the joy of strength training


April 28th, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Gubernatrix manifesto

It’s election fever here in the UK as we are about a week away from the closest fought general election for many years. The parties have been publishing their manifestos and I thought I would get in on the act. I’m not running for Parliament, but I want to make a difference in my own way.

What needs to change?

I am passionate about strength training and its benefits. I love all aspects of the activity: the competitive sport side, the physical and health improvements, personal empowerment and feeling good about myself.

Male powerlifter preparing to deadlift in competition

But still, whenever I go into a gym where free weights are being trained, the clientele is almost entirely male and between the ages of 20 and 60. Because of this, the environment is often geared entirely around the needs of that group – perhaps unconsciously. This makes it harder for anyone who doesn’t belong to that group of people to feel that they belong or even to enter that environment in the first place.

There are some people who like things that way. They don’t want other types of people in the weight room. They don’t want that atmosphere diluted. It’s easy and comfortable for them; any change would be a challenge and they don’t want to have to deal with that.

I’ve been aware of this for years but I had pushed it to the back of my mind. I wanted to get on with my training and I thought that I just needed to accept the status quo and get on with it. There are people who will try to make you feel bad if you don’t do this.

But I have always felt uncomfortable behaving in this way, accepting bad behaviour and perpetuating a status quo that I know isn’t fair. The people who try to maintain these little exclusive enclaves think they are strong and special, but in fact they are weak because they cannot cope with any change, anything challenging, anything that is a bit different from themselves. They make no effort to understand people who are different from them, nor accept that they might actually have the same passions and aspirations.

It is perfectly possible to have an ethos in a gym that is inclusive of all types of people, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, disability, dietary requirements, favourite colour or preferred brand of breakfast cereal. Here are some of the values that I would hope any serious strength training gym held dear:

  • Train hard
  • Support each other
  • Be passionate advocates for strength
  • Inspire others

Are these values only available to able males between the ages of 27 and 43? I think not.

Young woman bench pressing in competition

Why it is important

This is about busting open the old myth that a particular activity like strength training is only for one segment of the population.

When the consequences of engaging in this activity are so beneficial, it’s important to involve as many people as possible. Everyone should be able to learn how to lift free weights safely and well, everyone should be given the opportunity to build muscle and strength – and take it as far as they want to take it.

Strength training is important for everyone’s health, now and in the long term. We lose up to 10 per cent of our muscle mass every decade after the age of 25 – and this loss noticeably accelerates after the age of 60. Lifespans are increasing, so it is becoming even more important to make sure that we hang onto our muscle and do not spend many decades in a frail state of health. There is an unacknowledged public health issue that our government institutions haven’t yet got to grips with.

As far as sport, including elite sport, is concerned, there’s a huge pool of untapped talent out there. As a Londoner I’m excited about the opportunities that might arise from the 2012 Olympics, where there has been a great emphasis on the Olympic legacy as well as the Games themselves. But in the UK the state of strength sports is parlous. We’re simply not investing in, inspiring and building the talent of the future.

And perhaps the most important aspect of strength training is its effect on you as a person – as an individual, a member of a community and of a global society. Like many people I came to strength training for reasons relating to aesthetics and fitness, but found so much more than that! Inner strength, confidence, fun, healing, reward and a strong desire to help others experience the same. I really do believe that the world will be a better place if more people take up strength training. It’s not the only tool for personal empowerment, but it’s a pretty good one.

Woman teaching another woman how to squat in a squat rack

But there are still too many barriers, prejudices and misconceptions about strength training at every level of society.

What I’m going to do

Lately I’ve been getting involved in projects and activities designed to support and encourage more women to lift free weights, including the Ladies Who Lift workshop project.

It is something I initially shied away from, not wanting to be seen as a website ‘for women’. But having made initial forays into this arena, I am more than ever convinced that there is a great need for support for women to get involved, break down barriers, educate and be educated and be able to empower themselves through strength training. Some pioneering souls are already heavily involved and I would like to join them.

This does not mean that is going to become a women’s website. A lot of my women-specific work will be carried out under another title. I have always seen as a website for everyone and I want to keep it that way. The future of this website is inclusive.

In acknowledging all of this, I don’t want the website to lose its passion for strength for strength’s sake. ain’t a fluffy site for people who just want to dabble. It is for people who want to make a commitment to strength training because they see benefits for themselves and those around them. This is something that can bring people together, not split us up into different factions. was always about putting out good information and raising standards, and we’ll still want to push boundaries and expectations. But the fact is that it is a whole lot easier for some people than others to access appropriate information, facilities and role models. will do its bit to change this, so watch this space.

I hope you guys will continue to read and comment on the site and help to shape it in the future, as you have done already!

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  • 1

    Love it Gubes! You get my vote. See you in Westminster…

    Moose on April 28th, 2010
  • 2

    Great post. Linking it on my FB page.

    Kat. on April 29th, 2010
  • 3

    Yet again….inspiring…. makes me wonder what I could do to try and get more ladies lifting in my gym

    Louisa on April 29th, 2010
  • 4

    Brilliant Gubes,

    Passionate and inspiring,got my vote 🙂

    Jules on April 29th, 2010
  • 5

    My first reaction (being a male between the ages of 20 and 60) was that the environment you describe is not indicative of any place I’ve ever lifted – But then again I wouldn’t have realized it.

    As I thought about it, I felt that (not so) subtle disapproval while doing my student teaching in an elementary school. Which was, for lack of a better term, a “girls club” in which all men who worked with children were considered latent pedophiles. Hostile environments suck.

    You’re talking about changing strongly ingrained cultural beliefs, which must seem daunting, But a very worthy goal. Best of luck.

    Scott on April 29th, 2010
  • 6

    Thanks for your honest reaction Scott. I had the experience the other day of finding an environment I thought I was fairly comfortable with suddenly turn threatening and it was very unpleasant.

    I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from women since I started talking more about this stuff: which tells me that it most certainly does happen out there!

    gubernatrix on April 29th, 2010
  • 7

    Great post. I only recently started to lift free weights, and I was definitely intimidated hanging out in what I perceived to be the male only area. I’ve gotten over it, but I still notice quite a few stares when I enter the area. I think the gym industry needs to change. Most members that join never go, or never get the results they are looking for. The classes where there is instruction won’t actually get you results either. I think it would be great if they moved some of these fitness classes to the weight lifting area and showed people how to use the free weights and how to design a program that will get them results. Even personal trainers are doing a pretty terrible job at this. I see way too many men only doing bicep exercises day after day. The point of spending so much money on a gym membership is to train for results. If you get results your members will continue to come and pay.

    Sue on April 29th, 2010
  • 8

    “I think it would be great if they moved some of these fitness classes to the weight lifting area and showed people how to use the free weights and how to design a program that will get them results.”
    Ha, Sue I’m so glad you said that because this is just what I’ve done recently along with my friends Chantelle and Ade as part of the Ladies Who Lift project. I’m hoping to do more of these in the future.

    gubernatrix on April 29th, 2010
  • 9

    I’ve said it elsewhere and I’ll say it again…

    Most Gyms aren’t really serious places to train. A large part of the reason why they’re fluffy and silly is because of the way that training women is approached. As long as the ladies continue to get not-serious training, nothing is going to change.

    Justin_P on May 1st, 2010
  • 10

    Love this idea. I am bringing the idea of women strength training to my gym in Oakland, CA. An entire part of my “intro to the gym” workout is specifically free weights. I walk women back among the men (where-thankfully- we usually get smiles and nods) and challenge them with fun free weight routines.

    Eventually, I hope to know the guys there well enough to introduce clients and regulars and get them all accepting each other.

    I have a 63 year old client who has decided she likes the idea of deadlifting (at the moment, 30# – but it’s a start); she’s thinking someday getting to 1/2 her body weight- and at that point, I know she’ll want more.

    A teenager who loves the whole idea of strength training to improve her basketball and boxing.

    A 20 something young exec. whose goal is to do a full-on pull up now that she’s met the gravaton.

    Need to learn about the Ladies Who Lift project…

    deb roby on May 1st, 2010
  • 11

    Deb, what you are doing sounds fantastic! There will be more about the Ladies Who Lift project on the site soon; we can swop ideas!

    gubernatrix on May 5th, 2010
  • 12

    […] stated in her manifesto that “I am more than ever convinced that there is a great need for support for women to get […]


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