A Call to Arms

I like the weight room because it's full of men.

There are obvious reasons for my preference, and practical concerns, as well.

For starters, men mostly mind their own business. They sweat, grunt and throw heavy weights to the floor, all off by their lonesome. You can mostly ignore them and continue with your workout uninterrupted unless they're throwing the heavy weights close to your head, or unless they're treating you like a helpless maiden, asking you if you need their expert assistance even though you were just rowing 140lbs, which was on a double pulley system but still. Not that I have any experience with this.

But women, see, when they do deign to appear in the weight room, are not so easily ignored.

For one, many are chatty. They don't know the rule about not talking while working out unless someone gives you a clear signal they want to know you better. These women will tell you about their basement flooding, their kid with the flu, the pros and cons of Fluffy's new litter box.

Or, ignorant of other basic gym etiquette, they use your stuff without asking.

Last week, I had a bar all loaded up and was resting between sets when this woman walked in, laid her body down on my bench, and proceeded to do crunches. Ten reps, then she'd take a rest. Right there. On my bench. This went on for three sets. Never mind that there were two other free benches at her disposal; Goldilocks here decided my bench was best for napping.

To top it all off, she was wearing earphones, so I couldn't suggest she move without physically pushing her. Not that I felt like doing that or anything.

(Men aren't off the hook here either, I should mention, because they often lack in the etiquette division, too. Most often it's in the form of leaving 90 pounds worth of plates on a machine, kindly giving the next person an extra workout of lifting them back off and huffing through some curse words.)

But the most common problem with women in the weight room is one that negatively affects only the women themselves. Unless you're the type to be offended by others' ignorance, which I happen to be.

For so many women, their workouts aren't worth the time. First off, they're not in the weight room much because they're sweating away in the cardio room, which by now everyone knows is good for your heart but can't match the time spent with weights when it comes to your love handles.

And when they do make it over to the free weights, they lift what others have referred to as "barbie bells"--little tiny things barely worth the time, weighing little more than their designer dogs in purses they have just told you all about.

Women: Don't do that. Pick up the bigger weights, and learn the good technique that will allow you to lift them well.

Considering my opinions, you'd think I was pretty happy the other day when I saw a woman in her late 60s pick up a ten-pound dumbbell and go through all the standard exercises. She even asked if I was done with a pulley so she could do cable crossover flyes.

You go, Girl. Except...

I started noticing the 10-pounder would travel only about three inches on any given exercise. Chest press: the top three inches. Tricep rows: the three inches closest to her body, where it's easiest to move.

Finally, when she was on the T-bar row doing her three inches, her husband couldn't take it anymore. The conversation went something like this:

HIM: You shouldn't do that. You're not fully extending your arms, you're not really working the muscle.
HER: Oh, shut up.
HIM: I'll say that next time you tell me to put on the turn signal.
HER: Maybe I can't fully extend my arms. Maybe I could only do that once.
HIM: Yeah, well, but...I'm serious. You're not working the muscle that way. It's not worth it.
HER: Maybe you need to mind your own business.

And so on.

She was fairly self-assured, so it was clear she wouldn't listen to anybody. She had her list of exercises and she was going to cross each of them off. That's all that mattered.

Tis better to exercise than to not. But 'tis even better to exercise with heavy weights and proper form. People will tell you not to lock out your elbows, others will say that's what they're built to do...but even so, the husband was right. Make the exercise worth your time. It would have been better for her to only do one rep, as she claimed she would be able to do, if she had proper form (though I bet it would have been too heavy for her to make a fully extended rep at that weight).

I used to practice my bench press by lowering the bar to a few inches above my chest, lifting it back up and calling it a day.

You can lift a lot more weight that way, because when you touch the bar to your chest as you need to do in competition (yes, there's a chest judge--and a butt judge) things become much more difficult. You're drawing on the parts of your pecs and shoulders that aren't as strong because they're not used as much; I have been overheard threatening to stuff my bra and underwear before a competition to shorten the distance the bar must travel. (Dan: Remember my weekly texts back in the day? I now know I wasn't "really" lifting that weight.)

Some people coach amateurs to use this technique to avoid injury. If you're not looking to compete, you can do this and boast you've lifted some really heavy weight, even though the rest of us know better. But you're denying certain muscles a good workout.

It's good to adapt an exercise to your limitations. And three-inch versions (sometimes called "partials") can really work a select muscle, if that's your intent and if you're using a heavy enough weight.

But it's not good to keep doing things incorrectly or inefficiently. Stop it, people.

And don't buy purses for dogs, either; they need exercise, too.


  1. You know you've made it in the world when Google suggests it display "Get Ripped" ads on your blog.

  2. As someone who swears by Barbie bells, the only part of this post I can agree with is the part that said "the husband is right."


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