Wolves run and hunt. Fish swim. Birds fly. Horses gallop, and trudge, and roll in the hay. Big dogs zoom around in big circles when they’re excited; little dogs zoom around in little circles when they’re excited. Lions hunt, and lounge. Caribou forage and trek. Etcetera and so forth.
Notice: at no point did I say, or did you bother to think: male horses gallop — but female horses don’t want to “bulk up”, so they keep it to a low canter. Or, male caribou forage and trek, but female caribou want to avoid a virilized appearance, so they make sure to just lay the fuck down every half mile.
No, I didn’t say it, and you didn’t think it. Only when it comes to human mammals in the weight room do we suddenly split into two different species, that need two entirely different workouts.
Here’s a typical workout designed for human males:
Monday: International Chest Day
Tuesday: some other body part
Thursday: some other body part
Friday: some other body part
Sunday: International Chest Day Eve
Here’s a typical workout designed for human females:
Monday: Butt and cardio — light makeup
Tuesday: Butt and cardio— light makeup
Wednesday: Butt and cardio and light cable work for upper body, while making sex faces at mirror — moderate makeup
Thursday: Butt and cardio — moderate makeup
Friday: Cardio and cardio — heavy makeup, push up sports bra with pastel yoga pants and dark colored thong
Saturday: Butt and abs and cardio — heavy makeup, push up sports bra with pastel yoga pants and dark colored thong
Sunday: Butt and cardio, hair in messy bun because it’s Sunday Funday
It’s important for women to avoid any actual strength training because — unlike men who must put in years of dedicated gym work to see gains in strength-to-weight ratios and total body recomp — women walk a veritable knife’s edge, when it comes to fitness. If we drink one too many protein shakes, or pick up an actual barbell, we immediately become veiny, shredded, IFBB pro magazine cover models. A soft-bodied, slope shouldered female can, by total accident and virtually overnight, wake up Incredible Hulk style, pajamas hanging in tatters from her massive thews, from her engorged thickened bull’s neck, voice deepened three octaves and liable to throw a car into a skyscraper. Because, you know, our relatively high estrogen levels represent the universally recognized fast track to high speed lean muscle mass gains. If we so much as look at a dumbbell heavier than 8 pounds, we might even grow a dick.
It’s tough for me to reign myself in on this subject, I’ll admit.
I. Don’t. Get. It.
I’m flabbergasted, and bummed, that we, both men and women, can’t see this more clearly.
This stubborn blind spot, as it pertains to women’s fitness, isn’t only limited to gym amateurs. It represents a female-specific glass ceiling all the more oppressive because no one’s challenging it, least of all women. We’re accepting a limiting belief about reality without even thinking to question it. And when you do question it, even a little bit, it makes just about as much sense as a female horse limiting herself to a ladylike canter, because galloping is too masculine.
Case in point: Nick and I found some people here in coastal North Carolina who let us join their garage gym workouts for two weeks, until we lined up some fitness equipment of our own. We were grateful. They were nice. It was a handful of hetero couples who all worked at the same business, specializing in clean, whole-foods meal prep for fitness minded folks (zero plant-based IQ but what can you expect. Bro-science still holds a strong sway, when it comes to athletic communities).
All of these people, males and females alike, identified as gym/fitness/strength type folks. The men all got together and did barbell, while the women confined themselves to various circuits of light weights/high reps/cardio/butt stuff. No one found this remarkable.
What they did find remarkable was that Nick and I do the same lifts at different weights. We deadlift, squat, bench press, and overhead press together. We differ, right now, on power cleans vs snatches, but that’s a long story, absent of gender overtones.
Anyway, I’m gonna be honest — it felt a little awkward, in such a small space. Every evening, my basic ass barbell workout represented this uncomfortable elephant in the room — like I’d swaggered up to a row of urinals to piss alongside the men.
It’s the same, albeit muted, reaction in our gym at home, or any gym we’ve ever worked out in, anywhere. This is the status quo.
Let me acknowledge: yes, many perspectives about fitness exist, of which barbell is one. The human body is designed to move, and to be muscular. Thankfully, we all get to have skeletons and fat; muscularity is our variable to manipulate, individually. I think we can all agree that strength is not only an advantage to daily functioning and physical appeal, but also to resisting injury and recovering from illness — advantages which become more important, not less, as we age. Barbell represents a great method of practicing basic human “compound” movements — bending down to pick something up, pushing something on to a shelf over your head, etc. — in a scaleable way. You can dial in the weight exactly and add more incrementally, from very little to a whole hell of a lot. So, while I’d love to use this blog to “sell” barbell, and why it’s such a game-changer, I’m actually here to make a finer point: if we can acknowledge that effective strength training is good for any human body, why wouldn’t it be just as good for female human bodies?
Point blank, why do we think that barbell is only for males, and young ones at that? Why do we think the rest of us must settle for an armada of isolation machines and treadmills? If women only want to “tone up”, and not get “bulky” — then show me these hordes of accidentally virilized women we’re being so careful to aesthetically avoid. I haven’t seen them, and I’ve been looking. What I have seen is a very small minority of women, here and there in the gyms of the world, who’ve cut through the bullshit. They’re competently deadlifting, squatting, benching, power-cleaning, and doing full hang pull ups, adding weight incrementally and working a program. And they look incredible — feminine, curvy, sculpted, gorgeously proportional. They’re phenomenally “toned”, if that’s the word you need. We don’t lose our nice plush feminine fat layer, when we lift — it just migrates to better places. Fat on top of muscle jiggles more the right way, and less the wrong way, if you know what I mean.
We need to really look into what Kool Aid we’re drinking, here, as women.
And while I’m on that subject, can I just ask: what is the deal with all this butt stuff? We’ve culturally accepted the big booty look now, as per Instagram mandate, and that’s okay. Aesthetics for men remain more stable over time, whereas the idealized woman’s body lurches from extreme to extreme. Now we’re in the era of the Kardashian ass — okay, fine. If you already have a big ass, congrats. If you don’t, then I hope you enjoyed the 90’s, and are open to learning how to squat now.
I like to have fun with my little homegrown label, #womenoppressingthemselves, but I’m serious when I say: you are more than an ass. So why is it butt day, 7 days a week, for women at the gym? Fucking resistance band butt clenchies, kettle bell butt clenchies, cable pull butt clenchies, using some machine in a way it’s not intended butt clenchies — butt butt butt butt. You know you have shoulders and arms and stuff, right? You know lean muscle mass anywhere eats fat everywhere, right? And don’t you get tired of physically conceptualizing yourself as a butt with appendages?
Women at the gym get tunnel vision about their butts like men get tunnel vision about their chests. The bigger the better, we might think, from a perspective of body dysmorphia, but while that guy’s strutting around proud of his big chest, everyone else is like: what’s up, you hunchbacked, chicken legged weirdo. Same thing with the big butt girls — goddamn, it’s big enough, and doesn’t the rest of your body want something out of this? Just for variety, if nothing else?
Personally, I don’t care what random part of my female body is culturally fetishized next — it won’t change the way I train, because I’m the one who lives here in this body, and I’ve never felt better or looked better, or enjoyed exercising more than I do now. I’m not preaching from a lifelong lifter pulpit, either — I’ve only been doing barbell for a little over a year, but I’m no stranger to exercise. This is categorically better.
Ironically, it’s easier to become conventionally attractive, as a woman, by rejecting the conventional notions of how you’re supposed to get there. Visit startingstrength.com and check out the novice, linear progression if you want to fast track past the silliness. Long story short, it’s only two alternating barbell workouts, and they look like this:
Squat 3 sets 5 reps
Overhead Press 3 sets 5 reps
Deadlift 1 set 5 reps
Squat 3 sets 5 reps
Bench Press 3 sets 5 reps
Power Clean 5 sets 3 reps
You start with whatever weight you can achieve proper form at, and then add by tiny increments as you go. You never sacrifice form for weight. Each time you achieve all your reps at that weight, you move up to the next increment. You warm up enough, but only enough, to conserve max effort for work sets. And you rest between sets for as long as you need. It’s not a circuit, and it’s not timed — it’s about getting those reps at that weight, only and always. You might be chilling out for quite some time, between sets, as your numbers go up. There is no “super setting” or jogging to keep your heart rate up or any of that bullshit. Just get your reps, period, and keep track of it. It’s a metabolic event like none other. You don’t get stronger lifting, you get stronger recovering, so eating and sleeping is as much a part of it as lifting. If you want some cardio, that’s fine, but don’t compromise your lifts.
That’s the cliff notes. And, I’m out of time! Off to do some sprints. I hope this perspective I’ve offered is useful.