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What Lifting Weights Taught Me About Being A Woman

Sixteen women explain how strength training has helped them find a strength they didn’t know they had.

Image by Thomas Tolstrup / Getty Images, graphic by Mackenzie Kruvant / BuzzFeed

Lifting weights as a woman gets a bad rep. Many shy away from it because they worry that if they lift they will look too manly. Instead they focus on cardio. While women fight to become skinnier, many don’t push to become stronger. The number on the scale is still seen as the ultimate goal. It’s unfortunate for a lot of reasons, one being that lifting can have amazing physical and mental benefits. I asked some women to explain how “picking things up and putting them down” has changed their outlook on life and their connection with themselves. Here’s what they said:

1. “It’s taught me to not be so hard on myself.”


“Lifting has taught me to become comfortable with failure. Failure in lifting means that your body has reached maximum capacity. And with that comes the opportunity to start fresh with something more challenging and rewarding. It’s taught me to not be so hard on myself. Every day presents challenges, but on days when I can lift, I feel like everything in my life is easier.” —Tracy

2. “I’ve developed a deeper respect for how powerful, awe-inspiring, and enduring my female body truly is.”


“My experience weight lifting has had many evolutions. I ran cross-country in high school and the workouts I despised the most were not sprints or hill training, it was the weight room, pathetically mimicking the boys cross-country team that I found painfully dreadful. During college I changed my mind about the weight room and made a greater effort at lifting, vaguely repeating the same bicep curls from high school and for the most part being the only girl in the weight room. My weight lifting evolved a bit more after college when I was forced to actually have a gym membership, to a brand-new gym with shiny equipment, a female population, and more educated people. I realized, I had options; weight lifting was not as cookie cutter, bulk inducing, and boring as I had believed. My last evolution came when I met my trainer who led me through such challenging workouts that I can proudly admit that running has been bumped down from its pinnacle to second place, behind weight lifting. I have overcome injuries, prepared for pregnancy and its afterthoughts, refined how I use and move my body in daily activities, as well as developed a deeper respect for how powerful, awe-inspiring and enduring my female body truly is.” —Maggie

3. “I lift for myself and every day it shows me that I am in full control of changing my body.”


“I started lifting for track in high school thanks to one coach who had all the guys and girls on the team lift together. Everyone was treated the same. Even if you couldn’t lift the same amount, you would do the same exercises. Running with weights, dead lifts, bench press: I would have never even attempted to do some of the lifting that we did without that little starting push. Now I lift for myself and every day it shows me that I am in full control of changing my body. Seeing — and feeling — the results never ceases to amaze me.” —Sarah

4. “Treating exercise as a means to be more, as opposed to viewing it as a never-ending struggle to be less, is absolutely a game changer.”


“Lifting weights is inherently empowering, as it’s the first kind of exercise I’ve ever done with the goal of actually getting more powerful. But, what’s interesting is that lifting is the only kind of exercise I’ve ever done where the goal isn’t, in some way or another, tied to actually becoming less powerful. As women, we view exercise as a way to lose weight, or to maintain it. Which is to say, as a way to shrink, or to stay small. Not to say that vanity is necessarily any less of a motivation for women who lift weights than it is for women who spend hours on the elliptical, but there’s a difference between exercising to look strong and exercising to look small. Treating exercise as a means to be more, as opposed to viewing it as a never-ending struggle to be less, is absolutely a game changer. Also, being able to lift really heavy shit off the ground, onto your shoulders, and over your head is really, really fun.” —Christine

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5. “How you want to move and train your body shouldn’t be determined based on your gender.”


“I’m a classically trained dancer and as a dancer, you’re taught that your body is your instrument, it’s a means to a variety of expressions, it’s sacred. Unfortunately, this mentality, while it’s beautiful and necessary to fulfill the artistry that is dance, wasn’t fulfilling me anymore. I realized that my body, its muscles, its bones, had a function…to live and support myself no matter the situation. As a dancer, I frequently felt weak, frail, and inflicted with odd injures. The functionality of my anatomy was nonexistent and I was becoming more aware of it.

After weight lifting seriously for close to two years, I now feel like I could conquer any physical challenge put in front of me (…well almost any). My muscles and strength can now support the active person that I always have been and encourage an even healthier lifestyle than ever before.

It has been empowering as a young female being that I now don’t feel bound to this singular idea of what a woman’s body should look like. Granted, yes, it did take some adjusting as certain muscles developed (gluteus maximus…), but I’m more proud than ever before of what I have crafted my body into with all my efforts. It’s taught me that how you want to move and train your body shouldn’t be determined based on your gender and the social norms of what men and women are ‘supposed to do’ and ‘supposed to look like.’ Your body is yours… express, lift, craft, challenge, and DO whatever it may be you want with it.” —Lindsey

6. “On days when I’m unsure of myself, I remember how much stronger I am than my emotions.”


“Lifting weights has taught me that my self worth isn’t in my weight, but instead in my strength. It doesn’t matter what number is on the scale. What matters is if I’ve pushed my body past the limits that I thought I once had. I’m constantly bettering myself and becoming more comfortable with my self and my own power. On days when I start to stumble and become unsure of myself, I remember how much stronger I am than my emotions. Lifting has taught me that there is nothing that I can’t handle. There is a high that I get after a day of lifting that can last through out the day and I find myself itching to get back into the gym as soon as possible. And I don’t even like the exercise.” —Mackenzie

7. “Every time I hit the gym I feel like I am shattering the perception of the limitations of women, and contributing to eliminating barriers.”


“There are few things that feel more empowering than lifting weights. And I certainly accredit to this, at least in part, the fact that I am a woman. Not many women believe weight lifting is ‘for them’ and not many men believe women can lift comparably. Every time I hit the gym I feel like I am shattering the perception of the limitations of women, and contributing to eliminating barriers. And, from a physical standpoint, lifting weights is more fulfilling for me than cardio activity. I can see and feel results quickly, and I build strength to accomplish things outside the gym that carry over the feelings I have within those walls to other aspects of my life.” —Emily

8. “Lifting has brought to my attention that a body that can do so much is one worth loving, not worth lamenting.”


“In the two years since I started power lifting, and regular 5-3-1 programming, the time I have spent with the barbell helped me transition from my body-hating twenties to my body-loving thirties. When I was younger, I joked, in a self-deprecating tone, with friends that my hips were ‘child-birthing hips.’ My ass was something to cover up with A-line dresses, long shirts, and shorts at the beach.

There in my hips, in what I now see as the strongest center of movement in our bodies, I was curvy (‘fatty’ if I’m being honest about my own word choice at the time). It was there that I spent all my time criticizing, as most women do. Now, as I’ve been lifting heavy for two years, I want to show off that rear, that butt, that ASS. For, with this ass, I can deadlift 1.5 times my bodyweight. Lifting has brought to my attention that a body that can do so much is one worth loving, not worth lamenting. How mean and shallow can I be to decry my body as I bench press 120 pounds and squat 160 pounds? This ass of mine still has plenty of cushion, but now that I know what it can do, I want to show it off to the world. Hell, I even want to put horizontal stripes across it too.” —Lindsay

Peathegee Inc / Getty Images / Blend Images RM

9. “If I am feeling anxious in social situations I usually visualize myself performing my favorite lift and how confident I feel completing that lift.”


“I have built self-confidence through building strength. I have become more confident in myself every time my form progresses and every time I increase my weights. My self-confidence that I build in the gym definitely generalizes to increased self-confidence in other aspects of my life. For example, if I am feeling anxious in social situations I usually visualize myself performing my favorite lift and how confident I feel completing that lift. Then I feel confident instead of anxious. Lifting has also given me a community. Sharing my lifting progress and aspirations with other female lifters helps me to feel like I am part of a community. We all share the same goal of getting stronger. I have found a great, supportive community through power lifting. I believe that all women in the power-lifting community have something to offer to the sport whether they are beginners or nationally ranked. Despite our ‘game faces’ we are friendly!” —Alexis

10. “No second-guessing. No self-doubt.”


“Compulsive and introspective, obsessive and intense, I’ve got a long history of being trapped in my head. Lifting introduced me to the peace of being completely in my body. Meeting resistance with absolute intention, counting reps, breathing with every movement — heavy lifting is the perfect meditative practice because it allows no room for bullshit. No second-guessing. No self-doubt. No critical, internal screaming beasts. Just power and peace. And then muscle. Mmm…muscle.” —Kelly

11. “Lifting weights is my therapy.”


“Lifting taught me I can train myself to be strong mentally and physically, and with dedication I can do anything. There is nothing more satisfying than practicing a power snatch for three months and finally landing it. That was a victorious day! Lifting weights is my therapy. It reminds me I can get through anything with strength, commitment, and belief. And lifting has taught me that, like men, women are meant to have strong, able bodies. It increases the amount of calories we burn during and between all of our workouts, it increases brain function, lowers blood pressure, and reduces body fat. Who doesn’t want to feel strong, mentally vivacious, and hot?” —Melissa

12. “Lifting has made me a feminist.”


“Lifting has made me a feminist. I don’t feel any more empowered by it or anything like that — my mother brought me up with emphasis on being strong, assertive and independent — but I have growing discontent with everything that surrounds women’s lifting. I don’t mean the people who partake, I mean the people who look on and misunderstand. My life is taking a new direction as I get more and more angry about it. It’s not enough to be part of it; it’s time to try and change a few opinions.” —Pip

Peathegee Inc / Getty Images / Blend Images RM

13. “I used to spend way too much time focused on what I couldn’t do or the imperfections I posses, but now I focus on what I can do.”


“Lifting has taken me from a woman with low self-confidence to someone that conveys confidence. For the first time in my life I love myself and can see why others love me because I am a strong and amazing woman. Seeing changes in my body and seeing the gains of my lifts lets me know I am capable of most things with just a little determination and work. I used to spend way too much time focused on what I couldn’t do or the imperfections I posses, but now I focus on what I can do and how huge my quads and biceps are!” —Jen

14. “Lifting taught me how to focus on my goals, visualize them, and then absolutely crush them.”


“Lifting taught me to value myself for what I can do, not what I look like. I’ve learned that doing something I actually enjoy, not just something that’s supposed to get me the ‘perfect’ body, makes me more confident and that confidence makes me love the person I see in the mirror. Lifting taught me how to focus on my goals, visualize them, and then absolutely crush them. It taught me to respect my limits: I can’t always make as much progress as I’d like, but I know now that pushing myself too hard will actually set me back in the long run.” —Ali

15. “It’s taught me that I am a smart woman. I am a strong woman. I am a beautiful woman.”


“What has lifting taught me about being a woman? It’s taught me that I am a smart woman. I am a strong woman. I am a beautiful woman. In the process of learning, I have gained a much-needed 35 pounds and confidence. I may have lost my D cup breasts but gained one hell of an ass. Despite the comments from loved ones and close friends, lifting has taught me that no one defines what it means to be a woman besides the woman herself.” —Emily

16. “I’ve become a lot less concerned with what this lady body looks like.”


“Since I started lifting, I’ve become a lot less concerned with what this lady body looks like, and a lot more inspired by the amazing things it can DO.” —Marisa

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