Gratuitous Debunking

I love strength training. Whether the tools are barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, or the weight of my body, I love it.

Many of my friends also love strength training.

Every client who I’ve ever worked with has had a portion of their programming focused on the development of strength, often through the use of resistance training.

I also follow a lot of fitness writers and coaches, many of whom train a lot of female clients. Through the years, I’ve noticed something unsettling: the frequency and stridency with which many of these writers/coaches set about “debunking the myth that lifting makes women huge.”

Typically, these posts focus on a fairly innocuous fact: females, on average, have very different ratios and amounts of human sex hormones than males do. As a result, they will be unable to gain the amount of muscle mass that is capable for many males.

Okay, fair enough.

But let’s look at some of the unspoken assumptions in these ubiquitous posts about how lifting won’t make women big:

  • Women train to reach aesthetic goals.
  • These goals are focused on getting smaller.
  • If a woman does start to gain bulk, she will be unhappy about it.
  • There is no way that a woman can gain much muscle mass.
  • All women are cisgender and were assigned female at birth, and therefore are naturally equipped with the human sex hormone amounts and ratios that prohibit the development of muscular mass. This assumption is pretty universally accompanied by the assumption that all men are cismen.

Are these points true for some women? Of course they are. I won’t deny that.

But the impression one would get from reading the average post on strength training for women is that they are true for all women, which is—to speak plainly—bullshit.

Speaking just for myself in regards to the first four points: lifting IS, in fact, making me bigger. Since I switched my training program to be more lifting-centric, I have gained some weight, and my body shape is changing in a noticeable way towards greater mass. In fact, one of the guys who I trained with when I lived in upstate New York frequently informed me that he was jealous of the musculature in my back and shoulders.

I love my bulk. 

You know why? These muscles are doing things they couldn’t ever do before. A specific body shape is not my goal: getting stronger is.

(Also: it was incredibly empowering to realize that I was no longer interested in putting effort into making myself smaller! It’s amazing how exhausting it can be to go through life thinking that you’d be better if there was less of you.)

Photos are part of Howard Schatz’s Athlete series.
Photos are part of Howard Schatz’s Athlete series.

And, in regards to the very-important fifth point: transwomen are women. Period. In the same way that transmen are men. Regardless of whether or not they are on hormone therapy or have undergone any surgeries.

And, as many transpeople have discovered, different methods of training can be very effective at creating body proportions that are more consistent with their gender identities.

This would be impossible if hormones were the only factor in regards to the change in the bulk and shape of someone’s body and musculature, as seems to be the main thesis point of those who are dead-set on proving that lifting doesn’t make women big.

It’s too simplistic to say that lifting always will or always won’t create a certain change in someone’s body: there are so many factors and variables at play, from diet to genetics to the individual’s hormone levels (versus the general norms of all members of a certain sex) to what sort of programming someone follows in their training.

I have no interest in disbursing universal absolutes about the aesthetic results of lifting for all people (or all women).

Here’s what I know to be true: serious weight training will help you fall in love with your body’s strength, potential, and ability to move freely and capably. In my experience, once that happens, the question of bigger or smaller stops mattering so much. Or, if you’re lucky, it stops mattering at all.

Lifting may make you more slender and toned, or it may make you bigger. I’d like to kindly suggest that the strength training community stop assuming that all females who are interested in fitness and strength have an aesthetic goal for their training or an aversion towards gaining mass. Sometimes, we just want to lift heavy shit, just like anyone else.

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