Buckeye BarBELLES builds women’s strength and confidence in the gym

Buckeye BarBELLES builds women’s strength and confidence in the gym

Buckeye BarBELLES is a seven-week training program with the Department of Recreational Sports for women that builds strength and confidence through lectures and weekly training sessions. Credit: Courtesy of Philip Bradshaw

When Grace English and her sister found their way to the “women’s zone” of the gym when they were kids, they found yoga balls, resistance bands and weights that maxed out at 20 pounds. 

The lack of heavy weights and other equipment made English feel burdened by the expectations for women in fitness — such as sticking to cardio and lighter lifts — but she said she didn’t recognize how wrong and sexist these expectations were until she got older. 

“A lot of people don’t like going to the gym as it is, because they feel judged. If they feel like they’re stepping outside of their place or what they’re allowed to do, it’s even more stress,” English said. “Fitness isn’t a gendered thing.”

English, now a third-year in health promotion, nutrition and exercise science, said she has felt scrutinized by others over the course of her fitness journey, but now she is helping other women break down any gym-imposed barriers to health.

English works with Buckeye BarBELLES, a seven-week training program with the Department of Recreational Sports for women that builds strength and confidence through weekly lectures and personal training sessions. She said she hopes to empower other women who might feel intimidated to take on the gym. 

Krista Talstein, group fitness coordinator with Recreational Sports and Buckeye BarBELLES supervisor, said the program is more than lifting weights — it is about promoting body positivity.

“It’s the whole perspective of overall wellness for a female body, or an identifying female body, and thinking about ways to be proud, and excited, and embracing the body that you have,” Talstein said.

Buckeye BarBELLES began in 2014 but Talstein said she took control of the program in 2019 along with Mitch Miceli, a personal training coordinator at the RPAC. 

The program has changed and reshaped over the years to best empower the participants, and this year is no exception. 

Due to COVID-19, the program, which begins March 1 and continues through April 16, will use a hybrid model and only allow 25 participants this semester, Talstein said. 

The first component of the program are the Monday night lectures, in which participants dive into a variety of fitness and health-related topics such as realistic goal setting, body image and basic nutrition, Talstein said. The goal of the lecture section of the program is to make sure participants are as prepared as possible to continue building a healthy routine in the future. 

Participants also meet a certified trainer one-on-one at the RPAC to discuss main weightlifting techniques such as squatting, bench pressing and deadlifting, Talstein said. Trainers come with a plan and framework for the workout, but the session is able to be tailored to the participant’s comfort level and abilities.

Talstein said participants will have two weeks to go over a single weightlifting technique. The first week will cover the basics of the technique and getting used to the movement, and the second week will provide participants opportunities to challenge themselves and learn how to apply the lift to a weekly workout plan.

Buckeye BarBELLES is open to any woman, regardless of ability or background in sports or athletics, Talstein said. The program can be adjusted to fit an individual’s needs so that anyone can be part of the community. 

Despite the normalization of women weightlifting online, some still may not feel welcome in the gym or comfortable on the weight floor, English said. Buckeye BarBELLES hopes to eliminate those fears, hoping to capitalize on how working out and fitness have recently become social media trends.

English said that campus gyms, such as the RPAC, are less judgmental of women on the weight floor than others she has been to in the past. She also said participants shouldn’t feel uncomfortable or embarrassed to work with the trainers — who are mostly women — because they are there to be a supportive guide. 

“At the end of the day it’s our job to teach people and not judge,” English said. 

Talstein said at the beginning of every semester she asks the participants what they hope to learn, what they’re nervous about and what they hope to take away from Buckeye BarBELLES. At the end of the program, she gives back their answers to gauge how much they’ve accomplished with the program.

“I enjoy seeing the growth of confidence,” Talstein said. “We see that in the lectures and the activities and as people get more comfortable with the people they’re interacting within the program.”

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