Hi ladies! So you’ve already read Girl, Get Your Lift On and decided you want to get stronger. Rock on! This is going to be awesome, and I’m so happy for you. “But wait!” you may be saying, “The weight room is super intimidating! I’m not sure I’m ready!”
You’re ready. And Auntie Lexie is here to make sure you’re as confident as possible walking in there.
Step 1: Check it out
Your mission, should you choose to accept it: take a pass through the weight room on your next trip to the gym. What’s available to you? Are there plenty of racks and barbells, or is it mostly machines? Are there kettlebells available? Where are the benches?
Beyond that, who’s there already and what are they doing? Do people in your gym mostly use machines, or is everyone squatting? Where’s the chalk?
Ask the desk staff some questions! Do all the barbells weigh 45 pounds? What time is the weight room most crowded?
Don’t worry about lifting on this first pass through. This mission is exclusively recon.
Step 2: Make a plan
Planning breeds confidence. Now that you know where everything is, it’s time to plan your next workout.
My advice? Pick a program. At this stage it doesn’t really matter which one, although we do have a handy-dandy Official Starting Strength Guide for Fitocrats. Even better, consider signing up for a Fitocracy Group Fitness program— you get a personalized program and diet guide, along with a supportive community doing the same workouts.
As a beginner, there is pretty much no difference in programming for women and men. For a guide on what your starting weights should be, check out the “Untrained” ExRx weightlifting performance standards for your expected maximums. (TL;DR: It depends on your current weight, but everyone weighing more than 100 pounds should be able to perform every lift with an empty 45 pound bar.)
Step 2a: Keep it simple
I’m only going to say it once– throw away your fitness magazine workout right now. For whatever reason, women’s magazines love accessory movements: flies, curls, movements with exercise balls, etc. You don’t need any of that. For right now, focus on your program, which probably includes the big three: bench press, squat, and deadlift. **Please note: if you have a chronic injury, talk to a physician, physical therapist, or certified physical trainer about it.**
Bench press: Use dumbbells if the bar is too heavy at first. Aim to have the bar (or imaginary bar connecting the two dumbbells) hit you right below your nipples or on the downward slope of your breasts. Lift with your chest muscles and keep your shoulder blades dug into the bench.
Squat: Imagine a good friend is running up to give you a huge bear hug. Check out your stance as you brace yourself for imaginary impact. Your feet are probably just barely wider than shoulder-width apart, and they probably aren’t parallel. That’s okay. (If you look up “squat form,” there’s a lot of advice for keeping your feet parallel– ignore it and do what’s comfortable for you. Women’s pelvises are structured differently, and our best form is usually not parallel.) Okay, brace for impact! Now, squat down, as far as you can, and stand up. Keep your chest proud and try to push the ground apart with your feet (split the earth!!). Good job, you’ve just done a squat.
Deadlift: Keep your back straight. Step up to the bar like you’re about to insult its mother. Position the bar so that it’s in the middle of your entire foot, not just the visible part. This should place it somewhere over your laces, very close to your shin. Rock on. Squeeze your butt and stand up, with your hips driving the motion. That’s it! For a more in-depth look at deadlifts, check out Deadlift School on the Knowledge Center.
Step 2b: Don’t be afraid
I’m going to assume that you, at some point, have met a 45-pound child. Most six-year-olds weigh about 45 pounds. Think of the bar like that 45-pound child. If you drop it on yourself, will it hurt? Maybe. But it won’t hurt any worse than the last time that six-year-old jumped on you.
The iron never lies, but your brain does. You might not think you’re strong enough to lift the weight, but here’s the rub. You are. You are Wonder Woman, you are Captain Marvel, you are the baddest mofo in this weight room and you won’t take no crap from no iron. Set up. Exhale. Lift.
Oh, also? The strongest muscle in the human body is the uterus. You were born to this.
Step 3: LIFT!
Step 4: Log it on Fitocracy and collect glorious props.
While you’re at it, join the Lady Lifters group and follow some awesome lifting ladies. Use the Fitocracy community as a resource for any questions or concerns you might have.
Fashion: OMG shoes. Wear flat-bottomed or minimally cushioned shoes. As for the rest of your outfit… it literally does not matter. Wear what makes you feel like a super hero.
Your new gym bros: Look, not everyone in the gym will be nice, but most people are. Don’t be afraid to ask for a spot if you need it, or ask for advice if you see something you’d like to learn. And if anyone is being inappropriate, leering, or making you feel uncomfortable report it immediately and get him kicked out. Don’t let a single douche make you feel unwelcome.
EAT! Specifically, eat protein. Your body needs protein to build all these new muscles. It can be in any form you choose—a vegan protein shake, a cup of cottage cheese, and a bloody steak all work perfectly well. If you don’t eat enough calories, protein, or fats, your body will be much, much slower to progress on any lifts.
Becoming a regular: It’s not about how much you can lift, or how strong you are, or whether or not you feel like you “fit in” with the gym crowd. Consistency is what will make you a regular. Become a fixture in the weight room. You’re the girl who shows up three or four times a week and comes in to work. You’re a regular.