You pack your gym bag. You plan your exercise regimen. Despite being exhausted after work, you muster some motivation, schlep yourself to the gym, and look forward to the pride you’ll feel by working out tonight.

And then, with dread, you realize the weight room is filled with enormous muscle-men who hate to share.

Using a public gym is a great practice, but for women, it can be a gamble. It’s hard to feel at home when the skinny woman on the treadmill next to you — why is she wearing full make-up? — glances at your arms and gives you a smug smirk.

It can be even harder for women to feel comfortable in the weight room: a place that’s often overrun with men whose goal is to take up more space with their bodies.

Then, if you can find an unoccupied weight machine, you may be surrounded by guys waiting for you to finish so they can do the “real” lifting.

As Americans, we haven’t done a great job teaching young girls that they can grow up to be physically strong. Emotionally resilient, sure. Professionals, yes. Brilliant multitaskers, absolutely. But as a nation, we have a long way to go in raising daughters who see themselves as powerful — who appreciate their bodies for their muscle and athletic abilities.

Here’s the thing: weight training is crucial for women.

Building strength doesn’t just help you feel more confident, it prevents injury and keeps your body tuned up for everyday tasks. And the lean muscle mass we develop from lifting weights helps our bodies burn more calories, even when resting.

“Most of us are guilty of doing only what we’re good at and are comfortable with,” says James Kilgallon, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. “It’s common to find men who only like to lift weights and women who like to stick to steady-state cardio. But one of the best things we can all do to get results is to get some variety in our exercise regime.”

But won’t lifting weights make my body bulky? you might ask. Don’t worry about looking like those hulking guys who literally roar every time they finish a rep on the bench press. “The truth is, you would have to go to extremes to get bulky just from lifting weights,” says James. “And if you’re interested in exercise to look or feel better, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not including some sort of strength routine.”

Look at the gym for what it is: a space where all members, including you, are entitled to all areas, machines, and tools within. Cardio machines and yoga aren’t just for women, the weight room isn’t just for men, and gyms aren’t just for people who look like models.

How to take your place in the weight room.

When you seek out space in the weight room, assert yourself. Use the machines you want to. If they’re occupied, wait your turn of course, but if they’re being dominated by others, advocate for yourself and ask the user if you can work in between their sets. As long as you set the machine back to the settings they had initially, you’re abiding by polite weight room etiquette.

And if someone asks to work in between your sets, let them, but don’t let that dissuade you from finishing your time on that machine.

Now, we get it — you can tell yourself I belong here! until you’re blue in the face, but it helps if you know what you’re doing.

Start with this short, simple free-weight routine designed by James. This can help build your confidence to put the space to good use. Practice this regimen, enjoy the benefits of a stronger body, and own that weight room!


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