The stigma around women lifting weights and why lifting can actually be beneficial

Canadian Camille Leblanc-Bazinet prepares for another repetition of a squat during a team workout. Leblanc-Bazinet is an accomplished weightlifter, and competes in the Crossfit Games, a fitness revolution that emphasizes the balance of a well-rounded athlete. She held the title of “Fittest Woman Alive” in 2014.

A typical female walks into a commercial gym and scans the arena.  Treadmills and other cardiovascular equipment take up a portion of the gym and free weights and strength training equipment fills the rest of the space. The more cardio the better, right? Not quite, but this phenomenon and mindset occurs commonly with women, young and old.

In reality, the gym can serve a much greater purpose than endless cardio.  Cardio is definitely still important, but strength training is often overlooked in a female’s training regimen.   According to the US National Library of Medicine, “Strength training can provide beneficial alterations in bone, body fat and self-concept in women. There is no evidence that women should train differently than men, and training programs should be tailored for each individual.” According to diet blog Paleo Hacks, the benefits of weightlifting for women include the loss of body fat, gaining muscle, decreasing the risk of osteoporosis, reducing risk of injury, burning more calories, improving posture, and enhancing mood.

Chelsea McCarty is a Crossfit Coach and athlete herself. She specializes in Olympic Lifting, and offers personal training through Messerfit Strength and Conditioning.  She emphasizes the reality that lifting is functional fitness and it applies to every aspect of one’s life.  “Every time you pick up a heavy bag off the ground, pick up your kids, pick up a box, you’re using your muscles and functional fitness to do these everyday tasks,” she said.  McCarty also offered advice for females who feel too intimidated to start lifting; “There are so many benefits from weightlifting but I think the most important one of all is self-confidence. Be proud of your muscles and be proud of your body! It can do amazing things.”  She added, “You owe it to yourself to find out what your body is capable of. If you’re interested in weightlifting but you’re not sure how to go about it, get a trainer or ask a friend.”

Women all too often have the idea that running is for women and weight lifting is for men.  Often, concerns about “becoming too bulky” or simply not knowing how to start inhibit women from participating in strength training. McCarty said that this is a mindset that a lot of women have, “I hear a lot of women say they’re afraid of looking too manly.”  But given that women have 10-30 times less testosterone than their male counterparts, they simply will not get overly bulky without the use of performance enhancing drugs. While men might gain weight and size, women would mostly develop muscle definition and strength without necessarily the size aspect of it.

Weight lifting can be tailored to one’s individual goals, and could be adjusted based on results. McCarty explained, “The most important aspect of exercise is consistency with your training schedule and variety within your training. The only way to continue to build strength and improve (no matter what sport/exercise you take part in) is to keep up with it consistently.”

A similar misconception that women have is the idea that they would turn into the stereotypical image of a female bodybuilder.  Often times bodybuilding preparation is much different than traditional weight lifting.  Bodybuilding involves strict dieting and like previously mentioned, unfortunately sometimes the use of steroids.  Bottom line: if you lift weights, you will reap the numerous benefits that it has to offer, and you won’t suddenly become bulky and masculine.

But still, if a female appears more “built” than lean, why is that anyone’s place to judge? Weight lifting has so many benefits, all of which aid a healthy lifestyle.  So why add fuel to the flame that discourages women from lifting?  There is a stigma around women lifting weights, and there simply shouldn’t be.



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