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July 04, 2021


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Men want to look like Arnold Schwartznegger, so they hit the weights when maybe they’d be better off doing some cardio. Women don’t want to look like Mrs Olympia so they don’t hit the weight room. I suspect there is also a feedback loop; it is easier for men to get visible results from weights than it is for women, which encourages them to come back.

It was a bit of a revelation to me when I discovered recently that really big muscles are the product of a combination of strength training and high testosterone levels in tandem. My understanding is that if two people are equally strong, but one has much higher testosterone levels, you will see a dramatic difference in muscle size. So even with the same exercise regime, women will tend to look 'toned' rather than bulky, both because of this effect and because women tend to have a slightly higher (healthy) body fat percentage, which means less muscle definition. I believe female body builders generally need to use hormonal supplements to achieve that level of muscle bulk.

I agree there is a feedback loop, or system of loops, that also lead to thinking female-dominated exercise modalities are less conducive to bulking and vice versa, although the effect may be more due to the physiology of the people doing the exercises. I would also guess most people are more comfortable looking a bit silly in a group of same-gendered individuals, than a predominantly other-gendered group, which would reinforce the women doing Pilates and men lifting weights thing.

I think the clientele, staff, and equipment in some weight rooms conspire to create barriers to women's safety and welcome.

An equipment example from the past: This has been remediated, but there was a time when no one shorter than about 5'3" could use the squat racks in our local gym, because the lowest safety-pin setting was too high.

I'll refrain from writing a novel in your comments, but this is pricking at a bunch of things on my mind. I picked up weightlighting and cross country running in high school and was lucky enough that it instilled good habits that have more or less stuck with me. (Plus, I seem to have a personality that is not interested in having an eating disorder, which seemed to plague the locker room.) The teacher in charge of the weight room was extremely kind and practical when it came to coaching young women -- he pointed out that there was no reason to get hung up about not lifting as much as the boys on bench press because our bodies just weren't designed that way. We could squat and deadlift nearly as much as the guys, but there was no sense in trying to compare us to the boys when it came to deadlift. Our muscles store their strength differently. That made sense to me.

I actually gained the most weight when I moved to a house in the suburbs and suddenly wasn't walking 2 flights of stairs carrying heavy things at least 4 times daily. I recently tried a rather persistent weight loss app (let's call it MOON) and was struck at their expectation to cut back on calories while adding exercise. Muscle wants food -- no wonder people get frustrated when starting diet and exercise. It did make me realize that it wasn't the weight gain that bothers me -- it's the strength loss.

I agree with all of the above comments. Generally I think women are undereducated about how weight lifting works and they consequently believe that lifting anything heavier than 5lbs will make them "bulky". Of course, weight lifting in conjunction with a very high calorie diet CAN work this way, but generally not.

So, first, you've got the issue of women not understanding that muscle burns more calories than anything else. Second, you've got the issue of women perhaps not understanding that although muscle is denser than fat, so you can lose inches while not losing weight (story of my life). And third, you've got the issue of women believing that lifting heavy will cause them to be seen as "fat" or "bulky", which they do not want. All three together? You've got a lot of cardio queens with very little muscle mass.

Personally, I like weight lifting. My body is not well-designed for endurance sports. I got a Peloton in 2020 and love it to the moon and back, plus the strength classes are pretty good!

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