Taking a Walk Down Testosterone Alley

The college I went to had a really measly fitness facility.  I used to go sometimes with a few of my girl friends, not for health or fitness, but because we wanted to get into our skinny jeans.  We were never really serious about it, but hey, we were in college, right?!?  At the fitness facility, a few cardio machines were crammed on one section of the indoor deck above the basketball/tennis/volleyball courts.  On one side you could take a break from your post-hangover workout to look out over the wide expanse of yellowing polyurethane.  But on the other side the of the deck, anyone on a cardio machine got to look right down into Testosterone Alley.  Or at least, that’s what my friends and I called the weight room that was really an old racquetball court crammed with weight machines.

Sometimes Testosterone Alley offered a very pleasant view, sometimes not so much.  My friends and I would jokingly suggest going down there to work out, always with a “double-dog-dare-ya” glint in our eyes.  But it was universally accepted that we would never actually do it.  “It’s too intimidating,” we all said.  After all, there were big, beefy, sweaty guys down there.  They would look at us funny, like we didn’t belong, and be nasty to us.  We didn’t know how to use any of the equipment and we’d end up looking like idiots.  And after all, those guys had muscles and we didn’t”¦ what business did girls like us, with no muscle tone, have in a weight room?  We’d laugh it off and go on to our next whimsy.

I didn’t think about Testosterone Alley again for almost 15 years.  After the birth of my first child I was diagnosed as an essential hypertensive.  I’ve got high blood pressure.  Not a terribly big deal, but I was only in my 20s and I wasn’t going to be resigned to a life of maintenance meds without a fight.  I tried to lose weight and get in shape so I could keep my blood pressure under control.  I started eating better, thanks to Weight Watchers, and started exercising (for real this time).  I had 2 more kids and managed to lose some weight after each.  By now I had baby weight, a saggy 30(something) body, AND high blood pressure.  Three things to fight.  And I wasn’t winning any major battles for the home team.  So I talked to my doctor about it.  Dr. Awesome ““ I have THE best doctor in the world ““ advised me. “Cut down on your cardio,” she said, “and start lifting weights”¦ heavy weights”  Huh?  “Like a man.”  Huh?  She then explained that I needed to build some muscle mass to increase my metabolism to lose fat and lower my BP.

Testosterone Alley.  Yikes!  Can’t Go Down There!  TOO intimidating!!

Even as an adult, an accomplished, intelligent woman, a mother of three, and a rational human being, I was STILL intimidated by Testosterone Alley.  And I wasn’t alone.  The women I buddied up with at the gym wouldn’t step foot down there either.  After all, there were big, beefy, sweaty guys down there, and they’d look at us funny.  To boot, the guys there now all seemed to be at least a decade younger than us.  We’d definitely look like fools.  But, I had a battle to fight, so I summoned up some pretend courage, put my big girl panties on, and took a walk down Testosterone Alley.

No one looked at me.  Except myself.  In the big mirrored wall.  It took a little time to get to know how to use the machines, but I did.  I started off using the lightest weights, but I did it.  Then I realized it wasn’t so bad.  No one started yelling, “Girl on the boys’ side!” or, “Get out of here, you don’t belong here!” Then it dawned on me what a complete fool I’d been.  I had given birth to three babies and two of those pregnancies were very complicated.  I knew my body was strong (and hawt-awesome) in a way these guys would never know.  Why in the hell was I intimidated?  Foolishness!  These guys didn’t come in here with big muscles, they had to build them, like I was, from scratch.  I was an intelligent woman doing what was right for me and my health.  And I realized those guys were too.  Well, except the woman part.

Never has a single negative comment been hurled in my direction.  Instead I sometimes get a, “Doin’ good!” or, “Great Job!” from some of the regulars who know me.  If there is any staring done it is by me, trying to figure out a move someone is executing.  I get and give encouraging smiles and nods and move through my workout with confidence.  If I ever have a difficulty or question I am invariably met with positivity and support, instead of the scorn I had once imagined.

I learned so many things from my walk down Testosterone Alley.  Most of all, that I should have confidence in myself, and if real confidence is in short supply, pretend confidence will at least get me through the first step.

Things I find intimidating can be all in my head.

Just because something is generally considered a guy’s thing, doesn’t mean I can’t kick ass at it.

Presupposing a negative reaction from someone does me and them a disservice.

And when faced with a challenge, I should remember all that I have gone through before, and have faith that I can overcome again.

I am stronger and smarter (and a smaller dress size) now.  When friends ask me how I’ve lost so much weight or what I do to keep in shape, I say, “Let’s take a walk to the weight room.”  Because really, Testosterone Alley was such a stupid name and it really doesn’t apply any more.

9 replies on “Taking a Walk Down Testosterone Alley”

I tend to deal with Testosterone Alley by staking out a bench and keeping my head down while I roll through my strength workout. I try to keep a low profile, because I’m still embarrassed. I am petite with stick arms and I feel really self-conscious around all the meatheads. But a couple of times, one of them has come over to tell me that they admire my diligence – I don’t take a break and camp out on the bench and play with my phone; I go from one circuit to the next and then repeat. Although I feel silly still about feeling like the girl in the boys’ room, it’s nice to be complimented on something that isn’t my ass or something. Like, they compliment something about my abilities, not my body. I like that. Even though I use 10 lb. dumbbells. I hope I’m confident enough to march in there without fear some day.

I don’t go to the gym because I’m saving money right now, but when I did, it took me forever to go into testosterone alley, but once I did, I loved it. It was so empowering. The only bad things are the dudes who thought they knew more than me, even though my form was better than theirs.

I hear ya on the dudes with poor form! Some times these young guys (am I allowed to say pretty boys?) come swaggering in with huge pecs and rolling shoulders and I think, “Wow! They must be working to hard to get those huge pecs and rolling shoulders”. But then they go through their routines like they’re throwing the weights around and I cringe for their poor muscle fibers!

My old Gold’s Gym had a separate women’s weight and limited cardio section, which I loved. It was a much smaller space (the main gym area had a giant warehouse feel) and very few people were ever in there at the same time as me, so it was like a private gym. If someone else was in there, it was always another chica (or sometimes male staff). Weights were my favorite part of working out, so I’m glad they had that.

My gym used to have a separate room too. It wasn’t designated as a women’s weight room, but that’s were we all gravitated. Then the gym took that room away and made it a cycling studio. I think its a shame my gym took that room away because more women would be strength training if they could go there.

I used to be afraid of “Testosterone Alley,” but now I love working out with heavy weights and doing hard workouts at my CrossFit gym. As a woman, I find it incredibly empowering. We’re surrounded by a culture that seems to equate frailty with beauty and femininity. We’re expected to be nice, passive, and look like gangly 14-year-old fashion models. At my gym, strength and toughness are the highest virtues for both men and women. Looking good seems to be entirely incidental to being able to get continually stronger, faster, and more flexible. It’s incredibly refreshing to separate fitness from beauty culture.

It took me a long time but I gave up on hopes of being a waif. I used to do 2 hours straight of intense cardio (yeah, its embarrassing). Once I started lifting weights I found a pride I had never known before. I was able to accept that I’ll never be lithe or willowy, my body just isn’t built that way. But I can be strong! And you’re completely right, working on being strong and healthy has made me look far better than I ever did when I was trying to look ‘skinny’. And I kind of like being tough.

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