Gym Jones member Candice Rainey explains why more women should pick up a barbell.


Candice Rainey is a writer, editor, and content producer based in Salt Lake City, with over 15 years of experience working for brands like Condé Nast, GQ, Details, and Elle.

Candice Rainey

Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Esquire, Elle, GQ, Condé Nast Traveler, Marie Claire, Glamour, Lenny, WSJ Magazine, Men’s Journal, and other national outlets.

File this next line under “words I never thought I’d type.”

Recently, I wrote an essay in O The Oprah Magazine about finding barbell training in middle age and how it kind of changed everything for me at a time when I was feeling pretty lousy mentally and physically. When I first came to Gym Jones, barbells scared the hell out of me and I would actively dodge the days Michael Hulcher, Gym Jones Programming Director and resident cult leader, would have us use them. If you know him, it’s no surprise he called me out on it which is its own special hell. So I learned some basic lift and as I started moving heavier loads, I got  stronger and fitter until I was deadlifting 285# at an age when we’re told women should be retreating to Pilates studios in their grippy socks. It imbued me with a well of confidence that has become almost blindingly addictive. At first, I joined the gym to lose extra pounds but after I discovered lifting, I wanted to understand and then realize what my body is actually capable of doing as opposed to just settling once I reached a number on the scale. 

Candice spots another Gym Jones athlete in a back squat

Now more than ever, there’s a huge body of research that should persuade all of us to lift weights. Which is why I wanted to write a companion piece to the O article that’s a roadmap of sorts for anyone who wants to give this kind of training a try. Most of the Gym Jones community, especially the strong women who train and coach here are already deeply familiar with the benefits of barbell training. But if the O piece somehow brought you here out of curiosity and you’ve never picked up a barbell, below is some very solid advice from Gym Jones coaches that will help you get started. 


1. Is barbell training right for every middle-aged woman feeling an overwhelming sense of meh? That depends. If you have any kind of shoulder or back injury, a barbell isn’t the best idea, though that shouldn’t keep you away from strength training all together. “There are almost no reasons why someone should avoid resistance training completely,” says Gym Jones certified coach Cate Williams. “Unless someone has been specifically instructed by their doctor to not lift weight, we can always modify exercises or substitute equipment to suit anyone’s situation. We have pregnant women, people with injuries, high schoolers and grandparents all training safely at Gym Jones. Whether you have a specific concern or not, it’s always important to find a coach who knows what they are doing to help you choose the right lifts and perform them safely.”

Jaelyn Wolf practices some olympic lifts

2. As with anything for which you really care about the outcome—Botox, your tax return—the key is finding a coach/guide/instructor who knows what the hell they’re doing. “You have to find good coaching and it can be really tricky,” says Hulcher. “Don’t assume the big box gym you walk into has a single trainer worth any of your time. I’d try to find a CrossFit gym with a barbell club that has a really good onboarding or intro program, meaning they’re not going to immediately throw you in high intensity situations with modalities asking you to complete moves you’ve never used had experience with. Or find a gym that specializes in what’s called ‘strength and conditioning’ and trains high school athletes. That’s a great place to start because they are going to have qualified coaches, most likely with a NSCA certification that can teach you all those movements.”

Certified Instructor Cate Williams performing a sumo deadlift

3. Start with lower intensity loads. You know you’re in the right gym or with the right coach if you’re learning technique first and adding weight only after you’ve nailed proper form. “You really want to get a good technical foundation before adding any real load,” says Hulcher. “You need to know how to properly hold a barbell, how to put it down, how to pick it up.” 

Certified Instructor Emily Klarer warms up with a barbell

4. Certain moves require mobility. If you have a limited range of motion in your hips or shoulders or ankles, you’ll need to work on your mobility. Developing a better range of motion in these areas is necessary for executing weightlifting moves like a front squat (where you squat with the barbell in front of you, elbow jetted out in front) and will take time. A good trainer should be able to give you a set of exercises to help you increase your range of motion.

Jessi Cooper demonstrates a strongman lift with an axle bar

5. Yes, you can start without gear but you need good shoes. You don’t need to buy a weightlifting belt, knee sleeves, nor wrist wraps if you’re just starting out but do make sure you have the right shoes. You don’t want to lift in cushy running shoes, but something with a flat, solid soul, like Nike Metcons so heels can drive into the floor.  

If you’re interested in trying barbell training, our Beginning Strength Program is a good place to start!