This is a difficult subject and a bit of a minefield to address, especially for a man who has never been “shamed” for putting weight on or losing it. I’ve been many different sizes, from being very lean and shreddy to being overweight and out of shape. I don’t claim to understand the nuances of the mental and physical effects this subject and the real-life implications have on women and I’m sure it’s varies a great deal for each person. However, I’m going to try and dispel a couple of myths and chuck my hat into the ring.
Now, every box owner/coach has been asked this question. It is understandable that people feel under pressure and are self-conscious about their body image and weight. The situation seems to be improving as our society is starting to see athleticism and strength in women as admirable, impressive and as beauty. It is still crazy and upsetting that society and the media have so much impact on the actions and ultimately the health of women and indeed men, but that’s a topic for another day! I believe ultimately that many men see physically and mentally strong women as intimidating and attack it or women who possess these traits. This has meant that in the past many young women have seen the size zero runway models as the ideal physique. The fitness industry is more to blame than most for this, along with the culture of quick fixes and abs in 30 days BS.
What actually is “Bulky”?
Now let’s look at what bulky means?
Definition 1: Bulk can mean large muscles, covered with a layer of fat, making someone appear large and solid, but not defined. AKA: Gaining muscle without losing body fat.
Definition 2:Large muscles on a person with low body fat, which some consider “shredded” or “ripped”. This is where you are losing fat and gaining muscle and is pretty tricky to attain without some serious work!
I going to make the assumption most of us associate “bulky” as number one, right? However, we must remember that some women have the goal to become bigger and have more defined muscles and mostly these women will seek out a bodybuilding programme. When we talk about this subject it’s easy to see “bulk” as the enemy. Bulk in terms of being strong, fit, healthy and confident that you can do cool shit is badass!! So, let’s get into it and see where you think you sit and where you want to be/don’t want to be.
“I don’t want to look manly!”
The name of the game for most people is to be more “toned” or leaner. Without getting too far into what is a deemed as a good or bad body let us look at two examples. A size zero runway model and a CrossFit athlete. Both these examples are of women doing something they love and have worked very hard for; one is much healthier than the other however.
The runway model is deemed by many in the high fashion and entertainment world as the vision of what it is to be beautiful, the Helen of Troy of our strange modern world. This perception seems to have diluted a little in recent years, but the magazines, social media and film worlds still hark after this image and I don’t think it would be unfair to say that most teenage girls are bombarded by this on a daily basis.
I’m not here to pass judgement on attractiveness, I’m extremely conscious that a 26 year old man has zero place in telling a women how to live her life and what to do with her body. I would like to point out however that this body type and lifestyle is NOT healthy. Three Marlborough Gold’s and glass of hot water with lemon in will not cut it as your daily nutritional intake. The body composition we’re talking about here is not necessarily a voluntary one, many factors including eating disorders, mental health, social and cultural pressure and many other things of course contribute. I won’t go any further into these issues as I am in no position to offer any points or arguments to any educated level. After a decade spent in the military and fitness worlds, I have seen the pressures and daily struggles women have with these issues. Body fat is not something that we should be trying to eradicate from ourselves. It’s vital in regulating hormones levels and realise, visceral fat is crucial in proper organ function and your general health and robustness as a human requires it.
Our second example is a CrossFit athlete. This women’s body composition may have a something in common with our runway model. Their body fat percentage may be exactly the same, both women could have 12% body fat for instance. The difference is in muscular development. That phrase will already send some people running for the hills. It instantly conjures up imagine of deeply bronzed women with very developed and striated body performing in bodybuilding shows. As I have said already, all power to those women but it isn’t what most want to look like.
Despite what it seems, it’s very simple. You have two main options.
Option 1 is to eat less and do tons of cardio, surviving on a diet heavy with running and light on food, and you will end up looking more like the runway model.
Option 2 s to develop muscle to burn away the excess fat while doing cardio, resulting in looking more like the elite CrossFitter.
Lifting heavy and often WILL lose that body fat faster than just a programme or long, steady state cardiovascular work.
Usually, people try to do “more cardio” to regain their lean, toned bodies that they had when they were younger. However, since they do nothing to build new muscle or maintain their current muscle, they slowly transition to a thin, but “skinny fat”, look as they age.
Train like an athlete…. Look like an athlete…Most people can agree that they want to get “toned” and “lean”, but have you ever asked someone that was “toned” and “lean” what they have done to get that way? You should, because almost every athlete I know that looks “toned” and “lean” has spent years working to develop strength, power, speed, endurance, and stamina for a sport.
Finally, the bare facts on this matter are clear, however the social constructs and personal feelings about this subject are very complicated and at the end of the day down to the individual.
Women simply cannot “build muscle like men” and therefore become manly. Men have 20-30 times more testosterone than women. Women that achieve these levels have taken steroids, eat 4 thousand plus calories a day and live it 24/7. Pushing yourself for a heavy back squat or doing cleans in a work out will not turn you into Dana Linn Bailey overnight, or EVER.
The real questions I think are these.
Do I have fitness that is functional?
Does this fitness prepare me for real life?
Can I now enjoy a walk in the countryside/ play with the kids/ move the sofa/ carry the shopping/ try that new sport?
Does this make me feel more confident, empowered, self-reliant, happy and content in who I am?
If the answers are YES, then F*CK YEAH! You’re an inspiration to your children and ultimately to yourself.
If they are NO, then also F*CK YEAH! You’re trying, you’re battling and you’re winning. You just need to find that balance and self-acceptance. You don’t need to conform to a certain ideal. Do your own sh*t and do it well.