I don’t like to complain, but sometimes it is HARD to be a female in a weight room. I’ve posted previously about some of my experiences here, but overall I don’t have too many issues. I normally work out on weekday mornings. The trainers and most of the other members know me, and they respect my space, need for certain equipment, etc. No one’s kicking me out of a squat rack or grabbing my kettlebells between sets (often). With my new cycling program, sometimes I need to lift on the weekends. No big deal – I’m not about to miss a workout, and lifting always starts my days off right! The last TWO weekends, I have had issues. Both sets of issues involve Overhead Squats. Before I begin my tales of woe, let me first say that my mobility is good, my form is on-target, and I have been performing this exercise consistently and effectively on and off for about 18 months (including using it as accessory work for 5/3/1).
Two Weeks Ago..
During my second set of Overhead Squats, I felt fantastic. I was feeling ready to add some weight, but since I was pretty depleted from eating low calories the day before, I decided to save that for the next workout. As I finish the set, I saw a little skinny guy and a couple girls head over to a bench. The guy loaded 135 on the bar and proceeded to ALMOST DROP IT. I was seriously considering running over to help him when one of the girls with him lifted the bar off his chest and helped him rack it. He then sat on the bench and…I don’t know what he was doing…nursing his ego??
Anyway, I start getting ready for my final set. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but I have a bunch of little preparations I do before any set – making sure the weights are loaded tightly, double-checking that my hands are positioned evenly, chalking up (when necessary), a couple deep breaths…you get the idea. I unracked the weight, pressed it overhead, and started my set. After my third rep, I notice him coming over toward my rack. As I start to descend on my 4th, he DUCKED UNDER THE BAR! I almost smashed him in the face with the bar, but, fortunately, was under control enough to be able to keep both of us safe. He then gave ME a dirty look (and I bet he would’ve totally blamed me if he had gotten hurt!) and walked away. Thank goodness I was using the rack with a mirror or I never would have seen him coming! A bit shaken, I re-racked the weight, did my preparations and began again. Fortunately, I was a bit more aware of him, so I saw him coming when he tried to do it again!
I’m not sure where this guy’s survival instinct was – he definitely was upset with me for almost hurting him, but I think he was risking his own safety…all to grab some 10# plates off my rack.
I felt great. I was NOT depleted and had increased the weight on all my exercises so far. I had been complimented by 2 other gym members during my first couple exercises. As I finished my set of heavy single-leg RDLs (20kg – a new best for me at that volume), I noticed a guy working out kind of near the rack (we’ll call him the Pastor, since I later found out that he is, in fact, a pastor). He seemed to vaguely know what he was doing, though he focused on the “mirror muscles.” My husband was at the gym with me, but doing his own workout. I went to the rack, set up, and did my first set of Overhead Squats. It felt great, and I was contemplating whether I should increase the weight by 5 or 10 pounds for the next set. As I turn, I notice the Pastor standing directly behind me. He gestures for me to take off my headphones, and I expected a compliment, support, or at least something positive – I had just rocked my set, and had gotten 2 other compliments already (guess my self-esteem was SOARING!). I was wrong.
Pastor: “Your poor spine!”
Me: (confused look on my face)
Pastor: (in a patronizing tone) “The most DANGEROUS thing you can do in a gym is put weight over your head when you’re not sitting with your back against a bench. I’ve seen guys blow their spines apart trying to do that.”
Me: “Well, this…”
Pastor: (interrupting) “That other thing you were doing” (demonstrates a 1/4 squat) “is great, but it’s really important to put the bar on your shoulders so your spine doesn’t have to work so hard. Then, try to do the squatting motion.”
Me: “I’m actually..” (as the Pastor interrupts again, I am able to catch my husband’s eye, who comes over)
Pastor: “Please, please don’t do that again. I’m a pastor and I care about people. I just don’t want to see you get hurt and putting weight over your head is SO dangerous.” (Looks at my husband) “I was just telling her that she is doing some really dangerous stuff over here and I don’t want her to get hurt. You should show her some other things she can do so she’s not trying to push things over her head while squatting. I’ve seen guys blow their spines apart – her poor back! That’s not something just anyone should be doing…”
Husband: “You’re right – it’s not something just anyone should be doing. In fact, I don’t have the mobility to do it correctly so I don’t do it at all. SHE has really great mobility and is able to keep her spine stable and in alignment while doing the exercise. It’s actually a fairly common, though advanced, exercise.”
Pastor: “Really? People squat that way?”
Husband: “Yes. I bet you can find lots of videos on YouTube to show how to do it, but it’s used in CrossFit and several fitness professionals recommend it. The program she’s doing is by Alwyn Cosgrove, who writes for Men’s Health sometimes.”
Pastor: “Oh…well, I guess I’m no expert. I just didn’t want her to get hurt. Maybe I’ll try it sometime.”
Me: “I appreciate your concern, but I take the time to make sure I’m safe in the weight room. If you do try it, make sure to drop the weight. I can back squat significantly more than I can overhead squat.”
Pastor: (eyes widening) “Really??” (looks at my husband) “Sorry, Man. Didn’t mean to interrupt.”
He then proceeded to do TERRIBLE bent-over rows. Terrible. With the same amount of weight I use with GOOD form.
The whole situation sucked. My husband said I should just fluff it off, but when people are that condescending and make it SO clear that they don’t think I belong in the weight room, I definitely lose some wind in my sails. I did finish the workout, but I didn’t add as much weight as I probably could have. I didn’t want to struggle for reps and have this guy on my case again. He probably wouldn’t have come back over, especially since my husband stayed with me while I finished up, but the whole thing was ridiculous. If my husband hadn’t been there, I probably would have just left. I know I don’t “look” the part, but I’m just not clear why people think they can make these kinds of comments. The guy clearly had most of his fitness information from 1995, but still…
It also really bothers me that the guy felt it was totally ok to mess with my workout, but wouldn’t even let me get a word in to explain what I was doing. Once another MAN was there, suddenly he’s open for discussion. And then to imply that my husband should “teach” me how to lift?? I actually taught HIM how to make his lifts safer! Ugh.