If I had a quarter for every time a woman told me she was afraid of weight training because she didn’t want to bulk up, my kids could spend hours at the arcade.
Ladies, I implore you: please don’t fear the bulk.
It’s important to know that it is really difficult—and takes a focused plan—to gain serious muscle mass, especially for women. I feel pretty confident in saying that for the average person, strength training will not make you bust out of your shirt sleeves and turn you into the Hulk. But more importantly, with the fear of “bulking” holding you back, you’re missing out on the immense benefits of strength training.
Pictures (and videos, especially) speak louder than words, so let’s kick things off with this video, via Bret Contreras, aka The Glute Guy. This woman is a complete and total badass: I am woman, watch me lift.
I’ll admit, I used to be afraid of bulking up, too. I am genetically blessed with solid leg musculature (yes, I did say blessed – these legs have carried me through many, many miles!) on my 5-foot-nothing frame. It runs in the family. My mother, who is not a real lover of exercise, has the same calves as me, and looks pretty awesome in a pair of heels. You should see her calves when she’s Lindy-ing with my dad on the dance floor. It’s a beautiful thing.
I learned the hard way about the benefits—and straight up necessity—of strength training. I played rugby for almost 8 years, and didn’t put in the work in the gym that I needed to while I was playing. Three knee surgeries later, I am a strength training evangelist.
For me, it’s an imperative that I maintain a strength training routine for my lower body just to be able to run when I feel like it. If I don’t do the minimum, my knees let me know that I’ve been slacking. Then my runs aren’t fun. And that just makes me angry, and I have nobody to blame but myself.
Strength training is the ticket to admission. It’s the ticket for enjoyable miles on the road. It’s the ticket to carrying sleepy kids up the stairs easily. It’s the ticket to fewer trips inside with grocery bags. It’s the ticket to picking up the spray of Legos in the playroom without back pain. It’s the ticket to playing basketball or soccer with kids without worrying about knee problems.
So here’s my request: stride on over to that shadowy part of the gym with the weights. Start slow. If you’re a researcher before getting in to something new, start by reading/watching material on Girls Gone Strong and/or by reading Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength. Both excellent resources.
I will also say that the definition of strength training doesn’t have to be limited to lifting weights in the gym. While nothing makes me feel more powerful than cranking out a set of back squats or deadlifts at the gym, you can also gain strength by taking Pilates classes, Barre classes, or by following a program like Iron Strength for Runners, created by Dr. Jordan Metzl. Any of these will increase your strength and ability to move through life feeling more upright, strong, and powerful. And that’s what it’s about, right?
Friends, muscles are beautiful and are not to be feared. But like a garden, they need to be maintained. Use ‘em or lose ‘em.
I’ll leave you with one more video to inspire you. If this doesn’t do it, I don’t know what will. As the 77-year-old powerlifter Willie Murphy says in this video, “I can shovel my own snow. I can lift up my grandchildren. Best of all, I don’t need any help carrying my groceries. See, that’s what it’s about: LIFE. L-I-F-E. LIFE.”
Well said, Willie. Well said.
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Just your average stopwatch-toting suburban mom, looking to make some locals sweat and curse my name.