A “Swole” Woman Talks about Confidence in the Gym

free-weightsI learned a new word today: “swole.”  According to the internet, it’s modern slang for “very muscular; jacked; ripped.” But I knew I liked what this swole woman, Casey Johnston, had to say in “Ask a Swole Woman: Getting Started” even before I looked it up.

How did I know? Well, the subtitle of the article is “embracing free weights and rest days.” And you know what? I love both.

Question number one is all about wanting to get started but feeling the intimidation of the free weights part of the gym, which is crawling with “massive dudes.” This is definitely an issue I’ve heard lots of people (not just women) talk about when they’re just starting out.

But Swole Woman has some excellent advice and wisdom on this. First off, she reminds us that it would be unusual not to feel a bit of trepidation when approaching the free weights at the gym for the first time. All free weights veterans had to start somewhere.

She points out, too, that a little knowledge can go a long way:

Know, at least intellectually, what you’re doing. We’ve all resolved to do Weight Things only to end up standing at the dumbbell rack nervously doing curls, because that’s the only exercise we know. There is so much more in the world! Get a personal trainer or a friend to help you get started. Practice your squats with a broomstick. Read up on some exercises and/or a program at home (this is a whole rabbit hole unto itself, but there are a lot of resources online).

And this one — my personal favourite: Create a persona.  What does that mean? This is where you learn to walk around like you own the place:

Your mileage may vary on this one, but it works for me. When you enter that section at the gym, even if you’ve been going to that gym for a while, it can be like your first day at a new school: no one knows your past life, and you have a chance to start over. You may have been the baddest bitch at another gym, and no one, and I mean no one, should fuck with you. Get into that headspace.

If you’re lifting lighter than you think a badass should be lifting, and therefore worried that you won’t convince anyone, remember that there are all sorts of reasons for lifting light. Maybe you’re recovering from an injury. Maybe you’re warming up. Maybe you’re cross-training.  But the thing is, it’s no one’s business, so once you get that confidence thing going, you’re well on your way.

She also has the right attitude about looking strong: “many strong people don’t look it, especially women.” We’ve talked lots on the blog about how you can be fit without conforming to the image we have in our heads of what a “fit” person looks like. Same goes for strong.

In the end, “No one is looking at you.” Most of time this is true. They’re not too preoccupied because they’re busy with their own workout. What about those people standing around? They’re resting between sets. That’s what most of us who work out with free weights do. In fact, “resting is a necessary part of the process.”

There’s more on the gym (including what to do if someone actually is looking at you in way that’s making you uncomfortable) but now that we’re on the topic of resting, let’s see what she says about rest days. Sam loves rest days.  And they are indeed an important part of an active lifestyle.

So when Swole Woman talks about how often to work out, she also talks about rest days:

Some people will tell you to work out every single day, but I will not, and here is why: for one, rest is important, not just within workout, but between them as well. Your muscles do not actually get stronger when you’re working them. They get stronger when you are recovering and building back the torn fibers on your rest days by eating and sleeping (I know, it is a beautiful world to live in — JOIN ME!).

And if rest days don’t work for you, you can think about active recovery. Personally, I’m a big fan of active recovery. I’ve talked about it here.

And here’s what Swole Woman has to say about active recovery:

Some people do work out every day because they’re worried even one rest day will break their routine. For those people, there is such a thing as “active recovery” using lighter, low-intensity forms of exercise like walking, swimming, stretching, the less impressive types of yoga. If it will settle your mind to go for a 20-minute walk on your off days, fine; it will not interfere with your gains and it may even help. If all you can do is walk, that is also great! You don’t so much need rest days from walking, unless you are for some reason walking a half-marathon every day. Come lift with me though, I bet you would have more fun.

The upshot. I like her sensibility. And I think her advice is great for anyone starting out with free weights. These days I’m working with a personal trainer, which is a luxury I decided to treat myself to when things got difficult over the last year (with the condo flood and some new life circumstances–all is good now and I decided to keep working with the trainer). But I remember feeling pretty confident at the gym, working out with free weights, and being sort of lost in my own head-space while I was there. In my experience that’s mostly what’s going on with everyone else too, if they’re working out hard, which most people into free weights usually are.

Another great resource for women new to free weights is Nia Shanks and her Lift Like a Girl website.

If you work out with free weights at a gym, how do you (or how did you) get over the intimidation factor? And if you live an active lifestyle, where does rest and recovery fit into your routine? Let us know. We can all learn from one another.

5 thoughts on “A “Swole” Woman Talks about Confidence in the Gym

  1. Can’t believe you didn’t know “swole.” But then you don’t live with a teenage boy weight lifter!

    1. I was equally shocked not to know this word. But I guess, as you say, it’s the circles I move in. I need more teenagers in my life!

  2. Love this! These were a lot of the strategies I used to conquer my fear of the weight room too. Another was to have a male friend who lifts demo some of the things I wanted to do. Now that I’m comfortable, it’s a lot of fun to demo to other women who are curious about the weight room and give them a head start.

    Now I just need to get better at rest days without guilt…

  3. Tracy and I work with the same trainer, and I love it because a) he promotes PLENTY of rest (I go once a week, but also x-train on my bike and in the boat, so rest remains a challenge for me), and b) his gym is small and has an inclusive feel – as in, if there are muscle dudes around when I’m training, they are supportive and friendly and know not to stare. Frankly, they make me feel MORE comfortable rather than less! I put this down to the gym’s size and community-orientation, and Paul’s great people skills. Both are things to look for in a trainer, I think.

  4. Seriously terrific advice….I’ve written a couple posts touching on this topic…it is so important for ladies to know there is more than just treadmills to feel confident using

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