Does Lifting Weights Make Women Huge?
This morning, while scrolling through Facebook, I saw a meme (above) that said, “Lifting weights doesn’t make women huge. Cupcakes make women huge.”
My reaction was, OK, well this just the sort of dumb/condescending/arrogant thing I would expect see upon logging onto Facebook. Nothing new here.
But seriously: Why bring cupcakes into the equation? And why assume every woman wants to look a certain way? Also, why restrict the assertion to women? Are men immune to being increased in size by such sweet, delicious treats? Have I really been doing everything wrong?
Now, let me just lead in with this: I’m someone who is heavily against political correctness. I think PC culture has driven itself over the edge of reason, and done way too much to tarnish freedom of speech and productive conversation in America and elsewhere. I also think political correctness is a tool often wielded by people who don’t hold such high, moral intentions, and are all-too-willing to take advantage of people to advance their political or corporate career.
So, to the best of my ability, I’m someone who tries to say what is actually correct, not politically correct. Sometimes, the two of these match, other times they don’t. Either way, I think we all have an obligation to get things right, and to tell the truth. (I’ve spoken about the importance of truth-telling on my podcast: Click here for my episode on How to Make a Good Argument.)
Further, I think we all have an obligation to say things in a way that is productive and helpful, even when talking matters that are up for debate. Helpful doesn’t mean making everything you say agreeable to everyone. It only means presenting your argument in a way that is thoughtful and doesn’t assume too much (or the worst) of anyone on the other side.
So, back to the meme. The problem, as I see it, is twofold. First, there’s that lingering stereotype–which, even today, is partly true–that some (not all) women are hesitant about resistance training because they imagine it’ll cause them to gain weight. (This is true also for men, by the way. Some weeks, I hear it even more from men, than I do women.)
So, if that were the intention of the meme, to expose this “If I touch a weight, I’ll automatically gain weight” assumption as false, I don’t think it’s the worst intention a person could have. We shouldn’t let anyone–women or men–hold misconceptions about fitness or strength training that are so easily disposed. (Presently, we shall dispose of this.)
The problem, then, was with how the message was conveyed. For example, it assumes too much. Because some women (and certainly many that I train) lift weights precisely because they want to gain weight.
So, here we have a problem with wording. The meme says “huge.” Only, I don’t know what “huge” means! Does huge mean fat? Does huge mean muscular? I’m assuming fat, since cupcakes were mentioned. (Comprehension tip: When confused on a definition, look for context clues, even in memes.) But who on earth thinks lifting weights makes a person fat? Probably no one. So It seems a paltry analogy, relying on the ambiguity of the word “huge” to make a connection that is tempting likes and shares, but not really helping anyone.
This is the game of social media, unfortunately. It’s not so much about being accurate in what you say, as it is about being as bombastic or flamboyant as possible. A shame, really. Maybe this is why I stick most of my talking points in email and blog posts, since I find those who enjoy these old-school formats (you!) are more willing to engage in intricate and nuanced conversation. You just don’t get that on social media as much.
But I suppose I should answer the question, shouldn’t I? Does lifting weights make women “huge”? Well, if by huge you mean bulky or muscular–which I think is what the meme was intending (but not succeeding at)–the short answer is, it depends. Are you training to be muscular, or not?
If the assumption is that a session of deadlifting will straightaway transform you into NFL linebacker, that assumption is incorrect, for both women and men. Gaining that much weight, particularly muscle, is not an easy thing to do. It’s something you have to train for over a long period of time. And it involves plenty of eating.
Really, when it comes to exercise, here is what generally happens.
If you do cardio only, you will generally LOSE weight.
If you do strength-training only, you will generally GAIN weight.
If you do strength AND cardio, you will generally LOSE weight.
Here’s a study that *essentially* confirms this. (I say *essentially* because one could always quibble [as I might] over how the sessions were conducted, but overall I think the study was fair, and corresponds fairly well to what we see in real life.)
So, for people who want to gain weight, limit cardio and save your calories for muscle. This is simple knowledge for most of us as fitness coaches, but often revealing to those who aren’t, so it’s worth re-iterating.
But for those who want to lose weight, well, even though cardio-only outperformed strength-only for overall weight loss (which may come as a shock for the #nevercardio crowd), it’s actually the combination of the two that produces the best results. Because it’s strength AND cardio that gets you increased lean muscle mass AND lower body fat. Not to assume this is everybody’s goal, but it’s at least fair to say this is the goal of most of the people I hear from.
** If you want to gain weight, lift but don’t run.
** If you want to lose weight, run but don’t lift.
** If you want to gain muscle while losing fat, do both.
You can always make it out to be more of a debate if you want (and yes, I know how important a component “diet” is, before anyone thinks of hanging out that cobwebbed platitude in the common section), and tie in a series of hashtags about how “stupid” cardio is or whatever, but I would ask, if that happens to be your initial impulse, to take a step back and ask, “Am I being helpful? Or am I just trying to stir the pot?”
Here’s how to do something helpful on the internet today.
Step 1) Avoid sharing any unproductive/condescending fitness meme and,
Step 2) pass along this article instead.
PS – About the whole “cupcakes” thing, since I’m sure this will be brought up: I get that eating too many cupcakes may very well cause a person to gain weight. I’m not denying anything about the existence of hyper-palatable foods attributing to fat accumulation. That just isn’t the argument I’m making, today.