Walking into CrossFit Las Cruces, a spacious gym at 2305 E. Nevada on an early November evening, more women than men could be seen practicing lifts and loading barbells with stacks of weight.
“A lot of classes, there’s more girls than guys here,” said Doris Arciero, 44, a member of CrossFit Las Cruces. “The girls are kind of dominating now, and if you come to our regular weightlifting class ..., it’s probably 85 percent women.”
While many women once avoided lifting weights (and some still do) in fear of getting too bulky or muscular, today more women are incorporating strength training into their exercise routine in order to achieve a new definition of beauty.
“Women are looking for that more strong figure rather than being skinny,” said Breanne Umphres, fitness director at Club Fitness, 3850 E. Lohman Ave. “I think it’s kind of empowering for women to feel a lot stronger and feel like they’re capable of doing more.”
And just because you lift weights, doesn’t mean you’ll begin to look unfeminine, Umphres said.
“I would say, if anything, it gives you a more feminine look,” she said. “You get to build up your glutes, flatten out your abs and build that shape most women want.”
Most women have lean muscle mass in comparison to men, Umphres said, so unless getting big and bulky is a personal goal, most women don’t need to worry about this.
Benefits of strength training
Along with building muscle, lifting weights and other muscle strengthening exercises help build and maintain bone density, which can prevent osteoporosis, a disease in which the bones become brittle and fragile from loss of tissue, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
Muscle strengthening exercises include lifting weights, using elastic exercise bands to create resistance, using weight machines, lifting your own body weight or functional movements, such as standing and rising up on your toes, according to NOF.
Strength training can also rev up metabolism, said Joselyn Azure, an instructor and trainer at Total Body Bar, 841 S. Main St., a woman-focused fitness studio.
“After you lift weights, your body is constantly burning calories and it can burn (calories) up to 72 hours after your workout,” she said. “Straight cardio doesn’t do that for you. Lifting is a gift that keeps giving, I believe.”
Other benefits of strength training include reducing the signs and symptoms of arthritis, diabetes, obesity, back pain and heart disease. It has been shown to improve quality of sleep and fight depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Four years ago, before Gee Gee Pabellon of Las Cruces, 44, a mother of two, discovered CrossFit, a program that includes a variety of Olympic lifts, along with conditioning and strength training workouts, lifting weights was not part of her regular fitness routine.
“I was doing obstacle courses before — boot camp types of obstacle courses, like Tough Mudder. I had never really done the Olympic lifts and I was curious about it — just, ‘Can I do that?’ I tried it for like a week and I got instantly addicted to it,” Pabellon said.
When Pabellon started CrossFit, she was recovering from a knee injury and had limited mobility. But the CrossFit team helped her ease into it with exercises that increased her range of motion and strength before she began lifting weights, she said.
“I went from (lifting) a PVC pipe to a bar, and then before I knew it, I was adding on weight because it’s just a natural progression and it’s easy,” Pabellon said. “So amazingly, I was doing things I never thought I could, especially with the limiting mobility.”
Pabellon, who stands at 5-feet, 3-inches, now can lift as much as 135 pounds in a clean and jerk, a type of Olympic lift in which a person lifts a barbell from the ground, up into a full extension, holding the weight over the head. Her current max weight for a dead lift (bending at the hips to pick up a weighted barbell) is 320 pounds. Pabellon said she works out at CrossFit Las Cruces three times a week. She occasionally participates in CrossFit competitions, for which she amps up her workouts to four to five days a week, she said.
Pabellon said lifting weights has made physical activity in her daily life easier.
“I’m a military spouse, so I help my husband when we move,” she said. “When we pack, I’m right there. I’m not your typical homemaker or spouse who just kind of directs everybody. I’m right in there in the thick of it, helping.”
Doing CrossFit has also helped boost her confidence and made her a role model for her 8-year-old daughter, showing her that it's OK for a woman to be strong and muscular, Pabellon said.
“I love being muscular,” she said. “I love being strong, and I get stopped all the time. People always ask me, ‘Do you work out?’... Is that a bad thing or is it a good thing? I think it’s a really good thing. I think it’s positive when a woman is stopped because people notice that they look strong.”
Arciero, who joined CrossFit three years ago, said weightlifting has changed the way the way she views herself.
“I started right after a divorce and that’s always a transition period for people, so it really helped me get my confidence back,” she said.
CrossFit and weightlifting has improved her posture and the way she walks, Arciero said.
“I’m not pigeon-toed anymore,” she said. “I’m always thinking about my foot placement because of things (at CrossFit Las Cruces) that we go over.”
Arciero said she enjoys doing CrossFit because it doesn’t exclude any age or body type.
“A lot of the girls who come in here are thicker, but it’s not anti being thin either,” she said. “A lot of the girls are really thin but they’re lifting a lot of weight.”
Pabellon said with more women working to achieve that strong female body, the stereotype that women have to be wafer thin to be beautiful is changing.
“I think women are loving the fact that they can do these lifts with the right training and that they’re getting stronger,” she said. “Confidence is critical for a woman I think in this society.”
For women who are new to weightlifting, Azure said she suggest getting a personal trainer or joining a class to get that one-on-one help to ensure proper posture and avoid injury. But for those who'd rather do it solo or can't afford a trainer, Youtube is full of video tutorials that can help women get started, she said.
Azure said she she recommends beginners start off lifting weights just two times a week and two to three times a week for people who feel more comfortable with it.
“Listen to your body and how sore you get,” she said.
In between lifting days, Azure said it’s important to keep moving.
“Say you lift on a Monday — you want to make sure to do a walk the next day to keep that fluid moving so you don’t get too sore, especially for someone who has never lifted before,” she said.
Azure said the dead lift is one of her favorite strength training moves.
“It’s pretty simple, just bending over at the hips," she said. "It’s the correct way to pick up something without hurting your back and it’s good for the booty.”
Azure's other top moves include weighted squats, which involve holding a weight while performing a standard squat, and for the upper body, a curl to press — curling a dumbbell up and then pressing it over your head, Azure said.
For optimal fitness, Umphres said it’s healthy to do mix of cardio and weightlifting.
“What we do here is metabolic circuit training,” Umphres said of Club Fitness. “The focus of that is to gain lean muscle mass and burn fat. It includes lifting weights as well as cardio.”
Umphres said her top weightlifting moves for glutes are weighted kickbacks (kicking your leg back with weight) and a weighted pelvis bridge, in which you lie on your back and hold dumbbells or a weighted barbell at your hips, as you thrust them upward.
And for those who are considering joining CrossFit, Pabellon said “don’t be intimidated.”
“There’s a scalable way to enter CrossFit,” she said. “I’m the perfect example of that. I came in with an injury, with total muscle atrophy — weakness in all my muscles. And it’s a wonderful environment. It’s a very strong community. Everyone kind of roots for each other.”
The benefits of strength training
- Develop strong bones: Strength training increases bone density and reduces the risk of osteoporosis.
- Control your weight: As you gain muscle, your body begins to burn calories more efficiently. The more toned your muscles, the easier it is to control your weight.
- Boost your stamina: As you get stronger, you won't fatigue as easily.
- Manage chronic conditions: Strength training can reduce the signs and symptoms of many chronic conditions, including back pain, arthritis, obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
- Sharpen your focus: Some research suggests that regular strength training helps improve attention for older adults.
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