The 120 tips on strength training for women first came across my FB newsfeed yesterday morning. It looked like it might be useful post for me, a women interested in strength training. In fact, his intended audience is other trainers who are training women. That, I must say, is a scary thought, considering how consistently the list fails to take seriously the idea of women and strength training.
I started to read the post, written by “The Glute Guy,” Bret Contreras (whose blog and post I am of two minds about bringing further attention to, but it has to be seen to be believed). My hackles went up immediately, before I even got to the list, because it started with a disclaimer. Many of the things in the lists aren’t actually “tips,” he said, more like “observations.” And then comes the old “please understand that I intend no disrespect or offense, I’m not trying to be controversial” disclaimer.
I’m sorry but when I read that kind of thing, I just hunker down and prepare to be offended.
The first 1-13 are “exercise considerations,” like that “proper push-up form is more difficult to attain for women than it is for men” (okay, I think we all know this, but where’s my “tip”?) and “some women have ‘coregasms’ when training, and the hanging leg raise is the primary culprit (these orgasms usually aren’t welcomed as they’re inconvenient).” Wowza! That’s the closest thing to a tip in the first section — do some hanging leg raises if you can catch some private time at the gym.
I really started to shift in my seat when I got to the part that generalized about women’s “fortitude and dedication.” He says, “many women lack the fortitude and dedication to ever see incredible results from lifting due to ‘being a lifter’ rather than ‘being a student of weight lifting'”. As the fabulous Jezebel post (author: Laura Beck) today commented on this point, “what?”
There are lots of “tips” about what women need to be taught, what they will insist on doing “if you let them,” and what sorts of second rate measures they will “resort to” if they are not adequately coached by their trainer. I can just imagine the mansplaining that must go on in this dude’s sessions with his female clients.
In the comments, one commentator (Samantha — not sure if it’s the Sam B), notes that many women are newbies to weight training. She points out that men are often exposed to weight training earlier, by friends or family or in school. A newbie is a newbie — man or woman, you will need some instruction to be able to strength train safely and effectively.
After a while, it just gets ridiculous, as in this sequence from number 26-40:
- Women differ psychologically compared to men (for example they’re motivated to train uniquely, and what revs up a man to max out doesn’t necessarily rev up a woman to max out)
- It is common for women to miss periods (menstrual cycles) upon embarking on an intensive training regimen (not to be confused with amenorrhea which happens when body fat drops too low)
- Menstrual cycles usually have a huge influence on factors such as training motivation, irritability/mood, water retention, and self-esteem during exercise
- The size of women’s breasts and also butts can fluctuate markedly throughout the month, which can lead to frustration
- Some women experience urinary incontinence when exercising, and the likelihood increases after giving birth
- Woman are better than men at fostering camaraderie but not quite as good as men at holding training partners accountable for showing up
- Many women don’t activate their pelvic floor muscles properly
- Women tend to prefer different training music than men
- More women than men like to offer up the phrase “they say” as proof of evidence (who exactly is “they”?)
- Most women don’t like getting weighed on scales, and many prefer to see how clothes fit as measures of progress (I don’t agree with this practice as I like to utilize all measures of progress)
- Women like wearing pink workout apparel and take their training attire much more seriously than men (for example they tend to match their shoes with their shorts or shirts, etc.)
- Women love putting chalk on their hands and then clapping hard – thereby getting chalk everywhere rather than keeping it solely on the hands (they probably do this because they saw gymnasts do it)
- Women are not as natural as men at adjusting machines and apparatuses
- Women love compliments – it fuels their fire to train even harder
We have a couple of things in feminist analysis that we tend to come down fairly hard on: gender stereotyping and gender essentialism.
Stereotypes of women paint a particular kind of generalized picture of them that often makes them seem less serious than men. The suggestion that women wear lots of pink (not sure how this “tip” will help me or my trainer) or that they have bad chalk etiquette (from emulating those darn gymnasts!) or that they are “not as natural as men at adjusting machines and apparatuses” (you know how women are with anything technical and mechanical) perpetuate stereotypes about women that insinuate that they have no place in the gym.
And if women would stay out of the gym, then there would be no conflicts about what training music to play over the speakers.
Gender essentialism with respect to women suggests that there are some essential biological features of women that identify them as women. The comments about menstruation and the fluctuation of breasts size and butt (?? really ??) size, suggests, among other things, that women are inevitable victims of their essential biology.
Apparently, according to Bret’s observations, women aren’t into science and research. No, women are satisfied with anecdotes (like Bret’s 120 anecdotal observations about strength training for women), maybe anecdotes based on what “they say” (see tip #34 in the grouping, “Anatomical, Physiological, Psychological, and Random Considerations.”
He gets a few things right. For example, “Women usually don’t want to be bothered in the gym – unsolicited advice from meatheads and cheesy pick-up lines get old quickly, yet men will nevertheless remain persistent.” Hallelujah! It’s sad that this is buried among crazy generalizations about the way women dress sexy and then get upset when men show an interest, undervalue their training partners, and make sexual sounding grunts (whereas, says Bret, men’s grunting isn’t sexual-sounding. Um, okay. Maybe that’s what they say, but I have heard differently, if you know what I mean).
This list is disturbing on many levels. Gender stereotyping and essentialism are both pernicious social forces that help keep patriarchal power structures in place. The list is full of them, thus reinforcing the notion that women don’t really belong in the testosterone-heavy space that is the weight room. What’s more disturbing is that the list has been compiled by a trainer who trains women yet fails to take them very seriously in their aspirations.
He is more busy observing how much pink they wear (might be useful to do some analysis on how many non-pink options are even available to women) or how fickle women can be: “Some women seem impossible with their complaints; for example one day they’re worried about getting too bulky and the next day they’re upset that they lost muscle size somewhere.” Silly women, can’t make up their minds what they want. Maybe they’re on their period and still reeling from the fluctuation in the size of their butt that month.
It’s more disturbing still that his intended audience is other trainers. Some have even confirmed his “findings” in the comments. But this all goes to the stereotypes. With this list of stereotypes out there, this could become the default frame through which women in the gym are viewed by unreflective trainers (who just listen to what “they” say). Women are portrayed as giggling, incontinent, know-nothings who “during casual conversation, when most women imitate weight lifting form to friends, family members, or peers, all of a sudden they get the form all wrong (for example they’ll imitate a deadlift like an upright row).”
It’s astonishing how a dude can do something that looks at first to be woman-friendly, namely, post a list of tips for strength training women, and have it go so horribly sideways by perpetuating stereotypes that actually secure his view that the gym is and ought to be a male domain. He had an opportunity to empower women and celebrate the fact that more and more women are owning their strength and working out with heavy weights. But he didn’t take it.
Lots of women are informed and educated about what they do in the weight room. They have a right to be taken seriously by their trainers and by others working out along side them. This tipsheet does more damage than good to the women who have claimed and are yet to claim their place at the gym.
End of rant.
More feminist reactions to Bret’s list:
Caitlin at Fit and Feminist’s If You’re Going to ‘Explain’ Women It Helps to Talk to Us First
Breaking the Mold’s Rant of An Angry Pink Lady