Oh, Men Lift Weights? Me Too! - by Jennifer Margulis
For decades, women have relegated themselves to the candy colored two and three pound weights inside the group fitness classroom at the gym. We’ve watched men lift the heavy stuff while we logged hours on the elliptical or sashayed behind closed doors and did Zumba. Out on the streets, we carry mace in our purses because we never believed our bodies could be our weapon. But now a 97lb woman holds the US power lifting record, and millions of other women around the world are lifting heavy, getting strong, and saying “Me Too.”
We heard the cautionary tale of a woman, who was pinned down, and thought her own life might be in jeopardy because a man overpowered her. We know how many women are attacked each year, and rather than succumb to fear or the ancient wisdom “walk the other way,” “take a cab home,” or “dress more conservatively,” how about we empower ourselves in the simplest way possible? Get Stronger.
If you’ve never set foot on the “weights” side of the gym where do you start? Start with squats. Because guess what, you’ve been doing them for years. Maybe not exactly right, but you’ve definitely sat down and stood up thousands of times in your life. You can start by squatting down to a bench at your hip height or just below. Stand with your feet just under your hips, slightly turned about. Feel your big toes, little toes and heels on the ground, create some tension under your feet, like you could tear through the outside of your shoes. Stick your butt out towards the box. Take a big breath in to fill up your stomach. Think about keeping your back straight and sit down. Try not to change anything and stand back up. Once that starts to feel easy, hold a 10 or 15 dumbbell close to your chest and do 8 reps. Eventually you’ll be able to hold something heavier. Eventually you won’t need the box. Eventually you’ll start to use a barbell.
Squats are a fantastic exercise for improving your lower body strength, but they are also a full body movement. In a barbell squat, you learn how to use your lats to pull the bar down as you move towards the ground, and engage your core muscles when you stand up to protect your back. Deadlifts are another great way to build up your legs and glutes, plus they will teach you how to lift properly and prevent injury throughout your lifetime. Women have asked whether it’s safe to deadlift during pregnancy and the experts say yes, as long as they are doing so in a safe manner and under the supervision of a fitness professional. What fantastic preparation for when they will need to pick up their newborn child from the ground!
If it’s Michelle Obama’s arms you’re after, you may want to pay attention here. Bicep curls are not the way. Neither are the speedbag punches with 3lb weights you’ve been doing during the obligatory 90 second arms routine at spin class. Learning to support your own bodyweight, in the form of a plank, pushup or pullup, is going to be both functional and create significant strength. Start by holding the top of a pushup for 10 seconds. Then work on lowering your body all the way down to the ground. Gravity will get you there so your job is to try and slow it down by keeping your body tight. Then work on going halfway down in a pushup and back up. Most adult women weigh more than 100lbs. Unless you’re planning on bicep curling 50lb dumbbells, you can see how merely supporting your own weight will be a much greater challenge for your body than curling 10’s. Plus, in a plank or pushup, you’re activating your core muscles, glutes, back and shoulders - not just your biceps.
Getting strong doesn’t happen overnight, which is why it’s important to give yourself small incremental goals to work towards. And then you have to actually do the work. You can’t squat once a month and wonder why your legs aren’t getting stronger. Conversely, if you do a different routine every day, you’ll never get better at any one exercise. So create a strength training plan that incorporates a few functional movements, seek out a personal trainer to get feedback on your form, and then gradually increase the volume and resistance of each exercise.
You don’t have to be a champion power lifter to feel strong. You can feel strong the day you do your first full pushup, deadlift a bar that weighs 100 pounds, or pull yourself up to a bar and feel your chin rise above it. You can feel strong knowing you made it to the side of the gym that once felt off-limits but now is “yours.” And you can feel strong when you walk home at night without fear, safe in the knowledge that your body is a powerhouse and you are running the show.
**Images with weights copyright Craig Bagno.
**Image of Jennifer hand-standing copyright David Tufino.
Jennifer Margulis is the founder of Small But Mighty Training, a personal training company in midtown Manhattan. She specializes in strength training for women, with certifications in CrossFit, Everlast Boxing, Pre and Post Natal, and Sports Performance. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in getting stronger!
Her Instagram is @croptop