When you're dedicated to using Bodyweight as a primary method of strength training, like I am, you're pretty much restricted to using the internet as a means of exchanging ideas, tips and strategies about the topic. Bodyweight is definitely a black sheep-strength training protocol. We all know that the internet is full of characters but I'm sure that we all have seen someone that just amazes us with their physical achievements and accomplishments. There are several but few stick out in my head more than the others is one woman who goes by the online name N8tive.
A little background on her: She's a 28 year old mother of two, a rancher, and a volunteer firefighter. When she's not taking care of all of the above, she trains 5-6 days a week and she's got quite a few good videos on Youtube. Most of her videos are the garden-variety girly exercises: plyo push-ups, handstand push-ups, pull-ups with a 30 lbs weighted vest, and Pistols (sometimes weighted). You can check her channel out here. If you're not amazed, then you're a tough customer (or just an assohole). Seriously now, when was the last time you heard about a woman, after two kids no less, training like this? How about a woman, without kids, training like this at all? Even now, after knowing her for a couple of years, I still find her amazing (BTW, N8tive, don't give me that, "oh, I've always been like that" line. It's still impressive).
The question about female strength training popped up on numerous blogs in the past week or so, prompted mostly by a recent Chip Conrad blog entry, as well as a reference to an old blog entry by Krista Scott-Dixon in an entry over at Bodytribe. You can, and should read all of these blog entries but for the sake of brevity, I'll sum up the issue at hand that everyone's talking about: What is so wrong with women doing real strength training?
That's a pretty question to answer: that's considered manly. Strength training, serious strength training, has traditionally been considered something that men do. Apparently, anything in the way of real muscle definition or a vein popping out of an arm renders a woman instantly man-ish. A juicer. Dyke. Plus, many other adjectives that are anything but feminine or complimentary. Instead, the feminine training should be restricted to the cardio and aerobics classes Should a woman touch a weight, it should weigh no more than the weight that they carry in their uterus when they're pregnant. Otherwise, hit the machines... the light weights of course. We don't want to see the taboo muscle definition.
I just finished off a blog where I exercised my disgust for the lack of serious training in the average gym. All sorts of labels are attached by my esteemed bloggers to describe the gyms of our times: Not serious, fluffy, cartoonish, sterilized etc. Here's a reason why: what passes for acceptable training for women is something that's really not good for a whole lot. Now, we could probably extend that label to much of what goes on in a gym to everyone but I think that it's especially true of women. At least it's socially acceptable for a man to touch a real weight.
There's the problem: it's not socially acceptable for a woman to show obvious physical signs of strength. That's really unfortunate too because every female blogger that I linked to in this blog will tell you how much of a positive impact it's made in their life. It's amazing how many different directions that ideal female form has been pulled in over the years, usually towards being skinnier and skinnier. We went from this...
Then there are a few rallying calls to be simply "real women." That's also code for being overweight and out-of-shape but being happy and content with it.
So, let me get this straight, it's okay for a woman to either look like they eat too many cupcakes or do way too much cocaine but heaven forbid if a woman actually looks like this:
Seriously, how on earth does Jamie Eason look "man-ish?" Yes, I've heard that before. Okay, let's step back from female bodybuilders for a moment. Check out any of the links again that I provided. Do any of these women look like men to anyone?
pssst... don't tell anyone but she competes in POWERLIFTING!^^^
Plus, for those of us who know about strength training know that a woman won't instantly become an androgynous mess just from picking up a barbell or doing some weighted pull-ups. Body composition, being muscle gain or fat loss, comes from diet. If you want to be big, bulky and muscular, you have to eat a lot. Vince Gironda once commented that bodybuilding is 80% diet and nutrition. Even then, a woman probably wouldn't come close to matching the average man's level of muscular bulk just by diet and exercise. That look comes from some pretty intense steroid use. So, it's perfectly reasonable, and very likely, that an average woman can do some real and intense strength training and still retain a feminine shape.
It's a shame but I think that the notion of women working with the low end of the dumb bell rack is with us for a while. Or, at least until some woman comes along to change the notion that looking like a strong, muscular woman is sexy. In the meantime, I salute the women who defy the trends and embrace the benefits of working out hard. You're all awesome (and good-looking) in my book.