Yesterday I had a meeting at Starbucks. I got there about an hour early to relax, think, and knock out a bit of work. I quickly was aware of two young women sitting at a table near mine who were home from college and spending time catching up with one another. Being “quickly aware” is my nice way of saying they were talking pretty loud and somehow interjecting “…like…” into every sentence. I tried my best to focus and ignore the chatter, but soon some things outside of the ordinary started popping through the filter:
- “…we broke up because he was psychologically abusive…”
- “…it’s [the gym] is like my refuge. Everyone knows that’s MY time…”
- “…I’ve lost like 20lbs since freshmen year… I was so obsessed with everything I ate…”
- “I have an app that’s like my best friend – it lets you put EVERYTHING in it… food, cardio…”
It was such a bizarre set of things to hear from two complete strangers. From the outside these girls looked like they had everything together. The typical trendy clothes, out of place (for December) tan, attractive, enjoying college, etc.… you get the idea. But, I found it pretty disturbing that they were dealing with non-typical issues like abuse, eating disorders, and generally struggling to figure out who they are as adults.
Eventually my meeting started and I forgot about the girls. Although they were still there talking after my 90-min meeting ended. I’m not sure what I feel about this, or even why I’m writing about this, but I guess I just always think it’s such a shame that so many women go through these types of struggles. I’m glad the pair enjoys training so much and have identified it as critical time for themselves. Time and time again addressing your health and fitness via strength and cardiovascular training gives amazing amounts of confidence to men and women of all ages.
Well, the whole issue of confidence reminded me of the “The Top 10 Reasons Heavy Weights Don’t Bulk Up the Female Athlete” that I helped out with when I was down at VCU:
- Women do not have nearly as much testosterone as men. In fact, according to Bill Kreamer in Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, women have about 15 to 20 times less testosterone than men. Testosterone is the reason men are men and women are women. After men hit puberty, they grow facial hair, their voice deepens, and they develop muscle mass. Because men have more testosterone, they are much more equipped to gain muscle. Because women do not have very much testosterone in their bodies, they will never be able to get as big as men.
- The perception that women will bulk up when they begin a strength training program comes from the chemically-altered women on the covers of bodybuilding magazines. These “grocery stand models” are most likely pumped full of some extra juice. This is why they look like men. If you take the missing link that separates men from women and add it back in, what do you have? A man!
- For women, toning is what happens when the muscle is developed through training. This is essentially bodybuilding without testosterone. Since the testosterone is not present in sufficient amounts, the muscle will develop, but it won’t gain a large amount of mass. The “toned” appearance comes from removing the fat that is covering a well-developed muscle.
- Muscle bulk comes from a high volume of work. The repetition range that most women would prefer to do (8–20 reps) promotes hypertrophy (muscle growth). For example, a bodybuilding program will have three exercises per body part. For the chest, they will do flat bench for three sets of 12, incline for three sets of 12, and decline bench for three sets of 12. This adds up to 108 total repetitions. A program geared towards strength will have one exercise for the chest—flat bench for six sets of three with progressively heavier weight. This equals 18 total repetitions. High volume (108 reps) causes considerable muscle damage, which in turn, results in hypertrophy. The considerably lower volume (18 reps) will build more strength and cause minimal bulking.
- Heavy weights will promote strength not size. This has been proven time and time again. When lifting weights over 85 percent, the primary stress imposed upon the body is placed on the nervous system, not on the muscles. Therefore, strength will improve by a neurological effect while not increasing the size of the muscles. And, according to Zatsiorsky and Kreamer in Science and Practice of Strength Training, women need to train with heavy weights not only to strengthen the muscles but also to cause positive adaptations in the bones and connective tissues.
6. Bulking up is not an overnight process. Many women think they will start lifting weights, wake up one morning, and say “Holy sh__! I’m huge!” This doesn’t happen. The men that you see who have more muscle than the average person have worked hard for a long time (years) to get that way. If you bulk up overnight, contact us because we want to do what you’re doing.
7. What the personal trainer is prescribing is not working. Many female athletes come into a new program and say they want to do body weight step-ups, body weight lunges, and leg extensions because it’s what their personal trainer back home had them do. However, many of these girls need to look in a mirror and have a reality check because their trainer’s so-called magical toning exercises are not working. Trainers will hand out easy workouts and tell people they work because they know that if they make the program too hard the client will complain. And, if the client is complaining, there’s a good chance the trainer might lose that client (a client to a trainer equals money).
8. Bulking up is calorie dependant. This means if you eat more than you are burning, you will gain weight. If you eat less than you are burning, you will lose weight. Unfortunately, most female athletes perceive any weight gain as “bulking up” and do not give attention to the fact that they are simply getting fatter. As Todd Hamer, a strength and conditioning coach at George Mason University said, “Squats don’t bulk you up. It’s the ten beers a night that bulk you up.” This cannot be emphasized enough.
If you’re a female athlete and training with heavy weights (or not), you need to watch what you eat. Let’s be real—the main concern that female athletes have when coming to their coach about gaining weight is not their performance but aesthetics. If you choose to ignore this fact as a coach, you will lose your athletes!
9. The freshman 15 is not caused by strength training. It is physiologically impossible to gain 15 lbs of muscle in only a few weeks unless you are on performance enhancing drugs. Yes the freshman 15 can come on in only a few weeks. This becomes more complex when an athlete comes to a new school, starts a new training program, and also has a considerable change in her diet (i.e. only eating one or two times per day in addition to adding 6–8 beers per evening for 2–4 evenings per week). They gain fat weight, get slower, and then blame the strength program. Of course, strength training being the underlying cause is the only reasonable answer for weight gain. The fact that two meals per day has slowed the athlete’s metabolism down to almost zero and then the multiple beers added on top of that couldn’t have anything to do with weight gain...it must be the lifting.
10. Most of the so-called experts are only experts on how to sound like they know what they are talking about. The people who “educate” female athletes on training and nutrition have no idea what they’re talking about. Let’s face it—how many people do you know who claim to “know a thing or two about lifting and nutrition?” Now, how many people do you know who actually know what they’re talking about, have lived the life, dieted down to make a weight class requirement, or got on stage at single digit body fat? Invariably, these so-called experts are also the people who blame their gut on poor genetics.
Okay, okay... I know I've posted and re-posted this thing more than once in the past... but, it's important to keep passing this type of information along.