Out of the Shadows and Under the Bar
I can see you from the corner of my eye as you glide along the elliptical trainer. You’re curious, no doubt. But something prevents you from wandering out of the cardio section into the weight room.
It’s not your place—a woman’s world, I mean. Sweat pools left behind on benches and racks stacked with bending bars loaded to the max. Tinny cords of Metallica spill from headphones, only to be chorused over by grunts and howls of red-faced men followed by clanks of heavy iron.
Though that space on the other side of the gym seems all too foreign, it somehow appeals to you. Mottled in the wash of heightened testosterone, you see me—and women like me—with quiet persistence moving bars loaded with twice our bodyweight.
You think that could never be you, but your mind plays funny tricks. I know this all too well, because I stood in your place not long ago. I was the woman peering from the aerobic room windows, eyes fixed on those strong ladies who seemed to know exactly what to do in the weight room. I wanted to be out there, not hiding in the back of a choreographed class. Out there, doing what seemed impossible.
Four years ago I wandered into my local gym with a desire to get in shape. Bodyweight lunges killed me and I ran out of breath after a 20-minute workout. I made an effort to show up twice a week to a fitness class. After I spent some time getting to know the other women in the room, I learned a valuable lesson.
Some women were in their third or fourth year of the class, while others where fairly new. The longtime attendees didn’t look that much more in shape than did the ladies who’d only been going for a few short months.
I knew that if I wanted to get in the best shape possible I had to change things up. I couldn’t show up to endless aerobic classes week in and week out expecting better results. The routines grew tiresome. We did the same movements to different songs, and sometimes the music didn’t even change. I craved more than what the instructor had to offer.
After gaining some footing in the fitness room, I ventured out on the open range. Surrounded by plates, dumbbells, and machines, my heart suddenly began palpitating. Intimidated but determined, I made the effort to show up everyday, work hard, and try new things.
I didn’t know how to bench-press, squat with a barbell, nor had I ever heard of a deadlift. Two years later I maxed my deadlift at 275 pounds. This happened not because I suddenly figured it all out in one day. It happened through persistence, a whole lot of trial and error, and consistent progressions over the course of many months. I started at the bottom, plain and simple. There were no shortcuts, no magic bullets, and I am by no means a genetic freak with superior strength.
The key is to start is with your own bodyweight. Master basic movement patterns, get in tune with how your muscles activate, and gain a good understanding on how your body works.
We are often so eager to go big or go home. Resistance training doesn’t work like that. Quality precedes quantity, and weightlifting is no exception to that rule. I want you to go into your new fitness journey with confidence, so I put together this guide to help you get off to the right start.
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