I recently spent a weekend at an Ivy League school. When headed to the gym, I was told that the gym I was to use is informally deemed the ‘men’s gym’. Of course, women are permitted in the gym, but all but a few women are found in another gym, the one with rows of treadmills and ellipticals. The gym I was to visit is where the dumbbells, Olympic platforms and other weight- lifting equipment lives. Indeed, in a fairly large space, there was one other female, on an Olympic platform practicing snatches, as I entered. The room was bustling with men.
Why is it that women, supposedly smart women, literally, walk pass the strength training gym on their way to the treadmills? Is it fear, intimidation, cultural programming? We’ve come so far but still have a ways to go. I was only four in 1972 when Title IX was made law. Things did not change overnight. No. It took a generation, my generation, before women’s sports were taken seriously, for the most part.
We sat on the sidelines. Gasp. In many ways, we still do. Certainly, within sports communities like running, Crossfit, LaCross, and others, women are active, legitimate participants. But, in the general population, women reach a certain age and often quit. Girls may quit in high school or college or when juggling the demands of work or children. (I know that men quit too).
Some of the lure of the cardio room has to do with the misnomer that the female body will bulk up by lifting weights and that cardio is superior for weight loss. And then there is the intimidation factor. I have talked with enough women that will readily admit they are too self-conscious to be in a men’s gym lifting weights. And, they perceive lifting as more hard work than dutifully logging time on machines. It is true. Body weight exercises, dumbbells, and lifting is challenging, but so worth it. I wish they knew.
In fact, it is addictive. Addictive in a healthy way – like water or air. Working hard when it is crazy difficult, pushing beyond the assumptions we have of ourselves, getting stronger, gifts us with confidence, fitness, and health that permeates our entire being. And, as an amazing bonus, getting lean from all that beautiful muscle burn occurs. Don’t get me wrong, I log many miles running on trails; I get my cardio. I enjoy the trails and the way my body feels while running. I added the strength component a little over a year ago. My regret: not doing it sooner! It has made me a better runner. I wish those women that walked past the men’s gym knew that, too.
I wish that women knew the freedom that comes though fitness. It is childlike, authentic, and raw. This is a way to ‘BE’. I am always reminding people to ‘just be’. By that, I mean to be yourself, let others be, accept situations as they are and most importantly, be present in the moment. In my view, fitness pursuits force the ‘just be’ precepts, at least temporarily. With practice and time, that extends and becomes part of life outside of fitness. I wish women knew that as well – for that is powerful.
As female athletes, regardless of status, elite or amateur, this is our function – to shine brightly, tell our stories, live our values, and show other women they CAN visit the ‘men’s gym’. Empowerment is not just a trendy word. It is our mission. Running races, competing, OCR’s, Crossfit, beckons some of us because we gain empowerment. But, the reality is that not enough ladies are with us!
Love & Light.