When Nutrition Analyst & Farm-to-School Coordinator Asta Garmon asked me to do an interview about women and the stigma of women who lift heavy, I really got to thinking about my experiences.
It amazed me when it really dawned on me that I’ve gotten more crap from women about lifting heavy and being bulky than I have from men.
Yea I’ve gotten the occasional comment from men about whether or not I’m worried about being bulky. But really most of the trouble comes from men when I then try to give them advice about how to lift better or when they find out how competitive and driven I am (which is honestly a blog for another day).
BUT the true perpetrators are women!
Women are the ones that perpetuate the lie.
Yes…They perpetuate it by saying things like, “I don’t want to lift heavy because I don’t want to get bulky!”
But more importantly, they perpetuate it by telling women, who lift heavy, but look feminine, “Oh wow…Your arm is so…muscular.” (They say this in a way that makes it an insult NOT a compliment.)
YEP! The worst crime is committed when women say to women who have worked hard to look amazing and toned, “You look so…buff/muscular/jacked.”
They say it in a way that HINTS that these words really aren’t a good thing. They even use those specific words because they know that most women associate those words with masculinity.
Most likely these women give these backhanded compliments because they have some insecurity themselves or because they are jealous.
And honestly, you can’t really do anything about what or how other people say things. You will run into women like that. There may even be a woman or two like that in your friend group…You may even call them your “frenemy”…you know them…you love them…and yet…
But anyway, while I would love to change those comments, I can’t. There will always be people out there that will use any social stigma to put someone else down.
BUT what I can do is change the way we, women, interpret those comments.
When comments like those are made to us, we can choose to do one of two things.
We can choose to become self-conscious and bothered by the comment. We can stop lifting and then tell anyone who asks us about heavy lifting that “we don’t lift heavy because it makes us bulky.” We can be afraid that we did, in fact, become bulky from the lifting. We can then perpetuate the stigma that lifting heavy makes women bulky.
OR we can choose to ignore the comment and know that we do in fact look AMAZING and that those women have their own issues. We can break the stigma and help other women find the strength and beauty that heavy lifting can bring!
I choose to do the second.
I wasn’t born with self-confidence. I fought a long uphill battle to get it – the fake it till you make it battle. (And sometimes I’m still faking it, but no one knows the difference!)
As strange as it sounds, what you have to do to be more confident is to pretend to be confident. To act like you are confident even when you aren’t.
So when you get an underhanded comment hinting that your weight training has made you masculine or bulky, when you know you aren’t and have even had compliments about how great you look, what should you do?
You should smile and say, “Thank you! I’ve been working out super hard and lifting heavy! It just makes you feel so good! You should come with me some time.”
That’s what I say every time.
And guess what!?!
I instantly feel better and completely erase the negativity of their comment from my mind. I may still remember it enough to shake my head at them, but I’ve taken all of the venom out of the comment.
I played the part of a confident individual, which in effect, basically made me confident.
And on top of that, they will never have any clue that their comment may have made me even a teensy bit insecure. (If it even does!)
PLUS, every time you respond that way, you start to destroy the lie that women will get bulky if they lift heavy. You won’t be giving credit to their comment AND you may even convince them to become a woman who lifts heavy!
So while it may not be easy, the key to changing the stigma is by believing that in fact you AREN’T bulky or masculine even though you lift weights. The key is believing that you are healthy and strong and beautiful because you do!
You can’t change the other person, but you can change your reaction.
Let’s start there and maybe then we will silence the haters!
With my return to a powerlifting program for the next couple of weeks before moving back to kettlebell work, I’ve started doing breathing squats.
So far they’ve been light as I get back into really handling heavy weight, but I can just tell they are going to be murder soon. Talk about a great way to add strength and power to your legs!
So what are breathing squats?
After warming up, you set a box that allows you to go to parallel or just a bit below parallel.
You then pick a weight that you know you can do for about 10 reps consecutively. BUT instead of doing 10 reps, you are going to do 20 reps with that weight before you put it down.
And trust me, even using a slightly light weight, these have gotten me out of breath and my legs fatigued.
So next time you are looking for a killer leg workout, I want you to do one thing – breathing squats.
Heavy weight. 20 reps. DONE!
P.S. If you haven’t yet, enter the Under Armour Giveaway!
Just because you can pick the weight off of the ground, doesn’t mean you should.
While you technically may be strong enough to lift a weight, your body may not actually be ready to handle the loads, especially on a consistent basis.
So how do you build up so that your body can handle the weight?
- Foam roll – Foam rolling releases tight muscles and helps restore proper length tension relationships so that the correct muscles are recruited when you need them.
- Stretch – So if you’ve ever seen a competitive lifter, you will notice they are extremely flexible. While you may not want to do any static stretching BEFORE you workout, a good stretching program each day will help to prevent injury and increase range of motion around your joints.
- Activate – Too often people aren’t using a HUGE muscle when they do squats and deadlifts – their butts. Make sure before you work out that you have all the proper muscles activated – you will lift more that way. And part of having everything activated….Is warming up!
- WARM UP – Walking on a treadmill for 5 minutes before you lift isn’t a proper warm up. Sorry. A good warm up should loosen up muscles and active muscles so that they are ready to work. Band walks to activate your glutes can be a great part of a warm up. So can inch worms, side shuffles, skips and multiplanar lunges!
- Light first – So each time I start a heavy lift, my first couple of sets is lighter than the rest. Even if I’m trying to maintain the same heavy weight for 5 sets, I’ll do two or three warm up sets first to build to the weight. NEVER jump right into the weight you built up to last week!!!
- Steady slow increases – As you build up to heavier and heavier weights, you want to do it in slow, steady increases. While form may break down when you hit your true max, you don’t want it to break down as you slowly add weight. Track your progress and each time try to add just a little more.
- Work your weak points – You are only as strong as your weakest link. If your shoulders aren’t strong, you won’t be able to bench as much or do as many push ups as the rest of your upper body can handle. You don’t have to do isolated muscle movements to strengthen the weak points just choose exercises that allow them to be the main mover!
- Choose complementary exercises – Don’t just keep doing the same exercises over and over again. Sometimes variety can be key. While you don’t just want to do random exercises, you do want to make sure that you are strengthening your muscles from a couple of different angles. For deadlifts, kettlbell swings can be great. Glute bridges can also help. Plus the variety in exercises can keep you mentally interested.
- Fuel properly – Eating the right stuff can also help your body be ready to handle the loads. If you don’t eat enough, you may find your strength declining!
- REST – Yep. If you want to hit the big numbers, you need to get enough rest. This means days off each week AND it also means adequate rest in between sets. If you don’t rest enough between sets, you won’t be allowing your body to get ready to lift even more weight the next set!
So follow these 10 tips and start building up to the big numbers!
My mom came to visit this weekend!
We ate lots of deliciously non Primal food. Walked around a ton (and went shopping!). Did an hour of cycling and lifted heavy weights.
The Man Bicep Mom took her first spin class and did 3 pull ups even though she never does them! AWESOME!
It was all in all – WONDERFUL.
A couple of “observations” from this weekend:
- We are killing our kids by letting them eat crap and be lazy bums on the couch.
- It is SUPER easy to eat Primally at almost any “nicer” restaurant. I mean honestly, you really have no excuse not to stick to your diet.
- Circuit training really does prepare you for any physical activity.
- Getting older shouldn’t mean just accepting physical decline.
Ok…so let’s start off with the first observation.
My mom and I went to Mike’s Pastry in the North End. It is sort of a tradition for us when she comes to visit. We get chocolate covered cannoli and cappuccinos and we sit and gossip at a table in the bakery for hours.
This last time when we were there, a hoard of 13-14 year olds came swarming in. They were probably on a field trip in the North End – seeing the Old North Church and some of the other landmarks in the area.
What surprised me was the fact that all of the kids were allowed to get HUGE pastries.
And the other thing that surprised me was that about 80% of the children were overweight.
I’m sorry if this sounds mean, but what popped into my head was “Why are these kids being allowed to eat this when they should be outside on this wonderful day running around?”
Why was eating crap at Mike’s Pastry part of this classes field trip? Was this really necessary? Why at least didn’t they take the snacks outside somewhere where they could also run around?
Am I the only one sort of sickened by the fact that the adults and parents didn’t seem to care that their kids were out of shape and really shouldn’t be eating all of the crap? Am I over-thinking this whole incident?
Ok observation number two…It is super easy to eat well at any nice restaurant.
I’ve found it to be very interesting that at nice restaurants they cook mostly Primal foods. Usually they don’t even cook things in vegetable oils, but instead use lard and butter and olive oil.
Also, unless you go to an Italian restaurant, there really aren’t even that many carbs on the menu. At steak houses, they generally serve potatoes. At seafood places, it is usually potatoes or maybe even rice.
And at this restaurant Clio that we went to, there were only even a handful of non-vegetable/fruit carbs served throughout the entire 7 course meal! There were only a few potatoes and parsnips served in a couple of dishes. No rice. No bread. No pasta.
No excuse to really cheat on your diet.
So if culinary tradition says we should cook with animal fats and barely serve any carbs besides fruits and vegetables, why do we load down every meal with carbs and vegetable oils? When did cooking with processed crap and carbs become the norm while only restaurants run by Iron Chefs cook with whole foods?
Don’t you think there is a reason that our culinary tradition avoids using a ton of wheat and vegetable oils? To me this is just more proof of how right the whole idea of eating more “Primally” is.
So my third observation has to do with the Man Bicep Mom. My mom does weight training and plyometric circuits. She never does pull ups and she has never taken a spin class. She also has never done any powerlifting. Yet today she did all three…pretty easily actually.
She survived an hour of spin that would be difficult for even an advanced cyclist (trust me I know…I had people who spin all of the time in my class today who looked like they were dying).
She then also did some powerlifting and busted out three pull ups even though she literally never does them.
Why could she do all of this so easily?
Her weight training and cardio circuits!
She does fast paced circuits that pretty much incorporate everything. She uses dvds from The Firm, which I might add are great for a home exerciser who doesn’t necessarily want to only do powerlifting moves.
The circuits include weights and plyometrics, kettlebells, yoga and even Pilates. They really strengthen the entire body.
And because she is doing all of these different things to build her strength and cardiovascular endurance, she had no problem doing the spinning or the weight training.
I have people who attempt their first spin class after only doing hours of cardio who struggle. And you wouldn’t think they would, would you?
But they do. They aren’t prepared for the short bursts of high intensity sprints. They aren’t prepared for adding a ton of resistance as they climb a hill. They legs aren’t prepared for jumps or even isolation.
They aren’t prepared because they are only used to one thing – long, chronic cardio.
But the Man Bicep Mom? She was prepared. The plyometric drills included in her circuits prepared her for sprint intervals. Her weight training strengthened her legs and core so she could climb hills and easily stabilize her body in and out of the saddle.
Her body was used to variety and used to being pushed.
So if you want to be a renaissance fitness woman, you’ve got to do circuits and mix it up! Even if you love running, throw in some weight training circuits every once in a while! They will even help your running!!!!
This all leads to my fourth and finally observation for this weekend – Age isn’t an excuse for being out of shape PERIOD. End of story. That’s it.
I have clients that say to me, “Well I’m ____age. I’m not going to be able to do the same things I did when I was young.
Can I just say that the statement above is absolute HORSE SHIT!?! (Sorry but it honestly is.)
Yes your body is going to age. Yes some things may become more difficult and you may decide you don’t like doing certain exercises any more because they do bother your body more.
But you can still be fit and as physically able as when you were young.
Don’t believe me? Just go look at the Man Bicep Mom posts! Just read what I wrote above!
I mean even just today my mom said that she honestly didn’t feel any different from when she was younger except that sometimes she feels like she gets out of shape a bit faster when she takes time off.
So next time you think you can’t do a physical activity because of your age, think about hitting the gym a couple of times a week. A little hard work in the gym can go a long way toward better quality of life and renewed physical strength. You may even find that some great circuit training will make you stronger and help you move better than you even did when you were younger!
So age is no excuse! Workout and stay young!
Anyway, I hope all of you Man Bicepers out there had just as wonderful a weekend with someone close to you as I did.
If you want to be super strong, you must also be super flexible.
Just look at the best Olympic and powerlifters, they are all super flexible.
That, right there, is flexibility.
Go ahead. Try a squat that deep. Keep your chest up while you do it and your heels on the ground throughout the entire movement.
While you may be able to do it, squatting like that isn’t easy, or even doable for most people.
But if you want to lift heavy weight, you need to work on it.
If you aren’t flexible, you risk injury when you add weight. The weight of a heavily loaded barbell forces your range of motion to increase.
If you can’t perform a full range of motion on a squat with just your body weight, your body isn’t ready to handle the additional weight of a barbell because the extra weight will force your body to complete a fuller range of motion than it is ready to handle.
This “weight-assisted stretching” isn’t good for you! If you push it too far, you will end up injured!
So start mobility and flexibility training! You don’t have to be Gumby, but if you want to lift heavy, you need to have great flexibility in your shoulders, hips, hamstrings, and ribcage!
I cuddle with my foam roller…maybe you should too!
I love lifting heavy weights and workouts that nearly kill me. For me that is fun…as sick as that may sound.
But I do realize that my idea of fun doesn’t necessarily appeal to everyone.
And if you want to find the perfect workout routine for you, you have to find a form of exercise that you enjoy!
While I don’t think any workout routine is complete without at least two days of heavy lifting, I do think there are lots of things you can do to make your workout routine fun in general.
Here are 10 ways to make your workout routine more enjoyable:
- Workout with a friend. I find that working out with someone not only pushes me harder but makes any workout, no matter how torturous, more tolerable.
- Do activities that you enjoy! Do a Zumba class if you enjoy it. While lifting is important, you don’t have to lift every day, which leaves plenty of time to do the activities you love! Combine an activity that you love with a couple of essential, but maybe not as fun lifting days, and your overall program will be something you enjoy.
- Add music to your workouts. Create a playlist for your workouts. Matching up music to exercises can be motivating and make the workouts more fun. A playlist can both help you take the appropriate amount of rest and help you not take extra breaks during an intense circuit!
- Challenge yourself. There is no better feeling than pushing through a hard workout. When you complete a challenging workout, you feel successful and that feeling of success makes the hard work worthwhile!
- Mix it up! Vary what you do. If you do the same thing week in and week out, you are going to get bored. And if you are bored with your workout, you probably aren’t having fun. Keep it interesting and mix things up at least every 4-6 weeks!
- Try something new. Every time you experiment and try something new, you give yourself the chance to find something new that you enjoy. Trying something new also adds variety to your workouts, which keeps you interested!
- Take the workouts outside the gym. Try taking your workouts outside. Go for a run or hike. I always find that I workout for way longer when I’m actually GOING somewhere. Even just moving your workouts from the gym to home can make it easier to squeeze one in on a day when you aren’t motivated.
- Play. When kids play, they are exercising. What’s to say a workout has to feel like a workout? Go stand-up paddle boarding, roller skating or biking! Or even just go play on the playground with your kids!
- See results. When you see results, you are motivated to keep working hard. Find some great ways to measure your progress and do check ups every 4-6 weeks. Success is a great motivator!
- Don’t think that every workout has to be a marathon. Don’t pressure yourself into making every workout the hardest thing you’ve ever done. Also, not every workout needs to go on for an hour. Sometimes the best workouts are the ones where you go all out and are exhausted in 10 minutes. Vary the length and intensity of your workouts. Something is better than nothing. And not having to stress over the length of your workout can make working out more fun in general!
How do you make working out fun!?!
So I definitely have noticed more women in the weight room recently.
Unfortunately most of these women are doing high reps with very little weight. I’ve also noticed that most of them are only doing single muscle group movements.
The exercises that women seem to love:
- Bicep curls
- Tricep extensions
- Adductor machine
- Abductor machine
While these exercises can be great auxiliary lifts for someone looking to strengthen weak points in their bench, deadlift or squat, these single muscle group movements really are pointless to do otherwise. Plus if you do compound movements, you will work all of those muscles that you are working with those isolated exercises and many more!
Single muscle group movements don’t give you much bang for your buck. You don’t burn very many calories doing them AND you can’t spot reduce problem areas. So while you may be making your bicep stronger, you aren’t specifically removing flab from over the bicep.
Your time would be much better spent doing compound movements because they work the biggest muscles groups in your body, which will help you build strength, burn fat, acquire optimal body function and improve your health.
Lifting weight while using multiple muscle groups elicits a much higher level of positive hormones than training just one muscle group at a time. These hormones include testosterone, insulin-like growth factor 1, and growth hormone. These hormones are what will help you build lean muscles, burn fat, and improve your health.
So not only are you building lean muscles, but you are also more efficiently working your entire body to burn more calories than you would if you did an isolated muscle group movement. You also improve your cardiovascular health and joint stability and muscle balance across your joints by performing compound exercises.
So if you really want to work your bicep, don’t do a curl. Instead perform a pull up or a row. If you want to work your tricep, bench press or do a push up or even a full dip. If you want to work your adductors and abductors, do a squat or lunge or sumo deadlift!
AND if you need a workout with lots of compound exercises, check out the Man Bicep Weekly Workout!
Recently, I’ve gotten a ton of questions about workout routines. People have asked for advice about what exercises to do, how many reps and sets to perform, how many times a week they should train.
While there is no one workout program that will work for everyone, I can offer guidelines.
And my first suggestion is: STOP OVERTRAINING PEOPLE! Too many of you aren’t giving body parts enough rest especially if you are lifting heavy. Light full body circuits are fine to do 3 times per week. But if you are lifting super heavy that body part is going to need a lot more rest!
Second suggestion: Keep track of your workouts! Don’t just randomly throw together some moves for that day! Plan and record!!
Now my third suggestion is try the Man Bicep workouts of the week! These workouts have helped other people gain strength while getting lean. So they definitely work especially when adjustments are made to your individual goals (if you email me I can suggest adjustments). They are a great starting point for anyone looking to create a program that will help them get strong and lean!
Feel free to keep emailing me all your workout questions! Here is just a little extra weekly supplement to my answers!
Weekly Workout #1
Strength Deadlift and Leg Day
Stretch and perform mobility exercises for hips and such.
Deadlift 5 sets of 2 reps – Perform warm up sets before beginning the 5 rounds. Start heavy. Try to either maintain the same weight throughout or increase as you move through the sets. If your form breaks down, lessen the weight. Rest a couple of minutes between each set.
Auxiliary lifts: Lighter weights should be used, but they should still be challenging!!!
Step ups 3x10ea (hold weights)
Balance lunges 3x10ea (hold weights)
Kettlebell swings 3×20
Jumping forward lunges with weight vest 3x10ea (So you move forward by jumping and switching legs.)
Hyper extensions 3×10 with weight
Bosu abs 3×20 no weight
Stretch and foam roll after walking for 10 minutes.
Check back next week for another workout! In the meantime, try this one and let me know if you have any questions.
There is something addicting about heavy lifting. I think it’s the thrill of lifting something that weighs more than you.
But it is also an addiction to the adrenaline rush that follows a successful heavy lift (I’m so addicted that it even keeps me coming back after several failures).
And Candy and Brian have the bug too. We all can’t help it.
We can’t resist lifting heavy even if we don’t like the lift! Candy hates heavy back squats and Brian just hates doing legs in general (I happen to LOVE leg day..but then again I’m not so fond of bench) BUT we all still pushed ourselves to lift our max yesterday.
Candy got so close to a new PR of 190 and Brian lifted so much the bar was bending (which makes me nervous to spot him!). While I didn’t hit a new PR, I did manage to squat 200lbs!
We just can’t resist pushing ourselves to lift more even if we aren’t feeling it that day!
On top of the heavy squat sets, Candy and I did the workout below. Brian did his own but he did suffer through balance lunges (preacher squats, Bulgarian squats…whatever you want to call them) just for me (he absolutely HATES THEM) haha
Candy and my bubble butt workout from yesterday:
Heavy squats with max out
Balance lunges with 35lbs in each hand (We love our green kettlebells)
Kettlebell Swings 60lbs
Cocktail lunges with 35lbs in each hand (Lunge forward and back for one rep)
Romanian Deadlifts 70lbs
Step Ups with 24lbs in each hand
Sumo Squats 50lbs
Side Band walks (A little abductor and glute work)
Adduction on sliders (This exercise looks very very odd. You kneel on the sliders, do small splits and then pull your knees back together.)
Yea lots of stuff..my butt and hamstrings are happy today!
Below is a testimonial for the Man Bicep way from Judy! Thank you Judy!!!! We love your biceps!
When I’m lifting, I love looking in the mirror and seeing the definition of my toned, strong muscles. I’m really not narcissistic; I just like seeing the payoff of all my hard work.
And yes, it is hard work…all those sweat-filled hours on the gym floor lifting heavy stuff, ridiculous rounds of plyometrics, lots of heart-pumping cardio, etc. But never has something made me feel so good about myself, so alive.
I used to be totally intimidated by the “scene” on the weight room floor.
Now, I feel like I belong there and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t give myself high-fives when I compare what I’m doing on the floor compared to others, many of them guys.
It’s not always easy (nothing good ever is), and yes, there are many days I totally beat myself up over a less than perfect workout (sometimes those weights just feel too heavy), but in the end, all those heavy weights and pools of sweat pools on the gym floor have made me so happy with myself….and that is the best reward.
Plus, my “awesome arms”, “compliment-demanding calves” and quads that get used as the basis for pick-up lines by other cyclists are an added bonus!