Aikido · athletes · body image · football · weight lifting

Do girls get a bulking season? Silly question….

bulking seasonThe other morning my son, the high school athlete, polished off one breakfast and then went to shower. I started cooking eggs and toast for other family members and when he emerged back on the breakfast scene he also wanted eggs. And toast, 4 slices, with peanut butter.

“Didn’t you just have breakfast?” turned out to be a silly question.

“Mom, it’s bulking season.”

“Bulking season” is a new concept to me. The idea, as it’s been explained to me by a table full of high school aged boys (just so you know the exact limits of my expertise) is that now football and rugby are over for the winter they can work to put on weight. They all want to be bigger. They’re lifting lots of heavy weights and eating a ton. My grocery bills scare me.

Partly, it’s a joke among them. It’s a great excuse for eating dessert and having second breakfast. Partly, it’s serious. Some calorie counting was involved to make sure they’re getting enough. For the first time I heard talk of tracking and calorie counting apps from the perspective of weight gain. Here, have another cookie.

But it’s also a seasonal thing. They’re running so much and training so hard during rugby and football that they can’t easily get bigger. So their plan is to gain over the winter, and lose a bit over the summer.

The internet–I’ve now moved past my dining room  table in my research–tells me this is common.

It’s getting to that time of the year where the summer cut is finally coming to a close and now the fun begins. It’s time to bulk gentlemen (and ladies …)! For those of you just starting out, this is probably all new to you and you really don’t understand the concept of cutting and bulking and why things happen during certain times of the year.

For most, fall/winter is the time to bulk and put on some slabs of meat. If they add a little fat during this time, so be it. They will be wearing a lot of long sleeve sweatshirt types of clothing; therefore, they can hide whatever fat they might gain.

Then come spring/summer is the time to cut and drop the fat that you might have gained during the cold months to show off the new lean mass you added. Not to mention most people go to the beach or go on vacation these months so it naturally makes sense to diet and hit some cardio during this time to get in the best shape of the year.

Now I don’t want to debate the merits and demerits of “bulking season.” Whatever. It’s mostly a joke for them as they’re all also playing basketball and so football and rugby might be over but they’re not really getting an off season.

I do want to note the incredible pressure on young men to get big. There is a young man on the football team who is pretty tiny and the coach yelled at him the other day saying, “Colonel Saunders called. He wants his legs back.” He’s a small guy, just over five foot and he’s got a slight build. I can’t imagine coaches getting away with making jokes about girls’ bodies.

The pressure on men to get bigger continues in adulthood. John Berardi, the person behind Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating programs for men and for women also has a “Scrawny to Brawny” program but it’s for guys only.

But do girls and women ever get a bulking season?

A funny question, right?

Lots of women gain weight over the winter and lose it over the summer but that’s something about which we’re often ashamed. It’s not really celebrated. Why is that? There are lots of my complimentary terms for big men. My favourite is “brawny.” But you rarely hear these terms applied to women.

I try out the label “fat” for myself from time to time and it doesn’t fit quite right. I wrote about that ambivalence here.

“What’s the alternative? At Aikido the other day I started to notice the vocabulary we have to describe male bodies. We often joke about how much fun it is to throw the “big” guys. Someone commented that I should pay attention to how they roll because they have to do it with more finesse to avoid crashing into the mats. (A mistake I make from time to time. Ouch, sore shoulder.) And the big men are big in different ways. Some are overweight, others are tall, some are extremely muscular such as the power lifter in the club. One of the guys is a Clydesdale weight adventure runner. But there’s no angst in referring to them as “big.””

My sons reject it for me. They say I’m a “tank.” I had to check urban dictionary on that one and here goes:

1. Any person who is exceptionally large, either in terms of height, weight; being built.2. Any person who is exceptionally strong.

Man! He’s a friggin’ tank!

CrossFit is the only fitness environment I’ve ever encountered where women getting larger and stronger isn’t something to be feared.

In my post on CrossFit women, I quote strength training coach Mark Rippetoe, on women’s physiques.

Rip: “You would look better if you gained about 10 lbs of muscle” Woman responds with look of utter horror.

Rip: “Trust me, I’ve been looking at women a long time, and I’m really good at it.”

Wit and Wisdom of Mark Rippetoe