Girls Making Gains: A Piloted Class


Sophie Conroy '19

Karla Sanford ’19 in the weight room.

The weight room is supposed to be a comfortable, casual atmosphere, fit for working out before or after school. The daily scene in Groton’s weight room, however, may not be welcoming to all kinds of people. It usually involves loud rap music, sweat, and a big group of boys. The issue: girls are largely missing from this picture. Whether you are a new second former or returning sixth former, the weight room can be an especially intimidating place to walk in to. It’s no secret that more boys go in and out of those weight room doors than girls. And this doesn’t just apply at Groton. College Counselor Megan Harlan went to a conference on gender earlier this school year and noticed an overwhelming shared sentiment among independent schools “that [the weight room] wasn’t a comfortable place for girls.” Why is this true? Girls often don’t feel welcome or comfortable in the weight room because they fear getting judged for not being able to perform to certain standards or not knowing how to use the equipment.

In hopes to change the culture around the weight room, Ms. Harlan sent an email to the female student body on Wednesday, May 16. The email read, “In an effort to get more young women in the weight room and feeling comfortable there – Cory and I will be offering a strength class geared to the female body the next three Thursday mornings at 6:30 AM…”. She added that the class additionally emphasizes “the importance of weight lifting for the female body, learning in highschool so you are more likely to do it going forward, and for overall health and wellbeing.” Cory Varrell, the conditioning coach, who she referenced in the email, added, “We wanted to give girls an opportunity to utilize the weight room and help improve their overall fitness.” The student response to their idea was astounding. Within hours, many girls had replied and the fifteen spots were filled by that night. “I was super pumped about the program when I first heard about it and thought it would be really fun to do with my friends,” said Grace Mastroianni ’20.

The first 45 minute program, held on May 17, was run by Cory with the help of Ms. Harlan, and Randi Dumont. It began with a light warm up and a quick demo of how to do each station in a body circuit. The majority of the time was spent doing three sets of an upper body focused workout circuit, including push ups, dumbbell curls, and pull ups. Cory helped the girls with their technique and provided extra words of encouragement. When asked about her experience, Anna Copeland ’20 replied, “it was a fun experience and it really pushed me and my friends to try something new.”

In the second session, the circuit had a wider focus on the full body, and the girls were taught new workouts. Cory made sure to retain some of the exercises from the first session. New exercises included squats, both with a dumbell and a resistance band, and “clamshells”, an exercise that works inner thigh muscles. The first two weeks of the program were successful, both in facilitating a challenging workout and by instilling a sense of support and confidence in the girls that attended. Ms. Harlan said that the overall experience was “so much fun! It was great to see a wide range of females in the weight room.”

In the future, Cory believes that “continuing with our current sessions can help grow into other ways of having a more female presence in the weight room. I was really inspired after the first session, I hope girls felt the same way.” Ms. Harlan and Cory also both agreed that moving forward, they would like to have an orientation for new students on how to use the equipment in the weight room. This way, it will give not only boys, but also girls confidence to utilize the space. All and all, Cory closed with saying, “I have a great deal of hope for this and hope that we have a greater turnout next session!”