To be honest, I was a little hesitant to write this article. It’s very trendy right now, it seems, to write “Why Chicks Should Lift Heavy” articles—they are literally everywhere. And I do tend to shy away from the trendy things when it comes to fitness.
But here’s the thing—this isn’t about being trendy. When I started my kettlebell education years ago, long before they became the Cool Thing To Do, I knew they were worth my time. And long before picking up heavy stuff and putting it back down again became something Hot Chicks With Impossible Bodies started popularizing, I was picking up and putting down some fairly gnarly poundage. I started competing in powerlifting competitions at the beginning of this year, and last I checked, I was holding California state bench, deadlift, and squat records for my age and weight class. My current maxes, in case inquiring minds needed to know, are:
Bench: 115lbs (almost 120… so close…)
I weigh 104lbs.
I turned 40 in October.
I have been a strict vegan for almost 14 years.
I did not need to have my pants and shirts re-tailored to fit my giant, manly muscles. Mainly because I do not have giant, manly muscles.
I may have just made everyone’s head explode with this. There are a lot of misconceptions regarding being a woman, being 40+, being vegan, and being able to lift this kind of weight without looking like a dude. But the fact of the matter is, you can be extremely strong with all of these variables and not get “bulky.” I still hear this concern on a regular basis, so I feel that it truly still needs to be addressed.
I like to back up my claims with science, so I searched like crazy for scientific articles regarding bulkiness in women weightlifters. Unfortunately, I didn’t find anything I could reference. I will tell you this, though— women simply do not have the testosterone levels to gain huge amounts of muscle without getting outside help from steroids, growth hormone, or other nasty things. Even men often find it relatively difficult to “bulk up.” It takes a ton of work and planning, both dietwise and training-wise, to make huge muscle gains in men, let alone in women.
Here’s what I can tell you about my own experience: I got leaner than I ever have been in my life (thanks, in large part, to my extremely clean diet and to kicking my sugar habit). I definitely have a lot more visible muscle than I have ever had before. I get a shocking number of compliments on my butt and arms these days. But I do not look manly in the least bit. If you don’t believe me, check out the pictures and then believe me.
If fat loss is what you’re after, heavy lifting is what you need to do (in addition to fixing your diet)—the more muscle you have, the more fat you burn at rest.
If confidence is what you’re after, very few things give you the rush that picking up a giant piece of iron gives you.
If a great butt is what you’re after, step away from the barre and grab a barbell or a kettlebell. Squats, deadlifts, and heavy swings will give you what you want. (See one of her squat videos below)
If long, lean muscles or “toning” are what you’re after, I’m sorry. Your muscles will either grow or shrink. Your fat cells will either grow or shrink. That’s really all those cells do. You will see more muscle by shrinking your fat cells through diet and training.
If someone else’s body is what you’re trying to emulate, I’m also sorry. You can only be you, and your body is going to do what your body is going to do. You can be the best version of you possible, but you cannot be Jessica Alba. Unless, of course, you are Jessica Alba. And you know what? Being you kind of rocks (no offense to Jessica Alba—I’m sure it rocks to be her, too). So pick up something heavy and celebrate your own strength and health. You can only get better from here.