|A woman’s weights: Catherine Imes’ painted kettlebells|
It struck me recently that whenever the topic of women and weights crops up, we feel the need to address the ‘fear of bulking up’ issue. The usual argument proferred in defense of weight training is that it doesn’t make you bulky or masculine; actually it can help you get leaner.
The thing is, by going down this particular route of argument it turns into a debate about what will make you look better. Very quickly, the central idea of actually getting stronger and fitter is lost by the wayside.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve your looks but perhaps too much credit is given to exercise in changing appearance, when much of it is down to diet. It is more exciting to think that by going into a gym and doing something positive like lifting a weight you can make a difference to your appearance, rather than giving up your favourite treat food.
This is particularly moot for women as they don’t have the hormones to build significant muscle size. So all that work in the gym won’t really show up unless there is an eating strategy alongside it.
Bodybuilders know this but they hide the fact because they don’t want people to know their secrets. Most people on the street recognise the sort of exercises bodybuilders do in the gym, but they have no idea what their eating strategies are. The myth has to be maintained that bodybuilders get that way simply by working hard in the gym but the truth is that it has more to do with diet (well, that and those other things we won’t mention!).
In physique competitions, says an article in Male Pattern Fitness, getting on the judges’ shortlist “means three things: diet, diet, diet.” Telling the story of new physique competitor Karen Williams, the article explains: “Starting ten weeks before the show, she went cold turkey on virtually everything except, well, cold turkey…..Williams didn’t alter her training much, however.”
What turns a fit, strong ex-sportswoman into a physique competitor is the diet regime. So it’s ironic that women are afraid of turning into bodybuilders by lifting weights, but are perfectly happy to launch into the latest fad diet with no fear!
Anyway, I digress somewhat from my original point, which is that women often are not aware of exactly what they can get out of weight training, and when told vaguely that they won’t bulk up, they’ll get slimmer (and I’ve made this argument myself several times), this doesn’t really clarify the situation.
Actually what weight training gives you is strength and confidence. Most women would be very happy to have more of these. Weight training has many benefits for women, both physical and psychological:
- you can do something you previously thought impossible;
- you can see the benefits of your hard work week by week;
- you can get good at something that is traditionally the preserve of men;
- you can expand your vision of what being a woman means;
- you can get stronger, which is functionally useful.
All women know how great you can feel after you’ve been to the hairdressers or bought a fab new dress. You can get this feeling from weight training as well. It’s a feeling of confidence and power and willingness to take on anything.
Men might find it odd that I am putting a new haircut and a deadlift PR in the same category – but women will know what I mean.
Yes, weight training can help you to reach your aesthetic goals. But it won’t turn a stocky, pear-shaped person into Angelina Jolie or Jessica Biel. However, it might get you closer to some of the characters they play: confident, self-possessed, strong and sexy.
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