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Well For Culture: 5 Tips For Women in the Weight Room

Chelsey Luger, Sicangu Lakota, talks women's wellness and offers tips while in the gym.

I’m seeing a trend – and it’s a good trend. I like this trend. The trend is that more and more women are not only getting acclimated to but dominating the weight room, and it’s about time.

Not so long ago (maybe four years?) I started weight training as a total rookie beginner, and now it’s something I not only feel comfortable doing, but that I love. So, I’m offering some tips for women who are just getting started, because I am POSITIVE that adding weight training to your fitness routine will make you a healthier and happier person and I want to see that happen for more of we Native women out there!

Luger demonstrates a single-leg deadlift with a 50 lb. kettlebell. Photo courtesy Eller Bonifacio.

Actually, to be clear, these tips could benefit both sexes. So, men, please do read! But ladies – this one’s especially for you because I’m particularly invested in your success.

1.Show up with a plan. The worth of any great personal trainer is not necessarily in the time spent during the actual session, but actually more based on the time they spend preparing for the session. Training programs are complicated, and any good program is uniquely catered to fit the needs of a client. But if you can’t afford a personal trainer, you’ve got to learn to come prepared on your own.

Many gyms have smaller weight training areas away from the main weight room, in case you're not in the mood to deal with crowds. Photo courtesy Eller Bonifacio.

Before you begin weight training, study up on basic technique, styles, and exercises. Start by Googling “weight training basics” and you will literally find hundreds of articles – free information – to get you going. You can even find template programs. Also, a lot of gyms do offer a complimentary training session, and you should absolutely take advantage of that. If you could even afford one or two sessions with a private trainer, go for it – you will probably learn a lot. Or, just find a fit friend and ask them to help you out. Everybody likes a workout buddy.

I’m not one to set goals in terms of body composition or weight (because fitness is a lifestyle, not a short-term goal to be conquered!), but I am one to come prepared with an idea of what I’m hoping to accomplish that particular day.

Whether it’s a specific body part you want to target, a new exercise you want to master, or a PR (personal record) you’re trying to conquer, show up with a plan. Your workout will be more satisfying and effective.

The more often you train, the easier this will become. Learning the basics is a short, sweet phase. Sooner than later, you’ll have a cache of exercises in your head memorized that you can pick and choose from, and you won’t have to think so hard.

But honestly, even the experts stay learning new things all the time. And that’s the great part about weight training! With so many new ideas and techniques being developed on a regular basis, your workouts never have to be boring or stagnant.

2.Come physically prepared. This goes for any workout, but particularly with weights: you *cannot* have a productive session if you’re either too tired, too full, or too hungry. When I know I’m going to train that day, I make sure to get in a good healthy mix of carbs and protein about two hours prior so that my body is at that perfect balance of not-too-hungry and not-too-full. Even if you’re going right away in the morning, try to eat a banana or a handful of nuts before you get to the gym.

Remember: if you’re too full, you will puke. If you’re too hungry, you’re just depleting your body and not really doing yourself any good. So, strike that balance.

Also, be prepared with a protein bar or shake or small meal to eat right after. I love the feeling of being ravenously hungry after a good workout and you’ll learn to love it too. Remember that if you don’t put down a good amount of protein along with enough carbs to absorb the protein WITHIN 30 MINUTES OF YOUR WORKOUT, you basically just wasted your time because your muscles need these nutrients to develop.

3. Wear the right clothes: you need to be comfortable and functional. I’ll admit that about 75-percent of my closet is fitness gear and sneakers. I look at it as a healthy vice. (Less glam, more Nike!) There’s a purpose behind it, though. The right gear isn’t just cool, it will actually make a difference in the effectiveness of your workout. It doesn’t have to be expensive or top-of-the-line, but it has to work.

Luger's favorite shoes for weight training: the Nike Free Bionics. Photo courtesy Eller Bonifacio.

I could write a whole article about the best type of fitness gear to wear for particular types of workouts (hmm … come to think of it, stay tuned for that!), but for now I’ll say this: as far as weight training shoes, you want your feet flat on the ground (no running or basketball shoes with big soles - if anything, just wear socks); for clothes, you don’t want anything too skimpy OR too loose (riding up in the wrong places is just all kinds of bad, and too-loose clothing can get in the way); and try to layer, because your temperature might fluctuate while you train.

4. Have faith in the sport. Know why you’re doing it. Weight training is becoming popular for women now, not because it looks cool, but because it works, it’s fun, and it’s effective. I’ve often heard women say, “but I don’t want to look like a man.” All I can say is - trust me - you won’t. Even if you tried. There are women who dedicate their lives to bodybuilding and trying to gain as much muscle as possible who still look feminine.

A lot of people wonder “why weights as opposed to cardio?” and the simplest way to explain it is that the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest. Not to mention, being strong is fun. It feels good. You will have more spring to your step. Cardio is great for certain things and it is critical to do a little bit of it, but it doesn’t build muscle like weights do. I’m a firm believer in building muscle as the primary foundation of all fitness training, so keep this in mind as you get into weight training and watch your body transform for the better.

Luger makes good use of a treadmill. Photo courtesy Eller Bonifacio.

5. And last but not least, my FINAL tip *drum roll* is this: do NOT be intimidated by men in the weight room. Yes, they will be there, and yes, they will stare at you. But, believe me, they’re not necessarily being creepy and they’re also not necessarily being judgmental. While both of those things are annoying possibilities, it’s actually more than likely that they’re simply observing because they’re generally impressed with or interested in what you’re doing. Remember that in a lot of gyms (though this is changing) it’s still not common to see as many women as men lifting weights, so your presence might draw some attention. But honestly, it’s not even just the men. You’ll notice other women off in the distance on the cardio machines staring at you, too. They’re just curious, that’s all. Don’t take offense or let it stop you from doing what you do.

The truth is that men are more intimidated by YOUR presence in the weight room than you are by theirs. So get right in there. Don’t psych yourself out. And if you do catch somebody staring at you relentlessly with an undoubtedly sketchy vibe, just shoot a cold creepy stare right back while they’re in the middle of their routine and watch them get really nervous and squirmy. I’ve done it. It’s hilarious.

These tips are just the tip of the iceberg, but hopefully enough to get you going. Remember, stay lighthearted and have fun. Happy training!

Chelsey Luger. Photo courtesy Eller Bonifacio.

Chelsey Luger is Anishinaabe and Lakota from North Dakota. She hopes to be a strong link in a long chain of ancestors and descendants by spreading ideas for health and wellness. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Ideas for articles? Email her: wellforculture@gmail.com.