Dear ladies of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and experience levels, I want to start by saying I'm a big proponent of advising women to do whatever the hell they want with their body. Your body is yours. I dislike anybody telling anyone what they're "supposed" to be doing for fitness.
So no, you won't find me giving any advice unrequested. But I'll absolutely answer questions from other women, because I get asked them constantly.
As a longtime CrossFit athlete, I've been at the receiving end of some vitriolic language. I've been told what I do is stupid, and how I look is wrong. But I've also seen how simply being a muscular woman who is brazen enough to set foot outside of a gym seems to make other women comfortable asking any and all questions related to the human body, and so I've had no choice but to be prepared to respond.
Just a few of the out-of-the-blue questions that I get on a near-daily basis include:
- "How do I lose weight?"
- "How do I get my arms/shoulders/legs to look like hers/yours?"
- "Should I do keto/fasting/whole 30/the cauliflower diet?"
- "How do I do a pull-up/deadlift/kettlebell swing/get stronger, period?"
- "How should I prepare for my hike in the Andes/walking tour of Barcelona/kayaking trip?"
- "How do I get toned?"
- "How do I get a bigger butt?"
And so on. Every woman who lifts could add to the list based on what they've heard. What can I say? Shoulders and biceps are the ultimate conversation starters.
At first glance, this may look like a wide range of questions, each with a unique and personal answer—but it's not. Deep down, it's all the same question: What's the thing that makes all the other things work better?
And my response is always the same: lift weights.
Seriously, that's it—even in response to questions about diet. Resistance training, and the changes it produces in a woman's body, mind, and spirit, isn't just a way of finding the answer—it is the answer.
More women than ever hear those two words—lift weights—and nod their heads in agreement. But plenty of others still walk away or offer a mixture of excuses, bad past experiences, or just, "Nah, not for me."
And at this point, I'm not going to push the matter. A shrug, and an "OK, girl," is all the argument you'll get from me if we chat at a party. I usually save the torrent of things left unsaid, and questions unasked, for my poor husband when I get home.
When they ask me questions, here's what I want to ask them back.
- Have you given it a real chance? Have you tried to get past the first week or two of soreness, or followed a program for longer than three weeks? If not, then sorry, you have no idea what you're capable of.
- Have you pushed yourself to lift more, heavier, and differently each week—again and again and again? If not, then you don't really know what's "for you." Because honestly, all the CrossFit versus bodybuilding versus powerlifting chatter is just nonsense. We're just lifters, and we're all part of the same conversation.
- Have you felt the overwhelming pride when you can lift something you never thought you'd lift? Because there's no feeling like it—and it feels just as triumphant each new time it happens.
- Have you felt—not seen, but felt—the incredible benefits of resistance training? Because simply adding some lifting to your life—and doing nothing else—can single-handedly give you the fat loss, health boost, and stress relief you say you want.
- Have you watched the unbelievable and unexpected changes that gradually occur in a body when you lift consistently and progressively over a long period of time? They're different for every woman, but they're mind-blowing, impressive, and totally addictive.
- Have you seen the piles of research showing how lifting weights can make things that aren't your muscles stronger? Have you heard what it can do for your mind? How about your self-esteem? And let's not forget your lifespan.
The writing is on the wall, ladies. There are studies showing all these things and far more, but let's be honest, studies have never been enough to make people implement meaningful changes in their behaviors. But you know what is? Seeing and feeling results in your everyday life.
So here are eight things that I want to tell women—all women—about lifting, and that they can only find out once they do it for themselves.
8 Truths About Lifting That No Study Will Tell You
1. It makes you better at everything else you like to do. There is nothing wrong with that yoga/barre/Zumba class you've been taking, or even that marathon you've been training for. But it's only one side of the equation. Strength is the other. Adding strength to these activities makes you a stronger runner or yogi, and a better athlete, period. It's the missing ingredient between "I do what everyone else does" and "Everybody keeps asking me how I got better."
2. It completely changes your mindset about food. Muscle and strength take a lot of energy to build and maintain. Know what that means? You get to eat more. In fact, you have to. Instead of being a problem to solve, food becomes a positive force that moves you toward your goals. Those calories and macros begin to mean something.
3. There's an unbelievably positive community of strong women waiting for you. This can be surprising to a lot of women who carry unpleasant memories about fitness and exercise from their adolescent years, but seriously—it's not like junior high anymore (and if it is, then that's a problem with your gym, and you need a new one). Women who lift can be competitive and encouraging at the same time—in the best way. They legitimately want you to do better, both because it makes them better, and because it just feels great to watch other women get stronger. My lifting friends are 100 percent proud of me, as I am of them—no matter if the result is a PR or a total fail.
4. Fears of getting "bulky" are unfounded. Women lack the hormonal profile to grow the same amount of muscle as men by accident. Unless you're actively training and eating (especially eating) with the precise goal of getting large and in charge—which, to be clear, I totally applaud—you just aren't going to gain that much size.
5. If you want anything to get bigger, you might need to make everything bigger. This is the flipside to the "bulky" thing. If you want to get in on the big-booty craze, then you're going to need to grow a little in places other than your glutes, too. You'll need to put your glutes—and the rest of your body—through some tough workouts, and fuel those workouts with solid nutrition.
But here's the thing: Once you start training and seeing how adding just a little more muscle can pay off immensely, you take pride in every extra inch. I'm proud that my shoulders and back are too big for most clothes, and if you start straining a few seams here and there, you should be proud, too.
6. Lifting can be as difficult or as easy as you want it to be. Lifting isn't something you need to live up to, it's something that can meet you wherever you are now. If you can't lift a barbell over your head, there are still ways to build stronger shoulders—many, many ways in fact. If you're injured, there are ways to work around it. If you feel like you can't do anything, a smart trainer can prove you wrong, and help you keep moving forward.
7. Lifting weights makes the human body more capable. Plenty of people obsess over how "functional" their training is. You don't have to. Simply lifting consistently and incrementally getting stronger trains your body to do more, be more, and to transcend its old limitations. Going across the monkey bars with your kids, being able to help move a couch, even changing the jug at the water cooler—they're small but meaningful ways you can use strength to take ownership of your life.
8. The longer you train, the better it gets. The fitness goals I have for myself at 33 would have astounded my 23-year-old self. I have a better, more authentic relationship with myself because I constantly push myself to be better. I know all my excuses. I know all my weaknesses.
And after nearly a decade of doing this, I keep coming back for more.
I want to scream from the rooftops how lifting weights has changed my life, in ways I get to enjoy every day. I want to yell how it's made me view my body as a badass tool that can do anything I need it to. I want to show women just how much confidence I've gained from being strong, and watch them feel it, too.
And I want to encourage them—and you—to just start, no matter where you're at now. Because you don't know where it will take you until you do. Women have more styles of lifting—and strength sports, if they choose to compete—available to them than ever before. But they all start in the same place: lifting consistently for months and years on end.
Respect your limits, but nudge them forward. Make strength training a priority in your life, as high on the list as sweating, stretching, nutrition, or any other type of self-care.
Find a workout program that suits your needs, and just start it. You'll never regret the time you spend with a dumbbell, kettlebell, bar, or barbell in your hand. You'll never regret pushing boundaries. You'll never regret trying.