Gender lines define Northwestern’s gyms. Blomquist Recreation Center and its cardio machines are generally populated by women, and Patten Gym’s weightlifting equipment is utilized primarily by men. Of course, this is no written rule that this should be the case. The discrepancy likely exists because of gendered expectations of athletic achievement: Women are expected to be slim and toned, while men should be strong and muscular. Unfortunately, these assumptions cause both sides to ignore important methods of working out and are ultimately detrimental to health as a result. As a (casual) lifter myself, I’m particularly invested in demystifying the weight room and want people to know more about the benefits of strength training.
One common concern that I hear is that women are afraid of getting “too bulky,” or that they will gain muscle in an unattractive way. Aside from its normative statement on female attractiveness, that fear is somewhat misguided. With ideal nutrition and training, a novice female lifter can only gain a few pounds of muscle in her first year. Therefore, it’s an unfounded fear that women will suddenly turn into the Hulk when they start weightlifting.
Resistance training has a number of important health benefits despite its reputation as an activity for athletes and people who only do it to look good on Dillo Day. Weight lifting makes everyday tasks from taking out the trash to climbing flights of stairs easier. It also improves quality of life by preventing injuries such as lower-back pain and osteoporosis. These benefits occur at any age, too. If you’ve ever seen a Life Alert commercial, you’ve seen the types of falls and injuries that strength training can help prevent.
Of course, many NU students are in decent shape to begin with, and “old age” is decades down the line; maybe the physical benefits aren’t enough to convince students to take up weightlifting. Therefore, I should also mention the mental health benefits that resistance training can provide. Medical research has shown that weightlifting both improves body image and reduces symptoms of depression. There is perpetual and warranted concern over the state of mental health on campus, with a focus on whether or not Northwestern is providing sufficient resources to address that issue. Research has indicated that the weight racks at Patten gym are an underutilized resource in that regard.
Many avoid weightlifting because it can appear to be inaccessible in its lingo and lifestyle. The way that my friends and I discuss “bulking” and “cutting” over dinners of chicken breasts paired with ashy, gray-colored protein shakes is borderline cultish. Additionally, advanced lifters can be seen throwing barbells around at Patten in ways that are intimidating to novices. However, none of that is necessary to reap the rewards of weight training.
Certainly, more knowledge on the subject can be beneficial, but research has shown that you will benefit as long as you are simply moving weights against a resistant force for just 15-20 minutes, which takes up less time than a single Game of Thrones episode.
I’m as interested in the fate of Westeros as anyone, but NU students can and should put it on the backburner for just an hour a week to improve their physical and mental health.
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.