Please Stop Mansplaining In The Weightroom
From failed muscle-ups ad grunting my way through a bench press PR, to hip thrusts and LOLing mid-accessory work because the podcast streaming through my ears made me laugh- I do some pretty embarrassing things when I say goodbye to my CrossFit box and hello to my good ole’ fashion gym for the day. Then there’s the squat. Not only is the back squat my weakest and worst-form barbell move (yes, worse than my snatch or power clean), but I usually end up grunting, pouring sweat, and shaking all while sticking my butt out and failing to break parallel (running a marathon really tightened those babies up). Plus, there’s the mid-squat fear that my cheapo leggings have gone indecently sheer in the tail.. And the generalized weight lifting fear of dropping some heavy ass weights on myself or the dude deadlifting directly behind me.
So let me just say: mid-squat is the worst time to approach a woman, and really anyone, at the gym. Yes, even if you’re trying to flirt. (Especially if you’re trying to flirt). And ESPECIALLY (emphasis on especially) if you’re trying to get her number. And that “her” is me.
Yet, the other day while I was at the gym working on my weakness, had a loaded barbell on my back and was grunting my way back up from what was probably not-quite-parallel did I hear a low-voiced “hey girl”. No, not even an “Excuse me”, but a full-blown Ryan Gosling style “Hey girl”. If 180 pounds hadn’t been on my back, I would have rolled my eyes as hard as one can roll their eyes. But I had 150% of my body weight resting on my traps, so instead I cringe-grunted as I re-racked my loaded bar, turned down my Lil Wayne (duh), and turned around. I was half expecting an eagle-eyed trainer to tell me that I had not broken parallel and needed to use my lats to pull down on the bar more, or a concerned citizen letting me know that a row of ellipticals had just exploded and we needed to leave before the place went up in flames. But I was, as Donald Trump would say, WRONG.
I turned around to ex frat boy (according to his shirt) who was wearing a very thirsty, very smug look on his very chiseled face. “Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been watching you from across the gym” he said. Ring the alarm. Okay, creeper. (Seriously, that is THE creepiest thing someone has said to me mid-workout) He continued, “I just wanted to tell you that you have great form…” He took a breath and I braced myself for impact “but you probably shouldn’t be lifting that much”.
He then proceeded to simultaneously compliment my below-average squatting technique with phrases such as “beautiful sink into your heels” and “doing a nice a job keeping your chest up” (both which I fail to do on a consistent basis), and then chastise me for putting more than my body weight on the bar. As if there was some Cardinal rule about how much one can “safely” back squat. (Hint: there’s not, I Googled it).
Of course, I couldn’t think of a bad bitch reply in the moment expect for a meek, “I think I know what I’m doing, Thank you” and turning back towards my bar.
But here’s what I wish I had said to the mansplainer who was maybe flirting with me and definitely trying to discipline me like a disobedient child. “Your opinion is not welcome here”.
I’ve been mansplained to about everything from rowing technique and protein powders for women, to how to not get bulky and how to increase vascularity. And while I’ve gotten some incredibly useful tips on the gym floor from all genders, it’s often those who know the least and are most taken aback by my CrossFit-styled moves who are most apt to give advice and offer warning. While I usually listen politely before returning to my workout, something about the most recent interaction has stuck with me. Maybe it was his smile as he told me to lift less, maybe it was the way he felt it was his place to interrupt me mid-squat to share his unwanted opinion on my form, or maybe it was the way he walked away with a heroic glow.
Or maybe I’m still annoyed because I know my experience is not unique to women who brave the weights floor. Most of my barbell-prone female friends have a similar story to share. And with all the benefits of lifting, especially for women, we need to be encouraging women to lift and lift heavy, and gym-floor mansplaining has the exact opposite effect.
In general, working out has been shown to be more effective than antidepressants, and weight-training has been shown to be super effective in this area. In one 10-week Harvard study, resistance training significantly reduced “all depression measures” compared to the control group. Moreover, an American Heart Association Survey published in the journal Circulation found that a panel of cardiovascular experts agreed: weight training could reduce blood pressure, improve cardiovascular function, and reduce diabetes risk. The New York Times reported, “One of the studies the panel looked at showed that 12 weeks of strength training improved participants’ walking endurance by 38 percent”.
The takeaway? If you see a woman on the weight floor and you feel inspired to interrupt her mid-workout, ask yourself this: Has she asked me for help? Do I even know what I’m talking about? Is she in actual danger? Am I doing this for her (or for myself)? If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, then abort your missions now, and get back to work. And to my fellow female weightlifters - do you. And don’t pay attention to anyone around you who wants to tell you that you’re wrong, or that you can’t. Because with every unwanted (or uneducated) opinion, weight gets added to the already-heavily weighted scale that tip women away from becoming strong, healthy, happy and powerful.