Women and Training

Several years ago I made it a point to always encourage women to train with weights and high intensity exercise as opposed to the LSD methods associated with conventional fitness. It has, and always will be, an interest of mine because it benefits everyone; it benefits the chick because she’s not beat down by stupid conventional skinny-body dysmorphia, she’s healthier, she’s stronger and capable, and it benefits me (or her husband, boyfriend, etc.) cause she looks better. After coaching 50,000 squats, you can’t help but say, “Yeah, she’d be better if she squatted.”

I saw a quote the other day that said, “Women, we don’t care about your shoes, just your body. Go to the gym and not the store.” In the time that I’ve been training and coaching people — as well as the lifespan of this website — I’ve tried to show why and how training can benefit women. However, despite the daily readership of 70’s Big, you can only shout the same message so many times before it gets jaded and fails to reach new ears.

Is it enough to post pictures of Erin Stern?

One of the female readers once asked, “What we can do to spread this message?” Personally, I don’t think it’s going to happen from this site; the message only reaches so far, and it’s typically getting to the women who already train (or at least who lift weights and condition regularly). I think that the realm of conventional fitness has to be broken into before this concept will become more popular. I hope that FIT (Fan Page and Twitter) can help open the door in what will be a long struggle of improving how people train. But will it be enough? Will it help mold America’s (the world’s?) perception of what an attractive woman will be?

I don’t know, because I’m very much not a woman, and my opinion may only be partially relevant. I had intended on interviewing some of the chicks I know through this site and getting their point of view for this post, but instead I welcome girls/chicks/women to post in the comments and give your thoughts on how you think training can be introduced and spread to a greater female population (whether through this site, on the internet, or in general). We’ll see if we can draw any conclusions because I’m sincerely interested in the discussion.

31 thoughts on “Women and Training

  1. I like lifting, and I love women, it would be great if some how those two things could be brought together in my life, but I don’t see it happening.

  2. I think most people are generally not interested in other people’s opinions, unfortunately. I’ve had the best success talking with girls when they come to me and say stuff like ‘what do you do at the gym’, ‘you are working really hard – where did you learn that’, ‘could I do that too’, etc.

    I believe the first/most important thing is to refrain from putting what they are currently doing down in any way. “Zumba is for retards”, for example, is a really great way to end the conversation before it gets going.

    Sadly, the biggest lie of all “I don’t want to get bulky” is still terribly pervasive. Photos of hot strong chicks like you’ve posted here today help.

    That’s a really good point, Sara: not putting down existing methods. This is how I handle conversations in person, and I also don’t go out of my way to convince people of anything (I usually let them trust my opinion first, otherwise they don’t care regardless of sex). This concept of “how you handle the situation” is going to play a part in whether or not it introduces new methods of training to someone.

    Another point Sara makes is that the primary method of spreading “training knowledge” would be in interpersonal interaction as opposed to the media, since the media is primarily affected by conventional stuff. The questions I have are
    1. How often are you women approached about your training methods?
    2. Do you have any ideas on how training methods can infiltrate the standard conventional fitness meda?

    Lastly, Sara pointed out that the “bulky fear” is always prevalent (and it is) and pointed out that pictures of fit, attractive women (instead of behemoths) help.


  3. This was a response I had on the 70’s Big Facebook Fan Page, so you women can address it if you deem it relevant:

    Trying to say that some of the figure competitors aren’t into “real fitness” is erroneous for a few reasons. For one, they are much more capable, strong, and “fit” than most chicks who train/workout. Secondly, women who claim “real fitness” in the form of “functional fitness” are wearing clothing equal to, or only slightly more, than a bikini. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but the only thing that differs these populations are what they do with that fitness (the functional crowd does workout competitions while the conventional girls will do figure shows).

  4. Nice post.

    I wouldn’t be quite so skeptical about the potential to spread the message through this site. You’re certainly right that women who don’t already have *some* interest in lifting will probably never see this page. But I can think of at least four lady friends of mine that I’ve encouraged to start lifting, and when they ask me for online resources, I always point them to 70s Big (and a few others). So while the site may not get women interested in lifting to start with, it might further motivate them to get in the gym once someone else has directed them to the page. Moreover, I think it has serious power to keep women motivated who might otherwise lose interest. Or it might encourage them to pick up a barbell for the first time. Or it might encourage them to put down the rice cake and eat a fucking steak already.

    On that note, the message that seems to have had the most impact (among my ladyfriends, at least) is the message about FOOD. I couldn’t he happier that my friends now know that they MUST EAT to get stronger, and that starvation is not a path to hotness. That, in itself, is a huge victory.

    That this site is helping is reassuring, so thanks for that comment.

    And that’s a big time point on food — something I will need to bring up in a post soon since I’ve neglected that topic. Thanks for the idea. Yeah, having women eat MORE but with different stuff always is weird to them (when coming from a conventional background). I’ve never had a female who started lifting gain body fat, and they typically lose it (the only reason I can’t say they always lose it because I didn’t test everyone).


  5. Actually, I take back what I said about this site not getting to women who aren’t interested in lifting. Every time one of these posts is shared on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or whatever, women see it who wouldn’t ordinarily be inclined to seek it out. I share 70s Big links pretty frequently, and it often does generate discussion from non-lifters.

    Okay, sweet! Good to hear.


  6. i don’t really have any answers, i’ve been lifting for a year and now have small gang of girls who come lift with me in the morning in my basement so it’s kind of a one person at a time/leading by example sort of movement. but having a site like yours helps people like me know i’m doing the right thing and moving in the right direction. so i guess what i’m saying is the only way to try and conquer the ridiculous notions around female weight training is just to keep going and hope that one day idiots recommending starvation get no more column inches in magazines.

    And people who lead lifting groups like this also do a good part as well. By being a…what’s a good term? Sponsor? Teacher? Of proper training and lifting technique you help make those around you better.


  7. It’s all about girls teaching girls. They seem quite opposed to listening to guys, because everyone is convinced that men and women should train entirely differently, when in reality much of the same applies.

    If men tell women to exercise with weights it will probably fall on deaf ears or scare them away. If girls see their friends doing squats and deadlifts and getting unexpectedly fitter, leaner and more confident they’ll want to know more.

    Just because this is your experience doesn’t mean it’s everyone’s experience. When I talk to girls about training (even when they don’t know of the site), I can relay the message to where they will accept it. It’s all dependent on the interaction, and I can do that well with females (which means have an interpersonal relation where they enjoy my company, don’t think I’m a creep, definitely think I’m weird, like talking to me, and are willing to learn from me).

    There’s only one thing I’m sure of, and that’s to not to create a blanket statement about how women act in a given situation.


  8. I think that society’s mindset of working out has to change for females to train smarter and in greater numbers. Cardio is king right now with the popularity of triathlons and marathons and the idea of being cut and toned. Even MMA with their weight classes are changing ideals of fitness for guys who want to look like GSP and be cut at 155lbs or 170lbs by doing a couple circuits instead of being as big and strong as possible. 70sBig can only reach so many people like you said and Olympic lifting or powerlifting are mostly underground sports. Powerlifting is even more so an underground sport since they don’t have the exposure and support of being in the Olympic Games. More and more mainstream exposure to those sports and girls competing in them would help change the image toward lifting and working out in general.

    I talked with Alicia and she told me that changing the misconception that lifting makes girls big and manly would help more females training properly. She used to believe that misconception and only did light weights or calisthenics until I showed her different websites and books about girls training with weights and not turning into a man. YouTube videos like this one (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLIXQz_8erA) helped her see that girls can be feminine and still lift weights. Knowledge is power.

    Regarding actually being in the gym, Alicia used to only do machines for resistance training before I showed her barbell lifts since the machines describe how to perform the exercise on them. Barbells have no instruction unless you buy a book or something and she also felt embarrassed trying free weights in case she didn’t perform the exercise correctly. The gym is more of a male dominated environment and she felt self-conscious being gawked at and the multitude of mirrors. She feels that if there was a separate area for women to work out that it would be less intimidating. Having a sign next to the squat rack or deadlift platform that has diagrams to show a proper squat or deadlift would make them similar to machines with their simple instructions.

    I think any effort to bring lifting into mainstream is good and any exposure that females get might inspire them to work out hard and correctly. Other than the news story on YouTube that I linked, I read about a movie coming out this year called All She Can (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yUnP11uz0o) from powerliftingwatch.com. Even though it is an independent film and only in a few theaters, the people who see it will understand more about powerlifting and realize that girls can compete/train. It will be slow to change an ingrained opinion but any little bit helps.

  9. I’d like to echo Yosh’s (and Alicia’s) comments, especially regarding gym environments. Many of the women that I know are just too intimidated to even enter the free weights area of a gym for fear that they’ll be judged for doing exercises incorrectly. Of course, most *people* do most exercises incorrectly. But newbie ladies aren’t in a position to see that. Many men have had an older brother, father, or friend to show them the ropes. Most women don’t have that growing up, which makes trying big lifts in front of a bunch of people pretty damn scary. I don’t know how to change this, except to encourage fathers/brothers/mothers to get their girls lifting while they’re young.

    If this were on Facebook, I’d “like” Justin’s response to JC. Dudes also need to keep in mind that there are sociocultural factors in play that can make it scary for a lady to take commands from a dude, especially when it’s evident that the dude is strong, and especially when the dude is a condescending dick about it.

    Not to say JC is a condescending dick (he might be, but I don’t know him), but how you interact has more of an effect on how your message is received.

    Also, the “intimidation” factor is relevant and understandable. It’s ironic because most guys don’t know what they are doing either.


  10. I think this site is doing a bang-up job at encouraging women to lift!! Long before I ever submitted “70’s Big Female” articles to the site, I had been a huge fan of Justin’s writing and his message. My favorite pieces were “A Note to the Average Woman” and “Skinny Still Reigns”. It is important to receive encouragement from BOTH men and women.

    I recently left the warm, tender bossum of my crossfit gym to venture out on my own and pursue new endeavors in training. For 2 years, that facility had acted as my sheltered incubation chamber in which I was surrounded by a multitude of like-minded women.The community had lured me in with the seductive aroma of sweat while introducing me to barbell training. It was a jarring experience to suddenly be thrust back into training at gyms where you are often the only woman in the place. However, if you are the exceptional type of lady who reads this site, you probably know more about efficient training than the vast majority of men in the joint. And they have seen the likes of your kind before.

    The sight of a woman lifting properly and looking strong can cause a revolution . . . maybe “revolution” is too strong a word. Perhaps, “stir” is more appropriate. It encourages both women AND men to rethink their current methods of working out. No man, even the 90’s small ones, wants some girl to roll into the joint and out-squat him! I constantly have men (and some women) at the gym ask me about my training and how to improve their own. I am not super strong (yet!), badass, or eleeeeet. I am just an average woman with solid strength goals and incredible Justin Lascek guidance (thank you, Justin).

    So, really. The best we can do is lead by example. Show up at the gym. Attack your training. Be fucking confident.

  11. just showed this to the wife, her thoughts:

    -women will get into it if they have a man in their life who trains correctly, and teaches her the ways.

    -its almost “grassroots” where women spread it to other women, ie, my wife posts about it on fb, people ask questions/show interest = more people exposed to it.

    -women have to get over the media/music/film industries where all women are “skinny bitches” as my wife put it. And how women need to realize that men like women to look like the pic above and not some rail-thin model/actress/singer.

    my note: the last point will be the hardest, as imo women are driven by media (whats stylish this season, haircuts, jewelry, etc).

  12. I finally figured out hot to post this onto the 70s Big website. First, thanks Justin for hooking me up with AC. He’s really kicking my ass in the gym, but I’m loving it! I would just like to say that I have grown up loving bodybuilding through my dad.

    I watched bodybuilding/fitness competitions when they showed them on ESPN, read FLEX, Musclemag and Muscle and Fitness, and loved (and still love) Monica Brant and her awesome glutes, lol!

    But now that I’ve gotten older, I’ve made fitness and strength a part of my life because I want to improve my overall health. That is the direction I think you should take with women. Yeah, looking great in a bikini is fine, but being able to have a life of optimal strength and nutrition is key. It’s already been said time and time again that our lifespan is increasing year by year. It soon will be possible to live to 100 or beyond.

    What everyone’s goal should be is to make sure that when we reach those prime years in our life, we are not confined to wheelchairs, going in and out of hospitals and doctor’s offices and becoming, what I call, a “walking pharmacy.”

    I’ve experienced this in my personal life with older members in my family. Having to accompany them to appointments and rehab centers for geriatric patients, I can tell you it’s a sad situation. People wasting away, looking emaciated, needing almost complete assistance with daily living activities, incoherence and just living their last days in a constant state of incapacitation.

    This is why I primarily work out. I don’t want this to be my life in 50 years. I want to still be running, jumping, exercising, having sex (yeah, old people can have sex), driving my own car and living in my own house, not relying on my future children and family to take care of me.

    I say this all as an example of how to reach women. If you put it in the point of view that they should want to lift not just to look good, but to feel good and age well, then they would respond.

    Ask women if they want to put themselves at risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, breast cancer and a whole host of other diseases? If they say no, then teach them how they can avoid it by lifting.

    Realize that there are women that want to get in shape. Many, just don’t know how to do it at all or how to do it properly. Plus, there are people out there that, as nice as they may be, don’t know what they are doing.

    I’ve seen too many times at my gym, trainers working people out, but they look bored, they’re talking to other trainers or people, and they’re not paying attention to their client.

    I know it took me several months of research to figure out that I wanted to lift heavy and not just rely solely on machines to whip my body into shape. I think if you give women a good reason and purpose as well as the right tools, they’ll be more inclined to adopt a strength and conditioning program.

    Many women are simply uneducated and may be afraid to ask some of these guys in the gym for help, cause it can be a meat market. If you want a first step, show women these videos. I love these women and they are my real inspiration to get strong! http://www.youtube.com/wat​ch?v=eae3_LDysY8&feature=r​elated,

  13. I train my wife and two of our neighbor lady friends. One of them is a lifelong athlete, the others not. The neighbor ladies came to the gym because my wife was lifting and seeing good results. My wife got into lifting because she threw out her back reaching for a pillow across the couch and decided enough was enough, she needed to get strong. So, we started lifting, and how they are a regular training group. I say I coach them, but I did a lot more of that at the beginning. These days I handle the programming, but in the gym I try to limit what I say and do (now that we’re coming up on the one year mark). Mostly I just give an occasional cue and set/reset the pins in the rack. They handle the motivation and encouragement amongst themselves. It is pretty cool, and I’d love to see more folks join them, though I’m not sure how to do that and keep the group dynamic (plus, this is in our garage gym, so that sort of limits who will be willing to come lift). I have to say, it is awesome watching everyone setting PRs and generally becoming more awesome every week!

  14. I am a pretty big fan of this site but I have never posted. I think Justin does a good job of encouraging woman to lift and appealing to the reasons that would provoke a woman to lift (looking good and the fact that its empowering) while remaining respectful. I go to a powerlifting type gym that is mostly guys. Its funny, but the guys all think its cool that I do powerlifting and I have had many thought provoking discussions about training there. However, I have heard some girls make fun of me there. I dont care about that, but its interesting because I believe some people think that its men that intimidate the women or discourage them to lift. Based on my experience, I think its that woman feel self conscious about doing something that is traditionally thought of as a “man thing”. Personally, I have lost a lot of fat and improved my body composition far more than in the “fitness classes” that I have taken in the past. Plus, I feel really good about myself and can carry a weeks worth of grocery up to my fifth floor walkup apartment. I think women generally fear doing anything assertive or that appears masculine. Its going to be difficult to overcome that with most women. Like most of the posts above, its seeing the results that is going to be the only thing that persuades most of us.

  15. What a great conversation — thanks Justin for the thoughtful article and to everyone who provided their input!

    That’s really it – I had more to say but I think everyone covered it already!

    Ok maybe one last thought – once a lady braves the walk into the free weight area, ignores the stares, weird looks (from guys and girls), etc. and finally starts getting under a barbell on a regular basis, it seems (at my gym at least) you open yourself up to ‘advice’ from every barbell curling, 1/4 squatting, tricep kickbacking dude in the place. I’m glad I have a pretty solid knowledge base about lifting from sites like these or I would be really confused.

    Some dude tried to tell me I was wearing the wrong belt today, fer crying out loud. It’s a single prong Inzer 10mm Forever BTW, not the skinny-in-the-front mistake of a belt he’s obviously been using since the early 80s. I just said “ok thanks!” though, since there’s no point trying to educate him. :-)

  16. Right on, SaraT. It was definitely a major turning point for me when I realized that most of the dudes who dispense unsolicited advice actually don’t know what they’re talking about. The ones that do offer advice are usually pretty cool and respectful. I credit this site, a few others, lots of books, and some pretty awesome dudes for helping me to see that.

    A dude recently tried to give me some unsolicited advice about my DL grip. He didn’t like my double overhand hook. He told me that I should try a mixed grip. (Note: I was pulling more than him, and my back wasn’t rounded.) I asked him if he had ever tried properly racking his weights. He never bothered me again.

    What ladies also need to realize is this: many of those quarter-squatters who are telling you that your full squats are bad for your knees (or whatthefuckever) are really just trying to find a way to talk to you, because they can see that you are awesome.

    And thanks again to Justin for this.

  17. A flipside to the “how do we encourage women?” question is a client of mine, Louise. She had the goal of “get stronger, and make the jiggly bits harder.” She’s definitely achieving that, but with a 65kg squat, 90kg deadlift and 35/45 press/bench all for reps, I suggested some more concrete goals could be good.

    A week later, she said, “One of my goals is to shame 10 men into returning to the gym.”
    I laughed, “What?”
    She explained that there was a guy recently asked her about her lifting, said he used to lift, what were her lifts? She told him, he went all quiet and didn’t want to talk about it anymore, she has since heard he’s returned to the gym.

    She claims she has shamed 5 men into returning to the gym, and says she wants to shame 5 more.

    I said, “That’s good, a more positive goal would be to inspire 10 women into coming and lifting.” She didn’t seem impressed by that, was more keen on humiliating men by demonstrating that a trained woman is stronger than an untrained man :)

  18. Hey! I’m not a condescending dick! I was kind of stating the opposite and fully agree with karibot’s comment. I.E. Guys going round round telling women what to do in the gym might be seen as obnoxious. I can talk to my female friends about training and have trained my sister, but they are already familiar with me, so it’s easy to be supportive and friendly and trusting.

    Generally speaking (because we all know you can’t talk in absolutes) one effectively-training girl encouraging her friends to do likewise will get more girls training than some big dude randomly approaching girls on the treadmill. All I’m saying.

  19. Well, since my entire USAW club is women, and I have a women’s lifting group at my gym, I’d say I’ve been fairly successful at getting women to lift. Therefore, the obvious road to success involves 1)Being obnoxious, and 2)Posting a lot of photos of yourself on the internet.

    I’m not being sarcastic. It’s worked so far.

  20. JC — definitely did not mean to say that *you* were a condescending dick! Just that the guys who *are* will not be successful in getting women to lift. I could have been clearer about that. My bad.

  21. A big problem is (some) women becoming so psychotic about body image that you can’t dispell the “bulky” myth because they imagine giant muscles that aren’t there. Look at how many slim women think they are fat. Same thing here. I can’t count the number of women who claimed that working out for two weeks made them all bulky.

    I think the most influential thing is for other women to get strong and lead by example. I can’t explain the effect that lifting heavy and being strong has had on my life. Well, I can’t explain it to a weak person. But I feel different, I act different, I feel more confident, I carry myself differently, and other women sometimes see a strength that they want in themselves.

  22. First post – lurked for a while.
    Justin – You have tbone and crossfit to thank that I found this site. First time I picked up a barbell was less than a year ago, and my lifts are weak.
    Tried to find a coach but no one seems to want to coach on the weekends and the weekdays don’t have time for me to get to a gym far way. I have no desire to lift barbells for a timed workout, so a crossfit gym is not the answer.
    I work out at a neighborhood gym and it has only one squat rack, no bumpers and bad trainers. I get strange looks because I squat lower than most. I even lift more DB weights than some of the guys, never had the nerve to approach any of the guys on the bench who are lifting anything substantial and seem to know what they are doing (but they all seem to bench and bench only – no squats, no deadlifts and no power cleans etc.)
    To answer your question on how to get women to train with weights (barbells), I think that it is an uphill battle.
    Most women I know think I am too muscular and I am by no means in any great shape by my standards.
    I don’t really care. I lift and try to lift heavier weights and swim/bike/run and try to do all that heavier and faster because I want to be as independent and able to do whatever I want to, for as long as possible.
    Agree with many of the other posts, the net of it is that society/media/press (and ourselves – both men and women) have allowed our perception of an acceptable female body image to become completely fucked up.

  23. Hi there. I’m a female and a new poster. I have read (and enjoyed) a few of your articles as my boyfriend is a huge fan. I started barbell training about 8 months ago. I started lifting for injury prevention in training brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), which is a male dominated sport.

    That being said, even though I was somewhat used to be surrounded by guys, I was a little nervous about starting lifting. The New Rules of Lifting for Women program, which I write about here(1), helped give me the confidence to use a barbell. Though, I was still weird and didn’t like what I was doing to be referred to as “weight lifting”, but “weight training”. That sentiment didn’t last long, though, as I soon fell in love with the barbell. So I understand how complicated we can be. (It took a year of quiet contemplation before I decided to try BJJ.)

    I love that you encourage women to lift and acknowledge that there are different societal pressures. I also like, and can relate to, a lot of the comments here. I am going to expand further on some of what KellyP, nicole929, Erica, and others have said. I agree with almost everything that you say/offer, but allow me to put on my Captain Complain hat for a second….

    The quotation that you cited in the OP, “Women, we don’t care about your shoes, just your body. Go to the gym and not the store,” really bothers me. Doing things for someone else is, I think, a major part of the problem of why more women don’t lift. That quotation represents the idea of an ideal form, whatever that may be.

    Further, I lift already and, to be a party pooper, the admittedly beautiful images of strong women you post, send to me a message of something that I should be striving to be. And that, innately, is the problem, I think. That there is some sort of standard. I think these standards manifest themselves, in part, through women being self-conscious. Which is what keeps many women away from the squat rack and off the BJJ mats.

    The reasons for lifting need to become intrinsic — it needs to be done because it’s fun, invigorating, practical, and just badass. The difficult part is overcoming these ideas of ideal bodies and trying to attain them, and successfully sharing that message of intrinsic value.

    A woman named Stephanie Vincent, a crossfitter who suffered with obesity almost all her life, discusses this sort of notion the best. Please check out this(2) particular post about the risks of an ideal, even if it strong and physically healthy. (Basically, physical health does not equal mental health.)

    I think it is fantastic that you are talking about encouraging women to lift. I think about this sort of thing a lot, as I often contemplate how to get more women to train BJJ. Currently, I conclude that major shifts are going to occur only generationally as gender roles (hopefully) continue to blur. I think it will be the same story for women and barbells.

    Only certain women are ready to listen, and it should be them who are spoken to.

    Really, I just wish I could smack some sense into them sometimes.
    (1) http://resiliencejiujitsu.blogspot.com/2011/06/success-in-failure-lifting-edition.html

    (2) http://www.radicalhateloss.com/2011/02/do-we-really-want-strong-to-be-new.html

    Hey there, thanks for sharing. Don’t read too much into the “we don’t care about your shoes” quote. It’s a quote from Tucker Max, anyway.

    I’ll check out the other links. Welcome.


  24. @ Justin: Thanks for the welcome. Perhaps I don’t read regularly enough to catch the humour. Even if the quotation is tongue-in-cheek, I decided that what I said still stands in the context of the OP. Which is good, because that was a crapload of typing.

    And for the record, I hate shoe shopping.

    @ kyleaaron: That story is amazing and made me LOL. :)

  25. Hey, my wife is planning on starting to train with me. She is only hesitant because she grew up hearing that weightlifting can reduce a woman’s fertility.

    can i get an assist?

  26. Pingback: Project Warrior | Why Women Should Lift - Part 1 - Project Warrior

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