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!
So for the last few weeks I’ve been training the Vanguard Women’s Volleyball Team.
Before I developed a program for them, I did my research. I looked up common injuries. I studied how volleyball players move. I attended their games to watch their SPECIFIC movement patterns. And I looked at many traditional volleyball training programs.
What I found was a lot of jump training. Olympic lifts. Box jumps. Sprinting. All the usual suspects were being used.
And don’t get me wrong…I love Olympic lifts. I love box jumps. I even love sprinting (actually it is really the only form of cardio I do enjoy).
But the more research I did, the more things just didn’t add up.
If many volleyball players suffer from shoulder injuries, why do snatches and jerks which would only serve to put more strain on their shoulders? And on top of the fact that many suffer from shoulder injuries, being college students, most of them are hunched over computers and books for a good portion of the day. This constant daily forward flexion and rounding of their shoulders increases their risk for injury when moving heavy loads overhead because they don’t have the range of motion to really get their shoulders up overhead without compensating.
And then on top of that even, Olympic lifts are really freaking complicated to get right. First off, they take a great amount of flexibility to really do correctly. Second, they take great stability. Third, they are complex motions with lots of moving parts which can easily be messed up! And fourth, to get people to move the loads that will actually benefit them takes a long time to build up to…Time that frankly I just didn’t want to waste at this point.
Ok so Olympic lifts were out…at least to start with. So…what about box jumps?
Eh…I would use them but they wouldn’t be the basis of my program. Box jumps could be great, but aren’t the BEST explosive power move. I would use them to work on landing mechanics but they wouldn’t be part of the daily routine.
Plus I wanted something that would get them stronger without being too redundant. They do a lot of jumping already.
Anyway, as I started analyzing programs, I started to realize that we needed to work on upper body strength and upper body flexibility more than I saw in many other programs. Elbow and wrist injuries were also common yet none of the programs really included any grip and forearm/hand strengthening.
Also, while watching the girls play, I was amazed at how much diving, rolling and mulitplanar movements there were. Rarely were they lunging forward or backward. Rarely were the squatting straight down. So…I figured we really need to work on stability in ALL planes of motion.
I had my work cut out for me. I wanted to build up their strength, but I had to do it slowly since their tendons needed time to catch up to their muscles AND they were also doing outside conditioning and practicing with their coach. I needed to work on the basics.
So I included the traditional squat and a traditional hip hinge, which I knew they would have already mastered or be able to master quickly so we could increase load. These would help them gain strength so that they could be explosive and powerful on the court. Strength always precedes power!
I then included speed, agility and quickness drills to improve their coordination and reaction time. If they wanted to react quickly on the court, they needed to work on their mind-body connection!
AND finally I addressed their areas of injury and their need to move in all planes of motion. I didn’t load them down with weight for these exercises. Actually all of them were simply body weight variations. I did lunges in different planes of motion. I used the sliders when necessary to make things more difficult. I did handstand holds and other isometric holds to work on scapular retraction to help their shoulder stability and strength. I did a ton of pulling motions, such as rows and pull up holds to work on their upper back and help improve their posture to improve their range of motion.
I even made sure to include plenty of grip work, which was definitely harder than most of them expected!
Of course there was also a lot of core work to help them stabilize when diving and rolling and a conditioning piece at the end to help them outlast and out-perform their opponents (none of which by the way was sprinting but will most definitely help them…and even improve their sprinting!).
So to sum up this long rambling post, the point is that you can’t just look up a workout program and figure it will work. I understand why so many athletic trainers use Olympic lifts because they are great and do really have many power and strength benefits for sports. But you can’t just look and train for one aspect of the sport. You need to consider injuries. Movement patterns. What athletes are doing when they aren’t playing or training. And even all of the new and INNOVATIVE training methods that are now out there. You want to help a player move better on the court, but that doesn’t mean that you should do the exact movements they do on the playing field! That also doesn’t mean you can’t use those movements.
The point is there is a lot to consider.
And that doesn’t just go for college volleyball players. It holds true for everyone!
When you design a program for yourself, you have to consider many of these same variables. What are you looking to improve? What repetitive movements or odd positions do you find yourself in during the day that may create bad postural alignment and compensations that lead to injuries? How do you want to be able to move during the day? Are you looking to get better at running or chasing after a kid because chasing after a kid is a lot more than simply having energy and running straight ahead. It means quick cuts and potentially lots of random twisting and turning!
Anyway, just think about some of these things the next time you write up a workout. Consider your specific “sport’s” variables!
P.S. Probably even the most important part of all of this is the mental aspect I’ve included in their training. Right from the warm up everyone is together and motivated, which is huge if you really want a team to be strong and work well together!
So the other night I was talking to one of my male clients who I was making do some clams (the exercise where you have a band around your knees and lay on your side and externally rotate at your hips and knees).
It was a stabilization workout and he really needs work on activating his glutes. And although clams may be a Jane Fonda move, they are a great way to get those butt cheeks firing!
Of course he was slightly embarrassed by doing them even though it was just his wife, me and his 19 month old daughter there.
He says to me, “You know this is one of those moves that guys AVOID doing at the gym.”
I said, “Yea I know….Ever notice how many guys have SMALL INACTIVE butts?”
He laughed and repeated what I said and continued to do the clams.
Out of the corner of my eye though I saw his wife shaking her head in agreement.
What I said is completely and utterly true. Most people, especially men, don’t focus on getting glutes that activate.
They are much more interested in working on their beach muscles. Although they do pride themselves on being able to lift heavy weights.
But if they took the time to do some of those “embarrassing” glute activation exercises like band walks, glute bridges, clams and straight leg deadlifts they would be able to LIFT MORE.
AND they would look better. (Sorry but pants that sag because you have no butt is not attractive).
Plus they would also probably suffer few injuries. Active glutes me proper movement patterns!
So to anyone out there who skips those “embarrassing” butt exercises, but wants to lift heavy…Don’t.
That includes you ladies. While lifting heavy is essential that doesn’t mean totally leaving out the Jane Fonda moves…It just means not ONLY doing them!
For more on glute activation, check out this article on T Nation! LOVE IT!
So this relates to my post from earlier and responses I got to it…
All too often people don’t heed advice, like the advice I gave yesterday about warming up with some sort of balancing exercise, because it isn’t BADASS.
BADASS is lifting heavy weights. Or working out so intensely that you puke.
Uhm…sure. Yea I think getting in a killer workout or accomplishing some impressive feat of strength or stamina is BADASS.
But you can’t be a BADASS if you injure yourself!!!!!!!!
Being a true BADASS means taking the time to warm up your body. It means paying as much attention to your recovery and stabilization and mobility training as you do your actual workouts.
It means not just constantly lifting more and pushing harder.
So next time you pooh pooh something like balancing on one leg because you don’t see how it directly benefits your desire to be a badass…DON’T.
That rehab/prehab/flexibility/mobility/stabilization exercise may just be the key to you developing stronger lifts, more endurance and better overall health and fitness.
So I’ve now been witness to my first pyramid scheme.
I’ve been applying to jobs in Cali and I applied to a “Wellness Coach” position.
It sounded legitimate so I submitted my resume.
A day later I get an email about attending an informational meeting about the position. I emailed the woman right back saying that I couldn’t attend then because I wasn’t yet in Cali, but could I possibly attend one at a future date.
She then told me that I could watch the streaming video of the session.
I started watching the video and about two slides in realized what I had gotten myself into. About four slides in I saw visual evidence that what I had applied to was indeed a pyramid scheme.
What got me thinking wasn’t so much the fact that I accidentally applied to a pyramid scheme, but that people actually roped people into SELLING junk like this.
When the woman who set me up with the video called after it was finished, she asked me if I had the three qualities to be successful.
I told her I did have those qualities. I then promptly told her thank you for the opportunity, but no thank you. I told her that my nutritional views are VERY different from what she is promoting.
Pyramid scheme or not, there was no way I could sell a product that I didn’t BELIEVE in!
For me health and fitness isn’t merely a job. It isn’t merely a way to make money.
It is a passion.
I want to EDUCATE. I want to EMPOWER. I want to help people GROW.
I don’t want to trick them into buying some junk just so I can make a few bucks!
Schemes like that are what dilute the health and fitness market and serve to confuse people about what is healthy.
Don’t fall for them. Don’t help promote them.
Don’t fall for the gimmicks.
Eat whole natural foods. Lift heavy weights. Sprint often.
Have you encountered gimmicks like that in your line of work? Would you sacrifice your beliefs to make money?
I think the hardest thing to do is CHANGE.
It’s part of why it is hard for most women to start weight training. It is why it is hard for most people to ditch conventional wisdom and start eating Paleo/Primal.
It is why a lot of big life decisions are hard in general! To make big changes, to get big results, you can’t be afraid to let go of what you know, think or believe. You’ve got to be ready to take risks and suffer some consequences.
Below are the 10 most important “changes” you need to make to become a stronger, fitter, more empowered you. Of course this is my opinion…but then again, I’m always right, right!?! 😛
- Ditch the disbelievers. This one is first because I think this is probably the hardest thing for me. I hold onto people even when they are holding me back. If you want success though, sometimes you have to go it alone. Don’t give in and cheat on your diet just because your friends are trying to get you to eat badly. Don’t be afraid to lift those heavy weights even though your friends tell you that you will bulk up. Don’t be afraid to ditch the disbelievers and go it on your own! You can do it! You are strong enough!
- Try something outside your comfort zone. If you really want to find out what you are made of, try something new. I know it’s scary, but the only way to find out what you are truly capable of is to try something you either haven’t done or aren’t comfortable with doing!
- Keep an open mind about EVERYTHING. Be willing to try new things! Experiment! There is always new information coming out about everything. Research everything. Read different points of view or find out works by trying it on yourself! If you weren’t somewhat open-minded already, you probably wouldn’t be reading this site! 🙂
- Have confidence in yourself and try something just beyond what you KNOW you can do. While it’s nice to stick with what we know we can do, you will never find out just how truly strong you are if you don’t push beyond what you’ve already proven you can do! This doesn’t mean just lifting a heavier weight in the gym. It also means tackling an activity that you’ve maybe never done before or are unsure if you can do!
- Admit to yourself that you don’t, and can’t, ever know anything for certain. Deep huh? This one actually kind of sucks, but it’s true. I like to believe I know everything, but deep down I know I don’t. Nothing is ever set in stone. Everything can change. We are constantly learning or at least we should be. If you think you know everything, you are wrong. Be willing to change and adapt your beliefs as you learn and you will grow as a person.
- Accept that you will be wrong and enjoy your failures. This one is hard. No one ever enjoys failing. I most definitely hate it. I don’t like failing or being wrong. BUT I know that I will be at times. I know that I will fail, BUT I know that each time I get back up and try again, I become stronger. As cheesy as it sounds, look at each failure not so much as a failure, but as a learning experience. If you want to accomplish something persistence is key!
- Learn. Learn every moment of every day. Learn by doing research, experimenting, failing and achieving success. And the thing is, by doing all this learning, you will learn more about yourself. Through all of my “learning” I’ve developed a stronger identity. It may always be a slightly shifting and growing identity, but the more I learn, the clearer it becomes!
- Forget, but never forget. Learn to let go of the negative emotions surrounding a failure. Forget the emotions so that they don’t hold you back. You can’t change what happened. You can only move forward. But even though you need to release the emotions, NEVER forget how hard you worked. Never forget what the goal meant to you. KEEP PUSHING ONWARD! Change your game-plan but never give up!
- Accept your fears. This is another one that can be hard. This is a random story BUT…I’m afraid of snakes. I hate them. I have no idea why, but I really really really (I could go on with the reallys) hate them. I almost didn’t go on a hike in Red Rock Canyon because it was prime snake season. But I did go despite the fact that I was sure I was going to be bitten and die in Las Vegas. Most people fear dying in Vegas for a ton of other reasons…but not me…I was sure a snake would get me. And if I hadn’t gone on that hike…I would have missed out on one of the best memories I have during my life!
- Build a network. These 10 changes come full circle. As you develop the “new” stronger, fitter, more empowered you, you have to build a new network of people who support and push you to grow further. The “push” part of that equation is very important. You always want people around you that challenge you and motivate you to achieve your goals not just stand still! An example of a network that has helped me grow is my lifting classes. Those ladies, and my two Man Bicep Males!, have helped me grow so much. I also pride myself on believing that I’ve helped them also grow into stronger, fitter and more confident individuals!
So what changes have you made toward becoming a stronger, fitter, more empowered individual?
So last night I met with one of my clients, Juliana, who also does my lifting class.
Juliana has gotten super into the lifting and has grown by leaps and bounds. Her movement patterns have improved and she is now lifting human beings! 🙂
She seems to enjoy the lifting and seems to like the way she looks!
But then this week, a situation that has happened to almost all of us female lifters, occurred. It is a conversation that can scare off many beginning female lifters.
The “you don’t want to get bulky do you” conversation. Juliana had two people start-up that conversation.
Luckily I didn’t even have to convince her that they were wrong! She already knew what she was doing was right!
Lifting heavy won’t make you bulky people!!!!! COME ON!
Having extra fat is what makes you “bulky.” Eating crap so that you have bad body composition is what makes you “bulky.”
Not leaned toned muscle mass!
I’ve gained about 17 pounds in the last two years. I still wear the same clothes I wore when I was 17 pounds lighter. Actually some don’t fit as well now because I’ve shrunk in certain areas…like my waist. I’ve shrunk because I’ve lost FAT. I haven’t become any bigger by adding muscle because I cut off the fat that was previously holding its spot!
If you don’t believe me because you know I’m biased, take a look at this Women’s Health Magazine article! Mainstream media even agrees that lifting heavy is good for you! (Of course as I go to post this and click on their link from Facebook it says “Page not found”….Maybe I shouldn’t yet think so highly of mainstream media!)
BUT here is a quote from what was up there.
Lift Heavier Weights! A recent study showed that women who lifted a challenging weight for eight reps burned nearly twice as many calories as women who knocked out 15 reps with lighter dumbbells.
See burn more fat and look LESS bulky by lifting heavy weights!
So this is the second week of my lifting class (sorry Francine that I couldn’t do one at a time that worked for you!).
And I’m loving it. But the best part is…SO ARE THEY!
And I don’t think all of them expected to…
I have one participant, Lois, who is also one of my personal training clients. We started working together in August and I’ve watched her get stronger and fitter and more confident in herself each and every time we meet.
And while Lois never gives up and is always willing to give an exercise a shot, I have to admit that I was blown away by her strength and determination in our lifting classes so far.
We’d stuck to a lot of functional weight training in our personal sessions together and hadn’t yet done barbell bench press, barbell deadlift or barbell back squat.
But last week, Lois attempted all of them for the first time and excelled! I was more impressed/excited/proud than I could even express to her at the time.
And she continues to impress me. At the class today she deadlifted with the best of them. And she survived the killer auxiliary lift circuit we did, making the necessary modifications, but never giving up.
And the best part is that after both workouts, she has walked up to me and said that it was hard, but that she enjoyed it!
I think it surprised her actually how much she enjoyed lifting super heavy weights!
So if you’ve been shy about heavy lifting, give it a shot! I think you will be pleasantly surprised by how much you love it.
Also, I just want to give a big shout out to all of the members of my class. You all are AWESOME! 🙂
P.S. Lois if you read this post since I know you occasionally visit Man Bicep….KEEP IT UP! I’m so proud of you! 🙂
I constantly am preaching to women that they need to “lift heavy weights.”
And while I choose to lift 100s of pounds if I can, “lifting heavy” doesn’t mean that you have to do the same.
“Lifting heavy” simply means that you don’t fear challenging weights – that you aren’t just picking up the 5lbs dumbbells because you are afraid that you will gain too much muscle if you pick up the 15s. It means that you choose the proper weight (a heavy, challenging weight) for an exercise so that you are TRULY working the muscle.
For example…today Candy and I did the iron cross, which is a killer shoulder move. For that exercise, “heavy” meant 8lbs. Using 8lbs set my shoulders on fire. I could barely complete all 10 reps each round!
Heavy weight is definitely relative. Probably challenging weight is a better term to describe the weight you should be using.
But I use the word “heavy” because using heavy weight is what many women fear – and they shouldn’t.
Today I just want to clarify that “lifting heavy” doesn’t mean you have to lift 100s of pounds. I don’t want people thinking that if they can’t lift 100lbs it isn’t worth the effort to try to “lift heavy.”
So ladies lift those heavy, challenging weights! I think you’ll like how you look if you do!!!!
And in case even clarifying that “heavy” means challenging doesn’t convince you, here are a few articles/studies that should!
This one is just funny…10 good reasons why women should stay away from weights
Even a bodybuilding website tells you that you can’t get huge from lifting heavy – Breaking the Myth
What are your fitness goals?
Are they to be the strongest? Or the fastest? Or even just the best looking?
Or what if your fitness goal isn’t necessarily to be the best in one thing but to be great at everything?
That is my goal. I want to be a fitness renaissance woman. Actually, I want to be a renaissance woman in life, but that is a story for another post.
What is a fitness renaissance woman?
It is a woman who can partake in any physical activity and do it half-way decently even her first time. It is a woman who is willing to try any fitness related activity at least once. It is a woman who can lift heavy weights, sprint quickly, go on a long jog, play a game of basketball, go paddle boarding or even just go for a leisurely hike.
It is a woman who trains for life and looks amazing while doing it!
I am that woman. I train to be that woman. I encourage others to be that person!
That is why I can’t stick to a purely powerlifting or bodybuilding/fitness modeling workout program.
Each is too narrow in what it makes you good at. A strict powerlifting program will make you super strong, but will totally ignore the cardio part of being in shape. It won’t make you an awesome sprinter or make you able to go for long jogs outside just because the weather is nice.
The same sort of thing goes for a bodybuilding workout. The main goal of a bodybuilding workout routine is to make you look good. You won’t necessarily get super strong or develop strength in other areas of fitness, but you will look good.
Is it worth it to do these programs and really only be great at one thing?
Why not do a program that can make you strong, fast and look good all at once?
Maybe it’s because I’ve set narrow goals and achieved them only to realize there is so much more out there that I want to experience. So why not experiment and try everything I can!?!
That is why I lift heavy, sprint often, go for long bike rides (and even jogs…preferably outside since I don’t like running very much), do some boxing and even some gymnastics!
And guess what, doing that made me strong enough to win a powerlifting competition EVEN though I didn’t do a strict traditional powerlifting program.
This program made Candy powerful enough and in great enough cardio shape to row a 2k in 7:33 even though we never actually rowed any 2ks over the last two months.
This program allows me to feel like not only can I do any physical activity that someone asks me to do, but it also makes me look pretty freaking good!
I’m not saying I look like a fitness model, but I look strong and lean.
So why spend time on a strict program that makes you super good at only one thing?
Why not do a program that makes you great at everything so that you can take on every physical challenge life throws at you AND look good while doing it!?!
Be a fitness renaissance person! Be a Man Biceper!
Here is another weekly workout to help make you awesome at everything! 🙂