Bullish Life: Weight Lifting For Ladies And Unicorns

weight lifting

Jennifer Dziura writes life coaching advice weekly here on TheGloss, and career coaching advice Fridays on TheGrindstone.

Dear Jen,

I just found Bullish/TheGloss and want to say thank you. I also want to say that when I read you were/are(?) a bodybuilder it made me that much more excited!

I’ve recently discovered weightlifting and want it to actually matter. Thank you for saying it’s okay (and GOOD) to lift heavy things.

This is where my question lies. The gym I have access to is an all women’s gym. As such, we have the teeny free weights. Dumbbells are 20 lbs. at their heaviest, and barbells are in 10 lb. increments at the heaviest without an Olympic bar (the bar seems like carbon or some other light metal).

Do you have suggestions for working with this set-up? There is a new machine circuit, but from my understanding free weights are best.

Ideas? Advice?

Great question!

First, check out Bullish Life: Gentlewomen Don’t Crash Diet if you haven’t already. (For anyone wondering where unicorns come in, here.)

I haven’t been working out for the past couple of years, but I’m actually going to dive back in, with all the before-and-after pics and everything. It’s something I could never forget how to do. Like a much more complicated version of riding a bike.

Also, the biceps never really go away. This is me in college (I had NO IDEA how you’re supposed to pose, so I know I look dumb. Impressively dumb, but dumb.):


And this is me doing standup comedy years later:

biceps woman

Not only do the biceps stick around (they look normal when I’m not flexing them; I have small lady-arms), but one of the main benefits of weightlifting for me was vastly improved posture. I was a slumpy teenager. People would tell me to sit up straight, but it was like I wasn’t even able to. Six months of building back muscles, and I had the posture of a Greek god.

This article is going to be in two parts: What To Do About Your Lady-Gym, and Lessons From Weightlifting That Also Apply to Life in General. So, those of you who aren’t interested in the first part, please do move along to the second.

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    • alexandra

      The muscles that move your thighs are important, though! Especially if you are running for crosstraining, but even if you aren’t. All-around fitness. It prevents injuries! Which then helps you strut around with your beautiful quadriceps which have become STEELY through bajillions of weighted lunges.

    • Lastango

      Good piece! A coupla thoughts to add:

      == It isn’t necessary to be limited by the gym’s dumbbell selection. Just go to a fitness store or WalMart, and get whatever weight of dumbbells you want. There are dozens of good exercises you can do at home with dumbbells. Add a straightback chair for bent-over rowing, seated overhead presses, and a host of other good exercises. Or get a bench with a sloping back, which also allows preacher curls, incline presses, dumbbell flys, and other good movements.

      == for all-over movements, get a kettlebell, or just use dumbbells.

      == a heavy dumbbell in each hand gives a edge to squats, knee bends, and allows explosive movements like power cleans.
      == it’s even possible to do a good rowing motion at home, using rubber tubing exercisers anchored to something solid. Sit on the floor, brace the feet, and row. Sure, the tension varies during the movement, but like Jen says that won’t stop you from making progress and won’t matter for a long time.
      There are many more possibilities. My main point is that there is a lot that can be done at home to overcome shortcomings at the gym.
      Also, a home setup can help overcome time management problems. For instance, someone can do their curs, overhead presses, abs, etc. all at home and as time allows. The next day, at the gym, one can concentrate only on the movements that require sophisticated machines. That will make the gym visit a lot shorter. It also means that someone who runs into a period where life pressures prevent going to the gym can still get a lot done at home, and avoid sliding backwards (that’s super annoying!).

    • Anne

      Thank you for clearing up that stupid inner-outer thigh machine. I always skipped that one because it made absolutely no sense to me.

    • Eve

      I love your bodybuilding pose– you look like a very well-muscled, bikini-clad Eva Peron.

    • Jessie

      I would disagree about the inner outer thigh machine- it’s true that you can’t spot train and those ladies lining up to tone their cellulite or whatever are not going to get anywhere, but for people with particularly weak inner thigh muscles, which help control stability of the leg all over, they are pretty useful. They are for beginners as there are tons of other things you could do for your adductors (such as a lateral lunge) but they do help to build up that initial strength and stability. Tons of people have really weak adductors (inner thigh muscles) and it can really affect their leg alignment.

      • Jamie

        Yeah, I was going to comment on that too. I think that machine has merits for people with hip stability issues, too. It is often misused, but it certainly has a place.