The One About My Weight Gain & the “Bulk” Fear of Women vs Weights

15 Fri, 2011 § 12 Comments

Do you have a number?  There is not necessarily a good reason it exists in your mind at all.  It is likely arbitrary, but there it is: the number you envision slim, attractive women weigh.  Or perhaps strong, masculine men, if you are a guy.

I have my own number.  Even now, though I rarely step on the scale & am not even worried about being at this number, it still floats around in my head.  Honestly, I am not sure if I have ever really been at this weight; at times I have been far too under it or uncomfortably over it.

I do not own a scale.  I stopped weighing myself in high school.  Actually, it was in jr. high I learned weight is relative, dependent on muscle gain & such.  I began to gauge my…body composition (though I didn’t know to call it that then)…by how my clothes fit.  Usually I only learn my weight when I visit the doctor’s office.

When I was in Albuquerque in February, I spotted a scale at the gym.  I was curious.  I stepped on.  Honestly, my first thought: “huh, must be muscle gain.”  I weighed a good ten pounds over “my number”.  I had gained a few pounds since my last weigh in.  I was ok with it.

I was feeling my best, my clothes still fit — if anything, they were looser — & I was maxing out on pull ups, chin ups, push ups, etc.  I knew I was strong.  Maybe the scale wasn’t showing my “ideal” weight or even my happiest weight.  This was a temporary price required as my body was subtly changing & becoming stronger.

That moment on the scale, there was no judgment & no criticism.  I was excited to see where my body was taking me; I was enjoying the ride.

[photo by David Finch]

Lifting weights makes women bulky.  At least that is what I hear over & over again.  Many women are terrified of weight training.  They all say the same thing: “my body is different; I bulk up.”  Maybe initially this is true, but even during my weight gain, I wasn’t actually bigger.  I’ll be honest: sometimes I feel like my arms are “bulky”; I want more “tone”.  Dave is often my grounding force to reason, almost rolling his eyes as he assures me they are not bulky.  Maybe as women, we have this I-look-like-a-dude panic whenever we build a little muscle.

If you have more body fat, you might experience initial bulk.  Usually women succumb to the panic & stop all strength training.  DON’T.

You have to push through…because it’s about to get so good.

When you gain muscle, your resting metabolic rate goes up; though by how much is debated [source].  Does it really matter?  Your body is getting stronger & healthier.  If your goal is to slim down, you’ll reach it more quickly by gaining muscle.  Now, my goal isn’t to lose weight but to change my body composition.  I am training to gain strength, & honestly, build lean muscle.  I always think “build lean muscle” sounds kind of weird.  What I’ve really done is build muscle — perhaps even a little “bulk” — & gain strength, then let me body find its balance through all of the other activities I love like climbing, cycling, swimming, interval training, etc.  I’m no expert, but this seems to be working for me.

Curious again, I stepped on the scale at our gym recently.  Without trying, I have lost 6 pounds since Albuquerque.  Because I have added more muscle, definition & strength since then, I know it’s the kind of loss I want.

I do not obsess over the number on the scale, but I don’t mind seeing it go down right now as long as I stay strong & energized.  If I weigh less while maintaining — no, increasing — strength (& stamina), my weight-to-strength ratio will be in my favor.  As a climber, pulling myself up the wall or boulder, this is optimal.

I am trying not to dwell on where I want to be but just embrace the process as it is happening.  I do this by climbing harder & tracking progress in the gym with a workout journal.  Like I said, I’m just enjoying the ride.  Of course I want to be stronger & use my passions to challenge myself & push farther, but I don’t let the little hater inside tell me I am not good enough yet.

I am.  You are too.

If you only take a few things away from here, I hope you’ll believe the following:

  • The ### on the scale is relative.  I weigh more than many of my friends who are similar in size.  Muscle does not weigh more than fat.  A pound of muscle weighs the same as a pound of fat; but a pound of muscle takes up less space.  I won’t be weighing myself regularly.  It works for some people, but I prefer to gauge my progress by how I feel, how my clothes fit & how I perform.
  • Girls have muscles too.  Some might not like the way this looks.  To each his/her own, but I don’t get it.  I love strong women — I love strong people.  Being able to do a pull up or even a push up is empowering.  I would rather be motivated by strong people than torture myself & get sucked into the realm of “thinspiration”.
  • Make it about more than the number.  I know I progress not because the number says so but by my performance.  Am I climbing harder?  Running farther?  Biking faster?  Squeezing out one more rep?  Adding another plate to the rack?  Find something you love, make your body good for something (not just pretty) & treat it like it is.

~

FEEDBACK!  I want to know what you think about women lifting weights, muscle gain & the scale.  As you can tell, I’m a little passionate about this — I know you are out there, so please share your insights!!!

Move…Every Day

15 Sun, 2010 § 2 Comments

Biking! Chasing! Jumping! Climbing!

Throwing the ball! Swimming in the canal!

Rollerblading! Tubing! Scrambling!

= Fun as a Child

Fun meant exerting ourselves.  Fun meant moving.

~

This need-to-move (ie exercise) & I have had a long-standing, if not always smooth or consistent, affair.  Even as a young teenager, I would de-stress by taking a quick jog around town.  My flirtation with working out continued through college, constantly evolving & changing as I learned more, tried different activities/practices & became more comfortable with myself.  Once plagued with anxiety & depression, I realized how much better I felt when I exercised.  It amped up my energy levels & stomped out exhaustion & insomnia I had been battling.  Someone once told me to get energy out of anything; you first have to put energy into it.  When I put energy into exerting myself & pushing my limits, I gain exponentially physically, mentally & emotionally.  Simply, exercising makes me happy.  🙂

It is no secret that frequent & regular physical exercise boosts the immune system & helps prevent the ‘diseases of affluence.’  We have all heard that exercise increases levels of both serotonin & endorphins; but did you know these levels can stay elevated even several days after exercise is discontinued?  It is no wonder that physical activity contributes to improvement in mood, increased self-esteem & health management.   Dave has commented that he can usually gauge my mood by whether or not I have worked out that day…to what extent…how it went… 😀

Considering all of the benefits & chemical reactions that it produces, how can exercising not make me happy?  How can I not move every day?!

If you are not moving daily — or even if you are — here are some discoveries I have made throughout my own “love affair”:

Enjoy “Exercise”

Are you having fun yet?  Who says you have to be a runner?  Maybe yoga bores you.  Do you have to sweat buckets & feel like puking by the end of your workout?  You determine what is worth it & enjoyable to you, as long as you are sweating & raising your heart rate several times a week.  There are countless ways to get out there & move, so the excuse “I just don’t like exercising” is lame.  Rock climbing completely changed my body without feeling like a workout.  Maybe you are the social type & need the motivation & support of a Zumba class; or the solitary part of you likes hiking with only nature as your companion; perhaps you are in the zone when pumping weights; maybe you love racquetball, but have yet to try it; or thrive off of training for a triathlon.  If you are not having fun, you just have not found it yet.  [This following week, I am excited to share the activities I love & why.]

Determine Goals & Make Your Body “good for something

Our bodies will change; this is inevitable.  If we base our bodies’ worth solely on appearance, I am afraid only frustration & disappointment lie ahead, especially as we age.  Does this mean we can’t want that six-pack?  Of course not; but what good will it do you?  It might be pretty, but is it useful?  I want lean muscles, because they enhance my climbing.  Do I also like the way my arms & back look?  Yeah; it is a nice biproduct of striving for my own performance goals.  This is what really enhances self/body image: when you focus on more than just “looking good”, you actually connect with your body’s worth & ability.  “Looking good” just kind of follows…without obsessing over unrealistic “perfection”…without the need to compare your body to others.

Stay Motivated

Having goals will help keep you motivated & focused.  I mentioned in a previous post, I do not necessarily think “numbers” are the healthiest gauge of health.  While suggested “healthy” weights can be a good guideline, it is easy to fall victim to chasing after arbitrary numbers.  If you need a number-based-focus, I prefer body fat % over weight.  Still, rather than stressing where the scale stops when you are standing still, focus on what your body can do when you are moving!  Appreciate it, find others who embrace this & enjoy being active together.  It is much more uplifting than petty competitions over who has the tiniest waist.

Crunched for time?  How many activities in your day keep you “busy” without actually being “productive” or necessary?  What makes you happy & healthyThese are necessary.  What is not?  Be honest with yourself & establish priorities.  My body weight interval training takes anywhere from 12-30 minutes & requires little to no equipment.  I often bike instead of driving.  I used to practice yoga or take a quick run on my lunch or class breaks.  I have even sneaked a quick workout in at the airport while waiting for our flight.  Tell me you can’t squeeze that into your day?

Cross Train


I have found cross-training is crucial for injury prevention as well as balancing my body.  I often use specific training, such as weights & pilates, to strengthen weaker muscles [those I do not use as often &/or those asked to carry a heavy brunt of my activities].  I have been climbing less often this season & knew I was destined to lose much of my strength.  However, because of the type of cross-training I am doing [including High Intensity Interval Training], I am bouldering harder than I ever have in the past.  Also, because I am not constantly straining the same muscles with overuse, I do not feel as close to injury as I previously have felt.  I like switching up the activities I do; so, while I may not excel at any one of them, my body feels healthy & balanced.

Rest

Our bodies need time to repair & recover from the stress we exert on them.  As I have read articles by “maturing” athletes, I have found it interesting how much their training differs from their “younger” days.  They seem to realize how crucial it is to incorporate rest days for recovery, as well as cross-training.  Yes, as our bodies age, they will require more time to recover; but wouldn’t you rather remain injury-free during your younger years so you can do what you love longer?

Embrace “active rest days”, meaning you do not spend your rest day sitting on your butt, vegging in front of the television.  You still move on these days: enjoy an activity you love like kayaking; stretch & de-stress with yoga; weight train opposing muscles that are neglected during regular training; simply walk.  Moving increases blood circulation which will speed recovery by bringing new blood to muscles as well as flushing out metabolic waste products [biproducts of exercise] which cause soreness.

~

Though I am happier with this past week’s activity level, I wanted to show the PREVIOUS WEEK; because, even though issues with my left calve kept me from being as active or intense as I would have liked, I was still able to move every day*.

Monday ~ Active Rest Day [Sore from Sat. hike & Sun. bike ride]

  • laps at the pool

Tuesday ~

  • a.m. Yoga Class, focusing on “wheel”
  • bike commute 8 mi each way split up by bodywork session [releasing fascia of the left calve & mobilizing my right fibula]
  • weights with Dave: rotator cuff & shoulder muscles, core

Wednesday ~

  • a.m. HIIT [High Intensity Interval Training]
  • midday laps in the pool with Dave [only 15-20 minutes before a light thunder storm hit]

Thursday ~

  • HIIT

Friday ~

  • a.m. Yoga/Pilates Class, “shoulder stands & core”

Saturday ~

  • ran 1-2 mi around the lake in a.m. followed by short workout [hold chaturanga dandasana w/leg extensions, mt. climbers & elevated push-ups] & walk with Eisley & Dave;
  • a little kayaking at Payson Lake with the family

Sunday ~ Dave & I desperately needed to sweat out our less-than-active & oh-so-delicious weekend 😛

  • 14 min-evening-run followed by Dave’s boot camp playground workout [I thought I was going to vomit]; to cool down we practiced Qigong, walked home & stretched.  I also worked on static handstands after balancing with Qigong per Dave’s suggestion — it made such a difference!

*Also walk Eisley every morning & evening before her meals & as much as possible throughout the day.

~

Tell me about your own relationship — highs & struggles — with exercise.  What is holding you back?  What keeps you moving?

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