The Case For Moving Away From “Gendered” Weights

September 17, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Getty Images
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If you’ve ever stepped a Nano-clad foot into a CrossFit box, odds are you’ve heard the 35-pound (15kg) barbell called a “women’s” barbell and a 45-pound (20kg) barbell called a “men’s” barbell. 

But “gendering” a barbell is not only inaccurate, it’s also just plain silly.

That’s why activist and the owner of Rocket Community Fitness, Alyssa Royse, urges CrossFit box owners and coaches to designate barbells and prescribed weights in different–actually helpful ways. 

  • “Barbells don’t have genders, they have weights,” she explains. Ditto goes for plates, kettlebells, and dumbbells. 

People of any gender can use any weight barbell—so long as they have the requisite strength to move it well and safely, she says. 

Calling the heavier, 45-pound barbell a “men’s” barbell and the lighter, 35-pound barbell the “women’s barbell” suggests that all men are stronger than all women, says Royse. 

But that’s not the case—and it’s physically dangerous to imply such. 

  • “Anyone who has ever stepped foot into a CrossFit box knows that there are absolutely women in a CrossFit class who out-lift men in a CrossFit class,” she says. “My daughter, for example, can out-lift my husband any day of the week.” 

When you tell people what barbell they should be grabbing based on their gender, you increase the risk that an individual lifts more weight than they are physically capable of. 

  • “You are implying that if a man cannot handle the heavier barbell that he is less of a man, and that that is a bad thing,” says Royse. This, she says, can increase the likelihood of someone using a heavier weight bar than their current training age or fitness level allows them to use safely. 

And when an individual lifts more weight then they are physically capable of? Well, that increases the risk of injury. 

Another issue with gendering barbells as for men or women is that you are implying that there are only two genders, says Royse. 

  • “You are inherently excluding non-binary folks,” she says. 

Good news: There are so many other ways for coaches to help figure out what barbell to use. 

  • “You can simply refer to the barbells by how much they weigh and allow people to pick the barbell they think is best for them based on the exercise,” says Royse. 

If, for example, you are doing a barbell bicep finisher, you might tell people to pick the barbell that allows them to get 20 or more reps unbroken. 

You could also refer to the barbells based on how small- or large-hand friendly they are. You could, for example, tell people to pick a barbell that they can hookgrip. 

Finally, you can suggest that people vary the barbell they use class-to-class —so long as they never pick a bar that is heavier than they can lift safely. 

CrossFit, after all, is the sport of constantly varied movements. And varying barbell width and weight is just another way to add a little variety into your fitness routine.

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