I Am Woman–And I Pump Iron

wpid-wp-1409172468024.jpegI’ve heard a lot of women balk at bulking up. But those big muscles? I’ll look like a man.

Come on. That’s just insulting. Female bodybuilders train hard to get their glorious physique. To think that a few hours a week is all you need to bust some pecs like Schwarzenegger is either hubris or gross ignorance.

Weight lifting is a sport that anyone of any age can enter, enjoy, and reap tremendous benefits from. And muscle definition–not bulk–is what happens, unless you’re aiming for Hulk. But at first, I didn’t know that, either.

I was 17 years old, on my first visit to a physical therapist when I was told I had hyper laxity. My joints were too flexible.
Which sounds great in theory. But in the reality of regular Tae Kwon Do classes, it resulted in one soft tissue injury after another.

“So,” my therapist said. “Here’s what we’re going to do. Weight lifting is the best–”

And as he reached for a pair of dumbbells, he looked at me. He froze. “Actually.” He swiveled in his chair and grabbed what looked like a large rubber band. “We’re going to try these.”

“These” meant two rubber bands that I snapped within a few weeks.

I bought more. I broke those, too. The injuries reoccurred.

So here’s what happened: a medical professional looked at my skinny, white-ass, uber-feminine appearance and made a series of assumptions:
1. Weight lifting is demanding and results in soreness. Little girly here probably won’t stick with a treatment that causes any pain.

Reality check: I was already in pain from constantly overextended ligaments and tendons. More importantly, I had been a trained athlete from age 7. And if pain is muscle soreness and strain, then call me a junkie.

2. She’ll be horrified if I tell her to build up her muscles, especially her upper body.

Reality check: Most women could benefit from serious upper-body workouts. They carry children, haul groceries, tote their own luggage. But the kinds of exercise our culture promotes for women–from jogging to yoga and Pilates–doesn’t provide the needed strength for common weight-bearing activities. I was no exception. Ballet had been all about the torso and lower body. My body was far from balanced for the demands of martial arts.

3. She’s so skinny, there’s no way she’ll bulk up just because I tell her to.

Reality check: Grow up. Our culture is stupid. Skinny doesn’t mean healthy (my skinny is genetic along with asthma, anemia, and high cholesterol), and any woman who puts “skinny” as a health goal needs a serious talking-to.

So in the end?

I picked up Bill Pearl’s classic text, Getting Stronger. I read it cover to cover. I drew on all my weight training from Mr. Corral’s P.E. class. In short, once I took the advice my physical therapist should have given me, I felt more energetic. Lighter. Stronger. I haven’t had a single soft-tissue injury in 15 years. I have built up bone density to ward off osteoporosis in my old age.

So, ladies. Stop thinking weightlifting is about the bulk. And it’s not about swimsuit season, either.

Weightlifting prepares your body for the demands of everyday life–and your favorite sports. Plus, you feel powerful–because you are.

Cut the assumptions about gendered bodies. Choose health over the “body project” women are pressured into. Honor your body and recognize that the experience of life in your body is defined, not by other people, but by what you choose to do with it.

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