraordinary discipline about what you eat, and when you eat it. You’ll have to weigh and track every morsel that enters your body. You’ll have to be stringent about gaining weight (mostly muscle) and then stringent about losing it (mostly fat). You’ll have to take a range of supplements to maximize muscle growth and minimize muscle fatigue. You’ll have to exercise more muscles than you can name, big and small, near-daily, until you want to cry from exhaustion. You don’t end up looking like that by accident. Those women work immensely hard to cultivate that kind of physique–it’s like a full-time job.

For the rest of us mere mortals who like to spend our evenings lounging around with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, weightlifting isn’t going to radically transform how we look. More than pilates, weightlifting will add definition without much bulk. Over time, assuming your eating is in check, your waist might get smaller, your bum a tad perkier, and your shoulders more defined.

Here I am, about to bust out of my sleeves, giving Hulk a run for his money:

So yeah, don’t let the myth of the female Hulk drive you away (not that there’s anything wrong with being a badass, super-strong heroine).

Stay tuned for Part II, where I discuss why weight machines don’t deliver on their promises.

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