“Is your wife/girlfriend okay with you knitting?”
My husband is bored. I can tell because he has started answering questions with questions. After 20+ years you learn to read the signs. I don’t blame him though – we could retire if he had a loonie for all the times he has been asked (incredulously) “but are you okay with your wife powerlifting?”. He started out by saying yes, he thinks it’s just ducky, but that just lead to more questioning, so recently he adopted the response above.
Here’s the thing though: there’s a very simple reason why my husband is 100% okay with being married to a woman who makes a hobby out of picking up the heaviest shit possible and putting it down again. Are you ready?
BECAUSE LIFTING WEIGHTS MAKES ME HAPPY.
It has nothing to do with his masculinity or my femininity, lack thereof on either count, or anything else relating to traditional gender roles. Those stereotypes seem tired to me given that we are well into the 21st century, but clearly lots of dudes still define themselves by those poorly-drawn lines. The fact is, a happy wife leads to a happy life, and he still doesn’t take his happy wife for granted. I don’t take my happiness for granted either, for that matter – I wasted too many years feeling lost, resentful, and uncomfortable in my own skin to to ignore the changes that have happened in the few years since I got serious about lifting…and I know I’m not alone here. So, for everyone who may be feeling a teeny tiny bit concerned about your wives/girlfriends/moms/sisters/daughters who have been seized by the compulsion to chuck their fat loss programs out the window in favour of getting strong as fuck (and also all you awesome ladies who are just getting going or are thinking about getting going), here is a quick primer on what might happen.
1. She’ll feel more confident. Which is good for her, but also for everyone around her. A funny thing happens when people get physically strong. Something to do with loading a barbell up and then NOT letting it crush you alive, again and again – it gives you the sense that whatever life throws at you, you can handle it. One of my clients has a story that sums this phenomena up nicely: “I used to feel stressed over grocery shopping. I’d worry that I wouldn’t be able to get heavy things out of my cart at the checkout line and I’d have to ask for help. I’d worry about whether I’d be able to get the bucket of cat litter from my car into the house. And I’d feel pathetic, and stupid for worrying about it. Now I don’t even think twice about grabbing that 12kg bucket of cat litter with one hand and the rest of my groceries with the other hand and making one trip into the house.” Moral of the story? Belief in ourselves goes a long way toward making us better people. When we feel strong and capable and self-reliant, that confidence bleeds into other parts of life too, making us calmer, more focused, more productive, happier people.
2. She’ll lose fat. Remember all the agonizing over trying to be smaller all the time? All the stress and the heartache and the yo-yo diets? I certainly do, and my husband will definitely start twitching uncomfortably if you ask him about the knots I have tied myself into in the interest of getting skinnier. Here’s the crazy thing: none of the things I did to myself to get smaller worked very well (some of them worked over the short term of course, but the yo-yo string was always there to snap me back the other way). Eventually I decided that I had given my absolute last fuck about weighing less, and picked up a sport that I could just do as a big person. And you know what happened? Slowly but surely, the weight came off. And it’s still coming off, even though today my body fat percentage is the lowest it’s ever been. There are three reasons for this: the first is that if you find something that you love and put everything you have into being better at it, at some point you will realize that everything you put into your body will either help your performance, or hinder it. Eating for optimal performance will become a labour of love. Buh-bye to all the diets that make you feel mentally and physically shitty, and hello to crushing down lots of good food that makes you feel awesome and strong and healthy! The second reason is, it is absolutely impossible to lift literally hundreds of kilos on a regular basis and not see some serious results: muscle gain (don’t worry, #3 is coming) and fat loss are inevitable. And the third reason, which is arguably the most important one, is stress. You can’t hate yourself thin. When you are hell-bent on changing yourself because you don’t like yourself the way you are, that stress takes a huge physical toll on your body. If you’re female, your hormones will fight back tooth and nail (I could go on and on about the chemistry that happens during that process but that’s for another post). Suffice it to say that as soon as you chill out and decide that you are just fine the way you are, then add a solid strength training program to that mix, good things WILL happen.
3. She will not turn into a muscle-bound gorilla. Oh man. I can’t say this enough. It is a myth that women turn into giant muscley monsters as soon as they start lifting weights. I talk to so many women, every damn day, who say that they don’t want to lift anything too heavy because they don’t want to get bulky. Where do I even start? How about this: NO ONE, male or female, grows giant muscles quickly. No one. You have to put in hundreds of hours of dedicated training specifically for muscle growth in order to get the brand of huge that comes to mind when people think of strength training (which usually calls to mind mental images of bodybuilders – a different sport entirely). Next, the guys who use strength training to get big also have to EAT a specific way to accomplish that goal…and IF they are eating and training and sleeping with getting big and muscular as the endgame, that will happen over the long term because men have the right mix of hormones that make that a possibility. Women do not have the same mix of hormones, which means that even if we did eat, lift, and live specifically to get big (the same as our male counterparts) it wouldn’t happen the same way. (If you are thinking, “but what about those hugely muscled women I see on the covers of meathead magazines?” the answer to that question is most, if not all, of those women are getting some kind of, ahem, pharmaceutical help on top of a lot of very, very hard work. Those results don’t just happen with strength training a few times a week.) Now, if you’re eating sensibly to fuel your body and training specifically for strength, and you’re female, then yes, your lean mass will increase incrementally. If you started out tiny then you will probably grow a little bit. You may notice that you get heavier but not bigger (this is a good thing). If you started out as a larger person, like yours truly, you might get smaller while your weight stays the same. Today I am smaller everywhere than I was five years ago when I weighed 15lbs less. The take home message here is that the woman in your life will not turn into a monster, or a dude, or a tree if she dives into lifting – she will turn into a more awesome version of herself.
4. She will not get hurt. Hang on, let me qualify that statement. Injuries happen in any sport; it’s a risk that is always present. Hell, injuries happen no matter what you do – if you stay wrapped up in cotton wool all day long because you’re afraid of injury, you’ll end up with pain from not moving, AND you won’t easily recover from it because you’re weak. Fact is, if you have a good coach and a good program, the likelihood of injury in strength sports is pretty low – lower than most other sports. If/when you do sustain some minor injury, you will recover faster because you’re strong and healthy and active. Women in particular are going to reap huge benefits from training for strength because our gender is generally more mobile, and getting strong offers lots of protection from potential (and common) injuries due to bad posture, overstretching, and whiplash. So people, don’t dissuade the women in your life from powerlifting because they might get hurt. Women are not delicate flowers that might break or get crushed from lifting heavy. Help her find a good coach instead.
5. She will love herself more. I don’t have to tell you that this is good for everyone around her too, right? Women who love themselves first are better wives, mothers, girlfriends, friends, etc, etc. And a woman who appreciates her body for all the cool stuff it can do, and not just for the way it looks, is much happier and generally more effective at the rest of life because she’s not busy beating herself up over her appearance (because trust me, even the most confident women have moments where they feel not good enough because of the way they look – we’re pretty hard-wired that way). It is also worth mentioning here that the more women who feel strong, confident, and comfortable in their own skin, the more (better) role models there are for our daughters. So encourage her to put herself first – you won’t regret it.
6. She will still love you. Assuming that you and the strong woman in your life have anything close to a healthy relationship, nothing will change for the worse between you. I say ‘for the worse’ because yes, things might change when she gets stronger, more confident, happier, and generally more awesome. She might have less time for you because of the extra hours spent in the gym, but hey – you don’t need to do everything together, right? Or if you do, maybe you need to get in there and start picking up some heavy stuff too. But the addition of iron (and I’m not talking about that doohickey that takes wrinkles out of clothes – wtf is that about?) to your relationship won’t make her love you any less. And your support in her new pursuit will make her love you more.