Strength, Part 2: Taking Up Space

A woman makes a small muscle with her right bicep.
Photo by Rebecca Trynes via Creative Commons on Flickr.

I’ve been doing workouts lately using a wonderful website, Fitness Blender. They have a bunch of free videos, everything from gentle stretching to what the instructors, Daniel and Kelli, term a “sweatfest.” I’ve been using the site for about 8 months, and am especially into their 30-minute cardio and strength training videos.

Kelli and Daniel are the antithesis of the stereotypical workout Barbie and Ken dolls. They’re buff, yet human and welcoming. They joke around with each other, and occasionally their dog starts barking off-screen.

Kelli mentioned in one video that a lot of women are afraid of strength training. They’re worried they’ll bulk up, get huge, look masculine.

She explained that lifting a reasonable amount of weight will tone your muscles, not cause you to become a Schwarzenegger clone. Then she added something like, “And if you do get bigger, so what? Women are supposed to be tiny and helpless? I don’t think so!”


Yet I often see women minimizing themselves.

Guys spread their legs wide enough to take up three seats on the subway. Women scrunch away from them, cutting their eyes and sighing but not telling the guys directly to bring their knees back into their own space.

(For a brilliant analysis of this cultural phenomenon, see the Saving Room for Cats Tumblr.)

I just took a self-defense class with about 35 women, ranging in age from 19 to 78. One of the main components was yelling verbal commands, such as “No!” and “Get back!” Yelling these things (not screaming, but really bellowing them) can cause a potential assailant to seek out an easier target.

But the women in my group had a hard time yelling. “No,” they’d say to the instructor, batting away his hand. “Speak up, ladies,” the instructors kept telling us.

We’re so terrified of sounding stupid, or drawing attention to ourselves, that we’d rather get hurt.

I have my moments of minimizing myself, biting my tongue, smiling when I don’t want to.

And I just bought a new and bigger set of dumbbells for my workouts. Every time I do a rep, I think about strength, and about taking up space.


If you’re curious about Fitness Blender, a good place to start is with their Free 5-Day Workout Challenge for Busy People. If you try it, let me know what you think!

3 thoughts on “Strength, Part 2: Taking Up Space

  1. Hi Anya, a very thoughtful post. I was thinking of taking a self defense class myself and am looking for a good place. Did you liked the place you went to?

    • Thanks Sandy. Yes I did, very much. My class was offered for free by the Quincy Police Department. You might search to see if any towns near you offer something similar. It’s very empowering!

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