5 Women On How They Learned To Strength Train + Tips For Beginners
Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction.
When I was growing up, I never really learned how to strength train, despite being a year-round athlete. I learned a few moves here and there (mainly thanks to the hours I spent at a sport performance training center), but I was never “taught” how to do them—it was more like I was corrected if my form was so off that I could get injured.
And in high school, the women I knew didn’t lift weights. We were told to run laps or sprints, while all of the male athletes—every team from football to baseball—were encouraged to hit the weight room.
In talking to other women, I realized that (in a lot of cases) women aren’t introduced to strength training as early as men are—and that’s probably why most women are less likely to lift weights at the gym. I myself always opted for a treadmill or elliptical, and measured my body’s strength in terms of minutes and miles. I never really knew what my body was capable of until I began lifting weights.
But that trend has shifted and continues to do so, even in the past few years. There are so many badass women out there who took up strength training and never looked back. They’re inspirational, they’re strong as hell, and they’re here to tell their stories and share advice on how to get started.
Learn proper form from a trusted resource.
I always say that strength training saved me from myself. I found the gym at 15, when I was in a downward spiral of insecurity and body-image struggles. Until I discovered weight lifting, I thought the only way to be beautiful was to be thin and "dainty," and that led me to hate my athletic build. Strength training helped me embrace my natural body type and gave me the power to mold it and create change from a positive place instead of always trying to shrink myself.
When I first got into lifting, I had so much fun with it and fell in love with the process, but I do wish that I would've had more resources and guidance, because I definitely wasted a lot of time on trial and error when I could've seen results and avoided injuries from the very beginning! I always tell beginners to find a person or resource they trust and learn everything they can about proper form, training techniques, and even basic anatomy so that they can get the most out of their workouts and feel confident in the weight room.
- Marie Wold, ISSA Certified Personal Trainer, nutrition expert and life coach
Focus on how fitness feels, not on how you look.
As women, we are made to believe that we need to be smaller; that we are fragile and dainty and need to fit into certain molds. I used to believe the same. My first introduction to strength training was when I was prepping for bikini competitions, but even though I was making my way into the weight room, I wasn’t really strength training. I was still working on being smaller or to fit to the standards of someone else’s choosing.
My true strength training began when I started to focus on the feeling of fitness and not how my body looked. I love setting and hitting performance goals and feeling the rush of accomplishment. This type of strength training isn’t just training your body—it's training your mind. I train to be STRONG. Period.
- Alex Silver-Fagan, ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Functional Strength Coach, and Nike Master trainer
Start small, do your research, and ask questions.
My fitness journey started (I’m sure) like many women: I was inspired by the women who graced fitness magazine covers and thought that more cardio and light weights meant carving out a shredded physique. I didn’t want to get big and bulky, because at one point, I too thought that was what happened when you lifted heavy weights.
To women just starting to improve their overall quality of life through strength training, I would always recommend to start small. Start with small changes over time, because those are the ones that are going to be most impactful and that you can adhere to. Going all-out on Day 1 is usually grounds for an overload and can be dangerous.
Do your research first. Ask questions. Take the time to learn and understand movements that are going to work with your body. Hire a personal trainer or a coach who can guide you until you feel a little more confident on your own. Nourish your body with good food, fuel it for performance. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else; you don’t know how long they have been training or what their situation is. Be kind to yourself. Appreciate what your body can do. Give yourself the respect and support it needs in order to build a strong body and an even stronger mind.
- Courtney Ustrzycki, competitive international powerlifter and nutrition and strength coach
Join a strength training class or hire a short-term trainer.
I got into strength training weirdly, because my mom hired a personal trainer to help her lose the baby weight she gained with my younger brother. I would watch her go to the gym, and when I was old enough, I wanted to go, too. The first step for her was working with someone that made the gym feel less intimidating. I think that's why women sometimes default to cardio equipment only: it's not as intimidating as picking up weights.
I fell in love with strength training, because after doing it consistently I felt strong and noticed my body composition changing. It spiked my confidence and gave me a sense of empowerment that bled into all areas of my life. I played around with it in high school but really got into it in college when I wasn't playing organized sports.
Strength training can be intimidating; my advice is to take advantage of group fitness classes that incorporate strength work, or hire a trainer (even if it isn't long term) to learn and become comfortable with weights. Strength in numbers is a real thing, so enrolling with others reduces the intimidation factor. It takes time to learn, but once that happens it’s shocking how fun strength training can be.
- Lacee Lazoff, NASM Certified Personal Trainer
Don't get discouraged! You will get stronger.
I’ve been an athlete since I was eight years old, but for some reason I wasn’t introduced to strength training until college. I always remember doing cardio and drills specific to the sport I played before and during high school. College really opened my eyes to the beauty of strength training. During my college years I became great at lifting weights and truly understood how powerful strength training was for women. Unstoppable is the word I use to describe strength training, because I’m able to lift heavy weights in the gym but still feel feminine and sexy at the same time.
Throughout the years of being a student athlete I noticed that women were usually pushed to focus on their stamina (cardio) instead of strength training. And if we started lifting, we would be advised to go with lighter weights because we can’t handle heavier, which isn’t true at all. We are capable of anything and I’m happy to see more women now embracing strength training.
Two tips I recommend to women looking into starting strength training:
1. Start with getting professional help, whether it’s getting a personal trainer or purchasing an online strength training program. You should be knowledgeable about proper form, which prevents injury and increases results.
2. Keep going—don’t get discouraged! Strength training doesn’t only make you stronger physically—it also makes you stronger mentally.
- Samantha Ortiz, certified personal trainer and co-founder of Triple Threat Bootcamp