But How Much?

I stumbled across this picture sometime last week during one of my weekly “find cool pictures to use in blog-post” sessions, and it pissed me off.  The cluttered text is aesthetically displeasing, and that bothers me.  This clearly isn’t a good example of graphic design.

If I get nitpicky about squat technique, I’d like to see her sit back more.  In regards to depth, this better be mid-range and not the bottom.

Most importantly though, it plays into female/strength training stereotypes: The idea that women women would be lifting just “to make them stare”, and that women can’t lift “that much”.

Training for the sake of gaining people’s attention at the gym is asinine.  Unless you have a training partner who provides form feedback, it really doesn’t matter what other people are looking at while you train.  As for the “that much” comment, a 200lb squat isn’t all that impressive.  It’s not very common, but it’s also not very heavy.

Our media-fueled culture is full of 9 Minute Abs, Yogalates, Brazilian Booty Blast, and a host of related exercise programs that confuse sweating with effective strength training.  We hear about high rep, light weight sets that ‘”tone” and “sculpt”, and after weeks and months most look exactly the same.   If you’re strength training, you should probably get strong in the process, right?

Consider the question, “How much should I be lifting?”

Simple:  As much as you can.

The most important word there is you.  It’s not about gender, or size, or a self-limiting ceiling you put on your strength levels when you decide a weight is too much.  Pick up something heavy, and then improve upon that the next time you feel ready.

Progressive Overload has long ruled as an important factor in strength training.  It’s a simple increase in training stress over a period of time, and there are nearly infinite ways to do to this: manipulating training volume,  relative intensity, tempo of a lift.  These are all important factors to consider with a well structured training program, but we can’t forget that strength training is about getting strong(er).  Pick up heavy shit.

Obviously, ‘heavy’ is relative.  What’s heavy for me is speed weight for elite level powerlifters.  Then again, around some of the 10 x 10 bicep curls crowd at school, I might actually look strong.  Regardless of how much is on the bar though, you should feel like you’re working hard.

In the past few weeks I’ve had several people, both male and female, asking me about how much they should put on the bar.  If I create my own stereotypes, I usually find myself encouraging women to add weight to the bar, and insisting that men take weight off and correct technique.  I’m all about getting strong, but when it’s health enhancing, not debilitating.  Do it the right way.

Once someone can replicate good form on any given exercise, I’m all about training for strength.  Male or female, 16 or 60, blue collar job or white collar job.  Wherever you are in your life, getting stronger can help you live a happier and healthier life.  There are obviously benefits to each and every type of exercise, but if we’re looking at the most effective ways to train, getting stronger is always going to help.

2 Replies to “But How Much?”

  1. I love this! I friggin hate those ‘motivational’ pictures, and I hate the fact that I still feel weird in my gym. My gym is in a league of its own: 90% of the guys that go there are on steroids (they are all open about it) but none of them know how to train properly. They all just grab the heaviest dumbbell there and swing it up into some weird semblance of a bicep curl.

    I’m always in there busting out heavy squats, deadlifts, etc and I still get looked at like I have two heads. During my workout today a guy told me he’s never seen a woman as tough as me! While I take it as a compliment, I also couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed: there are no women who lift at my gym. In the past two months I’ve seen a grand total of two women enter the weights area, and they usually scurry away again pretty quickly. It is really sad, and I wish more women realised that nobody should be looking at you in the gym – and if they are, they are probably doing it wrong themselves!

    1. Tara, I love this. Well not your dilemma, but your insight. The folks that arelooking at other people at the gym seem to be the ones that are there for aesthetics themselves. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but they perpetuate the insecurities and myths that have developed from society’s obsession with looks.

      I was a member at a gym like that before I knew the difference between training and working out. I had to leave as I figured it out, because the atmosphere and attitudes were so toxic. It’s respectable that you’re training hard in that environment, and I like what you still think there should be other women in there with you. I find that we’re usually limited by what we think is heavy. A girl sees 5lb dumbbells in a fitness magazine, and a guy sees a 225lb squat in a fitness magazine, and that’s where they limit themselves. On a near-weekly basis, I’m warned by a well-intentioned old(er) person at my gym that I’m “Working too hard”. I feel the same as you do; Thanks, but why isn’t anyone here doing that?

      Eventually, we’ll pass on the passion. We must stay strong!

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