…and she lifted happily ever after

How I overcame my fear of being a woman in the weights room

Ladies, raise your hand if you’ve ever felt intimidated in the gym. It’s 6 pm on a Monday evening – prime busy time in any gym. I’m sat on a bench in the main free weights zone, and between dumbbell curl sets I take a minute to soak up my surroundings. I’d been too absorbed in my workout and focused on myself to notice that I was the only female in the gym. I took a few moments to count how many guys there were – 23. There were 23 guys in the bench area at the front of the gym, and here I was, quietly and confidently going through my reps.

I tightened my ponytail, wiped the sweat from my forehead, and carried on with my next set. A year ago, or even just a couple of months ago, I would’ve shrunk away and felt the self-consciousness swallow me up. Call me dramatic, but a lot of people wouldn’t believe how incredibly intimidating the gym can be for many people, especially for women in such a male-dominated area.

Walking into the weights zone can feel like entering a shark tank. Sure, many guys are nothing but respectful and friendly, or will just carry on with their workout and barely even notice you. But, I walk up to a bench and I can feel heads turn. Maybe it’s just out of surprise because there aren’t many girls in the gym, and most choose to stick to the treadmills or do circuit workouts on the floor (whether they just prefer that, or they are too intimidated by the weights area, I don’t blame them). Or they do their weights in the little corner upstairs with a few dumbells and a singular bench – tucked away from leering eyes. That’s where we are EXPECTED to be, but why should we feel like we have to do that?

I used to be terrified of it. I used to think that I’d be judged, stared at, that I’d be doing something wrong. But, little by little, I pushed my way through it. It started with just using the weights machines, then as I felt more confident, I started educating myself on how to perform compound lifts like back squats, bench presses and deadlifts. I created playlists that made me feel motivated, focused, and confident, and learnt to walk around with my headphones in like I know exactly what I’m doing (so stay out of my way). As soon as you start to feel more confident in your abilities, your confidence naturally soars.

Some days, like when I have to use the squat rack at the front of the gym, my skin still crawls a little. There have been multiple occasions when I’ve seen guys nudge each other to stare at me and make comments. It’s not fair that we have to put up with it, but I refuse to let them prevent me from doing what I want to do. It has been so worth it because the benefits of weightlifting are unmatched. It’s good for your mental and physical health, and it’ll improve your confidence like no other.

So, girls, I know that walking straight into the testosterone-pumping guy-fest might be intimidating, but the feeling you get when you just don’t care anymore is the most refreshing thing in the world. Stick your headphones in, wear whatever the fuck makes you feel confident, and walk in with your head high. Don’t let them treat you like a zoo exhibit – even if you are the greatest endangered species of all: a girl who lifts.

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