Friday, June 30, 2017
Thursday, June 29, 2017
Note: Not everyone can relate to experiencing harassment or violence. However, it is a well-known reality that, globally, 1 in 3 women will experience serious assault or rape during her lifetime. Please keep this in mind as you read the article, particularly if you don’t consider yourself to be part of the one-in-three and don’t personally feel vulnerable to violence.
Additionally, this article focuses on folks who identify as women and who are harassed by men, which reflects the majority of cases of harassment. An upcoming article will further discuss safety as it relates to queer, trans, and gender nonconforming identities.
As women, we can’t often talk about our bodies or our experiences moving around in this world without an analysis of personal safety.
Though men, too, are attacked, harassed, stalked, abused, and sexually assaulted, women are much more likely to experience this violence, and are much more likely to be targeted on the basis of their gender.
While women of all races, classes, sexualities, abilities, etc., are susceptible to violence, a variety of factors play into how, where, and how often we experience it. For example, our class status can determine whether or not we have access to the resources necessary to escape an abusive situation. Our environment can also exacerbate conditions that make us less safe, such as inadequate lighting, an absence of sidewalks, and even histories of discord between the community and law enforcement that might have a victim less likely to report abuse.
The various categories used to identifying violence (domestic, sexual, dating, financial, emotional, etc.) and harassment (street, sexual, cyber, etc.) speak to our ongoing attempts to understand how it manifests, what and who supports it, how we experience it, and what we can do to address it.
Some of us even began our fitness journeys because of an experience we had with violence or harassment. It makes sense that we might respond to an experience of vulnerability or powerlessness by attempting to become stronger in our bodies, minds, and spirits, as a way of reclaiming ourselves and our choices. Thus, the gym can be an important space (among many others) in our journey where we can confront our perceived weaknesses, grow in our physical and mental strength, build community, and, ultimately, heal.
However, the gym does not always provide the safety to do this work. I continue to hear stories from women who have been followed, leered at, aggressively asked for dates or phone numbers, and touched without their consent. Most of the time they experience this from other patrons, but sometimes they experience these unwelcome interactions from trainers or gym staff, as well.
Whether we are exercising outside or in a gym, there is always a chance that we could be on the receiving end of cat calls, offensive gestures, stalking, or molestation. Giving space to conversations about harassment in our larger conversations about fitness is absolutely essential to ensuring that fitness remains accessible, enjoyable, and safe for everybody.
One of the top pieces of advice given for “exercising on a budget” is to exercise outside. In my article on intersectional approaches to fitness, I explained how this advice can be challenging for those who live in spaces where they are more vulnerable to danger, whether it’s because of environmental hazards such as absence of sidewalks or stray dogs, or histories of high crime in the area. The very nature of exercise — of moving our bodies in ways that challenge “appropriate” ways of occupying space — draws attention to our bodies, eliciting cat calls, unwanted jogging “partners,” and even unwanted touching.
“Street harassment” is a catch-all concept that we use to define, identify, and respond to a variety of violations that we experience in public spaces. The anti-violence nonprofit Stop Street Harassment describes street harassment as “gender-based” and explains that it consists of “unwanted comments, gestures, and actions forced on a stranger in a public place without their consent, and is directed at them because of their actual or perceived sex, gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation. Street harassment includes unwanted whistling, leering, sexist, homophobic or transphobic slurs, persistent requests for someone’s name, number or destination after they’ve said no, sexual names, comments and demands, following, flashing, public masturbation, groping, sexual assault, and rape.”
Some people attempt to frame street harassment as “a compliment” and a form of flattery, arguments that support rape culture by minimizing its harm to women, refusing to hold harassers accountable, and placing blame on women for their own experiences of victimization. For example, the fitness clothing we pick out because it keeps our bodies cool and enables movement can be read by others as invitations to comment on our body parts. The harassment we experience can then be blamed on us for “provoking” the attention. An article I came across on how to “date properly” at the gym advised complimenting women on their clothing, rather than their bodies. This can still be a problem, as it can be a covert way of commenting on the body part that it is covering (and paradoxically, exposing).
Street harassment has prompted women to take protective measures to keep themselves safe. Some have created walking groups or attend women-only gyms; others use apps that let them friends and family know where they are and if they need help, and some even carry weapons. The many variables in our environment play into the ways that we use our time and energy to ensure safety, so those measures can vary greatly from person to person.
What does your schedule look like?
In her book Full Frontal Feminism, feminist author Jessica Valenti discusses the concept of living by a rape schedule. Living by a rape schedule is comprised of the many conscious and unconscious daily decisions that women make to avoid becoming a victim of violence; decisions that limit our choices and movement and interfere with our personal freedom. Many of the decisions women make when living by a rape schedule might be considered to be “common sense” precautions that even men take, but women inarguably spend more time thinking about the consequences of where they walk and park and how they dress, even if rape is not always at the forefront of their minds.
To find out if you are living by such a schedule, consider the following.
- avoid walking outside to your car at night?
- carry self-defense items such as pepper spray, or hold your keys a certain way to use as a weapon?
- choose clothes that are “modest” enough not to attract negative attention?
- choose parking spots based on their proximity to light poles?
- avoid visiting the gym at certain times to avoid running into certain men?
- lock your doors as soon as you close your car door?
- create strategies for alerting friends or family if you are in danger?
- worry about how your friendliness might be perceived by others?
- ask friends to accompany you when jogging at night or in areas where there are few or no other people?
- simply think about being raped?
The concept of the rape schedule is not meant to shame women about the time and energy they spend ensuring their safety — indeed, these strategies have kept many women alive. It is meant to make us more conscious of the lengths that women go through on a daily basis to protect themselves, whether or not rape or violence is at the forefront of their minds.
From stares, to conversations that interfere with our workouts, to unwanted touching and inappropriate comments, these small, everyday interferences and violations can have lifelong effects on women’s bodies and spirits.
But what happens if, despite all our efforts, we are still harassed? How do we deal with harassers in ways that are effective and keep ourselves safe? Before I share my tips, I want to lastly address harassment in the gym. According to a 2008 survey conducted by Stop Street Harassment, 23 percent of women paid to exercise in a gym rather than outside because of their fear of street harassment. If women are retreating to the gym for safety, we also need to consider what harassment looks like in these spaces.
I’m Here to Pick Up Weights, Not Dates
It cannot be denied that, indeed, the gym can double as a pick-up space for single (or married — yikes!) patrons, and articles abound on “right” and “wrong” ways to date at the gym. A common frustration I hear from women gym-goers is that their workouts are interrupted by men who want to engage in conversation, give unsolicited advice, or ask them out. Some women will wear headphones, avoid working out at certain times of the day, or completely modify their routines to avoid chatty patrons looking for “swolemates.” Some women wear headphones, avoid working out during certain times of the day, or completely modify their routines to avoid being approached. Even fitness apparel companies have responded to this by creating shirts with no-fuss messages, such as “Here to Pick Up Weights, Not Dates,” “I’m Here to Lift, Not Talk,” and “Respect the Earbuds — I’m not Here to Talk.” These messages sound assertive and maybe even on the verge of “rude.” But sometimes being “polite” just doesn’t work.
Not feeling safe isn’t always the result of something intentional or overt. In a blog post I wrote a few years ago, I reflected on an experience I had while lifting next to a man wearing a bright yellow shirt that screamed “Boobies Make Me Smile.” As I lifted next to him wearing my favorite workout top with a built-in, molded-cup sports bra, I avoided his gaze and even contemplated leaving. Had he smiled at me, no matter his intent, I would have felt deeply uncomfortable as I tried to discern whether he was simply acknowledging me or reacting to my breasts.
A woman does not have to be attacked or be aggressively harassed to be harmed; consistent violation of space and safety through images and words is enough to inflict lasting wounds.
The gym has the potential to be that critical space of healing, reclamation, and empowerment, but what happens when it’s not?
Now, the chances of being sexually assaulted at the gym, particularly by a stranger, are low. The reality about sexual assault is that it is almost always committed by someone the victim knows. The idea that rape mostly happens in a dark alley is a myth that is supported by rape culture, but it’s one that that we have internalized and that plays into the decisions we make to bolster our sense of safety both inside and outside the gym. The gym, of all places, should not be a space where we have to think about our safety beyond protecting our joints and muscles while performing our lifts.
How can we address harassment?
The next question is, what can we do to combat harassment? How do we respond to others who are violating our space, creating discomfort, or aggressively threatening our safety? Often we are told to be firm and say no, but that advice can be hard to put into practice. We often hear stories of women being violently attacked or even murdered after refusing to give their phone numbers or declining dates. Women are called “cold, “rude,” or “bitch,” and are criticized for “friend-zoning” men with whom they have no interest in moving beyond friendship. This makes it even more evident that the problem lies not with individuals, but with a patriarchal culture that tells us that women are objects and not entitled to their own space, choices, and bodies. This is a culture that teaches women how to “avoid” harassment and rape (as if that is always possible) without equally investing in education to combat rape culture. For that reason, I will focus not on how women can avoid harassment, but rather on how to respond to it.
Exercise and Street Harassment (Also inclusive of parks and other public spaces):
- Name the behavior and tell the harasser what they need to do. For example, if someone jogs or exercises alongside of you, clearly state that they are too close to you and that you are uncomfortable.
- Use direct statements such as “I need 20 feet of space” to make it clear where the boundaries of violation are. If they continue, tell them that they are making you uncomfortable and that it is a form of harassment.
- If you are in an area with other people, speak loudly enough that others around you can hear you resisting the harasser.
- State your intent to report the harassment. Look at the harasser’s shoes and others markers of identification to collect evidence.
- If you are in an area with few people, jog or move towards a more populated area.
- Make your phone visible so that the harasser knows that you are able to call in a report or call for help.
- I will never advise women to not express anger. However, to avoid a potentially dangerous response, respond in a firm and neutral manner first. If the harasser continues, adjust your tone to make it clear that you will not tolerate the harassment.
- Once you are safe, share your experience with someone. Feelings of humiliation, fear, and anger, are normal reactions that can result in loss of confidence and security. Talking it over with someone can help you move toward personal healing and renewed empowerment.
For fitness professionals, instead of starting with what women can do, let’s begin with what gyms and fitness trainers can do to create a harassment-free, violence-free environment.
Trainers and Gym Owners (Men and Women):
- Consider anti-harassment signage and make it clear when welcoming new members or clients that harassment is not tolerated.
- Back up your intolerance of harassment with actual policies for dismissal and a reporting system. Provide both personal and anonymous options for reporting.
- Make an attempt to set up a table or booth at local anti-violence events, such as at your local Take Back the Night, or events organized by domestic violence shelters. Even consider co-sponsoring events that support women and that are committed to combating violence.
- As a trainer, if you need to use your hands to guide a client’s movements during a lift, ask if it’s OK first and explain why you are doing it.
- Lead by Avoid talking about other clients’, gym members’, or trainers’ bodies in objectifying ways, don’t make sexual jokes or comments, and don’t participate when others do it. In fact, whenever possible shut it down.
- If someone reports harassment, take the claim seriously and fully investigate it. Ensure that your policies protect the identity of the victim and that your focus is on the actions of the perpetrator and not on the clothing, body, or actions of the victim. Confer with a professional victim specialist or advocate, such as at a rape crisis center, for guidance.
Women at the Gym:
- While we may have doubts about its efficacy, it is always advised to respond with a firm no and continue with your routine.
- Be assertive about what you are doing. “I’m busy training,” and “I need to concentrate on these lifts,” send the message that when you’re at the gym you’re fully invested in your training.
- If someone asks you for advice as a way to begin a conversation and you do not want to engage, direct them to a trainer.
- If you ask for help with a lift and don’t want to be touched, let your trainer know that you would like to try the movements first and will ask if you want more guidance.
- If your requests to be left alone are not being respected, get out of that space and let someone know.
If you are a witness to harassment, bystander support may also be necessary. This can be as subtle as moving closer toward the person being compromised and looking attentive to the situation. If you witness an exchange and an accusation is made by the victim, backing up the victim’s statement will make it harder for the perpetrator to refute the claim. I also like to use the language of “us,” as in, “You’re making us uncomfortable.” Providing bystander support can also involve walking away from the situation to find an authority, or remaining with the victim and asking a nearby person to find help.
You may have noticed that in my list of things women can do to respond to harassment, there was no mention of common advice we’ve heard a million times, such as wearing earbuds, working out with a buddy, modifying your routine to avoid certain people, or going to the gym when it’s less busy. Why?
Because it’s crucial to think about how we can work to change the environment itself to be safe and welcoming for all of us, rather than focus on how we can modify ourselves and our lives to accommodate a culture of harassment.
Further, nearly all of us are already doing things to “avoid” harassers. There is certainly nothing wrong with wearing earbuds or changing your gym schedule, but it’d be truly remarkable to see professionals in the fitness community take radical ownership of their environments and improve safety for all, and see women feeling knowledgeable about and empowered to respond to street harassment on their own.
Without safety, fitness can never be truly inclusive.
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Sacroiliac joint (SIJ) pain can be a common experience for pregnant moms. This discomfort is felt on the back side of the pelvis. We have a sacroiliac joint on both the left and right side of the pelvis, where the hip bones (the ilium) meet the tailbone (the sacrum).
These are robust joints supported by strong connective tissues.
For some moms, SI joint pain is present immediately in pregnancy, leading to the assumption that it could be a hormonal change causing the sensation of pain. Whereas, for others, the discomfort can build as pregnancy progresses, perhaps meaning that the baby’s growth is pulling on the connective tissues of the pelvic bones and causing stress in the body.
It is most often possible to keep moving, even with SI joint pain. That being said, there can be instances when irritation and pain increase with exercise and physical activity, so as coaches of pregnant fitness clients, we need to have strategies to help our clients manage this.
1. Start or Continue Strength Training.
Strength training is so useful in keeping expecting moms active because we can modify exercises, loading, and the body position to help alleviate symptoms.
Here are some ways your strength training programming can help keep keep the SI joints pain-free or help your client manage their pain:
Cue your client to distribute the load throughout the body. For example, in a deadlift variation, ensure that your client is feeling the tension through the glutes, hamstrings, back muscles — really, the whole body — and not feeling the exercise solely in the SI joints. Physiotherapist Antony Lo refers to this as “spreading the load.”
Use good exercise technique when under load. It’s important to note that “good form” in exercise looks a bit different for everybody, and that is normal and fine. I strive to teach my clients to lift and move in a “neutral” body position, with the rib cage stacked over the hips.
It isn’t bad to be in body positions other than neutral. In fact, it is a great thing. We simply want to ensure that the client can lift loads well and efficiently in an alignment in which the body is “stacked.” This position tends to feel most stable and supported, and can give the deep core and pelvic floor system a good opportunity to generate tension.
Pictured above: rib thrust (left), bum tuck (center), ribs over hips (right).
Use breathing strategies to help the core and pelvic floor do their job. There are different strategies to breathing in exercise and no single correct way.
What I have found to be helpful with my pregnant clients is to ensure that they continue to breathe as best as possible while performing an exercise. There are likely going to be times when they are holding their breath for short durations both, in their workouts and in life, but, in general, cue them to keep breathing throughout. This will help them feel more “in their body” and stable while lifting.
Additionally, matching the exhale breath to the toughest part of the exercise movement might help the body, belly, and pelvis feel more supported. I cue this as “exhale on exertion.” Most people will feel an increase in abdominal muscle tension and, if focusing on it, a lift and engagement of the pelvic floor muscles.
Note: The degree of core engagement on the exhale breath, or in a particular exercise rep, does not need to be extremely strong or aggressive.
Sometimes when clients are trying so hard to “work their abs” in exercises it can ramp their symptoms up. It sounds counterintuitive, but discourage your pregnant and postpartum clients from gripping and sucking in their abdominals muscles to try to support their pelvis. Encourage instead more relaxation and natural response to loads!
2. Troubleshoot walking.
The common physical activity advice given to pregnant women is to walk, walk, and walk some more. This is great advice if you enjoy it and if it feels good on your body. Unfortunately, for many pregnant women, walking can often irritate the SI joints.
Here are my recommendations if your client’s symptoms are flaring up when she goes for a walk:
Shorten the distance. Do her symptoms ramp up at a certain time during her walk? Have her try going for multiple, shorter walks throughout the day if that feels better. If your client enjoys going for a daily 30-minute walk but is noticing that at the 15-minute mark the SI joints start aching, she can stop the walk at that point and try for another 15-minute walk later in the day.
Play with the pace and step length. If a client is typically a fast walker and is noticing symptoms, suggest walking at a slower, more leisurely pace. Walking at a slower pace can also be incredibly relaxing and can help balance stress hormones. 1, 2 She can also try shortening her step length, taking shorter steps instead of stepping far in front of her body to see if that helps reduce symptoms.
Lean slightly forward when walking. Cue your client to move her body into the direction she wants to go. She should try to get her body into a slight forward-leaning position, instead of walking completely tall and upright. This is a small shift and should not make her feel like she is going to fall on her face.
3. Specific Strength Training Modifications
Your clients might have specific issues come up with certain patterns of movement in their workouts. Commonly, this occurs in unilateral and lateral exercises.
Examples of unilateral exercises are split squats, lunge variations, step ups, or upper body exercises such as standing rows and chest presses done in a split stance position. Examples of lateral exercises are lateral step ups, lateral band walks, and lateral farmer carry variations.
Your client’s symptoms might increase with all of these types of movements or with only a few. Test these exercises out, with bodyweight loading, and see how she responds physically to them.
If the above exercises are troublesome, your workout programming might need to include a lot of lower body bilateral exercises. Here are some examples of movement categories and variations you could use:
- Squat variations: Bodyweight, goblet, front, back, offset
- Deadlift: Romanian, band, kettlebell, dumbbell, barbell, elevated, conventional, sumo, trap bar
- Glute bridge: Bodyweight, mini band, 1-leg (potentially)
- Hip Thrust: Bodyweight, mini band, superband
As always, I encourage you to refer your clients out to other health professionals who are skilled in treating prenatal body aches and pains. You might refer out to a pelvic health physical therapist, musculoskeletal physical therapist, or chiropractor who is skilled in Webster’s technique.
Most importantly, do not stress about your workout programming being perfectly balanced with all movement variations. It’s OK to double up on upper body exercises and include only a few variations of squats and deadlifts for lower body training because those are pain-free movements. Focus on helping your client continue moving and staying strong, healthy, and comfortable throughout her pregnancy.
- Bratman GN, Daily GC, Levy BJ, Gross JJ. The benefits of nature experience: Improved affect and cognition. Landscape and Urban Planning. June 2015; Vol. 138: 41-50.
- Bratman GN, Hamilton JP, Hahn KS, Daily GC, Gross JJ. Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. July 2015; 112(28): 8567-8572
Exercises To Do And Avoid During And After Pregnancy
There are so many myths about exercising during and after pregnancy, it can be hard to know if you’re doing the “right” thing. Our education materials are carefully vetted by OB/GYNs, PhDs, Registered Dietitians, Women’s Health Physiotherapists, and Pre and Postnatal Exercise Experts, and we have put together this FREE handbook where you’ll learn:
- The best exercises to do during and after pregnancy
- Exercises to avoid during and after pregnancy
Whether you’re a mom (or a mom-to-be), or a trainer (who may also be a mom), we have you covered. Select from these options below to receive your free handbook to help you or your clients choose the right exercises for healthy moms and healthy babies.
The post How to Train Clients with SI Joint Pain in Pregnancy appeared first on Girls Gone Strong.
Monday, June 26, 2017
Sunday, June 25, 2017
Saturday, June 24, 2017
Friday, June 23, 2017
Every time someone mentions the cannabis plant, we instantly associate it with concepts like “illegal” and “drugs” but that’s just because we know so little about the cannabis plant. There are two main types of ingredients found in the plant and they are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). While marijuana plants are grown specifically for extracting the psychoactive substance THC, hemp is grown under conditions that increase its CBD content. As CBD is perfectly legal and has no psychoactive effects whatsoever, it’s often used in popular and beneficial pet supplements such as Canna-Pet to boost overall health in dogs and cats. Some of those benefits of hemp supplements apply to human beings as well and that’s exactly what we are going to take a look at now.
The effect of hemp on the human digestive system is quite unique as it slows down the digestion process. Granted, it may not really sound like an advantage or benefit right away, it is actually immensely helpful for a number of reasons. The fiber and the protein are responsible for slowing down digestion, which prevents sudden blood sugar spikes. It also provides our bodies with a steady flow of energy, keeping us active throughout the day. The energizing effect of hemp ingestion is beneficial to one and all, but it’s particularly helpful for those that suffer from diabetes and other blood glucose related disorders.
Not that CBD directly makes you lose weight, but it definitely helps if you’re trying to cut down on portions and junk food in particular. As explained in the previous point, CBD helps in slowing down digestion and this curbs your hunger. A few sprinkles of hemp with your breakfast or lunch can keep you full for a long time, thereby eliminating the need to snack in-between meals.
Omega-3 fatty acids are clinically proven to lower blood pressure and the chances of developing heart disease; since hemp is rich in omega–3, cardiovascular health is improved by default. Although it has not been established beyond all doubts yet, some studies indicate that hemp could even act as a deterrent towards neurodegenerative diseases and disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
Healthy Skin and Hair
Also rich in Omega–6 fatty acids, hemp consumption on a regular basis can improve the quality of one’s skin, hair, and even bones.
Neurological and Muscular Improvements
In sharp contrast to the effects of marijuana, Cannabidiols actually help to increase our mental awareness, brain functionality, muscular, and neurological coordination. The fact that hemp is also rich in essential amino acids contributes to better regeneration, healing, and maintenance of the internal organs and general muscle tissues as well.
Often hailed as both a potential “miracle plant” and as the most misunderstood herb of all time, cannabis still holds many mysteries which modern medical science is continuously trying to unveil. In the meantime, hemp as a dietary supplement is already providing a lot of the benefits that we never previously knew would be coming from the same plant that gave us weed!
The post 5 Health Benefits of Hemp that People Don’t Know About appeared first on NUTRITION CLUB CANADA.
from The Nutrition Club http://thenutritionclub.blogspot.com/2017/06/5-health-benefits-of-hemp-that-people.html
Thursday, June 22, 2017
“Men are just stronger than women. It’s just a fact.”
Well, is it now? This article aims to take a case with common misconceptions and facts regarding women’s ability to get strong and how strong they can get.
At a young age, I learned about a glorious (and a soon-to-be frustrating thing) called “weight class.” Man, did I love elementary school. I could bully the bullies, guys were all my size, and the playing fields leveled. Sports were a genuine co-ed experience, and I was ambivalent to being desired or seen as a conquest. I was an unapologetically feisty girl, able to pound the crap out of mean boys who made fun of a nerdy or overweight kid. I felt like a damn superhero.
Then, we all got older.
Grow spurts and puberty changed the playing fields. I went into it naive and quickly realized how little and weak I was compared in size to them. To this day I pay much respect to size and weight class because when you find yourself on the losing side of someone’s 70-pound advantage, no amount of gumption matters.
In physical trials you need size, strength, and smarts — and even then, you might not come out on top.
What does all this bemoaning about weight class have to do with how strong a woman can get?
In our society, strength is relevant to our comparisons, especially when comparing women to men. It shouldn’t be, but in the context of this article, .why talk about how strong a woman can get without talking about one of the main reasons it’s discussed in the first place? Articles discussing the strength abilities of men often focus on strength whether or not steroids are involved, and culminate with lessons in continued optimization. It is already assumed that men can be strong; what is debated then is how strong they can get.
For example, it’s assumed a guy can help you carry a couch from one home to another. What might be debated with regard to his strength is whether or not he can lift a car off a helpless victim. In a gym setting, the average Joe lifter might be told he should be able to at least load 225 pounds on a bar, while the average Jane lifter is overwhelmingly advised to just stick with the bar, regardless of each one’s height and weight. Generally, it is assumed that the point of lifting for women isn’t to get strong at all, but rather to stay pretty.
How strong a woman can get is rarely up for debate. Society doesn’t assume women can be strong, and even if some people believe in women’s physical strength, it’s always to a judgmental “lesser degree” than their male counterparts. It’s culturally assumed that women are weaker and that if we can get strong, it’s pitiful compared to men.
The truth is that strength isn’t black and white. One of the biggest lies we’ve been told regarding a woman’s strength abilities is that she could never be stronger than a man.
It’s Really Pound For Pound
Yes, a five-foot-four-inch woman weighing 135 pounds could never best, pound for pound in strength, a six-foot-four-inch man weighing 220 pounds — but neither could a five-foot-four-inch man weighing 135 pounds. That’s not a truth we hear often though, is it? We hear tales of David and Goliath all the time, but the truth is that size matters for men, too.
For example, take a collection of the most pragmatic men with regard to the possibilities of absolute strength: professional fighters. The good ones learn very quickly that weight (and within that weight, body types and body composition) is crucial in leveling the playing field. These are small variables that along with skill — not to mention good old-fashioned fear, placebo effect, and timing — can make or break a champion.
People celebrate Michael Phelps, and yes, he is incredibly good at what he does, but his weight, body type, and numerous genetic factors that he can’t control, provide Phelps an edge. Katie Ledecky, four inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter, with less overall muscle mass, clocked the same prelim time on the 400m freestyle.1 This isn’t to suggest she could be him, but it’s impressive nonetheless. It’s as impressive as other smaller men and women who have almost caught them both in a race. The average height and weight of high-level athletes mean everything. It’s why, when people are cheering about impressive athletes, it’s important to look past it and take into account a host of factors that shift appreciation of the athletes themselves to appreciation of their hard work and efforts.
Society has barely begun to see the full reach of women’s strength potential.
People scoff at the notion that Brienne Tarth of Game Of Thrones (portrayed by Gwendoline Christie) couldn’t be a realistic hero, but I beg to differ, my friends. She is six foot three and solid. Maybe she wouldn’t make an NFL offensive tackle look like a rag doll, but most men couldn’t either. Six foot three is not an average height for men or women. I would not want to be punched in the face by the end of her sword handle and most men wouldn’t either. In short, she is a very realistic and capable hero in the world in which she battles.
What does the science say?
One caveat before diving in is that there are some noted differences between genders in hormones and muscle fibers, especially in the upper body. However, those are not as dramatic as the interpretation of research often suggests, especially when looking at sample sizes.
Let’s look at muscle fibers in general, for instance. Muscle fibers are different between genders, individuals, and even within an individual’s body.2, 3 Genetic differences, however small they may seem, play a much larger role than we realize in the literal shaping of a body.4 This is why comparing yourself to a five-foot-eleven woman when you’re five foot two is not realistic.
When we look at how men and women respond to resistance training we see in some areas growth response is very similar.5 We also see that it isn’t just growth gaps between men and women, but also within the gender compared within themselves. In short, it’s not just, “Men always grow muscle easily, and women can’t grow muscle.” It’s more like, “Some men grow muscle easily, and some don’t. Same goes for women.” When we stack size, weight, nutrition control, and the similar fiber types — oh wait, we haven’t done that.
Where does that leave us, then? It leaves us having to read between the lines in a lot of the research. Keep in mind that men are the most commonly studied subjects in hypertrophy and strength research, and even then, they are often not properly controlled.
Women can go longer, and be faster, bigger, and stronger.
Here’s a notion you might not have thought of yet that could inspire you to build strength:
Bigger is stronger, and even then only technically — and even then, there are still exceptions to the rule. Let’s look at the science using some common sense rather than the lazy generalizations we’ve accepted as fact for too long.
Size matters more than gender.6 It matters that men, on average, are bigger and not only in fat mass but mostly in muscle mass.7 But, guess what? It isn’t about them in the first place. I know it may seem a contradiction to say it isn’t about men when a large part of this article has been about them, but we can’t ignore the elephant in the room.
I can’t drive home this point strongly enough — if you strength train, you are already ahead of the majority of the population. Your ability to get strong, even naturally, is exceptional. Keep these things in mind:
- We all vary greatly in height, weight, muscle fibers, and genetics.
- Comparison, in my modest opinion, is a wasted exercise. But if you must compare, compare in weight classes and take overall muscle mass volume into consideration — and I haven’t even touched on issues relating to variations of female advantages in endurance, balance, and recovery.
- Studies have shown that simply believing that you have the ability to be strong with placebo steroid use leads to greater strength gains.8 In short, if you believe you can, you can.
So, how strong can a woman get, really? In arriving at an answer, size matters, but the belief in what you can do matters the most.
- Zaccardi N. Michael Phelps jokingly challenges Katie Ledecky to race. NBC News Sports. Apr 2015.
- Miller AE, MacDougall JD, Tarnopolsky MA, et al. Gender differences in strength and muscle fiber characteristics. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1993;66(3):254-62.
- Kristen L Schroeder, Benjamin WC Rosser, Soo Y Kim. Fiber type composition of the human quadratus plantae muscle: a comparison of the lateral and medial heads. Journal of Foot and Ankle Research 2014; 7:54.
- Hughes DC, Day SH, Ahmetov II, et al. Genetics of muscle strength and power: polygenic profile similarity limits skeletal muscle performance. J Sports Sci. 2011 Oct;29(13):1425-34.
- O’Hagan FT, Sale DG, MacDougall JD, et al. Response to resistance training in young women and men. Int J Sports Med. 1995 Jul;16(5):314-21.
- Roth SM, Ivey FM, Martel GF, et al. Muscle size responses to strength training in young and older men and women. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2001 Nov;49(11):1428-33.
- Bishop P, Curetin K, Collins M. Sex difference in muscular strength in equally-trained men and women. Journal Ergonomics. Mar 1986.
- Ahiel G, Saville W. Anabolic steroids: the physiological effects of placebos. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 4(2) · January 1972.
A message from GGS…
At Girls Gone Strong, we want you to feel confident knowing that what you’re doing to look good, feel good, and feel healthy and strong is not only based on tested, reliable, and safe information from trustworthy sources, but also that it is effective and efficient.
That’s why we developed our flagship training system, The Modern Woman’s Guide To Strength Training (AND IT’S ON SALE RIGHT NOW! UP TO 40% OFF!)
With four different 16-week programs—that’s 64 weeks of training—you get over a year’s worth of workouts, including progressions to ensure that you continue making progress. You’ll also get a training manual, exercise glossary, progress tracker, a bonus conditioning manual, plus a video library with over 70 high-definition videos breaking down each exercise, step by step.
We believe fitness should enhance your life instead of become your life. If you exercise in a way that you actually enjoy, staying fit and strong won’t ever feel like a drag. You’ll look forward to it for years to come.
If you want an entire training system that will help you look and feel your best, The Modern Woman's Guide to Strength Training is for you!