Leslie Hooper

Basic to Badass: Why Women Should Lift Weights

“Be careful with that weight; you don’t want to get too big.”

“Motherfucker, how do you know what I want?” is what I’ve always wanted to say to those who are eager to tell me what I should be doing with my body.


Sound familiar? If so, you’re probably a woman who is more familiar with the free weights section of the gym than the cardio room.

But do you know what I find really interesting about this scenario? I only heard this from men in my early years of lifting. I’m not getting approached by white knights in the gym anymore. And I can only assume that’s because now I own a physique that speaks for itself.

One precursory glance in my direction and the message is clear: I do want to get too big. (Whatever the hell an arbitrary descriptor like “too big” means.) And that’s exactly why I’ve been working out day after day. Week after week. Year after year. For 14 years.

In other words, I’m cool with taking up space. I’m not trying to be small, weak, or submissive. You won’t catch me cowering in the dark corner of the gym hoping not to be seen. I worked for the muscle on this frame. I’ve rowed for weeks and lunged for miles. This didn’t happen by accident.

Hell, I’ve even built a business on the core principle that strength training allows us to become the best versions of ourselves. That in order to become more self-aware and grow, you occasionally have to test your limits and question your boundaries.

And what better way to consistently find out what you’re made of than in an environment that provides you with immediate feedback?

12 years of heavy lifting
12 years of heavy lifting

Why I love this shit

In my case, regardless of the ups and downs and the countless curveballs life has thrown me, there has always been one constant; one thing that I could truly rely on. Sunshine or rain. Tears or laughter. There was a place—a sanctuary—where I could go and be alone and experience an immediate source of comfort. A place where, despite all of my life’s failures, I was welcomed without ridicule or judgement.

However, in this place, there is one unspoken rule that I abide by: get better than you were yesterday.

As humans, we all need something meaningful in our lives that allows us to exclusively focus on ourselves. For you, it may be playing the guitar, collecting comics, or tinkering with computers. For me, it’s lifting weights.

Like most, in the beginning, working out was purely based on attaining a certain aesthetic ideal, but as time has gone on, the motive has completely shifted. I no longer workout exclusively for the physical benefits.

As I’ve evolved and grown, it’s become more about the psychological boost than anything else. Every time I walk out of the gym, it feels as though I’ve just hit the reset button and life’s challenges aren’t so scary or unconquerable anymore.

After falling off the wagon and getting back on
Big and bulky?

Basic to badass

Every time I walk into the free weights section of a new gym, I feel the curious eyes of onlookers upon me. And for those brief moments, as I bend down and slowly wrap my hands around a barbell with two 45 pound plates adorning either side, it’s like silently giving society’s idea of perfection the middle finger and yelling, “Fuck you and your fucking stereotypes!”

In that single small and innocuous action, the message is clear: I won’t be backing down to appease you. For better or worse, I see you judging me based on my musculature. My body immediately let’s you know that I am different. That I am strong. That I am capable. And that I respect myself and have a formidable work ethic.

And what you’re seeing on my body didn’t happen by accident. It took 14 years of deliberate intent in both nutrition and strength training to acquire this. I wanted this. I worked for this. And I won’t be apologizing for this.

I’ve wasted precious moments in my life fearing what strangers thought of me. I’ve given them the power to ruin what could have been a special memory of building sandcastles with my daughter, because I feared they would be repulsed by the possibility of stretch marks and cellulite.

And you know what? I look back on that girl and feel sorry for her now. I pity her for allowing these no-named people in her life the opportunity to steal her joy.

Not pictured: knees exploding

Meaningful relationships

To be clear, I don’t think everyone is put-off by a strong physique in a woman. I know plenty of other women who train hard and men who support us in our endeavors. I work with them on a daily basis. These are the people I’ve chosen to surround myself with.

But the guys I hang with? They’re not the norm. They respect the drive and determination because they understand it. It’s the men and women who don’t understand it that find it unappealing and bothersome. It’s different and it’s unfamiliar. And unfamiliarity often manifests itself in the form of fear.

By societies standards, strength training isn’t considered feminine. As women, we’re supposed to remain small, submissive, and respond only when spoken to. If we’re too opinionated or mouthy, we’re labeled bitches.

The women’s corner of the gym is where the pink dumbbells hang out—should a delicate flower brave the task of lifting weights at all. To keep people in their comfort zones, we had better get our happy little asses on the treadmill and discuss our latest detox diet with the other soccer moms.

No thanks. That shit doesn’t work for me. I’m not trying to hide who I am. I’m not trying to pretend I’m someone I’m not. I’m here because I wan’t strength. Because I want power. And because I want (gasp!) size.

Which is exactly why I’m so grateful to know so many men who love and admire the mindset of a woman who has the confidence to walk into a gym and own completely own it. I appreciate their encouragement and willingness to see beyond the physical and recognize that these women, like them, are just there to become better, faster, and stronger.

These men and like-minded women offer a community—a safe-haven—for people like me to go and not only be seen as an equal, but seen as valuable.

Look what happened when Sarah began strength training in the gym
Look how Christine’s physique transformed after she had her baby and started lifting weights

Rewarding career path

In addition to all of the previously mentioned badassery, strength training has rewarded me in a way that most people can only dream of. I get to live and breathe my passion every day.

Just nine short months ago I was still doing the corporate grind in logistics. And although fitness has long been a side hustle for me professionally, it wasn’t until last May that I walked away from my “real job” and decided to get serious about my fitness business full-time.

And wow. What a crazy nine months it has been. This time last year I was living in a sleepy suburb of New Orleans, Louisiana. Now, one year later, I’m in New York City working alongside my mentors while continuing to dive deeper into what truly brings me happiness: my clients.

Not many people get the opportunity to help others change their lives in a meaningful way. Not many people get paid to write about what they love and have the opportunity to work with awesome individuals from all over the world. This kind of life can’t be found in spreadsheets or textbooks.

Our happiness—true happiness—is discovered in our relationships with others. And that’s exactly what I do with my clients. We build a relationship based on trust. And together, we solve real life problems surrounding nutrition and hitting the gym regularly. We are a team. And knowing someone believes in you and has your back at all times is invaluable.

One of the most rewarding components of being an online coach is being able to watch your clients transform through strength training. Oftentimes they show up feeling insecure, unknowledgeable, and out of place in the gym, but by the end of our time together they have tapped into a side of themselves that screams confidence, capability, and strength.

And helping people discover that in themselves is my crack. It’s why I do what I do. It’s my purpose. I never have to wonder if I’m living my best life, because I’m reminded—every single day—that what I do is who I am and why I’m here.

The Fitness Summit with other meathead junkies in the industry
Fit Pros: Adam Fisher, John Romaniello, me!, Rog Law, Chad Landers

Health benefits

Okay, so I feel it would be massively irresponsible of me to write about how awesome strength training is without mentioning some of the health benefits involved for women. But because I know most of you aren’t going to LOVE the ultra-nerdy science-y stuff, I’ll keep it brief by just highlighting a few of the major take-aways:

Cool? Cool. That wasn’t so bad, was it?

Aside from everything else I’ve detailed here, the thing I love most about the gym itself is the energy in the environment. I love that people are coming together to improve themselves. The gym is place for hard-working people with a growth mindset to chase possibilities and opportunities. It’s for those who shuck the status quo and want more out of their lives.

Working out and training hard constantly encourages us to become a better version of ourselves. It’s a place that keeps us humble and teaches us patience. It serves as a reminder that although you’re strong, there’s always room for improvement. The work is never done. And the fight is never won.

You don’t find people who have given up on themselves hanging out in the squat rack. People workout because they want to create something meaningful out of themselves. They thrive on the challenge and relish in the pursuit of becoming stronger both mentally and physically. Every day. Little by little. Rep by rep. Set by set.

It doesn’t matter if it’s your first day in the gym or if you’ve been grinding away for two decades, it’s place where we’re all on the same path. Where you currently are on your own journey is irrelevant. What matters is that you value yourself enough to show up.

When you get dumped, you lift. (my story on that is here if you’re interested)

When you ace that exam, you lift.

When you get a promotion, you lift.

When you miss your family, you lift.

When you get engaged, you lift.

Success in life isn’t an accident. It takes hard-work, determination, being deliberate in all that you do, and the ability to sacrifice what you want now to achieve something greater.

And if you need help getting started or need some direction on how to achieve your goal, you can always hit me up. That’s what I’m here for. Helping people get into strength training is kind of my jam. Hit me up and let’s talk.

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