the joy of strength training


September 25th, 2008 at 9:56 pm

A weighty topic

I mentioned to a friend that I was training for a powerlifting competition and he said, “So you’ll be wanting to bulk up then!” I explained that you can be any weight you want since, like boxing, there are different weight classes.

It is easy to forget that most people don’t know what powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting actually are. They know it involves lifting weights of course, but they don’t know how these sports differ from each other or from an activity like bodybuilding. I used to be one of those people (slap me if I sound unbearably smug now….)

The other side of that coin is that most people think anybody who regularly picks up a weight is a bodybuilder. The extent to which bodybuilding and lifting weights have become melded together in the public consciousness is amazing.

Crossfit's Nicole and Eva
Nicole and Eva from Crossfit Santa Cruz

One of the great things about the Crossfit movement is the way it educates trainees about strength sports. You will get people coming from a heavily bodybuilding-influenced fitness club environment into a milieu where powerlifts, Olympic lifts and gymnastic exercises are regularly performed.

Not only that, trainees are encouraged to up the intensity and up the weight. In a Body Pump class, if you are not smiling, you aren’t doing the class properly. In a Crossfit session, if you are not gasping, sweating and grunting, you aren’t doing the workout properly.

Crossfit has also broken the mould by putting women front and centre – very fit, very strong women at that. They have managed to do what might have been considered impossible: make a system with girls’ names for workouts and women in the demo videos not look like a chick thing.

This isn’t a post about how wonderful Crossfit is. It’s an illustration of how Crossfit has been able to get women who would never see themselves as lifters to lift weights. The powerlifting world is all very well but most of the women in it were either introduced to lifting by their husbands/boyfriends or, like me, have some unusual inner motivation to pick up heavy stuff.

So there is still a lot of work to do to convince the majority of women that lifting weights will not make them bulk up. In fact, it is more likely to do the opposite and slim them down. That’s certainly what happened to me and I am not blessed with good genetics, special powers or anything like that! You don’t have to get as ripped as Nicole Carroll or Eva Twardokens in the picture above if you don’t want to (and to be frank, most people wouldn’t have the dedication to get like that anyway), but you can be leaner and more shapely.

However, this isn’t just a fear born of cultural conditioning, it is also indicative of a deeper problem: ignorance of the role of nutrition and hormones in the body’s development. Lifting weights – on its own – won’t make anyone, man or woman, bigger. How you eat governs whether you get bigger. But it’s up to you whether that extra weight is mostly fat or mostly muscle.

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