2018. The Rise of the Female Lifter

You’ll find the guys in the weights room and the women on the cardio machines. That was the way it used to be. Initial beliefs held were that doing cardiovascular training helped burn fat and slim you down, whereas lifting weights would make you bulky and big like Arnold. Women on the CV machines. Men in the weights room. Not anymore though. Things are changing fast and thankfully, we’re seeing more and more women beginning to see and feel the benefits of regular weight-bearing activity. Why the change though? You see, for a long time these old-school beliefs saw females pounding away on the treadmill/bike/fill in the blank for hours on end to shift those excess pounds and strive towards achieving the body of their dreams.

Two things were happening. One, some of the women doing this were achieving a degree of success. Doing steady-state low intensity CV training has been proven to burn calories helping to reduce body fat levels if complemented with a calorie-controlled diet. This meant that those lucky individuals were seeing their body fat drop as expected but not with the exact, desired result. Their body shape wasn’t what they expected to get in return for all their hard work. The thing is, if you don’t put any emphasis at all on building any sort of muscle mass then you simply won’t have any! This means that things like the dreaded “bingo wings” or “muffin tops” might still be there! Imagine that. Putting in all that hard work, hours upon hours of time spent on the same dreaded machine just to realise that although you’ve technically “lost weight”, you haven’t earned anything close to resembling the body you were after!?! Enough to put you off exercising for life, right?

The second common occurrence was even worse. Blatant failure. I used to work in a fancy commercial gym. There we would put on a variety of different classes (most of which were CV based: aerobics/spinning etc) for the members of the club. There were always those members that done the SAME class, at the SAME time, day after day, week after week, YEAR AFTER YEAR! And guess what? They looked no different. This is the equivalent of a man trying to chop down trees in the forest with a blunt axe vs the man taking the time to sharpen his before he even begins. These people were missing the point. Now at this point I know what you might be thinking: How is this specific to women? IT’S NOT AT ALL! But it is one of the reasons I believe contributed towards pushing more females into the weights room. Doing more, more, more isn’t enough and doesn’t even work half the time. 20 minutes on the treadmill, 30-minute spin class, 45-minute aerobics class. The problem with this approach is that it’s not sustainable, nor enjoyable AND, is likely not combined with a balanced, calorie-controlled diet otherwise this much activity WOULD NOT BE NEEDED! This approach not only resulted in females not achieving their desired goals but developing a stern dislike for exercise as the amount of effort being put in was not being matched with a result on a similar scale. Something needed to change.

Maybe trying something different? Maybe even…dare I say it, trying to lift some weights instead of the endless hours of unfulfilling CV training? I’ve criticised social media and its contribution to the fitness industry heavily on previous blogs but in this instance something positive was happening. A lot of women were starting to see other females in gyms, lifting weights with proper form and reaping the benefits of it. Not only, were these women in great shape, but they also weren’t “bulky” or “too big”. Their appearance was a closer resemblance to the figure that most women were striving for back when they were spending hours in the gym on the cardio machines far away from using any weights to shape and sculpt their body. More and more females were being introduced to weight training in various forms and reaping the rewards from it. Not only that, they didn’t have to put in so much time into it that it made them have nightmares about their next visit to the gym. A good, effective workout using weights, could be done in anything from 30-60 minutes and didn’t require an excessive amount of time yet still brought results.

As this trend continued to progress, something interesting was happening. Not only were women starting to get into weightlifting, they weren’t just using fixed machines but incorporating major compound movements like squatting and deadlifting into their routines. These lifts would contribute heavily towards developing a leaner, more muscular physique/figure that was better equipped to deal with the demands of the outside world. This coupled with the fact that the learning of a new skill would help towards building confidence and belief meant that the benefits of utilising weight training within their routines was vast. Step into a commercial gym today and the scene paints a different picture. While there is still some resemblance of old stereotypes which saw men in the weights room and women mostly on the CV machines, now there is a much greater mix which includes a lot of women doing most of their training in the weights room. It’s important for us to continue in this vein. While establishments like “Curves” have their place within the fitness industry, separation of people isn’t the answer. It isn’t acceptable to have men in one part of the gym and women in another or even a completely different establishment altogether! We can all train, progress and improve together. Educate, support and encourage each other. That’s why it’s good to see things are improving in this respect. That’s why the current trend in the gym environment should be viewed as a good thing. That’s why the rise of the female lifter can only be a positive development for us all.

Scott McBride