The first image that comes to mind when questioned about women weight lifting is a big, hulky, muscular, frown-faced, intimidating person, according to some female students at EdCC.
Almost all of the students interviewed believe that women should not weight lift, in order to retain their feminine figure, and that those who do will end up extremely buff. Most women's fears, according to Janet Guenther, P.E. teacher at EdCC and ex-bodybuilder, are that they will lose their femininity with increased muscle mass.
However the image of a woman if she works out is misconstrued. Guenther has said that there's a certain limit for women to increase their muscle mass compared to a guy.
A woman's body won't be able to increase muscle mass to the point of becoming a big and hulky person that most people imagine when it comes to a female weight lifting.
“All of those women with the strange sounding voices and the hulky-hulky muscles that are bigger than the average guy; they're all on drugs,” Guenther says about those big women bodybuilders. “They have a zillion times more testosterone going through them than the average guy going through puberty.”
The misconstrued image of a woman working out also stems from the confusion that weightlifting is the same as bodybuilding, however they are not the same.
A weightlifter's goal is to gain muscle mass and lose body fat in order to become fit. Whereas a bodybuilder's main goal is to shape and sculpt the body, in addition to increasing muscle mass and losing body fat.
Once they learned the difference, some students believe it is okay for a woman to weightlift but not body-build, maintaining the belief that women should not engage in a manly activity and risk losing their feminine figure.
“Women shouldn't body-build because she's a woman,” says Wafaa Elzaloey, student at EdCC. “She should be treated like a queen.”
Elzaloey believes that a woman shouldn't have to worry about herself (in terms of lifting heavy things), and that she should be assisted.
Crystal Matlock, another student at EdCC, contradicts this view by saying, “I think we should be able to hold our own.” She believes that women should weight lift in order to get fit and in shape.
Guenther agrees to this as she says that there's no guarantee that anyone will take care of us in this day and age; we (women) have to keep ourselves fit so that we don't have to rely on someone else to do our heavy lifting.
Besides giving your body a good figure, weight lifting has many benefits. According to Guenther, weightlifting keeps bone density, strengthens joints and tendons in addition to your muscles, and through a proper weight lifting program you can also increase your flexibility.
“Muscles are the only things that will help you keep your shape,” Guenther says.
For women it's more important to take care of their bodies, because biologically, they have more fat around their muscles, and as related by Matlock, as time progresses, gravity plays a role making excess fat sag. Because of this she has been working out regularly for five years, doing cardio along with weight lifting to keep away excessive fat.
Despite her exercise regimen, Matlock believes that a woman should have a bit of fat around their muscles to give them their “shape,” referring to the feminine curves.
“I think it is important to keep the feminine shape while having muscles,” Matlock stated.
This overall image of a female body needing to be feminine stems from society's ideals. Guenther states how she thinks society defines men and women; men should be the strong ones which are equated to muscles, and women should be reserved and shouldn't be intimidating, in other words, not muscular.
“It's a men-based world,” Guenther stated several times. She says that to instill the view that women can weight lift and body-build without risking their femininity, “They [women] must take control…and not be told what their roles are.”
To help women venture into the world of weight lifting without embarrassment, Guenther offers a body conditioning class at EdCC, for women only. She uses the term body conditioning, because she believes that women will be frightened away if she named her class women weight lifting or bodybuilding. Additionally this class is restricted to women only, so that they may work out without feeling intimidated by the amount of weights that the men lift.
As for the feminine figure that women are worried about losing if they gain muscle, Guenther tells women that if they work out and expand their shoulder muscles, they work themselves into a nice 'V' shape, because their waists seem narrower, which is what most women usually try to achieve.
Guenther has seen the success of this class. She relates how she has seen females come into the weight room the first day of class all shy and reserved, kind of wide-eyed at all the exercise equipment. However as the quarter progresses, she sees real improvement. The same girls, who would crouch their shoulders in the beginning, would walk more confidently through the gym; sure of themselves while handling each equipment.
This is what Guenther hopes to achieve through her classes. Women should feel comfortable going to any gym to work out, regardless of what other people may think about a woman working out, whether it is to weightlift or body build. And above all they shouldn't fear about losing their feminine figures, as weightlifting or bodybuilding does not diminish it.
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