Are you a women runner who is afraid to lift weights?
I know, I used to be.
Trying to nail my first push-ups and sit-ups in my bedroom at night, I was thinking to myself: “I shouldn’t do too much of these. I don’t want to look like a man”.
Fast forward to today, and I am as passionate about lifting heavy as I am about running far. Considering the numerous physical and mental benefits of strength training, it is a pity that so many women and women runners still shy away from it.
Three of the most common fears of women who shy away from starting a strength training routine are that:
- they become too bulky
- get hurt and
- look stupid
Let’s look at each fear in turn.
1. You Are Afraid You Will Become Too Bulky
This fear kept me from starting any kind of strength training routine for far too long. Maybe it is your number one fear. If so, then I can ease your mind. As a woman, you will have a hard time building a lot of muscle mass.
Especially as a woman runner.
Women Don't Build Muscle Easily
The number one reason is that you simply have too little of the muscle-building hormone testosterone. In men, it is one of the key hormones responsible for muscle building, and since they can have as much as 20 times more of it than us gals, guys have it easier to pack on slabs of muscle.
Endurance Training Interferes With Muscle Building
t is well known in bodybuilding circles that too much cardio can make it harder to put on muscle. This is due to the interference effect described by Hickson in 1980.
The primary outcome was that strength training didn’t affect endurance negatively, but endurance exercise harmed strength gains. The exact mechanisms for the interference effect are likely not as straight forward, as suggested by the initial research. However, there is no doubt that your body tries to adapt to both forms of exercise. This is impossible because adaptations to endurance training are different from strength training adaptations. Muscle building seems to be more negatively affected than pure strength gains.
A meta-analysis from 2012 showed that cardio impaired muscle growth by 31%, whereas strength gains were compromised by 18%. This study also showed that running leads to more significant impairments in muscle growth than cycling.
The takeaway: if you are running regularly, you will have a hard time bulking up your legs.
What Is Wrong With Having Muscle Anyways?
That is not to say you won’t gain any muscle.
However, you will look more defined instead of “bulked up” and have a more athletic look.
You might even start to receive new and surprising compliments.
When I changed my weight lifting routine this year to include more upper body strength workouts, my arms became visibly more defined and muscular. With that, I received numerous compliments from men and women alike on how strong and powerful I look.
Several women started a conversation telling me they also want to begin “working out” to lose the flab on their arms. Not once did anyone tell me, I look “too bulky.” And even if someone would. I couldn’t care less.
The numerous health benefits of weightlifting and the feeling of independence that comes with being strong are more important than superficial beauty standards that change with every generation.
2. You Are Afraid You Will Get Hurt
Think back to when you started running.
Where you afraid of getting hurt?
If so, why did you begin nevertheless?
Did you overcome the fear first, or did you run despite it?
Or were you not afraid at all?
Why do you allow your fear of getting hurt to hold you back from committing to a strength training routine?
Maybe barbells look intimidating, or you heard so many times that you “need to lift with perfect form to avoid injury.” If the fear of injuring yourself is the main reason you stay away from lifting heavy weights, I can ease your mind.
Weight Lifting Is Safer Than Lacing Up Your Running Shoes
Weight lifting is one of the safest forms of exercise you can do.
In fact, the injury rate for team sports and running is higher than for strength training.
A meta-analysis of studies analyzing injury rates across weight-training sports found that bodybuilding had an injury rate of 0.24 to 1 injury per 1000 hours training. Compared to that, running had an injury rate of 2.5 to 33 per 1000 hours of training.
Personally, I never injured myself when strength training, but I had my fair share of running-related injuries. Sure, I had some muscle stiffness or soreness, but during my last 5 years of strength training, I never needed to take a break because of injury.
However, I have had my fair share of running-related injuries, which kept me from training. At the time of this writing, I just recovered from peroneal tendonitis – a running-related injury.
So what can you do to make sure you stay injury-free during your strength training journey?
Simple: avoid doing too much too soon, get your form checked by a coach, or videotape yourself. Start with light weights until you feel comfortable with the movement and then progress to heavier loads.
What About The "Perfect Technique"?
The fear of getting injured when you don’t execute every lift with perfect form is undue. The truth is – there is no “perfect” form.
Yes, some standards need to be adhered to when performing a movement. Still, every person will look a little different when executing a lift.
For example, you need to make sure that your knees don’t cave in during a squat – that is proper form. But how much you lean forward during the movement depends on your body type.
I’m a small person and have short limbs, and my squat looks way more upright than the squat of my best friend, who is tall and has long limbs and needs to lean more forward.
It may sound counter-intuitive to you now, but weight lifting is one of the safest forms of exercise you can do.
It is even less dangerous than lacing up your shoes and going for a run.
3. You Are Afraid You Will Look Stupid
Maybe you are not opposed to the idea of weight lifting per se, but you avoid the gym because you are afraid you will look stupid?
Going to the gym is a social event, and as such, it brings with it all the fears that social events can bring.
As someone who grew up with extreme social anxiety, I can relate.
You see, I strength trained at home and knew all about the benefits, and I wanted to level up my lifting game, but I couldn’t convince myself to go to the gym.
I was afraid that other people would judge my body, that I would do exercises wrong, that I would be laughed at, and that people would talk behind my back.
Countless times I called the gym and made an appointment for an introductory session but then chickened out and didn’t go.
The next step was signing up for a gym membership and go there exactly once before canceling.
However, I already successfully employed specific strategies that pushed me to partake in other social activities and build a social life. And I knew I would eventually stick to the decision of going to the gym – even if it would take me 20 more appointments that I didn’t go to.
Finally, I triumphed over my self-destructive thoughts, and the following steps helped. Try them if you feel too self-conscious to go to the gym.
I watched countless videos on the exercises I was planning to do.
Evenings were spent in front of my laptop watching YouTube, trying to memorize every nuance of the movements.
Before you go, remind yourself why you are going and that it is OK to be afraid.
Remind yourself too that everyone was a beginner once. Many people had the same insecurities and fears you are having now.
Have a strategy for dealing with uncomfortable emotions when they come up. When you feel anxiety rising as you enter the gym or starting an exercise, bring your focus to your breath and repeat a mantra.
One I often use – and still use to this day when trying out a new facility or a new exercise – is “I am nervous, and that is OK. I love myself.”
Let yourself feel what you feel and then do what you want to do anyway.
Go When The Gym Is Empty
I applied the same strategy I used when I started running: Train super early.
I used to run before sunrise when few people were on the streets, and once I became more confident, I ran during the day.
Hence I figured I could use the same trick with regards to the gym. In the first months, I went in the early morning hours and had the gym almost for myself.
Maybe that is not feasible for you. Then try to avoid the busiest time, which is late afternoon until early evenings for most gyms. You can also ask a staff member what times the gym is the most empty.
During my first visits to the gym, I walked around and familiarized myself with the equipment and space. This helped to feel more comfortable being there.
Most Importantly: Know Your "Why"
The most crucial aspect to get over your fear of lifting weights is to know what benefits you want to reap.
It may be because of the numerous health benefits, such as the reduced risk of osteoporosis and sarcopenia. For others developing muscle definition is a goal. Maybe you simply want to run stronger and faster.
Whatever reason you can find – use it as your motivation to get past any fears you might have.
If one of these 3 fears discussed here is holding you back, I hope I could ease your mind, and you’ll take the plunge and hit the weights.