There was a time, not so long ago, that the few women you saw lifting barbells at the gym were outliers. But the times, they are a-changin’. More and more women are finding their way to (and under) the barbell, where they’re discovering a whole new world of strength, capability, and potential. And that’s really awesome! But I’d love to see that movement continue to grow and expand.
Traditionally, there hasn’t been a shortage of inspiring images of strong men wielding barbells and so typically, men haven’t been socialized to find them intimidating.
However, for women, it’s a different story. Historically, women have stuck closer to dumbbells and shied away from barbells. I still see this today in my female clients. When I bring the subject up, it’s usually met with a, “Oh no, I could never lift one of those,” statement.
But as a coach, I’m not as interested in what you think you can’t do. I’m more interested in why you think you can’t. Throughout our lives, we’ve developed a number of stories and beliefs about who we are and what we’re capable of. Some of them are probably true and backed by evidence — but there’s also a fair amount that isn’t. I think of my own life and how little of what I currently do regularly was even on my radar five years ago. Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves are simply BS. Sometimes we let the fear win.
The reality is that we are all so much more capable than we believe. And when we stop challenging ourselves and what we can do, we stop growing and we stop believing in own on potential and our capacity to progress as individuals.
So what does this have to do with whether or not you feel comfortable lifting a barbell?
In life, the only way to build greater confidence is to do things you believe are hard. And if you’re shying away from lifting a barbell because you believe it’s hard, then odds are, you’re doing it in other areas of your life as well — and, in doing so, leaving many golden opportunities to build confidence in yourself on the table. It’s up to you to question the stories you’re telling yourself about who you are and whether you have the ability to do hard things — because I guarantee you that you can.
You see, it’s not really about the barbell. It’s about your mindset and how you hold onto self-limiting beliefs. It’s about how you let those beliefs dictate what you do without ever challenging them.
The road to empowerment is paved by things you think you cannot do. So you have to question the beliefs you hold about yourself. And what better way to do that than learning to use a barbell? Because I believe that, at minimum, you should never let some inanimate metal pole make you feel like you can’t hang.
My friend Maddie Watkins, founder of 202Strong, a pair of inclusive barbell-focused fitness training facilities in DC and MD, agrees. Written in big letters on the wall of 202Strong is their fill-in-the-blank motto: “I Found _______ at the Bar.” It’s incredible to hear how the clients fill in that blank.
Maddie’s own personal story is also quite powerful:
“I lifted for the first time when a knee injury from running sidelined me and I needed to to find a new way to work out. I asked a trainer at my local gym to show me a few things, and he exposed me to the barbell — I instantly fell in love. Struggling with confidence issues, eating disorders, and a general sense of being unsure of myself, when I found the physical strength I had from lifting, I transformed mentally. I found my confidence at the bar, deciding to leave a PhD behind to become a personal trainer and open 202Strong so I could spread that power, change, and confidence to more women out there and show them what’s on the other side of lifting that barbell.
Learning how to move a barbell and building strength is a powerful experience. A confidence you never knew you had inside of you comes to the surface. After that first heavy lift, you begin to realize you’re capable of anything, believing in yourself in a multitude of ways, both physically and mentally.”
Imagine how your life would change if you had the kind of confidence to feel comfortable walking right up to a barbell and doing your thing. I mean, if you can do that, what else can you do? Imagine how much less intimidating other “hard” things in your life would become.