One of the regular features of any weight training blog is the post where the author tries to convince women to drop the barbie weights and go into weight training. To do this, they address women’s biggest complaint: “I don’t want to get to bulky”. The author’s do this out of good will. They feel women have been lied to and miseducated, that they could greatly benefit from weight training. They want to ‘disprove the bulking myth’, and get women in to the gym (and increase their own customer base, i’d imagine).
Don’t get me wrong. I think women can get great benefits from weight lifting. I enjoy it immensely and hope I can motivate other women to get into it. But I do want them to be informed before getting into it.
It’s my feeling that they don’t do a good job at addressing women’s concerns. Worse, they sometimes end up lying to women, creating new misunderstandings, and insulting real female weight trainers in the process. They also make assumptions about the type of body women want to have that aren’t always correct.
Misunderstanding #1: Bulking
The core of these misunderstandings is the definition of “bulking”.
What bulking means for a man: “Going into a period of intense weight-training with a program specified to make muscle gains, while eating agressively over maintenance”.
What a man thinks bulking means for a woman: “Ending up looking like a female gladiator”.
What bulking actually means for a woman: Gaining width on ANY bodypart.
You can see how this leads to misunderstandings.
Misunderstanding #2: Your dream body
As far as the internet can tell me, Angelina Jolie is considered to be the most attractive woman in the world. This means many women will have *this* as their dream body:
Not this (Sorry, Rachel! I worship you, you’re my musclespiration!):
For many women and just as many men, Angelina Jolie’s body is preferable to Rachels. I know this stupid, and that it’s clearly Rachel who should be worshipped as a goddess, not miss stickfigure. You know this. But the rest of the world disagrees. As the song goes: “You can’t argue with popularity. Well you can, but you’d be wrong”.
Can you really promise your target audience that weight training will make them look like the underfed waif they want to look like? Because that’s what your doing when you say ‘picking up the weights will get you your dream body’. The body that men will swoon over? Because last time I checked, a woman with visible muscles still gets an audible “eww” from most men.
What’s being said
Once again, all these people have the best of intentions, and don’t meant to mislead anyone. But they do, and I want to point them out.
From Elite Female fitness:
“Seriously, if one more woman says to me, “I don’t wanna lift cause I’ll get too big,” I’ll lose it! Look, if you think all you have to do to get huge is to step into the weight room and lift a few weights; you’re insane. It takes years of hard, heavy training, plenty of food, and testosterone, which women do not have enough of to get that big. When you see female bodybuilders, they are a product of steroids.”
This picture accompanies the argument.
This is an “argument from the extreme”. The woman is afraid of bulking (i.e. gaining an inch) and the article responds with ‘don’t worry, you’ll never gain 50 inches, it’s impossible”. I imagine this isn’t very reassuring. It’s like me saying “I’m afraid of sewer spiders” and someone reassuring me by saying “Don’t worry, a 40 foot spider will never fit through your drains, it’s impossible”.
From Figure Athlete:
“But Wet Wolf, I can ‘muscle up’ very easily. I mean, my quads and glutes are really thick and muscular. In fact, I think I need to lose some muscle from my quads. They’re just too big.”
No. The password is… fat loss! Your legs aren’t too muscular, they’re just carrying too much fat. Show me one single Figure Athlete who’s drug-free and under 10% bodyfat, who possesses legs that are too muscular. You can’t do it.
Under 10% bodyfat? Granted, FA is not a site who caters to women who are currently swinging their pink dumbells around. But imagine a woman who has been lead to believe that pumping iron will give her her dream body. And who then gets told “yeah, of course you don’t have your dream body, you’re too fat! Your going to have to go on hardcore diets to drop yourself down to a very low bodyfat% that your body will continually struggle to get away from. Suprise!”.
Strange how that didn’t get a mention, isn’t it? Picking up the weights will give you ‘that nice toned look’, but who’s going to drop your bodyfat by 10 percentages?
Tony Gentilcore on FA (don’t hate me, Tony! I love you!):
Lifting heavy weights will not make you “big and bulky.” Eating bagels and drinking Starbucks (aka: liquid McDonalds) for breakfast everyday makes you “big and bulky.”
The take home message is, again, if you’re bulky, it’s because you’ve been taking too many dips into the cookie jar. Diet down, fatty. Funny though, before you started lifiting, you fit into your jeans fine. Now you need to diet down to compensate for the muscle width you gained. They didn’t tell you that before you started, did they?
Ok, let’s lift
So, a women wants to put down her pink dumbbells and start training weights. Chances are, she’ll start with the New rules of lifting for women. The programme starts with 12 to 18 weeks of 8-12 rep exercises with a low to no deficit. Women reported busting out of their pants in phase one and posted on the forum. They weren’t on steroids, they were doing three fullbody workouts a week and having a shake afterwards.
The response they got was very different from those initial promises:
“Sounds like your legs/butt were just un trained and responded how they were supposed to. Some women have hangups about the size of that area. If you’re one of those that prefers the skinny lower half, then building muscle is going to ruin that for you. Accept the changes or stop doing what you’re doing.”
“Some” women have hangups about that area? SOME? Are you kidding? How about “inform people properly or never try to debunk the bulking myth again?”
Or maybe she’ll mail tony about it, and he’ll say:
“ Ummmmm, 10-12 reps is notheavy, low rep training. It’s HYPERTROPHY training. The reason you can’t fit into your clothes anymore is because you’re probably doing too much volume.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if someone had mentioned that in their “hey, women, drop the pink dumbbells article?” and had saved you a 16-week bulking cycle?
If weight-lifting will make me hot, why are your blog posts and articles covered in skinny fat girl pictures?
Because that’s what turns your male audience on, and part of what keeps them coming back. We’re not stupid. You may talk the talk, but your pictures don’t walk the walk. Or are these the toned, healthy weightlifting women you’re talking about?
What should be said
The take home message should be a little more detailed than: “pick up some weights, you won’t bulk’.
- It should take the ‘pink dumbell woman’s point of view into account. No matter how much you hate it
- It should provide realistic information about what you can expect to change about your body when you weight train.
- It should explain that weight lifting alone is not enough to lose weight, and that dieting will still be the order of the day.
- It should explain what kind of weight training has what kinds of effect on body composition, so they can make an informed choice.
- Perhaps you need to ditch or tone down the “you will look hot!” argument alltogether. It’s what you use to get men into the gym, isn’t it? Work hard and girls will want to have sex with you. Since most men prefer a skinny fat girl over a toned one anyway, maybe you need to make your selling points a bit more serious.Gubernatrix:
“Likewise there is potentially more mileage in teaching women that weight training is good for them, than in trying to persuade women that weight training will make them look hot. It will – but most women will only be persuaded of this after it actually happens, not before! In the meantime, the argument that they need to do weight training for health could bear more fruit.”