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Women and lifting weights - Facts instead of myths and bias

This writing is for the ladies. Gentlemen, you can probably skip this. I want to help you become strong without becoming big. Most of you will not need to worry about getting big or "bulky" as some people may call it. To add size to your frame, you need to consume excess calories—eat more calories than you burn and in significant amounts—in conjunction with weight training and do so for an extended period. That said, I’m going to provide you with ways to increase strength, add minimal amount of lean mass, and lean out over the course of this program. In the end you will become a leaner, stronger version of yourself. The key to success lies in your hands. Your desire to accomplish these goals is the thing that will make or break your results. If you eat too little, you risk losing muscle mass and increasing body fat, thereby changing your body composition in a negative way. If you eat too much you risk putting on weight, either as fat, muscle, or both. Now understand, you will add some muscle to your frame, but if you control your nutritional approach you can minimize this and keep your sexy feminine body—you will not build the dreaded guy bod. With that statement I do not mean to alienate any woman who wants to "get jacked." Instead, I'm focusing on the women who want to be stronger and fitter without adding copious amounts of mass to their frame. Lean and sexy versus big and bulky Getting lean and sexy versus big and bulky is a matter of perspective. For example, I'm 5'6" and 140 pounds. I'm within my ideal body range according to most body weight charts, such as the one hosted on the Rush University Medical Center website.

Additionally, my body mass index (BMI) is appropriate based on this BMI calculator from the National Institutes of Health. Still some people think I look bulky. I've had women bigger than me (taller and weigh more) say I'm too bulky. To be honest, I don't like it because I think I look fine and many of these people state this in a negative way. But that is okay. They can believe what they want, and I can be happy with myself the way that I am. And you should too. That is the goal here. If you're my height and you think 140 is bulky, but think 120 pounds is fine, then shoot for 120 pounds. This is about you being happy with who you are and getting strong as you want to be. So, if your goal is to be 120 pounds and deadlift 200, then that is what you should go for. Women and body image Body image affects both men and women, so we as females are not alone in the "body image struggle." Some sources state that women by and large are more concerned with body image. I tend to think this is true, but my husband states that men feel the pressure of body image as well. While I can’t state, and probably no one truly can, if women worry more about body image I can talk about how I as a woman worry about body image. How we as women worry about physical appearance Whether it's due to parents, romantic partners, media, or our own inner voice, all women worry about image, myself included. Growing up in a household that had a focus on health and religion, I was aware of my appearance as a child and adolescent. As an awkward teen, I was kind of an ugly duckling and kids can be mean. This didn't help my self-image, nor did the attractiveness of some of my close friends or the portrayals of 'what looks good' in popular media. When I got with my husband, I weighed around 135 pounds. Over the course of our first five years together I gained 35 pounds, and it was not the good kind of weight, except maybe in my boobs! At that weight I was very self-conscious and would not tell my husband my weight and at times was uncomfortable around him naked. My husband saw my unhappiness and encouraged me to lose weight. To be honest, I was so emotionally tied to my weight and unhappiness that I often didn't want to hear it from him. He attempted to be encouraging, but in my head all I heard was him calling me fat. He wasn't, of course, but that was how it felt. Eventually, I worked up the motivation and with his help I started my health and fitness journey, which helped lead me to where I am today. My point in sharing this brief history of my own focus on appearance is to note that I struggled with self-image, but I rarely suffer form it today. Taking a pill or attempting to look like a popular model did not help. Only motivation from myself, the help from my husband, and working on bettering myself did. Today, I'm happy with the way I look. Heck, my husband even says I'm a bit vain and obsessed with selfies, but we both agree this is the better me since I'm happy. In the end the goal is not to look like someone or to be at a certain weight, but instead to be happy with the way you look and feel. Happiness is the goal. Body type, size, and shape When people talk about body type, size, and shape, they can mean so many things. For example, I tend to think about popular portrayals in media, while my husband takes a more textbook approach. During our conversations about this writing, I decided to focus on three categories:

  • Somatotypes

  • Frame sizes

  • Women's shapes

Somatotypes Somatotypes refer to a series of terms used to categorize the human physique according to size and shape. The three types are:

  • Ectomorphic: tall, thin individuals, with less muscle mass

  • Mesomorphic: average to tall people who are box shaped with a muscular body

  • Endomorphic: short, round individuals who usually carry higher levels of fat

These definitions are simplistic and health and fitness textbooks or medical literature will go into greater detail. Some of the available literature also denotes personality traits common to these individuals. However, these statements about temperament do not appear to have sound academic backing, and the originally studies by William Herbert Sheldon have been deemed flawed. Taking the idea a step further, many people do not fit into this simple body categorization, in that they may not fit the ideal body type for a specific category. Of course, the original research and subsequent literature about somatotypes suggests that a person can be a combination of types. Since Sheldon's time, a number of variations to somatotype have come to light, including the Heath-Carter Method. Today, there are still many people and organizations that rely on somatotypes, whether this is ideal or not. The use of somatotypes is often widely subjective. Frame Size According to the National Institutes of Health, "Body frame size is determined by a person's wrist circumference in relation to his height. For example, a man whose height is over 5' 5" and wrist is 6" would fall into the small-boned category." The site provides the following data: Women: Height under 5'2"

  • Small = wrist size less than 5.5"

  • Medium = wrist size 5.5" to 5.75"

  • Large = wrist size over 5.75"

Height 5'2" to 5' 5"

  • Small = wrist size less than 6"

  • Medium = wrist size 6" to 6.25"

  • Large = wrist size over 6.25"

Height over 5' 5"

  • Small = wrist size less than 6.25"

  • Medium = wrist size 6.25" to 6.5"

  • Large = wrist size over 6.5"


  • Height over 5' 5"

  • Small = wrist size 5.5" to 6.5"

  • Medium = wrist size 6.5" to 7.5"

  • Large = wrist size over 7.5"

While this is simple enough to use and understand, is it really an indicator of body type, let alone the way to take care of that type? As with the somatotype, frame size leaves something to be desired, as it only looks at a pair of metrics—wrist size and height—to determine if a person is a small, medium, or large frame. What's more, even if this is an accurate way to determine body type, can it and should it determine how a person approaches health and fitness? Women's Shapes Perhaps the most popular way of assessing a women's body type is to refer to female's body structure as 'shapes.' For example, you've likely heard of the pear, apple, and similar shapes. However, there are a number of takes on this 'body shape' view to health and fitness, including the so-called skittle shape and goblet shape. The problem with this is, like somatotype, the use of shapes is often subjective. The Takeaway There is no denying that people have different shapes and sizes. However, individuals do not neatly fall into one category and that makes the use of these various methods problematic at best, but downright misleading at worst, as they could push someone to view themselves in a certain way and eat and exercise according to this, when there is no solid data that says he or she should. At Nathan DeMetz Personal Training, we do not focus on these shapes and body types. Instead we focus on a person's goals, physical condition, mental capacity, time constraints, and other factors, such as food allergies, to determine the best exercise and nutrition plan. Getting brutally strong and still being feminine Your strength or lack thereof, your physical appearance, your fitness level, and anything else you might think of does not determine if you are feminine. You determine if you are feminine. As I mentioned a moment ago, some people find my frame bulky. At the same time, some people thinking lifting is a man's thing and not feminine. I've had women tell me to "put on a skirt" and overheard other women call another female "gross" because she had muscle. Fuck that. That's bullshit. Just because someone is not into lifting does not mean they need to talk shit to or about someone else. Be happy in your skin.

As you can see from the picture of me above, even though I lift, I still wear girly clothes (and I look good in them!) …

…and I like to wear makeup, do my hair, and many other girly things. My lifting does not make me masculine or feminine—it's just something I like to do. I'm feminine because I act that way and that is who I am inside.

As you can see from the picture of me above, even though I lift, I still wear girly clothes (and I look good in them!) and I like to wear makeup, do my hair, and many other girly things. My lifting does not make me masculine or feminine—it's just something I like to do. I'm feminine because I act that way and that is who I am inside. The same is true for you. Be as feminine as you want to be. If you like wearing make-up and wearing dresses, lifting won't change that. If you don't like wearing dresses and make-up, lifting won't change that either. Lifting does not make you who you are, it reflects who you are. I wear make-up to work every morning and lift weights every evening. The myths about women and lifting weights I already covered the commonly held belief that women will get bulky from lifting weights, so I won't cover that myth here. Instead I want to focus on a few other choice topics. Fact or media fiction One thing everyone needs to understand is the media is trying to sell something. Whether the media targets men with muscle building workouts or women with booty blasting workouts, each outlet is trying to sell something. Either they are trying to sell you something or trying to sell advertising space to businesses based on the number of page visits or subscriptions. At one time, my husband worked in online project management and content management and had the chance to see the ugly side of this business first-hand. He told me about various projects he worked on and how freelancer writers wrote content as so-called experts—even if they had no background in the field they were writing about. If you see a blog or article that was written by an unnamed author or by a staff writer, there is a good chance the person who wrote the content is not an expert and regurgitated some s**t he or she found on the web somewhere! While many publications do have quality content, filtering out the good from the bad can be difficult, if not impossible. What's more, even when you do find quality content, it is often a watered-down bit-sized section of content that do not tell the whole story. Be aware of what you see in popular media. Clever word usage Popular media, and even popular fitness people or groups, sell engagement. One way these groups of individuals do this is using 'hot' words and catchy slogans to draw you in. These words might include: • Toned • Booty blast • Lose weight fast • and similar terms Many of these words, such as toned, have no real meaning in the fitness world. 'Lose weight fast' is an oxymoron, in that losing significant amounts of weight, or really achieving any worthwhile goal, does not happen "fast." Something else to consider is if the users giving testimonials used the given workout program or product. For example, many of these women selling their booty blast techniques already had shapely and/or "big" butt to begin with, and the multiple sets of leg kickback did not alone develop the butt. Conversely, I know a person who created a fitness app and use themselves as the testimonial—but they didn't even use the programs in the app! Finally, I know of a popular vegan fitness model who sells multiple workout eBooks and online programs who attributes her weight loss to each one and even attributes the weight loss to a program created by another popular vegan. For example, she says on one that she lost 80 pounds on one program, then says the same thing on another, and then another and uses the same ad pic. This makes no sense. Her starting weight was under 200 pounds, yet if you believe the logic, she lost 240 pounds from the combined programs. One workout, last routine/exercise you'll ever need Another form of advertising used by popular media, fitness models, and others is the "one trick" wording. For example, search the internet enough and you'll find an ad stating so and so reached his or her goals by doing this "one weird trick" or you'll read that you "only need to do this one exercise." These types of ads, articles, blogs, and other media are hype sources trying to draw you in and sell you sugar water. Don't fall for it. Know the difference Know the difference between what is real and what is fake. Don't fall for the hype. You need a sold plan, which includes a solid exercise plan, such as the one in this text, and a solid nutritional strategy. Lifting and your menstrual cycle Some people will tell you that the menstrual cycle does not affect your lifting. They may even suggest that it does not have a profound effect on the way your body works and feels. These people might even say the emotional affects are just you being "moody." Most of you know from personal experience that this is bullshit. While it might be easy to say that this logic only comes from men, I've heard it from women too. I had a coworker who told me "it can't be that bad" like she was the one that was in my body. Hey! Fuck you lady! It is that bad! Expletives to the side, the menstrual cycle will affect your lifting. The problem is gauging how much. Let's talk a little about individual differences. If you know anything about individual differences—I'll go into this a bit more later—you know that this term refers to the natural differences that occur from one person to the next. These differences appear in physical characteristics, athletic ability, temperament, and many other areas, including a woman's menstrual cycle. Each woman experiences different cycle length, severity, and overall changes that occur at "that time of the month." Even worse, the same women will likely not experience the exact same cycle experience from one month to the next. While similarities from month to month are present, I never have the exact same experience two months in a row. A few more things to consider are: • Age • Use of medicines • Use of supplements • Medical issues or procedures • Activity I want to talk about each of these in brief detail. Age It's no mystery that the body changes over time for both men and women. Some of this relates to the way we take care of ourselves and some it just relates to the maturation of the body as well as the degradation that occurs with a lifetime of exposure to the world. In women, one of the most notable changes is the life cycle of menstruation. The onset of this cycle occurs in preteen years and the process may continue until a woman dies. However, when a woman hits menopause, her menstrual cycle may stop altogether, whether permanently or briefly, or go through a time of sporadic occurrences. While you and I can take care our ourselves and try to minimize the effects, all of us will at one time or another face this issue. Use of medicines There are many medicines that can mess with the body. I'm not a doctor and I'm not going to try to speak like one, nor am I going to offer opinion about many different medications. Instead, I simply want to say that medicines can affect the cycle. One of the best examples of this, and one I know all too well, is the use of birth control. I've used birth control since my teenage years—I'm 31 now—and this has affected the way my cycle occurs. I won't get into details, but at times this had profound effect on my physical and mental well-being during and outside of my menstrual cycle. Use of supplements Supplement use is a weird topic. Supplements, specifically things that affect hormones directly or indirectly, can affect the menstrual cycle. However, I've never used hormonal supplements and have no interest in doing so. If you do use supplements that affect hormones, know what you're taking and why as well as how it affects your body. Be sure it's helpful, not harmful. That said, I do use meal supplementation as well as vitamin and mineral supplements. Not once have I experienced a side effect, let alone one that affected my menstrual cycle. However, you must know your body and what you take, specifically how it affects you. Be sure it's helpful, not harmful. Medical issues or procedures This is another area about which I cannot speak deeply. However, medical procedures or issues can affect the menstrual cycle. If a woman has a hormonal imbalance (medical issue), it can affect the menstrual cycle. If a woman has a hysterectomy (procedure), she will no longer have a menstrual cycle. Activity Though some people might not think so, activity, specifically exercise or other rigorous physical feats, can influence the menstrual cycle. This will not happen with everyone, but it is a possibility and something to be aware of. A Google search for 'exercise and menstruation' and similar search terms returns extensive lists of medically backed media that supports such claims. That said, I never personally experience a change in menstruation due to exercise. You might ask why I bring these things up—I think it is important to be informed. While many women will not face any issues related to the items above, with perhaps the exception of age and a procedure such as a hysterectomy, it still is a good idea to be informed. But my real point in all of this is to lead into the conversation about how menstruation will affect your workouts. Lifting when menstruating Ohhh, there have been times when my cycle has been a pain in my butt, and other areas, when it came time to lift. I'm a cramper. I get back cramps and stomach cramps and they can be pretty bad at times. Sometimes the cramps bring me to tears. When the cramps are this bad, it is hard to focus on much, let alone lifting heavy weight. Lifting causes internal pressure on the body and this adds greater pressure to the cramps. It's just an uncomfortable situation. Bloating and gassiness can be another problem. When I'm uncomfortable from bloating it's hard to focus on lifting. It's even harder when I have to fart. Loss of energy can be a problem as well. Sometimes when that time of the month comes around, I just feel lethargic. No amount of refueling or stimulant use will counter it. I just don't have oomph, I lack power, I just lack energy. These issues do not occur every month. For example, last month I felt fine. Honestly, I was super energetic and lifting heavy during that week. This month, I feel run down, but the cramping has not been bad and the bloating is non-existent. So how do you prepare? There are a few different ways you can approach lifting during that time of the month. Option 1 The first is to just go into the week as normal, but keep in mind that you might need to pull back. For example, last month I had no issues, but this month I pulled back on a couple of workouts and felt better for it. I didn’t pull back on all, but just felt it was a better idea to pull back on a couple. Again, I feel better for it. At the same time, I still completed my workouts. Option 2 Another option is to plan your workouts around your cycle. This means planning your easier weeks to occur during menstruation. For example, the first three weeks of your monthly cycle may coincide with three weeks of harder training, but then you pull back on the fourth week, possibly even using it as a deload. This is a good option, as it allows you to feel more comfortable during that time of the month, but also gives you a break from the harder workouts, which is important for everyone. Option 3 If your program does not fall in a pattern that allows you to schedule easier weeks during that time of the month, you can still adjust by using a deload. This might sound like option two, but it isn’t. In the second example, I talked about scheduling the easiest workouts of your month on that week. With this example, I'm talking about taking a break from the program and going through deload. So, if the program calls for Week 1-4 to show increasing intensity, such as working from 50 percent of one rep max (1RM) on week 1 to 80 percent of 1RM on week 4, but you know that won't work for you since week 4 is that time, then week four becomes a deload, and week five becomes your week four at 80 percent. This will lead to a staggered approach to your program, but when properly applied, it works. I choose the first option, but the second or third option might be right for you. I choose Option 1 because it works for me. You should choose what works for you. And that is all I have ladies.

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