I wrote this last year but wanted to immortalize it in my blog.
Women, Weights, Work, and Wisdom
I can’t rightly speak about the above without first talking about my Mom… Claudine Reep. Born in 1937 to a Fisher County terrace builder (Google it), she grew up working… HARD. A “Daddy’s girl”, her typical day outside of school consisted of helping my Grandad shovel dirt, lift tractor weights, and similar farm implements… usually in shin-deep plowed West Texas cotton-field dirt. Her diet was old-school… bacon, beans, beef, pork, corn, and potatoes washed down with a few Benson&Hedges Menthol cigarettes. Mom worked for Southwestern Bell in her adult life as an “operator” (insert Carol Burnett voice here) until her early 40’s. Changes in technology made the operator obsolete, leaving my single Mom without a job. Her only option to stay employed with SWB (later AT&T) was to learn a new trade… “telephone installer”… a job held only by men at the time. Wanting to keep us from starving and off welfare, my Mom took the challenge, went to Houston to become a T.I. Part of the job requirements entailed “pole-climbing school”… strapping on gaffs (the hooks attached to a climbers boots used to stab the pole and climb without a ladder or steps… (think lumberjack) and climbing a 30ft utility-pole with a 25lb tool pouch around her waist. Other aspects of the job were loading and unloading a 75lb extension ladder from the top of her installer van, pulling 100’s of feet of telephone cable by hand, and tolerating sexual harassment (before there was a name for it) by a bunch of roughneck men. This was a physical job, and my Mom was the first female T.I. in Texas. It brought me a sense of pride to be riding around with my high school buddies and see my salty ol’ Mom hanging 30’ off a pole.
Having said that, my Mom was and has been physically fit all her life and remains so at a young age of 75 years old. She still works with Dad in the garden, unloads 50lb bags of horsefeed, and saddles her own horse. She typically walks ½ mile to the mailbox and back on the farm each day barefoot, and can do a set of 100+ repetitions on the arm of an Oklahoma casino slot-machine with a Colorado Bulldog in the other hand.… she is a fit old lady.
So to the point of why I’m writing this. Recently I’ve noticed a decrease in attendance to the gym when the WOD calls for heavy lifting or sprinting, and comments from lady clients to the tune of “I don’t like lifting weights because I don’t want to bulk-up and look like a man.” Horseshit. Without getting too technical into biochemistry, I want to address the simple direct and indirect results and physiological changes to the body that occur with regularly lifting medium to heavy weights.
- Muscular Density – I don’t care what the mainstream “fitness world” says, you will NOT bulk-up and look like a man if you lift weights. Trust me when I tell you that a couple of heavy weight sessions a week will NOT result in a physique like badass Elisabeth Akinwale. As a long time runner I once fell for this failed logic as well. I feared the weight room for years, not wanting to put on size… no ultrarunner wants to have to haul an additional 10-20lbs of body tissue up and down a mountain during a 100mile race. I have since come to my senses and realized the benefits of weight-training far outweigh the disadvantages from a performance standpoint. From the shallow lens of looking at body weight or “skinniness”, many women shy away from the iron because YES, you might gain a couple of pounds… of MUSCLE. But… refer to next point…
- Increased Metabolism – As we age our bodies naturally lose muscle mass. Weight training can slow or even reverse this process. Why is it important you ask? Besides being able to have a quality life independently without needing someone to lift you on and off a bed-pan, muscles are our “metabolic furnaces”. Any slight increase in muscle mass in an individual can only be a good thing in the realm of controlling bodyfat. Muscle tissue is packed full of mitochondria (the organelle responsible for oxidizing and burning fuel from the diet AND bodyfat reserves)… denser muscles equals an increase in the number of calories burned during normal activities. Think about it, a bigger engine uses more fuel. By gaining a couple of pounds of muscle, a person will (without additional effort) burn more calories and thus lose more unwanted bodyfat. Instead of using bodyweight as a determining factor of fitness, we should rely more on body-composition or power to weight ratio anyway to assess fitness. Forget those “Ideal Bodyweight Charts”… they aren’t made for athletes. I’m at 6% bodyfat and according to those charts I am about 30lbs overweight… ie. OBESE. WTF???
- Cardiovascular Adaptations – the quadriceps muscles in the thighs are not the only muscles affected by heavy squats. The positive stresses undergone also cause adaptations by the cardiac heart muscle tissue in blood stroke volume, stroke efficiency, and strength of contraction. Research was done on longshoreman, the guys who work the docks at the coast. Their day consists of endless hours of lifting heavy cargo on and off ships. Guess what, they had a heart disease rate almost 300% lower than the average worker. Lifting heavy also increases the size and number of blood capillaries running through the body which has a broad range of advantages including increased blood flow to wounds for healing, better thermoregulation of body temperature, lowered blood pressure, and perfusion of the general circulation. Want some “cardio”??? Load your bodyweight on a barbell and squat it repeatedly… let me know when you reach the “aerobic fat-burning zone”… less than 10 seconds I’ll bet.
- Increased Bone density – When astronauts spend extended time in “zero-gravity” situations, research shows a decrease in bone density (a direct measure of bone strength) because there is simply no stress on their bodies that we normally experience living on the ground and dealing with gravity as usual. Bone becomes stronger with regular stress… without it, the body reabsorbs the calcium from the osteocytes making them brittle and weak. Michael Phelps has broken his ankle more than once giving proof of the atrophy process in a water-dweller. In a related topic, this idea can be applied to feet in general. Wearing minimal shoes is like “weightlifting for your feet”. If we confine our dogs to traditional high-heeled cushioned running shoes, our feet become weak and prone to injury. Without regular stress to force adaptations in the musculature and skeletal components of our feet, they will suffer the same fate as an astronaut. The same is true for typical women’s dress shoes. Stiletto high-heels cause damage to feet and lower limbs including bunions, hammertoes, corns, and a host of other ailments.
- Hormonal Changes – “Every time I do heavy deadlifts, I take steroids… and they are awesome!!!” Epic. Not in the pill or injectable form, but as a natural response of my endocrine system to heavy loads to help repair micro-damage to muscle tissue and also nature’s way of adapting the body to meet new demands placed on it. Testosterone (natural anabolic steroid) is the hormone found in high concentrations in healthy males responsible for muscle mass and awesome beards. It is also found in females but in much smaller quantities, but has the same effect of increasing muscle strength/mass and helping repair damage caused by daily wear and tear. Testosterone also increases the libido in both sexes. Testosterone = good.
- General durability – Mark Rippetoe said “Strong people are harder to kill and more useful in general.” Weightlifting strengthens far more than muscle. Just loading a bar is practice in proud posture and moving under a load. Heavy squats toughen the connective tissue surrounding vital joints. Gripping a barbell toughens and calluses the skin on the palms. Doing ANYTHING barefoot strengthens arches and combats visits to podiatrists later in life.
- Overall happiness – In the short term, the wealth of chemicals released after heavy weight training or hard sprinting produce a feeling of euphoria. The long-term positive changes from lifting heavy causes a person’s physique and self-image to improve. “Does this dress make me look fat?”, becomes “Does this dress show off my awesomely ripped calves enough?” Throwing heavy crap around a weightroom can be great stress relief… it pares away all the “small stuff” in life that doesn’t really matter. This combination goes a long way toward the overall personal satisfaction one has with their life… so much so that exercise can become addictive. This affect is well understood by anyone in a relationship with an active person unfortunate enough to get injured… so goes the saying “Nobody likes to be around a lame athlete.”
So quit believing mainstream about bulking-up. Load and grab the barbell… you have everything to gain.
If all this seems like a lot of long “science-y” words with too many things to think about at once, here is the dumbed-down picture-book version for you Globo-Gym types to help you make the transition to a real strength-training program. Read the rest here @ WomenWeights