Seniors Speak: Working out at IMSA

A major topic within the female population at IMSA before Prom was about how they were going to fit into their dresses. As Mallory Giger points out in our fifth Seniors Speak entry, there are many ways a woman (or for that matter a man) can improve his or her own self-image through working out.

Working Out at IMSA: Women and Weightlifting

By Mallory Giger, Washington University in St. Louis, Class of 2017

I’ve been through Moving and Learning and my gym elective, so let me tell you, I know how annoying it can be to have someone commanding you to exercise daily. And when they brought me up to the fitness center as a sophomore, I deliberately did no work, talking with my friends and not breaking a sweat, just to spite the teacher who was forcing me to be there.

So I get that. I get that no one wants someone nagging at them to exercise. But hear me out: working out is awesome. The benefits to working out are endless. We all know that exercising regularly decreases your risk for heart disease and countless other physical ailments1. Also well known is its importance in weight loss (although diet is also extremely important in this).

But working out (especially cardiovascular exercise), by definition, makes you feel good; it releases dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins2. This type of “high” you get post-workout relieves you of stress (something IMSA students definitely need) and puts you in a generally good mood. These chemicals are some of the same ones affected by taking illegal drugs; that means that people spend thousands of dollars and risk bodily harm to experience the same type of feeling you can get for free with BENEFIT to your body3, 4. Additionally, another benefit worth considering is the self-esteem boost inherent in working out. By exercising correctly and consistently, your body is going to look better, point-blank. Because you look better, you will feel better about yourself. You’ll also know the work that you put into your body, and feel the pride associated with it. In this case, your body is a trophy of your hard work, and you are taking it around with you and showing it to everyone you meet.

But alas, the typical IMSA student writes off exercise as another waste of time that they simply can’t afford. A lot of these people are the same ones who don’t understand IMSA sports. How can someone spend 2-6 hours on a sport every day and still handle the IMSA course load?

The answer to this is that we, as IMSA students, spend an exorbitant amount of time doing nothing. Whether it’s laying on ours beds, scrolling through Facebook or tumblr, having idle conversations with friends, there is a good portion of our time we spend wasting without knowing it. Being in a sport takes that time away from you and forces you to prioritize. It’s amazing how much you get done when you have such a stringent time limit. Taking an hour out of your day to work out isn’t as hard as it seems- in fact, you probably won’t even notice additional pressure. Also, daily physical activity has been shown to have an overall positive effect on sleep and energy throughout the day, both of which will increase academic performance5.

Physical exercise also increases motivation. In order to go the gym every day, you need discipline to prevent skipping out. You have to push yourself to finish a particularly rigorous work out. You have to be in the mindset of constant improvement and testing what you’re capable of if you want to get better. This mental process is infectious, and will soon become part of the rest of your life.

Now, specifically for female readers…

As females, society tells us to shy away from certain things lest we appear too “manly.” We’re not supposed to be too loud, too funny, too promiscuous, too competent, too manipulative, and of course, we can’t be too strong. Thus, females going to the gym stick to the cardio machines, as we all only want to “tone” rather than become bulky or strong.

Let’s address a major concern right now: you will not bulk up if you lift weights. It is physically impossible to change your body type that drastically without outside help, like steroids6. Without drugs, the most that’s possible for a woman is what you see in professional female athletes- and that is when exercise is your life and career.

Being strong is sexy. Someone who is capable is attractive, regardless of whether they are male or female. There is nothing more empowering than knowing that you are able to physically hold your own in the world. You don’t have to be dependent on anyone else- don’t let yourself be.

Weight training is essential to any comprehensive workout. It can be overwhelming to start a new strength training regime, especially when you’re looking for the things you need in the heavily male-dominated IMSA weight room. But remind yourself that it’s OK to be confused and ask questions. The fitness center trainer is extremely helpful and will work with you on your own exercise plan if you need help.

It’s also possible to go at it alone. Create a free weights-based exercise plan that utilizes the major compound lifts; squats, deadlifts, and the bench press are good examples of these. Compound lifts, although perhaps more intimidating, are important because they work a large variety of muscles that would be nearly impossible to reach with isolation exercises only7. Set goals. Work on increasing your weight at a healthy pace and track your progress while doing it. You will have to explore and take time to figure out where you need to start and how much you can increase by, but it’s OK to not know what you’re doing at first. There are countless resources online to help you start and plan what you need to do8.

Obviously, I’m not a medical professional and you shouldn’t take what I’m saying to be doctor’s advice (please be safe). But understand the appeal of strength training for females. Muscle mass does aid in weight loss, so even if you’re not convinced that you want to increase your strength, try lifting for the metabolic boost9. Strength training is essential to build good health that lasts for the rest of your life10. And, of course, the reason that I choose to lift is the feeling I get afterwards that is unmatched by anything else- the feeling that you are in control, that you are beautiful, that you are competent, and that you can succeed in whatever you choose to do.

  1. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise/HQ01676
  2. http://www.fitsugar.com/Hormones-Released-After-Working-Out-19252431\
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mdma#Pharmacology
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meth#Pharmacology
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3245463, http://www.livestrong.com/article/465128-the-effects-on-exercise-on-energy-levels/
  6. http://www.oneresult.com/articles/training/why-women-cant-bulk-up-lifting-weights
  7. http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/strengthtraining/a/compound_ex.htm
  8. http://startingstrength.wikia.com/wiki/FAQ:Introduction
  9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8028502
  10. http://sportsmedicine.about.com/cs/women/a/aa051601a.htm

[Photo/Graphic Credit: Joe Reda]

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