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I’ve spent a lot of time in airports recently, which means I’ve wandered through way too many airport magazine stands looking at junk to pass the time. Well, actually, at a certain point I just started wandering around the airport and skipping the magazine shops because I couldn’t deal with what I kept seeing! Things like “Get bikini-ready abs in 10 minutes a day!” and “How to get toned without getting bulky” and, I’m not making this one up, exercises to “create long, lean lines without the bulk.” Not only did that particular article imply that anything other than isometric body weight movements would make you ‘bulky,’ but it also seems to suggest I’ll look taller (with my newfound long, lean lines) if I follow their program. Sorry, but I’m 5’2″. Shin implants would give me longer lines, not holding a plié.
Articles like these get me frustrated for so many reasons. For starters, they imply that everyone needs/wants a long, lean, model-like physique, which, as an idea, ranges somewhere silly and downright harmful. Additionally, many of them tout their program as being quick and easy fix. It’s six weeks to a bikini body, toned arms for the holiday party, or long legs for spring break. No wonder so many people have body confidence issues, eating disorders, and end up “yo-yo dieting!” You can’t be healthy and “in shape” for life because you spent 10 minutes a day for six weeks doing crunches back in the summer of ’15. The third major reason these articles make me mad is they frequently show women using the most ridiculous “weights” and say they are a way to tone and tighten without getting big. I’m sure there are some people very early on their fitness journey who can only use the one pound dumbbells with the attractive purple coating. Good on them for getting started. But have you weighed your purse? Do you have kids or pets you ever pick up? Do you carry the groceries? Most of these cute weights weigh less than things you already pick up in your daily life. How on earth are you going to get a workout from using them? Not only do these articles contribute to an unfounded fear of women lifting weights, but they also cause disappointment, frustration, and body confidence problems.
How do I know this? Because I’ve been there, done that. For example, during much of middle and high school I avoided showing my decidedly neither long nor lean legs by wearing pants whenever possible. I even biked and did yard work in the South Carolina summer heat wearing dark jeans. I’m not sure how I avoided a heat stroke! As the years passed, I gradually moved from just cardio (running about 5k a day) to body weight exercises (rock climbing, Zumba, etc) to CrossFit and, most recently, Olympic lifting. Honestly, I never would have made the change to CrossFit and lifting if it weren’t for the amazing man who is now my husband. We made a deal when he returned home from his first deployment: he would try a Zumba class and I would try this “CrossFit” thing he talked about. I was so mad at him when I showed up and realized barbells were involved! After I got over being angry, I realized that I was actually having a great time. He went to one Zumba class, and I’m still lifting.
Like many women, I was resistant to the idea of lifting weights because I was afraid of getting big/unfeminine/bulky/etc. I think the popular image of lifting weights is of a bodybuilder on show day. Bodybuilding and lifting are totally different things. Avoiding an hour at the gym because you’re afraid of looking like a professional, competitive bodybuilder is basically like being afraid to drive to the grocery store because you don’t want to be a NASCAR driver. Let me tell you a secret – you’re not going to accidentally get big. Really. “Bulking” takes intentional, hard work, for men and women. You’re not going to lift weights one day and be mistaken for a man the next morning at Starbucks. Furthermore, chances are really good you’ll actually get smaller when you start weight training regularly, even if the number on the scale doesn’t decrease.
Muscle is far more dense than fat, which means it takes up less space. Let me show you what I mean. This is a pair of size 2-short pants I purchased at The Limited about four years ago. I weighed 124 pounds at the time. They usually fit me in a manner that caused a friend to comment they looked “painted on.” When last I checked (even though I don’t normally weigh myself, I did give into temptation at a hotel gym in Singapore), I am currently 127 pounds. Yep, I’ve gained weight since them, and I’m pretty happy about it. Why? Because it’s muscle. Here’s the proof. Those formerly painted on pants are now a couple inches too big in the waist.
Here’s a size 0 in a wider-leg cut, also currently too large in the waist. Just don’t stare too long at where I had to move my shirt out of the way – I don’t want you to go blind! Someone “back home” looked at my total lack of tan and asked whether or not I really do live in Hawaii.
Yep, lifting weights has made me so ginormously huge that that my pants are all too large. Good thing it’s hot in Hawaii and I never wear those pants, anyway! I also have a button down “camp” shirt with buttoned sleeves. The arms used to be really tight, and I frequently wore the shirt with a sleeve button popped open. Weightlifting has given me such she-Hulk arms that shirts now fit me comfortably! I tried to take some photos, but somehow taking a selfie of my sleeve while wearing the shirt just didn’t work out well. Instead, I’ll link this recent video of me at the gym so you can see that I definitely don’t look like a man!
There are many fantastic resources for women who want to learn more about weightlifting and lots of studies showing how incredibly beneficial it is for basically everyone. Studies suggest lifting weights can do things like decrease joint pain, strengthen bones, and even increase your flexibility. And you know what’s awesome? According to a Harvard study, weightlifting may help you loose weight and maintain weight loss far better than pure cardio! If you’re one of the many people in the world who haven’t found exercise success in the past, I really encourage you to seek out a weight training program. Not only is it great for you and more likely to earn the results you’re looking for, but feeling yourself get stronger and accomplish things you couldn’t before is such a fantastic confidence boost!
If you start weight training and find your muscles are becoming too defined for your own personal tastes, you can always dial it back a bit. Let me tell you, though, the only negative comments I’ve ever gotten were from when I was doing bodyweight things (like rock climbing a lot!) from male classmates and coworkers who were, themselves, quite out of shape. I always feel super awkward when people complement my physique (???), but during the past year several people I barely knew have said things like “Not to sound weird, but your legs look great! What do you do?” As someone who spent years hiding my legs, I was shocked when a girl I’d just met said that to me. I simultaneously felt awkward, embarrassed, and excited.
Whether you’re a man or woman, young or old, fitness junkie or first time gym-goer, I really hope you decide to give lifting a try. Just be prepared to go shopping for different clothes!
How about you? Have you experienced fitness frustrations or body confidence conundrums? How did you resolve them, or are they still a work in progress?
Natasha is a former classroom teacher turned WAHM. She also is a registered yoga teacher and certified life coach. She shares her passion for education with craft tutorials and free printables. She also shares her experience moving through grief after losing a parent and passion for positive parenting. Learn more about Natasha and where she’s been featured.