Ladies Who Lift

July 14th, 2011  |  Published in Stumpblog, Women stuff  |  19 Comments

A beginner’s weight training course in the UK, taught by women, for women aims to change stereotypes around weight training. In order to get started and build confidence, an all-female environment is an excellent solution for many women.

Here, creator Sally Moss of Gubernatrix describes the project.

I’m a woman who has been lifting weights for years and loving it. A few years ago I started a strength blog, inspired by Stumptuous, called

The interactions I had on this blog over the years motivated me to do more to get women lifting heavy — to take action on the ground, so to speak. So I started a beginners’ weight training course in the UK, taught by women, for women.

The course is called Ladies Who Lift and does what it says on the tin: classes take place in the power racks (no plastic studio weights!).

I teach the “big” lifts of squat, deadlift and bench, emphasizing learning how to do this stuff yourself without relying on a trainer to set it all up for you and tell you what to do. The course took around a year to come to fruition, and has been a great success so far.

Are women-only classes necessary?

There was a fair amount of scepticism – even from myself – about whether women-only weight training courses would work. The concept seemed patronising, treating women as a special case, needing special treatment and extra help. Would there even be an audience for them beyond a handful of enthusiasts?

It’s similar to the argument you hear for women in the boardroom or in politics: Unless you’ve got the brass balls to march into that male-dominated environment and survive on your own, you have no business being there.


Well, I don’t buy that any more.

The truth is that men help each other in the gym all the time. Why shouldn’t women?

One of my earliest participants told me “I would never have been brave enough to try barbell lifts without this opportunity”.

Just because she isn’t Miss Super Confident Alpha Female doesn’t mean she won’t enjoy lifting and get plenty out of it, once she has been shown the basics and gained a bit of confidence. She’s already busted quite a few barriers by being interested in barbell lifting in the first place.

The other criticism I have heard is that it’s “less motivating” or “less challenging” to have a women-only class and even that it “holds women back”.

This merely reveals the common prejudice that women don’t work as hard as men, aren’t as good as men, and need to have men around in order to get pumped up and motivated. I haven’t found this to be true and I feel that I lift better when my female lifting buddies are around.

What really turned me around on the idea of women-only classes was running a couple of pilot workshops last year. It was immediately obvious that even just a couple of workshops can make a significant difference to one’s confidence, attitude and approach to weight training.

Why an all-female environment?

I don’t advocate women training in an all-female environment forever, but in order to get started and build confidence, an all-female environment is an excellent solution for many women.

First, it’s a more comfortable learning environment for most women, not having members of the opposite sex around.

You lift with people of a similar size, strength level and body composition. It feels like there’s less to prove and you’re not being singled out for being different.

There’s also less temptation to fall back on the “I’m only a girl” defence, which is common in mixed groups. You are not being given an easier or lighter version of what everyone else is doing.

I have often been in mixed male/female workshops where some women use the presence of the men to hang back and participate less, or are quick to count themselves out of perceived “harder” exercises and leave them to the alpha males to show off.

An all-female environment is the most powerful counterpoint to the traditional male view of weight training. Even if you received exactly the same instruction in a mixed or mostly male group, the impact would not be the same as in a group that was solely women and being taught by a woman.

One of the problems I am told about most often through my blog is the lack of female role models in weight training. It is one of the reasons why Stumptuous has had such an enormous impact on women’s lifting – Krista was the first to get her head around this and publicly, globally provide a solution. I have met many women who started lifting because of this website!

A key message of my Ladies Who Lift course (as with Stumptuous also) is that, not only is weight training not a male preserve, but the knowledge does not have to be handed down by men either.

discussion_600pxWomen are not only capable of lifting weights, they are capable of being experts and teachers in weight training too. This is a really important message: it is not that we as women are being “let in” to a male world, it doesn’t have to be a male world at all!

Being told by a man that “women should train with weights” and “weights won’t make you big and bulky” is one thing. It’s helpful, but sometimes hard to believe. Being told the same thing by a woman who embodies these truths is much more powerful.

Wherever you go on to lift, having these influences early in your lifting career will have a greater impact.

Many of the women who do my Ladies Who Lift beginners’ course go on to join local lifting gyms and train alongside men. They can do this because they have the confidence that they know what they are doing and can hold their own, and they have a sense of what can be achieved by women too.

“The best part of this is that I have been able to train on my own and have a better sense of my personal progress.”
–LwL participant

ellie_deadlift_600pxWomen get told all kinds of crazy stuff by men in gyms who think they know better and think that by undermining what a woman is doing they can somehow appear more manly and authoritative. Stuff like “that weight is too heavy for you”, or “women should do light weights and high reps”.

But if you’ve just come from an environment where your female instructor was encouraging you to lift as heavy as you can, and your female training buddies were smashing heavy squats, it is easier to recognise these comments for the nonsense they are and to have the quiet confidence that what you are doing is ok.

Time and again I am told by participants, “I never thought I’d be able to lift as much as I have!” Expectations of female strength may be low among fitness professionals and society in general, but Ladies Who Lift graduates learn that it is perfectly normal for women to be able to lift weights equivalent to their own bodyweight in various ways and have fun doing it.

But of course, you knew that!

For more information on the Ladies Who Lift course, please visit


  1. Jen says:

    July 14th, 2011at 8:28 am(#)

    That sounds awesome! In high school we could choose what kind of gym class to take, so I took Weight training for 2 or 3 years. It was mostly male, but we had a good number of girls. I worked my butt off, while several of the guys loafed about pretending to be busy. I was lucky to have a very supportive male teacher that pushed me use my strength.

  2. Anna says:

    July 14th, 2011at 10:05 am(#)

    I’m afraid my free weight lifting is limited to dumbbells and fixed barbells because I don’t know how to to load a standard barbell and haven’t worked up the giveafuck to ask. I thought about this post and have to admit that if I found a seminar on weights for beginners that didn’t specify women-only, I’d still go. I’d be far more concerned with the trainer’s knowledge than gender or gender makeup of the class. Men have not cornered the market on being tools – gym brahs comes in all genders.

  3. Mary-Rose Agius says:

    July 14th, 2011at 10:14 pm(#)

    Thanks you for posting this! I never knew it existed before today…and early morning classes w00t!

  4. varsha says:

    July 14th, 2011at 11:27 pm(#)

    Great message and a great programme.I myself see that women need to hear this again and again from other women -if this is true in UK and Canada then more so in Asia and India.Like the secret recipes and potions,lifting is also an elixir that women must pass on to other women.Very Inspiring.

  5. Gubernatrix says:

    July 15th, 2011at 1:14 pm(#)

    Thank you for your comments.

    Anna, it is interesting because I haven’t seen an equivalent course for men or mixed groups – yet!

    I have however attended quite a few one-off workshops on lifting myself. Generally I’m the only girl. One time there was one other female. So I don’t know why, Anna, but most women aren’t confident enough or motivated enough to go to these things.

    One great benefit of a women-only course is that you can target it from a marketing point of view. People often respond better to something that is ‘for’ them. So commerically, a women’s class might be easier to promote than a mixed one, and perhaps that’s why women aren’t turning up to these workshops I mentioned: because not enough effort is being made to say, ‘yes, this is for you too’.

    Some people might say: you shouldn’t need an embossed invitation, you should just go. But I guess a lot of women do want that reassurance that they are welcome and that the course is ‘for’ them.

  6. Terra says:

    July 16th, 2011at 4:30 am(#)

    Gubermatrix, I guess I’d be one of those who would say that you shouldn’t need an embossed invitation. I plunged right in with the guys – but it’s possible that with no prior gym experience I just didn’t know I should be intimidated. I’ve found that for the most part, the guys in the weight room respect women who lift heavy and know what they’re doing, so I think it’s cool you’re getting your ladies off to a good start. Bottom line is we need to see more chicks in the weight room.

    Too often “for ladies” does seem to mean light weight, high reps, and more cardio-oriented routines. Bad enough a lot of the women who turn up in the weight room on their own look like they’re doing workouts they got out of women’s magazines (“get fit without bulking up!”) but I see trainers putting women through similar routines. My gym recently put in a “women-only fitness area”. It has some Nautilus machines, two treadmills, two ellipticals, two stationary bikes, two benches, one set of dumbbells (3#-20#) and a few props. The subtext here is pretty obvious, I think. One day at lunch with some co-workers, I was talking about this area and why I don’t use it (no cages, no barbells) when one woman (a postdoc with a Ph.D. in materials science) said, “Barbells? You mean those long bars? I wouldn’t touch one of those, that’s too masculine!”

    So, yeah, we do need to find ways to encourage women to “own” lifting. I shall be checking out your blog soon – but now I have to get washed up and get into the gym to do some deadlifts. Fighting the good fight, eh?

  7. Scienter says:

    July 16th, 2011at 8:03 pm(#)

    I would love to learn more about weightlifting! I wish there was something like the Ladies Who Lift course in my city (Washington DC). I’m pretty small, and it would be great to lift with others who are built similar to me.

  8. Terry Gibbs says:

    July 17th, 2011at 9:17 pm(#)

    Interesting … Larry Judge the great Hammer coach from the US, stopped training guys years ago and only trained women.
    The guys, discuused, debated, modified, improved, what they were given the women just did it..

    Larry also said they trained harder !!!!

    there are advantages to being a woman..

    personally .. I have been wondering for years, why the message was taking so long to get through. Back in 1976 in a gym in Melbourne Australia, Franz Stampfl had four women all benching over 100kgs. I thought the world would change …I still live in hope..

    to a world without pink dumbells !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Mary-Rose Agius says:

    July 18th, 2011at 1:58 am(#)

    Woo! Just signed up for the morning beginner’s course. :D

    Can’t wait!

  10. Gubernatrix says:

    July 18th, 2011at 3:54 pm(#)

    @Terry: it’s odd isn’t it? Fitness world probably still hasn’t recovered from the feminist backlash. Perhaps someone better versed in feminist history than I can expand.

    @Mary-Rose: hooray! Looking forward to meeting you next month!

  11. Mistress Krista says:

    July 19th, 2011at 2:20 am(#)

    @Terry: I have heard the same thing from several male coaches and instructors, who all preferred to teach women. I even heard it from a carpentry teacher once!

  12. Mary-Rose Agius says:

    July 19th, 2011at 6:55 am(#)

    @Gubernatrix Ditto, really looking forward to it! The Tallest has already said “ok dear, I love you, but shoosh. The whole world now knows you like to lift heavy things”. hehe

    @Terry I’ve had that said to me by a trainer before. He said that out of all his clients, the few women he got to train wouldn’t make a peep, he’d load the bar and they’d grit their teeth and get on with it.

    @Mistress Krista My dad’s a carpenter – he actually said that he stopped taking on boys as apprentices because they’d question everything or take shortcuts on safety and it drove him nuts.

  13. Terry Gibbs says:

    July 19th, 2011at 7:45 pm(#)

    Gub, Krista thanks for the replies …

    there have probably been numerous PHDs on this, but I keep thinking of the Bill Clinton line..” it’s the economy “…

    my wife when studying marketing back in 1974 had a lecturer ask the class “what does a perfume manufacturer sell”, she told me the answer was “HOPE”.

    as long as big business makes its way selling impossible images, then there will be a market for the promise of possible attainment..hence the “I don’t want big muscles, I just want to get toned”, as they chase the image..

    as there is way more money to be made selling the image and the hope, then selling reality, you two fine hard working individuals will continue to be “Casandras”, to all but the chosen enlightened few..but isn’t it wonderful when the truth lights up in someones eyes.

    Oh those four women I mentioned back in 1976 they were of course, Bev Francis, Gael Mulhall (3rd 1984 Shot), Pam Mathews (Gold Comm Games jav), and Petra Rivers, once rated 1# in the world in Jav in the early 70s….

    and yes I have a photo of the first three on a beach in Hawaii in swimsuits..

    Regards Terry (the Dinosaur)

  14. Man Bicep says:

    August 18th, 2011at 5:35 am(#)

    I would love to start a program like this at the gym I work at. IT IS AMAZING AND JUST WHAT WOMEN NEED!

    Any suggestions about how to start it? I know you said a women only class is a great way to start but do you think it is possible to have a mixed gender class? I just have run into situations where women who’ve never lifted with men never totally feel comfortable lifting on their own.

    I’ve been looking at the Ladies Who Lift website but any other advice you could give me would be great!

    P.S. Love the name Ladies Who Lift! :-)

  15. Nick says:

    December 11th, 2011at 12:46 pm(#)

    That is fantastic! I wish we had a program like that in Raleigh, NC. More women should embrace weight lifting, it is very empowering!!

  16. Terry Gibbs says:

    January 8th, 2012at 10:36 pm(#)

    my own comments above have bugged me for months.. could not reconcile the “new women working out ” with “the old” …
    sure lots more do something, but considering changes in our society, (cars, work saving devices, smaller homes etc) had anthing really changed ..

    got my answer last week …

    now to understand, let me take you back to a UNI gym in 1977. Sydney UNI had a gym area split by a chicken wire fence, the guys who did OL, PL, sports lifting (two platforms, squat rack, power rack, three benches and not much else, lifted and the other area was for martial arts,.. all the rage in the 70s … (MMA ….has anything changed but the labels) ..

    on Saturday we lifted about 5 of us on a good day, and in the MA cage there was the judo team … with what we first thought was a token female, probably hanging round for the guys we thought …. then we saw her do her post grappling training .. think after 1 hour hard grappling she did 13 perfect chins … it got so that every time she grappled or did any exercise we all downed weights and lined up at the deviding wire to watch..I think the 5 of us were in love, always to be unrequited ..

    fast foroward to last week at my globo (hey its air conditioned ..and I have gotten soft in my old age)

    as I walked in I saw someone in T-shirt and shorts doing chins … something in my mind said the image was not right …

    I stopped and looked and yep, ….a girl was cranking out perfect chins ..

    my mind flashed back to 1977, something I swear I had not thought of for 30 years !!!

    has anything changed …

    in 1977 a woman doing chins stopped all the harcore lifters cold..

    2012 …. no-one in the gym gave her another look ..

    has women lifting changed the world in the last 30 years ..

    yep sure has … back then, you were almost a freak … today you are “normal” …

    may not be everything, but sure is something ..

  17. caitlin :) says:

    March 24th, 2012at 7:17 am(#)

    I can safely say that media has made women’s training what it is today. You can pick up any women’s health or just any old gossip mag and there will be a section dedicated to telling you that you should be running kilometres to get nice legs and a tight ass, you should be doing low weight high rep lifts to ensure you are toned but not bulky, should do ling low intensity cardio etc I spent years training like this and was never happy with my body. As far as physique went I looked like shit. and then my partner got me into heavy compound lifting. Yeh I gained muscle, but I am far from bulky. I am actually bordering on a very tight, shapely, fit and trim womanly figure, I look amazing. Women are intimidated by the men, I always assumed everyone was watching me and laughing at me, and judging me for not being able to lift much. I was lucky enough to have my boyfriend come in with me every session and spur me on and support me. Not everyone has that. All women need to get started is a willingness to learn, and someone to stand there and support then until their confidence is good enough to do it themselves. Good on you for giving women out.there the option to learn and really see what they’re body can do, power to you!!

  18. says:

    March 25th, 2012at 9:30 pm(#)

    Yes, I don’t need any pink dumbells either. Give me some space, some respect, and a chance: I show up most guys in any fitness studio. Thanks for the positive words!


  19. Eric Kenyon RKC says:

    July 8th, 2012at 10:04 pm(#)

    Thank you for the article and the comments. About half our students are female, all ape-strong, and well supported in all ways by myself and my staff… I hope. Thing is, I bet we could run a workshop like this, women only, female instructors, and a mob of women who are still afraid of our classes or afraid the gym would attend. So we are running it. You can see some of our ladies on the Form is Function facebook page:

    and at my FB page:

    and on our youtube channel:

    I’ll post the details of our version of Ladies Who Lift. – EK

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