As a 5’2” female walking into a male-dominated weight room, I attract a lot of looks as I haul around weights half my size and use a step stool to reach the pull-up bar. I’ll be the first to admit that I look out of place in such an environment. However, my fitness regime only seems strange because I defy an unspoken rule of the gym—men lift weights, and women do cardio. I love lifting weights, though, and not the Cosmo or Self magazine 5-pound dumbbell kind either.

Being a solo female in the weight room is kind of like going clubbing by yourself—you attract unwanted attention when all you want is to keep dancing on your own. For many women, “gymtimidation” prevents them from getting fit. Sport England, a British organization that issues funding for grassroots athletic initiatives, found that a fear of judgment far outweighs women’s confidence to exercise. Concerns ranging from embarrassment over athletic ability to worries about appearance prevent women from staying active.

Last spring, the Duke Inquiries in Social Relations published a survey that found that only 39 percent of students—48% of men and 34% of women—agree that Duke’s culture makes them feel confident. This lack of confidence is perpetuated by a variety of causes. However, I believe that a potential solution to improving female confidence levels may be as simple as encouraging women to venture outside the cardio room.

For a long time, I personally subscribed to women’s magazine mythology and conformed to gym gender divisions. I feared lifting weights would add unwanted bulky muscle to my small frame. In high school, I cut weight and ran two times a day for cross country. It wasn’t until I had my worst race of the season, despite running more than ever before, that I realized my training made me weaker, not stronger.

By the time I came to Duke, I had shed my most unhealthy habits, but the voice in my head calling me fat remained. I continued to compare myself with other women on campus, and fantasized about slipping back into my old habits. But then I discovered a blog called Nerd Fitness, where I read an article about a woman named Staci whose story was similar to my own. After shedding weight through restrictive eating and excessive cardio, Staci found herself feeling perpetually exhausted and weak. When she struggled to perform even the most basic exercises, she realized she had to get healthy. She cleaned up her diet, started lifting weights and became confident and strong.

Staci’s story inspired me to strive for a healthier lifestyle, and make peace with my body. Following Staci’s advice, I tried lifting myself and noticed that the negative voice in my head disappeared. My formerly fat thighs? These thighs help me deadlift more than my own weight. My thick arms? These arms can overhead press more than half the guys at the gym can press. Where I used to find insecurities, I now take pride in my figure, because it is a testament to my training.

Unfortunately, I’m often frustrated by the responses I get when I talk about lifting weights. Aren’t you afraid of getting big? The answer is no, I’m not afraid because biologically it is almost impossible for women to get too bulky from lifting weights. Google it. I promise the science supports me, in addition to dozens of testimonials from amateur lifters like Staci.

I recognize that stereotypes against female weightlifters are difficult to overcome, but I know from experience overcoming the stigma is worth it. Maybe your story is similar to mine or Staci’s, or maybe you’re just looking to switch up your workout regime. Regardless of your goals, my challenge to you is to find a friend, watch some videos to learn how to squat, overhead press and deadlift and go to the gym. Look at resources like Starting Strength, StrongLifts 5x5 or Nerd Fitness for additional inspiration.

In the end, if you decide to stick to cardio, that’s okay too. You should do what you love to do to stay healthy. But if you want to try something new, challenge yourself and improve your confidence, then I suggest you give lifting a try.

Now, go Uplift yourself!

Rachel Anderson is a Trinity Junior and co-founder of a new organization called Uplift that seeks to empower women through strength training. This is her first column of the semester.