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Strength Training “Tips” for Women Perpetuate Stereotypes that Contribute to the Gym as Boys’ Club

weight-lifting-for-women-2The 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

22 thoughts on “Strength Training “Tips” for Women Perpetuate Stereotypes that Contribute to the Gym as Boys’ Club

  1. Great post. I just found your site via Fit and Feminist and I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read so far.

  2. This guy is nuts to begin with. If you want to hear one stereotype that I’ve noticed – it’s that women are excellent listeners and will use the appropriate weight and proper form almost immediately, whereas alot of men want to lift heavy so bad that they will sacrifice form to do so. Another strereotype which I hear is that younger women are very concerned about getting “too big” if they weightlift, which is a shame. Regarding the need for training, it is an ongoing thing for everyone! It is very difficult without at least an intermittent trainer and mirrors to recognize whether you are indeed using proper form, even after you’ve been shown it. The only time I’ve ever very gently and humbly approached a woman in the gym and offered advice, was when she clearly didn’t know how to do an exercise, and I honestly thought she was going to kill herself. I’ve seen all sorts of men and women using horrible form at the gym and I would never otherwise even consider approaching them about it, nor should I. For all I know, maybe it’s something sports-specific they’re doing (although I doubt it). So no doubt, this dude is seriously screwed in the head, and he should really restrict his comments to the live comedy stage on which he appears alongside Andrew Dice Clay. At least in that forum, his rights to free speech might be somewhat tolerated, especially since Clay doesn’t get on tv or in the movies too often anymore.

    1. Your comment is why I am so loathe to do the “men do this…” or “women do this…” I can think of nullifying instances for just about every generalization I’ve ever come across. Frankly, I think it’s just laziness on the part of the generalization-maker, which I don’t really get, because it’s not that hard to just accept that people are individuals who usually don’t adhere to b.s. made-up stereotypes.

  3. Great takedown! I would HATE to have such a mansplaining trainer, gross. One thing though is I don’t know about butt size (perhaps through bloating?), but breast size can definitely fluctuate throughout a month for reasons unrelated to weight gain or loss, so it can be a real thing, but I find it hard to believe that women are weight training to decrease or increase their breast size and would conflate their current exercise regime with something that’s probably happened for them since puberty. It can be frustrating, because it hurts when your boobs are bigger than they usually are, but that is probably not what this guy understands to be going at all.

  4. This guy is a misogynist. It’s alarming that he is channelling his hatred of women through a powerful medium, with the potential to influence many others. It’s a long time since I saw true misogyny. I’ll leave it second hand, I don’t want to visit his site.

  5. I saw this post last night as well.. Seriously, annoying.
    I am 100% for lady lifters, and love to encourage women to lift heavy. I am studying to be a personal trainer, and there is absolutely nothing that a man is trained to do (except bicep curls; please, no bicep curls), that a woman can’t!
    I lift Heavy. I LOVE lifting heavy. And my intro to weightlifting STARTED with lifting heavy. Seriously, this guy is annoying. 🙂

  6. Excellent post!! The vast majority of his “tips” are beyond horrible. I frequent a lot of weight training blogs, men and women, and was greatly saddened that he put his misguided notions and rampant stereotypes in such a public forum. As a woman who absolutely LOVES heavy lifting and the benefits I have experienced from it, I encourage other women to venture into the weight section of the gym and find it discouraging that individuals such as Bret put out crap that I feel discourages women to do so. Thank you for your rant!!

  7. Surprise, surprise. A misogynist who does not take well to women criticizing him…

  8. I love this post so much. The whole thing had the effect of being really alienating to a lot of women who lift, myself included. A lot of us already feel like we are venturing into no-womans-land, and junk like that just exacerbates it.

    Also I had to laugh when commenters were like “some people are always looking for things to get offended about,” as if we all just have our Sexism Radars on full seek mode at all times, searching out things to piss us off. Because that’s what I love to do with my spare time – read things that give me a headache and stress me out.

    1. Oh man! Don’t even get me started on those commenters. Many of the supportive and ego-stroking comments to Bret from women and his smarmy responses to them made me want to throw up. .

  9. I love his “speechless” response:

    “Just saw this posted in response to my post:

    I can’t believe this is how my post was interpreted. I’m speechless. It’s actually pretty funny, but I don’t know how to respond.”

    After 120 “tips” including all those sexy women grunts and asking for it workout apparel, that your post would be interpreted as such?!

    1. More like clueless. Or speechless and clueless together. Would be nice if he engaged in some reflection to try to grasp how his post might be interpreted ‘in that way’ even with his disclaimer at the beginning (because if you don’t intend to offend anyone then of course it’s their problem not yours if they take offence).

  10. Thank you for this! It’s a nice coincidence that I saw this on the day I had my first personal training session at a gym I recently joined. I’ve been liking the no-nonsense vibe of the place – everyone there politely focuses on their own thing, and not on trying to intimidate or impress other people – and the trainer today confirmed that they know what they’re doing: he was thorough, thoughtful, and never once did I feel he was putting me down or treating me differently because I was female. I’m sad to hear that this is not more common!

  11. Some may say I lack dedication, but I do like to color coordinate my shoes with my bench shirt. Neither is pink, however. The color thing is an effort not to take myself too seriously, to make myself happy, and a ritual that gets me in the frame of mind to lift. They are my serious lifting shirt and shoes and I don’t wear them any other time. Even at meets I don’t feel I’m in competition with other women as much as with myself. So maybe this makes me one of those unmotivated lifters. If I lift what I know I’m capable of or give my best effort, I’ve won. I yell or growl when I bench to increase the electrical activity in my cells in an effort to recruit more muscle fibers into the contraction. I learned about this phenomenon in college, but can’t cite the study. I don’t really care what other people think of this sound because I’ve passed out of childhood when I should have been seen and not heard. I don’t care for products or people who want to infantilize me. I hate chalk. I have it brushed off the bar before I lift. If I lifted around Bret and thought it would be an opportunity to see a man use a broom, I might just start making chalk angels. At age 53, bodyweight of around 123 lbs., I only benched 204 pounds at my last meet in my beautiful blue shirt and shoes. So I still have things to learn. Maybe I’ll re-read those tips.

    1. That’s terrific. Our body weight and our bench press weight are just about the same, only in reverse. Maybe by the time I’m 53 I’ll get there!

    2. Sarah, that’s mind-blowing. I wonder what Bret’s bench press to bodyweight ratio is. I think the blueness of your shoes must have something to do with that poundage you push up. 😉
      Do you have any other feats of strength to inspire us with?
      Maybe if I grunted break through my bench plateau – ha.

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