Dalplex initiative hopes to make weightlifting women more comfortable, healthier

Strength training essential for women under 25, says trainer

A woman walks into the Dalplex. More and more women are making use of weight lifting facilities now that machine orientation programs are being offered.
A woman walks into the Dalplex. More and more women are making use of weight lifting facilities now that machine orientation programs are being offered.   Emma Meldrum

A new initiative at the Dalplex gym hopes to get women to spend more time in the weight room – which could have a big impact on their health.

Anne Falconer is a fitness coordinator and personal trainer at Dalplex. She hopes the program will encourage more women to enter a traditionally male environment.

Dalhousie University’s gym now offers twice weekly equipment orientations for all its members. The program introduces them to the machines and facilities at the gym.

“We’re hoping that some female students will take advantage of that and gain a few skills and knowledge. So that if they choose to go to the weight room, they’re prepared to do it,” Falconer said in a phone interview.

“It would be nice if they felt comfortable going to the weight room. If women are missing out on weight training because of lack of knowledge and comfort, we’re trying to bridge that gap.”

The orientation program is already seeing results.

“We take total numbers every half an hour. We know that there’s a small increase in female attendance since we’ve started the initiatives,” Falconer said.

Dalhousie University's gym offers a variety of activities for its members
Dalhousie University’s gym offers a variety of activities for its members   Emma Meldrum

Saint Mary’s University’s gym, SMUfit, has a program similar to the one at Dalplex.

“This fitness three-step equipment orientation is very popular with members,” said Dana Clements, marketing coordinator for SMU’s athletics and recreation department.

Weight lifting for young women is particularly important, says Falconer. She says strength training goes beyond self-esteem and posture.

“The opportunity to layer bone into the skeleton, to put as much bone as they can into their bone bank… starts to peter off around 25 or 27,” Falconer said.

Laura Cole is a member at Dalhousie’s gym. She has seen an increase in the number of women coming into the weight room.

“When I started going to the Dalplex, most of the other women lifters I would see would be experienced lifters, generally at the gym alone, or very new lifters being shown around by a male friend,” Cole said in an email.

“Recently, I have seen more and more women there with other women, or women being shown how to lift by other women. There is also a much larger span of experience there now.”

Cole has some theories about why weight rooms are seen as a traditionally male environment.

“There are more male sports in high school (football, hockey, rugby) that introduce the weight room early on with a coach’s guidance. When they get to university they already have a baseline level of comfort with the equipment and the etiquette,” Cole said. “Plus there is the whole misconception that lifting will make you look like a giant hulk or very manly. I feel like it’s slowly being eroded, but it definitely still exists.”

Cole added that she doesn’t like the idea of women-only hours in the weight room. She said awareness about the benefits of and misconceptions around weight lifting would be more helpful.

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