Being a woman who lifts weights automatically makes you open to weird comments (as does being a mom of “a lot” of kids) and over the last decade (!!!) of hoisting iron, I’ve got more than my fair share. Here are some of my personal favorites:
“Are you a lady Marine?” (No, but thank you!)
“You used to have such a cute little runner’s body! Do you miss it?” (Are you calling me big?)
“I think it’s cool that you lift, just don’t turn into a dude okay?” (No sex change operation says no worries on that front)
“Haha I’d hate it if my girlfriend was stronger than me hahaha!” (Hahah I’d hate it if I were your girlfriend too, hahaha!)
“Don’t want to run into you in a dark alley!” (Good. Don’t.)
“You’re going to hurt yourself.” (Distinct possibility with this girl!)
“You must be a bodybuilder.” (There are reasons for a girl to lift weights besides being a competitive body builder.)
“Weight lifting doesn’t burn enough calories to count as a real workout.” (Erm, calorie burn is not the best nor even the only measure of a quality workout.)
And… drumroll… the comment I’ve heard the most often is: “I don’t want to lift weights because I don’t want to bulk out!”
Well, what do you say to that?
First, let me say that I am not ever offended by comments like this. I think that while lifting weights is pretty mainstream for women now, there are still a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes about it and I’m happy to help clear some of those up. (Side note: The only time I can remember being truly offended by a comment on the weight floor was when two bros behind me kept making obscene comments about my body in Spanish. Loudly. And then laughing. Clearly they didn’t think I could understand them – turns out most of my Spanish has stuck with me but hilariously the words I remember the best are the dirty ones… ah high school. Unfortunately my speaking skills are way behind my comprehension so I couldn’t think of any reasonable response to them that didn’t involve the f* word or j*/ch* words, as the case may be.) Plus I love it when people talk to me at the gym, even if they’re just asking me where the bathroom is.
Second, I will say that I get way more of these comments from the girls than I do from the boys. I’m not sure why this is except to say that in general girls tend to talk to me way more often than men so maybe I just have that kind of face? I’m about the least sexy lady on the planet. Not saying I’m ugly or whatever, just that I lack that certain je ne sais quoi that seems to come naturally to a lot of women. ANYHOW. This is not a sexytimes in the gym post.
So when I got a message from a good fitness-instructor friend this morning asking me what to reply to women who tell her they don’t want to do her weight-lifting class because they don’t want to get bulky, I knew I had to post about it! (Mostly because I’m sure that you guys will come up with way better answers than me!)
1. Here’s my stock answer: “Because it is more dense, one pound of muscle takes up less space than one pound of fat! Plus muscle ups your metabolism, helps strengthen your bones and is correlated with a longer life. And, you know, it makes you stronger. Someone’s gotta lift that 25-pound bag of cat litter into your cart at Costco!” (Note: For the love of little green apples do NOT say “a pound of muscle weighs more than a pound of fat.” THEY BOTH WEIGH A POUND. I’ve heard an inordinate number of personal trainers say that and every time it makes me want to drop a physics textbook on their foot.)
2. Then there’s the Rachel Cosgrove explanation that while the number on the scale may go up (when you gain muscle) your pants size will go down.
3. I have a lady bodybuilder friend who stunned me once when she answered, “Why on earth would you want to be small? Be big! Take up space in the world! Don’t give up your strength and power to fit into some tiny box.”
4. Another friend answered simply, “I’d rather be strong than weak.” Aesthetics aside, muscle (up to a point) is wonderfully functional and how great does it feel to know that you could walk for miles farmer-carrying a couple of children just in case the apocalypse comes. (Ooops did I just flash my neuroses again? Sorry.)
5. “Strong is the new skinny.” While I hear this mantra a lot these days (and see it on t-shirts and coffee mugs and Facebook walls…), I don’t particularly like it. I understand the point – that we should replace skinny with strong as the female standard of beauty – but I think it still emphasizes an unattainable ideal as most “thinspiration” that comes with this tagline shows strong women, yes, but ones that have unnaturally low levels of body fat to get that ripped or “ultra lean” look that can be every bit as unhealthy as being super skinny. (That’s my short answer. Here’s my long answer. )
6. “No one says you have to crazy with it! You don’t have to lift a ton to reap the benefits of weight lifting!” Having watched several bodybuilders and fitness competitors go through their training, I can tell you that those girls have to work really, really hard to get that muscular. It’s highly unlikely you’re going to get to that stage of muscularity on accident. Plus, it’s your workout! If you feel like you’re getting “too big” then scale it back. I know more than one woman who don’t do ultra heavy squats because they don’t want the hypertrophy in their legs. (But they still do squats, just lighter). You’ll get no judgment from me!
It’s at this point, however, that I would like to acknowledge straight up that while ladies can’t get as muscular as men (testosterone and all that), we can get bulkier than we like. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) a lot of how we distribute body weight, be it fat or muscle, is genetic and some of us put on muscle easier than others. I tend to gain muscle easily in my quads – you may recall the time I Incredible-Hulked my jeans ? But what to do about this? Is the answer to not lift and hope your flaccid legs will fit better into skinny jeans? Trust me when I say I tried that route for years and it ends nowhere good. That said, you can change the way you lift (You know all the ways bodybuilders train for hypertrophy? Do the opposite of that.) which can make slight differences in the appearance and size of your muscles. Or you can change your perception. These days, I try and appreciate my strong legs for not only what they do but also how strong they look. I’m never going to have twiggy legs. My thighs will always touch. I can feel sad about that or I can buy stretchy jeans and love the way my curves rock a pencil skirt. And every time I squat down and pick up two kids at a time or bound effortlessly up stairs, I’m even more happy for my quads.
Zumba, TurboKick, step aerobics, running – I’m a cardio girl at heart. But while I love my runner’s high I have also learned to love weight lifting. It has so many established health benefits: It strengthens your heart. It can increase bone mass. It improves posture. It can help resolve back, knee, hip and neck pain. It gives you confidence. That’s what I would tell the girl who is afraid of lifting weights and bulking out. Then I’d tell her to come lift with me. (It’s fun! Sometimes naughty jokes are involved.)
So help my fitness-instructor friend out! What do you say to women who say they’re afraid to lift weights because they don’t want to become the She Hulk? What’s the funniest/weirdest/scariest thing anyone’s ever said to you on the weight floor?