Admittedly, I haven’t been in the weightlifting game long.
It started purely out of a last-ditch effort to combat a long-standing, painfully recurring running injury in my left hip flexor. After completing the Chicago Marathon as a Dance Marathon the Marathon (DMM) runner, I took a hiatus from running (which nearly killed me), and decided to see if strengthening my weak glutes would help prevent further issues. Apparently, you can have a booty and still have lazy booty muscles. Who knew?
At the time, I was an undergraduate at the University of Iowa. Iowa has a fantastic rec center for students. However, the ground floor (where all the big weights are) is Bro Central. I had no idea what I was doing, and I was too intimidated to try to figure it out while getting stared at like a piece of meat. But I needed to start lifting in order to resume running, so I convinced a few good friends to sign up for personal training sessions with me.
We trained with a D1 gymnast, who we affectionately nicknamed The Bro. He immediately put us on a regular weightlifting schedule. I trusted that he knew what he was doing (even if I hated it), but I didn’t want to bulk up.
“Bro, I’m not trying to look like a chick version of the Hulk. Thank you, no.”
After we each voiced the bulking concern a few times, The Bro stopped and took us into his office. We sat there like kids in detention while he broke it down.
“Females have a really difficult time putting on serious muscle mass. You would have to actively try to get big. I promise you are not going to bulk up. Lifting weights will help you slim down. Trust me.”
I was skeptical, but I didn’t have much choice. I had exhausted physical therapy. I had tried different forms of exercise (lots of yoga and swimming, lots of pain, despite physician reassurances that they would be better for my hip). I had painfully taken time off from the gym and running, and nothing was working. I was miserable. I was in constant pain. My endorphins weren’t used to being used so little. I was depressed.
So I stuck with the program. The Bro allowed us some fun time with each session – we boxed on some days, played HORSE on others, he pushed us through grueling plyometric workouts (still hate those), and we joked and laughed on a regular basis. Early morning personal training sessions quickly became something to look forward to, and I found myself in the gym lifting weights on our days off. When I wasn’t paying attention, I fell in love with lifting, and it’s become such an important, crucial part to both my daily routine and my mental well-being.
It’s been almost 2 years since personal training, and I’ve become a total gym rat. I lift 5 days a week. I participated in my first Spartan race in August and loved it so much that I’m training for next season already. I’m constantly searching for new things to learn about the process, my body, and my ability to endure. And I’ve even got my own little gym family, who have become an important part of my life.
For the most part, everyone is great. But it is a gym, and stereotypes do exist for a reason.
I had a month left to my Spartan. I was just getting back from 18 days of vacation. I completed my Spartan WOD, and I needed to lift legs before I could leave. I had an appointment to make, so I didn’t have any time to waste.
For perspective, doing Spartan workouts and lifts back-to-back is fucking exhausting. I’m wiped. It demands all of my attention to ensure that I’m not slacking on form, which leads to definite injury. And injury is not part of any training program. At that point, I was averaging 4 hours a day in the gym, which required intense focus and little time to socialize.
Mid-workout, I made the mistake of asking to work in with someone I will refer to as “Mo Flex Bro,” resulting in immediate regret.
For the record, I never ask bros if I can work in. I already skipped over the leg press machine in my circuit because it was in use, and I needed to keep moving, so I decided to come back when it was available. A few minutes later, the machine looked open. I walked over and started setting up my plates. Over my headphones, a man’s voice says, “I still have another set left on that machine.” I survey the area. He’s using another machine ten feet away.
I frown to myself and think, K… But you’re not using it right now so…
I’m already annoyed, but I’m here, and time is running out. My pride comes in and says, Fuck him. He can’t bully you off the machine just because you’re a girl. This happens a lot at the gym. Ladies, tell those boys to get fucked if it happens to you.
Instead, I go with, “Okay, do you mind if I work in? I’m in a bit of a hurry today.” I silently curse myself, because he’s already radiating douche, and working in likely means I’ll have to continue to interact with him until I’m done.
“Yeah, just let me get my reps in for this set.”
He finishes his OTHER lift, during which time, I could have knocked out my 15 reps, (this is the entire point of working in, by the way, using the machine when he isn’t), but I waited. He then does his set. I watch from a distance. His form is wrong. I’m getting progressively more annoyed by the minute.
“How many more plates you want on this thing?” he asks when he gets up.
“Ha.” I don’t even want to talk to this guy.
I move to take his plates off so that it’s at the weight I need. I sit down to hit my reps. When I’m done, he comes over and decides to lecture me.
“You should lift more weight than that. Push yourself. Put on more plates.”
I give a non-committal response, hoping he’ll leave me alone if I don’t engage him. I’m wrong. He continues, “I know what I’m talking about. I was an athlete, and I’m a coach. I’m the biggest dude in this gym. I have a card on the board. Go check it out. I know what I’m talking about.” Except he doesn’t.
I want to punch him in the face.
You may have big muscles, sure. But you lift like a total fuck.
He assumes that his muscles qualify him to give me advice. He doesn’t know that I’m lifting to build muscular endurance. He doesn’t know that my program is designed to use lighter weights and higher reps. He doesn’t know that I’m also training for a race. He doesn’t realize that I’m not going to listen to anything he says because he lifts like a moron. He’s also oblivious to the fact that I don’t want anything to do with him or his shitty advice.
While I’m not jacked and I’m definitely not at the physique I’m working toward, I’m no longer a novice, and I no longer feel gymtimidation like I used to, which brings us to:
Bossy Boots Rule 3: Your bulging bro muscles don’t make you more qualified to be at the gym than me.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no lifting expert. I don’t know everything there is to know, and I am happily still learning. I am appreciative of help, suggestions, and form correction. I don’t have any interest in lifting for show, and I definitely have no desire to hurt myself.
However, I do know what I am doing for my program. I have studied my lifts and the proper form for each. I do know my way around the gym. And I definitely don’t believe big biceps equal expertise. If there’s anything The Bro engrained in us, it’s lifting with proper form. Focusing so much on correct execution has made me acutely aware of what it looks like when someone doesn’t have it. I’ve seen bulging veins in jacked dudes who definitely aren’t performing their lifts properly, which has made me learn to question methods before muscles.
Bossey Boots Rule 4: Careful who you take advice from. Everyone is an “expert.” Most “experts” are bullshitters. And idiots, usually.
Don’t let bros push you around in the gym, ladies. And don’t let d-bags ruin your workouts. Brush ’em off, and move on to your next set.
All that said, if you’re a cool bro in the gym and you wanna chat me up, feel free. I love making friends and bullshitting with guys about fitness. Just don’t be a douche about it, mmmkay?