For International Women’s Day, we’re inviting Gympassers to share stories of how they’re crushing stereotypes and challenging expectations.
Emily Smith manages digital partnerships for the Gympass New Ventures team. Working in the fitness space, she’s directly witnessed the stereotype that sports and strength training are “not for women”. Read more about her personal story and how shattering this notion has helped her personally and professionally:
I first crept nervously into the weights section of a gym in 2013, my hand held by a good friend who was a qualified personal trainer and who promised I wouldn’t regret it. Until that point, I had been a long-distance runner, and it had never occurred to me that incorporating weights into my workout would be beneficial for my sport, let alone for anything else. That day turned out to be the first of a whole new chapter for me, and I can attribute a large proportion of my character and skillset to the journey that unfolded as a result.
There are plenty of sources that will tell you about the physical benefits of strength training (read: any form of weight lifting, or workouts where you add some form of resistance – dumbbells, kettlebells, bands etc). These benefits include maintaining a healthy weight, optimising joint health and ultimately reducing your risk of chronic illness.
There are also specific health benefits for women; strength training encourages increased bone density, improving your ability to avoid osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones) in later years, which is often suffered by women post-menopause.
However, there are other benefits to be gained from strength training that are not as widely talked about. These benefits are connected to your career and the pursuit of personal and professional development.
These lesser-known benefits are applicable to both men and women of course, but due to how so many women are still afraid of lifting weights, it is my female colleagues I would like to reach out to specifically with these thoughts.
I firmly believe that if more women knew the extent to which strength training could help them in their professional lives, far more would be encouraged to give it a go.
There are many components that are essential to personal development, such as receiving mentoring, reading, reflecting, and taking on new opportunities, but in my experience what underpins all of these components, is the need to, and openness to, educate and evolve your mindset. This is where I use strength training as my secret weapon.
Over the 8 years that have since followed that first day in the gym, I became increasingly fascinated by how participating in weight training was evolving my mindset, and supporting my personal development as a result.
My guess, and hope, is that at least one of the following will appeal to you too.
- Building confidence
This is the most powerful and tangible impact I have felt as a result of weight training. The sensation of lifting a weight you never previously believed you could has a profound effect on your self-confidence. This self-confidence quickly creeps into all areas of your life; you find yourself sitting up taller and finding your voice more frequently. Aside from that, I have got through some of my most daunting work experiences by reminding myself of what I recently achieved in the gym… “If I can do that… I can do this..”
- Improving efficiency
A constant development area for me is connected to prioritisation, essentialism, and ensuring I am not just working hard, but working smart. As I have learnt more about the concepts behind weight lifting; the physics, the importance of form, and how “an efficient lift is an easy lift”, the more ways I find to apply this concept at work. For example, a big project needs to be achieved – who needs to be involved to make it effective, and who doesn’t need to be involved, in order to keep it efficient.
- Enhancing your tenacity or mental strength
As you progress to heavier weights or begin learning new lifting techniques, a few things usually happen. Firstly, you fail. Either the weight doesn’t move, or you only get so far before having to bail and drop the weight (it’s noisy and embarrassing). Secondly, you learn. But only if you try again and risk another fail. Repeating this humbling experience gradually reduces your fear of failure. It also teaches you to keep going and encourages you to ask the right person for guidance, because the feeling when you finally nail it, is the best thing in the world (see above about confidence!).
- Developing a growth mindset
I quickly learnt, specifically through CrossFit, that not every workout is a good workout. There are days where the coach prescribes all your least favorite exercises, and all your newly gained confidence is tested. These days are uncomfortable and can be devastating to your morale if all you seek is the feeling of a “win”. The alternative is to be excited by these days because these days are when we get better. If we compare this to a work situation – when you are thrown into a tough conversation or asked to deliver a presentation at the last minute, it will be tough, it will challenge you and it certainly won’t be perfect, but it will teach you more than 100 days sitting in your comfort zone. This progress is what we should celebrate, more than the times in which we “win”.
To summarise, immersing yourself in a sport like weight lifting, or regularly taking part in some form of strength training, prepares you to be ready to fail, pushes you to be efficient, leads you to regularly seek help, and requires that you are open to feedback in order to improve. Ultimately, if these become a regular part of your mindset, and you apply it to all areas of your life, you open up a fast-track to reaching new levels in both your personal and professional development.
Despite all the benefits to this type of training, many women will still be hesitant to venture into the world of lifting and strength training, and I can understand why. If you’re completely new to this activity, then walking into the weights section of a commercial gym, often populated by those who look like they live there, is incredibly daunting.
My advice to anyone in this position is to consider one of the following options:
- Join a group class that uses weights or some form of resistance; here you can follow an instructor and experience working out with weights in a less intense environment. The increased availability of online classes means you can even try this from the privacy of your own home if that helps. Top tip: filled water bottles or a backpack stuffed with random objects both work well as DIY weights
- Find a Personal Trainer who can introduce you to strength training slowly and with professional guidance. A PT will listen to your goals, needs, and experience level, and will help you to build up from scratch as needed. The value of building a 1:1 relationship with a pro is that they can help advise on all areas of your wellbeing – nutrition, mobility, strength.. Ultimately there is no other professional out there who is singularly invested in your overall health and wellbeing
If you’re still unsure on where or how to start, this valuable overlap of the fitness industry and supporting female colleagues is a topic I am personally incredibly passionate about and always happy to chat – so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.