Welcoming a new perspective on women’s workouts where we show off our muscles simply because we can.
For the longest time you would walk into a public gym and only see the women on the treadmills and ellipticals or in the studio doing aerobics-based exercises like Yoga, Pilates, Spin, or Zumba. While there is nothing wrong with this, it was so unused to see a woman lifting barbels over their heads. Growing up as an athlete in an all-girls team where building muscle was never an issue, it was a sight I couldn’t fully grasp. A visible social barrier was present from the different ways men and women use the gym to the stigma around female muscularity.
However, in the past few years, I noticed the line starting to blur with women slowly but surely dominating the weights section, waiting patiently for their turn to do deadlifts and bench press squats. This is the sight I grew up believing in and was familiar with, not the one where someone would always assumingly always hand me the 5 lbs dumbbell.
I talked to Ida Paras, instructor and co-founder of The Movement Studio, about lifting the stigma around women and strength-training once and for all. She explains that when weightlifting and muscle building were first introduced, the only people who were doing it were men who wanted to heavily bulk up. Over time, this was the only recalled effect of the workout which contradicted the heavily exposed body ideal for women of being lean or ‘skinny’. “Today, because of the boom of the fitness industry, there’s a lot more awareness that having some meat or muscle with the help of strength training is very healthy. It increases the longevity of our lives and regular exercising is good for the heart and mind, plus it increases bone density,” Paras shares.
Strength training has several benefits but most of all it counters the two negative ends of the body spectrum – obesity and undernutrition. Still a strong trend on social media today with hashtags like #girlswholift with the added peach emoji to match, you’ll find a number of women from moms to students who are loving the empowering benefits of lifting weights.
As modern women, we clearly don’t work out for just one goal anymore or respectively just for vanity purposes. For those who are hesitant to approach the barbel because of the fear of looking too bulky, Paras reassures that you won’t look like Ms. Olympia within a couple of sessions. “To be able to ‘accidentally’ look bulky would mean you are genetically different from the 99.999% of the population,” she humors and advices to trust the gym and approach it simply like joining a new club where people will be more than happy to help out. “You have to realize that the biggest guy or the strongest girl you see in your gym was once like you. Believe me, if they were able to get that status, then they know the kind of effort and dedication it takes to become where they are. Most of the pro-looking ones are the humblest in my opinion, because they understand the grind,” she says.
The top tip Paras shares for those beginning their fitness journey in strength training is to start smart by vetting your sources, “don’t blindly follow the most buff guy or sexiest girl on social media.” She preaches her main fitness pillars to follow which is sustainability – a workout that one can consistently do for a long period because one truly enjoys it. “If you’re the kind of person who loves to see progress, like me, you will find it extra fun if you start tracking by taking progress photos and making charts for yourself. But if you’re the kind who cannot be bothered to measure or track anything, that’s fine too! Just start and be consistent.”
Don’t let the stigma of female muscularity stand between a healthier and toner you. Let’s put the myths and unhealthy female body ideals behind because strength comes in many shapes and sizes, and being strong has always been feminine.