For a woman, walking into the gym can be intimidating—especially when heading over to the weights. People are grunting left and right, muscles are bulging, and people are staring. At least, that’s what it might feel like. Typically, society likes to associate men with lifting heavy weights, and women can’t possibly squat as much as a man. Apparently, if you are a girl, you should just walk right past the weight section and never come back. But many girls at the University of Iowa chose not to, and they are here to prove that a girl deserves a rack at the gym.
Georggia Stamatopoulos, a freshman at Iowa, started lifting at the end of 2020 and has been ever since.
“Going from training for karate every day of my life to quitting, I needed a new outlet. I wanted to use my energy somewhere, find a new hobby, and really wanted to stay as strong and athletic as I was,” Stamatopoulos said.
For Georggia, she also understands how some women are judged when they weight lift.
“I’m 100% looked at differently as a girl lifting. Due to the stereotypes and prejudices towards women, especially in the fitness world, I’m not taken as seriously as my male peers. I always have to prove myself, and assumptions are often made,” she said.
Kaleigh Fowlks, another female freshman lifter, has been training since she was 14 but got more serious when 2020 hit. Fowlks said while lifting is mainly a male sport, causing a lot of stigma around the activity, “People tend to respond positively when finding out I lift. Although, every once in a while, there will be a negative comment. In doing great things comes criticism.”
Lena Nandiko, who started lifting four years ago because of gymnastics, also said she is not necessarily looked at differently but said, however, “I may be seen as less feminine by some.”
All of these incredibly strong women look to lifting as an outlet, and while some people might look at them differently or think they cannot do something, they continuously prove that they can.
“My biggest accomplishment, as of right now, is how much weight I can split squat, which is 335 lbs,” said Stamatopoulos.
Nandiko, who has accomplished a vast amount already, wants to continue proving to everyone that she can do anything.
“I think my biggest accomplishment when it comes to fitness would be developing my own programs and gaining knowledge about lifting throughout the years,” she said.
As Kaleigh expressed her love for the gym, she said, “I feel comfortable in the gym, and it makes me happy.”
Yet while some women feel comfortable with the weights, there are other issues they might run into that are not so comforting.
“There has not been a single gym I’ve gone to where I haven’t been stared down, cat-called, or just approached in an unwanted way. I’ve even been harassed on multiple occasions along with some of my friends by the same person, and when we’ve reached out about the scenarios and provided evidence, nothing impactful was done,” said Stamatopoulos.
She said that one day she would love to build a home gym where she will feel more comfortable, and hopes that one day all women will feel safe.
While these three amazing women have all faced the weights, they want other women to feel the same way. Stamatopoulos said the best advice she can give is to just do it.
“Everyone has to start somewhere. I was once so clueless. And now, I find myself often teaching my friends how to lift and even teaching them different lifts to see what works for them. Best piece of advice I can give is to follow your own workout. Every single persons’ bodies are different, and things that work for me might not work for other people and vice versa,” she said.
“For girls who are just starting or want to get into lifting, I would tell them to work slowly and with their comfort level!” Nandiko said.
Working at one’s comfort level allows them to focus on themselves when the gym nerves kick in. According to Fowlks, doing your research can help immensely.
“If you are a girl wanting to lift but don’t know much, I would say start doing research and watching videos on how to lift. Then you can create a plan that you feel works best for you. It is not all going to happen at once, and results take time,” Fowlks said. “Also, don’t feel intimidated in a gym, everyone is focused on themselves, and we all start somewhere.”
Women can, and will, continue to show that they can keep up with men in the gym and build a healthy lifestyle that focuses on building themselves up rather than tearing them down.
“Lifting is the one thing I can always look forward to, and I love to constantly push the limits of my body and compete with myself,” said Stamatopoulos.
The next time someone says, “let the men handle this,” show that a woman can do it too.