Females Students Overcoming Barriers In Weight Training

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Molly Collins | Pennfield High School (MI)
  • Pennfield High School | Michigan
  • Physical Education Teacher | Head Varsity Softball Coach
  • USAW-1
  • CF – L1 Coaches Club Ambassador (View Full Profile) 

Females Students Overcoming Barriers in Weight Training

Over the last few months, I have had the opportunity to present multiple webinars to my Physical Education colleagues across the country. In my first webinar, “New Age Of PE,” I talked about my curriculum and class offerings. While it was not a focus of the presentation, I mentioned my “Women’s Fitness” class, and questions came pouring in from teachers and coaches.   I received so many questions I decided to present another webinar dedicated to the Women’s Fitness class that only opened the floodgates to more questions. It was almost overwhelming how, as a profession of coaches and teachers, we all felt a similar struggle.  How do we overcome the barriers females face in taking part in weight training or strength training?  While there is no magic solution, this article is for any coach or teacher trying to put it into perspective for their students. This article is also for any female student who thinks that weight training may not be for them.

Confidence Over Stereotypes

I am often asked how you get females more involved and engaged in the weight room? It’s unfortunately not that simple of a question. It’s not just an ‘engagement’ issue.  As I spoke to many of my female students and athletes while I wrote this article, they brought up recurring barriers like lack of confidence, society’s views of femininity, and lack of female role models who participated in weight training. Quotes from students that left me racking my brain were,  “No guy wants a girl stronger than them.”  “Lifting weights makes you have a manly shape.” “I lacked confidence because I wasn’t able to lift much to start, so I felt pathetic.”  “I am afraid of doing things wrong.”  As we look at the main issues brought up by females that hold them back, we have to work to instill our students and athletes with a different mindset. It must start with the “why” to create activities to develop confidence and break the stereotypes and barriers females face in society.  Not many people will start something without a solid reason why. Just saying “it’s good for you” may not be a good enough reason for a large majority of the population.  Breaking down the stereotypes associated with females and weight training is one of the main factors that will engage females.  A female should never feel pathetic, weak, silly, or less than because we deserve better. We are better. And once we unlock that potential to build confidence, the opportunities are endless. One step at a time, and maybe the first step is understanding more in-depth what the why is in health and fitness. Creating the “you can do it” mentality and give the confidence to be independent and say, “I got this!”  Now we can look at some of the more specific cases in detail!

Stronger Over Bulkier

Many people are afraid that if they weight train and lift heavier weights, they will get bulky and be viewed as undesirable. Especially as females, there is a fear of looking “too manly.”  Weight training doesn’t flip some switch to make you look completely different. Weight training makes you stronger, and strength is nothing but a positive. Strong is beautiful. But many female students are not used to seeing people that look like them actually lift weights. Many of my students and athletes said that if they previously felt comfortable in the weight room, it was because their mother, a coach, or another female role model lifted.  We need to show our female students and athletes continuously that females belong in the weight room by bringing in female guest speakers, using females to demonstrate movements, and having videos or pictures of females lifting displayed and showcased. The more both females and men see females of all shapes and sizes weightlifting, the more it becomes the norm. We all can help female students see that weight training is for them! 

Consistency Over Quickfix

In a world full of instant feedback where we often only see the results or positives via social media, it becomes hard to understand the journey that is health and fitness. Creating a change in health and fitness habits takes time! It is the opposite of the social media mentality of instant gratification. Many of our students might struggle to see this!  When we train, we train the nervous system. (Without getting too scientific…) The nervous system prepares the body for movement through receptors in the muscles to provide the brain with the information for the activity. As training continues, the nervous system then recruits more motor units and neurons to affect the muscular system and foster hypertrophy and muscle growth. The nervous system has other roles such as blood flow, stress, coping, communication with other organs, etc. There is a lot of great stuff happening!  The benefits increase over time and through consistency of training.  Through training consistency, the intensity and load can also increase if we allow it, but it won’t happen after training day one, two, or even weeks 1 or 2. To stay on the track of consistency, we have to focus on small goals to keep motivated step by step.  As teachers and leaders, we need to help our students understand that they are going to have ups and downs. We have to help students not get stuck with short term results or lack thereof. Rather we can encourage them to set goals and achieve them over time!  [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_section][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]
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Weight Training Over Straight Cardio 

Walk into almost any gym and glance at the cardio machines, then to the free weights area. What do you see?  Typically I see mostly females on cardio machines and males in the free weights area. Society has told females to be slim and that cardio, pilates, or yoga is what to do to be feminine. “Stick to the machines!”   And while women often spend hours stuck on the machines, they might be spending time that could be spent with the weights that would have a much better return on time investment.  Lifting weights is the biggest bang for your buck—less time, more calorie and fat-burning potential, and functionality that will transition to daily life.  Cardio will make you better at cardio and certainly has its merits. With lifting, your body essentially will turn into a burning machine after your workout because the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.  Weight training also strengthens your bones. We may not realize how important this is now, but the increased bone density will help decrease injury risks. If a long-term result is what females are looking for, we need to bypass the cardio area and create the biggest bang for our buck.


Movement Over Maxes

What is one of the reasons women tend to stray from weights and stick with cardio? Society has told us that the only successful lifting is lifting heavy. Our culture has emphasized that it is about how much you lift and not how well you lift.   Let’s empower good movement and form! Many females have the idea that because they are not ready to lift heavy, lifting is not for them at all.  Everyone must start somewhere. Everyone has to learn the foundations and the proper movement to help build confidence.  If students learn how to move correctly, then mechanically, they can lift more weight. Let’s put the ego away and provide a better understanding of our body’s development through movement.  We are putting ourselves in a better position to succeed in the future and stay injury-free—the foundation for creating livelong movers. If we celebrate the form and movement, then our students will also be excited as they improve in the basics! 

Skin Health Over Ew, Sweat

“I don’t want to sweat!”   It seems silly, but so many students don’t want to head off to the rest of their day being potentially sweaty or smelly.  Sweating has so many benefits that if we take time to talk about it, maybe we can create a positive outlook and be encouraged to sweat more. Benefits include making our skin glow by circulating blood throughout the body. The circulation of blood throughout our body provides oxygen and nutrients to skin cells.  Sweating also helps open up skin pores and protects against pathogens; aka can help against acne. Acne is so common during puberty in addition to a diet that consists of sugary and salty foods.  Sweating also regulates body temperature by releasing sweat onto the skin and evaporates to regulate temperature. We need to sweat, it’s not a gross characteristic, but rather a part of working out many may grow to love.  And sometimes sweating just feels good, right? Let’s emphasize the power of sweat! 

Natural Prescriptions Over Medications

The why that wraps everything up is our overall health. We are our bodies’ natural healers. One of the most common phrases I hear when pain is prevalent is, “I can’t do that. I have bad knees.” (Or replace bad knees with any other body part.) As a society, we tend to avoid any discomfort and put a bandaid on the problem, rather than going straight to the source to fix it. We are supplied with the most efficient and fantastic health care available for free, and that is our bodies.  Our bodies are designed to heal themselves if we put them in the position to do so. We can recover or heal ourselves from many health conditions, most common being mental health issues such as depression, inflammation-causing headaches or other aches and pains, or diseases such as type II diabetes.  Not only can we heal, but most of what we do is preventive in nature! Strength and weight training as we have talked about throughout, is one of the best long term investments for our health and wellness.

Perspective Over Assumptions

It is sometimes easy to assume that our students just ‘get it.’ We as teachers play an important role to help put things into perspective for our students.  And while we would hope that the switch would just flip for our female students, we must foster all of these different ideas and help to put them into perspective. Because while we might be fostering them, society and culture can continue to create mixed signals. It is really hard for many of our female students to see themselves in the weight room. It is our job and role as educators to help students see everyday the reasons why they SHOULD be there, and not let society or other factors tell them why they SHOULD NOT. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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