Yall already heard me ramble on about the benefits of working at a gym. It’s great, and I enjoy it. But in the midst of all the good times there, there are some moments that make you stop and go, “Hold up, honeybooboo, say whaaa?” The moments when someone does or says something that makes you want to bang your head against the wall repeatedly, and maybe down a couple whiskey sours. Yesterday I had one of those moments.
I was off the clock, getting in a “pull” (back, biceps, etc.) workout after my morning shift, and I was using the assisted pull-up machine (a point of shame, since I can’t yet do full sets of straight pull-ups) when a middle-aged man that I recognize as a regular interrupted my workout to ask me if I was training for something in particular. I’ve had people ask me before if I was training for a sport or an athletic event, just because they are not used to seeing females doing a lot of “serious” weight lifting, so I was not taken off guard. I told him that no, I’m not training for a specific event, and just getting in a little “back and bi’s” work for the day. He then asked me if I have a trainer writing up my workouts for me, which I don’t and I told him so.
(At this point, I was starting to get confused. My workouts aren’t anything fancy, so I wouldn’t assume anyone would be this curious about them. I thought maybe he was going to try to offer to train me…which, you know, thanks, but no. Just no.)
So I asked him if my form was off (Subtext: “What’s your point, hombre?? Mama’s in the middle of takin’ care of bidniz.”) or something like that.
His response, “No, your form is ok. It’s just that I see you lifting pretty heavy…”
[You’re correct. I do push some heavy iron for a girl my size. Glad you noticed my studmuffinery.]
“…and I see some of the trainers around here training men and women the same way, having them do the same kinds of exercises and the women lifting heavy just like the men…”
[Again, correct. Our trainers know their business bidniz, which is why they train clients accordingly. Just another reason I like working here.]
“…and they just don’t know what they’re doing, because if a woman lifts heavy weights like that, she’s gonna bulk up…”
[Hold up, homeboy. Can we get a fact-check here? Last I checked, women don’t have the testosterone to “bulk up” without a little “hormonal assistance” in the form of steroids.]
“…and you don’t want that! A woman doesn’t want to look like a man. [Insert creepy chuckle.]”
[Oh no, heaven forbid a woman actually train her muscles with the same exercises men do, let alone gain weight in the form of muscle. That would be just terrible and unfeminine and hideous.]
By this point, I was fuming. Keeping in mind that this guy is a regular gym-goer and I am an employee who wants to remain employed, I gritted my teeth and told him that I am actually trying to get stronger and lifting heavy weights is working for me, thank you, and flashed him my best I’m-only-doing-this-to-be-polite smile.
Then my new “trainer” spent another minute trying to convince me that I should really be lifting in a range of 14-20 repetitions, because that’s how he used to train women to do (in what, 1983?). And when I insisted that I was ok with lifting heavy because, again, I’m trying to get stronger, he suggested “at least alternating with lighter weights every other workout…just to stay toned without bulking up.”
Cue another fake smile and a very polite, “Well, I enjoy lifting heavy, but if I ever want to lean out, I’ll think about that.” (Yeah, because the memory will spark enough anger to increase my metabolic rate.)
And then I stuck my headphones back in and turned away to continue finishing my workout.
That’s right, the one that included lifting heavy weights.
See, I’m sure Mr. Training Advisor had good intentions, and he’s always been friendly during the other times I’ve run into him at the gym. Heck, I’m sort of encouraged by the fact that I’ve been lifting heavy enough not only to catch his attention but to inspire enough concern for him to say something.
When the hell did it become acceptable for someone with no training credentials to approach another gym member unsolicited and tell her that she should completely revamp her workouts? And not on the basis of safety or form or injury prevention but on aesthetics, no less? Why would any grown ass man think it is acceptable to tell a woman who is a virtual stranger that she is “bulky?”
Most of all, how on earth can you be a fitness-conscious individual living in the 21st century and still believe the myth that lifting heavy weights will make a woman look bulky and manly?
Ladies- I could say so much on this subject, but I’ll keep it (relatively) brief: We do not have the testosterone necessary to build an amount of muscle that would give our bodies a “manly” or “bulky” look, no matter how heavy the weights we are lifting. If you are lifting weights and start looking “bulky,” it’s because you are using some form of hormonal enhancement or because you have extra “fluff” (adipose). I’m sorry if that’s harsh, but it’s true. You are not just suddenly sprouting massive amounts of muscle. If you want to build bigger muscles, it will take years of dedicated training. Honest. I’ve been lifting weights since I was 14, and I have yet to be mistaken for The Ahhnold. If you don’t like lifting weights, that’s great- do something else. But please don’t avoid lifting because you’re scared of looking like a man. The only thing you’re risking when you lift is looking like a badass.
Men- If you don’t like the way a woman is working out, then don’t watch her. Of course, if she’s going to injure herself due to severely poor form, then go ahead and give her a polite heads up. When that’s happened to me, I’m always appreciative. But if you think she looks bulky, or she’s lifting too heavy, or she needs to lift more, or she needs to tone up, then keep it to yourself. Because guess what- she probably already knows. And unless she just asked you for your opinion, she probably doesn’t give a hoot what you think. And really, it’s none of your mother-lovin’ business. Trust me. I know that I am NOT skinny. Or slender, or trim, or thin. But it’s not your problem to solve, and unless you’re my doctor or you’re sleeping with me, your opinion doesn’t hold much weight on the matter.
If a near-stranger were to walk up and tell me that my ass that looks like it was sculpted by Michelangelo himself, it would be clearly inappropriate. Guess what- it’s just as inappropriate for someone to tell me I’m bulky or manly.
I recounted a shorter (much, much, much shorter) version of this story on Facebook the day it happened, and people had pretty strong opinions about it. My favorite part was when one of my friends whom I’ve known since high school told me that “You’re turning into a liberal, feminist vegan. I’m so proud.” That is a high compliment from him, and it got me to thinking…
I’m no longer vegan, I still laugh at women’s rights jokes, and there’s a photo of George and Laura Bush hanging on my refrigerator. But if lifting heavy weights makes me a feminist, then so be it, and I will gladly claim that title. I can even slap a “Hilary 2016” sticker on my bumper* if that helps.
But I don’t think lifting heavy weights makes me a feminist.
Nor does it make me bulky (that’s the cookies and the quesadillas).
Nor does it make me manly. I mean, come on. Heavy squats and deadlifts are what make this ‘donk what it is.
And tell me, when’s the last time you saw a man with an ass like mine?
*Kidding. I can’t. I just can’t.