Second, I’ve signed up for Zwift Academy: “Unlock your untapped power with the program that started it all. World-class coaches bring killer workouts to boost your performance on the bike. New friends bring fun.” That’s October 1-November 25.
Third, my mum, Sarah, and I are going to keep working out outside in the backyard with a personal trainer for as long as weather permits. We’re all cold weather hardy. But rain might put us off. But we have flexible schedules. Let’s see! Maybe I’ll even lure my mum into blogging for us.
And finally, fifth, there’s strength training of various sorts. We’ve got lots of resistance bands, kettlebells, dumbbells, and the trusty TRX. Sometimes I think I need to get organized about it. Other times, I think it’s okay to do random, snack sized fitness-y things when the mood strikes.
I have a confession to make–I had a crush on Susan Powter in the early 2000’s. Do you remember her and Stop the Insanity!? I was a little late to the party, I admit, but I became a real believer for a while there. If you missed out on the fun, Powter was big in the low fat craze during the nineties, but don’t worry, that’s not what I’m here to write about today. She also made a whole series of exercise videos in classic nineties style–including yards of Spandex, step aerobics, interval training, simple weightlifting routines, and the like, and refreshingly, with people of all sorts of body types. And the real magic was that in all of her videos she offered modifications for movements, constantly encouraging people to “work within their fitness level.” “Only by working within your fitness level will you be able to advance to the next one.” And she was right.
A friend recently asked if it was ok she was doing her weightlifting with “just 8 pound dumbbells,” because that’s all she could do. My answer? Yes of course it was ok, and in fact, it’s necessary in order for her to build strength. I could hear Susan Powter in my head, telling us that my friend needs to work at her current strength level in order to build to the next one.
What Powter was pushing against, and what I’m going to push back on today, is this myth in fitness that we have to “go hard” for it to count. Or maybe more accurately, it’s to acknowledge that “hard” is a relative term. It just needs to be hard enough FOR YOU.
Here’s an analogy. My therapy sessions frequently focus on managing my trauma. Trauma can narrow your “emotional window of tolerance.” In other words, the range of emotional experiences you can handle before you are either hyperaroused (go into fight/flight/freeze) or hypoaroused (numb, emotionally disconnected) narrows. The goal of trauma therapy is to slowly increase the range of emotional experiences I can tolerate without going into either a heightened or collapsed state. My therapist and I work just inside my window of tolerance, we attempt to get close but not go over what I can handle. Becoming triggered is counter-productive; no one can learn when their nervous system is trying to flee. And by working within this window over time, the range of experiences I can tolerate gets broader.
That’s what I’m doing when I lift weights successfully, too. I need to find the level of strength that is challenging enough to push myself, without “traumatizing” my muscles. And just like emotional experiences, muscles will have a range of experiences that will promote growth–it’s not a single, set weight or number of reps but a moving target. It will vary depending on how much sleep I’ve had, how well fed I am, what exercises I did yesterday, how strong I currently am, and so much more. Therefore, each of us has to learn to feel our way into the right weights each day. And the right weight is almost never a weight we can’t control. It’s not a cop-out to reduce the weight to the level at which you can control it; it’s actually necessary in order to keep getting stronger.
Each of us must continually work to find the right level of challenge for where we’re at today. There is both freedom and responsibility in acknowledging this. You don’t have to lift what someone else is lifting; you’re free to find your own way. However, you also have to stay present enough to listen to your body, both to make sure you’re continuing to challenge yourself but also to ensure that you’re being responsive to your limits. Susan Powter was right. You’ve got to work within your fitness level to get to the next one. It isn’t a race; there’s no finish line. Give yourself permission to work at the right level for yourself, and you’ll be rewarded with increased strength over time, Spandex optional.
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found working within her fitness level, picking up heavy things and putting them down again, in Portland, Oregon.
Not loving your lifting workout and just want to get it over with? Myo reps. Have less time, but want to feel like you’re not cheating your progress when shortening your workout? Myo reps. Only have a 10lb dumbbell but you need 25 lbs to fatigue a lift in 10 reps? Myo reps.
During the pandemic, myo reps have become my favorite way to get it done. If you aren’t familiar with them, they’re pretty easy to perform. Take a lift and do it to near failure. Count about 4 breaths and then immediately do your next set, this time all the way to failure. Count 4 breaths, and repeat. Do this until you’ve done 3-5 sets, when your muscles will likely be telling you they can’t take it anymore.
I’ve been lifting at home since March. I have dumbbells–1, 3, 5, 7, and 20 pound pairs. I have some sturdy exercise bands, including a set that can be anchored into a door. I have some adjustable ankle weights that can give me 0.5-9 pounds of resistance per leg (or arm, if I’m desperate). And of course, I have my body and whatever I can jerryrig from the dining room table, the bench in the entrance, off the futon and on the floor.
I began my workouts as an extension of the work I’d been doing with a trainer. I substituted in moves and lowered weights when necessitated by my limited equipment and just did as many reps as necessary to fatigue my muscles. However, 5 sets of 30-40 reps became commonplace, and my mental stamina was beginning to give out sooner than my muscular stamina! I needed to find a way to do the work without feeling so exhausted from it; life during the pandemic was exhausting enough.
Enter myo reps.
In the months since I began using them, myo reps have become a flexible tool in my lifting toolbox. I’m pretty good at remaining consistent doing the work, but as the months have dragged on, no question I’m loving my home lifting less and less. Sometimes I just want to check off the box and move on with my day. With myo reps, I can perform my workout in far less time and still feel like I’ve given my muscles a meaningful stimulus.
For example, if I’m doing dumbbell bicep curls, I currently have a choice between using 7 lbs or 20 lbs. Twenty pounds borders on too much for me for a bicep curl. (I can do 6 reps without cheating; I just ran upstairs to check!) With seven pounds, I can go on and on. However, with myo reps, I start with that really long set at 7 lbs–maybe 40? I don’t really count–but the second set is a more reasonable 12, then 8, then 8 again. There’s some research out there that suggests these reps can be as effective as straight sets, and I’m done in about 2 minutes.
I don’t recommend you try these with heavy, complex movements. You don’t want to get too fatigued squatting with a lot of weight on your back or pressed overhead. But for lighter and simpler movements, I have found them to be a welcome source of variation. It’s important to me to continue to be consistent with my workouts. Finding flexible solutions to the challenges of this time allows me to keep doing the work, to get it done and to move on with my day.
How about you, dear reader? Have you tried myo reps? Is there another strategy you’ve found to remain flexible and consistent with your lifts?
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found pre-fatiguing her muscles, picking up heavy things (like her own body), and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon.
Greetings from Portland, Oregon, where everything is peaceful and the living is easy.
Ok, maybe not.
For over a week, federal agents have incited violence by attacking peaceful protestors, detaining them, scooping people off the streets in unmarked vehicles and so obviously escalating the situation that the only explanation for their behavior is that it is intentional. Our local police, instead of standing up to protect the citizens of our city, who pay their wages and to whom they are sworn to protect, are collaborating with this invading force. The productive and justifiable outrage of my fellow citizens is palpable.
In addition to being ground zero for Trump’s latest version of fascist cosplay, Oregon is in the midst of grappling with when, if and how we all return to school in the fall. As a middle school teacher, I am working hard to advocate for the health of my students, their families, and my fellow educators. I’ve come to accept, in fact, that this summer is absolutely not a vacation; it’s two months of unpaid work.
Some of that work is also devoted to collaborating with other educators in this moment of racial reckoning to reexamine our own understandings of race, and to begin addressing racial bias implicit in the educational system. I’m reading, discussing and exploring resources to help me better understand what my privilege has allowed me to remain ignorant to. It’s important work, but it requires focus and extended attention, both of which are hard to come by these days.
Oh, and of course there is still a potentially life-threatening virus circulating in our community that holds very real dangers for folks, especially those with complicated health histories like me. As cases have been on the rise again, I am having to hole up more tightly once more. My husband has taken over grocery shopping completely, and I’m limiting my interactions with the outside world almost exclusively to my daily walks and bimonthly visits with my father. The isolation, lack of community, and ever-present anxiety is a constant stressor.
In light of all of this, I’m struggling to keep up energy up for workouts. I am not sleeping well; I’m exhausted even when I do. My daily and weekly routines are a mess, and I rely upon routine to prime myself mentally to push hard. And, honestly, lifting from home is simply getting boring. I like pushing my strength, and there’s only so much I can do without a bench and adjustable weights.
After trying all sorts of things to reinvigorate my lifting, I’ve recently settled into a new mindset around it. What is working best for me right now is to be very permissive and flexible. Like autoregulating my runs, I’m letting how I feel each session dictate how much I do and how I do it. Do I feel good? I push hard, do more sets, make them more challenging. Do I feel shitty? I do the bare minimum I need to in order to feel like I’ve done it. I find it less stressful to have done SOMETHING than to skip it entirely, so on those days, and they’re often right now, I do exactly how much I need to and no more.
It’s hard to feel passionate about my strength when I’m directing so much of my mental energies elsewhere. I know that self-care is necessary for me to maintain my stamina for all the important work that needs to be done, but there’s a continuum of what self-care can look like. I don’t have to push hard on my workouts to be taking care of myself. And for me, skipping them entirely wouldn’t be self-care, either. I’m trying to be ok with this new, lower standard for my lifting. I’m trying to believe that my energy will return in time, and I will have benefited from this relative break from hard physical exertion.
Weightlifting can be a powerful stress reliever for me, but right now, being rigid and pushing hard just isn’t in the cards. My world is going through some serious growing pains. I’ve got other projects that I need to prioritize. It’s all important work, and I’m not going to stop strength training; I just need to change my approach so that I can do the other work that needs to be done.
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things, sometimes, when she feels like it, and putting them down again, in Portland, Oregon.
There are four blog topics I’ve been thinking about that are all tangled together. Common threads weave through them and they are all part of the same story. Really, it’s a story about strength, gender normativity, and women’s muscular bodies.
First, Catherine wrote about the names we use to describe our bodies. Catherine’s focus is on how complicated that task is when it comes to self-description. I agree but I think it’s partly because the words I want don’t really exist. I lament that there are so many positive words for muscular and heavily built men and no such words for women. Words for larger athletic male bodies? Burly, husky, substantial, strapping, brawny, to name just a few. Note that they are not necessarily gendered but they don’t work so well for women’s bodies.
Sidebar: There have been attempts to reclaim this language.
Second, I wrote about dad bods, asking yet again, where are the muscular-but-gotten-slightly-softer-with-age women’s bodies, the mom bods? Women can be svelte and muscular and desirable but most really strong women are actually large. It’s why there are weight classes in lifting. But no one sings the praises of larger, athletic women’s bodies.
Fourth, and finally, it hit home again with my Zwift avatar. I’m large and she’s medium sized because in Zwift the men’s avatars come in small, medium, and large and the women’s only in small and medium. So even when I am racing with men who weigh the same as me their avatars are much larger! It’s extra odd because your weight is no secret in Zwift. If you’re racing your weight is a matter of public record and it’s easily determined by looking at your watts per kilo and your speed. It’s simple math.
I’ve written about this before saying, “I have one complaint about my Zwift avatar. She’s medium sized person and I’m a large sized person. That’s odd because avatar size is based on your actual kg. It turns out that in Zwift women only come in two sizes regardless of how much we weigh. We’re either small or medium. Men come in three sizes, small medium or large. Here’s an explanation of avatar sizes. So when Sarah and I ride together in Zwift we’re the same medium size. That’s weird because IRL she’s medium and I’m big.”
So like there are no words to describe my body type, there are no avatars either. The message is clear. No woman would want to look like that.
Here are some images of large, strong women, stronger and more muscular than me.
“Let’s say someone wants to squat 500 pounds. It’s a big goal, but not unachievable. Lots of people get to 500 pounds these days.” (1)
“If you keep your bodyfat percentage too low, you’re not going to build as much muscle. If someone is trying to stay around 8% bodyfat, your body is going to want to partition more of that energy towards fat storage.” (2)
I love lifting weights. I enjoy the exertion, the challenge, and the self-confidence that it brings. I’m not alone–women are a growing number of the competitive lifters around the world. Women participate in competitive physique, strong”man”, weightlifting and powerlifting. And this reflects a boom in interest amongst us non-competitive folks, too, likely at least in part fueled by the popularity and accessibility of crossfit in the last decade.
And yet, the mostly male-dominated media space has not caught up. When lifters are discussed, there is an overwhelming tendency to treat “lifters” as synonymous with “men.”
And to be perfectly frank, it’s starting to piss me off. Every time a guy says “someone” and what they really mean is “men,” I want to yell, “HEY, I’m SOMEONE, too!”
I want to see myself in the programs put out there. I want trainers to give me potential solutions to the challenges I face in reaching my goals. I want to know that my needs and concerns have answers. I want realistic metrics to which I can compare myself and help with goal setting. In short, I want representation.
Instead, there’s an endless parade of articles and other media around men’s insecurities and challenges–how to get 6-pack abs! Build your squat to 3x bodyweight! How to get to 12% body fat and stay there!
The physiology of someone born with female parts is different than the physiologies of people born with male parts. We have more essential levels of fat–requiring higher body fat levels in order to function healthfully. Our hormone profile changes how we respond to lifting, with only 5-10% of the testosterone of a typical adult man making building muscle a potentially slower process. Our smaller joints and bone structures change the size of our muscular potentials. Estrogen is protective in many ways, making women and other people who produce more of it, more resilient to higher-rep lifting, possibly meaning we require shorter rest periods. Some research on Olympic level athletes suggests that our abilities to recover even changes throughout our menstrual cycles. And none of this gets into the nuances of lifting around pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, hysterectomies, mastectomies and so many other experiences shared by so many people with a uterus.
But I’m not asking that every article, interview, podcast and blog post dig into all of these caveats every time they want to offer me 5 new ways to do push-ups. No, I just want the language used to be inclusive. I want pictures of strong people of all genders doing the work. I want it to be clear that I am a potential member of the target audience. So many trainers complain about how women are afraid of lifting weights, that we’re afraid of the barbell, that we’re afraid of the results we might get. But if 90% of the images we see are men on gear working on showing off that 6-pack, why should we expect a majority of women would be drawn to that? (To be clear, I have no problem with lean, muscular women with six-pack abs, I just recognize that they are a subset of the population.) We need to be represented in order to imagine it as a real possibility.
So in absence of another solution, I propose a simple test to determine if women are being acknowledged as people who do serious strength training. Blog post, podcast, article or interview, let’s call it the Hundtoft-Bechdel Test (3) which asks that fitness experts:
one. Directly mention women and/or include them in images. two. And ensure that any goals and/or metrics referenced include those appropriate for women and other people born with a uterus.
So, back to the quotes at the top: “Let’s say someone wants to squat 500 pounds. It’s a big goal, but not unachievable. Lots of people get to 500 pounds these days.”
This may be true for men who lift seriously over time. It is not ever true for women. I just checked the current raw powerlifting records for women, and the drug-tested, open world record for squat for women is 502 pounds. So women are excluded by the speaker and he fails the Hundtoft-Bechdel Test.
“If you keep your bodyfat percentage too low, you’re not going to build as much muscle. If someone is trying to stay around 8% bodyfat, your body is going to want to partition more of that energy towards fat storage.”
The second speaker also fails the test, since an 8% bodyfat is nearly unattainable even by the most competitive female bodybuilders. It is certainly not a “walking around” level of leanness for most women, when it might be for an especially disciplined, genetically gifted, and/or possibly just highly neurotic man.
In comparison, a recent article on Nerd Fitness (on the Star Wars workout) passed the test easily. Images of women. No metrics of success that are gendered at all. Steve Kamb did a great job of using entirely neutral language so that any reader can see themselves in the article.
Another win goes out to a great podcast, Stronger by Science. In their recent discussion on gut health and training nutrition, they interviewed a female expert and used gender-neutral language throughout. When it was appropriate to specify male vs. female metrics, both were included.
A quick search of recent Bodybuilding.com training articles finds some sort-of wins and some straight up losses. For example, this article on shoulder exercises does a good job of using gender-neutral language, but fails due to exclusively using men in the images.
T-Nation fairs not even as well as that. There are many examples to pull from, but here’s a training article that even the title (“The V-Taper Workout and Diet Plan”) excludes women as a target. The “V-Taper” is a shape of shoulders and waist that is specifically identified as a desirable male attribute (think comic book Superman with his wide shoulders and impossibly narrow waist). Notably, the author never acknowledges that he’s writing for a male audience. Major fail.
Not surprisingly, women lifters and authors consistently do a better job including women. Some female trainers are directing their business at other women as their primary market, and so they explicitly include women in their media. However, there are also female trainers and bloggers who do a good job of inclusive, but not female-centric language. A standout example is Meghan Callaway.
Women lift weights. We like to track our progress and gauge our success against other lifters. We want to know reasonable goals for goal setting and to see ourselves represented in media aimed at folks who strength train. Representation matters, and it’s well-past time for fitness authors, podcast hosts, and trainers to make a more consistent effort to represent women equally in their spaces.
(1) Maybe not an exact quote, but definitely the gist from a recent interview with Dr. Mike Zourdos on the Iron Culture podcast, which incidentally, is an awesome podcast! But I know they can do better with representation.
(2) Not going to link to this one, as the podcast I was trying out became so fat-phobic in a rant that I don’t want to encourage others to listen to it.
(3) Named in homage of and to give credit to the Bechdel Test which gives a simple way of identifying if women are present in film.
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found reading about strength training, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.
You know that I left the gym early. I don’t remember when I last went but I posted about my decision to leave on March 9th. It’s been awhile since I’ve set foot inside the gym, the yoga studio, or the Bike Shed.
So I’ve been working out at home for awhile now. Mostly it’s all fit together pretty well.
Piece one of the puzzle is that I’ve been riding and racing my bike virtually. Hello Zwift! Piece two is that I’m back together with Yoga with Adriene, enjoying her Yoga for Uncertain Times series quite a lot. Piece three is everyday exercise walking Cheddar the dog.
But the fourth piece is not working out quite so well. It’s there but it’s a work in progress.
That’s at home strength training. I’ll confess we weren’t as well-prepared. We have a motley, somewhat random collection of tools. The one great thing is Sarah’s TRX which we mounted in the living room which is now combo home office for two and home gym for three. We also pandemic panic purchased a 25 lb kettlebell the day before the shops all closed. Sarah also has a lone 8 lb dumbbell from her injured shoulder physio days. And we own some resistance tubing with handles, one is not very much resistance and the other one a bit too much. You read about that purchase here.
My son is home from university and he’s regular gym goer. He usually lifts pretty serious weights most days of the week. I think at first he thought he’d wait it out but now he’s planning home workouts for us, scouring Instagram for ideas. I’m really glad he’s here.
It feels a bit like the cooking challenge where you’re given random oddball ingredients and asked to construct a meal. But he’s doing a great job.
How to make chest and triceps day out of this?
We’re making do but I miss the gym. How about you?
Once it warms up we’re going to hang the heavy punching bag in the backyard. Will report back!
I’m very lucky to have a workplace gym. I haven’t always made good use of it. Last fall when my regular workout buddy was no longer able to join me I made a new weight lifting routine. It sat on my workstation until a week into January.
That first week of January a laughing group of my colleagues passed by me on the way to the gym late in the afternoon. I smiled and chatted then was delighted when they invited me to join them.
It took a couple tries until I had all my gear at work and my calendar cleared. Six weeks later it’s a habit. Not everyone can make it every day but we block the time in our calendars and check in. It’s very positive.
Our goals are as diverse as our ages. I think we span 4 decades with the youngest in her thirties and at least one of us is 60. We are all women in leadership roles. Our workout styles & preferences are varied. Some of us prefer virtual classes. Others, like me, a weight lifting routine.
I really appreciate being part of the group, the camaraderie, sharing tips & tricks and seeing the skills and competences we have in the gym.
I find going to the gym very challenging. I don’t like the mirrors everywhere. I struggle to be a beginner…AGAIN. What I love is how this opt-in-supportive and positive peer pressure has helped me get to the gym 4-5 times a week. It’s feeling really good.
This photo is in no way related to the post but my new dogpanion Lucy is just too dang cute not to share.
It feels selfish to be writing about fitness from the perspective of staring down a possible pandemic, but I confess when I think about home quarantine from my self-interested point of view, exercise is one of things I think about. It’s not just keeping my fitness I’m worried about, though there is that. Working out and movement feel like they’re central to my emotional health and mental well-being.
That’s not all I think about of course when it comes to the possible coronavirus pandemic.
Over on Twitter, I think about covid-19 from the perspective of an academic administrator.
I worry about it as a problem for society when I have friends tweeting about cheap airfares. I think there’s an obligation to do all that we can do to slow down transmission of the virus. Likely that means staying home.
As a feminist philosopher, and as a human being, I worry about how quickly people move to say that covid-19 isn’t that dangerous because it’s only really a threat to the elderly and those with underlying conditions. What does that say about which lives we value?
I like this reframing.
I worry about political systems, especially south of the border, and the need for affordable health care, paid sick leave, and testing.
Lots to worry about but I like it that’s there’s some practical things we can all do to prepare.
“Be ready? But how? It seems to me that some people may be holding back from preparing because of their understandable dislike of associating such preparation with doomsday or “prepper” subcultures. Another possibility is that people may have learned that for many people the disease is mild, which is certainly true, so they don’t think it’s a big risk to them. Also, many doomsday scenarios advise extensive preparation for increasingly outlandish scenarios, and this may seem daunting and pointless (and it is). Others may not feel like contributing to a panic or appearing to be selfish.
Forget all that. Preparing for the almost inevitable global spread of this virus, now dubbed COVID-19, is one of the most pro-social, altruistic things you can do in response to potential disruptions of this kind.”
But back to fitness. And back to just thinking about why I might do if I had to spend stretches of time isolated from others.
I take it there’s no reason not to ride my bike out alone in the world. I can carry my own snacks. While big races are being cancelled, there is no reason not to ride outside of big crowds, assuming I’m not actually quarantined.
There’s also Yoga with Adriene and walks in the woods with Cheddar. Both will be just fine even if I’m staying at home more to avoid public gatherings.
I’m not sure what I think about working out at the gym, especially the student gym though. And I’m not sure what I think about yoga in the close quarters of the studio.
I also belong to a 24 hour discount fitness club. Maybe I could go there and take disinfectant wet wipes, wash my hands often, and work out there in the wee hours? I’m not sure. I’m considering buying a set of dumbbells for home use.
Are you ok with not fitting in, or would you rather blend in with the crowd? If you are watched, noticed, and possibly commented upon by your community, would that derail you from your pursuits? If these discomforts don’t deter you, ladies may I suggest you take up weightlifting?
Early stage weirdness requires being willing to wander around the weights portion of your gym not sure what to do. You’re going to have to guess how much weight you can lift and you’re going to have to wonder how to do the lifts correctly. You will mess up. You will stand out. Not because you are new, because there’s always someone new, but likely that someone is male and many males have an armor of “fake it ‘til you make it.” So, I suggest you do the same. Strut in there, fake some competence, and walk out knowing you started on your journey.
As you develop some competence and confidence, those who are sincere in their pursuit of weirdness will likely need to begin to log their work at the gym. You will be less weird if you do this on your phone, but those who are aiming for purity will begin to carry a workout log book. The log book will allow you to switch up your workouts day to day and week to week and see your progress as you go. There can be real celebration in this form of weirdness, because you will have concrete evidence of your growth. As you move up in weights, away from smaller dumbbells towards larger ones, or begin using the barbell and adding weight on the bar, you can see that you are getting stronger. This is wonderful! It will also make you different, as only a small percentage of those around you will be working out with such a sense of purpose and focus. Expect people to ask you what you are writing down in that little book.
This intermediate stage of weirdness also includes some changes you may choose outside of the gym. You might find that you want more protein at each of your meals, which can require feeling different from the other ladies when you go out for brunch. No longer are you splurging on the pancake plate and hashbrowns. No, you need to get your protein in, so how many eggs does that omelette contain? And can you add some smoked salmon to it?
You may decide you like wearing tank tops, even though the women around you are always talking down about their own arms, shoulders and bust. You know you don’t look like a model, but you’ve become proud of what your body can do and it’s fun to show off a little bit. That pride is wonderful, but it isn’t normal. You will stand out. Dig in deep to this weirdness!
You may try new things that you’ve only seen online or learned from a trainer. Maybe you do dynamic tension, wrapping huge rubber bands around the bar before you squat or bench press. Maybe you begin lifting in minimalist shoes or even just in specially designed lifting socks. You take the risk of trying all the rep ranges–you don’t let your ego force you to go heavy every time nor allow your fears keep you with lighter weights and high rep ranges.
Standing out in the crowd really takes on a whole lifestyle change somewhere along the way. At this point, when you walk into the gym, you are going to walk with confidence to the heavy weights and then begin to do things few around you are willing to do. You will stand out as you set up your bar with weight plates. Your confidence and sense of space–that you own that place in the gym at least as much as the next guy, and maybe more so because you’ve earned it from dedication and hard work over a long period of time–this will make you different from the people around you. They will notice. Some of them will find you inspiring. Others will feel challenged by your existence and may try to cut you down. This can be a real test to your ongoing pursuit of weirdness. How will you respond if a man, through his actions or words, suggests that your work is less valid than his? Are you ready to be really weird and stand up for yourself, loudly and where all can witness it?
You may need to stand up for your weirdness with family and friends, too. Are you ready to defend your choices to your mother who is worried you’ll hurt yourself? If it applies to you, are you ready to answer the question, “How does your husband feel about you getting so strong?” to a well-intentioned but totally off-base friend? These challenges are real, but they are worth it. In exchange for standing out in these ways, for being labeled and harassed, you will have the confidence of knowing you are living a life in tandem with your values. You can feel mentally and emotionally stronger by persisting to explore the limits of your physical strength.
Are you willing at this point to dig in deep to your weirdness and pursue real strength? You could choose an elite level of weirdness and possibly try to even GAIN weight and get BIGGER? Would you eat more food than you need so that you can pack on some muscle? Those who get to this level of weirdness are pushing the boundaries of what is expected of women, and as they show up in their bodies every day, they are making a statement about who they are and what place they are creating for themselves in the world. It is not easy to buck expectations for femininity at every meal. Few will understand your goals. Even fewer will be sympathetic if you find it challenging. “Poor you, you can’t gain weight. I feel really bad for you.”
Are you willing to stand out even within the strength-pursuing crowd and avoid the quick fixes and half-baked solutions? Go evidence-based and feed yourself the fuel you need, do the work, and trust the process? It’s a long game, and there will be folks who seem to be your peers suggesting things that you need not do to reach your goals, things that are potentially harmful and are certainly unsustainable. Again, you can find inner strength as you gain in knowledge and confidence.
Succeeding at being consistently weird is a lifelong journey. At not all stages of your life will you be willing to push being different from others to the same degree. It’s ok to let your weirdness ebb and flow with other priorities in your life, but know that this is a goal that can really change who you are and how you interact with others in powerful ways. And it’s worth it. Taking up more space and owning it, having confidence and competence, will improve your life. So ladies, are you ready to be weird?
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found standing out in the crowd, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.