Ribbed muscle tanks, bottles of pre-workout, and crowds of men swarm the free-weight section. What should be a dynamic, welcoming, and encouraging environment has turned into a mancave. The overwhelming testosterone has pushed many women to sheepishly escape to the comfort of cardio machines or hidden gym corners. Yet, it is not just men who are “strong”, who can lift a weight, who can flex. Women have this power too.
I grew up in a household with a twin brother and an older brother addicted to competition and constantly taunting me to prove that I was just as tough and fast as they were. Because they regularly discounted me, I always sought to do things I “shouldn’t” and “couldn’t” be doing. And for me, this meant entering the free-weight section.
Embarrassed and timid at first, I watched my seasoned brothers lift 25-pound weights while I begrudgingly held my 5-pound weights. Despite the numerous times my mind told me to quit, I found solidarity, strength, and resilience in proving to myself that I could and should be there. I kept returning to the free weight section and met other strong independent women with this mindset. We didn’t form a charter. We didn’t have any secret handshakes or exclusive group chats. We gravitated to one another and found strength, confidence, and affirmation in our informal and unspoken sisterhood.
When people ask me, “how can I start strength training,” or voice their concerns about entering the free weight section, I speak of the power of entering into this unspoken sisterhood. Because of this, I recommend finding a gym mentor or buddy. This makes going to the gym feel more like a hobby than a chore, and it allows women to enter this mancave with power and strength together.
Many women shy away to their tight corners, fearing being surrounded by chiseled, know-it-all, and avid weight lifters. However, know that the discomfort and fear of entering unfamiliar terrain are not unique to you. This feeling once belonged to the lean and experienced bodies around you. Reminding yourself of this fact can inspire you to reach this level of comfort and familiarity in the free-weight section.
It is essential to hold your head high when entering. No one needs to know you’re the new kid on the street. Although I understand that confidence may be the last thing you feel, do your best to feel empowered by what you can control. You can’t control the swarm of men there. But, you can control the music you listen to and the feelings you project onto yourself. Cue your favorite hype song and repeat that you COULD and SHOULD be there, and all your negative energy and thoughts will disappear.
I know that such a task is easier said than done., but what I’ve learned over the years is that if you want to be there, you can be there. I now proudly stand next to my two brothers without feeling the need to compare and compete with them. The free-weight section is just for you, a strong woman.