11 Aug Less Thinking, More Sweating
You may read articles, blogs or tweets writing about our cultural objectification of women and the sexualization of the female body. I hear more and more women struggle as they work to feel comfortable in their body and with their figure in a society that scrutinizes and comments on the female form. Introduce those insecurities into the sometimes egocentric, often loud, mainly male dominated arena of the public gym and there is the potential for anxiety, over thinking and lowered self-esteem. Sadly these thoughts and cognitive distortions can be counter-productive to the benefits the gym can offer to anyone willing to participate.
For years I have slyly tried to spy on the personal trainers as they worked with their clients at my local gym. From a distance I would watch them and then try to imitate the exercises that they took their clients through. Though my solo version of the trainer’s activities seemed like a cost effective way to benefit from their knowledge without paying the could-buy-a-good-used-car price, my adaptation was saggy, soggier and generally lacking in proper form. It wasn’t until I had struggled with lower back pain for ten years that I finally decided it was time to get a lot stronger. I would have to stop spying on trainers like a hokey cartoon villain peering from around the squat rack, and legitimately enlist the help of a personal trainer.
Training has been a growth experience for me and some of the things that I have discovered in my initial few months of training have genuinely surprised me. For one, I sweat even more than I thought that I did. I credit this charming fact to an excess of body heat and the awkward nervousness I feel about most things relating to physical performance. Mark my words, despite the help of chalked hands, at some point I will slide off of a machine or drop some kind of dumbbell on my feet simply due to my sweaty, failing grip.
The other thing I discovered is how markedly different the bodily positions (necessary for proper weight training) are from the ways that I had become accustomed to holding my body. For example, while working on strengthening the chest muscles, it is necessary to puff out one’s chest like a superhero. And when I say, “puff out,” I mean way out.
Many of my training sessions have been focused on the supreme importance of the gluteus muscles. While I certainly knew that within the body one’s rump is a muscular powerhouse, I had no idea that the key to some exercises involved sticking out that rump with wild abandon! After finally letting go of my self-consciousness and doing what comes naturally in order to move heavy weight (e.g. letting your bum muscles expand and exert control), I almost burst with laughter when my trainer exclaimed, “That’s it! Do that every time.” The caboose that I had always tried to camouflage was going to actually come in handy? Well I’ll be darned.
Unfortunately, we live in a culture that sexualizes women (and men, but particularly women) in all spaces. As a public space often characterized by randy pop music, roving eyes, and tiny outfits the gym can be interpreted as an arena that sexualizes women, perhaps more than any other. However, it also presents people with the opportunity to focus upon building strength. The gym can create an environment to empower ourselves to let go of self-consciousness and open up to the opportunity to become stronger than we might have ever thought possible.
Show up, stick your stuff out, and be proud of your fearlessness!