It has been 2 years since I sat down at a keyboard to write for my blog. Shameful. Unforgivable. I have reasons and excuses. But let’s leave it at I’m sitting here in a different continent in a new and still not totally furnished home contentedly looking back over a 2 years of challenges and barriers.
The scenery has changed but some things remain the same. I’m still in love with lifting. I’m still fascinated by the the intercept between the inner experience and peak performance. And the women I meet are still worried about get big when they lift weights. While it’s a fear that is more common in the big, traditional gym where I work and less pervasive in the CrossFit places I coach, it is still sadly too common for me to be happy.
Being part of a big mega-gym has been new thing for me since relocating. The last time I set foot in a big gym it was close to 7 years ago. I was working full time in London and using the one down the road from the hospital where I worked. Early morning pre-work routines included either cardio or weightlifting. I’d become brave enough to venture across the imaginary boundary between the ‘female’ weight zone with all it’s seemingly clever machines and into the zone of free weights, man sweat and full hog grunting. Yet, even there I was stuck in the typical ‘3 sets of 12’ world and frankly a fairly stable body shape. I was fit, in a way, but I was always keeping a sort of tenuous hold on the fat that seemed would just take over if I missed a few workouts.
Then came motherhood. Life got turned upside down in too many amazing and agonizing ways. Looking back, I was looking for something; to feel something out of my comfort zone to take me away from worries and fears that found me in that place in my life. Good or bad, it had me where I didn’t care too much about the outcome in terms of my appearance, I just wanted to do something difficult.
By the time people were noticing changes in my body I was truly entrenched in a love affair with weightlifting. The thrill of approaching a bar that intimated me. The crushing defeat when I missed a lift. The exuberant highs when I did it.
When asked about my routine, most women would pull a horrified face as if I was a freakish being, not of their kind. They would say that if they did that, they would be huge or look like a man. They are also worried about hurting themselves. And they wanted toning. Most of all, they wanted to muscle to be sexy. Not bulky.
It was – and is – frustrating to me. I feel like I know from first hand experience about something so liberating, so transformative. Here it is, in the clearest way I can express after being so out of my writing habits for so long. Weightlifting is absolutely essential for body change. Weightlifting will not make you manly. Weightlifting will make you look and feel better. It will tune you into your body, and what is more sexy than that?
If you’re still with me, let me take it to another level. I’m not talking about getting on some tech-gym torture device for endless reps of thigh abductions or butt raises. This makes me want to cry. I’m talking about a barbell and a platform. Working on clean and jerk, snatch and other strength movements that support those two simple, yet complicated lifts. These days, I might hit a little CrossFit now and again. I teach indoor cycling. I might sneak in an outdoor ride if conditions are perfect. Other than that, I stick to 3-5 days per week of barbell work. That means, claiming a platform and squatting, lunging, cleaning, jerking, deadlifting, snatching. Sometimes doing a pull up.
When I see people spending hours doing endless reps isolating body parts to sculpt a body – it’s tragic. It’s super time consuming, for one thing. For another, it’s building bulk. Precisely the thing that frightens women from real weightlifting is exactly what is happening when they are spending hours on those dreaded machines working isolated groups and individual body parts. When muscles are worked in a non-functional way, they can get bigger in a sort of articifcal manner. So I could spend effort working biceps. Lots of curls and time on the pulley machine grunting away will cause hypertrophy of the muscles working. The muscle being worked isolation of the rest of body will be inflated because of the pressure it has been under with lifting. On a side note, big muscles do not mean necessarily mean strong muscles. That inflated muscle will have very little idea of how to work with the rest of the body.
Now, maybe you want to create that large butt look and don’t mind having glutes that don’t function in any way other than to to attract the eyes and intsagram likes. I say, go for it. But be aware of two things. If you need to lose weight generally, you probably won’t be happy with the results. Secondly, working solely on isolated muscle groups can increase your risk of injury. When you have muscles that are built working together they know how to move and they develop to the size and shape they need to in order to support movement. This principle is not so when you spend and hour on the butt lifter machine.
I’m not trying to disrespect your workout. It’s just a personal realization that I’d rather do 5 lifts that work every body part as well as challenge my mental toughness and stamina than 500 exercises that work everything individually. I also know that the results are far better in terms of strength and shape for most people when you hit the lifting platform rather than the machines.
Am I lighter than before? No. This is not a weight loss story. Am I in better shape? Most certainly. Legs and butt are shaped. I have abs when I choose more salads over nachos for a few days. But mostly, and I cannot stress how important this is: I am comfortable in my body. My body is not perfect. But I’ve learned throughweightlifting to appreciate it for what it can do, over and above what it looks like.
So what can I say other than rant? Just that I’m back to write and support the fabulous benefits of weightlifting. And that you can ‘sculpt’ a great body. Just not in the way you think.