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  • Writer's pictureLisa Magnuson

Skinny VS Strong

As Bob Dylan famously sang all those decades ago, "the times, they are a-changin'."

I grew up in the 80's and 90's and watched my mom go to "aerobics" classes and then joined her in my teens in those same classes. We danced, pranced, whooped, hollered, and stepped up and down off those pink and green Reebok steps 1000's of times. We definitely worked up a sweat too. But what was our drive? What were we putting all those hours of sweat equity in for anyway?

We were either getting thin, staying skinny, or making sure we didn't get fat. It's all pretty much the same thing. Not until recently has there been a seismic shift in how women exercise. 30-40 years ago you would NEVER see a woman in a squat rack at a gym (unless she was a bodybuilder). It was thought that women shouldn't lift heavy or they would get "too muscular" and look masculine. The tides have changed and now more women than ever are lifting barbells and working out to get strong, not to stay skinny. It's about time!

If I'm being honest, it took me many years to jump ship from the cardio cruise line. I mean, how many years (decades) did I teach spin classes? Not that there's anything wrong with that type of workout, you just have to make sure you are strength training as well, not just spinning your wheels every day!

The growing wealth of research is pointing to strength training as one of the most important forms of exercise we can do especially as we age. For women specifically, bone density takes a deep dive off a steep cliff once we transition through menopause and our estrogen is no longer protecting our bone health. The more often and heavier weight we lift, the better our bones will be as we age even in the absence of estrogen. This doesn't mean you can't reap the benefits with light resistance, however heavier loads will lead to stronger bones, muscles, and tendons.

I fear that many women (of a certain age.....) are still fearful of lifting heavy things. I'm assuming this fear is the result of several long held beliefs/myths that just won't die.

  1. If I lift heavy I will get too (muscular, buff, swole, masculine- you fill in the adjective). To dispel this myth let me just say, women and men are different creatures. We are not built the same, nor do our bodies react to stimuli in the same fashion. It is true that we have many of the same hormones and that our bodies are built similarly, but how our physicality is expressed differs between sexes for a multitude of reasons. You will build muscle and that may make your legs or arms a bit bigger, but muscle is much more energetically active tissue and for most of us a preferred aesthetic to stick skinny or flabby legs and arms. So embrace the round butt and curvy leg, it's time we get over our obsession with "skinny".

  2. If I lift heavy things I will get hurt. Nope, no you won't, not if you do it progressively and with a good coach or trainer to watch your form. There is always a chance you will get hurt doing anything- but in my experience, most injuries occur with overuse issues (long duration cardio being a front runner here- long distance running, biking, swimming, etc). Lifting heavy things doesn't just make your muscles strong, but it creates force between your muscles and your bones which increases the strength of your tendons and ligaments as well. So the heavier you lift, the more force you create, the stronger your knees, elbows, shoulders, wrists, ankles, and hips will all be.

  3. I don't know how to lift heavy things- I'll look stupid. Well there is an obvious solution to this problem- hire a coach or trainer. I would shy away from YouTube "how to" videos (and definitely not TikTok) unless it is a professional trainer showing you how to lift. If you don't want to hire someone to help you, just keep it simple and start with light weight and good form and go from there. Just remember you are reinforcing a pattern when you add load, so if your form is junk, your lift will not be good for you. For example, learn to body weight squat correctly with bracing and solid form, then add a goblet held load, then a bar on your back, then front load the bar and eventually you can squat with a bar overhead if you are inclined to do those sorts of lifts. This post is definitely directed towards females, but all the same concepts (and benefits) apply to men. Being strong is sexy in both men and women. I'd love to see more women in the squat racks and doing pull ups at the gym, For that matter I'd also like to see more older men doing the same thing- you are never too old to start lifting and everyone has to start somewhere so go out there and get swole!

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