In my last blog post, I posed the idea that strength training has become a thinking person’s sport. Now I want to dig a little deeper and discuss what it means to be a woman who lifts weights.


My original post was inspired by this article that suggests that educated urban professionals see strength training as a brutish, lower-class pursuit. Supposedly, upper-middle class Americans view muscle as “overcompensation for wounded manhood.” There is a covert bias in favor of brains over brawn, as if the two are mutually exclusive.


But for women, it was never a class or intelligence issue. It was a gender issue. Men were supposed to be strong. Women were supposed to be petite and soft.


Even just ten years ago it was common for women to think weights would make them bulky and manly. Echos of this are still heard today, but more and more women are rejecting the notion of helpless femininity and getting stronger. I’ve witnessed firsthand the transition women have made from the treadmill to the squat rack.


When I first started working out in 2003, the women who lifted weights were extremely niche–mostly bodybuilders and figure competitors. But the average woman didn’t venture too deep into the free-weight area, only far enough to grab a pair of five or 10 pound dumbbells.


Somewhere along the way, the idea of looking “toned” really took off. And with the rise of social media, a more athletic appearance started to become trendy. Weights are effective for sculpting that kind of body, and so the ripples of strength training started to spread.


At first it was a seemingly aesthetic movement. But as feminist issues became more prominent, strength training also became a means of empowerment for women. This brings us to the present day, where women want to look and be strong. Now I regularly see ladies squatting at least a plate or pressing 20 pound dumbbells. On social media there’s no shortage of strong women and female weightlifters and powerlifters winning medals and breaking world records.


Strength training is the progressive woman’s sport. This kind of woman is not afraid to be an iconoclast, smashing conventional portrayals of women as weak and subservient.


The woman who strength trains…


Doesn’t care for tradition.

This applies to both her appearance and behavior. She welcomes hard-earned muscle. She’s not ashamed of the calluses on her hands. She tackles heavy weights. There’s no concern for what a woman should be, only what she wants to be.


Wants to feel empowered.

Physical strength begets mental strength. With every rep she completes, she knows that strength training is a discipline as much as it is self care. She pushes herself to progress, to do things she never thought she could. That grit is where she finds her confidence and power.


Has a competitive spirit.

Mostly against herself. She’s striving to do better. Beat her old max. Conquer her old fears. She is constantly evolving into the best version of herself.


Redefines femininity.

She knows that you can be strong and feminine. She wears her iron-born curves proudly. She challenges the notion that to be beautiful is to shrink or be less. Instead, she grows.


The lines between what is gender appropriate continue to get more blurry. The woman who lifts is bold enough to step into “man’s territory” and own her strength. She breaks the old rules and makes her own. She lifts to recreate herself.

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